DISCLAIMER:

The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo and Salmoneus are the property of MCA/Universal and were used here without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.

LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER:

This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

Authors Note: Thanks to raven for all the encouragement and support and to Gin and The Hiker for all their help and kind words (and for going through this thoroughly so it did not turn out as complete stream of consciousness <g>) Feedback may be sent to krbrendan@hotmail.com

 

Closest to Heaven

K.R Brendan

 

"And I'd give up forever to touch you

Cause I know that you feel me somehow

You're the closest thing to heaven

that I'll ever be

And I don’t want to go home right now"

  'Iris' Goo Goo Dolls

 

"Xena?"

The tall, blue eyed warrior looked over at her traveling companion. The sun reached through trees lining the dusty road to spark fiery highlights off the smaller woman's blond head. It was a familiar routine; the warrior and bard roaming the countryside with the big gold mare.

"We're not headed anywhere in a big hurry and the last few months have been really...tiring. Do you think maybe we could stop somewhere for a few days and just take a break?"

What the bard had said was perfectly true. The stoic, detached warrior had found herself caught up in an emotional whirlwind lately and some time off to relax would do them both good. On the other hand, it would also mean no distractions from her feelings for Gabrielle.

She smiled affectionately at the bard. "We'll see."

Gabrielle sighed. She could work with that. Xena had not said no so she was pretty sure she could talk her into it. She smiled; she loved the dark warrior so much it was unbelievable the other woman had not picked up on it. Honestly, for someone with such a brilliant, analytical mind Xena could be so dense sometimes. Or was it that she just did not want to know? That was a possibility, but the warrior had become so affectionate recently, she had even told her she loved her and there was such tenderness in her eyes when she looked at her, but did Xena just regard her as her best friend or did she feel more. She frowned in confusion. Why couldn't Xena just kiss her again!

Xena silently observed the changes in Gabrielle's expression. What on earth could she be thinking about now? Probably another story in the making; she seemed to have a limitless imagination. Well almost limitless, she thought wryly. Maybe they should stop for a while. There was nothing pressing to be taken care of. They could camp somewhere quiet, near the river, just the two of them, alone... Are you crazy? hissed the little voice in her head. How many times do you think you can hurt her and still have her stay with you? Do you think she would still love and respect you if she knew some of the thoughts you had about her? It's bad enough you've been so mushy around her lately, telling her how important she is to you. It's a good thing she's so innocent and doesn't take it the way you mean it! What if she leaves you again?

Xena was pulled from her reverie by noises in the distance. They must be approaching a village, a pretty busy one if the sounds were anything to go by.

"Hey Gabrielle,"

Troubled green eyes looked up into pale blues.

"There's a village up ahead. Why don't we stop for some food? You haven't had anything to eat since lunch and it's almost evening. I wouldn't want anyone to think I was starving you," she said sweetly, then laughed as she tried to avoid a well-placed punch from her friend.

"Hey, you don't let me eat nearly as often as I'd like to!"

An eyebrow immediately shot up as Xena suppressed a slight smile, "Riiight."

As Argo and the two women approached what was turning out to be a small town it became apparent that there was some sort of festival taking place. There was more than the usual amount of merchants, and gaming stalls had also been set up. Xena's lips pursed in disgust as she noticed the look of pleasure on Gabrielle's face. Great, now she was going to be talked into staying in this bustling place with all these people for at least a few days. Well at least you won't be alone with Gabrielle, the voice in her head informed her cheerfully. She didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.

"Gabrielle! Xena!"

Xena rolled her eyes skywards. This was just getting better and better! She turned as the owner of the voice reached out to hug Gabrielle.

"Salmoneus!" the bard exclaimed, returning the stout man's embrace, "How long has it been?"

"Not long enough," the older woman muttered through her smile.

He released Gabrielle and turned to hug the warrior. A raised eyebrow and the look in the pale blue eyes made him reconsider.

"Xena, you look well." Stepping back, he smoothed his tunic and quickly included the bard in his gaze again, "I'm so happy to see you! You're just in time for the festivities!"

"What are they celebrating?" Gabrielle's eyes traveled curiously over the assortment of rainbow colored banners hanging from many of the stalls and buildings. She could see herself wandering around here for hours absorbing the sights and sounds, sampling the food.

"It's a celebration of love. In all of its forms," the salesman smirked at Xena who scowled back. "People come from neighboring towns and villages every year for it. Oh, and there's a storytelling competition tomorrow, 50 dinars if you win. Just let me know if you're interested so I can sign you up. Anyway I have some arrangements to finalize so you can find me in the tavern later." He turned and hurried away, calling over his shoulder, "You really should get an agent Gabrielle, we can discuss it."

Xena felt warm hands grip her arms and looked down into Gabrielle's animated face.

"Come on Xena, we could stay here for a few days. It'll be fun. Think about it! We could get a room and a bath, and 50 dinars would get lots of supplies!"

"Oh, all right." The warrior knew there was no way she could refuse. "You go get us a room, I'll take care of Argo. Catch up with you at dinner."

Gabrielle threw her arms around the warrior and gave her quick hug before she could walk off. "Thanks. You'll enjoy it too."

 

Xena smiled to herself as she headed towards the stables, barely registering an attractive brunette eyeing the departing Gabrielle appreciatively. It didn't take much to make her friend happy. The bard knew her well, too well occasionally. The next few days would be a great test of her patience, as frustrated and irritable as she was. Her monthly cycle was a week away and all her emotions were running closer to the surface. Being in contact with a few hundred strangers was not high on her list of things to do. Glad to be alone with her thoughts for a while, she tried to work off some pent up energy by brushing Argo vigorously but it wasn't really working. There didn't even seem to be any troublemakers around to beat the stuffing out of. Inevitably her mind returned to her best friend. It had taken her a long time to admit to herself the depth of the feelings she had for Gabrielle and in spite of all that happened between them: Chin, Hope, Solan's death, those feelings continued to grow. She had considered love once or twice before but had never felt about anyone the way she did about the bard, and it took all her control to keep her desires hidden from the one person who knew her best in the world. Gabrielle's affectionate nature did not make things easier either, always touching and hugging her. Ordinarily Xena hated casual physical contact, unless of course she initiated it, but with Gabrielle she relished it, the slightest touch from the bard warming her heart and causing her skin to tingle. It would be so easy to take her in her arms and kiss those soft, full lips, to run her hands down strong, muscular shoulders down to firm, round... Stop it! the voice in her head commanded as a shiver ran down her spine. How much good does that do you? In the past she would have gone out, found an attractive partner and spent a few hours satisfying her sexual appetites. That would no longer work; Gabrielle was her ailment. She was also the only cure. Xena snorted, and Argo turned to nuzzle her shoulder. She might never make love again! Maybe she would go for a swim in the lake before going back to the inn...

 

 

Gabrielle had managed to find them the last available room in the inn; the fact that there was only one bed was definitely not a problem. It seemed like this yearly festival was a pretty big deal she thought looking around smugly. She was well aware of how much Xena hated crowds. Face it, the warrior princess was not the most sociable person she had ever met so it meant a lot to her that she had so readily agreed for them to stay. Gabrielle moved with ease through the crowded market place, enjoying the sights and sounds, stopping occasionally to examine some trinket that caught her interest. She paused by a stall selling scented massage oils. Hmm, these could be helpful.

The merchant smiled knowingly, opening a few of the bottles for the bard to sample. "Oils for you, my sweet?"

"What exactly do you have?" Gabrielle smiled sweetly at the woman, a slight twinkle in her eyes.... A few tips on how to manipulate the senses couldn't hurt any in trying to help Xena loosen up.

"That depends on what you'd like to achieve..." The woman smiled back, her tone playful.

Gabrielle laughed, blushing slightly at the implications. If she didn't know better she would have sworn that this woman was flirting with her.

"I'm Tissume, " the merchant said, extending her hand to Gabrielle with a wide smile.

"Gabrielle," the bard replied, taking the proffered hand. This woman was very interesting. Her eyes were an unusual shade of violet, occasionally appearing as lighter, then darker shades of blue. Gabrielle was intrigued. Not only was the woman physically attractive, but the bard found her open friendly nature quite appealing.

"Um, so what precisely can I do with these oils?" she asked, attempting to break the eye contact so that she could stop blushing.

"Well, we have oils of tranquility," she answered handing over a small vial for the bard to sniff, "And then there's revitalizing oil," she said holding up another. "Of course, there is my personal favorite," With this she became a little more animated, her eyes wickedly dancing on Gabrielle's, an enticing smile on her lips. "The aphrodisiacs," she said, holding the vial under the bard's nose long enough for her to catch a whiff of sandalwood before replacing the cork. "Guaranteed to spice up your s...(ahem), love life." Her eyes wandered from Gabrielle's eyes down her elegant neck and onward to the cleavage beneath her skimpy top, before travelling back up to resume their gaze "Although I'm sure you don't need any help. I saw you and your ... friend come into town. Tell me are you two together?"

The red of Gabrielle's face clashed horribly with the green of her top as she fumbled for an adequate response to the unexpected question. Okay, she did not know better, the woman was flirting with her. For once in her life the young bard found herself at a loss for words.

"We ah...we travel together but we're not...together, together. I mean she's my best friend but..." Gabrielle gave up trying to explain a situation she was not sure even she could understand. "I'll take a bottle of each."

Tissume's smile widened "That'll be two dinars, and I'll throw in a massage for free."

The bard laughed again, handing over the coins. "Thanks, I think I'll just take these for now." She put the three little bottles in her bag. "Nice meeting you."

 

The grumbling of her stomach reminded Gabrielle that she had not eaten since lunch. Heading for the tavern she felt incredibly pleased with herself. She had noticed quite a few couples of the same sex openly holding hands or kissing and these displays of love delighted her. Tissume's interest also made her aware that she was still desirable to at least one woman. Maybe, between the relaxed atmosphere and the massage oils she could get Xena…. A strong hand on her shoulder made her jump guiltily, looking up into her warrior's amused face.

"Gods, Xena, do you always have to sneak up on people!"

"Sneak? Gabrielle, I called your name twice! Where were you anyway?"

"I was just thinking how glad I am we stopped here. Why is your hair so wet?" Okay, she thought, that was about as subtle as a runaway chariot.

Xena's raised eyebrow indicated that she did not entirely believe the bard but she decided to let it pass... for now. "There's a lagoon just outside the town. I went for a swim." The warrior did not see the bard's look of disappointment as she led the way into the almost full, dimly lit tavern. Unlike most of the places they ended up in this one was clean and the patrons were well behaved. Several heads, both male and female, followed them as they found a vacant table. "I thought we could take some food and go spend the day there tomorrow. What do you say?" she turned as Gabrielle slid onto the bench next to her.

She was surprised by the huge smile on her friend's face. Gabrielle seemed so thrilled by the idea that Xena could not suppress her own silly grin. She felt the warmth of love surround her heart, melting further the glacier that had been there before.

Gabrielle gazed into the azure eyes, adoration evident to all except the woman sitting beside her. The warrior rarely asked her opinion when it came to their travels and she certainly never suggested anything remotely romantic. Maybe there was a chance.

"What can I get you ladies?" the barmaid noted the two women sitting together, arms almost touching, seeing only each other until her voice got their attention. What a lovely couple! She had seen love before and this was definitely it.

Gabrielle's attention returned to her stomach. "I'm starved, two helpings of whatever that wonderful smell is and some cider please. Oh and some for her too."

Xena smirked at the barmaid's amazement "Bottomless pit," she explained and received a good-natured slap to the stomach for her trouble. The other woman laughed, leaving to return a short while later with two very full bowls of stew and a jug of cider. While they ate Gabrielle filled her friend in on what she had done in her absence, editing only a few of Tissume's questions and comments.

Xena glanced up, chewing a mouthful of stew, in time to catch the younger woman blushing, as she talked about her encounter with the oil merchant. The woman had obviously been flirting with Gabrielle who seemed to be a bit embarrassed but not at all put out. The warrior's expression remained neutral as jealousy awoke and began to lick at her insides.

The rest of the evening was relatively quiet with only a few remarks on the atmosphere of the tavern and the flavor of the long desired food. Both women were engrossed in their own thoughts. Insecurity festered and bred inside of Xena and she fought hard to control the spiral descent of her mood. Gabrielle had probably not returned the flirting, but she hadn't seemed disturbed by it either. And what if Gabrielle were attracted to you, what would you do then? The warrior's appetite disappeared and she pushed the uneaten portion of her stew away as the heavy mantle of depression settled around her. She knew the answer to that one; she would do nothing. Fear would prevent her from pursuing what she wanted most.

 

Gabrielle couldn't seem to figure the warrior out; she had seemed almost jealous for an instant, but the bard couldn't be sure. She had gotten so quiet, so distant. Was she in some way offended by the idea of one woman flirting with another? No, that could not be it, she was pretty sure there had been something physical between Xena and Lao Ma and she had heard enough mumbled comments from her Amazon sisters to make her sure Xena was attracted to women. Maybe she was not Xena's type; maybe she liked more experienced women. Gabrielle glanced up to find the warrior staring intently at her, an unreadable expression on her face.

"Are you ready to go?" Xena asked quietly. She had had enough company for one day.

"Sure." As the bard rose she noticed her friend's eyes change focus to a point over her left shoulder, turning she saw Tissume making her way towards them.

"Gabrielle!"

Still seated at the table Xena watched the brunette's hand come to rest casually on the bard's forearm.

"Uh... Xena this is Tissume, Tissume this is my friend Xena."

The oil merchant gave the warrior a brief smile, which received a curt nod in response, before returning her gaze to the blond bard.

"I was hoping to catch up with you. Some of the local actors are performing tonight and I thought you might like to go. Oh, and your friend of course." Tissume turned the full wattage of the smile on for Gabrielle not even glancing at said "friend".

Gabrielle turned hesitantly towards the warrior. She wouldn't mind going but she was pretty sure Xena had used up her weekly supply of socialization skills already today, not to mention that her mood had gone downhill during dinner. She was surprised therefore when Xena gave her a quick half smile and suggested she go without her, claiming to have a slight headache and wanting to go to bed early. After a bit of persuasion from Tissume and assurance from her friend the confused bard allowed herself to be led out of the tavern. Why was Xena so eager to get rid of her?

Xena held on to her cool fašade until the two women left the tavern. She considered ordering a mug of port but decided against it. The alcohol would only worsen her mood and it could get her into trouble. Maybe she should follow them. Why do you torture yourself? her little voice spoke up. Xena groaned and buried her head in her hands before jumping to her feet and striding towards the exit completely unaware of eyes watching her from across the room. She walked quickly to the edge of the woods then broke into a run, unerringly avoiding low hanging branches and fallen trees until she was brought up short by the lagoon in front of her. Sitting on a log, elbows on her knees, she stared blindly out at the calm, silvery water, oblivious to the beauty of the moonlit night around her. She couldn't deal with this. Living in fear that Gabrielle would leave her again. Each time the bard had left her was worse than the one before. Pain and loneliness engulfed her and she could feel the darkness within her rise. Gabrielle gave her life meaning, direction. The thought that the bard might leave her for another woman had not occurred to her before Najara. Now it was looking like a distinct possibility. She could feel the knot in the pit of her stomach tighten as the jealousy stopped it's licking and began to gnaw at her insides. She loved Gabrielle more than life itself; as far as she was concerned the bard was life itself. Unable to keep still, she jumped to her feet again and started pacing up and down along the water's edge. She was torn in so many directions: fear that if Gabrielle stayed with her, the vision of the crucifixion would come true and she would have led her best friend to her to death, terror that Gabrielle would fall in love with someone else and leave her, and above all, a sense of unworthiness. She would give her life, her heart, her soul for the bard but she wanted what was best for Gabrielle and deep down she knew she was not it. That was why she had always taken a step back and let the love of her life walk away. She had stood aside while the bard explored her feelings for men; she would stand aside while she explored her feelings for women. Her vision blurring with tears of anguish and frustration, the warrior slammed her fist into a fallen tree trunk. The pain shooting through her fingers and knuckles was nothing compared to the breaking of her heart.

 

 

The actors were quite good and Gabrielle enjoyed what she saw of the plays, particularly one about a warrior princess and her female lover, a bard. It seemed Tissume was not the only one who thought she and Xena were intimate. She sighed wistfully. Why couldn't Xena take a hint? A hand sliding into hers interrupted the bard's thoughts, fingers entwining with her own. Taken by surprise, she decided to ignore it in the hope that it would go away. It didn't. She declined Tissume's offer of a drink in her room as they walked back, disengaging her hand as they reached the tavern. When the brunette leaned forward, Gabrielle turned her head to the side, Tissume's lips catching her cheek two fingerwidths off their mark.

"Ahem. Well… Thank you for a nice evening. I really must be going now." She smiled nervously, taking a step back and up.

"It's her isn't it?" the oil merchant smiled ruefully. "You're in love with her." Gabrielle's blush confirmed it. "Well you can't blame a girl for trying." She turned and walked away.

 

 

Gabrielle closed the door behind her as quietly as possible. Xena had ears like a cat and would probably wake up anyway. The bard could make out the still form lying on the bed illuminated by the moonlight streaming through the window. The warrior was sleeping. Moving silently, Gabrielle got ready for bed. Stopping next to her slumbering friend she gazed down at the face vulnerable in sleep, noticing slightly puffy reddened eyelids. She leaned over placing feather light kisses on each eye. She assumed the headache had been severe enough for Xena to take something to help her sleep. As she straightened up, the warrior turned, wincing in her sleep as she moved her right hand across her body. Gabrielle's eyes widened at the bruised knuckles and swollen fingers. What in Tartarus could Xena have been doing? Frowning, the bard climbed into bed knowing she would have to wait till morning to get answers, that is if Xena chose to tell her. She lay on her side propped on an elbow watching her friend sleep. Reaching over she gently ran the back of her hand over the warrior's smooth cheek. She knew Xena better than anyone; she had seen sides of her that no one would believe existed beneath the often menacing exterior. She had seen her laugh and cry and pout like child yet she seldom knew what was in the warrior's heart. There was a certain vulnerability she tried hard to hide. Gabrielle lay back and watched the shadows chase each other across the ceiling. Occasionally she thought she saw a glimmer of something more than friendship in the older woman's eyes but that was always quickly masked. Perhaps she should be more obvious about her own feelings. Eyes closing, she drifted into sleep.

 

Continued in part two.

 


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