Author: Gili Estlin Hirsch
Title: A Thing of Beauty Is a Joy Forever
This story is certainly not ordinary fiction, so please read the disclaimers first. It’s not a story for everyone—not a cute rom-com with our beloved couple—but it is unusual in its depth, and certainly worth taking a look at and becoming invested in.
SYNOPSIS: Alt; There is no Callisto. The story takes place during Season Two. Gabrielle is married to Perdicus and has settled down in Potidaea. Xena, refusing to see her or admit she is hurt by and angry at her matrimony, embarks on a debaucherous, hedonistic binge, unable to stop her violent behavior from taking the forefront. In a short period of time, Xena neglects all responsibilities, including her promise for kindness and all that is good, which leaves her, mentally and physically, at rock bottom. When she finally encounters Gabrielle again, the two must admit the truth that, as it turns out, they have both been hiding.
DISCLAIMER AND TRIGGER WARNINGS: This story explores some pretty dark themes, including rape, suicide, alcohol abuse, extreme violence, and prostitution. It does not do so in a very detailed way most of the time, but those subjects are in it. There are multiple explicit sex scenes between two women in this story, and it explores sex in general in many ways—some more detailed and others less. To be clear: there are NO graphic depictions of rape of any kind, nor does a rape occur, but it is mentioned, and I do believe you always deserve a heads up about that. The suicide is not depicted in a graphic manner either.
There is a lot of sex in this story and a great deal of hurt and comfort, following a depiction of emotional and physical violence and abuse, part of which Xena engages in, and part of which she is a victim of.
This is not an “easy read,” a family friendly, or a short and fun fan fiction. It’s meant to go into the depths of Xena’s character as it was presented on the show during Season Two, and explore what it was in her that was so dark and that scared her so—what it was that Gabrielle stopped and prevented. The darkness that is found is dark indeed and the story therefore deals with many ADULT themes.
The quotes in the beginning of each chapter, as well as the title, are by poet John Keats.
Disclaimer: The characters Xena and Gabrielle were originally imagined by the creators of the television show, Xena: Warrior Princess. Xena: Warrior Princess™ is the copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. Use of this material, including the likeness of its characters and any material pertaining to Xena: Warrior Princess, is for personal use and entertainment only, and not for personal gain. There is no intent to infringe upon copyright or trademark. The creators of this project are not affiliated with, and do not represent any of the actors, companies, or organizations associated with Xena: Warrior Princess. All other original characters and stories in this series are copyright © Gili Estlin Hirsch 2019.
Contact: email@example.com and https://xenarevival.wordpress.com
Ah! could I tell the wonders of an isle
That in that fairest lake had been
I could e’en Dido of her grief beguile.
The tavern was unusually crowded and hot that night, a riot celebrating some unimportant battle or another—were not all battles unimportant, Xena thought—a mingling of smoke and ale. A lot of ale, and a tangling of bodies seemingly inseparable, one connected to the other with arms or mouths or hands, or all three. Her stark dark hair unkempt, sweat dripping from her once sun-kissed skin, now showing undertones of blue and grey, Xena still commanded attention when walking into a tavern. Maybe even more attention, now that her eyes were glazed over with passion and hatred and sheer, undiluted regret. She’d forsaken her metal armor—what is there to defend when your whole self is gone? And stayed only in her leather shift. It knew, like some haggard, defeated, fortune teller, how to hug the curves of her body, stress the arch and hill above her lower back, beneath her jutting clavicle; it knew how to stick, gritty and thick, to her dirty skin, like some kind of hull of unnecessity. At least to her. Filled with sweat and sex, it served as nothing more than a means to a well-known end, the one where her long legs violently spread until they hurt, or the one where ankles linked behind her back and left another stain, that is if she hadn’t taken it off first, which she usually didn’t.
Shame, some women thought, those who had heard of her, of her heroic tales and godlike powers. They wouldn’t get a whole view of her muscular, stunning body, nor a whole impressive sexual push past that of her basic hands and mouth. Not a whole lot of anything, really, and certainly nothing whole. No, Whole what was laid to rest, what, a month ago? Xena stopped counting. She stopped counting. If she were counting, she’d have to count by hands in and on her, her hands in and on others; by bottles emptied and broken; by vomit as the sun made its way to the sky; by the ebbing, disappearing image of herself; by morals abating with alarming speed. By legs. Long legs, one pair her legs when they would step in and the music would stop, her rare beauty shining even through her increasingly paler, lacerated skin, and her increasingly adulterated gaze; and one or two or three more pairs of legs, then, once she’d taken her pick, tongues furious, anger furled, limbs twisting around limbs like some ritual, her anger rising and with it the frenzied motion of her body, her heavy sweat and the heavy reputation that stuck to her skin when she left, wiping her mouth clear of too many servings of raw alcohol and of the juices of the women she handpicked to play make believe with. Only they didn’t know they were playing make believe. Only she couldn’t care less that they didn’t. She also didn’t care about whatever was left in her after she threw up in alleyways, leaning always against the cool bricks for a moment, slamming always her head against them as hard as she could, remembering always her many years of training wouldn’t allow her to lose consciousness, and walking away always wiping her filthy hands on whatever piece of outfit or skin was available to her at the time, her direction always unclear and her lips always bitten raw.
This was life now in Moudania, Xena keeping by the borders of it, never more than a day’s ride from Potidaea. She’d report, giggling as she fought to keep steady, to the mayor of Polygyros, who would call her a whore always in Delian, either not knowing or not caring she spoke it. The Whore is here, they’d announce. She’d giggle always. Why, it was almost a title of respect, Xena thought. And if anyone imagined to themselves she’d be for the taking, worn down enough by her new, drenched, lifestyle, and attempted a grab at her, they’d be the subject of the physical and emotional fury of the frustration of not only that night, but of the of 61 nights and another one week before that—not that she was counting, she had forgotten—straight to whichever body part Xena felt it would be most amusing to injure at that point in time. She was never stopped, left to her own devices as long as she didn’t kill the men, and usually grabbed dinars and weapons from them, all in full sight of the mayor. This served two purposes: The Whore Protector of Polygyros kept up appearances, which guaranteed her a steady influx of dinars; and Xena got a nice, healthy, morning workout. She’d use some of the dinars for a place to sleep, and the rest for booze. Good Seekers, workers of Temples, would sometimes take pity on her and throw her food—that’s how sullied her appearance was; but that was about it as to what she consumed food-wise. She slept during the day, unless she was disturbed, in which case she’d fight, where, not that she’d admit it, she’d occasionally allow a blow to the head or a blade to the back to hit her—a serrated one, once, that cut through her like a knife through butter—since she felt it a better punishment than she could deliver upon herself. Not that she wouldn’t, with sheer rage, kick doors and trees and bricks—her favorite—until she ran out of breath, which took a long time. But who ever lost by a little more beatings? She never lost a fight, at any rate. But she certainly lengthened them, taking blow after blow with a ballerina’s grace, usually sipping something when she got bored with the fight and decided to end it by a close to lethal—or lethal, that happened too—force, dragging herself either back to bed or back to the tavern to hunt.
Like this night. And this Tavern. The tavern, which was unusually crowded and hot, where a riot was celebrating some unimportant battle or another—are not all battles unimportant, Xena thought. But then she had hers, didn’t she? Battles, that is, and she was nothing if not a woman of maddening perseverance, and she still tried, every night, to forget. Her jaw clenched, the music players stopped in appreciation of her ice-or-fire blue eyes and her sculpted form. Not what it once was, but disconcertingly beautiful nonetheless, and thankfully already with a candidate in mind, not one of the long-legged girls spreading on the bar, or caressing her skin, or opening her mouth to pour ale into, but a small blonde, young—maybe twenty—who sat wrapped in her shawl, seemingly worried, her blue eyes surveying the bar and lowering her gaze, as if to hide. Xena swatted away a row of men or women tasting her skin, breaking its surface with their nails, on her way to an empty table to the right of the girl. When her flesh-bound admirers wouldn’t stop on their own, she’d take odd pleasure in seeing them forced by the press of her heel. She glanced at the girl with a hungry look on her face, teeth bared, the left side of her mouth curling into a vicious smile, all of which she shook before she made any attempt at her destination: a small booth near the right wall of the tavern. She stopped to raise an eyebrow and put on an angelic look; by the way this little girl cowered, trying desperately to hide in her own skin, Xena thought her mother had never warned her, not of wolves nor hunters, both of which Xena was tonight, and every night, since she left Potidaea, 60…50…days…she giggled before resuming her mission. Since she left Potidaea however long ago.
Xena banged her glass of ale on a nearby table gently. Its foamy contents moved like the sea, and it reminded her of Gabrielle and the sea. And she—she liked it. She dipped her finger in the fluid, then slid her finger in her mouth, using the moisture to create a somewhat honorable-looking braid on each side of her head, tied, and let loose in the middle. She licked her fingers, clearing the small wisps of hair on her forehead, and grabbed a rag, possibly the one used to clear the wooden surface of the bar, to clean off, or in an attempt to clean off, her face, before she started her wayward journey to the blonde, two tables away from her. The sounds of the tavern bothered her, songs and dances of joy. This place was disgusting. There was no joy here. Heady loss, yes, damp and hot and wet floors and counters and hands and tongues, legs, yes, but no joy. No real joy. She was disgusted at joy, too, since it was pretense, since it was a lie and a game, the kind that hooked you to believe it for just long enough to kick you in the face and leave you coughing in a pool of your own blood.
After she’d left Potidaea—there was a dinner after the wedding, which she did not attend, and a formal goodbye to the couple, in which she did not participate—Xena blocked every thought regarding Gabrielle that rose in her. Her strict moral code, her insistence on peaceful ways even in the eye of the worst of dangers, her smile when she made out the stars to be this shape and that, and rolling laugh when she made the shapes into bedtime stories—a belt and a cart and a bear, and then a smaller bear, its cub, going on a trip on a snowy afternoon. Xena desperately went back in her mind and replaced the stories with the meditative sound of stone sliding down the metal of her sword. Or Gabrielle’s stories, dramatic enough to startle Argo several times a day when she told them, gestures full and exuberant; her inane sayings that would cause Xena to smile—but only behind her back. Her strikingly stunning poetry and her smile when she saw a flower at the side of the road, pushing its way, insistent, between reeds—her smile, the prettiest smile there was—Xena forgot all these. She forgot, and as she was forgetting, she stood, breathless, in the middle of the tavern, her sunken eyes blurred with tears. She was busy forgetting Gabrielle’s rosy cheeks, her hurried step to keep up with that of Xena, her long neck, the blue and green fabrics she wore, her small frame and quick gait, her slowly but surely learned movements of defense—but never, she insisted, attack. She forgot. She forgot, you see, and that’s why the ale began finding its way to her anyway. Like some aberrant game. You think of Gabrielle—you drown your sorrow in a glass of alcohol. Problematically enough, Xena knew how to hold her liquor better than anyone willing to play the game with her, so when she found herself awake still with her drinking partner passed out or worse, she would simply drink out of boredom, out of lack of company, out of lack of…she wouldn’t dare say it. Some matters the alcohol was good with. And she’d drink and drink and drink and drink and the only effect it’d have on her at the time would be a subtle muscle release—a great comfort for her those days—and if a barkeep tried to hold her back, or tell her that she’d had enough, she’d put the pinch on him, for fun, and then release it. Except for one time when she almost didn’t, since her mind was distracted with a warlord that grabbed her, resulting in his broken jaw, and in a, “I know how to hold my liquor, thanks.” The one exception did make a full recovery. Of course.
At any rate, Xena’s forgetting steps came to a halt slowly—a matter of a habit—on the tavern floor. Her clothes, even her normally tight leather shift, were so loose on her, that they were falling off of her, and she made no attempt to hide the string of marks and cuts that decorated her face and body. She made her way, some would say carelessly, through an audience of people, most of whom were after her—ugly men and stunning women or handsome men and unkempt women begging for a piece of her, sometimes tearing off a piece of her; she didn’t notice or know. She just had something about her, a girl with dark, unending eyes told her last week. Not only her dark hair and thick legs and swift gaze and immense strength and radiating rage mixed with what was clearly, at the depth of it, a pool of kindness. It was godliness, the girl had said, surely a visitor from Chin. Sex with her was different; ceremonial. Xena couldn’t keep up for two minutes, and the girl left her bent at the waist over a basin.
“Godly enough for you?” she shouted at the girl. She laughed, but tears pooled in her eyes.
“You will come to find it,” the girl said softly. “Soon enough.”
But she left, Xena snorted, and even if just for a night, or a moment, she really did laugh out loud, and some water she was gurgling came dripping down her face, and she wiped it away with the back of her hand. Godliness—proof then that her reputation had remained somehow intact past the borders of Greece, though surely it was beginning to change inside them. It was after all true that she went from effortless one-handed spars while she was drinking, to becoming restricted to almost-missed fights using both hands while she was already drunk. But she promised the village protection, not her constant presence, or skill. She did hear exchanged words like “cheap,” and “whore,” and “lost,” and “spreads herself around,” and the best part was that she did not care one bit. Because they were all true. Fights were becoming increasingly more difficult for her. Surely this was not aided by the fact that now her usually tan body had turned gaunt and blue and grey, emaciated and woven with infected cuts, because the nutrition it received was ale-based. Her angular bones seemed impending as if waiting to break through her skin, beaten, tired, skin, dark bags under her eyes. Her eyes, usually a vibrant, captivating, magical blue: see-through? An emanation of light, a creation of it, or a place to get lost in? Usually they’d stop walkers in their trek, but now just blue. Just blue eyes, as if someone had flipped a switch. Just blue eyes, like a million other blue eyes around the world.
In the tavern, she reached the table near the bar where the girl sat, and the girl seemed frightened. Something rose in Xena.
“Can I sit by you?” Xena said quietly. The girl nodded, slowly at first, then more enthusiastically when she realized she was in no danger.
“What are you doing here?”
The girl’s eyes kept darting around the room. A plethora of action was there for her to devour in every direction she looked if only she wished it; fights and breaking plates and sex on the bar itself, so casual the barkeep simply wiped around it. The girl’s eyes opened even wider.
“Hey,” Xena said gently, though she knew she didn’t exactly look or smell her best. “What are you doing here? This is no place for a girl like—”
A man was thrown and broke the table they were sitting near, assumingly part of a brawl. A brawl they’d nothing to do with. The girl screamed, and her shawl fell to the ground, her hands grabbing Xena in fear. Her face was horrified.
“….you,” Xena finished. The girl quickly drew her hands away, bending down to pick up her shawl, but Xena stopped her.
“That’s alright,” she said. Her voice was low, unmistakably so.
“My shawl—” the girl said. Xena picked it up with one swift movement.
“You couldn’t possibly be cold,” Xena tried. A small test. The tavern was thick and sweaty and almost burning with the body heat of a thousand desperate, empty souls in it. Emptied by war, emptied by birth. Emptied by abandonment. And inextricably entangled in one another.
“No,” the girl said shyly. “But my sister gave it to me. Before I left.”
By the gods.
“Yes,” the girl said. Maybe it was the time. Too early. Eleven at night? Far too easy a game to play; Xena bit her lip though, thrilled. She was hoping for this. It was just what she needed.
“Mm. Is that where you came from? You came from home?”
Oh, it took more than a month to undo a lifetime of training in body language and voice manipulation, the resting of a hand on a torso by—mere accident? It was where this girl’s hand rested, but surely only because of the terrible fright the man flying through their table had caused her. When she caught Xena’s smile, her hands remained where they were, and her fingers curled around Xena’s lean, though malnourished, body.
“Yes,” the girl said, an even more innocent tone added to her words. “From home.”
Xena nodded, pursing her lips. She blinked and placed her own hands around the girl’s body. She did kind of look like Gabrielle, her coloring, perhaps. But something in her resisted the attempt, and her hungry smile returned to its place.
“I see. And where is home?” Xena asked. She used a soft tone, almost inaudible.
“Potidaea,” the girl said, and Xena mouthed the word along with her—just to be completely sure. Coughing, and faster than anyone this particular girl had ever seen, Xena used one hand to grab the girl’s wrists behind her back, bring her leg up to the bench of the bar—or what was left of it—and slide with her other hand a short trip along the girl’s thigh, and into her underwear. She chuckled. If there was any room for shock or anger, it was replaced with a made-up, disgustingly fake gasp of feigned horror.
And, of course, it was.
“Oh, no,” the girl said, her tone nauseatingly baby-like.
Xena snickered, then nodded.
“Indeed.” Xena pouted for a second, then slid her fingers into the girl. She did it so smoothly and so well, the girl gasped for air for a moment, closing her eyes with pleasure.
What were you expecting, Xena asked herself. She moved her hand away, licking her fingers, and the girl grabbed her, her eyes clear and willing. If not a nightingale, her mother always said, a sparrow would do.
And so Xena, wide-eyed, moved her hand lower down the girl’s dress.
“And what on earth made you stop here, little girl?” She wasn’t aware her own voice could get so low.
“I’m looking for Xena,” the girl breathed. Barely.
“Mm,” Xena shrugged. The neighboring table had a glass on it. Xena took it; when its owner offered resistance, she offered his nose the back of her hand, and a deal seemed to have been made.
“Xena?” the brunette asked. The ale was sitting too long in its glass. Xena drank it anyway. “Why, she is a dangerous woman. What would you want with her?”
“I want to travel with her,” the girl said. Her game lost half its power once she figured out what Xena was capable of. “I know she’s very wise in the ways of war, and I can’t—can’t—stay in this small village any longer.”
The more the girl spoke, the less believable her character was. And the shine in her eyes was all the tell Xena needed. Xena stepped forward, lifting the girl to have her sit on the remnants of the table. Her long fingers pulled on her skin, and the girl moaned, deeply, not even from touch—only from the thought of just what might be.
“And what is it that you do, mm, little one?”
Xena moved one finger to travel down the girl’s shoulder.
“I’m a bard,” the girl managed.
Xena wasn’t even touching her, but her breathing sounded like more than one person exhaling at the same time.
“A bard?” Xena smiled.
Of Xena’s hands’ several talents—those that operated seemingly on their own—the limber, innovative, sexy one was needed here most. And since it was left uninterrupted—like her powerful one for the heat of battle and her inch-accurate one for grabbing knives and arrows—it came into play. Separate from herself, it almost seemed, than her body, Xena’s fingers found their way back into this girl—whomever she was. They reached the source of her heat easily with no guesswork needed, turning clockwise and counterclockwise, knowing with admirable adroitness and speed what to do. The blonde in front of her was hardly able to breathe.
“A bard,” the blonde managed to say finally. “I tell stories.”
“You tell stories?” Xena repeated. The blonde nodded. Xena’s hands slipped down to the girl’s thighs with one hand staying inside her, and grabbing her almost violently, causing her to let out a scream of pleasure before anything even happened at all. Xena chuckled.
“Stories.” She had a hard time stopping her laughter. “That’s good,” she said. Her left hand supported the girl’s weight as they found their way upstairs. “I hope you stick to writing them and not acting them out,” she said viciously, biting the girl’s neck, but when the girl made out a mark to stop—barely a motion—Xena moved her head and stopped immediately, and the girl was jolted into silence. Xena held her entire weight with one hand. She waited a few beats, to see if this girl wanted to keep playing or not. The blonde kissed her neck.
“Are you going to be quiet, little girl?” Xena said. She bit down on the girl’s lips. “I’m not much in the mood for stories.”
The woman she was holding was either stunned into silence or truly did not want to speak. Xena didn’t care.
“Mm?” Xena repeated.
All at once, the girl’s show came, abruptly, to an end.
“Ugh,” she sighed. “They told me you wouldn’t go for that.” Her voice became different, hoarse, all of a sudden experienced, free of its binds of a little girl and her stories, becoming swiftly its true self, heady, strong. “You like her too much.”
Xena bit her lip, and started going up the stairs, the woman in her arms.
“No,” Xena said, hoisting the woman up. “But close. I liked the sister bit.”
The woman clung on to Xena, surprised by her voice.
“You still gonna—”
“Mm,” Xena whispered, running her tongue down the girl’s neck. “See, I’m looking to forget about her, not remember,” she whispered in the woman’s ears.
“That can be arranged,” the woman said.
Xena liked that better.
“Good,” Xena said, stopping in her tracks. She pushed her thigh between the woman’s legs, raising a cry out of her, and then winked at the bartender downstairs; he threw her a bottle of ale. The woman snorted when she came off her high.
“They weren’t kidding.”
“When they said what?” Xena said. She swallowed down the bottle in one go. She whistled, and the barkeep was about to protest, but someone in charge, his father or older brother perhaps, stopped him, filled another bottle with ale, shut it down with a cork, and threw it to Xena.
“That you got it for her bad.”
Xena grabbed the woman’s hair—not too strongly—and turned her head around.
“Oh,” Xena said, making her voice as pretty as she could. “I thought we were done with stories for tonight.” Xena’s hand somehow managed to keep steady at the very center of balance of the blonde woman, and the blonde screamed in response, grinding herself against Xena.
“I can’t do all the work ‘round here, mm?” Xena bit the girl’s lip again. “Put your legs around me, harder,” Xena ordered. She bounced the woman up so she was sitting more soundly in her grip.
“Harder!” Xena barked. The woman gasped. The bar turned quiet. Or quieter. Xena bit the left side of her own lower lip, laughing, and the blonde woman kept almost losing her grip, overtaken with pleasure, before they even reached the top of the stairs. So, Xena withdrew her hands, letting the woman stand and balance herself in her grip. The woman’s eyes seemed wide, almost as afraid as they were aroused. Xena spoke softly when she ran her hand down the girl’s cheek. Her fingers were unbelievably soft, her voice low and eyes earnest. Something of their spark lit when she spoke.
“I’m not gonna hurt you,” Xena said. Her voice was almost pleading. The girl had no doubt about the truthfulness of her intent and assurance. Xena was drunk, yes, and she was terribly broken, but she had never, and would never, lose control of her sexual deeds. Or her verbal, even. “Don’t worry,” Xena whispered in the woman’s ear. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” she said, lowering herself a step down so she was almost shorter than the girl. Then she found the blonde’s hand—the first heartfelt gesture she’d performed all night—and squeezed it. “Ever,” Xena finished quietly.
The girl shook her head. Now that she was almost taller, she saw Xena. Saw why so many fall for her. Her cheekbones were jutting out so hard, lips so dry, eyes so frightened, now that the woman looked carefully—that she suddenly felt safe. That she suddenly felt responsible.
She ran a slow thumb along Xena’s cheekbone, the one that wasn’t marked with a bruise.
“No stories,” the woman whispered. She kissed Xena softly. Xena kissed her back, and it felt to the blonde like she was falling into air, almost as if there was nothing there to kiss. A ghost. The blonde woman turned so she was leaning against the wall, and Xena’s weight—feather light—was against her. Xena lowered her eyes. The more the blonde woman looked, the more she saw battered and bleeding patches of skin, green and blue and yellow marks, scratches and sword marks and all manner of half-healed wounds that seemed like they were drawn onto her body with searing pain. The woman tried to follow one with her finger. It went from Xena’s cheek to somewhere down her cleavage.
“No,” Xena said quietly. The blonde stopped right away, on her own; she needed no hand to instruct her. Xena’s smile was shy, now that it was free of pretense. “No,” she repeated, running her own hand along the fresh scar.
To be continued in part 2.