No Fool Like A Young Fool

S X Meagher

April 1, 2002



The harsh midday sun was beating relentlessly upon the head of a pale, palomino mare, the saddlebags she carried, heavy with gear. A tall, dark and unperturbed woman, walking to the right of the horse, occasionally reached over to pat the animal and wipe some of the sweat from her flank. Each time, she offered a few soothing words, spoken so softly that her companion had to strain to hear.

I swear, she talks to Argo 3 times more than she talks to me. The young blonde laughed silently, reminding herself, And this surprises you? You’ve been traveling together for nearly two full seasons. She’s not going to start talking now.

"What’s funny?" Xena asked, unseen behind Argo’s massive presence.

"Who said anything was funny?" Gabrielle replied. "I didn’t hear anyone laughing about anything."

"I don’t have to hear you to know you’re laughing, Gabrielle. I can … feel it."

The blonde stopped dead in her tracks, and stared after her partner. Xena knew immediately that the younger woman had stopped, but she kept walking along as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Realizing that Xena was going to leave her behind, Gabrielle expended a burst of energy that she didn’t think she had, just to catch the quickly moving pair.

"Can you really?" she panted, seriously out of breath, beads of sweat streaming down her flushed face.

Xena stopped and gave her a fond look. She took the strip of fabric that she’d been wiping the horse with and delicately patted it across Gabrielle’s forehead. "Can I really what?" she asked, knowing full well what the question referred to.

"Can you really tell when I think something’s funny?"

"Of course I can." Xena flicked a drop of sweat from the tip of Gabrielle’s nose and said, "I know you better than I’ve ever known anyone. Especially since the new moon," she added, waiting for the blush to rise on the young woman’s cheeks. Rewarded instantly, she took her friend’s hand and held it over her heart. "I’ve learned a lot about you since the new moon." Leaning over, she brushed her lips against Gabrielle’s, smiling gently when the mist green eyes closed and stayed that way. "More later," she said softly. "Let’s get out of this heat as soon as we can."

"No complaints." Gabrielle gave her friend her usual love-sick expression, and Xena shook her head, amazed at her own good fortune. "Do you think we can stay in a town tonight, Xena? It’s been a while, and it’s so hot … I think Argo could use a good rest and …"

"Sure," Xena said before Gabrielle had finished her prepared list of reasons. "We deserve it. Besides," she drawled, "I’d really like to see how you smell … and taste after a nice, long bath."

"Sweet Athena!" the younger woman moaned, covering her face with her hands. "Do you have to torture me constantly?"

"Yeah … I really do," Xena laughed. "I haven’t had this much fun in years … maybe ever. I figure your innocence will be long gone by the end of the summer, so I have to enjoy it while I can."

"Oh, you …" Gabrielle reached out and slapped her partner, managing to get her hand under the strips of leather that provided scant covering for her long, muscular thighs. "I’ve been with you for two complete seasons now, and I’m still plenty innocent."

"Yeah, but it won’t take long now," Xena decided, a wicked grin on her handsome face. "I’ve never had a lover who had an ounce of innocence left when I was through with him … or her."

"I might just surprise you," Gabrielle sniffed, trying to look tough.

A look of wistful sadness passed across her face as Xena said, "I hope you do. I honestly hope you do." Despite the heat, she slung her arm across her friend’s shoulders and started after the slowly moving horse. "But, I think the changes in my lovers have come more from my actions than theirs."

* * *

I would not admit this to her in 2,000 seasons, but I’m pretty anxious to get Xena into a tub, too. I love her with all my heart, but after a moon on the road, it’s hard to tell if I’m kissing Argo or her. She started to laugh again, but tried hard to be completely silent — testing Xena’s claimed ability. Ha! Caught ya’ that time, Warrior Princess!

Just as she was congratulating herself, Xena turned and lifted one dark eyebrow, a small smile accompanying the gesture.

Gabrielle merely stuck her tongue out at the haughty woman and signaled her to turn around and keep her eyes on the trail. She won’t talk, but she sure is good at supervising everything I have to say… or not say, she groused good-naturedly.

A moon … barely a moon. How can it be such a short time? How can it seem like forever? Oh, now don’t get all poetic, or you’ll want to stop and jot something down. It’s too hot to be creative today, anyway. I might as well think cool thoughts. She watched the slow sway of the short, leather skirting as Xena’s hips twitched in a pendulum-like gait. Oh, that’s a cool thought! About as cool as a bonfire! Think cool, Gabrielle!

She wracked her brain for a distraction, but love was on her mind — it seemed that love was constantly on her mind since … it had happened. Oh, don’t try to act like the innocent one, she reminded herself. Xena was lying on her bedroll, innocently staring at the night sky when you pounced on her! Oh, I wouldn’t call it pouncing, she said, defending herself. Gods, it is hot! I’m arguing with myself! But I’m sticking with my story, she told the other half of her mind. I did not pounce on her!

Okay, so what would you call it? the pesky, persistent voice asked.

I asked her a simple question, Gabrielle maintained. I simply asked her if I could kiss her. She laughed, knowing that she had acted so out of character that her amazement still lingered. She also knew that Xena’s shock had lasted at least as long as her own had. But she still maintained that they’d be forevermore sleeping across the fire from each other if she hadn’t made the first move.

For such a big, tough, warrior, she sure isn’t very aggressive, she thought, smiling warmly. Of course, reading subtle signals isn’t always easy for her. Sometimes she’s great, other times … whoa! Very, very bad!

Closing her eyes for just a moment, Gabrielle thought back to that night.

They’d been walking through the rain for 3 solid days; and when they found a small town, they made for the only inn without so much as a word. The room was sparse, but it had a tub — a rare luxury.

She was bathing — washing what seemed like barrelfuls of mud from her body. Xena knelt on the floor and gently removed a bit of dirt from the top of Gabrielle’s shoulder. When the smaller woman turned to thank her, something happened. She still didn’t know what it was, but a look passed between them that made her start. Xena must have felt it too, because she immediately dropped the wash cloth and flopped down on the bed, all without saying a word.

Gabrielle was too shocked by the burst of feeling that thrummed in her chest to move an inch. She sat quietly and closed her eyes, then leaned her head back against the edge of the tub. She often soaked when she had the opportunity, and she was quite sure she could lie there for a while without Xena thinking anything was out of the ordinary. A mix of emotions rushed through her body, but she was too confused by them to have them make any sense. So, she just consciously tried to relax and take some deep breaths.

Slowly, she opened her eyes and caught sight of Xena’s reflection in a looking glass lying on a small table in front of her. The dark woman’s vivid blue eyes were staring a hole through her; and even though Gabrielle wasn’t very learned in the ways of the world, she knew what that look meant. A warm, slow pulsing in her groin understood the look as well, and before she knew what she was doing she stood and asked in a high, tight voice, "Towel?"

Xena hopped to her feet, and grabbed a strip of linen, handing it to her friend while averting her eyes — something she had never done before.

While Gabrielle dried herself with shaking hands, Xena strode for the door, mumbling, "I’m going out for a while. Get some sleep."

The blonde stared after her, stunned, and vaguely disappointed. She was frightened, yes, but she also wanted something — what, she wasn’t sure — but she wanted something from Xena. And that night she realized that Xena wanted something from her, too.

Oh, yeah, she wanted something, Gabrielle recalled. She wanted you so badly that she went out and got half drunk. I don’t know who she was with that night, but as soon as she got back to the room, she nearly ripped her clothing from her body and got into that cold, dirty water and scrubbed her skin so hard I thought she’d expose bone.

I knew I had to do something. I’m not sure how I knew, but I knew in my gut that Xena would never let me know how she was feeling. That’s why I had to do it. Well, that, and the fact that I wanted her as much as she wanted me.

Gods, the look on her face when I asked her to kiss me will live in my heart until I take my last breath. She was so gentle … so tender … unlike anything I’d ever dreamed of. I’m sure not many people have been so gentle with her — I don’t know how she learned to be so tender with me — but she did, and I’ll always love her for that.

Oh, admit it, Gabrielle, the list of things you love about her could fill the library at Alexandria! She smiled, a full, sunny smile, and thought, She loves a few things about you, too, you know. I’m not sure what interests her, but she is most definitely interested. And I’ve never seen her happier. There’s a little bounce to her step that I don’t remember from before. And her dark, sullen moods have almost vanished. I guess they’ll come back — I don’t have magical powers — but they’re gone for the moment, and I’m very glad for that.

"You know," Xena said, as if they’d just paused in a conversation. "Another half day in that direction, and we could visit my mother."

"Do you want to?" Gabrielle asked. "I’m happy to, but you seemed in a bit of a rush."

"Eh … let’s stop on the way back. With any luck, I’ll do this favor for King Eureops and make a little money in the bargain."

"Money?" Gabrielle asked. "Since when do you accept money?"

"Since I helped him retain his rule many years ago. He’s a decent king, but he’d be a dead king if it wasn’t for me. He’s prospered since then, and he owes me — a lot."

"Wow, this is a new Xena," Gabrielle said appreciatively. "It would be nice to have a little money so we could stock up on some things."

"Then that’s what we’ll do." Xena gave her the broad grin that she rarely showed, then said, "Why don’t we stop in Amphipolis on the way back and wait out the winter? I’d like to stay in one place for a little while — give you and Argo a chance to put on a little weight."

"You’re just full of surprises today, aren’t you?" Gabrielle asked, returning Xena’s smile in kind.

"Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do," the dark woman said, showing her teeth.

"I’m sure that’s true," Gabrielle said, laughing heartily. "I feel like I’m at the first words of a very, very, very long scroll."

"I like to keep a few surprises up my sleeve," Xena said, looking at her arms with a comical grin, silently acknowledging that she wasn’t wearing sleeves.

* * *

The sun was still high in the sky when they first spotted the town. "Have you been here before, Xena?" the younger woman asked.

"I’ve been nearly everywhere, Gabrielle. As for this particular town, I’ve been here many, many times."

"Really? Why’s that?"

"Well, this town is substantially bigger than Amphipolis; and when I was a girl, my mother would send me over here for supplies that we couldn’t get at home. It’s a pretty nice town."

"Do they have a good inn?"

"There was a nice one when I was a girl, but I haven’t been back here for a long, long time?"


"Do I need a reason for everything?" the dark woman asked, a small frown showing.

"Uhm … you always have one," Gabrielle ventured. "I just wanted you to tell me this particular reason."

Rolling her eyes, Xena said, "I guess I can’t argue with you, so I’ll tell you. I did my best to stay out of this entire region when I was … well, before. I brought enough shame on my family without harassing the neighbors."


"Oh, what?" Xena asked, looking grouchier by the minute.

Gabrielle slipped her hand into Xena’s and said, "It must be hard for you to think of yourself back then. You’re such a good woman now."

Xena shrugged, but her companion could see that she was secretly pleased by the compliment. "I’ve still got a lot of bad in me, Gabrielle. Too much, sometimes."

"That’s part of what makes you so attractive," the blonde admitted. "You’ve got just enough bad girl left in you to make you interesting."

"Interesting," Xena repeated, shaking her head while a smile crept onto her face. "She thinks the evil, ruthless Warrior Princess is interesting. Love certainly is blind."

"No, it’s not," Gabrielle insisted, standing her ground. "Love lets you see inside a person — and that’s what really counts."

* * *

Once they reached the town, it took a while to get Argo boarded and properly cooled down. Xena wanted to stay with her horse for a while to make sure she was comfortable, so Gabrielle went down the road to procure a room. After a short and amiable negotiating session, she procured a room with a bath and went upstairs, lugging as much of their gear as she could handle.

The smells emanating from the tavern were making her mouth water, and she hoped that Xena didn’t take too long with Argo. After securing their things, she heard the soft, familiar footfalls, and before Xena could open the door Gabrielle was standing next to her. "Can we get something to eat?" she asked with a pathetic look on her face.

"Sure. Let me wash up first." Seeing the longing look, Xena said, "You go on down. Order me an ale, if it’s fresh — otherwise, some mead."

"Okay. See you soon."

The younger woman nearly sprinted for the dining area, realizing after a moment that there was no table service. Probably because it’s an off hour, she thought. Too late for the midday meal, and too early for dinner. She approached the woman at the bar and said, "I’d like two mugs of ale — if it’s fresh."

"You’re a hearty little drinker, aren’t ya?" the woman asked, laughing merrily. "The ale’s as fresh as can be, and if ya don’t like it, I’ll give ya’ your money back."

"Then make it two ale’s," Gabrielle said. She paid for the large mugs and asked, "What’s on the menu for today?"

"There’s not much left from lunch, and dinner’s not ready. But I can make you a plate of fresh cheese, some hard cooked eggs, and a loaf of bread that hasn’t been out of the oven for the blink of an eye."

"Make it two loaves and you’ve got a deal," Gabrielle said.

"Oh, the child eats as much as she drinks!"

"I’m not alone," the blonde said, "I’m traveling with a companion, and she’s as hungry as I am."

"I’ll fix you right up," the woman assured her. "Have a seat, and I’ll bring your plate over as soon as I get it ready."

By the time Gabrielle carried the mugs to the table, Xena was heading for her, looking much cleaner and cooler. The lunch was a delight, with both women enjoying the simple, yet satisfying meal. Just as they were finishing, a tall, handsome, boyish looking man made his way to their table. Gabrielle rolled her eyes, hoping that Xena didn’t brush this one off as rudely as she was wont to do. To her amazement, Xena stood as he approached and nearly flung herself at him. The lean, but sturdy man wrapped his arms around her and hugged her so tightly that Gabrielle was sure he would hurt her partner.

Finally, they broke their embrace and Xena leaned back in his arms, looking up at him with genuine affection. "Mathias! How long has it been?"

"Fifteen summers … at least," he said, shaking his head when he realized just how long it had been. "I never thought I’d see you again." He hugged her tightly, and Gabrielle could see that he was struggling with his emotions. "I was so worried about you during those years," he whispered, just loudly enough for her to hear. "I was so happy to hear that you’d changed."

Pulling away, Xena wiped at her misty eyes and said, "I have changed — somewhat. But no matter how much I change, I’ll never be able to restore my family’s good name."

"Nonsense!" the man said. "You’re always welcome here, Xena."

She looked at him quizzically and asked, "Is the place yours now, Mathias? I thought you had no interest in running an inn. You were always going to be a sailor."

"Yes, that was my plan, but my parents and my older brother were killed by a fever … not long after you … left. My fate was sealed."

Xena looked around and really took in the neat, clean place. "You’ve done well for yourself," she said. "Have you a family?"

"No," he looked away, finally noticing the young blonde patiently waiting to be introduced. "Hello," he said, extending his hand. "I’m Mathias."

"Gabrielle," she said, giving him a warm smile. "Can you join us?"

"I’m sorry, Gabrielle," Xena said. "Seeing Mathias shocked what few manners I have right out of me."

"Don’t worry about it," the smaller woman said. "Let’s get a little more ale." Mathias started to go, but Gabrielle put a hand on his shoulder. "You two get reacquainted. I’ll be right back." She went back to the bar and asked for 3 more ales, but the woman wouldn’t allow her to pay for them.

"I didn’t know you were traveling with Xena," she said, obviously impressed. "Everything’s on the house for as long as you’re here."

Never one to argue with generosity, Gabrielle smiled and thanked her profusely. Wow, this is the first time that hearing Xena’s name hasn’t caused a town to quake in fear. It’s a nice change of pace!

Returning to the table, both Mathias and Xena made an effort to include her in the conversation, but no matter how hard they tried, Gabrielle still felt like the third wheel on the cart. The conversation was stuck on the time before Xena left Amphipolis — when Lyceus was still alive. Gods, I can’t believe how many stories these two have to share, she marveled. I’ve never seen Xena so ebullient, so full of life! She acts 10 years younger, and she’s giving him her biggest, best smile — the one I hardly ever see.

Sitting quietly for another few minutes, Gabrielle thought, Okay, so she’s having fun with an old friend. This is the Xena that you see glimpses of when she’s playful and when you’re touching each other. Enjoy it, will you?

Try though she might, the younger woman was ready to leave, and she breathed out a sigh of relief when Mathias got up. "Another round for you?" he asked her, giving her a winning smile.

"Uhm … I thought it might be nice to go to the market," she said.

Xena reached over and patted her on the shoulder. "Gabrielle is quite the shopper," she said fondly. "She doesn’t get to see many markets as nice as this one."

"Oh, if I’m keeping you …" Mathias said.

"No, no, not at all." Gabrielle looked at her friend, who had not moved an inch. "I think I’ll go alone and check everything out. Would you mind, Xena?"

"Have I ever wanted to go shopping, Gabrielle?" the dark woman asked, a crooked grin in place.

"Same old Xena," Mathias said, "I’ll make it two, but come back and have another when you get hot, Gabrielle."

"I will," she said, smiling. As Mathias walked away, she asked her friend, "Are you sure you don’t mind?"

"After another couple of ales, I won’t mind if you set me on fire," Xena said, her smile slow and sexy.

"Don’t get too drunk," Gabrielle warned her.

"I’ve been told that I’m at my most charming when I’ve had a few too many," the dark woman said, just a little bit of the Warrior Princess in her leer.

"We’ll just see about that," Gabrielle said, blushing on cue.

"You’d better hurry," Xena drawled. "First come, first served. Of course, sometimes it’s first served, first to co …" A small hand cut off the remainder of her sentence, but the hand didn’t stop the impudent eyebrows from twitching.

* * *

After an hour in the still baking sun, Gabrielle was ready for that ale; but when she walked by the inn and peered through the windows, she saw that Mathias was still sitting right where she’d left him. There were 4 empty mugs on the table, and Xena was starting on a fresh one, from the shallow sip she took. Great, the blonde muttered. I guess I’ll go shop some more.

Two hours later, the sun was no longer making her weak in the knees; but the tired woman was thoroughly shopped out. She had been to every stall, spoken to every merchant, and had made up her mind to buy several things. But she wanted to wait for Xena’s approval before she purchased anything — even though her companion never put up a fuss about her choices.

Stepping into the tavern, Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that the table in question was empty. She smiled at the barmaid who signaled her over. "Would you like a cool drink, young one?"

Realizing how thirsty she was, Gabrielle said, "Water would be wonderful. I can drink as much as you’ve got."

The smiling woman brought her a huge mug full of clear, clean water, and she gratefully sucked it down. "So, what can you tell me about Xena?" the woman asked.

Oh, no, I’m not in the mood to tell the story of Hercules, or Ares or how she saved the world with one hand tied behind her back. "Uhm … maybe later. I’ve got to go cool off in that tub."

"Not so fast," the woman said, chuckling softly. "I don’t think Xena’s in the mood for company right now."

"What? Why wouldn’t she be?"

"Mathias hauled up a load of hot water a bit ago, and I haven’t seen him since."


"You heard me," the woman said, a huge smile on her face. "I think the poor man is making the best of his second chance."

"Second chance?" Gabrielle felt a massive headache start to build behind her eyes, and she squinted at the woman and repeated her question.

"Oh, yes. We were all sure that Xena and Mathias would marry. He pined away for her for years — he was the only one who was sure she’d redeem herself one day. And he was right!" The woman was absolutely gleeful, but Gabrielle was a little more subdued.

"They were in love?"

"Of course! She rode over here almost every week the year before the warlords descended on this valley. She and Mathias were always down by the river, but when anyone went to look for them — they could never be found." The woman smiled rakishly. "I think they had a secret little trysting place."

"More water … please," Gabrielle said, ready to beat herself over the head with the heavy mug.

* * *

"Stupid, stupid, stupid woman." Shaking her stinging hand, Gabrielle slapped herself in the forehead one last time, saying even louder, "Stupid!"

Argo whinnied and looked at her curiously, the puzzled horse wondering why one of the humans was in her stall, yet paying no attention to her. Seeing the horse’s eyes meet her own, Gabrielle asked, "Argo, you know her better than anyone. Can you imagine me satisfying Xena … uhm … sexually? I mean, can you imagine that I’d be … enough for her?"

Seeming to consider the question, the horse paused for a moment and then … laughed — or at least gave the equine equivalent of a laugh.

"Yeah, I know. I’m stupid," she grumbled. "I don’t know what I was thinking! How could a simple, inexperienced village girl from Potedia keep Xena, Conqueror of Nations satisfied?"

Argo gave her a pointed look and Gabrielle admitted the whole truth. "Okay, I wasn’t just inexperienced — I was unexperienced." She narrowed her eyes and said, "You’re a horse. Don’t you dare criticize my grammar." Shaking her head, she continued. "I’d kissed a few boys — but that was it. I’ve only been intimate with Xena." She sighed heavily and said, "She’s the absolute best, Argo. So sweet and loving with me. Just like she is with you," she added, giving the horse a frame of reference. "But I’ve heard her when she’s with a man, and I bet you have too."

Gabrielle was sure that the horse rolled her eyes, but she wasn’t sure enough to relate this fact to another human. "Yeah, I’m sure you’ve heard her. You’ve probably heard a lot more than I have." She rearranged herself in the soft, but prickly straw and said, "It’s always amazed me how infrequently she’s had sex in the last two years. A couple of times when we ran into Hercules, and that time with Marcus. Oh, and I think she might have done a little more with Ulysses than she let on."

Argo whinnied again, agreeing with Gabrielle’s assessment.

"Yeah. That’s what I thought. But, here’s what bothers me, Argo. When I heard her with Marcus that time, they were making noises that I’ve never heard humans make. It sounded so … so passionate and wild. We never make noises like that, do we?"

Giving her a look that questioned her sanity, Argo slowly shook her golden head, making a face.

"Right! That’s what I was thinking! How could I believe that the soft, gentle slow way she touches me could satisfy her? She’s used to that grunting, growling, pounding of flesh against flesh. I can’t do that to her! All I can do is show her how much I love her … how much I want her … how much I need her … how much she means to me. I can’t make her scream, Argo. I can’t make her make the sounds that she made with Hercules. All I get out of her are some quiet moans and groans. Sometimes she calls out my name when she … you know. But she’s never, ever howled. How can I expect her to be mine alone when I can’t make her howl?"

She thought that Argo shrugged her shoulders, but it could have been her imagination. "Oh, Argo, what am I going to do? I don’t know how I can stand to share her with someone else! Oh, sweet Athena, what if she wants Mathias more than she wants me? What if she wants to stay here for a season … or longer? Damn it to Hades! Why did we have to stop in this miserable, miserable town?" She flopped down onto the straw and cried, not stopping until her sobs turned to deep, rhythmic breathing, signaling to Argo that she was fast asleep.

* * *

When she woke it was fully dark, and she sat up and tried to collect her thoughts. Picking the straw from her clothing, she gave herself a pep talk. No matter what, you can’t act like this bothers you. If you’re needy and make a scene you’ll only push her away. You know Xena needs her freedom, Gabrielle. So, you either keep your mouth shut, or go back to being just friends — if you’re still traveling together after today, that is.

With a defeated set to her shoulders, she patted Argo on the rump and made her way back to the tavern. Mathias was standing on the side of the place, chopping wood by the light that came from the open door. His shirt was off, and his muscles rippled in the dim, yellow light. No wonder she finds him attractive. Hades, I find him attractive, and I’m certainly not looking for anyone new. He was whistling a happy tune, and his entire demeanor was upbeat and bright. Sure, it’s easy to be happy when Xena’s spent the whole afternoon worshiping your body. Live it up, Mathias, you weasel!

Stepping into the tavern, she walked over to the bar, noting that the barmaid she’d been speaking with earlier in the day was no longer working. "Help you, miss?" the young man asked.

"Just some water, please."

"Oh, good," he said. "That’s one order I can handle. The owner was gone all afternoon, and we unexpectedly ran out of firewood. We’re running behind on all of our food orders. The patrons are starting to get restless."

"Yeah, well, some people have all the luck," Gabrielle grumbled, quenching her thirst with the cool water. "If that’s the worst thing that happens to those people today, they should count their blessings." She smacked the mug down on the counter and sulked away without another word.

* * *

Approaching the door to their room with gut-churning trepidation, Gabrielle knocked lightly, not really sure why she was bothering to do so. Well, there were some other men in the bar that could have been Xena’s type. Mathias might have just piqued her desire.

A muffled grunt was the only sound she heard, but she took that as an invitation to enter. Pushing the heavy, rough oak door open, Gabrielle nearly tripped over one of Xena’s boots. The second boot was lying right behind the first, and she should have seen it. But her attention was completely focused on her stark naked lover – sprawled out, face-down on the bed. As Gabrielle fell heavily, landing on the floor with a mighty thud, Xena rolled over and asked in a lazy, thick voice, "What in the hell happened to you?"

"I … I tripped," the younger woman managed to say. She was unable to look at her partner, so her eyes tried to stay occupied by checking out the disordered room. The bed was nearly in the center of the space — no longer resting snugly against the far wall. A chair was overturned, and the curtains were dangling from the drooping wooden rod. Xena’s clothing was strewn from the door to the bed — each piece of her brief outfit obviously dropped as she and her new lover moved to their destination.

An apple core, and the stem of a bunch of grapes lay in a bowl that rested on the bed, and a pair of spent tankards sat, upturned upon the detritus. "Are you all right?" Xena asked when Gabrielle made no move to rise.

"Yeah, yeah, I’m fine." She got to her feet, her bruised knees and ego having taken quite a beating.

"I was looking all over for you," Xena said, sounding cross.

Unable to hold her tongue, Gabrielle snapped, "That’s not your usual outfit for going on a search and rescue mission."

Xena looked down at her lush, nude body and gave her partner a smirk. "I wasn’t looking for you just now. It was hours ago."

"Yeah, well, it looks like you’ve been busy for a few hours," the blonde huffed.

"Yeah, I’ve been pretty busy," Xena drawled, giving her a lazy, sexy smile. "But I could have been much busier if you were here."

Oh, Gods, is she trying to tell me that she went with Mathias just because I wasn’t here? Do I have to keep her on a leash!?! "You look like you did all right without me."

"Yeah, I managed, but it’s always so much more fun when the party’s a little bigger. Two’s good, but three’s much better. Actually, four is my ideal, but I’ve never had much luck in talking two women into joining me. Of course, it’s never hard to find a man to join the group," she added, laughing heartily. "Now that you and I are together, our luck should improve, though. You can go after the sweet, young, innocent farmer’s daughters — and I can aim for the woman with a few notches in her belt. We should never have a boring night if the town’s big enough."

The blonde grabbed for the nearest upright chair, hanging on just long enough for a cascade of tears to start falling from her forest green eyes. She dropped her head to her chest and cried like her heart had been broken in half, but by the time the first drop hit the floor Xena had enveloped her in a warm embrace. "Oh, Gabrielle, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry."

The deep, full voice soothed her slightly, but the smaller woman still felt as though she’d been thoroughly beaten. "I’m sorry, Xena. I’m the one who thought … who thought …" Her thin voice trailed off into a garbled sob, and she bent from the waist — her tears making her knees weak.

Xena scooped her up and carried her to the bed, cooing into her ear the entire time. "What did you think, sweetheart? Tell me."

After a few heavy gasps to catch her breath, Gabrielle finally got out, "I thought we’d be … uhm … like my parents … like the couples I knew in Potedia. Just … just with each other."

"Ohh …" Xena said quietly, running her fingers through Gabrielle’s pale hair. "Is that what you want? Is that what you need from me?"

"Y … yes, it is," she said, her voice even quieter than Xena’s had been. "I know I’m just a small town girl who hasn’t had any experience, but I don’t think … I don’t think I could ever be with you and … anyone else." She looked up at her friend with red-streaked eyes and whispered, "You’re all I need … you’re all I want. I’m sorry … I’m so sorry I’m not enough for you, Xena. I wish that I were." She looked away, her face reflecting sorrow and embarrassment.

Xena reached out and lifted her chin, staring into her eyes, her fiercely intense gaze never wavered, and Gabrielle began to grow more and more uncomfortable. Oh, God, I love her so much. She’s everything I’ve ever wanted. Why can’t I do for her what she does for me?

"Tell me what you want," Xena finally asked, her voice gentle and soft. "I want to know exactly what will make you happy."

Once again, it took the younger woman quite a while to form her thoughts into words. She pondered how honest she should be — then finally decided that she had to tell everything. "I want you to be the only woman … the only person I ever love. I want the same to be true for you. I want us to only make love with each other … but I know that’s not enough for you," she said, her eyes welling up again.

"Tell me why you’re not enough for me," Xena asked, her voice still filled with kindness and patience.

"You’ve had so many lovers. You’ve done so many things, and experienced such passion. I can’t do that for you. I can’t love you like a man does."

"No, that’s true, Gabrielle. You can’t love me like a man does."

They were quiet for a while, both of them lost in their own thoughts. "I understand," Gabrielle finally said. "I can’t ever be with you and someone else, Xena, but I’ll try — I swear I’ll try to understand your needs. When we come to a town, I’ll get my own room so you can … do what you need to do."

"Do you know what I really need in a lover?" Xena asked.

"No, I don’t think I have any idea," the smaller woman replied.

"I need someone who loves me, Gabrielle. I need someone who loves the real me — the me that I don’t show many people. I need someone who touches me with her body and her soul. Someone who trusts me — against all reason. I need a beautiful, innocent, warm-hearted girl from Potedia. She’s all I need … she’s all I want. And I hope that someday she can forgive me for playing a very cruel trick on her."

"W … what? What?" The young blonde’s mouth gaped open, her eyes remarkably wide. "You did what?"

Xena sighed and said, "Mathias and I finished our ale, then I decided to go upstairs and bathe. He brought me some hot water, and I soaked in the tub until it was cold. I was worried about you, so I got dressed and went downstairs. Your friend, the barmaid, told me about your little discussion."

"She … she did?"

"Yep, she did. I know that I shouldn’t have been angry, but I was. I was hurt and angry that you’d think I’d sleep with Mathias at the drop of a hat. I guess my sadistic streak came out, and I decided to let you think I’d done just what you suspected me of." She looked deeply into Gabrielle’s eyes and said, "I’m very, very sorry for having done that. It was cruel and heartless of me, and if I could take it back I would."

"You … didn’t … Mathias … didn’t …?"

"No, of course not. He’s a very old friend, Gabrielle. That’s all he ever was."

"But the barmaid …"

"The barmaid’s a busybody who thinks she knows everyone’s business. She doesn’t," the dark woman said firmly.

"And you don’t want … don’t need … a man?"

"Why would I need a man when I have the most wonderful lover in the world? How can you improve upon perfection?"

Gabrielle buried her face in Xena’s chest, smelling her clean, fresh scent. "You’re teasing me," she mumbled.

"No, I’m not," the larger woman said, her voice intensely serious. "You’re the most loving, caring person I’ve ever been with, and I have no intention of ever being with another, Gabrielle. You’re the only person I want to be with, and I’m so very sorry that I haven’t made that clear before now."

"But … I’ve heard you with … men, Xena. I’ve heard the sounds you make. You’ve never made those sounds with me."

Xena looked at her for a moment, then asked, "Are you angry with me?"


"I asked, are you angry with me? Because of the trick I played."

"Oh. No … I shouldn’t have jumped to that conclusion. I know I hurt your feelings. Mine would have been hurt if you’d done that to me."

"Are you just a little bit angry?" Xena probed.

With a tiny smile brightening her face, Gabrielle said, "Maybe just a little bit."

"Then I think we should make up. I shouldn’t have played a trick on you; and you shouldn’t have doubted me. What do you say?"

"Uhm … okay. How do we make up?"

"We make up in the best way possible," the dark woman said, her sexy smile back in place.

"What’s that?" Gabrielle asked, her mind still jumbled.

Xena stood, then pulled her partner to her feet. With agonizing slowness, she began to undress her, removing each piece of clothing with tender care. A wealth of kisses fell onto the blonde’s body as Xena worked, and by the time the last of her garments hit the floor, the younger woman was moaning softly. "You might not have noticed this, sweetheart, but ever since the first time we made love, we’ve been in the open — unprotected and exposed. We’ve been making outside love. Outside love is a very different animal than inside love … as you’re soon going to find out."

"But you and Marcus and Hercules were outside," Gabrielle reminded her tentatively.

"Uh-huh. But you were there each of those times. When we got carried away, we still had a very alert pair of ears watching out for us. Besides, Hercules could kick ass while he was in the middle of having sex, and Marcus was a ghost!"

Gabrielle started to chuckle, resting her cheek upon Xena’s breast. "I guess you’re right about that."

"Now, I’m going to go downstairs and bring up some hot water, and you’re going to get nice and relaxed. Then, I’m going to bring us some dinner and a little wine. After we’re well fed and very, very relaxed, we’re going to make up."

Blinking up at her, Gabrielle asked, "Uhm … I believe you, Xena, I really do, but where was Mathias all day? He disappeared, and no one could find him."

Xena smiled at her and said, "He told me he was going to go to the place down by the river where we used to go to talk. He was so happy for me — for you and me, Gabrielle. I guess he just wanted to spend the afternoon thinking about old times."

"So you never … you and he didn’t …?"

"Nope. Never did, never wanted to. But even if we had — that would not have made me go with him today. You’re my love, Gabrielle. My one true love. Forever." The taller woman leaned over and kissed her partner with every bit of intensity she could muster. "I love you."

"I love you, too, Xena. Very, very much."

"Then it’s settled," Xena declared. "I love you, you love me, and before this night is through, you’re going to experience the pleasure of inside love."

Beaming a brilliant smile at her, Gabrielle said, "I can’t wait."

"You’ll have to wait a little while," Xena said as she got dressed, "but I guarantee you the wait will be worth it."

* * *

Hours later, Argo twitched her ears, once … twice … and then a third time. Slowly nodding her head, she smiled the inscrutable smile that only horses can manage and allowed herself to relax. Those were the howls that she had come to expect from her human, and she was sure that the next day would be an easy one — for whenever the human screamed like that — she went riderless.


The End

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