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: firstname.lastname@example.org and https://xenarevival.wordpress.com
See Chapter One for overall synopsis and disclaimer.
IX, Part I: Cliff of Caving
I cannot exist without you—I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again—my Life seems to stop there—I see no further. You have absorb’d me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I were dissolving…
It was an arduous journey from the bath to the guest room where Xena was to stay. It was supposed to be that she’d be staying with Lila, but suddenly, unexpectedly, Perdicus offered—as Gabrielle emerged from the lower floor, Xena walking already but her weight entirely on Gabrielle—that Xena should stay at his parents’ home, and that Gabrielle should stay along with her, in one of the many guest rooms.
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow.
“Perdicus. That’s so kind, but—”
Perdicus gave Gabrielle a half smile.
“You’d be tossing and turning all night wondering if she’s okay, anyway,” he said. There was no hiding the immediate, swift change in Gabrielle. For one, her body was different: her face flushed, lips a blood red, eyes shining. She looked exhausted in the best of ways. And then there was something else different about her, something in her gait—even with Xena’s weight upon her, a lightness. Perdicus examined Gabrielle and Xena with contempt. He thought for a moment that contempt is far too cruel a judgment. That he knew who had Gabrielle’s heart from the beginning. He was no fool—only in love—but his thoughts then turned. I’ll need all my cruelty if I want to win this fight, he said to himself, and summoned all of his fury and prejudice and hatred and scorn, choosing—fighting—to ignore the air Gabrielle had about her, her bright-eyed smile that had returned, suddenly, after disappearing so soon after their wedding.
Their wedding night, he recalled, summoning more anger so he could fight better. She ran to Lila’s and hid. Have I not been patient with her, Perdicus thought. Have I not given her time and comfort and ease? He looked Xena up and down, beaten, not one percent of her regular powerful self, and he was strong—stronger, at any rate—if it came to that, which it would not, he assumed, if he could only aim well enough to hit Xena’s Achilles’ heel.
At any rate, he showed none of this on his features. He presented a strenuous type of kindness, maintaining that his parents’ home was filled with ready, empty rooms; that the physician will be there early in the morning anyway, and then, so, why not save Xena another trip between Lila’s house and his parents’ house; and that if Xena were to stay at Lila’s, Carys would surely become at the very least fussy, and Lila needed the rest. “Besides,” he had said then, his voice all but harsh. “I care about Xena, too.” He smiled. “She’d be more comfortable here.”
Gabrielle looked at the high ceiling of the beautifully constructed home. This house had been standing for years and years, hosting generation after generation of elders, of decision-makers and leaders and all those powerful. And the powerful so soon become corrupt, she thought, and looked at Perdicus, then, knowing; the kindness of the cloth and water, of the bath, she’d give him. But this? This was beyond kind or curious. She knew enough, had learned enough maybe, to understand what she was dealing with.
Gabrielle offered him a raised eyebrow when they reached the guest room, after thanking him several times. Xena was either asleep or just resting her eyes and listening, and once Gabrielle made sure Perdicus saw her facial expression well enough to know she realized he was up to something, she approached the task of lowering Xena to the big bed in the middle of the room, trying—unsuccessfully—not to hit a wounded patch. When Xena didn’t flinch, Gabrielle and Perdicus both assumed she had drifted off.
“She really is exhausted,” Perdicus said.
Gabrielle regarded him with a sealed expression.
“She is,” Gabrielle offered, matching Perdicus’s tense tone. “I appreciate you being so kind as to let me stay here tonight.” She crafted her words carefully: “I shouldn’t like to see her even more hurt.”
“Of course,” Perdicus said.
“You know I’m willing to go to great lengths to keep Xena safe and well, especially now,” Gabrielle said.
Suddenly his smile was wrong to Gabrielle. She sensed something, but did not know what, and then her attention shifted—something was bothering Xena. Perdicus watched Gabrielle’s entire being, not just her body, turning to attend to Xena. He tried to remember if an ailment had ever befallen him, in the past two months, and if he had been treated, or at all seen, by Gabrielle.
But with Xena, Gabrielle’s hands moved quickly, surely, doing what she knew how to do best—heal. Perdicus couldn’t help the thought of how, in a room of a hundred happy men, Gabrielle could find the one wounded—even if his wounds were unseen—and care for him. He loved that about her. All the more reason, he thought.
Gabrielle knew, without being told at all, what would be best for Xena, easiest on her aching body, most comfortable, not too warm, not heavy on her battered back, what would support her neck and chest but not leave her too elevated since she couldn’t sleep in that position. All this from within her own almost telepathic understanding of Xena, and her true heart, a healer’s heart. But it was also that she knew Xena, Perdicus thought as he examined her; Gabrielle had studied Xena every day, knew her better than anyone. Surely this was what it was more than anything. Surely, if given the chance, she would study and know him just as well.
Even if he had not witnessed what he did in the bath, Perdicus would have known. There was no mistaking a lover’s touch: the way Gabrielle stroked Xena’s cheek with the back of her hand, running her thumb back and forth on her lips, resting her hand, almost absentmindedly, on Xena’s chest, right above the cut. And even if nothing had happened in the bath, he would still know where Gabrielle’s heart lay, deep down. But he knew Xena wouldn’t be coming back to Potidaea after the wedding, and so put all his efforts in making Gabrielle believe—gently—what he so passionately believed: that she was not made for a life on the road. That she deserved rest and joy and the best the world had to offer, and he was patient, trying bit by bit to make her understand that she’s with him now. His wife. With Xena in front of him, her beauty almost like a red cloth to a bull, he became furious with every gentle touch and whisper—and his patience was lost. Quickly.
Gabrielle gazed at him sporadically as she was tucking Xena into the luxurious bed. Her tone was flat, knowing, when she said, “Are you sure, Perdicus? This is really…quite the room. Xena will be alright here.”
“Of course you want to spend the night with her, do you not?” he said.
Gabrielle raised both her eyebrows and bit down on her lip. Her look was meant to convey shock, but she was somewhat amused.
“To make sure she is alright, yes. She is of course not even able to walk by herself.”
“Then do, please do,” Perdicus said.
Gabrielle locked her hands behind her back.
“Well, thank you for being so understanding,” Gabrielle said. The end of her sentence walked up in an odd lilt, as if searching for something, maybe Perdicus’s true intent. But another true intent was this: she was only getting started. She needed to satiate the incredible fire that burned in her, every part of her, some parts more. Perdicus and his knowing bothered her none. He was a distraction, especially right now. Spellbound, she needed to know more, see more, touch more, learn more—so much more and more, and she tried to tell herself that Xena is tired, and why not let her sleep, and that she would be wise to first make matters even with Perdicus, informing him in a formal way of her intentions of leaving with Xena once she got better, or even run and tell Lila, but her body throbbed so hard that it almost hurt, and she had surrendered to it before when it overtook her—listening closely, giving in—and she did not have it in her to overtake it, her body, that is, this time, either. Perdicus left the room with a “good night,” to which Gabrielle nodded.
“He knows.” Gabrielle heard a voice from the bed. She agreed. But didn’t care. The door had a latch, and Gabrielle locked it. She freed herself from the binds of her drenched robe and turned around. Xena’s eyes were open.
Her head was elevated—Gabrielle would tell you this was for better airflow, surely—resting on a few pillows. Xena looked at Gabrielle shyly. Still she wasn’t sure what was hers to touch and what was forbidden due to her sins. She looked at Gabrielle with hungry eyes. Her body was tired, yes, but it woke up and was alert and ready when Gabrielle shed her robe and took her seat at the edge of the bed, very near Xena’s shoulder, as close to her as she could possibly get. Wordlessly, she threw the blanket off Xena, undoing the linen nightgown she had brought her—that it fit so well now was disconcerting, but it did not matter. Nothing mattered now.
“Xena,” Gabrielle said. Her voice was like her heartbeat then, fast, powerful, commanding.
“Yes, do,” Xena nodded, and helped in whatever way she could to undo the gown, until Gabrielle became so frustrated, she tore it, leaving Xena with a dropped jaw and an unmistakable wetness in her inner thighs.
“Xena,” Gabrielle breathed. “All of it.” One untold question after another, she answered: “All of it, all of me, it’s yours. Yes—touch me. Yes—teach me—you have to,” and Gabrielle’s voice was a whimper. “I love you,” she said.
“I love you,” Xena managed. Gabrielle didn’t notice her hand resting on Xena’s unwounded shoulder, nails digging in.
With great difficulty, an already swaying Gabrielle managed to speak.
“Xena, do you want to do this? Are you okay? I don’t want to…force it, not only because you’re hurt, but if you don’t agree, don’t want to—”
Gabrielle’s sentence was stopped by Xena’s lips, intent-filled and resolute, on hers. She had lifted herself just enough to kiss Gabrielle and then pulled her down, framing her face with her long fingers, kissing her deeply, and even more deeply, and more.
“I don’t know what I’m allowed to do,” Xena said, her voice pointed, almost angry, and Gabrielle retorted,
“Everything. Everything. I’m yours. All of me. Do you want me?”
“Yes,” Xena said, and pulled the word along Gabrielle’s lips, lifting her hand to trace little lines down from Gabrielle’s neck to her chest and downward. “Yes, but—”
“Xena, I’m leaving with you,” Gabrielle managed at some point, she didn’t know when, a break where their lips weren’t touching. Gabrielle tried to take care, not to press on wounds or cuts or marks, but the waves of her passion were quickly becoming so loud in their crashing against the cliff that she could no longer pay attention. And Xena heard them crashing, too, and so, the more permission she was given, the more hunger awoke in her, and she didn’t care about her wounds or pain at all. Years of ache pulsated in her, deep down, in her mind, in her lungs, in her core; she felt the emptiness beating along with her heart. She had been asleep, but now that she was awake, she was unstoppable, and she grabbed at Gabrielle, making an oath to touch every single inch of her body, her nails grazing Gabrielle’s skin, and the blonde encouraged her, pushing her onward, biting at her neck, and the sound of her breaths made Xena’s back arch, and nothing hurt, not her nose or chest or arm or shoulder, and Gabrielle kept saying, more, more, and then her name: more, Xena, more, please, but still Xena restrained something, or tried to.
“I can feel you,” Gabrielle murmured. “Stop holding back. Stop,” she stressed this with both her hands on Xena’s breasts, stroking them, and Xena, somewhere in the back of her mind knew she should ask questions and be quiet, but days and days of violent thirst brought her here, and still—
“Stop,” Gabrielle said, and bit down on Xena’s shoulder. Nothing was quiet or still as water now. It was maddened—an offended, furious battle, hands weaved in hands and tongues on breasts, and scratches. More and more Gabrielle acted with raw, desperate frustration, as if nothing were enough, pulling Xena, who was still trying to be cautious, down with her, Gabrielle’s touch mending and healing and fixing all the wounds and sins and dirt, pushing them aside, kissing them away.
“Stop,” Gabrielle begged. “Stop holding back from me.” Her hand went to Xena’s face, and she bit down on Xena’s lip, hard. “If you want to make amends, take me, and teach me,” she begged, coaxing Xena more and more with her mouth, as if literally taking Xena’s breath away.
“Gabrielle,” Xena said. “I’ve done horrible—”
Gabrielle stopped her when she leaned down, biting on Xena’s breast. Her entire body was touching Xena’s entire body, both smelling of roses and lavender, and Gabrielle pushed forward with her strong body, caring less and less of wounds, as if tearing them apart would heal them, mend them, fix them—as if she knew.
“Xena,” Gabrielle said, and her voice sounded like nothing Xena had ever heard before—low and throaty and needed and needy. Gabrielle placed her hand on Xena’s face, stroking, tracing her thumb over Xena’s lips. “This is done. Do you understand me?” Her hips were moving ceaselessly, and so were Xena’s, like the sea—unstoppable no matter how they tried. “Whatever it is you are mourning over, whatever it is you are afraid of, you can tell me when we’re riding together, after we leave,” she said. She tutted her tongue and cocked her head, narrowing her eyes and stretching her head upwards, as if scheming. “Do you understand me?”
Xena was standing on the cliff of caving. How much longer could she deny herself? She couldn’t stop the motions of her body, wet and heaving in Gabrielle’s arms, and before she could speak of sins and pasts, Gabrielle said,
“Do you want this? Do you want me?”
Do I want you? Xena lost all semblance of reason she had. Do I want you? Gabrielle’s naked thigh was right by her side, and Xena placed her hand on it, inching upwards, and lifted Gabrielle’s leg so that the blonde was straddling her chest. Do I want you? Gabrielle was mindful of her wound and inched forward. Do I want you? Her skin was warm and soft and smooth, and it burned Xena when Gabrielle moved forward, supported by Xena’s long arm, until she was hovering above Xena’s face. I want you, I want you, I want you. Do I want you? I need you. And Xena forgot she wanted to say,
And then said,
“Gabrielle, I am yours,” and she spoke in hiccupped sentences to match her hungry thrusts and oscillating hips, ebbing and flowing. “If you take me, if you take me, I am only yours, all of me,” she said. She looked up and saw Gabrielle’s body above her and couldn’t help a moan. She brought her hand to her mouth, and in the back of her mind it was as if someone were whispering to her: that hurt, and, you have to be quiet, but her eyes were filled with the golden-yellow, ivory and pink, a canvas for her to paint on, to finally release, if only she would let herself—please, let me let myself, Xena asked herself as if in prayer. And Gabrielle, as if reading her mind, placed both hands on the wall behind the bed and whispered,
“Yes. Yes.” And she did a few more times but Xena didn’t hear or forgot. Shall I stay? Or do I go? Gabrielle heard her white noise again and surrendered to it without even attempting a fight. She straightened her body and threw her head back, exposing her long neck, and Xena shook and moved her hand from her mouth to join the other on Gabrielle’s back, pulling her forward, shifting the blonde’s weight so that it rested mostly on the wall, and slid both hands down her hips, grabbing her firmly.
Gabrielle was panting, her canvas-skin shaking. It was dyed now with a pink flush from her cheeks and down to her chest, where Xena’s mouth had been when she had screamed. Xena somehow, cuts and all, had lifted her hand to place it on Gabrielle’s mouth to muffle the noise. But Gabrielle wasn’t there; they were, both of them, somewhere else, somewhere out of their bodies, out of time, and out of this world. Xena looked up at Gabrielle above her. Like a worshiper at a temple, she was humbled and reverent, moved by the raw beauty and holy strength of Gabrielle’s body. Gabrielle’s soft thighs pressed on either side of her; they needed her, she knew, they asked her to pay mind, to look, to feel, to touch, to taste, to allow them. Xena felt the smooth skin against her face. I could die, she thought, forever cleansed of my sins, a martyr now, if only between these thighs. Gabrielle shook her head furiously, moving back and forth, a pendulum over Xena’s face, until Xena let her hands slide upwards, wrapping Gabrielle’s ribs, and then lowering the blonde so she was on her mouth.
Then everything turned quiet. In the room. In Gabrielle’s mind there was a thunderstorm; from without, she only shook and desperately tapped Xena’s shoulder gently with a spread palm, unsure of what to do with her hands or her legs or her mind, then knowing suddenly to move back and forth again, like the waves, like the dancers they would see, up and down, back and forth, swaying. With every stroke, she felt Xena’s mouth on her. Infinite, invisible lines of pleasure coursed through her, growing limbs of their own inside her, pulling her very core, pulling her very heart from her body. And it felt like nothing else, like nothing before. Maybe like she’d never been at all until this very moment. It was wet hot in the beginning, moisture building, hers? Xena’s? And then Xena’s tongue on her, touching her. Then it stopped. And Gabrielle opened her eyes, pleading.
“Is this okay?” Xena asked, and Gabrielle nodded and bit her lip and then found it in her to say either please or yes or something else, pushing herself down, desperate to allow the currents to climb and descend within her, desperate to feel Xena and nothing else. Every nerve felt every touch; her white noise was frenzied now, and she leaned forward on the wall when Xena placed her hands where her mouth met Gabrielle’s wet skin.
“Good girl,” she heard. The words circled along with the eddying pulses of pleasure in her. Good girl, she thought, moving her hands from the wall to place them against the hollows of Xena’s shoulders. Good girl, she kept thinking, and the words mixed with the crashing waves and the white noise, and to this soundtrack her control dissolved entirely. She nodded aimlessly, and was biting her lip so hard, she thought she couldn’t scream.
But she did.
She did, and then Xena did, too. Xena, who felt with every stroke of her tongue everything she had wanted, everything she had ever needed, her cuts and wounds mended with Gabrielle’s seesaw motions. Her hands, an anchor around Gabrielle’s waist, her body, a gentle swell against Gabrielle’s raging storm, were keeping Gabrielle steady upon her. Her own tide was rising, moving frantically towards the very shore upon which they stood, but Xena, always one to see the mission through to completion, concentrated on keeping Gabrielle afloat. Xena’s legs pressed together rhythmically. Despite her sacred responsibility to hold fast to Gabrielle’s every motion, Xena made a small crack in her vow. She could no longer resist sending one hand down her own stomach, down to the meeting place of her legs, which were now folded up, supporting Gabrielle’s back. She didn’t try to deny herself what she knew to do so well, and thought perhaps it would feel the way it always would, and thank the gods for flexibility, she thought, until she felt a shaking Gabrielle rising slightly from her mouth, and panicked.
“Gabrielle?” Xena said. A tear rolled down Gabrielle’s cheek. Gabrielle’s face and shoulders and chest and breasts were flushed and the skin there pink and shining like a moon at some tree’s helm and her shaking hand swatted Xena’s hand from where it was buried between her legs.
“No,” Gabrielle managed. “No, you’re going to show me.” She lowered herself down again. “And then I’m going to,” she said, and then grabbed Xena’s hand and placed it on her breast to play with and caress, and said, again, “Harder.”
And Xena did as she was told.
In a compact, visceral parallel to their years of travels together, Xena learned to know the landscape of Gabrielle’s body. Her taut stomach and her warm breasts, the curves and edges of her body, she memorized them with her hand, a dull ache there surrendering mercilessly, immediately, without a battle, to the pulse within her, cajoling her body to move with the pace Gabrielle dictated as she continued to move and sway, bound like clockwork front and back to Xena with one of Xena’s arms wrapped around her thigh. Gabrielle let out a cry, digging her nails into Xena’s skin and then returning to Xena’s breast. It sounded like a howl.
Xena’s body rose from the pillow chest first; she was rising, being risen, everything wet-hot and quivering, and her feet slid and slid on the sheets of the bed as she crossed her legs, and a further attempt on her part to bring her hand down was foiled without Gabrielle even stopping for a second. Strange, Xena managed a thought, so many times sex was harsh and unrelenting, thoughts bouncing in and out of her head, pangs of pain that she took with pleasure as punishment—not because she liked pain, only that she felt she deserved it—and here in this swaying storm everything felt so soft and clear of sharpness, Gabrielle’s body sliding on her mouth and her chin and under her nose.
She tensed, Gabrielle did, and when Xena looked up, up to see Gabrielle’s breasts scratched from her own touch and her body burning, she thought, this is all I’ve ever wanted, like she said, and then she said it, like she did before, except murmuring an explanation—this is all I’ve ever wanted not only when we parted, this is all I’ve ever wanted my entire life, I know now, this is all I’ve ever wanted and will ever want. Her words were sporadic, and muffled moans adorned them. Gabrielle was shaking, and she looked down. Her eyes, filled with tears, wide and wondering, seemed unbelieving, but her body, she knew already, knew what to do, and again without being told Xena brought her hand down from Gabrielle’s breast, straightened her legs so that Gabrielle’s back was lower, and found room in the infinitesimal space between her lips and Gabrielle to slide a finger, then another, inside.
Inside meaning inside, into, internal, innermost, inward, infinite, inevitable, and Gabrielle drew a breath so sharp that she coughed and arched her back so far that her blond hair was touching Xena’s legs. She shook again, like before, only stronger, and broke, like before, only stronger. Xena brought a hand to rest on her stomach. Gabrielle opened and closed her eyes and shook her head and cried out and looked desperately for something to hold on to—and then her body simply jumped and then fell, and she cried out a sob. Xena’s other hand went to her face, fingers long enough both to cover her lips and wipe away her tears, and she shook and shook for what seemed like hours and then leaned all the way back, then threw herself forward, without regard to wounds or bandages or anything but Xena’s heart, and she was spent, every part of her body aching and rejoicing at the same time.
She stayed like that for a bit, Xena’s mouth still on her. Then she found the strength, with Xena’s help, to lower herself enough so that she was tucked into Xena, fitting perfectly in every nape and corner. After a while she looked up. Tear marks stained Xena’s face. Gabrielle rushed to kiss away her tears.
“What is it,” she said. Her voice was hoarse. Almost completely gone. “I hurt you. Did I hurt you?” Gabrielle placed her hands on Xena’s face, and Xena kissed them, and couldn’t hold back a sob. Gabrielle nuzzled her nose. “What is it,” she murmured. Xena’s upper lip was covering her lower one. She looked into Gabrielle’s eyes. Into. Inside. Inward. Within.
“I love you so much,” Xena managed eventually, and Gabrielle covered her face and neck with small kisses. “Am I allowed to?”
Gabrielle’s mouth dropped open and she wiped Xena’s tears with her thumbs again and again, and suddenly she saw, saw how thin her skin was, how fragile her heart, how vulnerable she had let herself become, and all for Gabrielle.
“Oh,” Gabrielle said, and her tears mixed with Xena’s. “You’re safe now,” she said. “I’ve got you. I’m not going anywhere. Ever,” she said, and Xena cried quietly. “Ever,” Gabrielle repeated. She kissed away Xena’s tears and played with her fingers on the brunette’s body until she calmed down, her breathing even.
Gabrielle’s eyes sparkled. “I want to taste you, too,” she said, and Xena inhaled through her mouth. Gabrielle kissed it shut. Xena nodded.
“No one has before.”
To be continued in part 9, II: The Turn of the Screw.