Copyright: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. are owned by MCA/Universal. I only borrowed them for a little while. No infringement was intended. The rest of the story is mine and I hold the copyright to it. Do not use any part of this story without my written permission. I may be contacted at IQ139@aol.com.
Sex: This story contains scenes of two women making love. <smile> If this offends you, please dont read my story. There are plenty of other wonderful stories out there.
Timeline Reference: This story takes place after the episode "Fins, Femmes, & Gems" and before "Tsunami".
Thanks: To Danae and Lunacy for their help with the lyrics and to Mist and Missy for the title. As always, thanks to Verda and Lunacy for beta reading.
To Rie, for always keeping me entertained with her stories and for her constant support.
Part 1 of 2
By B L Miller
"I think you still need to do something about Joxer." Gabrielle said softly as the ape man in question grunted and screeched off in the distance.
"Tomorrow." Xena replied with a gentle smile. It was late, she was tired, and all she wanted to do was curl up around the bard and go to sleep. Gabrielle grinned in response and reached over to give the warriors forearm a gentle squeeze. Yes, tomorrow would be soon enough to deal with Joxer.
The quiet of the night was broken only by the crackling of their small fire and the occasional grunting of Joxer as he circled the camp, still thinking that he was the great ape man. Lying side by side, shoulders touching, Gabrielle drifted off into a light sleep while Xena continued to stare up at the night sky. It had been an emotional day, one that she hoped would quickly be forgotten by her honey haired companion. She brushed the dark locks off her forehead and let out a of sigh of frustration. She had come so close today, so very close to revealing her true feelings to Gabrielle. For that brief moment, all thoughts of Aphrodites spell was forgotten .
She frantically felt around in the water until her hand brushed against the limp form. Relief at finding Gabrielle flooded her senses only to be replaced immediately by the overwhelming fear that she was too late. Cradling the bards chin in her hand, Xena pushed her muscles to the limit to get back to shore. Once her feet touched the wet sand, she used both arms to drag Gabrielle out of the water, only dimly noting the location of her hands, which were firmly cupping the bards left breast. Another time she might have taken a perverse pleasure in being able to get away with copping a feel but at the moment her only thought was on making Gabrielle breathe again. Her mind flashed back to a time long ago, back to Thessaly when she had been in a similar position. Not breathing, get air in her lungs, yeah thats what she had to do, the now panicky warrior thought to herself. She bent over and took a deep breath of air, readying herself. A spurt of water from Gabrielles mouth brought Xenas head back.
"Not the lips." the bard said breathlessly, her fingers moving up to touch her mouth. "They chap so easily."
Xenas face took on a dejected look as Gabrielles words and actions reminded the warrior that Aphrodites spell was still in effect. She sat back as the adrenaline rush faded. "Wha just what were you doing out there?"
"Uh I was, oh! I was trying to kiss my reflection in the water." Gabrielle sat up and turned toward the warrior. "I couldnt resist it. I leaned over and I tried to press my lips " she ran her wet fingertips across her lower lip, caressing it in a most distracting way. The bard seemed lost in the sensation of the touch.
"And you fell in." Xena said, trying to bring the bard back to the conversation. "Any fish down there?" she asked, her obsession taking control for a moment.
"It was like my reflection embraced me." the bard said, annoyed at the warriors question, which seemed rather silly to her. In the background, Joxer grunted and nibbled on some bugs. Gabrielle sighed with the obsession induced memory. "I sank into it. I was surrounded by it. And then you, you pulled me up, and I looked into your eyes, and Xena, I finally realizedthere can only be one person for me in my life." she said happily. A burst of emotion flooded through Xena at the prospect that the unbelievable was actually happening. She began to speak, to proclaim that which had been hidden for so long.
"Me." Gabrielle said as if it were obvious, grinning with pleasure. The smile that covered Xenas face turned to disbelief, then annoyance as the reminder that the bards ego was sky high. She had to get away away from the embarrassment at almost blurting out her true feelings, away from the self-centered person that looked exactly like her best friend, away from the whole mess that Aphrodite created. She twisted and rose, determined to find an end to the spell that Gabrielle was under so she could go back to fishing in peace.
"Hey, I let you save me." the bard called out as Xena continued to walk away.
The crackling of the fire brought Xena back from her revelry. She looked over to see Gabrielle sleeping quietly, free of the self-absorption that claimed her all day. Rolling onto her side, Xena reached over and softly touched the honey hair that spilled out over the bards shoulder. So close and yet still so far away the warrior let out a sigh of disappointment and turned away to face the fire. Sleep wouldnt come easily to her tonight. Some obsessions werent that easy to get rid of, especially when the object was sleeping less than an arms length away.
Morning presented its own set of problems as Xena was forced to help Joxer find the solution to what was bothering him. Gabrielle flatly refused to spend any more time with zug zug man, as she called him. So there she was, standing next to a man wearing a pink frilly nightie and trying to get him to understand that he wasnt Attus the Ape Man. Perhaps reason would work, Xena thought. "Now Joxer, you know that youre not really an ape man. Youre Joxer the Mighty, come on, snap out of it."
"Arruu?" came the reply, accompanied by a stupid look.
"Joxer, youre a man, not an ape." briefly her mind tried to come up with the distinction. "Um apes have more hair."
"Ug me take monkey-woman and make furious zug zug." he replied, scratching his armpit.
Xena grinned with a smile that said that shed had enough of this. She took a step forward and glared at Joxer. "You grab Gabrielle again and there wont be anything for you to make zug zug with, do you understand?" she asked, her white teeth looking rather threatening to the confused fool. She casually reached under the top of the nightie and plucked several hairs from his chest with no effort. He yelped with pain and stepped back, the white monkey-woman making her intentions clear.
"No zug zug." he said dejectedly. "She never wants to zug zug."
"And she never will." the warrior added. An idea popped into her head. "Joxer, perhaps thats whats bothering you."
"What, that Gabrielle wont return my love and would rather eat ants than spend time with me?" he asked, the fuzziness in his head diminishing. "Wow, must have been something I ate, I dont feel very well right now." he looked down at his garb and immediately started looking around embarassedly
"Your clothes are over there." Xena grinned. "It took us almost half a candlemark to find your clothes after you threw them off and swung from tree to tree with nothing on but a smile and your socks."
"And Gabby saw me..." he looked around for a graceful exit.
"Gabrielles off collecting some firewood." she recognized Joxers fearful look and flushed skin for what it was. "If you go that way, you wont run into her."
"Oh, thanks, Xena, tell her that I had someplace important to go to and thats why I couldnt stick around to see her." he said, grateful for a chance not to run into the bard. He reached for the hem of the pink nightie.
"Uh, Joxer " the warrior pointed to the brush in the distance. "Im not interested in any zug zug either." he blushed even more and hastily made his retreat. Xena walked away, confident that they wouldnt be bothered with his presence anytime soon.
She found Gabrielle back at their campsite, a small pile of firewood next to her. The bard was busily scribing their recent journey down on the last clean scroll she had. "Did you get rid of him?" Gabrielle asked without looking up.
"Hes gone. I think he left the nightie over by the bushes if you want it."
"After hes worn it?" the bard made a disgusted face. "Not a chance. You can tear it into rags for all I care." she scribbled another few words onto the parchment. "That was a waste of three dinars."
"Well, dont you think its worth three dinars not to have to look at Joxers naked body?" Xena asked as she sat down next to the honey haired woman.
"It would be worth three hundred dinars." the bard mumbled, finishing the sentence she was working on. "You know that was worth at least six dinars. It took a great deal of haggling to get the woman to take three for it."
"Whyd you buy it?" came the genuinely curious question. "Its not really something that would last out here on the road."
"I dont know." Gabrielle set the quill and scroll down and turned to look at the pile of ash that represented the fire they slept next to all night. She refused to look at her friend, feeling a bit of embarrassment about the whole thing. "I guess I just felt like wasting three dinars on something that wouldnt be seen by anyone anyway."
"Hey " Xena reached out and cupped the bards chin with her hand, forcing the young woman to face her. "I didnt mean to upset you, I was just trying to figure out why you bought something like that, thats all." her mind raced quickly for just the right thing to say to make Gabrielle feel better. "Im sure you would have looked lovely in it."
"Well, I guess well never know, now will we? Are you sure Aphrodite didnt cast her spell on us back in the village?" she gave a short snort. "I mean, it was rather silly to spend three dinars on something as delicate as that considering our line of work. I would have been better off spending the money on bandages."
"It wasnt silly." Xena lied. Sure, they always needed one more unnecessary thing to carry around with them. "You deserve to have something pretty to wear once in a while."
"For who?" the bard sighed. "The only heads I turn when we enter a village are creepy looking men who make me want to take a bath after theyve looked at me. Lets face it, Xena, the pickings arent too good around here."
"Well, theres always"
"Dont you dare say it." Gabrielle warned, drawing a grin from her best friend. "Dont even think his name. Id rather go through life without than with him."
"Oh, but you make such a cute couple." Xena teased, having successfully pulled the bard out of her funk. She laughed at the playful backhand she received and began to whistle the warrior wannabes annoying song.
"Xena, Im warning you " the bard growled, moving her hands toward the warriors rather ticklish sides.
"You wouldnt dare." the raven haired woman replied, reaching down and tossing her chakram out of the way just in case. With a yelp the bard was upon her, the short fingers landing with deadly accuracy. "Oh, Gabrielle hee hee, you stop it ha ha right now " she tried rolling away but the bard gave her no quarter, mercilessly keeping up the tickle attack while staying out of reach of the warriors flailing legs. Xena didnt want to hurt her smaller friend but she was laughing so hard that she was finding it hard to breathe. Desperate times call for desperate measures and so the warrior raised her knees, planted her feet firmly on the soft ground, and bucked her hips upward, throwing Gabrielle off. Xena turned and instantly pinned the bard to the ground, her stronger hands holding the younger womans wrists, her knees planted on either side of the well developed abdomen. "Now " the warrior huffed, still trying to get her breathing back to a normal state. She tipped her head down and realized that they were far too close. For a moment Xena feared that Gabrielle might see her own feelings reflected in her blue eyes. She pulled away, ending yet another moment that passed between them. "I guess wed better pack up if were going to make it to Laconia by nightfall." she rose to her full height and brushed the sand and dirt off her brown leathers.
"Tonight? I thought we werent going there until tomorrow. I gathered enough firewood for us." Gabrielle said in bewilderment. One moment they had been playing around and the next Xena was up and packing their things. It seemed odd, but not odd enough to make an issue of it. After all, if leaving now meant getting into a village full of people and shops before nightfall, who was she to disagree? "I suppose some passing traveler will appreciate my woodpile."
"Im sure they will." Xena replied, her tone slightly clipped. "Lets get going. No doubt Argo will need a good brushing once we get there." a quick kicking of dirt onto their dead fire to make sure it didnt start up again and they were ready to leave. Gabrielle barely had time to throw her bag over her shoulder and stand up before Xena strode away from their campsite.
"Some days I just dont know about you." the bard said to the retreating form, still puzzled by the warriors sudden change of mood.
The sun was completely out of the sky by the time they reached the outskirts of the medium sized town of Laconia. The quick pace that Xena had set did nothing to improve the bards mood since she was now far too exhausted to do anything more than eat dinner and go to bed. "I suppose the shops will all be open tomorrow." she grumbled as they headed toward the stables.
"If you had ridden with me it wouldnt have taken as long." Xena pointed out as she dismounted.
"If you werent in such a rush to get here I wouldnt be so tired." Gabrielle countered. "Whats so important that we had to act like Hades himself was on our tail?"
Xena let out an annoyed sigh. "We didnt race to get here and if you wanted to take a rest all you had to do was say something." a young lad came running up to them, hand outstretched to take Argos reins. The warrior handed over the straps of leather along with a dinar. "Make sure shes groomed and fed and that the hay in her stall is fresh." that task accomplished, Xena turned to face the miffed bard. "Come on, Gabrielle. Well go to the inn and get you something warm to eat and cold to drink. Maybe theyll even let you tell one of your stories."
"All I want is something good to eat and somewhere soft to sleep." the bard replied, her anger dissipating at the sight of the inn up ahead.
"Then Ill just have to make sure that you get both." Xena said, giving the young womans arm a gentle squeeze. "Im sorry if I pushed it getting here. I just thought that a nice place to sleep and having someone else make dinner would be a good idea."
"Sorry I was a grouch." Gabrielle admitted. "I guess it just must be that time of moon again." she adjusted the strap to her bag on her shoulder. "Come on, Im so hungry I could eat a sphinx."
"Uh, lets stick to eating things that dont want to eat us as well, okay?" Xena joked.
The inn was nicer than most inns that they had been in, people sitting around the tables quietly talking, the air smelling more of fresh cooked food than stale liquor. The reason became clear a moment later when a gargantuan of a woman stepped in front of Xena, hands on her hips. "No weapons. This is a place to eat, drink, and perhaps sleep if you have enough dinars. You want fighting, go down the street to the Blue Fox."
Xenas left eyebrow arched prominently as she set the saddlebags down on the floor and crossed her arms, silently challenging the large womans resolve. The tall warrior noted that the room had suddenly grown quiet as the patrons, now spectators, watched on to see which strong willed woman would win. Several heartbeats passed as the innkeeper stood face to face with the former warlord. "I can stand here all night but that half-starved kid behind you looks like she could use some food." she cast another look at Gabrielle. "Perhaps some clothes that fit her as well." she adding in a disapproving tone.
"Xena " the bard softly implored, truly wanting a plate or two full of whatever smelled so good and not a fight. As it always did, the mention of the warriors name caused a series of murmurs and whispers to run through the crowd. Now there was a healthy amount of fear that accompanied the look of curiosity on the patrons faces. Satisfied that there would be no trouble from the simple townsfolk, Xena gave the innkeeper an insincere smile.
"Well, I dont suppose therell be any trouble here." the warrior said as she removed her scabbard and handed it to the young serving girl standing nearby.
"Not as long as you remember whos in charge." the large woman said. "My name is Nysis. Two drinks for a dinar, dinners are a dinar each, and the rooms are two dinars each. Now are you going to just stand there wasting my time or do you want something?"
Gabrielle opened her mouth to protest the prices but was stopped by Xenas raised hand. "Fine." she looked around for an empty table.
"Uh uh uh." Nysis said, her hand turned palm up. "I said no weapons."
Xena maintained her defiant stare and handed over the knife tucked into her boot. Nysis chuckled softly. "And I suppose that round thing is just decoration?" she took the chakram and two more knives yet continued to stand in front of the warrior.
"What? Thats it." Xena growled, her own stomach starting to announce its happiness with the aroma coming from the kitchen.
"And I suppose theres nothing in there?" Nysis said, pointing at the valley of the raven haired womans breasts. "Or would you prefer I see for myself?" a heartbeat later the small breast dagger was handed over. "Theres a table near the fireplace. Ill have Maris bring you some drinks." she stepped aside and indicated the table in question with a sweep of her hand. As Gabrielle passed, Nysis reached out and deftly snatched the Amazon staff.
"Hey!" the bard yelped.
"Oh, you think that I dont believe that you could take my head off with this?" the large woman answered, nonplused by the honey haired womans protest. Nysis sauntered off with her prizes, leaving two annoyed women behind.
"Xena, perhaps I was wrong." Gabrielle said as she set the saddlebags under the table. "Maybe we would be better off going up to the Blue Fox." her stomach rumbled its dissent.
"Sit down." the warrior said while giving a gentle tug on the bards arm. She made no effort to remove the amused look from her face. "What? Its all right that I have to hand over my weapons in order to get a table but its not all right for you?" Xena reached out quickly and took two large tankards of port off the passing serving girls tray. "Maybe Aphrodites spell hasnt quite washed off of you yet."
"Youre the one whos a walking armory. Im just a bard and thats my staff." Gabrielle grumbled, shooting a dirty look at the large innkeeper.
Xena leaned forward until her lips were a hands width away from the young womans ear. "You are far more than just a bard, Gabrielle." she swallowed hard and pulled back to a more friendly position. "And in your hands, a staff is most definitely a weapon. It was good thinking on her part not to underestimate your skills." she took a deep swallow of port and pushed the other tankard toward Gabrielle. "Besides, I dont need any weapons." she grinned. The bard smiled back and took a long draught of her drink.
"I know Im just being silly but I do feel better with my staff. Its like its a part of me like your chakram is to you." she took another swallow. "It does seem peaceful enough here." Gabrielle leaned back in her chair and enjoyed the drink in her hands as the serving woman approached the table.
"Dinner is one dinar each. If you want second helpings, theyre a dinar each too." the woman said from just behind the bard. Gabrielles head snapped around at the sound of the womans voice. "Yes?"
"Im sorry." the bard said, realizing that the woman was expecting her to say something. "Do I know you?" Gabrielles eyes searched the older womans face, trying to match what she saw with the faces that made up her memories of long ago. "You seem so familiar."
"Well, perhaps you passed through here once before." the serving woman said, now looking at the bard with the same look of uncertain familiarity. "But you do look a lot like do you know anyone in Poteidaia?"
"Im from Poteidaia." Gabrielle exclaimed. "Do you know Herodotus and Hecuba?"
A pair of squeals preceded the two women hugging at the chance meeting while Xena looked on, half wanting it to get over so they could get their dinner and half wishing theyd never come into this particular inn. There was so much that Gabrielles family didnt know about her life in the last three years and Xena knew that if the two women started catching up on history that it would be emotionally draining on the young bard. Dredging up good memories always allowed the painful ones to follow right behind. Xena took a long gulp of her port and stared down at the dark liquid. She barely heard Gabrielle introduce her to Henrietta. She looked up and nodded. Someone from a nearby table grumbled loudly about having to wait so long for service. "I have to take care of some customers." Henrietta said to the bard. "But Ill bring your dinners out in a few moments and then we can talk some more."
Gabrielle turned to Xena once her aunt left and began talking excitedly. "Can you believe it? Of all the people to accidentally run into, Aunt Henrietta! I havent seen her since I was twelve or thirteen. She used to come to Poteidaia every harvest and stay for a moon."
"Then what happened?"
"I dont know she just stopped coming." the bard said. "I asked Mother about it once and she said that Aunt Henrietta just didnt feeling like coming anymore. We never talked about it." the warrior swore she could see the wheels turning in Gabrielles mind as an old family mystery formed in her head.
"Thats probably all there is to it, Gabrielle. Or maybe your mother and her had a falling out." she polished off her tankard. "It doesnt do any good to dredge up the past."
"Do you think that its possible that theres a scandal buried deep in my family history?"
Xena chuckled and snatched the bards half-empty tankard off the table. "Gabrielle, everyones family has scandals and secrets."
A short time later, Henrietta returned with two heaping plates of chicken covered with gravy and boiled turnips. Both women, teased mercilessly by the savory aromas, practically attacked their food. Gabrielles aunt returned to her duties around the dining area while they ate. The bard was just finishing up her plate when Henrietta returned and sat down with them. A young woman perhaps six seasons younger than Gabrielle followed carrying two pitchers, one with port and the other with freshly drawn water. As the young dark haired girl set the containers on the table, her eyes never left Gabrielle. "Maris." Henrietta admonished. "Go see if Nysis needs anything."
"Yes Momma." the young girl said, clearly unhappy with the direction.
"Youll have to forgive her." Henrietta said. "Shes in that difficult stage of life where shes too old to be considered a girl but too young to be a woman." she refilled both Xena and Gabrielles tankards with port. "There are times when I wish she was still small enough to turn over my knee."
"I dont think that physical punishment is really a good way to discipline." the bard said.
"It worked on you and Lila when you two wouldnt listen to me." Henrietta reminded.
"I bet it took more than one spanking to get her to behave." Xena said, unable to suppress a smirk at the vision of Gabrielle being a defiant teenager and getting a spanking. The bard blushed slightly but still managed to give her best friend a glare.
"Im sure I was nowhere near the Tartarus-raiser that you were."
"You still gave your mother and me a hard time, Gabrielle." Henrietta looked over at the bar to see Nysis looking at her. An almost imperceptible shake of the head and the middle-aged woman turned her attention back to the conversation at the table. Nysis shook her head in angry disappointment and returned to her task of wiping down the countertop. The silent question and answer were captured by Xenas keen eyes.
"Well, I guess I did." the bard admitted, oblivious of the goings on behind her line of sight. "So who is Maris? I dont remember you having any children."
"Um thats a little difficult to explain." Henrietta said. She watched her niece fail to suppress a yawn. "You must have had a long trip today. Ill have Maris bring your belongings upstairs." she looked from her niece to the intimidating woman sitting with them. "Um there are two rooms next to each other at the end of the hall."
"Thats fine." Xena said quickly, not wanting the bard to say anything to the contrary. They had long ago agreed to share a bed whenever they stayed at inns to save money. Occasionally it would draw a comment or two but her young companion either never heard them or simply chose to ignore them. Xena truly believed the latter but they never discussed it. Gabrielle gave her a quizzical look but nodded in agreement anyway.
"Yes two rooms next to each other. That sounds fine." she continued to look at Xena, not understanding why they were wasting money on an extra room.
"If youll excuse me." the warrior said, scraping the last forkful off her plate. "I need to check on Argo."
"You dropped her off at the stable less than two candlemarks ago. Shes fine." Gabrielle chastised. She turned her attention back to her aunt. "Youll have to excuse Xena, Aunt Henrietta," the bard said, tossing her friend a dirty look. "Her social skills arent the best."
"Call me Etta, Gabrielle, everyone does."
"Etta it is, then." the bard said with a smile. She poured herself some more port. "So tell me about Maris. Why didnt you ever bring her out to see us? She had to be old enough to make the journey."
"She was, but " Etta thought quickly for an excuse. " she was sick a lot and didnt care for long wagon rides."
"Why didnt you ever mention her?" the bard asked. "I mean, shes your daughter, right? She called you Momma."
"Gabrielle " Xena said in a low voice.
"No, thats all right, Xena." Etta said. "I dont suppose it makes any difference now." she turned in her seat to face Gabrielle. "Maris is Nysis daughter by blood, but shes my daughter by the love in my heart. I was there the day she was born and Ive been there ever since."
"Oh " the table was quiet for a few heartbeats as Etta and Xena waited for Gabrielle to ask the unspoken question. To their surprise, the bard simply nodded and looked over at the empty square of raised wood that served as a stage. "Do you have a bard performing tonight?"
"No, the last one we had went to Athens to try and enroll in the Academy there." Etta said.
"Gabrielle was accepted at the Academy." Xena said, refusing to let a chance go by without showing someone in the bards family just how much she had accomplished since leaving Poteidaia.
"Really?" the older womans eyes lit up. "You were actually accepted at the Academy for the Performing Bards in Athens?"
"Well, its not a big deal really I got in but I didnt stay there. I prefer traveling and living the stories instead of just repeating them."
Xenas tankard hit the table with slightly more force than she intended. "It is a big deal, Gabrielle. You accomplished something that many people who call themselves bards will never do." blue eyes stared at green with intensity, daring her to argue. "You are an Amazon princess and could be queen again if you wanted, and youre the most sensitive and caring person I know."
"She never did give herself enough credit." Etta said. "Sounds like you have a lot to be proud of, Gabrielle."
"Well, Im not the only one whos come a long way in the last three summers." the bard said softly. She let her gaze linger on Xenas face for a moment longer before turning her attention back to her long-lost relative. "So tell me about you and Nysis and Maris. Im sure you have a few tales to tell after working in an inn for so long."
"Hard to believe that well be celebrating our twentieth summer here soon." Etta said, giving the large dining area a loving once over with her eyes. "I remember one time "
Xena thought that Gabrielle was an endless wealth of stories until she listened to Etta spin her tales. Eventually Maris and Nysis joined them, forcing the bard to move her chair over until her lower thighs were pressed against the leather clad warriors. The moon was high in the night sky before Etta finally yawned. Xena took advantage and immediately rose to her feet. "I think weve kept them up long enough, Gabrielle. If you ladies would excuse us?"
"But-" the bard began, only to be stopped by the look in her friends eyes. "I mean, yeah " she faked a yawn. "Its time for us to turn in." she reached into her bag for the small pile of dinars that were stored in a pouch within.
"No, theres no need for that." Nysis said, raising her hand in protest.
"Thats very generous of you but theres two rooms that youre not getting any money for tonight." Gabrielle protested.
"It would be worth the cost of ten rooms to see you again, Gabrielle." Etta said. "Please, let us do this. Tomorrow you can repay us by perhaps telling us a story or two."
"If only it would be one or two stories." Xena quipped, drawing a gentle backhand to the belly.
"Id love to." Gabrielle said. "It would be nice to have an attentive audience for a change."
Maris led them up the stairs while Etta and Nysis cleaned up the dining area. "So thats little Gabrielle, huh?"
"Yup." Etta replied. "Always had that spunky smile."
"Seems more accepting than your sister." the large woman replied as she pushed a chair back into place. "Then again, I guess she would be, considering who she hangs around with."
"Do you think thats safe?" Etta asked, drawing closer to her mate. "I mean, Ive heard stories that shes changed, but thats still Xena." she whispered the raven haired womans name as if speaking it out loud was dangerous.
"What I dont understand is why they have separate rooms." Nysis replied.
"Why wouldnt they? Theyre not lovers, Ny Im sure of it. Gabrielle would have said something when I told her about us."
"Well, all I know is everything out of her mouth was about Xena and everything out of Xenas mouth was about her, what little bit she did talk. Ive never seen anyone so quiet." the large woman ran her fingers through her dark hair. "I dont know, Etta, but I think theres more there than just two women who travel together."
Xena shut the door to her room and flopped down on the bed. It was bad enough that she was only a hairs breadth away from revealing her feelings to Gabrielle without having to spend time with the bards aunt and her lover. Even after spending time with the Amazons, they never talked about women loving each other. The only comment the bard ever made was that two women dancing together at a harvest festival seemed happy. At the time all Xena could do was nod in agreement and find some reason to go see Argo. That was almost two summers ago. So much has happened since then and yet theyve never talked about it. Xena sighed in frustration. Somehow she was sure this was some sort of punishment from Aphrodite for messing up her plan to steal the Mystic Diamond. She haphazardly tugged at the straps that held her armor in place before sitting up to remove it. She had both her boots and gauntlets off before she heard a soft knock on the door. "Come in, Gabrielle."
"Howd you know it was me?" the bard asked as she entered.
"No one else would be crazy enough to interrupt my sleep." Xena replied as she pulled off the last of her bracers.
"I knew you werent sleeping. I know your routine." she crossed the room and sat down on the bed next to the raven haired woman.
"And I know yours. You like to have a little chat before you go to bed." Xena guessed correctly. Before she knew it, Gabrielle was under the covers and waiting for the warrior to join her.
"Okay, so whats the topic tonight? Were inside so it cant be the stars." the warrior said as she settled in and adjusted her pillow.
"Nysis and Etta seem happy." Gabrielle murmured.
"Mmm." came the noncommittal reply.
"I just wish that Mother had seen that. She doesnt always have the most open of minds." she turned her head to look at Xenas profile in the dim light of night. "She doesnt take the time to see the real person inside."
"I can understand her dislike of me. After all, I took her daughter away."
"You didnt ride in and carry me off kicking and screaming." Gabrielle said. "Im the one that ran away in the middle of the night and followed you."
"In your mothers eyes, I took you away. If someone took you away from me, Id hate them too."
The words were out before she had a chance to think about them and once spoken, could never be taken back. Laying on her back, Xena took a deep breath and waited as Gabrielle propped herself up on one elbow and looked down at her. "Im not going anywhere." the bard whispered.
"I know." Xena replied, trying hard to sound believable. Gabrielle said nothing, instead moving her arm out of the way and claiming the warriors shoulder as her own personal pillow.
For several moments there was nothing but silence and the raven haired woman wondered if Gabrielle would simply fall asleep and forget all about the telling statement. She wasnt that lucky. Just as Xena thought that it was safe to try and fall asleep, Gabrielle turned her head and placed a feather light kiss on the warriors collarbone. "I know where I belong." she whispered before settling back in.
The dark grey of morning was settling across the land when Xena awoke suddenly, her attention focused on her surroundings. It took only a moment to figure out what it was that jarred her from a solid sleep Gabrielle. Gabrielle, who was still safely within the land of dreams, but whose dreams were apparently of an erotic nature. Between the deep, even breaths of sleep came soft moans. The bards right leg was draped across Xenas body and soon the gentle rocking of Gabrielles hips joined the soft sounds escaping from her sleeping mouth.
It was torture, plain and simple, Xena decided. Even Callisto wouldnt have been able to come up with anything worse. Gabrielles hips continued to rock against the warriors pelvic bone and it was all Xena could do not to respond. But when the bards hand began to travel and found the warriors breast to be a good place to stop and explore, the torture was too much. "Gabrielle Gabrielle, come on, roll over." nothing, all she got was another soft, sexy moan and a hip grind. Xena let out a low growl in frustration. "Gabrielle, youre on my side of the bed, roll over." she accompanied her statement with her hands, gently pushing the younger woman onto her back. The bard mumbled a sleepy protest and rolled away from Xena to face the wall, taking the majority of the blankets with her. The warrior saw her chance to escape and took it, deciding that a vigorous morning workout was better than spending another moment next to the aroused but unattainable bard. One more lingering look at her companion and Xena decided that a dip in the stream might be a good idea as well.
Nysis was setting up the dining area for the morning crowd by the time Xena came down the stairs. "I suppose youll be wanting your weapons." the large woman said without looking up. "Theyre behind the bar. Id appreciate it if you put them back there when you return."
"You have a problem with all warriors or just me?" the raven haired woman queried as she fastened her chakram to its usual position on her hip.
"I dont see the need to invite trouble, thats all." Nysis shrugged. "You wear that much armor and carry that many weapons, youre a walking advertisement for a fight."
"Sometimes a show of force can keep a fight from happening." Xena replied. "You cant always walk or talk your way out of a situation." she hooked her scabbard on her back and tucked her breast dagger into its usual place. "Besides, you dont strike me as the peace loving type." she tucked the last knife into her boot. "My guess " she straightened and looked at Nysis carefully. "Amazon."
"No." the large innkeeper turned to face Xena, not showing the least bit of intimidation. "Just someone who never backed down from a fight." she turned and began wiping down the already clean tabletop.
Nysis sighed and walked over to the next table. "One day I ran up against a weapon that I had no defense for. I tried to fight it, tried with every fiber of my being but it was hopeless." she looked up at the stairs and the rooms beyond. "Etta opened her mouth and my heart was lost forever. Theres no more powerful weapon, I swear to the gods."
Xena fidgeted uncomfortably and looked at the exit. Yes, now was definitely a good time to leave. "Tell Gabrielle that Ill be back in a little while."
When she heard the door close, Nysis chuckled to herself. "Running from a battle, tall one?"
Gabrielle came down the stairs and looked around for a sign of her dark haired companion. She was just about to go outside and look for her when Nysis grabbed her arm and led her over to an empty table. "Soooo " the older woman cooed as she took the seat next to her lovers niece. "Tell me all about you and Xena."
"Oh." the bard answered happily, always willing to talk about her favorite subject. "Well, three summers ago a warlord attacked Poteidaia and tried to sell us into slavery. Xena came out of nowhere and rescued us." she started to say more but was stopped by an upraised hand.
"I dont want a history lesson, Gabrielle." the large woman smirked. "I want to know how you ended up with her."
"Well, like I was telling you," the bard began again, not totally understanding the question. "she rescued all of us and then I followed her out of Poteidaia. Weve been traveling together ever since."
"Bet you learned a lot from her." Nysis grinned just as Etta joined them. "I know Etta taught me a lot."
"Well, of course you dont spend any amount of time with Xena and not learn something."
"And Im sure some lessons were more enjoyable than others." the large woman said, drawing a warning look from her lover.
"Ny " the bards aunt said in a low tone. "We talked about this last night."
"Oh come on, Etta, you cant tell me that theyre not. Maris said that Gabrielle didnt sleep in her bed last night."
"You think " the green eyes grew wide as she figured out the implication in Nysis words. "Oh " she laughed lightly. "Were not I mean shes my friend and I care deeply about her and all but were " she shook her head. "Were just close." Gabrielle was suddenly glad that Xena was nowhere in sight. "I mean, Xenas not like that she "
"Its all right, deary." Etta said, reaching out to pat her nieces hand. "I know what you mean. Im afraid Ny is just a great big romantic and tries to make more out of things than there really is."
"Well, I hate to disappoint you but theres nothing going on between me and Xena." the bard said a bit more fervently than necessary. At that moment some customers decided to come in and Nysis reluctantly let her quarry go, but not without an ending comment.
"Seems like a lot of smoke for no fire."
"Ny " another warning from her lover. The large innkeeper chose to simply ignore the reprimand and headed off to deal with her patrons. Etta shook her head apologetically at her niece.
"Dont let her bother you, Gabrielle."
"Oh, it doesnt bother me. Its not like its the first time someone has thought that about us." the bard shifted a bit in her seat and smiled. "People think what they want." she put her hands on the table and stood up. "If youll excuse me, I really need to go to the market and restock some of our supplies."
"Well then, why dont you go with Maris? She has to go get things for us anyway and Im sure shed love the company."
Gabrielle groaned inside at her failed attempt to get away and see where Xena was. Knowing there was no way to refuse without revealing her real reason for wanting to leave, the bard could only smile politely. "Thats sounds like fun."
"Terrific." Etta said. "Maris! Hurry up and get ready. Your cousin is going to the market with you today." somewhere behind a closed door came a muffled acknowledgment. Gabrielle kept the fake smile on her face and resigned herself to her fate.
"So youre my cousin." Maris said as they walked toward the market area. She didnt seem particularly thrilled about the idea.
"I suppose so." the bard replied. The younger woman glared at the staff in Gabrielles hand.
"I dont know why you felt you had to bring that thing no ones going to attack you in the square."
Gabrielle chuckled. "Youd be surprised at the number of times Ive needed my staff in the marketplace. Trouble just seems to find me."
"Maybe its the company you keep." the dark haired teen replied. "Mother says that violence begets violence. The cycle of hatred continues."
"It doesnt have to." the bard said as they approached the first booth. She immediately began looking through the bolts and scraps of cloth. "I believe that love can break that cycle." she said as she placed several sturdy looking pieces of material off to the side.
"Whats that for?" Maris asked.
"Bandages." Gabrielle replied. "I never said breaking the cycle was easy." she grinned and received a friendly smile from her younger kin.
"Thatll be three dinars." the portly merchant said confidently. The poor fellow never knew what hit him.
"WHAT?" Gabrielle practically yelled. "Three dinars for these scraps? For three dinars I could buy ten times this much in Athens." no one was more skilled in the art of haggling than Gabrielle and she loved to show off that particular skill every chance she got. "Ill give you one dinar and thats being generous." she leaned over the table until she was practically nose to nose with the merchant.
"N-now thats good quality hemp, Miss." he said, taking a half step back. "Why, just think of all the candlemarks that were spent over the loom weaving it. Surely thats worth three dinars." he hoped that he could appeal to the beautiful womans sensitive side. Unfortunately he made a critical mistake in the haggling game, he didnt come down in price. Nothing irritated the bard more than someone who didnt lower their price after her first counter-offer.
"Like you have any clue about hard work." she said, looking pointedly at his over-ample stomach. "Lets try this again, Ill take these rags off your hands for one dinar."
By the time Maris and her older cousin left the booth, Gabrielle had managed to not only get the future bandages for one dinar, but a spool of thread and a ball of leather twine thrown in. The dark haired teen shook her head with disbelief as the bard worked her way through the market, purchasing all her needed items for far less than what the sellers had originally requested.
"Youre really good at that." Maris commented as they headed back to the inn. "Id never be able to argue with them like you did."
"Of course you can." Gabrielle replied, twirling her staff lazily in her right hand. "The worst they can do is refuse to lower their prices. You dont lose anything by trying to talk them down, especially when their prices are over-inflated to begin with. Usually theyll make the sale just to get the money."
"I just cant believe the way you stand up to them. I wish I was more like you." Maris said, awe clear in her voice. Gabrielle smiled, feeling slightly embarrassed by the fawning. She was saved from more doting by the door opening and Nysis poking her head out.
"Are you two going to stand there all day or are you going to bring those things inside?" Maris quickly picked up her bundles from their place on the ground next to her.
"Could you take these inside for me?" the bard asked, holding out her bags. "I think Im going to go look for Xena."
"I think shes up at the stables with that horse of hers." the large woman offered, just in case Gabrielle didnt think of the stable as being the most logical place to look for the warrior. "Ill set two plates aside so dont worry about rushing back."
"Nysis " the bard said disapprovingly. She had no doubts about what the innkeeper woman was thinking.
"Im just letting you know where I think your friend is, Gabrielle." the older woman replied, trying hard to look innocent.
"Of course you are. Ill be back in a little while." she turned and headed toward the stables, leaving Maris to glare disapprovingly at her mother. Nysis, on the other hand, was beaming as she felt herself slipping into her matchmaker mode.
But Xena wouldnt be found in the stables. She wasnt at the seedy tavern either. Gabrielle spent over a candlemark looking for the elusive warrior before finding her just outside of town. Xena had slipped away for some private time and had ended up next to a small pond just outside of town. But it wasnt the rhythmic scraping of her whetstone against the cool steel of her sword that allowed the bard to find her, rather it was the soft, melodic voice that filtered up through the air.
"Now listen to my story about Gab-bri-elle, a cute little gal whos lookin really swell, perfect hair, such a lovely lass, nice round breasts and firm young ass." Xenas voice trailed off to a happy hum as her scraping kept time with the ditty.
The bard stopped at the edge of the bushes, less than a stones throw away from the warrior. Her eyes were wide with disbelief at what she was hearing. "Xena, what are you doing?"
The sound of Gabrielles voice caused the warrior to spin around and come face to face with the person whose ass she was just singing about. Xena lowered her sword and stood there, unsure of what to say. The bard smiled disarmingly as a question formed in her mind.
"Catchy tune, dont you think?" she said, trying to put the warrior at ease. At that moment, Xena looked like a deer caught between the hairs of a crossbow. "I cant believe I was that full of myself."
"Uh yeah, you really were." the raven haired woman agreed, feeling the tension slip away. "I was waiting for you to demand that your clothes be bronzed just for touching that superior skin."
"Bronzed?" the bard smiled. "What? Dont you think Im worth gold?" she polished her fingernails against her green top and grinned.
"Even King Midas wouldnt have enough gold to equal what youre worth." Xena said, drawing the most winning of smiles from her partner. "Come on, lets go back to the inn. Ill buy the first round."
"Youre going to be buying every round, my warrior. I spent all my dinars at the market." Gabrielle replied. "But wait until you see all the things that I got."
"I cant wait." Xena replied, inwardly pleased with the affectionate term. She rose to her feet in one fluid motion and began walking alongside the bard. "So tell me what you bought. How badly did you badger the storekeepers this time?"
"Enough that we wont have to buy supplies for quite some time." Gabrielle replied proudly. They stepped through the brush and into the short span of woods that separated the pond from the town itself. "So at the first place we went I found some cloth that will make the best bandages ."
"Please? Itll be fun."
"Come on, Xena. I never get to spend time with my family and I havent seen Aunt Henrietta, I mean Etta, for so long."
"No. You know how I hate social functions." the warrior rummaged through the saddlebags for her whetstone. At the rate she was going, her sword would be nothing more than a toothpick by the time she was done.
"Oh no you dont." Gabrielle crossed the room and snatched the sharpening stone from the saddlebag. "One candlemark, two tops. Come on, Xena, pleeeeease?" she did her best impersonation of a puppy. "I promise not to embarrass you with stories or anything." when her attempt to look cute didnt work, Gabrielle bit her lower lip and thought rapidly of something else to sway the stubborn woman. "Ill tell you what, if you go with me, tomorrow Ill make you some of those pasteries you like with the red stuff in them."
That caught the warriors attention. Xena stood there, trying hard to convince herself that a plate full of the tasty treats wasnt worth spending an evening being polite to Gabrielles family. She tried, but failed. A small grin formed on her lips as she realized that she had been brilliantly outmaneuvered by the crafty bard. "You dont play fair. You know how much I like those."
"Yup, I know." Gabrielle grinned back. "Admit it, Xena. Under that rough and tumble exterior beats the heart of a softy."
Only around you. the warrior thought to herself. "I admit nothing except that I like those pastries."
"Yeah, okay Xena, whatever you say." she walked past her tall companion to put the whetstone back where it belonged. As she passed, Gabrielle couldnt help herself. "You big softy."
"Ill get you for that, my bard." came the throaty reply.
"Oh, I cant wait. What are you going to do? Tie me up and make me eat your cooking?"
"I dont know about the cooking part, but tying you up might be an option. At least itll keep you out of trouble." Xena quirked, her face the epitome of playful wickedness. Unbeknownst to Gabrielle, the warriors mind was racing with rather lurid thoughts about the idea of tying up the honey haired woman. A gentle knock on the door interrupted the bantering but the bard, as was her usual custom, managed to get the last word in.
"Nah, youd probably enjoy it too much." although not a dense person by any means, the double meaning of her own words passed right by Gabrielle. Xena, on the other hand, was grateful she wasnt drinking anything when she heard the words. The bard opened the door to reveal Maris waiting patiently.
"Momma and Mother wanted me to let you know that the dinner crowd is almost gone now."
"Tell them that well be right down." Gabrielle replied. Maris nodded and headed back to relay the message.
"I dont see how this can be any fun. A chakram throwing contest, yes, sitting around with a bunch of women cackling like hens, no." she headed toward the door only to be stopped by the bards outstretched arm.
"Xena, cant you loose the armor for one night?" she asked, her hands already reaching for the straps that held it in place. The warrior knew it would do her no good to argue and resigned herself to remaining still while Gabrielles fingers deftly undid the buckles and clips that held everything in place. When the bard finished, nothing remained on Xena but her leathers, skirt, and boots. The bracers, gauntlets, and armor were sitting neatly on the bed. "Now were ready." Gabrielle said, practically dragging the reluctant warrior to the door. "Its going to be fun, youll see."
Etta and Nysis closed the inn early to spend the evening with Gabrielle and the warrior. The back room, as it was called, was the only private place they had other than the bedrooms. It was sparsely furnished yet still cozy. A small fire burned in the hearth and a large candelabra gave a comfortable light to the room. Two sofas sat opposite each other, one occupied by the innkeeper and her lover and the other by Xena and the bard. The sofa they were sitting on was shorter than the other one, forcing the duo to sit with less than a fists width between them. Maris sat on the floor between them, her back resting against the overstuffed footstool. A carafe of wine had been brought in and all five women had glasses with various amounts of the red liquid in them.
"So there she was, naked as a jaybird. Well, Hecuba had her hands full with little Lila and that Gabrielle was slipperier than a greased pig. It took me the better part of a candlemark to catch her." Etta said, oblivious to the color rising in her nieces cheeks. "She kept ducking under tables and running around with the whole town looking on. She was the talk of the harvest festival that year, Ill tell you."
"Aunt Etta "
"Hush now, Gabrielle. Im telling your little friend here a story." the older woman chastised, the wine helping to loosen her tongue. Xenas eyebrow lifted at the comment but she held her tongue. Pastries, she reminded herself, pastries. Etta took another sip of wine before trying to resume her tale. "So where was I?"
"Embarrassing me." the bard offered. She looked down at Maris who gave her a sympathetic smile. She was used to her mothers stories and was grateful that she wasnt the subject of conversation that night.
"If you want to be embarrassed, Gabrielle, Im sure I can remember the details about the time you were six and-"
"No! Thats all right." the bard quickly interjected. She had no idea what she had done at age six but she was certain that whatever it was, she didnt want Xena to hear it. "You were saying about the harvest festival?"
"Harvest festival?" Etta looked at her lover for help as the story she had been telling was washed away by one glass too many. "Oh yes!" she turned to the bard. "You were running around-"
"Naked. You told us already." Gabrielle said. "How about a story that doesnt involve me."
"Now you know how I feel." Xena quipped, finding the reversal rather amusing. She reached over to the small table next to the sofa and grabbed the carafe. Instantly four other glasses appeared in front of her. The warrior glanced at the tall candle slowly melting away, taking a mental note of the six marks still showing on the side of it. At the rate they were consuming the wine, she predicted the crew to be completely drunk within a candlemark. With the thought of an early night in her mind, Xena filled everyones glasses to the brim.
The original carafe, and two others, were now lying empty on the table. The candle on the mantle showed only three marks and the top one was beginning to melt away. " so as I was saying " the drunken bard looked at Xena. "What was I saying?"
"You were explaining how the earth couldnt possibly be flat." the warrior reminded her. Maris was having a hard time keeping her head up and all of them were struggling to pay attention.
"Oh yeah why was I doing that?"
"It doesnt matter." Xena reached over and took the empty glass from the bards hand. "Right now I think its time for bed."
"No, Im awake. Nysis, tell me how you and Etta met."
"Yes!" the drunken innkeeper exclaimed. "Now thats an interesting story." she turned to her lover. "You tell it, honey. You do it so much better than I do."
"Oh no, you tell it." Etta replied.
"But it just sounds so much better coming from you."
"I couldnt possibly do the story the justice that you do, Ny."
"Would someone tell it?" Xena growled, drawing a disapproving look from the bard.
"Fine " Etta said. "It was just after the flood ."
Xena fought to keep a look of interest on her face but was failing miserably. Etta and Nysis were rambling on about something, the warrior had long ago lost track of the conversation. Maris was sprawled out on the floor, having succumbed to both the wine and the late time long ago. Gabrielle had fared better, staying up and participating in the conversations for another couple of candlemarks before nodding off. At the moment her head was resting against Xenas muscled arm, soft snoring sounds emanating from her lips. "But if we put a thing you know, that awning thing out, the bums will huddle there in the rain." Nysis was having a hard time keeping her thoughts together.
"But think how much business it could bring to have a shady spot to serve food during those hot days."
"Thats what trees are for " the large innkeeper said, then looked at her lover quizzically. "Arent they? Anyway, if they wanna go get out of the sun, they can just come inside. Really Etta, you and your ideas sometimes. Like seeing a bear when its obvious that its a dipper."
"I still say its a good idea, Ny." Etta peered at her empty glass, then longingly at the equally empty bottles on the table. "Xena, do you want more wine?"
"Actually I think its time I got her to bed." the warrior said, seeing what she thought was a perfect opportunity to escape the torture.
"Yeah, you go get her in bed." the large woman snorted, her tone clearly wicked.
"What?" she blinked several times to get her lover into focus. "Whatd I say?"
Xena knew she didnt want to stick around and see where this train of conversation was headed. Using one hand to keep the bard in position, she pivoted off the sofa and stood up, taking a good healthy stretch before reaching down and scooping the sleeping bard up in her arms.
"Uhhh " came the low groan from the drunken bard.
"Relax, Ive got you." Xena said softly.
"Mmm " eyes still closed, Gabrielle shifted within the strong arms and nuzzled the bronzed skin of the warriors neck. "soft."
"Uh huh." she tried to act unaffected, but the feeling of the bards warm lips against her neck were wreaking havoc on her senses. It didnt help that out of the corner of her eye she could see Nysis grinning at her.
"I wuv you." Gabrielle sighed.
"Cant fight somethin like that." the innkeeper teased. Xena fixed a menacing look at her but the alcohol that both had consumed made it a useless venture. She adjusted the precious bundle in her arms and headed for the door.
"Really " the bard mumbled, her lips still pressing against the warriors neck. "I feel I feel so so " she didnt realize that Xena had carried her out of the room and was now trying to negotiate the stairs. "so "
Gabrielle apparently forgot whatever it was she was trying to say and fell back asleep. Xena climbed the last of the stairs and walked down the hallway until she reached the two doors that represented their rooms. Now the warrior had a dilemma. She mulled it over for a few moments before her arms started to protest the prolonged weight in them. With a deep sigh she reached over and turned the handle to Gabrielles room.
With a gentleness most wouldnt expect from the former Destroyer of Nations, Xena laid the bard on the bed and removed the red leather boots that covered up the adorable feet. She took a few moments to gently rub them, feeling calluses from the many moons of walking with her own callused fingers. At some point, Xena wouldnt be able to remember when, she laid down and began rubbing Gabrielles bare midriff. The rhythmic motions soon lulled the warrior into a comfortable sleep.
Conclusion ... Part 2
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