...Came A Seed
WARNING: This story has strong suggestions of romantic love between two consenting adult women. Those will small minds or who are under legal age (18 years, 21 in some States) should not read beyond this sentence. Those who are legal, live in States where such material is not illegal and those of understanding mind and heart please enjoy.
DISCLAIMER: The characters of "Xena," "Gabrielle" and "Autolycus" belong to MCA/Universal. The Gods and Goddesses, well, they belong to everyone. No copyright infringement is intended.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: This is the second part of a two-section story and is my first attempt at [alt] fanfic. This story is set post "THE QUEST" and pre-rift. If you have comments or suggestions (and please be keep criticism constructive) feel free to e-mail me at: email@example.com. Thanks!
"By the Gods," gasped Gabrielle to herself. She lay on her side and stared out the open window. For once the little Amazon bard was lost for words. All she could think of was her dream. Thanks to the grape or not, the dream was now solidly implanted in her memory.
*Am I really in love with Xena? How can I be? We're both women, women can't love other women...can they? * Gabrielle rolled over onto her back and put her arm across her eyes. *We're just friends...best friends. *
That seemed to be a satisfactory answer for her and she began to pull herself out of bed. She caught a glimpse of the mirror across the room. She looked at and noticed the reflection of her breasts in the shining metal. She ran her hand over them, caressing them gently, noticing how much bigger they'd become. She really wasn't a little girl in Potedia anymore.
*Then again, how many other best friends sleep next to each other and bath together...tell each other they love them so often or kiss them...or dream about them? If we were only best friends, why would I feel so jealous when she leaves me to help other men...or even other women? Why would it always hurt so much when we are apart? * Gabrielle's thoughts were too strange to her. What was this sudden mass of emotions she was feeling? She had never felt this way about anyone before, how was she suppose to interpret it? They were pleasant feelings, but at the same time they were causing such confusion and angst. And why had these feelings never been apparent to her before?
"Xena!" Gabrielle suddenly gasped, remembering the circumstances under which she had last seen her friend. Barely taking time to grab the cover off the bed, Gabrielle flung open her room door and ran to Xena's door. Not pausing to knock, she pushed the unlocked door open. Xena curled back, reflexively reaching for her charkram before she noticed it was Gabrielle. She signed and rolled her eyes slightly. Rushing in on the Warrior Princess was not a good idea.
"What is it, Gabrielle?" she asked, returning her attention to pulling up her boots. Despite her few short hours of sleep, Xena was already fully awake and almost completely dressed. She stood up and looked back at Gabrielle. Her hair eyes were still wide, almost frantic, her hair was mussed, she was short of breath and was covered only by what seemed to be a bed cover. "Why aren't you dressed?"
Gabrielle still didn't answer. The look on her face suddenly began to worry her best friend.
"Gabrielle, what is it?" asked Xena, crossing the room and putting her hands on the young bard's shoulders. Gabrielle looked up into Xena's blazing blue eyes. She saw the strong features in the Warrior's face and the beauty therein and again felt consumed with both desire and relief. "Gabrielle?"
Suddenly, Gabrielle felt her grasp on the bed cover slip and it piled at her feet. She didn't react and for the first few minutes it seemed that Xena wasn't going to either. She just continued to stare into her little bard's wide and eager eyes, seemingly just as lost in them as Gabrielle was in hers.
*Can she see what I am feeling?* Gabrielle thought. *What should I do?*
"Oh Gods, Gabrielle," said Xena, suddenly realizing her friend's nudity. She pushed past her quickly, shutting the door to her room. She picked up the bed cover and handed it to her. "Here, you dropped this."
Gabrielle, suddenly mortified, took the cover from her friend and covered herself quickly. Holding the cover to her body at her chest, Gabrielle couldn't help but notice her hardened nipples. *Good Gods, I hope she didn't notice those.*
Xena turned her back to her friend. *Good Gods, I hope she didn't notice my staring at her nipples.* The Warrior Princess shut her eyes and shook her head ever so slightly. *It is a bit cold in here anyway.*
*Oh no, she's shaking her head. She must think I did that on purpose.* Gabrielle started to laugh nervously, feeling her cheeks flush. "Wow, _that_ was embarrassing. But hey, I guess accidents happen, right? And I guess it's not like you haven't seen me naked before. You know, bathing or something. And besides, we're like sisters, right? I used to naked in front of my sister all the time. Well, not all the time. But if I was it was no big deal and-"
"I am? Oh, I guess I am," said Gabrielle, starting to back up. "Well, I think I'll go get dressed now. Not that I wouldn't mind staying naked around you...that is, if you didn't mind. But since we've got that thing together and all...that trial! I mean, since we've got that trial together and I really should wear clothes to that. Unless we thought it might help which-"
"Right, I'm going," stammered the bard quickly, opening the door and darting out. She let out a long sigh as she leaned her back against the closed door. "Good Gods that didn't go well."
The young bard dressed herself as quickly as possible, already afraid that she had the Warrior Princess terribly impatient with her. What was she going to do now, though? She had just made it obvious to herself that she was not going to be able to resume her normal rapport with her friend. And she certainly was not good at lying to her best friend. Xena always managed to see through her stories in the end, there would always be one slip up to blow her cover. Hopefully she had not just made it in her friend's room. If she had slipped up already there was certainly no hope for retaining their original friendship.
"See what I meant?"
Xena turned around to see the familiar flash of light. "Oh not you again. What do you want Aphrodite?"
"Do you mean to tell me you honestly think her dropping that cover was an accident?"
"Accidents happen," said Xena, shrugging it off.
"Then why did she barge in wearing just a cover in the first place?"
*But Xena could never love me in this way. She's had so many men, how could I think she could love a woman? Then again, there was Perdicus...* Gabrielle remembered the hurt look in Xena's eyes the day she and Perdicus had wed. Maybe Xena _could_ love her in that way. *But even if she could love me, why would she? She's so beautiful...she could be with any woman she chose...*
"I'm telling you, she's totally got it for you."
"Aphrodite, I don't have time for this. The only thing Gabrielle seems to have right now is a bit of a stomach flu and if she has anything else I'm sure it's your doing," growled Xena, feeling agitated by this conversation.
"Why so reluctant to hear the truth, Xena? Isn't that what you're hear to argue for anyway? The truth behind your friend Autolycus?" asked Aphrodite, her tone tempting.
"What are you talking about?" demanded Xena. The Goddess of Love offered only a teasing smile before disappearing in a flash of light.
*I know what I'll do. When she comes here I'll just tell her "Xena, I have noticed that I have certain feelings for you. You have been the best of friends to me and..." No, that's all wrong. I know I'll look her in the eyes and I'll say "Xena, do you remember my marriage to Perdicus? Do you remember how at the ceremony..." No, that sounds too nostalgic, this has to be about now. I've got it. "Xena, I have something to confess to you about why I've been acting so strange..."
Shaking her head in disgust, Xena left her room and knocked on Gabrielle's door.
"All you have to do is admit you're wrong and I'll make everything right," the voice of Aphrodite echoed in the hallway. Xena looked around, the Goddess was nowhere in sight.
"You ready?" asked Xena when Gabrielle opened her door. Gabrielle looked in Xena's eyes and swallowed. *This is it.*
"Sure, let's go."
Aphrodite smiled as she looked out over the hostile court. Autolycus had been lead in already and the spectators jeered at him. Even the "impartial" judge looked at him disdainfully.
"Atmosphere is perfect," she said smiling.
"Now you promised me that no real harm will come to the innocent," said Dionysus.
"Trust me, that man is no innocent," said Aphrodite. "But don't worry, I'll set things straight in the end. I just need to give those girls a little push in the right direction first."
The doors to the courtroom opened and Xena marched in, commanding attention as she always did. Gabrielle followed closely behind, two scrolls in hand. She had prepared her statements in advance.
"Oh good, here come my girls now."
Xena scanned the court. Aphrodite was nowhere in sight, but she easily could have taken on another form or made herself invisible. She thought again about Aphrodite's "advice."
"I'm not worried about being wrong, it's being right," she muttered.
"What Xena?" asked Gabrielle, looking up from her scrolls.
"Nothing. I was just saying that we have to right this wrong" Xena looked back at her little bard. "Are you ready to go?"
"Just about. I'm just trying to commit these to memory so I get my statements right," said the bard, unknowing she had just given Aphrodite the thread she needed to spin out the rest of her plan.
"Well, make sure they know that the vines have re-grown no matter what. Even if Autolycus did take a few, the vines are all there now so no harm was done."
"What?" asked Gabrielle.
"The vines, they must have grown back. I went there last night and they are all still there."
"Are your witnesses ready to make their statements?" asked the judge, breaking up Xena and Gabrielle's conversation.
"Yes, we are," said Gabrielle, stepping forward. She glanced one more time at her scroll before she stood before the court. "Your honor, I ask you to look upon the accused. Here we have a man, a king in his own right, brought before you in shackles. I ask you..."
"Xena," the voice of Aphrodite appeared beside the Warrior Princess. She looked to her side to see nothing. "Don't worry no one else can see me and only you can hear me. Now I ask you: how can you think that precious little amazon doesn't love you? How else do you explain those looks in her eyes? Her willingness to follow you into danger time after time? Her devotion to you? She'd die for you Xena. You don't think that's love?"
"Not the kind you're talking about, Aphrodite. She loves me like family. She told me that herself this morning," whispered Xena, looking forward and not moving her lips.
"So you won't admit you're wrong?"
Aphrodite smiled. "In a way, I'm almost glad...this way is going to be so much more fun."
"What do you mean? Aphrodite? What are you talking about?" The Warrior Princess got no response.
"And even though I was vulnerable, this fine man was able to help me selflessly without even thinking of taking advantage of me....Well, true, he did put his hands on me once...but you'd have to understand the circumstances," continued Gabrielle. She looked over at Autolycus who put his face in his hands. Suddenly the Goddess of Love formed next to him.
"I don't blame him, you are hanging him out to dry here, Gabs," she said.
"Aphrodite!" exclaimed the bard.
"Yes?" asked the judge.
"What?" said Gabrielle, looking back at the judge.
"Are you saying Aphrodite had something to do with those circumstances?" the judge asked.
"Well, I, uh..." stammered Gabrielle, pointing to the Goddess.
"Sorry honey, only you can see me," said Aphrodite. "He can't hear me, either."
"Yes," said Gabrielle, trying to move on and address the court again. "She, uh, put him under a spell. It was to keep me from missing Xena..."
"Oh that was weak," said Aphrodite. "And do you have any what that sounded like? I made the King of Thieves feel you up so you wouldn't miss Xena? Wow, too bad you aren't testifying to Judge Sappho."
Gabrielle began to speak again, trying to ignore Aphrodite. "That is to say that he was there so I wouldn't miss Xena and Aphrodite made him love me because it made it easier for him to..."
"Take Xena's place..." led the Goddess.
"...take Xena's place," followed the bard. She suddenly realized what she had said and quickly jumped to correct herself, "No wait, I mean--"
"Come on sweetie, you're sinking. And right in front of Xena, too," said Aphrodite.
"Well, your honor, it's like this: I like to talk, a lot. And I get kind of annoying and Autolycus was having trouble dealing with me, though he still wanted to help me out during my distress. And so Aphrodite made him love me so he could tolerate me just that much more," said Gabrielle, trying to keep her voice from giving away her desperation.
"Oh, now _that_ was a nice save. Well, providing Xena doesn't believe you or she's going to have to kill Autolycus herself," said Aphrodite.
"What are you doing here?" asked Gabrielle through clenched teeth.
"Who me? I'm on trial, remember?" said Autolycus. Gabrielle shook her head and tried to point, subtly, to Aphrodite.
"He can't see me, remember?" said the Goddess. "Anyway, I'm here because you have betrayed me."
"What are you talking about?" asked Gabrielle.
"They think I stole the grapes of Dionysus so you are defending me. Any of this ring a bell?" said Autolycus.
"Is everything alright?" asked the judge. Gabrielle looked up at him.
"Oh sure, everything's fine. Um, can I have just one minute to look over my statement again?" asked Gabrielle, pointing to her scrolls.
"Of course," said the judge. Gabrielle picked up a scroll and pretended to read it.
"What betrayal?" she asked.
"You think I don't know about your dreams, Gabrielle? You think I don't know what is in your heart?" said Aphrodite.
"No, no, that's not it," said Gabrielle, still looking at the scroll.
"Of course it is," said Aphrodite. "Here I sent you your ideal partner and as soon as he gets offed by Callisto, what do you do? You fall for the first pair of blue eyes in a short skirt you see."
"That's not it at all," said Gabrielle, loudly. The judged looked at her, as did the rest of the court. She looked up from the parchment and laughed, nervously. "Um, wrong scroll."
"Don't you know that I find one man for every one woman? But here you go and follow your heart and go after Xena. Another woman, at that!" said Aphrodite. She glanced over at Xena. She was staring at Gabrielle, a look of concern in her eyes. "Did you think she could ever love you in return?"
"It's possible," said Gabrielle, beginning to feel a hurt in her chest.
"What is possible?" asked the judge.
"Um, it is possible that Autolycus was framed. Yes, that's it! It is very possible that Autolycus is framed," said Gabrielle, turning away from Aphrodite.
"Don't ignore me, Gabrielle. It is very dangerous to ignore a goddess," said Aphrodite.
"Go away," said Gabrielle, quietly and though her teeth. She returned her attention to the court. "Think of it, your honor. Think of the glory in being the only person who could up the King of Thieves-"
"Well Xena certainly has," said Aphrodite. "Or didn't you know about them? Surely you've noticed that spark. Haven't you Gabrielle?"
"I'm ignoring you," said the bard.
"You're doing what?" demanded the judge.
"That's what the real thief could be saying right now," stammered Gabrielle. "He'd be saying it to his conscience. Ignoring the voice that is telling him to right his wrong--"
"The King of Thieves and the Warrior Princess. Don't you think I planned it that way? It's a perfect match," taunted the Goddess.
"No, that can't be right!" said Gabrielle, angrily.
"Wait, that's my job to say that!" said the prosecutor, standing up.
"Prosecutor, sit down," said the judge.
"But she's cross-examining herself!" he shouted.
"See, Gabrielle, look at all this chaos your love for Xena is causing and this is without even confessing it yet. You haven't, have you?" said the Goddess. This was working out perfectly, the young amazon was playing right into her hands.
"No, of course not," answered Gabrielle.
"But you are! You just said your previous statement couldn't be true. It's my job to say that," said the prosecutor.
"No, I wasn't talking to you," said Gabrielle. She was going to crack soon.
"She was talking to me, right?" said Autolycus.
"You don't dare to think she feels the same about you, do you?" asked Aphrodite.
"No! Wait, yes...no...maybe," said Gabrielle, putting her hand on her forehead. Even she didn't know to whom she was talking anymore.
"By the Gods, I'm dead," moaned Autolycus, slumping down in his seat.
"Is there something wrong?" asked the judge.
"No, there is nothing wrong with it! It's not like it's my choice anyway!" shouted Gabrielle. Aphrodite smiled widely. Here it came.
"Gabrielle?" asked Xena, standing up.
"And, Gods damn it, I've never been happier!"
"Happier with what?" baited Aphrodite.
"Being in love with Xena! I am in love with Xena!" shouted Gabrielle. She suddenly felt all her frustration leave her in a rush. All the confusion was gone and the court became silent again. The prosecutor sat down and the judged ceased banging his gavel. Autolycus had taken his head from his hands and was staring at the bard. The entire court was staring at the bard. Aphrodite smiled.
"See that wasn't so hard, was it?" she said, vanishing from the bard's sight.
"That was cruel," said Dionysus.
"Yes, but it worked," said the Goddess of Love.
"Xena," began Gabrielle, looking into the face of her beloved. The look she received made her heart sink. The Warrior Princess' face was hard, frozen and without emotion. Did she hate her bard now? Was she humiliated? Gabrielle felt tears coming to her eyes and soon they were streaming down her face. "I didn't...I didn't..."
"Gabrielle," spoke Xena, softly. She shook her head and bit her lip. *So I _was_ wrong and Aphrodite was right. *
*Oh no,* thought Gabrielle, misinterpreting Xena shaking her head. *So she doesn't love me. *
"I'm sorry," Gabrielle blurted out and ran, quickly from the courtroom. *This was all a mistake. I never should have said anything. *
"Why don't we resume this in a few hours," said the judge, banging his gavel to close the court. As the room slowly emptied, Xena remained standing at the table. Soon she was alone...alone with her feelings.
"I was wrong, Aphrodite," she whispered, finally.
"Yeah, no kidding," said the Goddess of Love, appearing before the Warrior Princess.
"And I know you had something to do with that scene just now," she said, a tone of anger creeping into her voice.
"So what if I did? You think she ever would have told you on her own? You mortals can only take love so far on your own. Eventually you're going to need my help."
"Where is she now?"
"Now? She's back at that inn. But you'd better hurry if you want to catch her; she's packing up her things right now and you'll have a much harder time finding her once she leaves Corinth," said Aphrodite.
"Well aint love a bitch," muttered Xena, pushing her way past Aphrodite and out the courtroom.
"Oh what fools these mortals be," Aphrodite said to herself. She smiled. "I kind of like the sound of that."
"Go away, Aphrodite," said Gabrielle, sniffing and wiping at her eyes.
"How did you know it was me?" asked Aphrodite, appearing in her usual godly flash.
"You've done enough already. Xena will probably never speak to me again, are you happy? You don't have to worry about me following the wrong person anymore."
"Gabrielle," said Aphrodite, using her powers to force the young amazon onto the bed. "You really need to learn how to relax. I swear you're both going to end up with unsightly lines around your eyes if you don't learn to just give it a rest for a while."
"Give it a rest? Aphrodite-" Gabrielle was interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Oh, looks like I've stalled you long enough," said Aphrodite, disappearing. There was a second knock, a much faster knock.
"Gabrielle?" asked Xena through the door. Gabrielle didn't answer. After a third knock, the door flung open and Xena entered quickly. "Thank the Gods you're still here."
"Xena, I-" began Gabrielle.
"Shhh," said the Warrior Princess, wrapping her arms around her friend. "I thought you would have left already."
"It's okay, I will soon," said Gabrielle, making no effort to escape the strong warrior's hold.
"Don't you get it, Gabrielle, I don't want you to," said Xena, letting go of her friend and looking deep into her eyes. They were bloodshot from crying so hard, but still they shone with life, just as they had the first day Xena had ever seen her. The warrior allowed her hand to run lightly over her bard's cheek, chasing away the remaining tears. Xena felt a tug at her heart, knowing those tears had been in part caused by her.
"Xena, why are you crying?" asked Gabrielle.
*I'm not crying, warrior princesses never cry.* Her standard response did not seem fitting now, though. Xena could only continue to stare into the beautiful face of her companion. Gabrielle was so young and full of life, how could she continue to deny herself as she had for so long? Xena continued to stroke the bard's face with her thumb.
"That's my beautiful girl," she finally said. She had never before longed so hard for Gabrielle's gift of words. "My beautiful little amazon..."
"Xena..." began Gabrielle.
"Shhh," said Xena, putting her thumb over the bards red lips. They were so shapely, small and delicate just like the rest of her. From the moment Xena had seen this bright young woman she had wanted to touch those lips, to taste them with her own. Slowly and with a gentle care no one would expect from a warrior princess, Xena lowered her head and allowed her own lips to touch those of her friend. She slid her hand into the strawberry blond locks of her friend's hair as she did, feeling its softness. Gabrielle closed her eyes and breathed in deeply through her nose, welcoming this kiss she had so longed for. She felt her lips parting and she could soon feel Xena's tongue gently dancing on them. She allowed her own tongue to lift, longing to taste Xena's, and soon the two were wrapped together.
"Wait," said Xena, pulling herself away from the warm, inviting mouth of her bard. "Gabrielle, I promised myself for years that I would never do this. That I would never show you how in love with you I was, and that I would never try to make you fall in love with me."
"Xena, you didn't _make_ me do anything. I've always been in love with you, too, I just never allowed myself to feel it. It was too strange to me, too different. I had never loved anyone, and then suddenly I was in love with a woman. I didn't let myself love you..."
"And Gabrielle, it's dangerous for you to love me. I don't want you to ever be put into danger because of how I feel for you..." began Xena.
"Xena, listen to me. You aren't putting anything on me. I'm putting this on myself, willingly. I have never been happier than I am when I'm with you. I've never felt so good as when you touch me or look into my eyes or call me your friend," said Gabrielle.
"Or "my love"?"
Xena smiled. "Thank the Gods you talk in your sleep. If only I'd known it was me you were talking to."
Gabrielle blushed and put her head down. "Xena..."
"And speaking of thanking the Gods, come on," said the Warrior Princess, taking her friend's hand. "We still have some business to take care of."
"Yes, and I think I know how to prove his innocence."
"Your honor, I can put a stop to all this _and_ prove Autolycus is innocent," said Xena, standing up before the court. "But to do so I must call for Aphrodite."
A murmur ran through the court. Gabrielle grabbed Xena's arm. "What are you doing, Xena?" While she knew Xena must have had her reasons, they escaped the bard and she was reluctant to see Aphrodite again.
"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing," she whispered. Gabrielle looked at her friend but let go of her arm anyway.
"I hope so," she whispered, mostly to herself but loud enough so Xena could hear.
"Aphrodite," spoke Xena, loudly, "We had a deal. I told you I was wrong, now set things right."
"Ah, "Aphrodite, I was wrong." I can never get over hearing that," said the Goddess of Love, appearing before the court. "So what can I do for you, Xena?"
"Tell the court what really happened the night Autolycus entered the vineyards of Dionysus," said Xena, "And tell the truth."
"Well, where do I begin? You see, Xena here used to be a fierce warrior..." began Aphrodite.
"Just the relevant parts, Aprhodite" said Xena. Aphrodite rolled her eyes with a sigh, but continued.
"Fine. See, the thing is Dionysus is always walking in those vines at night, caring for them. And when I got word that someone calling themselves the King of Thieves was in the area to steal a few vines, I figured it was just what I needed."
"Needed for what?" asked the judge.
"Godly stuff, okay? So anyway, the night Autolycus was going to sneak in, I told Dio to take five and I'd watch the vines for her. Now, there was no way I was going to let him steal the vines, I had other plans. When I saw him coming I made the vines disappear. But a thief wouldn't stay around where there was nothing to steal, so I had to borrow Cerberus from Hades to keep him where he was until morning," said Aphrodite. She looked up at the judge who was hanging on the scantly clad goddesses' every word. "The vines grew back the very next night. You can go see 'em yourself."
"It's true, I was there last night," said Xena.
"Auto here just got caught up in a little bit of a divine intervention three-way," said Aphrodite, giving a wink to the still ogling judge, "But other than that he's completely innocent."
"Very well," said the judge, re-addressing the court. "The court finds the defendant not guilty on all charges. He is free to go."
The judged banged the gavel over the loud rumble of conversation in the court. One of court guards removed Autolycus' shackles. Rubbing his wrists and throwing a look of disdain to the guard, the King of Thieves stepped quickly to the waiting warrior princess and her amazon bard.
"Thank you," he said, wrapping his arms around Xena. Gabrielle started intently at the freed thief, feeling a prickle of jealousy up her back. Though she was now satisfied in knowing Xena felt no spark for the slick mover, she could not say the same for Autolycus. Dutifully, Xena placed one arm around his back, patting him slightly. When he opened them again -- a mere second before Gabrielle would have opened them for him-- he turn to the bard and smirked. "And not that you deserve it, but I'm in a generous mood-- thank you."
Autolycus put his arms around Gabrielle in an enveloping hug. This time it was Xena who shot a look of suspicion to the King of Thieves. Her eyes narrowed as she saw the self-proclaimed king's hand slide along her companion's back and into the familiar resting place it had ventured to once before. Not noticing Xena's watchful eyes, Autolycus announced to the warrior nonchalantly, "So I guess now we're even, huh?"
"No," said Xena, waiting for the precise moment when Autolycus' hand was about to grasp her bard's firm right buttock. As his fingers were about to close around this treasure, Xena swung her hand quickly and forcefully, smacking his upside his head. "_Now_ we're even."
"Alright, alright, I get the point," he said, letting go of Gabrielle and recoiling from Xena's intense glare. Her focus was only broken with the approach of Aphrodite, still bathing in the glow of her own success.
"I don't get it. Why did you keep him there?" asked Xena.
"So he'd get caught, duh," said Aphrodite, smiling.
"Why did you care if he got caught? They weren't your grapes he was trying to steal," said Gabrielle.
"I knew if he was caught you and Xena would have to come to his rescue. It's that whole honor and justice thing she's got going now," said Aphrodite, pointing to Xena. "Anyway, if he'd just asked Dionysus probably would have given them to him anyway. Those grapes don't really hold any special powers."
"What?" asked Autolycus and Gabrielle at the same time.
"You heard me. That's just a myth."
"That can't be," said Gabrielle. "I had one of them and I...well, let's just say it worked."
"Oh get with it, Gabs. I planted that grape on Auto over there so you would find it," said Aphrodite. "How else could that have gone unnoticed by the guards, the townspeople, Autolycus _and_ Xena?"
"That was the gift you were talking about," said Xena. Aphrodite smiled.
"This whole trial has been your gift, Xena. Can't you see that yet? You never would have said anything if it hadn't been for me. You never would have told Gabrielle, she never would have told you. Nothing gets my goat more than the way you mortals ignore my work. I make people fall in love for a reason and it's not so you can deny it or hide it or worry about it being right or wrong," said Aphrodite. Rolling her eyes, she pushed back her hair. "Anyway, I did my part. Now if you don't mind, I have to go talk to that judge about the lack of temples in this city."
With that, the Goddess of Love disappeared. Gabrielle, who had scarcely noticed that her gaze had shifted to the floor, let out a single chuckle, thinking over the events of the past two days. It had all been for her, for Xena, for them... Aphrodite had not been condemning her for loving Xena, she had been prodding her to admit it. So she was not an abomination after all. With unworried eyes, Gabrielle looked up into the gaze of her warrior princess. For all that she could care, there was no one else in the courtroom, in the city of Corinth, in the whole known world. They were alone together, two hearts locked in an adoring stare with nothing and no one would could come between them.
"Alright, I get the point...this is when I take my leave," said Autolycus, taking a step back.
"Oh Autolycus," said Xena, suddenly pulled from her stare. Gabrielle smiled ever so slightly to herself. *She was there, too.* "Well I hope you understand we're not going to be around for you like this every time just because you are our friend."
"Like this? I wouldn't wish the two of you to be around like this for my worst enemy," he said with his usual sense of wit. Xena sent him a smirk. "But thank you. And now, I must be off!"
With a great bravado, Autolycus dove his arm into the sleeve of his green shirt, only to fish around for several seconds before remembering he had been picked clean by the guards. Pulling his hand out again, he patted down his chest, but found it also empty of tools. Primping himself up again, he smoothed out his moustache and motioned to the exit where the members of the court were still filing out. "I think...I'll just use the door this time."
Gabrielle laughed and Xena allowed herself a chuckle as the King of Thieves made his exit, humbly, with the rest of the villagers of Corinth. "I guess some people never learn."
"I guess not," said Xena, briefly considering the grab he had almost made on Gabrielle's posterior. *If he tries that again I'll break his hand.* Xena slowly brought her eyes back to Gabrielle, who was still watching the crowd filter from the courtroom. Who would have ever thought that this beautiful young woman who she had loved for so long would ever lover her back? And would be the first to admit it, no less? She had thought that Aphrodite was mistaken for sure that night at the vines when she first told Xena that Gabrielle was in love with her.
"Sure I was watching the vines that night. I was doing her a favor." Aphrodite had said, walking through the aura of the vines.
"Dionysus?" Xena had asked her, keeping right in step behind the goddess.
"No. Why on Olympus would I do her a favor? She's always telling me how she is responsible for more mortals getting into bed with each other than me. I told her, please, I--"
"Aphrodite! What are you talking about? If you weren't watching them as a favor to Dionysus, then who?" Xena had asked.
"Gabrielle? What favor is this to Gabrielle? Wait, I left her alone..." Xena had said, suddenly ready to sprint back to the inn, her mind a rush of possible dooms waiting for her unguarded friend.
"No, no, nothing's happening to her. My you certainly are protective of the woman you love, aren't you?"
"Of course I am," Xena had said with a near growl. This had not been the first time Aphrodite had tried to bait Xena with her love for Gabrielle, and Xena resented every time she did. While it was her own fault for having the weakness, there was nothing Xena would trade in the world to lose that love, and Aphrodite knew it.
"Oh, you two are so cute," cooed had Aphrodite, clapping her hands at the fingertips.
"It's not us two, and you know that. Now I want to talk to you about--"
"Of course it's you two. I think _I_ know what I'm talking about here. Goddess of Love, remember? Did you ever think of asking Gabs how she feels about you?"
"I know how she feels about me," the warrior princess had answered with a twinge of disappointment in her voice. The love Gabrielle had for her filled her heart with warmth every time she mentioned it, but the nature of Gabrielle's love always caused her heart to sink again. "She loves me like family. Like a sister. She doesn't love me like I love her."
"Are you kidding me? She is totally head over heals for you. Or do you really think she goes to spew in the bushes every time you touch her?" Aphrodite had said.
"What are you talking about?" Xena had asked, with growing annoyance. Aphrodite's presence was always a test of her patience.
"Why don't you just come out and tell her you love her? I'm telling you, she's going to say it back."
"You're wrong, Aphrodite. You're wrong on this one," Xena had said, getting quite frustrated that Aphrodite would not let the subject drop. She had not come out to the vineyard to discuss Gabrielle. Even the thought of her friend's beautiful face could send her thoughts swimming, and this was a time she needed her wits about her. Autolycus' freedom, and possibly life depended on it.
"Look, girl, I'm going to do you a big favor," Aphrodite had said, snapping her fingers with a spark of light. "You got a gift coming your way, don't waste it."
"What are you talking about? What gift? What is it?"
"This," said Aphrodite, motioning to the glistening vineyard.
Xena smiled to herself as she continued to look at the innocent face of her love. Gabrielle sensed the warmth of Xena's gaze on her, and she slowly turned to look into the warrior's strong face. Her eyes which were normally sharp and clear now seemed soft and warm, as if content for the first time with what they were seeing. Gabrielle once again felt the growing hunger inside the pit of her stomach, and she did not fight the emotion. As she raised her hands to the face of her love, she felt the strong hold of Xena's arms wrap around her waist. As the two pulled themselves together, Xena lowered her head until her mouth was again, finally, properly, on Gabrielle's.
"Well, I still say what you did to Gabrielle was cruel," said Dionysus, turning to Aphrodite.
"She'll get over it." The pair of conspiring goddesses peered down into the empty courtroom from the rafter where they sat. "Xena will help with that."
"So now what?" asked Dionysus. "This doesn't prove anything: you still needed my help to get them together."
"Shyeah, right," said Aphrodite, laughing and pointing at Xena and Gabrielle kissing freely and passionately. "They were already together in their hearts, I just used your grapes to get them to admit it. Autolycus just happened in the right place in the right time, I could have done it any way."
"Fine, but I still say they're going to use my wine to help them get into bed."
"No, not tonight," said Aphrodite, her voice a bit distant as she watched Xena clutch Gabrielle close to her side as they walked to the door. Gabrielle's arm was wrapped tightly around Xena's waist, and she cuddled into Xena's embrace even as they stepped together out the door. "Maybe for Auto and that prosecutor's daughter, maybe for that judge and his wife, but not for my girls. They've owed themselves this for a long time coming, they aren't going to need any help."
THE END...or just another BEGINNING
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