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: gilihirschwrites@gmail.com and https://xenarevival.wordpress.com



See Chapter One for overall synopsis and disclaimer.



VI:

I have been astonished that men could die martyrs

for their religion—

I have shuddered at it,

I shudder no more.

I could be martyred for my religion.

Love is my religion

and I could die for that.

I could die for you.

My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet.

 

Gabrielle didn’t hear footsteps down the hall leading to the kitchen. She had moved to Lila’s bedroom a little while ago, grabbing a blanket. Lila and Demetrius took Carys out of the house, because of the smell and the trauma, and Gabrielle was left there alone with Xena. She spread a blanket over Xena’s body, and then rolled up another one, placing it under her head. She was busy examining the cuts on Xena’s arms, wondering how she was going to remove the shard of glass from one of them, when she heard a premeditated cough behind her. She didn’t turn around. Either because she didn’t notice—or because she didn’t care.

She’s in a pretty bad state,” Gabrielle heard a voice behind her saying. She only half-turned her attention to Pedicus, her fingers staying resting between two cuts.

Yeah,” Gabrielle said. “She is.”

Perdicus walked farther into the kitchen. Gabrielle didn’t like that. He looked at Xena; she didn’t like that, either. Her lips were pursed, and her left hand rested defensively across Xena’s torso, over the blanket.

She cut up this bad all over?”

Gabrielle turned her head back to Xena’s arm.

Worse.” She was almost scared Perdicus was going to ask her to take off the wool blanket to reveal what shape exactly Xena was in, and then she remembered. “You saw. Outside.”

There was a wet towel on Xena’s forehead, and Gabrielle sent a hand to wring it out and replace it; Perdicus stopped her. He did it instead, folding the towel neatly in half so it would cover more skin, very carefully lifting Xena’s head and then placing it back down. Cold water dripped down her temple and onto the table. Gabrielle examined his form.

Thanks,” she said.

Perdicus nodded.

Gabrielle,” Perdicus started. “You know, I know how much Xena means to you.”

Gabrielle was silent. She needed something sharp and pointy to get the glass out of Xena’s arm.

I know she’s your best friend, and you love her dearly, and I know you were searching for her for a while.”

He paused, pacing around the room.

This must hurt,” he said.

Gabrielle pursed her lips further. Tears rose in her eyes.

The person who’s hurt here is Xena,” Gabrielle said, her jaw clenched. “In case you hadn’t noticed.” Her voice broke, and she continued her efforts to reach the shard of glass. She was almost there. If only she weren’t being interrupted.

Perdicus grabbed a chair from nearby and placed it near Gabrielle. He sat down and reached out to stroke her hair. She flinched, shaking her head away. He nodded. He looked at Xena’s arms, then, looking to touch her wounds. Gabrielle turned her back to him so he couldn’t.

These aren’t self-inflicted, she got hurt somehow,” Gabrielle said. Her voice remained completely even, free of expression or lilt. “There’s still glass in one of the cuts. I have to get it out. Now.”

I can—” Perdicus started.

I’ve almost got it,” Gabrielle said. She glanced over at Xena and then back to Perdicus. “I just need some space.”

Perdicus nodded.

I came to tell you, uh, that…my mother and father…you remember they have a bath, of course, on the lower level.” Gabrielle whipped her head towards him as he continued. “You’re welcome to take Xena there, to wash her,” he continued. “She doesn’t…the smell…”

Perdicus, really?” Gabrielle smiled. It was the first time he had seen her smile in months.

Of course,” Perdicus said. “We’ve sent for a physician, but he can only be here tomorrow.”

Gabrielle stood, still in her nightgown and robe—she hadn’t had time to change—and embraced Perdicus, an honest embrace, again a touch he hadn’t felt for months, and thanked him.

Of course,” he repeated himself. “Of course, we want to do everything we can to get Xena back up on her feet, and…back to doing good ‘round the world,” he chuckled. Gabrielle nodded, her mouth open. “And then you and I can finally start our lives together, you know?” Gabrielle’s smile disappeared. She abruptly withdrew her hand from Perdicus’s. “You’ll know that Xena is safe, and we can finally…” He held her hand again. “We can finally be the married couple that we are.”

Gabrielle’s mouth fell slightly ajar. Without Perdicus seeing, she blindly searched for Xena’s hand.

Ye-Yeah.” Gabrielle nodded, scratching her head. “Yeah, okay.” Her gaze was downcast, and then she took a look at Xena, changing the subject completely. “So, can I take her to the bath now, or…should we wait—”

No, yes, now’s good,” Perdicus said, nodding. “It’s all ready. Hot water and all. I’m sure it will do her a world of good.”

It will.”

Gabrielle was already focused on Xena, who was slowly regaining consciousness, opening her eyes here and there. Gabrielle bit her lower lip, and rested her palm on Xena’s forehead, running her thumb across her brow.

Perdicus stepped forward, his hands going towards Xena’s knees and shoulders.

No!” Gabrielle yelled, louder than she had meant to. She stood over Xena, her body in a protective stance. “No, I…No. I can carry her now, she’s really nervous, I-I don’t want to disturb her.” Gabrielle almost tripped on her words. But her body stood proudly, her hand holding Xena’s, unapologetic. Maybe relieved. Perdicus took a step back.

It’s crazy you can carry her no—” He stopped mid-sentence.

She could before, too,” he heard Xena say. Her voice was hoarse, and she coughed, then stretched her limbs, as much as she could. She looked up, and then back to Perdicus, and Gabrielle smiled at her. Xena reached her hand, the one that wasn’t bleeding, to the dry blood marks on Gabrielle’s face. “She’s strong,” Xena managed. Her body didn’t move. “She can do anything she wants.”

Perdicus nodded again. He walked backwards a few steps, then turned and walked out of the house.

You know how to get there,” he said tersely.

Perdicus,” Gabrielle said. She didn’t run after him, didn’t loosen her grip on Xena, but her face turned softer.

Yeah?” he said, impatiently.

Thank your parents for me, and thank you,” Gabrielle said, nodding. “Truly.”

Perdicus bowed his head towards her. He turned around and walked away, silently. Gabriele stared after him for a moment, then returned to her position next to the table. She bent down.

Hi,” she said.

Xena moaned.

Ow,” Xena murmured.

Oh, yeah,” Gabrielle nodded. “Absolutely.”

Xena smiled.

You’ve been training without him knowing?” Xena said. She looked at Gabrielle’s arms. Gabrielle lowered her head.

That doesn’t matter right now,” she said with a smile. She blew air to move a wisp of hair from her face. “C’mere,” she said, bending down at the waist over the table. “Put your arms around me, hold on.”

Xena made a colossal effort to lift her body. Gabrielle wrapped her in her arms, and Xena winced, holding back from crying out.

I know,” Gabrielle commiserated, her voice low. She pulled at Xena slightly. “I know.”

Do I look as bad as I feel?” Xena exhaled. She attempted a smile. Eventually, she managed to lock her hands around the back of Gabrielle’s neck, and when she did, Gabrielle hoisted her up to carry her—with very little effort—one hand supporting her back, and the other snug under her knees. Gabrielle adjusted the blanket around Xena, making sure she was safely and comfortably secured in her arms. She then bit her lower lip as she struggled to reach for the wet towel, grabbing it with two fingers, then resting it on Xena’s forehead.

You’re stalling,” Xena moaned. “I must look even worse.”

Gabrielle tightened her grip, waiting for Xena to place her head at the nape of Gabrielle’s neck.

Gabrielle looked forward. Her expression was resolute, and she started walking. She was silent for a moment, her eyes reflecting light from the setting sun. Her voice was far, impassive, when she did speak, looking ahead.

You look absolutely beautiful,” she said.

*

Walking through the village, covered in a robe, and carrying a gaunt Xena, Gabrielle kept her eyes forward. Potidaea was fraught with talk of her anyway, she knew. How she hid at Lila’s and stayed with her parents, her younger sister marrying—a love marriage, no less—before her, bearing a child before her, the distances Perdicus went to, to keep her in one spot. And the distances she traveled to stay away.

Xena felt light in her arms. And warm. Gabrielle felt guilty, and furious, and hot—it was hot—and not all of the alcohol was out of Xena’s system, and not all the glass was out of her cuts, and Carys had to go to sleep now, the sun setting slowly over Potidaea. Potidaea, where she grew up. Where she always felt strange. You’re a fish outta water, girl, her mother would tell her every time she snuck out. To count the stars, to follow the learners. She was small but strong, always, didn’t play with the boys or with the girls. When her legs were too short, she would swing them from the stool at her parents’ house and make up languages for herself, a sign for each letter, a story for each sign. They had told her she follows too many stories. She thought stories were the only things there were to follow.

Stories and love.

Gabrielle looked down. Xena’s eyes were open. She looked into them, searching for something. She didn’t know what. But she found it, like she did every time. Xena smiled at her. Her cut lips curled in a mischievous grin, and Gabrielle giggled, and Xena snorted, then let out a small sigh. She fastened her arms around Gabrielle, whose bare feet were making small marks in the sand.

*

Xena took a second to stand on her own feet but quickly realized she could only do so when supported by Gabrielle. The sounds of the hot bath were rhythmic and soothing. It was dark now, and the water was warm and inviting—at least to Gabrielle, who surveyed the surface next to the water: bowls of rose water, lavender, a bottle of wine. She brought honey with her and wool bandages. This was exactly what she needed.

She turned to Xena, whose eyes were closed now.

Hey,” she whispered. Xena’s eyelids fluttered open. She was still for a moment, and then her body jerked, gasping for air. Gabrielle panicked suddenly.

Hey, no,” she said, trying desperately to catch Xena’s gaze. “You’re alright. You’re with me,” Gabrielle grabbed Xena’s hand. “Listen. Shh. Listen. You’re here, you’re safe. I’ve got you. Nothing is happening. You’re in my arms, I’ve got you.” She repeated the words a few more times, I’ve got yous and It’s okays and Hush, fastening her grip with strong arms, until Xena settled, finally looking into Gabrielle’s eyes. She seemed more frightened than Gabrielle had ever seen her. It hurt a part of chest that she didn’t even know existed.

Here we go,” Gabrielle whispered. She managed to overcome her tears completely, not even one falling down her cheek. “There you go. You’re right here. See? I’m right here with you,” she said. Xena was breathing from her mouth. Her nails dug into Gabrielle’s skin.

Where are we?” she asked. Her hand turned into an even stronger fist.

We’re at a bath,” Gabrielle said. “You need one.”

Xena closed her eyes when her vision turned blurry, and then opened them. She sighed. A bath sounded good. She looked at the water. Steam rose from it, and she imagined sliding in, resting her muscles, washing her wounds. She leaned into Gabrielle’s arms, hiding her face in the blonde’s neck.

Oh,” Xena said. Her breath was heavy.

Yeah,” Gabrielle’s voice rose as she spoke, lowering her hands from Xena slowly. Xena didn’t like the change in angle and especially not the growing distance from Gabrielle. She grabbed on to her more strongly.

We’re just gonna stand you on up again,” Gabrielle said quietly. “I’m here. You’ll hold on to me.”

Something in Xena’s demeanor changed. Her face was frozen; she started to shake.

What’s going on? What’s happening?” Gabrielle said in a hurry. She had removed Xena’s blankets already, so she was left in her dress, which was torn to pieces. “It’s okay. What’s going on?” Gabrielle examined Xena’s body—her face, her swollen shoulder, the cuts on her arm, her midriff—or what she could see of it.

Gabrielle…no,” Xena said. She was terrified, fists grabbing the fabric of Gabrielle’s robe. “No, I can’t—no, I have—”

Gabrielle removed her hands from Xena completely. Xena was standing alright on her own, but still holding tightly to Gabrielle. Gabrielle wasn’t sure why Xena was so withdrawn suddenly, frightened, but she wrapped an arm around her stomach, and another across her chest protectively, murmuring reassurances.

Hey,” Gabrielle said quietly, her voice calm, calming. “We’re the only ones here. Just you and me. No one is going to come in, or see anything,” Gabrielle said, stroking Xena’s hair. “Or see you. Or say anything.”

Xena nodded. She didn’t know what her body looked like—not completely—but she knew it didn’t look good. The nose and hand and chest she figured out. But her back, she had no idea. She ran into so many things, and people, was under so many heels, so many tables were broken on her back, and she didn’t want to continue worrying Gabrielle. She was feeling guilty enough already for what, to her, was interrupting a happy family life and crashing in, needing rescue, which she never did, and didn’t like.

I don’t—”

It’s okay,” Gabrielle said. “However bad it is, it’ll be okay.”

Xena closed her eyes. Gabrielle took off her robe with one hand, then returned the other to Xena, who was still shaking. Gabrielle’s hands were so warm.

I hope you’re not planning on taking advantage of a woman in my situation,” Xena said, managing a grin.

Gabrielle’s nose crinkled as a smile spread on her face.

Oh, I wouldn’t dare,” she said sheepishly, batting her eyelashes. “How do you feel about standing?” Gabrielle said, focused.

What? In general? It’s a good enough position as any,” Xena said, despite the rising fear and nausea in her. Gabrielle nodded.

Okay, I see we’re back,” she said. She slowly took her hand off Xena, sliding it only far back enough so she could reach the laces on her shift. Xena wobbled. “I got you,” Gabrielle reminded her, immediately stepping closer. “I’m right here. Not gonna let you fall.”

The last sentence echoed in Xena’s mind. Gabrielle never did let her fall. She found her somehow and everything had been different and beautiful since. She’s not gonna let her fall, but when she’s able to stand, she’s going to have walk—away. A tear rolled down her cheek as Gabrielle reached, one arm fastened around her, to undo the laces on her leather suit. Xena didn’t see her cry.

Gabrielle pulled on a lace, but she soon enough stopped; she lowered the straps of the shift down Xena’s shoulders and stepped back a bit. Like she had thought, the garment needed no undoing. It simply fell off Xena’s body with ease. Gabrielle shook her head again, and then again.

Oh,” she managed. Or something like it. Xena tensed.

What is it?”

Nothing,” Gabrielle soothed. “Shh. It’s okay,” she said. She spread her palm open and placed it between Xena’s jutting shoulder blades. Her monumental effort to keep from gasping, from crying, from holding Xena’s forehead to hers and asking her why, and how, and why and why and why, succeeded—almost. She let out a small gasp, which she masked with a cough. That did not go unnoticed by Xena, but she said nothing.

Xena’s back was scratched raw, filled with bruises, new and old. It reminded Gabrielle of the stars they used to connect, when it was just her and Xena and the stars; if she drew a line between all the bruises, she’d get a very intricate drawing of something. Maybe an explanation, she thought. She was glad Xena’s back was to her. The emotions that ran through her were difficult to explain. Xena was first priority, and her wounds and cuts were to be taken care of first. But how did she, in two months, get to this situation? Gabrielle knew she was angry at the wedding. At her walking away. Knew her well enough to know that she wouldn’t be coming back, despite Gabrielle’s requests. That if you get on that list—Xena’s bad list—you’re not getting off of it.

Gabrielle kept her eyes off the bruises and kicked out any notion of how which bruise came about and why. It didn’t matter. Xena suddenly crossed her arms defensively, protecting her body, lowering her head. She bent her knees, still grabbing at Gabrielle with the tips her fingers—because she had to. Her hair, usually fine as silk, was greasy and coarse, and filled with sand and crumbs, and it was the only thing Gabrielle could see, despite the height difference between them. Xena was all but cowered in the corner, using the wall as another source of support for her back, her legs shaking.

Gabrielle’s nightgown was plain white. She lowered her body, placing her palms on Xena’s waist.

Hurts to stand?”

Xena didn’t answer. She hung her head down lower. It looked as though she were trying to fold herself in half. Gabrielle twisted her body so both her arms were wrapped around Xena again. Xena didn’t flinch—not really—but it appeared as if she were looking for a place to hide.

Xena?”

Xena was quiet. Gabrielle turned again, pressing Xena closer to her, and Xena bent forward at the waist. She put her hands over her ears, long fingers weaving under her unkempt hair, and let out a sob.

Hey,” Gabrielle said, turning to her. She was holding all of Xena’s weight in her arms. “Hey, what—”

I don’t want you to see me like this,” Xena said. It was a tortured whisper, and it tore at Gabrielle more, even more than she had been tearing since she first saw Xena in the hides. No—since she first said goodbye to Xena on her wedding night. Small brief incisions make an impact, in the end. They become a huge void, unmendable, starving, dark. “I don’t want to be seen like this.”

Gabrielle’s hand hovered over Xena’s back, the sharp edges of her ribs and vertebrae showing.

Xena, I—I saw already. It’s alright.”

I know you’re mad at me,” Xena said. She buried her head further into her hands.

What? What? No!” Gabrielle said. She kept her hands where they were, considered lifting Xena up and carrying her some place so she’d be in her arms. Something told her not to touch. “I’m not mad at you. I’m not mad at you.”

Gabrielle,” Xena whispered. “I did this. You do know that.”

Yes,” Gabrielle nodded. Her thumb moved back and forth across Xena’s skin.

I didn’t—it wasn’t only you,” Xena said. “It was everything. It was all the years. It was everything crashing down. You were a dam, you were…a gift,” she managed. “But you were wrong,” she whispered.

No,” Gabrielle said.

Yeah. You were. Look at what two months without you did to me. My morality…” Xena said shakily, lifting her hand with difficulty to place it on Gabrielle’s chest. “Is inside someone else’s heart.” Xena sounded like she was discovering a grand secret. Gabrielle’s emotions were running high anyway. She was angry, yes. At herself more than anyone. For being frightened and continuing to be. For leaving. For staying. For loving. For loving most of all. She suddenly remembered she was a married woman who had not had sex with her husband once. Not even on their wedding night. That she was a married woman who responded immediately, giving her full attention to someone else’s distress. Someone who was not her husband. For becoming her own surgeon, the swift cuts she made to her heart that made out the void that Xena—even battered, ill, gaunt, even half of herself—fit into perfectly. And no one else did.

You—” Gabrielle started. She choked on her words. “You didn’t do…anything wrong.”

Xena let out a sound that was a mix between laughter and a horrible howling cry.

You have no idea,” Xena cried. “You have no clue.”

Gabrielle stroked Xena’s back upwards, until she reached Xena’s hands.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t your fault,” she said. Xena shook her head, and then tripped from the movement. “Alright,” Gabrielle whispered, “This is too much standing.”

There was a rock-made bench near the bath. Gabrielle scooped Xena up and carried her there. She didn’t keep her in her arms, though. She let her sit, legs drawn to her chest, her head between her knees.

I have done…horrible things, Gabrielle,” Xena started. Gabrielle was silent. “Those I told you of in the years before I met you, and those I did in the months after I left.” Xena took a breath. She coughed every time she did. Gabrielle shook her head. She lifted Xena’s face with one hand, cleaning the blood around her—ostensibly broken—nose.

I forgot about that,” Xena whispered.

It’s the gods’ way of giving other women a chance,” Gabrielle said with a smile. Her hand went to Xena’s hair again. “You did terrible things. But your heart is good.”

It’s not—”

No, listen to me,” Gabrielle demanded. “I am angry. Yes. At myself, I’m angry at myself,” she said. They were both quiet then. And all at once something lifted, some heaviness, some fury, some confusion. Things that didn’t matter. Making room for the one thing that did. I wrote scrolls about you, Gabrielle wanted to say, I married Perdicus because I was too afraid of true love, after all my statements of it. I’m a hypocrite, she wanted to say, a liar, and I know a good heart when I see it, and sometimes actions don’t matter. Sometimes actions are just needed. But she bit her lower lip and said nothing.

I tried to replace you,” Xena whispered. After that, she finally cried. Slowly at first, then openly, her face contorting, cries so powerful they sounded like howls leaving her. And she tried to make herself small, and Gabrielle wouldn’t let her. She stroked her hair. She let her hand travel past Xena’s face and neck and collarbone and back.

I tried to replace you,” Xena said, her eyes maddened, jumping from one focal point to another. “I’d…I’d find girls who looked like you and I—”

Stop,” Gabrielle told her. “Stop.”

No,” Xena howled. “That’s what I did. I looked for another you. I hated you,” she seethed. “I was so angry at you. I resented you, because you chose—because you loved—”

Xena, somewhere in the middle of all our time together, I fell in love with you,” Gabrielle said. It was rushed; she didn’t want it to be. But she had to say it. It meant more than the scrolls and the marriage and the secret training and Xena trying to replace her. Gabrielle didn’t need further confessions from Xena. Xena’s body did it for her, in the marks that it carried, and in how it was being carried now.

There was complete silence now in the bath. Candles were lit there, and their light reflected on the water. Xena’s cries stopped. Her hand was at her mouth, and Gabrielle’s head moved slowly until it leaned against her back. Her breaths were shallow.

I married Perdicus because I was going against myself. Because I wanted to play it safe, but don’t think for a second—”

She turned Xena’s head, with a little bit of force, so her eyes could be seen, and was shocked—delighted—to see the spark in them return, slowly, making them the most special eyes in the world, ice cold, furiously emotional. “Don’t think for a second I liked it here. I thought about you every day. I made a mistake. A horrible mistake, and I got trapped,” Gabrielle said, gesticulating. “All I wanted was you, and our life together, and Argo, and bedrolls, and counting stars, and fires at night, and….”

Gabrielle paused. Xena looked so beautiful. How could she look so beautiful with so many bruises, with blood everywhere on her, with marks on her cheeks, bruised. It must be that her heart was shining through, Gabrielle thought, so many times. It must be that her loyalty, and her kindness, kindness she thought she didn’t have, kindness she had more than anyone Gabrielle knew, simply poured from within to without. Some people were like that.

Gabrielle was like that, Xena thought. But she said in a whisper, “I don’t deserve any of this.” But her hands moved to Gabrielle as if on their own, and Gabrielle whispered,

You’re too hard on yourself,”

And Xena answered,

You don’t know what I did,”

And Gabrielle whispered,

I know whatever it is you did hurt mainly you. And it does whenever I write of you. Just blood between the pages,” Gabrielle said, still whispering, and then she brought her hand to Xena’s ribs suddenly, and Xena gasped. “And I can’t stand to see you bleed.”

The water reflected, almost dancing, on the ceiling above the bath.

And what,” Xena said abruptly. Her voice was a speaking voice now. She let Gabrielle’s hand rest on her ribs, and stared at her, through her, her shaking arms spreading open on her chest.

What?” Gabrielle said.

Argo, and bedrolls, and counting stars, and fires at night, and what,” Xena said. She sounded resolute. Gabrielle hadn’t heard her sound like that for a while. She opened and closed her mouth a few times.

And what,” Xena said, almost begging, almost asking for permission, and Gabrielle nodded, and she lowered her head and dipped it under Xena’s, their mouths coming closer together—

And what,” Xena begged. “And what, fires and nights and what,” she said. A tear rolled down her cheek.

And you,” Gabrielle said on an exhaled breath. “And you to be mine. Only mine. Fires in the night and for you to be mine—”

How,” Xena whispered. Gabrielle was quiet. They were, by force of inertia or by force of attraction, getting closer, and Xena kept on whispering, “How. How? How.”

And then Gabrielle kissed her. Their lips touched, and Gabrielle gasped, lowering her head, and Xena rested her hand on her chin, raising it back up.

Like that,” Gabrielle nodded, then shook her head. Then she kissed Xena again, her body coming to life, as if waking up from a long sleep. “Like this,” she said.



To be continued in part 7.