The Spring Festival
Xena, Gabrielle, and any other characters not of my creation are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this story.
This story focuses on two women who love each other a great deal but are afraid to admit those feelings to the other. A consequence of this is a lot of pent up sexual frustration. There are some explicit scenes showing how they try to deal with this frustration. If this type of story is illegal where you live or you are under the age of consent, you really shouldn't read it. This story also contains scenes of strong violence and some adult language. If you feel any of these things would bother you, read no further.
THE SPRING FESTIVAL---
Gabrielle watched intently as the man drew the sword from its scabbard. Its long, straight blade whistled as he spun it in his hands in a complex blur of motions. He was obviously a skilled swordsman. She watched in awe as he grabbed the weapon by the blade and raised it high in the air. He tilted his head back, opened his mouth, and slowly lowered the sword down his gullet. He continued until the hilt rested just over a few inches from his mouth.
"You know? It's not that big a deal," her friend whispered into her ear.
She looked up at Xena as she joined the crowd in applauding the man after he'd removed the sword. As they walked away from the man's small stage, she asked, "Xena, what did you mean by it wasn't that big a deal? The man swallowed a two foot long sword."
"The sides of his sword are dull," she commented, smiling down at the younger woman.
"Even so, he swallowed the whole thing. Could you do that?"
Xena shrugged, "Maybe. Gabrielle, it's just a matter of relaxing the muscles in your throat. Hey, it's just like when you're...," she stopped as she suddenly remembered who she was with. She decided to leave the sentence unfinished.
"Just like when you're...what?" the bard asked.
"Umm...Just like when you're eating."
Gabrielle pondered the thought. "Well how is it like when you're eating? I don't see..."
"Gabrielle, drop it. Okay?" Xena stopped in front of the fire eaters' stage. She and Gabrielle watched as the three men and one woman produced a variety of flame bursts of different sizes and colors.
"Now THAT," Gabrielle commented. "I've seen you do."
"Yeah, but I use whatever spirits are at hand. They use special liquids that burn a lot brighter. That's also how they get the different colors."
They continued walking along the decorated street. Since their arrival in Solanica three days earlier, they'd seen acrobats, fighting exhibitions, jugglers, and trained animals that even Xena had never heard of before. To Gabrielle's delight, there was also a plentitude of foods from all over the Mediterranean. The festival would be officially over the next day. "Good thing," Xena thought to herself. They were almost out of money.
As they were walking, two men in white faces staggered their way. They were pretending to pull on each end of an imaginary rope. As they reached Xena and Gabrielle, they stopped their mock tug-of-war and extended their arms to shake their hands. As they walked closer, they hit an invisible wall and made several comical attempts to get around it. Gabrielle giggled and applauded their humorous antics. Xena, however, growled fiercely and gave the men a glare which would've caused a titan to wet himself. The pair tripped over each other as they ran back in the direction they'd come from.
"What'd you do that for?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena began walking again and replied, her voice full of loathing, "Gabrielle, I HATE mimes."
"Well, I thought they were funny."
"Yeah, you would...." Xena let her words trail off as she mumbled to herself.
They stopped near a large group of people who'd gathered in front of an elevated platform. Xena noticed there were two men on the stage. One stood to the front and was dressed in a bright red robe and matching turban. The other man stood in the center of the stage. He was very tall and heavily muscled, dressed in loose fitting pantaloons and an open dark leather vest which barely covered his tan hairless chest. His black hair was tied into a very long, thick braid which hung down his back and ended just above his knees. Gabrielle mused that he may have been attractive if not for the long scar which ran diagonally from his left brow to the bottom of his right cheek. He stood with a scowl and his arms crossed over his immense chest.
They listened as the robed man shouted and gesticulated like a used camel salesman. "Ladies and gentlemen, you see before you Kranass the Invincible from the land of Persia. He's traveled the world over seeking a man who is his equal in strength. I'm offering any man who can put Kranass down, this sum of 100 dinars," he shook the sack, letting the contents jingle over the murmurs of the crowd. "Come now, surely there must be someone out there who feels up to the challenge. All it will cost you is the measly sum of two dinars. You know the saying `the bigger they are, the harder they fall.'
Xena , who'd always believed `the bigger they were, the harder they hit', watched as a group of young men goaded one of their friends towards the stage. The man shrugged them off and ascended the stairs to the applause and cheers from the crowd. He strode up and handed a pair of coins to the robed man who put his arm around the challenger's shoulders and asked, "What's your name son?"
The man stuck out his chest proudly and replied, "Erascus."
His friends hollered loudly as he raised his hands in anticipated triumph.
The robed man walked him over to a spot on the stage facing Kranass. "Very well Erascus. All you have to do is knock Kranass down, and the money is yours." He backed off to the side and hollered, "AT THE READY........GO!"
They watched as Erascus shot forward and feinted a high move for Kranass' shoulders. At the last minute, he ducked low and grabbed the larger man's left leg, wrapping his arms around and behind the knee. Kranass never moved. Erascus strained with all his might, trying to pull the giant's leg up. Kranass just stood there, looking down with his arms akimbo. After what seemed forever, he let go and turned back towards his friends and shrugged comically. The crowd cheered his attempt as he turned back to the big man and extended his hand to show that there were no hard feelings. Kranass spit in his face and back-handed him, hard, sending Erascus sprawling sideways. The crowd booed harshly as Kranass easily picked up the stunned man and threw him bodily off of the stage to land near his friends.
The robed man gave Kranass a grimace as the large Persian returned to the center of the stage. Sensing that he may have just lost any other contenders for the gold, the hawker decided to change the odds. "Well, Kranass remains undefeated still. I'll up the ante. If any TWO of you think you can defeat the champion, each shall receive a sack of 100 dinars." He reached down into a satchel and pulled out a second large sack. "Gentlemen, there must be someone out..."
He stopped as two men marched up the stage and handed him their coins. They were two of Erascus' friends and it was obvious that the reward money was the last thing on their minds. They didn't wait for introductions or instructions as they squared off against Kranass, who grinned wickedly.
Xena admired their tenacity and loyalty. However, there was little doubt in her mind as to how the confrontation would end.
The robed man shouted, "AT THE READY........GO!!"
Both men rushed forward, neither intent on any particular strategy. The man on the right attempted to kick Kranass high in the chest. Quickly, for someone of his size, Kranass grabbed his leg and pushed it forward into the face of the second man, knocking him down. As the first man spun around, Kranass kicked him behind the left leg, sending him to his knees. He bent over and held the man by his hair in his left hand. The second man, who'd gotten up, came in fast at Kranass and swung a right hook towards his face. Kranass' right hand shot out and grasped the man's fist. He laughed deeply as he squeezed the man's hand, his face frozen in agony as Kranass slowly rotated his wrist, turning the man sideways. The giant then kicked him in the ribs, sending him flying off the stage. He turned his attention back to the first man whom he still held by the hair. He pulled the man up and turned him around to face him. The man's eyes went wide as Kranass brought his huge right fist back. His hand shot forward and connected squarely with the man's nose, shattering it in a spray of blood. He grabbed the man and threw him on top of his friend. He sneered at the crowd before returning to his spot at center stage.
The crowd stared in awe. The fight had lasted less than a minute. The robed man said, "I don't suppose anyone else would like to try?" not really expecting that anyone would. He tried to figure out how many men Kranass could take on and still be assured of victory.
Gabrielle noticed Xena begin to step forward towards the stage. She grabbed the woman by the arm. "Where do you think you're going?"
Xena turned back to bard, "I'm going to teach that walking mountain a lesson."
Gabrielle recognized the look on Xena's face. Even through she knew better, she still had to try and talk her out of it. "Xena, what about your wrist?"
Xena held up her bandaged left hand. "My wrist is fine Gabrielle, see?" she wiggled her fingers in front of the woman. In truth, her hand did feel much better. Gabrielle's constant bitching was the only reason she'd left the splint on as long as she had.
Gabrielle looked back up towards Kranass, "Xena, I know you're good and all, but he's HUGE."
Xena smiled down at Gabrielle and replied, "O' yee of little faith." She turned and strode towards the stage.
The crowd hushed as they watched her climb the steps and make her way towards the robed man, who stood with his mouth open.
Kranass finally spoke as he shouted with a heavy accent, "Kranass not fight woman!"
Xena held up her coin-laden hand, and said loudly, "I've got ten dinars that says you do!" She turned back to the shorter man and asked, "All I have to do is knock him down, right?"
"Uhm....yes. Without any weapons," he said the last as he dubiously eyed the sword hilt sticking up over her right shoulder. She smiled and slipped the scabbard and sword from her back. She'd had to have it peace-bonded when she first entered the city. Her chakram was in a saddle bag and her daggers were just fine where they were. She placed the sword on the edge of the stage and then turned back to the man. "And if I do knock him down, I get the two hundred dinars?"
The man started to protest but then considered the odds were stacked heavily in his favor. "Very well. You get both sacks."
Xena walked over to stand right in front of the leering behemoth. She looked up into his face and said, "Now be gentle, I AM just a woman."
Kranass licked his lips and replied, his breath smelling of ale, "Kranass be REAL gentle."
Gabrielle winced, almost afraid to watch. Kranass was well over a foot taller than Xena and looked like he weighed about as much as Argo.
Realizing that this was probably his last match of the afternoon, the robed man sighed and stepped to the side of the stage. He hoped Kranass wouldn't mess up the woman too badly. It was bad for business. Rubbing the ten dinars in his palm, he shouted, "AT THE READY..........................GO!"
Xena immediately dropped to one knee and grabbed Kranass' long ponytail from between his legs in both hands. She yanked viciously, causing the man's head to shoot backwards as he bellowed in rage and pain. While he was off balance, Xena leaned back and kicked him in the midsection as hard as she could, all the while pulling on the thick braid. Kranass fell backwards with a scream and landed with a loud thud. Xena quickly stood back up as the crowd went wild.
Kranass started to get back up. Holding his scalp, he bellowed, "FUCKING BITCH!! KRANASS WILL..."
Xena shot forward and kicked him in the face, breaking his nose and again sending him flat on his back. She stooped over him and said, "Watch your language, there are ladies present." She waited a moment to make sure he wouldn't be getting up anytime soon. She wiped the blood off of her boot onto Kranass' pants.
She walked over and picked up her sword, replacing it across her back. She then turned to the robed man who was still staring in disbelief at his fallen champion. She picked up the sacks and turned towards the stairs.
She spun back around as the man grabbed her arm and asked, "Uhmm...excuse me miss, I don't suppose you'd be interested in a...er, partnership?"
She looked down to where he held her arm and then stared him in the eye.
He quickly withdrew his hand. "No, I don't suppose so." He began collecting his things while cursing the still unconscious Kranass.
Xena walked down the steps and stood in front of Erascus and his friends, one of whom was just now waking. She handed him one of the sacks, "Here, go find yourselves a healer and then split whatever's left. You earned it."
Erascus accepted the money and thanked her. He started to smile, but stopped as he brought a hand up to his split lip.
Xena walked over to Gabrielle and looked at her expectantly.
"Show-off." The bard turned and started walking down the street. She looked sideways at Xena and stated, "You know, you just gave away a hundred dinars."
The woman smirked at her and replied, "Don't be greedy, Gabrielle; this'll last us a good while. Provided we can keep your stomach in check."
Gabrielle ignored the comment and kept walking. She suddenly stopped and said excitedly, "Look Xena! They're opening the bard's pavilion. Can we go, pleeeeease?"
Xena looked down at the begging woman and replied, "Go ahead, I'm not stopping you."
Gabrielle looked down as she scraped her foot across the ground. She replied softly, "I'm...uh, out of dinars."
"What about the money I gave you this morning?"
"I....spent it?" she said, finally looking up.
"Here," Xena said as she handed Gabrielle a handful of coins. "Now remember what I told you about..."
"I know, I know. Be careful of pickpockets," she placed the coins into a small pouch and tucked it back under her skirt.
"Right," Xena looked around at the tightly packed crowd. "Autolycus would have a field day in here." She knew most thieves would think twice about trying to steal from her. Gabrielle, however, made a tempting target.
Gabrielle turned and started walking towards the large tent. She turned around and asked, "Aren't you coming?"
Xena shook her head, "I think I'll pass. Gabrielle, after hearing some of your tales, all other story tellers just can't compare. I really don't think there's another bard in all of Greece that can hold a candle to you."
Gabrielle folded her arms and replied, "You know, you can raise a pretty nice garden with some of that manure you're spreading."
Xena laughed and walked closer. "Look, now that we can afford it, I want to get Argo fitted with some new shoes. I'm gonna go find a blacksmith before it gets to late. I'll come back and meet you here. Just don't go wandering off, okay?"
"Okay," Gabrielle hurried off towards the entrance to the tent.
Xena waited to make sure the woman entered the tent without any problems. She watched as Gabrielle payed the collector and rushed inside. She then looked around, trying to remember where the nearest blacksmith was. She headed north towards the business section of the city. As she turned down a side street, she spotted the two white-faced men they'd ran into earlier walking her way. As soon as they saw her, they stopped and hurriedly ran back in the other direction. Xena chuckled as she said to herself, "And people say mimes are stupid." She grinned as she wondered how much she would've paid to see the two mimes fight against Kranass. "Now THAT, would've been entertaining."
Gabrielle found a nice seat towards the rear of the amphitheater. As a fellow bard, she liked to see the audience's reaction to the performers. She looked around as a few more people filtered in. The afternoon show wouldn't have as many people as the evening show, which she'd been to every night since they'd arrived. The wedge-shaped terraces led down to a raised stone dais on a dirt floor. The whole amphitheater had been covered with a large canvas tent to lessen the noise from the rest of the festival.
The crowd hushed as the host stepped forward and introduced the first performer. As the crowd applauded, the bearded man climbed the stage, nodded graciously, and raised his hand for silence. He then scanned the faces of the people in the forefront of the audience, letting his gaze shift from one person to the next. The small hole in the roof of the canvas provided a generous amount of light over the center stage. The rear of the amphitheater, where Gabrielle now sat, was cast in relative shadow.
The man fixed his gaze on one man seated in the front row. Gabrielle watched as he shifted uncomfortably under the close scrutiny of the story teller. She realized the man was good. Without uttering a single word, he'd already captivated his audience. He finally closed his eyes and began speaking. He told a story of how his village had been attacked several years ago by a band of marauders. He kept his eyes closed as he went into the details of the battle, including the death of his wife and child.
Gabrielle was glad that Xena wasn't there after all.
The man took a deep breath as he continued. His descriptions were so vivid, Gabrielle could almost smell the smoke from the burning fields and hear the screams of the terrified villagers. The man then described the leader of the bandits. Although he wore a black hood, he remembered looking into his eyes. Eyes that were pink, like some kind of animal. He remembered the man well, because he'd watched him slay his wife before his very eyes. One of the bandit's horses had fallen on him, pinning him to the ground helplessly and nearly breaking both his legs. After the marauders had left, some of the other villagers had helped free him. He buried his wife and child under a large oak near their home. He then went into his house, gathered a few things, and then finally torched the dwelling. He had watched as the flames engulfed the dry wood and thatch.
Gabrielle watched as he paused to wipe a few tears from his eyes. "Boy, he IS good," she listened as he continued.
"As I was about to set out in search of this murderer, my father told me something which I remember to this day. He'd said, `before you start down a path of vengeance, you must first dig two graves.' I'd understood his meaning, but before I'd left the village, which I haven't seen since, I did just as my father suggested. I dug one grave near my wife and child and one near the refuse pit behind the ashes of what was left of our home. I swore then and there that I would not lie in my grave until the other had been filled." He squeezed his fists tightly as he stared down at the ground. He finally looked back up and said, "You may be wondering why I would relate such a bleak tale to you. My friends, it is as much a warning as it is a plea. If you see this man, a man whose eyes are pink, evil. Kill him if you think you can or avoid him otherwise," he pulled back his sleeve and revealed a slender dirk in a sheath strapped around his forearm. "One day, by the will of the Gods, I will find this man and plunge this into his heart and watch the life drain from those grotesque eyes of his." He sighed loudly as he rolled his sleeve back down. "Alas, I must now leave you. This is a large city, and I have many faces to look at." With that, he bowed, climbed the steps and left without looking back. The crowd, several of whom stood, applauded vivaciously.
Gabrielle wondered if any of the man's story was true. Regardless, she pitied the person who'd have to follow his performance. She watched as two girls, slightly younger than her, made their way to sit by the stone wall off to her left, one level down. "Pretty," she thought to herself. One had long, dark black hair while the other's was light blonde and ended just above the base of her neck. They both wore tunics which were partly slit down the sides, the current fashion, and sandals.
She watched as the next performer, a short man with curly brown hair, took the stage, staggering towards the front of the dais. He went to take a bow and nearly fell forward onto the sandy floor below. "He's drunk," Gabrielle muttered to herself.
As the man began his story, however, Gabrielle realized that his fake stupor was part of his act. He constantly asked the nearby people in the audience to remind him of what he was talking about. He was also getting his characters mixed up, allowing the audience to correct him. Gabrielle was impressed by the man's creativity. If he ever did actually mess up a story, everyone would assume it was intentional. She laughed as he began arguing with some woman in the front row who had corrected him.
"Whatta ya mean Antiminus held the sword?!? Look lady, I oughta know. I was there."
The woman leaned forward and hollered back, "You said Antiminus held the sword, you held the torch, and Parmen held the oil!"
"Whoa, who in the name of Zeus is Parmen!?! Lady, are you one of these trouble makers?!" He turned to the rest of the crowd and shouted, "Ladies and gentlemen, please ignore this woman. She's obviously a lush!" This brought a loud chorus of laughter from the audience.
As he more or less finished the story, the crowd applauded and cheered as he tripped off of the stage and then exited through a side curtain.
Gabrielle wiped her watery eyes as she caught her breath. The host stepped up and introduced the next performer. She watched as a woman with a lyre climbed the steps. The host carried a small bench up for her to sit upon.
She looked across as she heard one of the girls giggle. She saw that the blond was playfully tickling the other. "How immature," Gabrielle thought. She noticed the man and woman in front of her also frown disapprovingly.
The woman on the dais began a gentle melody upon the lyre. While not much of a musician herself, Gabrielle was still able to appreciate the woman's ability. She looked off to her left as she heard one of the girls start giggling once again. They were still horse playing like children. She watched as the couple in front of her stood and made their way to the other side of the tent, leaving her and the pair of girls alone in that corner of the amphitheater.
Gabrielle decided to stay put and ignore them. She closed her eyes and listened as the woman's gentle voice blended with the haunting melody from her lyre. She wished her singing voice was better than what it was. She'd never bothered to train it. The only instrument she could play were her pipes, and she couldn't exactly sing while playing them anyway. She knew that Xena could sing beautifully; she would catch her friend humming to herself when she thought no one else could hear. She listened as the woman then began harmonizing over a string of rapid arpeggios. She smiled and thought to herself, "At least those girls have...."
She stopped in mid-sentence after she'd opened her eyes and turned in the direction of the pair. Her mouth dropped open as she watched the two of them kissing passionately. Apparently, either they felt safe that no one could see them or didn't really care if anyone did. The girl with the long hair had her back to the stone wall with one leg on either side of the other girl who sat facing her.
Gabrielle turned back towards the stage. However, it didn't take very long before she couldn't help herself from looking back at them. She tried to not make it obvious. She watched out of the corner of her eye as the girl with the long hair slid her right hand into the side of the blonde girl's tunic, massaging her breast. The girl let out a soft moan. Her friend quickly leaned in and kissed her again, obviously trying to quite her. Gabrielle watched as the pair kissed deeply. The blonde cupped both of the other girl's breasts through the fabric of her tunic, squeezing them gently. She kissed her way down to her friend's chin and then slowly down her neck.
Gabrielle felt her pulse quicken as she watched the passionate display. She looked back at a man reciting some lengthy poem. She hadn't even realized the woman had finished her song. She once again turned to the girls. She watched as they slowly pulled apart, staring into each other's eyes. The blonde slowly slid her left hand along the inside of her friend's thigh and then under her skirt. The girl leaned back against the wall and spread her legs wider. Gabrielle watched as the blonde girl's arm moved back and forth rhythmically. The other girl's chest rose and fell as her friend tenderly fondled her.
The blonde withdrew her hand from under the other's skirt and slowly raised it to her lips. Gabrielle could see the light from the front of the amphitheater glistening off of the girl's moist fingertips. She caught herself inadvertently licking her lips. She watched as the reclining girl pulled her friend closer, kissing her once again, tasting herself on the lips of the other.
Gabrielle, her own breathing now quicker, felt herself becoming highly aroused as she continued to watch the pair. As the blonde returned to caressing her friend, Gabrielle slowly rubbed her legs together tightly, feeling the heat and moisture growing in her own vagina. She looked around the amphitheater. She and the two girls were relatively isolated in that shadowy corner of the tent. Hesitantly, she spread her legs partly open and began lowering her left hand between them.
"Enjoying the show?"
Gabrielle jumped up straight and gasped loudly as Xena sat down beside her. "Huh? What?"
Despite the darkness, Xena had managed to find Gabrielle with little trouble since she knew where the bard usually sat. " I asked if you were enjoying the show," she whispered, pointing to the stage.
Gabrielle was trying, with little success, to calm herself. "Umm..No. Not really. We can go." She stood quickly and headed for the exit.
"Gabrielle, I just paid..." But the woman was already outside. Xena sighed, shrugged, and headed after her friend.
As she came outside, she spotted Gabrielle at a nearby fountain, pouring herself a large mug of water. As she came closer, she could see the woman seemed agitated. "Gabrielle, are you okay?"
"Huh? Uh..yeah." She replaced the tankard at the edge of the fountain. The cool drink hadn't soothed her as she'd hoped. "Can we go back to the room? I'd...like to clean up."
"Okay," Xena agreed. Though she still thought something was bothering Gabrielle.
The two made their way to the hostelry they had been staying at since they'd arrived in Solanica. As they walked, Gabrielle kept thinking about the girls in the bard's pavilion. She knew that if she wanted to calm down, she should stop thinking about it. But that was just it. She didn't want to calm down. She didn't want to stop thinking about it. She looked ahead towards Xena. Although her friend had the swagger of a seasoned warrior, her body was that of a voluptuous and very beautiful woman. Gabrielle stared down at her shapely rear, imaging herself running her fingertips over Xena's skin.
As they walked through the crowded streets, Gabrielle noticed that the deep orange light of dusk was fast approaching the western sky. She spotted several of the city watch as they began lighting the ornate oil lamps lining the bustling thoroughfares. They went through the front entrance of the Sleepy Griffon and up the stairs to the second floor.
Although somewhat expensive, the Griffon was the only place they'd been able to find a room in the crowded city. Xena would've been content to sleep outside the city walls as many of the poorer festival goers did. But Gabrielle had wanted to stay inside the city and, as usual, she couldn't bring herself to say no to her friend.
They entered the spacious, albeit sparsely decorated, room. Gabrielle threw her pouch onto the bed and went into the semi-private lavatory, shutting the door behind her.
Xena walked a little closer to the door, worried that Gabrielle may be feeling ill. "Gabrielle, are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine," she called out to Xena as she quickly undressed. She realized she was breathing heavily again as she thought about what she was about to do.
Xena sat in one of the chairs and began removing her boots. She looked down at her bandaged wrist and grimaced. She grunted once and changed the grimace to a smile as she began unwrapping the splint. After she'd completely removed it, she flexed her wrist in several positions. Aside from a slight soreness, it was as good as new. She threw the bandages onto the table as she stood up and pushed her boot back on. She walked over to the lavatory door. "Gabrielle, I'm going downstairs. Do you need anything?"
"No, th..thank you."
Xena shrugged and walked out into the hall, shutting the door behind her.
Gabrielle listened carefully as she heard the door close. She let out her breath after she realized she'd been holding it. She closed her eyes once again and reclined back against the wall. She brought her hands back down between her legs as she spread them farther apart. She used her left hand to rub her clitoris as she slowly slid two of the fingers of her right hand into her. She bit her lower lip as she continued to caress herself. She pictured the two girls from the bard's tent, their gentle and playful fondling. She moved her left hand up to her chest and began delicately pinching her nipples, which were now hard and erect from her arousal. She then brought her right hand up to her lips, lightly tracing her tongue over the tips of several of her fingers. The taste of her own sweet/salty flavor excited Gabrielle even more. She slid away from the wall and spread one of the towels onto the floor. She then lay back flat onto the towel with her legs spread open. She returned her right hand to her crotch and again inserted her fingers into her, amazed at how wet she now was. She gently stroked her pink bud with the fingertips of her left hand. Her right hand quickened its movements as her breathing likewise became faster. She could feel her pulse pounding as she came closer to climax. She stopped suddenly as she heard the door open once again.
"Hey, you still alive in there?"
"Y..yes. I'll be..out in a second," Gabrielle tried to keep her voice steady in between pants. Part of her wished Xena would walk in on her. She closed her eyes and imagined Xena opening the door, looking down at her on the floor and staring in shock momentarily. She could picture Xena smiling down at her, coming closer. She would crouch in front of her and gently move Gabrielle's hands aside, replacing them with her own. As Xena would gently caress her, she would lean over and kiss her, tenderly at first, and then more passionately. Gabrielle remembered the feel of Xena's skin under her fingers and the way her friend smelled. Her fingers expertly moved faster as her body shook slightly. She bit her lower lip again and stifled a moan which she hoped Xena hadn't heard. Her nostrils flared as her breathing quickened into short pants. As she felt the walls of her vagina constrict slightly, Gabrielle placed her feet flat onto the floor and arched her pelvis, lifting her rear into the air. She continued to masturbate as she came forcefully, emitting a low growl through her clenched teeth. Her body stiffened as she let herself drop back flat to the floor. She continued to massage her slickened folds as the intense waves of pleasure swept through her body. Gabrielle felt her lungs pumping like bellows inside of her chest. She turned over on her side and propped herself up onto her left elbow. Using her right hand, she kept working her fingers back and forth as she felt herself nearing a second climax. She whipped her head up, throwing the hair out of her face. She then tilted her head backwards as she came once again, bucking her hips slightly in rhythm with her hand. She lay back unceremoniously onto the towel in a heap, near exhaustion. She didn't move for awhile, just lay there trying to catch her breath. She slowly brought her right hand up to her mouth and began licking off the wetness which now covered most of it. She sat back up and looked down at herself. Her body was covered in a heavy film of sweat which glistened from the last rays of sunlight coming through the window. She also looked down and giggled at the stain she'd made on the towel. She stood and braced herself momentarily against the wall. Her legs were still a little shaky. She stooped over, picked up the towel, and threw it into the bin where the servants would pick them up in the morning. She then picked up one of the heavy amphoras against the opposite wall and used it to fill the large basin. She grabbed a clean towel as she stepped into it and sat down in the lukewarm water. Finally, breathing normally again, she relaxed against the back edge of the deep basin and proceeded to clean herself off.
Xena, reclining comfortably herself in one of the high-backed chairs, rested her bare feet up on a plush foot stool. She plucked one of the sugared dates she'd gotten from the kitchen out of the small bowl on the table and tossed it into her mouth. She rolled the fruit around with her tongue a while, savoring the flavor. Although she would never admit it to Gabrielle, or anyone else for that matter, she liked pampering herself from time to time. She picked another date out of the bowl as she stretched lazily. She reached down and pulled the small dirk out of her boot and used it to cut some of the loose strands of twine off one of her bracers. She looked up as Gabrielle finally came out of the lavatory, wrapped in a towel. "Well, it's about time. Did you get lost in there?"
Gabrielle smiled down at Xena, "Ha ha. Two thousand comedians out of work and YOU'RE trying to be funny?"
Xena smiled back. At least Gabrielle seemed better than when they'd first reached the room. "Look, I brought you a couple of pomegranates from the kitchen."
Gabrielle had developed an affinity for the yellow seedy fruit over the past several weeks. "Mmm, thanks." She reached down and picked one of the pomegranates off the table, finally noticing Xena's bandages. "Hey, you took off your splint."
Xena stared up at Gabrielle with a "don't start" look. "Yes I did. I told you my wrist feels fine. See?"
Gabrielle watched as Xena dextrously spun the dirk with her fingers. "Well, maybe you should have left it on anyway, just to be safe."
Xena took her feet off the stool and pulled it closer to her. She pat the top and told Gabrielle to sit.
Gabrielle looked curiously from the stool, to the dirk, and then finally to Xena, "What did you have in mind?"
Xena smiled up at her. "Fair's fair. Unless you like having those stitches in your arm."
"No. Not particularly." Gabrielle placed the pomegranate back on the table and sat on the stool as Xena had instructed. As she sat down, the towel fell away, giving Xena an unobstructed view of her breasts. "Oops," Gabrielle replied innocently as she gathered the towel around her once again.
Xena tried to act as if she hadn't even noticed. She looked down at the dirk in her hand and thought to herself, "Calm down. Now's not the time to get excited." She reached up and pushed Gabrielle's long hair over to the woman's left side. "Here, hold your hair on that side."
"Okay," Gabrielle replied, reveling in the feeling of Xena's hand against the back of her neck. She thought to herself of how easy it would be to just lean over and kiss her. Slowly, tenderly.
"Alright, now keep still." Holding Gabrielle's arm gently with her left hand, she used the dirk in the other to snip the crossed stitches over the wound. After she was finished, she pulled out the strands one at a time. She wiped the little bit of blood off of Gabrielle's arm and then asked her, "Well, hurt any?"
Gabrielle looked down and replied, "No, it just itches."
Xena nodded, "That'll pass after a while."
Gabrielle smiled up at her, "Thanks." She leaned in and gave Xena a quick kiss on the lips and stood back up before the startled woman could react. She made her way over to the bed and unwrapped the towel, tossing it to the floor.
Xena stared at Gabrielle as the girl began to dress. She put the dirk on the table and made her way to the lavatory, "Uh..I think I'll clean up too."
"Okay," she called from over her shoulder.
Xena watched as Gabrielle bent over to step into her underwear. She was surprised when she suddenly banged her knee against the door jamb. She drew in a quick breath through clenched teeth as she stooped over to grab her leg, cursing lkoudly.
Gabrielle turned around, still topless. "You okay?"
Xena looked over to her, slightly embarrassed. "Yeah, I banged my knee. That's all."
"How'd you manage to do that?" Gabrielle asked, fighting back a giggle.
Xena didn't say anything as she walked into the washroom and shut the door behind her. "Because Gabrielle, I was too busy staring at your ass," she muttered to herself as she bent down and rubbed her knee.
Gabrielle and Xena walked along the crowded street, enjoying the sights and spectacles of the last night of the spring festival. Earlier, they'd attended the night parade which circled the entire city just inside the outer walls. Gabrielle marveled at the large ornate, reed animal sculptures which were lit up by a multitude of candles and wheeled past. She noted amusedly that there were no horses. Gabrielle had little trouble persuading Xena into accompanying her to the bard's pavilion for the final show of the festival.
Later that evening, as they were watching a trio of acrobats performing on a small side stage, Xena grinned as she looked down to see Gabrielle yawning. She was having a hard time keeping her eyes open. "Hey, you ready to head back to the room?"
Gabrielle looked up to the woman, blinking her eyes several times, "Huh? No, I'm okay." She brought her hand up to cover her mouth as she yawned again.
Xena put her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder and gently pulled her towards the other end of the street. "C'mon. You're about to fall asleep on your feet."
Gabrielle protested weakly, "No, really. I'm fine."
"You've been staying up late and waking up early over the past four days, Gabrielle. Your body's telling you you need some sleep."
"Alright. Let's go," Gabrielle gave in, placing her arm around Xena's waist. After they'd walked a while, she looked up to Xena, "Xena, thanks again for bringing me to the festival."
"You're welcome. I'm glad you had a good time," Xena replied.
Gabrielle hugged Xena's waist a little tighter, "I think the real reason I had such a good time was because I was here with you."
Xena smiled down tenderly as she gently hugged Gabrielle, "Me too." She looked around as they reached the end of the street. "Uhm...We can pass this way through the temple district."
The two walked side by side along the nearly deserted Street of the Gods, as it was called. Gabrielle noticed that shrines and temples of various sizes fronted the street on both sides. Some dedicated to gods she'd never heard of before.
"There's a short cut behind..." Xena stopped suddenly, looking around in all directions.
Gabrielle well knew the look on her friend's face. "Xena, what is it?" she asked.
"I thought...I heard something..."
As a muffled scream pierced the night, the pair turned in the direction of the darker side street where the cry had come from. Xena was about to turn to Gabrielle and tell her to stay there.
Gabrielle, however, was already walking passed Xena on her way towards the alleyway. She turned back to the woman, "Well, you coming?"
Xena caught up to the bard and pushed passed her. "Stay behind me, alright?" She reached back over her shoulder and pulled on the yellow peace bond on her sword. The slip knot loosened easily and she slid the sword out of its sheath. She proceeded slowly, allowing her eyes to adjust to the darker alley. She could hear hushed voices coming from around the next corner. She edged closer, staying near the wall. She could sense Gabrielle close behind her. She heard the voices clearer now. She also heard what sounded like a woman sobbing.
"Let's just kill her and be done with it."
"Yeah, someone may have heard her."
"No, I not done with woman yet."
Xena's eyes narrowed as she heard the familiar heavily accented voice of the third man. She turned to Gabrielle and took her hand in hers, whispering in her ear, "Wait behind this corner."
Gabrielle started to protest, but stopped when she saw the look on Xena's face. It wasn't anger or frustration. Gabrielle nodded as she squeezed Xena's hand.
Xena turned back and stepped out from behind the wall. She took in the scene in a heartbeat. Two men were holding down a struggling woman near the back wall of one of the temples, while a third, much larger man, loomed over her. Even if she hadn't recognized his voice, the thick dark braid and immense physique would've given him away. She also noticed a fourth man lying, unconscious or dead, several feet away. She watched the big man begin to pull down his trousers as she walked closer. "Nice party Kranass. Any room in there for me?"
The three men immediately turned her way, Kranass quickly refastening his pants. Xena noticed that he still hadn't bothered to have his nose set; the dark blue bruise under his eyes complimenting the long scar running vertically down his face. His visage contorted even more as he sneered viciously, "YOU!!!"
The other two men let go of the struggling woman who quickly crawled backwards against the wall. Each picked up a short sword and edged closer. Xena noticed that neither of them looked older than Gabrielle.
Kranass stooped and picked up an immense scimitar. As he straightened, he chuckled and said, "This must be lucky night for me."
Xena took a step closer, watching all three men carefully. "Why's that Kranass? Do you LIKE getting the shit beat out of you?" She hoped the three couldn't hear Gabrielle giggling behind the wall.
"Get her!!" Kranass yelled, coaxing the other two men into a charge. Obviously they were more adept at ambushes than real fights. The first man ran into the path of the other and attempted a lunge at Xena's midsection. Xena parried the thrust and stuck her right leg out as the man went passed, sending him sprawling to the ground. She ducked the sweep of the second man's sword aimed at her head. Cocking back her left arm, she punched him as hard as she could in the groin. Looking up, she watched as his face went pale and he dropped his sword. "Well, he'll be walking funny for a few days," she thought to herself.
She heard a `thunk' sound behind her and remembered the man she'd tripped. Realizing that Kranass was still behind the other man, she spared a quick glance behind her. The first man lay flat on his back, unconscious. She'd thank Gabrielle later. As she turned forward, she flinched as a crimson splash hit her across the chest and neck. Staring in shock, she watched as the second man fell over sideways, his torso nearly cut in two. She looked up to see Kranass grinning devilishly, red gore dripping from the wide blade of his sword.
"You are next!!" he spat the words out at her.
Xena leveled her sword and fixed Kranass with a matching grin. The pair circled each other warily. Despite his size, Xena wouldn't underestimate Kranass' speed. She realized she wanted to goad him into making the first move. "Kranass, do you want to fight or do you want to dance?"
The big man cursed something in Persian and charged at Xena. He feigned a lunge with the scimitar and changed it to an upward swing, forcing Xena to bolt backwards. She could feel the wind from the force of the swipe. Sensing victory, Kranass pressed his advantage, charging again. This time, with a vertical chop. Xena dodged the descending blade and charged passed him, bringing her own blade across his side.
Kranass hollered in pain and brought his massive right arm down, striking Xena across the shoulder blades and knocking her to the ground. He looked down to his side as the blood flowed freely from the gash made by her sword. He turned his attention back to Xena, who was still on her knees, trying to catch her breath. The man mumbled something again in Persian as he advanced on her.
He stopped suddenly as he felt something hard strike him in the back of the head. He turned to see a short woman holding a staff. He grinned wickedly, "Did you hit me with that stick, little girl?"
Gabrielle gulped as she looked up at Kranass. Planting her feet firmly, she swung the staff again with all her strength.
Kranass caught the staff easily in his large right palm, clutching it with a vice-like grip. He laughed as he pulled the staff and Gabrielle closer.
Try as she might, she couldn't wrest the staff free. Seeing little other choice, she let go and backed off several steps.
Kranass tossed the staff to the ground and slowly advanced towards Gabrielle.
Kranass spun around and faced Xena. "I'll be back for you, little girl," he said to Gabrielle without turning around. He walked forward cautiously with his sword arm cocked back.
Xena gritted her teeth and also advanced. As they came closer, Xena lunged for his chest. Kranass turned sideways, the blade lightly grazing his skin. He growled and brought his heavy blade in a low arc aimed at Xena's legs. She leapt into a forward somersault as she let loose a battle cry, landing just behind Kranass. She spun the sword in her hand, reversing her grip, and plunged the blade deep into Kranass' back. She quickly pulled the blade out and stepped away.
Kranass managed to rise to his feet and slowly began walking towards the back of the alleyway. Xena could hear his raspy breathing as his lungs filled with blood. He finally turned in her direction, a confused look on his face and blood leaking from the sides of his mouth. He took one last shaky step before toppling over into a stack of empty crates.
Xena spun as she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Whoa, Xena! It's me," Gabrielle stared down at the blood covering most of the woman's upper chest. "Are you okay!?"
Xena followed her gaze. "It's alright. It's not mine. Let's check on those two." She and Gabrielle walked over to the man and woman. As they got closer, Xena could see that the fellow was starting to come around. She crouched down near them, "Are you okay?"
"Yes, thanks to you," the woman smiled up at Xena as she held the man's head in her lap.
Xena felt the large reddish bump on the man's forehead, causing him to moan. "Well, he's just going to have a serious headache for a while."
The man blinked a few times and raised his hand to his head, touching it tenderly.
"What happened?" Gabrielle asked.
As Xena and the woman helped the man to his feet, she explained, "My husband and I were returning home when these men jumped out from the shadows and grabbed us."
Xena looked down at the three prone figures in the alleyway, "Did they take anything?"
"No," the man answered. "We didn't have any money on us. I think that's why they were so angry." His head finally cleared enough that he noticed the blood on Xena. "Oh dear, are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm fine. I'm more concerned about you."
The man stood up straight, "I'll be okay. As my wife will tell you, I have a very hard head. I think I'd just like to go home now."
The four began walking back out of the alley. Xena stopped and ripped a piece of cloth off the unconscious man's shirt. She then turned to the couple, "Would you like us to walk back with you?"
"No, that's alright," the man smiled sincerely. "We don't live far away. My name is Estreus and this is my wife, Yamera. I want to thank both of you for saving our lives..." He extended his hand and raised his eyebrows, obviously awaiting an introduction.
Xena smiled and took his hand. "My name is Xena and this is Gabrielle." She noticed his hand had gone limp. She turned back to see the surprised expression on his face.
Estreus tried getting the words out, "Th..THE Xena?"
Xena let go of his hand, "Yeah."
He took a deep breath and then smiled sincerely, "Well, it's a pleasure to meet you. Both of you," he extended a hand to Gabrielle. "We own a small shop near the southern gate. If either of you ever need anything, please stop by."
"We will, thank you."
The woman hugged Gabrielle and was about to hug Xena when she decide against it, looking down once again to the blood on her chest. She took her hand in both of hers. "Thank you again."
Xena and Gabrielle watched as the couple made their way back up the Street of the Gods. Gabrielle followed Xena as the older woman made her way to a nearby well. "They sure seemed like a nice couple."
Xena pulled out a bucket of water and, using the piece of cloth, proceeded to wash the blood off of her and her armor as best she could. "Yeah, I guess it's lucky for them we were around."
"What do you mean `we'? You did all the work. I stayed behind the wall, remember?"
Xena looked down at her with a familiar crooked grin, "I know you knocked out the first guy and you distracted Kranass long enough for me to catch my breath."
"Yeah, I guess I did do all that?" She leaned back against the well with her arms folded and a huge grin on her face. "I wonder sometimes what you'd do without me."
Xena dumped out the rest of the water and looked down at Gabrielle, not being able to help grinning herself. She placed her hand on her friend's arm. "I hope I never have to find out. C'mon." The two continued down the street side by side. Xena reached back and retied the yellow peace bond. No sense in starting any trouble with the city watch this late at night, even if she HAD been doing their job.
As they walked into the room, Gabrielle turned to Xena, "You can get cleaned up first."
"You sure you don't mind?" Xena asked as she began removing her boots.
"No, I didn't get that dirty," Gabrielle replied as she herself began to undress.
Xena cast a furtive glance over her shoulder at Gabrielle as she made her way to the lavatory, being careful not to run into the door frame this time. She lit the small oil lamp and then shut the door behind her, leaving a small crack.
Gabrielle laid out her clothes neatly on the small bench at the foot of her bed before slipping on the soft tan robe which came complimentary with the room. She sat in one of the high backed chairs and grabbed the remaining pomegranate off the dish on the table and bit into it, being careful not to get any of the pulp onto the robe. She could hear Xena splashing water around in the basin. She leaned over sideways, but couldn't see through the crack in the door from her position. Suddenly getting a mischievous urge, she put down the pomegranate and rose out of the chair. Quietly, she took a few steps towards the lavatory. Her heart beating faster. She could still hear the faint splashing coming from behind the door. She froze suddenly as a floorboard creaked noisily beneath her weight. It sounded deafening in the silence which permeated the room. She quickly tip-toed back to her chair and sat once again. She took another bite of the pomegranate as she let her heartbeat return to normal.
She looked once again towards the door, sighing softly. She let her mind wander over the previous few days. In truth, the reason she'd had such a good time WAS because she was there with Xena. Her mood became somber as she thought again about her relationship with the older woman and of the way she wished their relationship COULD be. She'd tried to convince herself that it would never happen, that she should stop hoping, that she should simply be grateful for Xena's friendship. She wasn't sure how it had happened, but she had definitely fallen in love with the older woman. She'd often fantasize about the closeness and the intimacy the two of them could share. If only Xena felt the same way.
"Stop it!" Gabrielle thought to herself. "Just don't think about it." She shook her head and looked out the nearby window into the dark night sky. As much as it hurt, realizing she'd never attain that which her heart desired, it never stopped her from dwelling on it time and again.
Xena came out of the washroom tying the sash of her robe over her stomach. She walked over and draped her leather armor over the back of the small divan near the door. She looked over to Gabrielle, seated near the table. The bard hadn't even seemed to notice her. Xena noted the distant look on her face; a look which almost seemed sorrowful. She walked closer to the table and asked softly, "Hey, a dinar for your thoughts."
"Huh?" Gabrielle asked, turning her way after finally realizing Xena had come out of the lavatory.
"You seemed about a thousand leagues away. You looked sad too." Xena picked a few dates out of the small dish, tossing one into her mouth.
Gabrielle looked up at the woman, wishing yet again she had the courage to tell Xena how much she loved her. "I..uh, I was just sorry the festival's over." She tried forcing a smile for Xena's benefit.
Xena smiled back down at her and walked over to her bed. As she stretched to pull back her covers, she let out a grunt and took in a quick breath as dull pain ran through her upper back. She straightened out slowly, rolling her neck from side to side.
Gabrielle had noticed Xena's discomfort. "Xena, what is it?" she asked, genuinely concerned.
"It's nothing," she replied, grimacing as she shrugged her shoulders.
Gabrielle rose and made her way to Xena's side, "Don't give me that. I can see that you're in pain. What is it?"
Xena sighed once and looked down at Gabrielle's persistent expression. "Don't get upset with her," she thought. "She's just concerned." She smiled softly and replied, "Kranass gave me a good hit on the back, but I'm fine. It's starting to fade already."
Gabrielle didn't seem convinced. She walked around Xena and finished pulling back the covers. She turned back to the woman and pat the bed. "Here, lie down on your stomach."
Xena seemed apprehensive but complied anyway. Gabrielle sat next to her on the bed. "Pull your robe down," Xena again complied as Gabrielle helped slide the robe over her shoulders and down her back. She moved closer and gently lay her hands on Xena's bare skin.
Xena flinched slightly at Gabrielle's touch, even though it was expected.
"I'm sorry. Are my hands cold?" Gabrielle asked, removing her fingers.
"No, they're fine," Xena replied, looking back over her shoulder.
Gabrielle smiled and put her hands back on Xena's shoulders. She reached up and slid Xena's still damp hair to the side. She gently began massaging the hard muscles along Xena's back. She could feel how tight they were. "You're so tense. Try to relax."
"`Try to relax' she says," Xena thought to herself. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She had her head sideways on the pillow with her arms crossed underneath.
Gabrielle slowly made her way down Xena's back, following the taper to her waist. She then worked her way back up, rubbing along the sides of her spine. "How's that feel?"
"Feels good," Xena mumbled, trying to suppress a moan. She'd had massages before; many times. None had ever excited her as much as she was now. It had to be that it was Gabrielle giving her the massage. In truth, her back did feel much better. Gabrielle's gentle yet firm ministrations were also causing her to become highly aroused. She grinned as she thought about flipping over onto her back and asking Gabrielle to continue. The thought caused her to giggle.
"Well, I guess you're feeling better. What's so funny?" Gabrielle asked, having heard Xena's snicker.
"Tell me." Gabrielle said, moving her hands once again down the sides of Xena's back.
Gabrielle grinned impishly, "Oh really?" She quickly brought her hands to Xena's waist and playfully squeezed her sides, causing Xena to jerk slightly.
"Gabrielle, you'd better not." Xena warned. Gabrielle's tickling had excited her even more.
The girl's grin broadened as she positioned herself on top of Xena. "Or what?" she continued to tickle her. "I don't think you're in......HEY?!" She shouted in alarm as Xena quickly spun on the bed and grabbed Gabrielle by the waist and hands. Before the girl knew what had happened, she found herself flat on her back with Xena on top of her. Xena had her wrists pinned over her head. She could feel Xena's breasts pressing onto her own, the woman's face just above hers. She was startled when she looked up and saw Xena's expression. It wasn't anger or playfulness; Xena had never looked at her like this before. For some reason, it scared her.
It was Gabrielle's momentary look of fear which snapped Xena out of it. She quickly climbed off of her and slid her robe back on. "Gabrielle, I'm...sorry," she said without facing her.
Gabrielle got up off the bed, still not sure of what had just happened. "It's okay, Xena."
Xena looked at her momentarily and then back down to her own bed. "I think we should turn in, please put out the lantern."
Gabrielle nodded and made her way to her bed after leaning over and blowing out the lantern on the table. She climbed in under her sheets, lying on her side, facing Xena's bed. "Good night, Xena," she offered timidly.
Xena, lying on her side, facing the wall, replied just as softly, "Good night, Gabrielle." She was still pondering over what she had almost done. She could still feel her heart racing. She closed her eyes and concentrated on slowing her breathing, thankful that she hadn't crossed the line. Part of her, a small part of her, almost wished she had.
Later that night, Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes. She blinked several times, trying to focus. Something had caused her to awaken. She rolled over and gasped aloud as she spotted a shadowy figure seated next to her on the bed.
"Whoa, Gabrielle. It's me," Xena said softly, placing her hand reassuringly on Gabrielle's arm. She leaned closer, her face now faintly illuminated by the light from the street lamps outside. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
She started to rise, but Gabrielle grabbed her hand. "Xena, what's wrong?" As the woman turned back to her, she could see a single tear running down her left cheek. She let go of Xena's hand and brought her own up to the woman's face, gently wiping away the tear.
Xena started to speak, but stopped herself. She continued to stare at the floor.
Gabrielle sat up and moved next to Xena on the edge of the bed, once again taking her hand in her own. "You're scaring me Xena," she said with concern. Squeezing her friend's hand gently.
"Gabrielle, I...," she paused, sniffling once. "I'm..so...scared of losing you." She finally turned back to Gabrielle, her eyes watering.
"Hey, I'm not going anywhere," She slid closer to Xena and placed her arm around her. "What makes you think you'd lose me?"
Xena looked back towards the ground. "I....I've wanted to tell you....to explain...," she took a deep breath. "I love you, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle smiled up at her and rested her head on her friend's shoulder, "I love you too Xena. I know how much..."
"No Gabrielle," Xena turned sideways to face her. She hesitantly lay her hands on Gabrielle's. She spoke softly, "I've fallen IN love with you."
Gabrielle stayed motionless, not saying a word.
Xena stood and walked towards the center of the room. "It's.....not your fault, Gabrielle. I'll.... deal with it. I just hope you don't...." She then put her head down and began to cry.
Gabrielle, still seated on the bed, was trying to get over the shock of what Xena had told her. She felt light-headed, almost dizzy. She looked up towards Xena, who was still sobbing quietly. Gabrielle rose and slowly crossed over to her. She placed her hand on Xena's shoulder.
Xena pulled away, wiping her eyes. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I....shouldn't have said anything."
Gabrielle saw that she still wouldn't look at her. She again placed one hand on Xena's shoulder, turning the woman to face her. She placed the other hand under her chin and gently urged Xena to look at her. She could see the pain and fear in the woman's eyes. "Oh Xena, I'm glad you told me. I feel the same way about you."
Xena blinked several times, "What?"
"I'm in love with you too. I have been for a long time." Gabrielle said, fighting back her own tears.
"You're...just saying that...You don't..."
She started to pull away but Gabrielle held her tightly. "No, Xena, I love you with all of my heart. So much so, it hurts." She couldn't help herself any longer as tears began to fall from her own eyes.
Xena looked down to her and asked, "Do you really mean it?"
Gabrielle only nodded, unable to form any words.
"Oh Gabrielle, I love you so much." Xena unsuccesfully tried blinking back her own tears as she lovingly wiped Gabrielle's cheeks. "I love you," she whispered one more time as she lowered her lips towards Gabrielle's.
Gabrielle awoke with a start as she sat up in bed. Her thoughts jumbled as her mind tried separating her dream from reality. She looked across and saw Xena, sound asleep in her own bed. Her heart sank as it hit her that the unbelievable joy she'd felt only moments before, wasn't real. She slowly lay back down in her bed, lying on her side facing Xena. "I love you too," she whispered, wiping a single tear from her cheek.
Gabrielle took one last look around Royal Street, almost not recognizing it. What had been the heart of the Spring Festival only the night before, had returned to its normal day-to-day appearance. The colorful decorations had been removed from the buildings fronting the street. The performers' tents had been replaced by vendors' stalls, holding everything from fruit to weapons. The large pavilion covering the amphitheater had been removed. The festive music she'd grown accustomed to had been replaced by the loud bargaining of merchants and customers throughout the area.
She looked up as Xena returned from the stables with Argo. "Ready?" she asked, petting the horse's muzzle.
Xena looked at her quizzically, "You're asking me, or Argo?"
"Both, I guess. It's amazing at how different the city looks and feels today," Gabrielle commented.
"Well, Solanica's economy is based mainly on trade. They enjoy themselves for several days, and then it's right back to business." She and Gabrielle began walking towards the main gate.
"I'm gonna miss it," the younger woman said, taking one last look over her shoulder.
Xena giggled, "Yeah, you mean you'll miss the food and the bed at the Griffon."
"Hey, I don't seem to recall seeing you suffer any since we've been here. And don't think I didn't spot that bag of dates in the saddle bag," Gabrielle said while smirking. "I think you'll miss it too."
Xena smirked herself, "I admit it. But we didn't do too bad. We're leaving with twice as much money as we came here with."
"Yeah, and thanks to Estreus and Yamera, we've got enough food to last us a good while."
Xena raised and eyebrow and looked at Gabrielle again. "Provided you don't...."
"Aww, don't start," Gabrielle interrupted her, slightly annoyed even though she knew Xena was just joking with her out of affection. "I still kinda feel bad about not paying for the food though."
"I tried," Xena said, shrugging. "I think it meant more to them just to give it to us."
The pair continued walking until they reached the fork in the main road. Xena climbed onto Argo and then looked down to Gabrielle. "Well, which way are we headed?"
Gabrielle was shocked. "You're...asking me?"
Xena smiled, "Why not?"
Gabrielle straightened and looked first north, along the road to Attica, and then south and the road to Delphi. "Uhm..North," she said, nodding for good measure.
"Sounds good to me." Xena extended a hand down to Gabrielle.
"You sure?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly while disassembling her staff and placing it in the large saddlebag.
"Yeah, Argo can use the exercise," she helped the bard into the saddle behind her." Then we'll see about getting you some."
"Hey!?" Gabrielle slapped her playfully on the arm.
Xena chuckled and urged Argo northwards along the busy roadway. She smiled as she felt Gabrielle's arms around her waist.
"I'm not holding you too tight, am I?" the younger woman asked from behind her.
"No, I just want you to make sure you don't fall off," She lightly rested her right hand over Gabrielle's crossed arms as she spurred Argo into a fast trot.
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