Over the years there have been many questions asked regarding Xena and Gabrielle, such as ‘did they ever?', ‘if so when?', ‘what in Hades was that thing with Ulysses about?', ‘after all those things they said to each other after Xena was One Against an Army, what happened next?' and don't forget when Tara kicked Gabrielle's ass – ‘what was THAT all about?'.
Here, in this tale, there will be answers to some of these questions which you may, or may not, agree with. Whichever that may be, I hope you enjoy following our heroines' journey.
Disclaimer (sigh!) : Subtext, same sex. Too young? Illegal? Yada yada. Bit spicy near the end but a 15 certificate should cover it.
Our story begins the morning after our friends fall asleep after the battle in the barn during One Against An Army.
Eyelids fluttered open, then squinted against the bright sun streaming in through the hole in the roof. Gabrielle turned her head to the right only to see an empty space beside her. Well, not entirely empty; it was filled with straw but it didn't contain the tall, dark-haired warrior that she had expected.
Her hearing chimed in and she listened to the quiet noises from down below. She could easily fit actions to the sounds, imagining Xena carefully setting a pot of water to boil on a small fire that she had set. Gabrielle smiled fondly as she saw her friend's concerned face in her mind's eye and then she coughed lightly as her lungs tried to clear themselves of the effects of the Persian's poison.
“Gabrielle? Are you awake?” Xena's voice, barely more than a whisper, drifted up from below.
Gabrielle propped herself up on an elbow and cleared her throat before croaking a reply. “Yes. At least I think so.” She flopped back down onto her back, drained by the effort.
The ladder creaked as Xena quickly climbed up onto the loft platform. She dropped to her knees beside her pale friend and gently placed her hand over Gabrielle's forehead. “Hi!” She smiled, peering into slightly unfocussed green eyes. “How are you feeling?”
Gabrielle smiled back, faintly. “Like I got on the wrong side of a centaur stampede.” She grimaced.
Xena chuckled. “Well, centaurs don't actually stampede… but I understand what you mean.”
“Hey, give me a break here,” whined Gabrielle, “bardic license. Besides it's the best I could come up with under the circumstances.”
With a smirk, Xena exposed the wound in Gabrielle's shoulder to check its condition and frowned.
Xena grimaced. “Nothing's wrong, I think. It's just not settling down as quickly as I thought it would once you got the antidote.” She paused, gently prodding at the inflamed skin surrounding the wound with her fingers. She looked up and captured Gabrielle's eyes. “I'm going to give this a squeeze to see if there's any pus in there. Okay?”
“It's going to hurt, isn't it?”
“Mm, ‘fraid so.” Xena searched the green eyes for the strength that she knew was behind them. “Ready?”
Gabrielle took a deep breath and nodded.
Xena positioned her fingers at either side of the wound and quickly increased the pressure.
“Gods!” Gabrielle hissed, clenching her eyes shut and thrusting her head back into the straw.
Xena adjusted the position of her fingers and squeezed again. “I'm done,” she said looking up to see tears cascading from Gabrielle's eyes. “I'm sorry, Gabrielle.” She leant forward and placed a kiss on Gabrielle's head.
“Oh, gods!” repeated Gabrielle. “That hurt.”
“I know,” whispered Xena. “But it was clear. There's no infection so I think it's just the residual effects of the poison.”
“You mean I went through that for nothing?” Gabrielle mock glared into the apologetic blue eyes hovering over her. “I'll pay you back for that.” She threatened, wiping the tears from her checks with her hands. She reached up and stroked one hand down Xena's cheek, just to make sure that her friend knew she wasn't serious – much. “Thank you,” she whispered, sincerely, noting that Xena's own eyes were glistening slightly.
Xena nodded and recovered the wound, saying “I've got some water boiling for some tea. You should drink something.”
“Okay,” Gabrielle replied as she shuffled onto her side in preparation for getting to her feet.
“No, you stay there. I'll bring it up.” Xena gently pushed Gabrielle back down, a little surprised at how little resistance she felt. She got up and descended the ladder.
She returned not very long after carrying a mug of steaming tea to find that Gabrielle had heaved herself into a semi-sitting position.
Gabrielle accepted the mug. “Thank you, Xena. Xena, I've been thinking. We should get to Thessaly to warn them anyway. There's no telling whether or not those Persians will come back; maybe with reinforcements.”
Xena snorted. “You mean they won't be put off by my comment about there being thousands more like me?”
Gabrielle reached out and cupped Xena's cheek, smiling. “No, I don't think it will. Anyone who believes there's more than one of you would be a fool. You're unique.”
Xena leant into the touch, her eyes not leaving her friend's. “You're probably right... about Thessaly that is. Let's give it a day or two for you to recover your strength and then we'll head out.”
Gabrielle was already shaking her head before Xena finished speaking. “No, Xena. We can't wait. They could return at any time. You should go now. I'll be fine here with a few supplies. I'll follow you when…”
“That's not going to happen, Gabrielle,” interrupted Xena. “I'm not leaving you here on your own. I nearly lost you once; I'm not taking that chance again.”
“Xena…” Gabrielle protested.
Xena firmly placed her fingers over Gabrielle's lips. “No!”
Gabrielle stared into Xena's eyes recognising a ghost of fear there and realising that her warrior friend would not give in over this. “Well, we should still go now. We'll go together then.”
Xena drew back slightly and raised her eyebrows.
Gabrielle frowned in response. “Xena, you know I'm right; we have to warn Thessaly. I can do it, Xena. We can ride on Argo so all I need to do is to sit there. I can manage that much.” She watched Xena's eyes, seeing the argument taking form in them. “Look, Xena; I know you don't think I'm strong enough, but I am. I'm feeling better already. If I can get down the ladder and walk to the door, will you believe me?” She silently hoped that she really did have the strength to complete her part of the bargain.
Xena was also watching eyes and saw the familiar determination and stubbornness there but she was unconvinced that her friend really was strong enough. “Alright,” she said, slowly. “To the door.” She jumped up and shinned down the ladder.
Gabrielle watched her disappear. “Well, thanks,” she mumbled, surprised.
“If you're strong enough to journey, you're strong enough to get yourself up.” Xena's voice rumbled up from below. What Gabrielle didn't see was the frown of concern and the clenched fists.
Gabrielle took a long drink of the tea, put the mug down and rolled over onto her knees. Deliberately, she pulled one knee up and got her right foot underneath her. Her first attempt to straighten her leg and stand up barely lifted her weight off the other knee before her leg collapsed and she bumped back down onto her knee again.
“Gods!” She steadied herself, took a deep breath and focussed all of her energies into the leg. Painfully slowly, she raised herself up into a standing position, wincing slightly as she put some weight onto her still sore left ankle. Slightly out of breath already, she turned towards the ladder and took the three small steps necessary to reach it. She looked down into the blue eyes looking up at her from the ground. “See!” she said, defiantly.
Xena cocked an eyebrow. “You're not down the ladder yet… let alone reached the door,” she smirked, then clenched her teeth to force herself to remain still. Every muscle in her body was urging her to go to her friend and help but she knew that she wouldn't be thanked for it. Besides, if they were going to undertake the journey, unless Gabrielle had the strength to do what she had proposed, it wouldn't last half a league before the plucky blonde would collapse from fatigue and they would have to stop; and that wouldn't help her recovery either.
Gabrielle felt a surge of anger at Xena's taunting. ‘Right, you condescending…' An appropriate noun escaped her but she grasped the ladder, turned herself around and gingerly lowered herself onto the first rung.
Xena stood at the bottom of the ladder absolutely rigid with tension, willing herself to remain still as Gabrielle lowered herself, step by painful step, down the ladder. As Gabrielle's foot eventually touched the ground Xena stepped back and walked over to the door, turning to look back, wrestling a sceptical look onto her face.
As she got both feet firmly onto the ground, Gabrielle was breathing hard, her heart thumping in her chest. She felt like she could lie down and sleep for two days. She turned to look at Xena and, once again, felt her determination flare as she looked into her friend's face. She set her jaw, took another deep breath and released her hold on the ladder. She held her head high and walked steadily towards the door and her taunting friend.
After years of studying her opponents, looking for the slightest of weaknesses, Xena analysed Gabrielle's gait almost without thinking. She noticed the heavy breathing, the muscle tension in the upper body holding her head up and her shoulders back, the clenched fists signalling the amount of focus her friend was concentrating on her efforts and the slight shaking in her legs that became more noticeable with each step. She also noticed, with a twinge of guilt, the slight limp as Gabrielle favoured her left foot, having forgotten the twisted ankle from the day before.
Xena knew, though, that nothing short of an earthquake would prevent Gabrielle from reaching her goal and she felt an enormous swell of pride for the young blonde woman who had become, not just a worthy partner to the warrior, but an irreplaceable inhabitant in her heart.
As Gabrielle got to within one step from the door, Xena's whole demeanour changed. Her body relaxed, her face broke into a broad smile and she stepped across, in front of Gabrielle and opened her arms in welcome.
Without hesitation, Gabrielle raised her arms and took the final step, wrapping them around Xena's neck as she felt her own body go limp in the strong arms that enfolded her, supporting her and holding her close.
“Well done, Gabrielle. I believe you and I'm proud of you.” Xena whispered into her ear. “Now come sit down while I go find Argo and pack up our things.”
All of the annoyance at Xena's attitude washed away with her friend's words and a feeling of satisfaction flowed through her.
Xena helped Gabrielle, whose legs were now shaking uncontrollably, to a large, deep patch of straw and sat her down. She quickly retrieved Gabrielle's mug from the loft and refilled it, returning it to grateful hands.
Gabrielle sat, sipping her tea and gradually she felt her body calm down and a little of her strength return. She felt very sticky underneath her clothing; not surprising after all of the hot and cold sweats she had suffered over the last two days.
“Will there be somewhere on the way where we can stop so that I can bathe?”
Xena paused for a heartbeat, considering, before resuming her packing. “Yes. If I recall there is a spring just off the main trail. It's about two candlemarks from here I think.”
“Oh good,” Gabrielle replied. “I feel yucky and I don't suppose I'll smell too good sitting on the horse with you either.”
Xena thought about that for moment, realising that, although she'd noticed that her friend's scent was a little stronger than usual, she had actually found it a little arousing. She sighed as she wondered how uncomfortable that was going to make her over the next two candlemarks with Gabrielle perched in front of her on Argo's back; she had no intention of having Gabrielle sitting behind her in such a weakened state. She brought her attention back to her packing, thinking that, if Gabrielle had enough determination to climb down from the loft in her current state then she would definitely have enough determination to deal with a little arousal.
- - -
Xena guided Argo off the trail, heading towards the spring. She had kept Argo's pace to an easy trot at first but after a candlemark she had allowed it to slow to a walk as she had felt Gabrielle starting to slump in her arms. Her blonde friend had now been asleep for at least the last half candlemark so Xena would have been stopping soon anyway.
The spring itself was an understated affair. There was a good-sized pond, about ten paces across, with no obvious feed into it. Xena knew that the source was somewhere under the surface of the water and that it must have tracked underground close to a lava flow so that it became warmed. The pool had an outflow into a small stream that flowed gently off down the hill.
It had been a few years since she had visited the spring, since before Gabrielle had joined her, and she remembered the pool as having fairly gently sloping sides and the water being quite warm. She thought that Gabrielle would find it very soothing for her aching body and, if truth be told, Xena too would welcome it on her own sore and covered-with-dried-sweat body. She flexed her left shoulder as she thought about that, feeling a very sore spot over her left shoulder blade.
She signalled Argo to stop once they reached the spring itself and gently squeezed Gabrielle with her arms. “Gabrielle. Come on, wake up sleepy head. We're here.”
Xena felt the tension return to Gabrielle's body as she returned to wakefulness.
“Oh, sorry, I must have dozed off.”
Xena chuckled. “No problem. Let me get down first then I'll help you.” She carefully swung her leg over Argo's hind quarters and hopped down onto the ground, reaching up to give Gabrielle some support.
Gabrielle lifted her leg over the top of Argo's neck and slid down towards Xena. As her feet hit the ground her legs folded under her. “Whoa!”
“Easy. I've got you.” Xena had her hands under Gabrielle's armpits and easily took her weight. “Can you stand?”
Gabrielle tried to push with her legs but they just didn't seem to have any strength in them. “Um… no, I don't think I can yet.”
In a fluid motion, Xena scooped Gabrielle up in her arms and cradled her against her chest. Gabrielle squeaked. “Xena…”
“Ye-es?” She carried her burden over to the edge of the pond and carefully settled Gabrielle down.
“You're welcome. Now let me get your boots off.” Xena knelt at Gabrielle's feet and started to unfasten the laces.
“Thank you, again,” said Gabrielle as she gazed fondly at the top of Xena's head. She looked across the pond and dipped her hand into the water. “Ooh, Xena. It's hot.”
“Too hot?” Xena glanced up and towards the water.
Gabrielle stirred the water with her hand. “Um, no, I don't think so. It was just a bit of a shock; I was expecting it to be cold.”
“Get yourself in and I'll check Argo out.”
Xena unsaddled Argo and released her to find some fresh grass and then returned to the pond to find Gabrielle naked, sitting on the edge with her legs dangling in the water.
“Are you coming in too?”
“You bet. I'll bet I'm yuckier than you.”
“I doubt it.” Gabrielle grimaced. “I hadn't noticed anyway,” she said, quietly. “Xena? Is this very deep? I don't entirely trust my legs yet.”
“Hold on. Let me get in first and I'll guide you in.” Xena quickly shed her own clothes and slid into the pool alongside Gabrielle. She gasped slightly as her body submerged in the hot water. “Ooh, this a bit hotter than I remember it. It's okay though just a bit of a shock when you first get in.”
She turned to Gabrielle and found her eyes on a level with Gabrielle's pert breasts. She swallowed, transfixed.
Gabrielle cleared her throat quietly.
Xena looked up, the flush colouring her cheeks not entirely due to the hot water, to see Gabrielle with her head cocked slightly to one side and a big grin on her face.
“Like what you see, warrior?” she purred, thoroughly amused.
“I… it was just… I was…” Words, not particularly being one of Xena's many skills, failed her. She didn't understand what was happening to her. She had seen Gabrielle naked many times but, although she had often appreciated her body, the sight of it had never left her tongue-tied before.
“A simple yes or no would suffice.” Gabrielle raised her eyebrows. She was not going to let her friend off the hook that easily.
Xena swallowed again and glanced down briefly before returning her gaze to Gabrielle's face. “Yes,” she mumbled. “They're lovely.” She almost seemed surprised that the she'd actually said the words out loud.
Gabrielle's face split into an even wider grin. “Thank you, Xena. Now, help me in please.” She held out her arms causing her breasts to jiggle distractingly and generate a magnetic attraction for Xena's eyes. She watched her friend's reaction, seeing in the blue eyes something unmistakable, and suddenly realised the effect she was having on her. Gabrielle's stomach fluttered at the realisation that, perhaps, the feelings she had been having towards Xena were not as one-sided as she had thought.
Xena took hold of Gabrielle's hands and gave her support as she wriggled forwards and slid into the water.
“Oh, wow! That is hot.” Then after a few heartbeats, “Mm, I could get used to this though; it's great.”
Gabrielle found that she could easily get her feet on the ground and released Xena's hands then relaxed back against the edge of the pool, stretching her arms out to the sides.
Xena caught herself staring again and blinked, then submerged herself only to reappear half way across the pond where she continued swimming until she reached the far side. She stood up, the pond obviously being a little shallower on that side since the water only came up to her waist.
“Xena, what's wrong with your shoulder?” Gabrielle called from her side of the pond.
Xena turned her head to the left to try to see what Gabrielle had seen. She knew immediately that the sore spot on her shoulder blade was what her friend had seen.
“I don't know. What can you see?”
“Let me have a look at it.” Gabrielle pushed off and coasted slowly over the water. As she reached Xena she extended her arms and placed her hands on either side of the tall woman's waist. She brought her own feet underneath her and stood up, thankful that the buoyancy of the water was supporting a lot of her weight.
“There's a small cut and it's very red and a bit swollen here,” she said, gently touching the area. “Were you wounded here?”
“I'm not sure,” replied Xena, thinking back to yesterday's fight. “Maybe,” she said, shrugging slightly.
“Well, it looks like it's infected. I should probably see if there's any pus in there.” Gabrielle immediately smirked. “This is probably going to hurt a bit.”
Xena glanced over her shoulder into Gabrielle's eyes. “No, really?” She squinted her eyes. “This is payback, isn't it?” she growled.
Gabrielle's face was a picture of innocence. “I don't know what you mean, Xena, but if it gets too much for you, just let me know and I'll stop. Okay?”
Xena rolled her eyes. “Just get on with it.”
With a smile, Gabrielle placed her fingers either side of the swollen wound, then the smile slipped away and a slight frown appeared on her forehead as she applied pressure to her fingers.
Xena hissed loudly and Gabrielle felt the warrior's muscles tense under her hands.
“Oh, Xena… yuk!” Yellowy goo oozed from the wound and Gabrielle lifted it onto her fingers and washed them off in the water next to the outflow from the pond so that it would be swept away.
“You okay, Xena?”
“Mm hmm!” Gabrielle could tell that Xena had her teeth firmly clenched.
Gabrielle squeezed again. A little more goo appeared, this time mixed with a little blood. After washing that off her fingers she tried again. This time only a smear of blood emerged onto the skin of Xena's back.
“Okay, I think that's got it all.”
Xena took a huge breath and blew it out through her pursed lips, relaxing her shoulders as she did so.
Gabrielle stared at her friend's broad shoulders, debating with herself, then slid her hands around Xena's waist and onto her abdomen. She pulled herself tightly up against the warrior's back, hugging firmly and whispering, “Sorry I hurt you, Xena.” She felt the tension in Xena's body increase and suddenly wondered if she had made a mistake.
The unexpected touch of Gabrielle's fingers on her stomach and the press of soft, yielding flesh on her back sent sudden shocks of sensation rippling through the warrior. For just a few heartbeats her first reaction was to resist and pull away, but the fresh memory of the previous days' intimacy between them and the promises they had made to each other persuaded her to relax and accept the tender contact. She moved her own hands onto the top of Gabrielle's, pressing them gently into her skin.
“No problem. Thank you,” she whispered. Her eyes slid closed as she absorbed the delicious feelings that she had absolutely no desire to stop.
Gabrielle smiled as Xena's hands covered her own. She gave another, slightly firmer squeeze and placed a gentle kiss between Xena's shoulder blades before slowly sliding her hands back around, gently tickling with her fingers as she went. Her smile broadened as she felt the warrior's firm body shiver slightly under her touch.
“Glad I could help,” she said, then with a grin, “How are you feeling?”
Xena opened her eyes, thinking furiously, then turned to face her tormentor, looking deeply into her eyes.
“Gabrielle…” she swallowed, once again, words failing her.
Gabrielle resisted the urge to drop her eyes and fall into the same trap that Xena had done not long before, and instead tilted her head slightly to one side and raised her eyebrows, gazing back innocently into Xena's searching eyes.
Xena struggled to regain her composure, hardly believing how awkward and uncertain she felt. She had faced many men and women, lovers, friends and otherwise, in a wide variety of situations, confrontational, platonic and sexual, and yet here, in front of this petite, young woman she felt more unsure and nervous than she could ever remember before. It dawned on her, suddenly, that the reason was, in this case, it mattered to her, it really mattered to her. She sucked in a breath.
“Is this… do you want…” Any other word that Xena could think of to finish the sentence just sounded crass to her or simply didn't convey what she felt. She looked at her friend, pleadingly, hoping that Gabrielle would simply understand anyway.
She did. Gabrielle resisted the urge to launch herself into Xena's arms; unsure that her legs would be up to the task anyway. Instead she smiled, broadly and reached out one arm to gently rub Xena's bicep.
“Yes, Xena, it is and I do.” With that she let herself fall backwards into the water and pushed off the bottom to float back to her own side of the pool, not once breaking eye contact nor lessening the smile on her lips.
Xena watched her float away for a heartbeat before her brain caught up with Gabrielle's words.
“You do? It is?”
Gabrielle reached the far side of the pool, turned, stood and ran her fingers through her hair two or three times then, with a glance over her shoulder at the slightly stunned warrior, eased herself out of the pool with a surprising amount of energy. Carefully keeping her back to Xena, she squeezed out her hair and ruffled it, then dried off her skin with a piece of linen that Xena had brought back from Argo's saddlebags, and began to don her clothes.
From the far side of the pond Xena felt her heart thumping with excitement as she watched. She had an almost uncontrollable urge to move across to the right in order to try to catch a glimpse of Gabrielle from the side. She immediately felt embarrassed with herself for having such adolescent thoughts and allowed herself to submerge underneath the water. She ran her fingers through her hair, scrubbing at her scalp before slowly surfacing again, but only to the point where her nose just cleared the water's surface so that she could breathe.
By now, with the exception of her boots, Gabrielle had finished dressing. She bent down to collect them, then with a sultry last glance back at Xena, who looked, for all the world, like a blue eyed crocodile wearing a black wig lurking in the water, she walked slowly away from the pond, out of sight, to locate Argo.
The beautiful, golden mare was happily munching on some fresh, tasty grass as Gabrielle approached. The horse looked up briefly, acknowledging a friend with a nod and a shake of her head, and then continued with her snack, unconcerned.
Gabrielle sat on the ground with her back against a large rock intending to put on her boots. As her body relaxed against the solid surface behind her, the energy that had infused her from her interaction with Xena suddenly seemed to dissipate and she felt very tired. Her eyelids drooped heavily and before she even realised it, she was fast asleep.
Xena, also dried and dressed, followed Gabrielle a little while later. Upon seeing her friend sleeping propped up against a rock, she stopped and smiled. She stood, taking in all of the shapes and angles of the relaxed, open face and found her eyes brimming with tears as a surge of emotion filled her to the point where it felt as if she would burst.
She found herself thinking back to some of the other women that she had known in her life; women who were considered by many to be classically beautiful. Lao Ma, Helen of Troy, Cleopatra. Women whom she had admired, respected and loved for a time, for a variety of reasons, not just their looks.
She looked again into the face of the young woman in front of her and realised that, for all of their classical beauty, to her eyes Gabrielle was the most beautiful of all. In that silent moment, Xena acknowledged to herself that, for the first time in her life, she really was, truly in love with another person.
Eventually, Xena took a deep breath and sighed contentedly, then walked quietly over to Argo where she fished in her saddlebags for some of the food they were carrying with them. Taking it and a water skin she strode across to where Gabrielle was still fast asleep and squatted down beside her.
“Hey, sleepy,” she said quietly, gently shaking Gabrielle's shoulder. “Time to wake up and have a bite to eat.”
Gabrielle started awake, her eyes betraying a slight confusion over where she was.
“I'm awake. I wasn't asleep,” she protested sheepishly.
Xena just smiled and offered her some of the food. “Here, have some of this to eat. We really ought to get moving again.”
Gabrielle looked up into Xena's eyes, still slightly sleep-muddled, and then glanced down at the food in her hand. “Okay, thanks,” she replied, accepting the offering.
Xena sat down contentedly beside her friend, their shoulders touching, and started eating as well.
- - -
Back out on the trail, Xena alternated between periods of trotting and letting Argo walk at a steady pace while she sat behind Gabrielle on the horse's broad back. She had her arms around Gabrielle's middle and, although she was mildly disappointed that, because of her armour, she couldn't feel her friend leaning against her chest, she was compensated by the fact that Gabrielle had placed her own arms over the top of Xena's and had laced their fingers snugly together.
Through the day, she could feel Gabrielle getting fatigued and, despite several stops and snoozes, Xena decided that, by late afternoon, she had probably had enough and so found a pleasant spot alongside a gently flowing stream to make camp for the night.
As she brought Argo to a halt she realised that Gabrielle had, once again, nodded off in her arms. She sat still for a few heartbeats just absorbing the closeness of their bodies and inhaling the scent of her friend. With a smile she dismounted and then gently let Gabrielle slide off into her arms. The young woman made a small mewling sound and wrapped her arms around Xena's neck, snuggling her face into the dark hair cascading over the broad shoulders.
Xena found a suitable spot and carefully lowered her precious cargo to the ground. Gabrielle grumbled a little in her sleep but curled up on her side, pushing her hands under her face and remained asleep.
Xena stood quietly, listening carefully for several heartbeats, then, satisfied that there were no threats nearby, wandered over to the stream and started removing her boots. Nice, fresh fish for a meal would be very satisfying and one that she knew Gabrielle would enjoy.
When she returned she had a surprise waiting for her. Gabrielle had woken and had started to organise their camp site. She had already arranged a fire ring with a small fire going and was currently laying out their sleeping furs.
“Ah-ha! Awake I see,” smiled Xena.
Gabrielle looked up and returned the smile. “I am! And I'm feeling a lot better too.”
“Good,” smirked Xena. “This fish will taste a lot better if you cook it.”
Gabrielle jammed her fists onto her hips and sucked in a breath ready to retort, then, suddenly she relaxed her shoulders and curled her lips into a seductive smile. She sauntered over to stand in front of Xena, took the fish from her hands and stood up on her tiptoes to press a gentle kiss onto surprised lips. She then turned and walked back to the fire to start preparing the fish for cooking.
It was a large number of heartbeats before Xena felt like she had anything like normal brain function again. Eventually she said, in a quiet, slightly bewildered voice. “You know, Gabrielle, there are some times that you leave me speechless.”
Gabrielle looked up from the fish and into Xena's face, thoroughly enjoying the new intimacy and freedom that she felt now existed between them. “That's good to know,” she said nonchalantly, lowering her gaze back to the almost prepared fish, “because I intend to tell you how I feel, later on, without using words.”
Xena just gazed at her friend with her mouth slightly open for another long moment wondering whether her familiar Gabrielle had somehow been substituted for a more self-confident, sexually playful look-alike. With her stomach fluttering and with plenty to look forward to, she turned to Argo and began to give her a good, vigorous brushing.
- - -
The fish was indeed very tasty and it was consumed with enthusiasm by Xena and Gabrielle as they sat side by side in front of the cosy fire. Eventually, after it was all gone, Gabrielle slumped slightly against Xena's side, her efforts once again taking their toll on her body, still recovering from the ravages of the poison. She rested her head on a shoulder and yawned widely.
“I'm sorry, Xena. I just can't seem to stay awake at the moment.”
Xena stifled a small twinge of disappointment that the previously hinted at wordless communication didn't now look like it was going to happen and, instead, raised her arm and gently cupped the side of Gabrielle's head, holding it against her shoulder.
“It's not surprising. That was a pretty potent poison on that arrow. You've done well to shake it off as quickly as you have.”
Gabrielle lifted her head to peer into Xena's eyes. “Thanks to you,” she smiled and stretched up to feather a light kiss onto Xena's cheek.
Xena smiled back and returned the kiss to Gabrielle's forehead. “Come on, let's get you to bed.”
“Is that an offer, or is it just wishful thinking on your part?” Gabrielle mumbled as her head settled back onto its shoulder pillow.
“Neither. Both. But not tonight,” Xena chuckled. “Come on, you.” She squirmed around onto her knees and picked Gabrielle up in her arms.
“I think you've carried me more in the last two days than in the previous three years that you've known me.” Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the strong neck and snuggled into it.
“When you find something precious, there is an urge to look after it and keep it close to you as much as possible.”
Gabrielle lifted her head and peered into Xena's face for several heartbeats. “You know, Xena, sometimes you leave me speechless.”
Xena gave an amused smirk and lowered Gabrielle down onto her sleeping fur where she immediately turned onto her side, facing Xena's fur, and tucked her hands underneath her head. “Are you coming to bed?” she asked, hopefully.
“I will, in a little while. I just want to check that there aren't any surprises nearby.”
Gabrielle mumbled sleepily, already starting to drift off.
Xena shook her head slowly and wandered off to check on Argo and the surrounding area.
When she returned, as expected, Gabrielle was breathing deeply and slowly, having rolled onto her back. Xena cast off her armour and her boots that she had replaced after her fishing excursion and slid quietly into her furs, noting that Gabrielle had set them out with no spacing between them. She slid her hand across, found Gabrielle's and intertwined their fingers together.
Almost immediately, Gabrielle rolled over towards her, placed an arm across her middle and nestled her head onto Xena's shoulder.
Xena turned her head and placed a gentle kiss on the top of the blonde head then relaxed, allowing the closeness and warmth of the contact to lull her into a pleasant, contented place that she found was both a novel experience and yet one that she was surprisingly comfortable with.
They were still in much the same position when Xena awoke the following dawn.
- - -
As was normally the case, Xena was fully awake instantly, with no period of drowsiness or light dozing between being asleep and awake. What was not normal was her being content to simply lie there and not get up and start the day.
Over their years together there had been several occasions when they had shared a bed; on cold nights, after a particularly traumatic incident when Gabrielle needed some emotional support, or even through convenience when an inn they were staying at had only one room with one bed. In those situations Xena had behaved ‘normally'. This time, however, with the newly exposed feelings that both of them had expressed for each other, not to mention Gabrielle's gentle flirting, Xena felt absolutely no reluctance in simply enjoying their physical contact.
As she lay there, gently rubbing her cheek against Gabrielle's hair, she thought back to their struggles over the previous year.
After the incident of her death and subsequent resurrection, they had been very close, emotionally, although neither had even hinted at wanting to make their relationship go any further. Xena realised, suddenly, that she couldn't really put any of that responsibility onto Gabrielle. She was still very young, barely eighteen summers, and had had only a single sexual experience; at least as far as she knew. To have expected the young woman to have made any sort of advance towards a very experienced ex-warlord was, she realised, totally unreasonable.
Thinking back to her feelings at that time and afterwards, she realised, sadly, that their failure to be honest with each other about their feelings was probably at the root of what went wrong between them. Certainly, for her, the only reason she went after Ulysses was because she was sexually frustrated with the lack of physicality with Gabrielle.
After that incident, about which she still mentally winced when she thought about it, she knew that Gabrielle had been upset with her, although, for whatever reason, Xena hadn't made the connection that the upset may have been because Gabrielle had been jealous, and then done something about it. Instead she had become angry with the young woman and had started to withdraw from her.
Xena's heart ached as she remembered the sadness brought about by the loss of closeness with the woman who had shown her nothing but unconditional love, friendship and loyalty.
She turned away from her thoughts, not prepared to go through, once more, the events in Britannia and afterwards that almost, almost cost her everything. She sent a silent word of thanks to her son, Solan, for his help in creating an environment where Gabrielle and she could identify, understand and start to heal the wounds between them.
She looked down at the blonde head nestled comfortably on her shoulder and bent forward to place a gentle kiss on its top, feeling again the explosion of emotion that threatened to make her burst. She knew that things between them would now be all right; as long as she didn't screw it up, of course. Their mutual declarations of love and commitment to each other over the previous two days were the most open and honest either of them had ever been about their feelings for each other and that, followed by Gabrielle's little teasing gestures, made Xena realise that, this time, their relationship would be complete. There would be no misunderstandings, no frustrations and no lack of communication that could create distance between them.
And oddly, to her own amusement and surprise, she had no feelings of impatience that they had not yet taken the final step into a complete relationship. She was content to be lying there, with Gabrielle in her arms cuddled into her, knowing that it would all happen eventually. Yes, she would feel the flutters in her stomach and an ache in her groin but they really paled into almost insignificance when compared to the feelings of fullness and contentedness in her heart.
With that realisation, Xena mentally stopped and took stock. This was all new for her. In the past, aches were meant to be satisfied, itches scratched, and the sooner the better. And if they weren't then someone had better watch out.
She almost laughed out loud. Instead she bent to kiss the head on her shoulder once more and then slipped carefully out from underneath the still soundly sleeping Gabrielle. She stood and stretched herself, then set about relighting the small fire before strolling off to locate some breakfast for them both.
- - -
“Well, good morning.” Xena was sitting on a log at the edge of the camp site, nibbling on a few nuts and berries that she had found on her foraging.
Gabrielle stretched her arms above her head and uttered a quiet groan as her joints realigned themselves. “Morning,” she replied. “Have you been up long?”
“Only a couple of candlemarks.”
“What!” Gabrielle sprang upright, staring wide-eyed at Xena's face, which slowly started to sprout a smirk. “Oh, you…”
Xena chuckled and resumed nibbling on her breakfast. “There's a mug of tea waiting for you when you eventually get out of bed.”
Gabrielle glanced over at the fire ring where the aforementioned mug was keeping warm.
“Thanks.” She rolled her head around and slowly got to her feet. “You know, I'm feeling pretty good this morning.”
Xena looked up taking in the more normal colour of her friend's complexion. “Good. The poison is finally getting flushed from your body. I've got some nuts and fruit here too.” She held up her hand to display them.
Gabrielle shuffled over to the fire to retrieve her mug then crossed over to stand in front of Xena. She bent down to separate the long, booted legs and sat herself down between them, taking a sip of her tea. “Mm!”
Xena was briefly startled but quickly shook her head and smiled before leaning forward to place a kiss on the top of Gabrielle's blonde head. She assembled a handful of the nuts and berries and lowered them down in front of waiting eyes.
Gabrielle put her mug down and cupped her hands to receive the offering. “Thanks. How much further, do you think, Xena?” she asked, around a mouthful of the nourishment.
“We should reach Thessaly by mid-afternoon, I think.”
“Hm, I should be okay to walk today; at least some of the time.”
Xena placed a hand onto the top of Gabrielle's shoulder and squeezed it gently. “Let's see how it goes, eh? There's no point in over doing things just because you're feeling a bit better today.”
Gabrielle turned her head and kissed the hand. “Always looking out for me,” she said, smiling.
“It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.”
Gabrielle blew a raspberry.
“I'll be glad when we get there and warn them. I can't help worrying that the Persians might be just behind us.”
Xena thought about that for a heartbeat. “I doubt it,” she replied at last. “It will take them at least a day to retreat back to the main force and report, then at least another half day before the commanders will decide on an action and get the army ready to respond. That will put them at least a full day behind us, probably more. There's a good chance that they will take even longer to reassess their position.”
Gabrielle rubbed one of the knees beside her face. “Yeah, the bloody nose you gave them will make them think twice,” she said proudly.
“We, Gabrielle. You played your part.”
Gabrielle snorted. “Oh yeah, I kicked over a pot of oil. Major player.”
Xena sighed. “At exactly the right time. And you forewarned me about the guy dropping in from the roof.” She paused in thought. “And you are the reason I won.”
Gabrielle scrambled to her knees and turned so that she was eye to eye with her friend, a small frown on her forehead. “What does that mean?”
Xena's blue eyes locked with Gabrielle's. “Remember what I told you; that you are the reason I can reach inside myself to do things that I'm not capable of? I shouldn't have been able to fight off a hundred men but… I didn't want you to die, Gabrielle. I didn't want to die either. I wanted us both to survive; to be together here, now, in this life. That was only a possibility if I won.”
Gabrielle reached out and cupped Xena's cheek with her hand then leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on her mouth.
Xena's eyes fluttered closed as she absorbed the silky-soft sensation, feeling her heart fill even more, if that was at all possible.
What Gabrielle originally intended to be only a brief connection, rapidly extended into one that she lost control of; her body taking over and pressing more firmly against Xena's lips as her hand slipped around Xena's head and into her dark hair. Without conscious thought, her tongue slipped between her lips and slowly caressed the lips of her friend.
Xena's body was also now in control of her actions, her mind simply a passenger on a journey of sensation. Gabrielle's tongue stroking her lips evoked a quiet hum from the back of her throat and her own traitorous tongue decided to link up with its counterpart by easing out and joining in a mutual exploration.
After a long while the kiss ended with both of them breathing heavily, their pulse rates elevated well above normal. They eased apart, still breathing the same air and gazing into each other's eyes.
Xena blinked first and swallowed. “I think we should get to Thessaly.” She frowned at the oddly husky sound of her voice.
Gabrielle sat back on her heels, blinking. “Phew! If I'd known it was going to be like that, I'd have tried it ages ago.”
They looked at each other and both gave a slightly embarrassed laugh.
A look of concern crossed Xena's face. “Gabrielle, are you…”
“Oh, yes. I am.”
Xena smiled, relief replacing the concern. “Thank the gods,” she whispered.
Gabrielle gently stroked her thumb across Xena's lips and grinned broadly. “I second that,” she said.
- - -
Thessaly was a large place but it was quite easy to find the centre of government so that they could give the warning about the invading force of Persians. Xena had anticipated having some difficulty persuading them of the threat but there had also been a couple of rumours from outlying villages about movements of troops so Xena's report was actually taken seriously straight away.
The two friends, having discharged their responsibility, strolled companionably through the town together until Xena pointedly steered them towards a cobbler's shop.
“I thought you'd forgotten,” purred Gabrielle, looking up into her friend's face.
Xena simply looked back and cocked an eyebrow, saucily.
The good news was that the cobbler told them that the damaged boot could be repaired fairly easily; it was mainly the laces that had been sliced by the chakram. So, they borrowed some shoes for Gabrielle to wear while they left the boots for repair and set out again to find a room for the night.
They found a rather well-appointed inn and secured a pleasant room for the night. As usual, Gabrielle took on the responsibility for negotiating with the landlord and made sure that the room she obtained had a single, large bed. Her stomach fluttered as she cast her thoughts ahead to later in the evening, planning on how she intended to utilise the spacious sleeping surface. She was delighted to discover that the inn also had a bathing room and got the landlord to include a bath for both of them in with the price.
Xena got Argo settled and brushed in the inn's stable while Gabrielle stashed their gear in their room and availed herself of the bath, washing off the trail dust from the day's journey. She was just dressing as Xena pushed open the door to their room.
“Hi, Argo okay?” she asked, looking up.
“Yup!” Xena replied, eyeing the large bed and her partially clad friend, a soft smirk sliding, unbidden, onto her lips.
“I told the landlord that we'd like to eat first and that you would take your bath afterwards. I've already had mine.”
Xena took a breath to protest that she would have preferred to bathe first, but something in the slightly hesitant tone of Gabrielle's voice made her pause. She looked carefully into her friend's face finding there hints of shyness and nervousness. She smiled inwardly, wondering, with her own stomach fluttering with anticipation, what exactly was in store for her after her bath.
In fitting with the standard of the inn, the meal was actually very good although Gabrielle seemed to spend more time pushing it around on her plate rather than eating it.
Xena decided to have a little gentle fun. “Are you feeling alright, Gabrielle?” she asked, pointing her own fork at Gabrielle's still half-full plate.
“Hm?” she replied, looking up into Xena's face, then down at her plate. “Oh, yeah, I'm fine, just not very hungry that's all.”
Xena frowned. “Well, it's probably the poison still in your system spoiling your appetite.”
“Mm, probably,” mumbled Gabrielle, a little shiftily.
“I think you should turn in when you've finished, get an early night. I'll stay down here for a while and then I can sleep on the furs so that I don't disturb you.”
Gabrielle risked giving herself a whiplash injury as her head snapped up in shock. “NO!” she startled herself with the volume of her response. “No, I'll be fine,” she said, more quietly, noticing out of the corner of her eyes that several of the inn's patrons were looking across at her. “I… I want you to sleep in the bed… with me,” she finished shyly at barely more than a whisper.
“I don't know, Gabrielle. You need to give your body plenty of rest to recover.”
“Oh.” Gabrielle mumbled quietly. “If… if you think so.” Her eyes dropped to her plate.
Xena realised her little joke was about to bite her in the ass. “On the other hand,” she continued, hurriedly, “if I'm in the bed with you I can make sure you stay warm.”
Gabrielle didn't look up. “Okay, whatever you think is best,” she said, unenthusiastically.
Xena shifted in her seat, the joke's teeth making her uncomfortable. She reached across the table and took Gabrielle's hand in her own. “Gabrielle?” No reaction. “Gabrielle?” she repeated, squeezing the hand gently.
Slowly, Gabrielle looked up into apologetic blue eyes.
“Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I was teasing. I want to…” she hesitated, suddenly unsure herself. “ …sleep in the bed with you.”
Gabrielle searched Xena's eyes and carefully kept a tight rein on her own, sudden flare of indignant anger. She shoved her plate away and stood up, slowly. “Be quiet when you come up, then. I might be asleep.” With that, she walked away from the table and headed for the stairs to their room.
Xena buried her face in her hands, her own appetite having left the table along with Gabrielle. “Smooth, Xena. Real smooth!” she mumbled to herself.
- - -
The bath was a very solemn affair; in fact even the pleasure of washing off a day's worth of travel dust couldn't make any impression on the deep funk that Xena was immersed in. She finished bathing, dried herself, slipped on her shift and silently made her way to their shared room.
She carefully unlatched and pushed open the door and was halfway through it before she realised that it wasn't dark inside, in fact it was quite well lit with several candles in various locations around the room. She then noticed the sweet smell of lavender that permeated the room. Her spirits immediately lifted in the hope that her ill-conceived bit of fun wasn't as disastrous as she had feared.
She stepped into the room and quietly closed the door behind her. Glancing over to the bed, her pulse rate doubled and her stomach clenched as she took in the sight.
Gabrielle lay on her side with her head propped up on one hand, watching. A sheet covered her, up to her armpits, but her shoulders were bare and a quick glance to the chair at the bottom of the bed confirmed that her sleeping shift was currently unemployed.
Xena was frozen in place, staring at the vision in front of her, hardly daring to believe that it was waiting for her.
“Good job I have a sense of humour, eh?” Gabrielle broke the silence of tableau.
“Gabrielle, I'm sorry. That was …”
“Xena, shut up and come over here.” Gabrielle slid the sheet down to her waist exposing her nude torso, her eyes suddenly turning bashful and unable to hold Xena's gaze.
Xena's eyes widened, impossibly. “You are absolutely gorgeous. You know that?”
Gabrielle steadied her eyes back to Xena's and she smiled, fluttering her eyelashes, her confidence restored.
Xena took the three steps to the bed but as she prepared to join her friend, Gabrielle raised a hand to halt her progress. “Ah-ah!”
“What?” Xena queried, puzzled and slightly concerned that she had misread something.
Gabrielle waved her hand vaguely at Xena's body. “Too many clothes.”
Xena looked down at herself. She was wearing only a shift, having carried the rest of her clothes in her arms when she returned from the bathing room. She looked back up to the vision on the bed in front of her and considered the promise that it offered. She had to agree, under the circumstances, even that much clothing was indeed, too much. With a swift twitch Xena's shift joined Gabrielle's.
Unashamedly, Gabrielle stared at her bare friend. “Better!” she purred, lifting the sheet so that Xena could slide underneath.
Xena settled herself on her side, mirroring Gabrielle's position. They laid like that for several heartbeats, just gazing into each other's eyes. Simultaneously, the loose hand from both of them moved across the gap between them settling on opposite hips.
“Gabrielle?” Xena had a moment of concern.
“Shh!” Gabrielle leant forward and pressed their lips together.
The kiss continued, their lips moving and sliding against each other, their tongues licking and teasing and tasting each other, their hands gliding delicately across soft, silken skin and their bodies slowly, but inexorably inching towards each other.
Hardened nipples touched and rubbed against each other causing both of them to gasp, breaking the kiss.
“Oh gods, Xena.” Both Gabrielle and Xena were breathing heavily, inhaling each other's air and scent.
Xena pushed gently on Gabrielle's shoulder, easing her onto her back, then slid forward hovering over her and sliding one leg over the top of her thighs. Xena's breasts rested weightily on top of Gabrielle's chest and her free hand gently cupped one of the pink-topped breasts beneath her.
A gentle whimper escaped, unbidden, from Gabrielle's throat as she slid her own hands around to Xena's back, caressing and squeezing the powerful muscles that she had massaged on several occasions without the accompanying feelings that she now had coursing through her. She allowed her hands to slide down, feeling the rise of the firm buttocks and being totally unable to resist cupping and pulling them firmly against herself.
Xena produced her own passionate utterance with a throaty moan as the juncture of her legs was pressed against Gabrielle's hip. Losing all semblance of control she claimed Gabrielle's lips once again as her own hips started a slow, gentle grind.
Gradually both women's explorations became more intimate as Gabrielle overcame her shyness and uncertainty, and Xena simply lost the will to go slowly and keep to her lover's pace.
Xena wanted nothing more, at that moment, than to taste her lover and bring her to the pinnacle of pleasure that she knew she was able to.
By this point, Gabrielle was little more than a passenger on the journey to ecstasy that Xena was guiding her on. And, as is usually the case, she reached the intended destination in the driver's capable hands; several times.
- - -
Candlemarks later Xena and Gabrielle lay quietly in each other's arms, sated and spent.
“Gods, Xena,” Gabrielle murmured, “I had no idea it could be like that.” She gave her tall lover a squeeze. “Thank you.”
Xena blinked her eyes open, she had been dozing off, and blurted out; “Wasn't it like that with…?” before she realised that it was probably not a good move and trailed off without completing the question.
Gabrielle paused thoughtfully before answering. “No, not at all. It's hard to put into words but, with Perdicus it was very nice but with you, it was… um… complete. That's the closest I can get, I think.”
Xena was silent but nodded gently, fully understanding what Gabrielle meant. Thinking back over her past lovers she acknowledged that some of them had been more skilful, although that was likely to change over time she thought with a small smirk, but she had never been left feeling the way she did now. Yes, complete was as good a word as any to describe it.
“Oh, and it lasted a lot longer too.” Gabrielle sounded very serious.
The laugh burst out of Xena with no warning at all.
A little while later, Gabrielle spoke again. “Was I… was it…” She buried her face in Xena's shoulder.
Xena lifted her head then lifted Gabrielle's with her fingers so that they were eye to eye. “Gabrielle, it… you were wonderful.”
Xena smiled warmly, charmed by her lover's inexperienced touch of insecurity. “Absolutely. I love you Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle returned the smile. “I love you too, Xena.” She put her head back down onto the broad shoulder and squeezed again.
As journeys go, theirs had been more adventurous than most, more traumatic than many and certainly more unpredictable than anyone could reasonably expect. That they had managed to recover from all of the upsets and setbacks, and find their way back to each other more strongly than ever showed just how strong their soul-bond truly was.
- - -
The young girl drifted into the tavern room of the inn and looked around, her black, shaggy hair and black clothing standing out amongst the browns and greys of the other patrons. She obviously didn't find anything she was looking for so she sidled up to the bar and caught the landlord's attention.
“You got a tall, dark haired warrior-type woman staying here?”
The landlord eyed her, curiously. “Maybe. Who's asking?”
The girl squared her shoulders. “I'm her new sidekick,” she bragged, turning to take a seat next to the far wall.
=== The End ===
The Epilogue was very much an after-thought. I, like many others, hated the early scene in Forgiven where Tara kicks Gabrielle's ass. I always put it down to the fact that Tara smacked Gabrielle across the head with a chair when her back was turned, thus stunning her and making her less able to fight back. However, within the context of my story, Gabrielle is still very much weakened from her injury and the poison, so, as far as I'm concerned, Tara was just one very lucky kid J
Hope you enjoyed it.
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