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
See Chapter One for overall synopsis and disclaimer.
The problems of the world
cannot possibly be solved by
skeptics or cynics whose
horizons are limited by the
obvious realities. We need
men who can dream of
things that never were.
Gabrielle’s body felt hot in the water, hotter than the water, and she wondered quickly if it could be really that it was that, that what had just happened had raised her temperature beyond the water’s, beyond what was possible or healthy. Her breath hitched, and she looked down. Xena’s arms were wrapped around her, and she leaned back, bringing her hand to push Xena back a bit. Xena’s head hung down to her chest, eyes open only slightly. Her body said what her mind, maybe too ashamed, or guilty, or shocked, or blank, couldn’t say. Her lips parted; she was breathing hard, refusing to unlock her palms from behind Gabrielle’s back. She stayed close to her in the water, and it looked like her body was small, and frail, and as if Gabrielle was the dark and tall one, placing her palms on Xena’s forearms, then resting one hand on her cheek.
She had no words. None that she could think of. A nightmare for a bard like her. She felt something she had never felt before: her heart was still beating too fast, too much, her body still fluttering, her mind still rising and ebbing like the petals in the water, on an invisible soft surface, agile, direct.
Her hand angled Xena’s face towards her. Xena moved her head, but not her gaze. Her chest was rising and falling, and Gabrielle stared at her clavicle for a while and her shoulders, her neck and jaw. The water covered her up to her breasts. When Gabrielle pushed further, so their faces could touch, she saw that Xena was biting her lip. Her wounded-already body was clenched. Gabrielle tried to soothe it. She made a rocking movement in the water and drew Xena closer to her, her spread palm on her back, and Xena offered no resistance except to make herself even smaller, it seemed, as if she wanted to be invisible, disappear into the water or into the heady, too-hot silence in the room.
Gabrielle stroked Xena’s cheek with the back of her hand. She didn’t know it would tremble—her hand—or that Xena would lean into it so hard, as if looking for something to lean on, or a place to rest for a moment, escape her coiled and confused mind and body. Gabrielle cradled her face and rested her thumbs under her jaw again, managing, after a few more attempts, to catch her eyes.
Knowledge. It rested on the room like some kind of very clear skies. No questions needed to be asked. Not really. Gabrielle knew what she knew now, after months of vying and praying, sobbing and hopelessly calling out, after months of no ink, no quills, no scrolls, no touch. She worked once for a writer who taught her that certain things, not only shouldn’t they be said, but that they shouldn’t even be touched. If one is sure, he would say to her, pointing out his character, look, he’d say, he is walking along a road he knows to a home he knows. That doesn’t need to be said. If I did my work well enough, then it’d be known already to whomever only read one single line.
Gabrielle had walked in a way she didn’t know to a home she never knew existed. But, it occurred to her, that also needn’t have been said. Something inside her that had been away returned, full force, and it didn’t rock or jar her but simply was there, resolute. This was home, this was what she had wanted. She stared at Xena again.
“I love you,” she managed to say. She found her voice difficult to pin down, as if it wanted to run away, scream again and lose itself. Poetry is limited; a blaze of gold in every word, each one placed correctly, meticulously. She didn’t usually have very much room to speak. Now her voice wanted to lie down and play and run upon the scroll, but either Gabrielle wouldn’t let it, or Xena wouldn’t let it.
“Are you afraid?” Gabrielle asked. She asked because she wasn’t. She knew very clearly now that she loved Xena, that she was leaving with her, and that she would be hers. She imagined, vaguely, protest on Xena’s side, and said out loud only the end of her thought, in a whisper, “I’d fight for you.” Xena understood.
“Yes,” Xena nodded. She found it in her to look into Gabrielle’s eyes. Her voice was lower and quieter than the water.
“Will you let me do this without fighting me?” Gabrielle asked. She tucked herself into Xena’s body. She fit just perfectly.
“You’ll fight me? Is that what you mean?” Xena’s body was limp. It only then came upon Gabrielle that the physical strain ostensibly had cost Xena a lot of strength, and she wrapped her arms around the brunette, taking on all her weight. Xena let out a sigh of relief.
“Oh,” Gabrielle said suddenly. She cradled Xena’s body so Xena was carrying no weight at all, and as soon as she did, Xena relaxed. Gabrielle moved Xena’s arms to her own shoulder, carrying her in the water, so her head rested at the nape of Gabrielle’s neck, her knees over Gabrielle’s arms.
“I’ll fight you for you,” Gabrielle said, breath arrested—the healer in her had appeared and saw disconcerting exhaustion. “I think.”
Gabrielle moved quickly. She found a place to seat Xena down in the tub, but the brunette held onto her furiously.
“If you’re doing this because you think this is the last time my arms will be around you like that,” Gabrielle said, her gaze scanning the small rock-made shelf near the bath. “Or the last time you’re inside me like that.” Xena lifted her gaze suddenly. “You can let go. It’s done,” Gabrielle said. There were the wool blanket and honey and some other items on the shelf, except she couldn’t reach it. “It’s done now.”
Xena bit down on her lip. She shook her head a few times, and looked down again, the furthest down she could look, and Gabrielle took her hand and commanded her to grip the edge of the tub, and she did.
“You have as much chance to make me choose differently as you did the first time I came with you,” Gabrielle said, and Xena couldn’t help a smile. Gabrielle climbed out of the bath, and Xena allowed herself a look: all of Gabrielle was an ivory golden canvas, the most beautiful scene she had ever witnessed. When she was a child she would draw, in secret, with colors she stole or found, serene landscapes with evergreen trees or reddish-brown autumns in fields and places she had thought of herself and inhabited with just and ready citizens who defended truth at all costs.
Xena told stories too.
And Gabrielle, her skin glistening with water and essential oils, her long hair falling onto her long back, reminded her of the landscapes she drew as a child. Soft and just. Xena gripped another edge of the tub with her other hand. She was bracing against an invisible wave, one Gabrielle could not see but knew enough of Xena to turn around to watch—a wave of guilt and hesitation, of spirits dead and gone, of blood and lands and lands that have no mercy. Her mind held those always, as opposed to Gabrielle’s strict faith in hope and kindness. Xena’s skin, for all her scars and shields, was much thinner. The world’s sins and pain burned in her. The pain she had caused burned in her. The cut on her chest burned, stinging suddenly, and Gabrielle grabbed her robe, hurriedly placing it on herself, disheveled fabric on drenched skin, and grabbed the items she needed.
“I’ll decide for the both of us,” Gabrielle said softly, and tears pooled in Xena’s eyes—please do, she didn’t say, please take me from here so I can only be with you. “You don’t get to ride off from this one,” Gabrielle clarified. She approached the tub, wrapping the warm, soft wool blanket around Xena as she pulled her out of the water and into her arms, sitting down so she could seal wounds that had opened with their thrusted connection—those seen and unseen—holding a bandage and supporting Xena’s weight with her body.
“I am no good for you,” Xena started.
“Enough of that,” Gabrielle commanded. “This is gonna hurt.” She made sure Xena’s cut was clean of soap or milk or oils and placed the salt-rinsed bandage on it, soliciting a cry out of Xena that she had imagined before—but not like this—and it made her think of how similar pain and pleasure were. Could be.
“Your ghosts don’t live here,” Gabrielle said, her voice defiant, body strong, shoulders straight. “What is it that you want?”
“You,” Xena answered. Her face winced. She didn’t delay her reply since she knew it was already known, already clear, and didn’t need to be said.
“Then it’s your turn to surrender,” Gabrielle said. It sounded harsher than she had wished it to be. But then she was happy of that. “You don’t do that,” Gabrielle said, pointing at the tub. “You don’t do that and ride off. I’m leaving with you when you’re better. I told you this was yours.” Gabrielle lifted Xena again, placing Xena’s hand on her chest. “Push,” she ordered.
Xena looked up at her. She chewed on her lip again but did as told. Her palm pushed against Gabrielle’s soft skin, against her ribs. She didn’t move.
“It’s for good now,” Gabrielle said. “Unless you say no. Unless you say no right now, that it’s not what you want. That you lied.” Gabrielle lowered her voice. “When you said I was all you wanted.”
“You are,” Xena said. The honey on her chest stung so strongly, that even she couldn’t help a sigh of pain. Gabrielle gathered her in her arms, bringing her closer to her.
“I am? I’m all you want?”
They stared into each other’s eyes. But—Xena was going to say, and Gabrielle, as if reading her mind—
“Not this time.”
She shook her head. Tears fell down her cheeks and got lost in her blonde hair. “Your demons don’t get to take you away from me this time.” Xena understood something or began to. She nodded, slowly at first, and then vigorously. Her body, weak from effort and throbbing with pain, had one last request.
“You can close your eyes,” Gabrielle whispered, kissing Xena’s forehead. “I’ve got you. I’m just going to take you to bed.” Xena shook her head.
“Kiss me,” she asked. Her face looked frightened. Gabrielle did, raising Xena up, bringing her lips to Xena’s. For all the struggle her muscles put up, Xena felt her body come to life again, one patch of battered skin at a time. They were suddenly deserving under Gabrielle’s decided touch, and she pushed harder with her lips until Gabrielle had to send a hand behind her, to steady herself.
“I’m only going to bed if you’re coming with me,” Xena whispered, and her voice sounded like it was burning on both its ends. Gabrielle nodded.
“I’ll come anywhere with you,” she whispered. Her hand stroked past Xena’s cheek, to her lips. Xena licked her finger, and Gabrielle let her, her breathing accelerating again, her body pushing her again, ordering her to arch her back and stealing control from her as Xena sucked on two of her fingers. Gabrielle breathed through her mouth. Xena could feel her, heating and pulsating, a moisture of a different kind starting to stain her back through the blanket she was wrapped in.
Gabrielle’s head shook.
“What do you call this?” Gabrielle asked. Moans left her mouth unchecked. Xena managed to raise herself up, just a little. She bit on Gabrielle’s lower lip. “Don’t take this away from me,” Gabrielle whispered. Xena wasn’t sure she was talking to her.
“You’re all I wanted,” Xena reprised. “But want and deserve are different things.”
“You’re all I want,” Gabrielle said, and her wet fingers slid down Xena’s body, avoiding her wound. “Do I deserve?”
“You deserve everything,” Xena said. Gabrielle lowered her hand, and then raised it again. Xena exhaled loudly.
“Then it seems you’ve no choice,” Gabrielle said.
“It seems so,” Xena whispered. They kissed again.
Perdicus watched from the entrance to the caved area. He placed Gabrielle’s wet nightgown down where he had found it, close to the corner of the room. He was close, so close, to the two women, watching what he had known for months take form, resisting and then sporadically relenting, vengeful and then merciful suddenly—Xena was weak and he was wise, was what he thought for a moment. And then, all he wanted was for Gabrielle to be happy. He’d never seen her naked body. But when he looked at it now it seemed to him it was placed right where it belonged. I won’t lose respect, he thought, and then of how malleable Xena’s skin was, how terrified she was of her shadows. How her biggest fear—hurting Gabrielle—was and always will be her greatest undoing. He planned nothing. He watched a little longer, until Gabrielle rose to her feet with Xena in her arms. Then he turned and left.
To be continued in part 9, I: Cliff of Caving.