Obligatory Disclaimer: I would never dispute that MCA/Universal owns the rights to the characters of Xena and Gabrielle. My use of these two characters is not meant to infringe on those rights, neither has it resulted in any monetary return, much less a profit.
This story depicts a romantic relationship between two women -- nothing graphic, mind you, but not in the least bit ambiguous either. If such a portrayal disturbs you, please go read something else.
Xena awoke in a room touched by dawn's first light, with Gabrielle tucked firmly against her side. She stifled the impulse to tighten her embrace, but couldn't resist basking in the warmth and comfort of their closeness. This was her favorite time of the day... and the most dangerous. If she allowed herself to reflect too much -- or feel too much -- the rest of the day would be sheer torture. With a sigh, she obeyed the stern inner voice that was urging an immediate end to this self-indulgence.
Fortunately, the young bard slept so soundly that she didn't stir when Xena edged herself away. Neither did she stir under the unwavering gaze of the ex-warlord who studied the curve of her cheek, the flaming color of her hair spread across a pillow, the soft swell of her breasts... With a guilty start, Xena shifted her attention to the curled fingers of Gabrielle's hand; the tip of her index finger was stained with ink from writing in her scrolls the night before.
Plan, I need a new plan. Xena waited for inspiration to strike, but nothing came to mind. She had stalled too much this morning and lost her momentum. Maybe I'll just wing it.
She shook Gabrielle awake with a briskness that could not be mistaken for a caress. "Come on!" she urged her groaning bedmate. "If we don't get to the town market early, some of the best bargains will be gone."
Gabrielle's eyes sprang open. "You want to go shopping?"
"Take advantage of my mood. It's only good for today."
"Shopping it is," cried Gabrielle, flinging aside the covers and scrambling out of bed.
Even in a bustling marketplace, crowds parted at Xena's approach. She had grown so used to that reaction that she didn't bother side-stepping anyone in her path; she just assumed everyone would move aside. But this morning one man wasn't paying attention to where he was going, and he barreled right into her.
"Watch it," growled Xena, throwing him off. "You're already walking on thin ice with me."
"You know him?" asked Gabrielle, watching the bewildered man flee after one glance at the warrior's scowl.
"No, he just looked like a jerk." In answer to Gabrielle's dubious expression, she said, "Instinct. Trust me."
The brief encounter had cost them precious time. Picking up her pace, the warrior threaded her way through the pottery and basket section, past the dried meats, and took a sharp turn to her left. She ignored Gabrielle's breathless call to slow down. This was going to be close....
Xena took a running step and lunged. "Got it!" she exulted as her hand whisked a silk tunic out from under the hand of another customer.
"What are you doing?" asked Gabrielle as she ran up to the stall.
Shoving the tunic into Gabrielle's arms, Xena said, "Your color, your size, and the merchant will take six dinars for it."
"No way, lady!" protested the vendor. "That's a ten-dinar--"
"Here." She flung six coins at the man, then grabbed Gabrielle by the elbow and pulled. Left to her own devices the bard would dawdle, and Xena was determined to make up for their late start.
"Xena," protested Gabrielle as she was dragged away from the clothing wares.
"Necklace next," muttered Xena. "Then perfume. But no rouge. I didn't like the rouge."
"Xena!" The bard yanked her arm loose, bringing her forced march to a stop. "What is going on?"
Xena quickly ran through her repertoire of stock cover stories, but somehow none of them sounded very convincing. She suspected the day was already a loss, so this time -- for sheer novelty's sake -- she opted for the truth. "It's that repeating day thing... again."
Gabrielle frowned, but she didn't argue. In fact, to Xena's relief, her friend seemed to accept the situation with admirable composure. "How long has today been... today?"
"Twenty times now. Or maybe it's twenty-one. I dunno," said Xena glumly. "I'm losing count. Doesn't really matter since it's the same day over and over and over...."
"I'd ask for details, but I assume I haven't been much help so far." Some revealing emotion must have flickered across the warrior's face, because Gabrielle's frown deepened. "Xena... you have told me about this before?"
Damn. "Not really," confessed Xena. Definitely not a good day. "There didn't seem much point. I've already figured out the solution -- it's the details that are giving me trouble."
"I see," came the icy response. "So now you're desperate enough to actually tell me about it." With a withering glare, Gabrielle whirled away into the crowd.
"Gabrielle, wait!" She chased after the bard, finally catching up to her in the middle of the town square, in plain sight of the sweet-faced elderly woman who was the village gossipmonger. In a desperate attempt at damage control, Xena pulled her friend over to the fountain where the sound of rushing water would help cover their voices. "I haven't told you before because," she took a deep breath, "you're the cause."
"Great! Now you're blaming me for this!"
"Look, it was your invocation to Cupid--"
"You read my scrolls?" shouted Gabrielle, oblivious to the startled look of bystanders. "My private scrolls!!"
Xena winced in the face of the bard's seething anger. "Just one, the one you wrote the night before all this started."
"That poem was none of your business!"
"Obviously Cupid didn't agree," said Xena firmly, then she recited the lines that had caught her eye.
"Call Apollo's chariot back,
Let time itself bide,
As I wait for my love to speak..."
"By the gods," moaned the author of the poem as she sank down on the fountain wall. "This is so embarrassing."
"Don't worry about it." With a wry smile, Xena added, "After all, you won't remember any of this."
"But you will," said Gabrielle bleakly.
Xena shrugged. "Hey, it's my job. I do the repeating thing until true love gets back on course, then I get my life back."
Gabrielle looked very pale, even in the rosy light of morning. "Only this time..." she swallowed hard, "...the solution..."
"Is driving me crazy," admitted Xena with a frustrated sigh. She sat down beside the bard. "I've fixed you up with every eligible bachelor in town, and every morning I wake up back at the inn." With Gabrielle lying in the embrace of her arms... but the less she thought about that, the better for everyone involved.
Gabrielle looked at her with a quizzical expression. "You did what?"
Uh oh, I'm in trouble again, thought Xena. "I... uh, just tried... to help things along. But obviously I'm not much of a matchmaker, because we're still here."
"New clothes... perfume... jewelry..." Gabrielle stared down at the tunic still clutched in her hand and began to laugh, although with an edge of hysteria. "Guess you can't dress up a sow's ear, even in silk."
"Hey," said Xena indignantly. "You're not the problem."
"Actually you are, but not in that way. As it happens, you're very attractive--"
For some reason Gabrielle seemed to have recovered her good humor. In fact, Xena could swear she saw a twinkle in the young woman's eyes when she said, "I have high standards."
"Yeah, don't I know it." She nodded at a young man who was strolling by. "That's the town tailor. His voice is too nasal." Then she pointed at the somewhat portly man who followed along next. "Merchant, smacks his lips too often."
As if testing her, Gabrielle asked, "The guy buying a hat?"
"Dandruff. Pops his knuckles."
"The man eating figs?"
"Willing, but already married."
"Just how many men in this town have I dated?"
"All of them, it seems," sighed Xena. And none of them had pleased her young friend.
Gabrielle continued incredulously. "That one?"
A man in very fancy clothes strutted across the square. "What about--"
"Don't ask," said Xena grimly. She'd killed that one. Not a good night. She scanned the crowds until she found a safer subject. "Potter, too self-centered. Weaver, laughs too much." She shrugged in response to Gabrielle's startled look. "Okay, so it was a long shot, but she was a better prospect than the candlemaker who chewed with his mouth open. Or the tanner who wouldn't stop talking about his bunions."
"It's no wonder you're still repeating days," said Gabrielle with a roll of her eyes.
"Okay, I give up!" cried Xena. "Who? Who would do?"
With a shake of her head, the bard said, "I don't think I'm the issue here."
"What's that mean?"
"And I don't think the solution can be... handed to you."
"It's worth a try," countered Xena peevishly. She had run through all the likely prospects, and a great many very unlikely ones, too. The least Gabrielle could do was narrow the field a bit.
"You know," said the bard, "you need a vacation."
"Look, take the day off. What can it hurt? Get your mind off the problem and tomorrow... er, today... whatever, you'll approach the situation with a fresh outlook."
"Hmph." The suggestion was more appealing than Xena cared to admit, but she felt compelled to offer at least token resistance.
"Besides, I'm not going out on a date tonight," said Gabrielle firmly. "So you might as well call it quits for the day."
"And do what?"
"Well... there isn't much point in shopping since I won't get to keep anything... and you've probably seen all the sights in town... " Gabrielle grinned at Xena's weary nod of agreement, "so that leaves eating. Let's have a picnic."
Oh, why not? thought Xena. A familiar plan, with a few slight modifications, would set them up quite nicely. "One picnic coming right up." She sprang into motion, beckoning her companion to follow her back to the market.
A dinar bought the wicker basket they needed; the rest of their provisions required nothing more than a good sense of timing.
"You've done this before," observed Gabrielle wryly as Xena snatched a fresh loaf of bread just as it was jolted off a passing cart.
"A few times," admitted Xena, dropping the bread into the basket. "Fruit next, if we hurry." And she got them to the corner just as the apple vendor started to pelt the peach vendor with his produce. In the resulting melee, they quickly gathered a few more items for their lunch.
"What was that all about?" asked Gabrielle.
"I never bothered to find out." And with any luck, she would never have to untangle the history of that particular feud. There were limits, after all, to how much Xena wanted to know about the tedious inhabitants of this village.
"Hey, that's stealing," cried Gabrielle when Xena lifted a bottle of port out of a straw-packed crate tucked into the doorway of an open shop.
"Don't worry," said Xena with a grin. "In about three minutes the vintner will drop this crate down the cellar stairs. No one will notice one missing bottle."
Just as no one would blame her for the theft of a wheel of cheese that was perched on a nearby window ledge. If she didn't take the cheese, a neighbor's cat would. Even so, Gabrielle insisted on leaving her new silk tunic, neatly folded, as payment.
"Sure, go ahead," said Xena with a shrug. "Either way, I'll have to buy it again tomorrow."
With the basket fully loaded, the warrior led them down a narrow alley. "I decided the tavern was a little too noisy for good conversation, so I found this spot a few days ago." Opening a wooden door, she ushered Gabrielle inside a walled garden. "The owners are out of town and forgot to bar the gate."
"It's very romantic," said Gabrielle approvingly as she noted the carefully tended flowers and stepped under the graceful, spreading limbs of a shade tree. "Who did I come here with?"
"Tavernkeeper's son. Very nice young man -- clean, well-spoken, intelligent." And slight enough of body that Gabrielle could easily have disabled him if his romantic enthusiasm had outstripped hers. Not that Xena's caution had proved necessary.
"What went wrong?"
"Nothing," said Xena. "You both had a lovely evening... talking your heads off. Turns out he's in love with the weaver's nephew."
Gabrielle began to laugh.
"Who knew?" said Xena sheepishly. "But at least you had a good time."
The laughter trailed off. "What about you?"
"Hmmm?" Xena busied herself spreading out the blanket, keeping her face safely averted. Despite her stoic warrior's mask, Gabrielle was getting altogether too good at reading her emotions.
"What did you do," Gabrielle persisted, "while I was out on the town?"
"Oh, I kept busy." Xena pulled the cork out of the bottle of port. It was an excellent vintage, but it had taken two bottles a night to get her through those first few evenings. Which was why she'd been too drunk to stand the sight of Gabrielle being groped by the town mayor, and why she'd been just drunk enough to behead him in a blinding rage. In the middle of the tavern dining room. A very bad night indeed.
After that, she'd passed the time winning knife throwing tournaments and keeping a watchful but sober eye on the disastrous progress of Gabrielle's courtships. It was actually less painful than she had expected. Her imagination had painted lurid scenarios of Gabrielle in fevered embraces with her suitors; in reality the young bard looked glassy-eyed with boredom rather than passion. With few exceptions, she had showed more interest in her supper than in the men sitting across the table from her.
"So how did you arrange for these dates?" asked Gabrielle as they settled themselves down onto the blanket. "Did you hold men at sword point or did you just pay them to ask me out?" That smart-aleck quip earned her a swift poke in the ribs. "Ow!"
"It wasn't a very challenging task for an ex-warlord." Xena fished out her breast dagger and began to slice fruit while Gabrielle unwrapped the cheese. "All I had to do was strike up a casual conversation with someone, then mention that you found him attractive. One look at you and they pretty much took it from there."
"Yeah, yeah." With a quick sidelong glance, Gabrielle said, "But how did you talk me into going out with all those guys?"
"I didn't have to talk you into going out with all of them, just one of them."
Even then, it hadn't been easy, Xena recalled. Wheedling and cajoling hadn't been very successful. Oddly enough, she'd had the best luck with studied indifference. If she said, "Makes no difference to me what you do tonight," and returned to sharpening her sword, then Gabrielle inevitably replied, "Fine. I will go out." Of course, any satisfaction Xena might have felt in this clever maneuver was quickly drowned out by the knowledge it could lead to her ultimate success that night. She had never approached any battle with such a dread of winning.
Which might account, in part, for her continued failure, admitted Xena with an edge of guilt. But at least for this one day she was safe from any such dilemmas. There were no surprises left for her in this predictable little town, so she could afford to lower her guard and drift into a hazy appreciation of food, drink and Gabrielle's undivided attention. And when her friend got up to wander around the garden gathering flowers, Xena even allowed herself to gaze at the lithe young body a little more openly than she ever had before.
She was savoring the last few swallows of the port when Gabrielle knelt down behind her. "Hey, stop that," Xena said, although without much force, when she felt the slight tug of hands starting to braid her hair. She groaned at the first tickle against her scalp. "Not flowers, too?"
"I've always wanted to do this."
"I feel foolish." But she didn't pluck them out.
"Today's a day when you can be silly and no one will ever know... not even me."
"You're enjoying this," grumbled Xena.
"Yes, I am." Having finished her braiding, Gabrielle plopped down beside the warrior. "But it's strange when I realize I won't remember any of this," she waved her hand at the garden and the remains of their picnic, "and you will. If it was the other way around...." She shook her head and laughed ruefully.
"What would you do?"
To Xena's surprise, the bard actually blushed. "Umm... things... that I might not have the... courage to do on an ordinary day."
"Oh, no," protested Gabrielle. "That's not fair. This isn't a day for me to reveal secrets. You're the one with the advantage here." She leaned close to adjust the stem of one of the flowers. "Just think, Xena, you can live out your fantasies. What do you want that you've never let yourself have? Today, you can just take it." She must have sensed the impact of her words. "What is it, Xena?"
"Nothing... I... nothing...."
...and why not?
She opened her eyes, and Gabrielle was still there.
"Do you know what you want?" asked the bard.
"Oh, yes. I've known for a long time." She raised a hand to Gabrielle's face and brushed fingers along the line of her jaw. "But..."
"But what?" and the warmth of the young woman's breath tickled Xena's wrist.
"But nothing." And she met Gabrielle's lips with her own.
The kiss was sweet and tender. She had expected Gabrielle to be startled, perhaps even to pull away. When she didn't, Xena was tempted to lean closer, kiss harder, to forge memories that...
...that would make tomorrow's task even more difficult than it was already.
Breaking away, she stammered, "I'm sorry... I shouldn't have... I only meant..." Then, with a soft sigh, she said, "At least you won't remember this."
"Won't I?" replied Gabrielle with a growing smile. "That poem I wrote was about you."
Xena froze, then swallowed hard. "No! No, wait, Gabrielle. I can't be the one!" Her mind groped for words that would dim the sparkle in those blue-green eyes. "You deserve someone who can make you happy and keep you safe, someone who--"
"I love you, Xena," said Gabrielle firmly. "There's nothing you can do to change that. So stop trying to make my decisions for me."
"It's your turn now. Do you love me? Yes or no. Either answer will get us out of this mess. It's your silence that trapped us here."
It was too late to lie. The truth was hovering between them, waiting to be spoken aloud. "Yes," confessed the warrior. "The answer has always been yes."
Their second kiss was even sweeter than the first. And it lasted longer. Much longer. Then it deepened in a way that turned yearning into hunger. Out of lingering habit, Xena still held back, still fought to keep her rising passion in check... until Gabrielle whispered in her ear. "You'd better make this a night to remember, because I will this time."
The bard knew her all too well, mused Xena as she pushed the young woman down onto the blanket, then covered the slender body with her own. I never could resist a challenge.
My thanks to fellow bard, Gilliland, for suggesting the premise to this story and then
play with it.
Comments can be sent to Ella Quince at email@example.com
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