THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
(post "Ten Little Warlords")
G: "Xena -- if Ares doesn't keep his word, and he doesn't switch you back -- I'll be there for you, no matter whose body you're in."
X-C: "Even a snake-haired gorgon monster?"
G: "I'll be there; I just won't look at you."
X-C: "Gabrielle, I'm proud of you. You felt the anger but you fought it. It takes a lot more strength to resist the violence -- than to surrender to it."
G: "Thank you. Now, if I can just survive the boat-ride with Joxer, I'll be-- fine."
X: "Trust me, you'll be fine -- (her voice changes from Callisto's to Xena's) and so will I."
G: "Xena, it's you, right -- not Callisto?"
X: "It's me. Go on, test me?"
G: "Whose bodies are worse being trapped in than Callisto's?"
X: "A snake-haired gorgon -- but not by much."
G: "It is you."
- Ten Little Warlords
I continue to walk down the beach in dazed wonder, looking down at my own body every now and then, just to be certain it's permanent. The relief at having it back is so overwhelming, it almost takes me to my knees, and I'm grateful for Gabrielle's supportive arm, wrapped firmly around my waist. I can feel her thumb, stroking my side through my leathers. I'm sure she doesn't even realize she's doing that, but it's comforting, and I close my eyes, just trying to re-gain my equilibrium.
"Change of plans." Gabrielle's voice is firm but soft in my ear. My eyes pop open, and I look over at her. Her eyes are shining with unshed tears, and she blinks, scattering them down her cheeks. I stop, and pull her into a hug. She seems to need that right now, and the gods know I do.
"Love-in!" Joxer comes bounding back up the beach, his arms outstretched. "Oh, hey, you're back! That's great!" He pats my shoulder. I glower at him. Gabrielle simply burrows further into our embrace. I can feel her breath, warming my skin, and then I hear her sigh, as a tremor works its way through her body.
"Joxer, you need to go on home without us." She finally looks up to address him.
"Whatever happened to all for one and one for all?" He crosses his arms and peers at us indignantly.
"Take the boat if you'd like. Go into town and get yourself a room. Do whatever you need to do . . . just . . . give . . . us . . . some . . . space, please?" Gabrielle still has not let go of me, but her voice is growing more agitated with each word.
"I helped you get here, and that's the thanks I get?" He snorts indignantly. "Fine, then I'll . . ."
"Joxer, scram!" I bellow, and my glower becomes an all-out snarl. He takes off running down the beach, almost tripping over his own feet. Gabrielle presses her forehead against my chest, just breathing, and I watch him until he's out of sight.
"Thank you." She looks up and touches my face, lightly stroking my cheek with her fingertips. "Gods, it really is you." Her voice is shaking. "Actually, I already had plans, before this. There's this cave. You can see it." She points way down toward the hills at the end of the beach, and I can indeed, see it. "There's a hot freshwater spring at the back -- I think it must be volcano-fed. I stashed our stuff there when we landed. I just thought we might need some down time . . . or something. After everything that's happened . . ." She trails off and burrows into me again, and begins to cry.
"Shhhh." I kiss her head and rub her back. "Everything's going to be alright." I simply hold her for a while, and I look up gratefully at the blue sky overhead, and hear the waves crashing behind us, and I drink it all in, knowing I'm seeing with my own eyes and hearing with my own ears. The earth is solidly under my feet, and I'm feeling her with my own arms. It's glorious.
"How about I catch us some fish for dinner?" She nods in agreement. "I'll clean 'em, and you cook 'em." I remember something Ares said, and I wrinkle my nose. "And then I'm going to scrub myself from head to foot in that hot spring." I kiss her head again. "Thank you, my bard," I whisper in her ear. "Always looking out for me, aren't you?"
Slowly, she looks up at me, and I feel her hand reach up and wrap around the back of my neck. I smile and willingly go with this, ducking my head and kissing her soundly. Her other hand comes up and cradles the back of my head, and she holds me even closer, eagerly responding to me. It feels so good, I want to cry right along with her.
My lungs finally demand air, and I break off, pressing my forehead against hers, looking down as both of us breathe much harder than usual. I see her chest rising and falling with the effort, and I trail my finger along the edge of her top, following the curves there, and watching as chill bumps dance across her skin. I lift my hand higher, tracing her lips with my thumb. They're soft, and she trembles again at my touch. I simply pull her into another hug, holding on as if my life depends on it. Which it does, come to think of it.
"Why don't you show me this cave?" She releases me and smiles, and wraps her arm around my waist again, guiding me across the wet, packed sand. As we near the entrance, I can already smell the mineral tang of the water, and stepping inside, I feel a refreshing warm steam in the air. I blink, adjusting to the lower light, and then spot our bedrolls laid out next to a fire ring. Both on the same side. We've been sleeping on opposite sides for weeks -- her choice, not mine, although I fully understand why she needed the distance. I do a double-take and step forward, kneeling down and running the palm of my hand lightly across the soft, familiar furs. I look up at her and I know my eyes are glowing. I can feel them soften as I look at her. "You did this before you knew if I'd get my body back."
She looks down at her feet, her hands clasped behind her back. "I made up my mind that no matter what, it was time to accept things and get on with the business of living." She looks up. "I had no intention of leaving you, and I decided I wasn't going to let Ares or Callisto or anyone else separate me from you."
"Well, then." I stand, and begin unbuckling my armor. "I think I need to go catch that fish I promised you." There is so much I can't seem to bring myself to say. It means so much more, to be here with her like this, knowing she'd already chosen to be with me, regardless. She moves to my side and bats my hands away, finishing the task of unbuckling for me. I lift the armor over my head and set it aside, as she moves in behind me and un-laces my leathers. I slip out of them and am left clad in my undershift. "This should only take a minute."
"I'll get the fire going." She gestures toward a pile of wood against one wall, and pats me on the arm. I place one hand over hers and squeeze it, and then duck out of the cave. I don't know about in there, but out here, the fire is already burning, and I can't help but laugh, partly from irony and partly from relief.
I trot down the beach to the water and plunge in, walking out until I'm in waist-deep waves that foam and break up around me. I take a deep breath, trying to rein in my emotions. The cave is cozy, and warm, and full of promise. I'm no idiot. I'm pretty sure I know what's going to happen in there, and more important, not only am I going to allow it, I'm probably going to initiate it.
My mind takes off again, racing in a dozen different directions. She's no virgin, and I find myself relieved at that -- I'm nervous enough as it is. By the gods, I've conquered villages and nations, and had kings and warlords trembling at my feet, yet I'm shaking inside at the thought of making love to my best friend. I think about Perdicus, wondering what that was like for her, and knowing I'll probably never dare ask. Was he gentle? Does she have good or bad memories of that, and what will she be feeling with me? Will those memories dampen this for her, and how can I make sure that doesn't happen?
I chuckle for a moment, my mind wandering along other paths. I've know for a while that Gabrielle knows how to pleasure herself, so at least I won't be taking her to a place she hasn't been at all. I can actually trace that knowledge to a specific point in time. When we accompanied Ephiny back to her village, after the Mitoan War, she and Gabrielle had several heart-to-heart talks, and I know some of them were about me, because Ephiny told me as much. Gabrielle had a lot of questions, and apparently Ephiny helped clear up some of the great mysteries of women loving women for my bard.
She must have shared a few other things, because shortly thereafter, there were times when I'd come back to her after leaving her alone for a while, for whatever reason, and there was a new scent about her. It was faint, but distinct, sweet and musky, and I knew what it was. It only served to frustrate me all the more. Her scent has haunted my dreams for a long time now. It's been my little secret, knowing this about her, and it's another thing I may never bring myself to share. She would be mortified.
And then I focus back in on Gabrielle herself. I know her so well, now. That smile that wrinkles her nose, and that little furrow she gets between her brows when she's concentrating. The flash of her eyes when she's angry, and that wide-open expression when she's sad. In all honesty, I know her body quite well, already, at least in terms of strength and weight. She's a beautiful woman, with curves in all the right places, and soft skin covering smooth, firm, muscle. I bet she'd be surprised at how much I've observed, but she's been my almost-constant companion for almost two years, now. It's given me plenty of time to know and love almost everything about her.
Now I'm about to get to know her on yet another level. I close my eyes, shoving down the nerves, and concentrate on what I know to be important -- it may not be her first time, but it is her first time with a woman, and her first time with me. More importantly, I think it's her first time with someone she loves. I want it to be gentle, and special, and all the things she deserves, even though there is a part of me that is still convinced I don't deserve her.
That doesn't matter any more. After things went so badly, with Perdicus, and then Callisto, I pretty much decided that this wasn't about me anymore. It's about her needs and her choices. This -- us -- is her choice, and after a while, I realized that it's my choice, too. We want to be with each other. It seems kind of silly to keep putting off the inevitable, especially when we both are ready, and have wanted this for a very long time.
A part of me wants to stay out here forever, another part of me is very anxious to get back to that cave. I shake myself slightly, and concentrate on the task at hand. Soon I have two good-sized saltwater bass in hand, and I take them to shore, where I pull a knife from my belt and gut and clean them, then string them on a sturdy green stick. I can smell the fire as I approach the cave, and mixed with the saltwater scent and the mineral smell from the pool, it's heady. Or maybe the anticipation is what is heady.
I smile, not so nervous anymore. After all this time, and the dreams I've had, and the times I thought I'd lost her for good, it's unreal that we've finally come to this place in time. I stop short of the entrance and close my eyes, ordering my thoughts, sorting through feelings, and putting everything where it belongs. The night is young. I don't want to rush things. I want this to be special, especially for her. After everything that's happened, she deserves that.
Gods, if I could wrap her up in soft wool and protect her from all the bad stuff out there, I would. For so long, I thought I had to protect her from me, as well. But as she has pointed out, when she's with me, she feels safe. I hope I never fail her in that regard. A while back, I decided that maybe this is why I'm still alive and well -- that I've been charged with taking care of her. I only hope I can love her as well as she deserves.
Finally, I open my eyes and step inside the cave. She's kneeling by the fire, poking it with a stick, and as I watch, she pushes her hair behind her ear and dabs at a drop of sweat running down her neck. How many times has she done that, yet on this night, it draws me like a moth to a flame. She's already got some fresh green leaves sitting to the side, and our pouches of cooking herbs, and it looks like she plans to stuff the fish and wrap them up to cook. She's much better at these things than I am.
She hears me and turns, and her face lights up. I can see her eyes running lightly over me, before they land on the fish. "Wow!" She stands and wipes her hands on her skirt. "Those are nice." She closes the distance and takes them from me. "I . . . um . . . there's some wine warming over here, if you'd like some. I'll set these to cooking."
"Sounds wonderful." The lock of hair she pushed back falls forward, and I reach across, tucking it back in place for her. My hand lingers against her cheek, and her eyes flutter closed for an instant. I wait, and smile as her eyes open, and she smiles back. She knows where we're headed too, I think. "But then everything you cook is pretty darned good, Gabrielle."
"Thank you." She blushes faintly, and stoops down to prepare our meal, while I step around the fire, retrieving the flask she set there. I uncork it and take a healthy swallow. She's mixed in spices and honey, and it goes down smooth, hitting my belly and warming me all over. I move closer to her, happy to just watch her work. Every now and then she glances over at me, and looks back down, a little smile tugging at her lips.
"Want some?" I hold the flask in front of her and she nods, and takes a sip, her hands too occupied to hold it for herself. A few drops miss her mouth, lingering on her lips for a moment, before just the tip of her tongue pokes out, licking them away. My stomach clenches pleasantly, watching her, and I hope I make it through dinner.
"Thanks." She pauses, our eyes meeting in understanding. Okay, we're definitely on the same page here. I think I can try to relax and just let things happen.
Before I make a complete drooling idiot of myself, I decide to sharpen my sword and polish my armor. Good thing, too. I just remembered Callisto has had them for a few weeks now. I look at my armor, and have to grudgingly admit she took fairly good care of it. At least it isn't rusting or anything, but it needs a bit more shine. I take care of that, buffing each sworl and buckle until they catch the firelight, sending sparkles around the cave. Then I move to my sword, which is way too dull. That's a good thing, too, as I work off some energy with the whetstone. Just as I finish, Gabrielle tells me dinner is ready.
I know I will never remember this dinner, but I will always remember what she looks like at this moment -- her face glowing in the firelight, her eyes sparkling with anticipation. We talk idly about everything, and nothing at all. I know I'm hearing and responding to her, and I know this fish is delicious. But all I can concentrate on is her closeness, her smile, and the little touches that pass between us as we eat and talk. Finally, I finish and stand, stretching and peering over at the spring. "I think I'll take that bath now."
"Okay." She takes my plate from me. "I'll take care of these and then I'll join you." She pats my arm, and as I turn, she hands off a bar of our soap to me. We bought it in a village a while back, and it smells of honeysuckle and lemon.
"Thanks." I take it from her, and quickly shed the rest of my clothing. I can feel her watching me, but I don't turn around, intent on one thing. I step into the water and inhale the steam, then sigh in utter relief as the warmth surrounds me. With my back still turned, I quickly reach between my legs, washing away any lingering traces of Ares. Ugh. I don't even want to think about that, but I do, only long enough to do the mental math on the moon cycles, and know there's no danger I'm carrying his child. Then I push all those thoughts firmly aside. There's no room for them on this night.
I turn, just as she finishes the dishes. She moves to the edge of the pool and sits down, dangling her legs in the water. "Feels great." She looks a little lost, and I know it's time to put her at ease about all this.
"Scrub my back?" I question her, flashing her as sexy a smile as I can muster. Then I move toward her almost as in a dream. She starts to reach up to unlace her top, but I beat her to it. For all the times she's helped me in and out of my armor, I've never helped her with this, and I'm grateful my hands don't shake. I slowly tug at the rawhide string, pulling it from the eyelets until it's free, then I carefully push her top back and down her arms.
Her breathing increases as she looks down, observing me, and I watch her nipples harden. As this happens, a flush creeps across her chest and up into her cheeks. Gods, she's adorable. I touch her chin, tilting her face up. "You're very beautiful, Gabrielle." And she is. She takes my breath away. I've seen her naked before, but this is all new, to both of us. I help her with her belt and skirt, then take her hands, and lead her into the water. For a very long moment we stand there, face-to-face, simply drinking each other in. Then she smiles and takes the soap from me, and moves behind me.
"That feels nice," I find my voice, as she goes to work doing exactly what I asked, running a soap-laden sea sponge across my back in circular patterns. Her touch is firm, and gentle, and just as I start to relax into it, I feel her lips, as she places tiny butterfly kisses along the tops of my shoulder blades. I feel a shiver work its way through me, and then I'm enveloped in warmth, as she wraps her arms around me from behind, and presses her cheek against my back. Every nerve ending in my body stands at happy attention. I can feel her -- her body pressed fully against mine -- skin against skin. Nothing prepared me for just how good this simple closeness could feel.
"I still can't believe it's really you," she murmurs, and places another kiss at the base of my neck. She's shaking, and I turn in her embrace, and pull her into a hug. This is not just about physical love. It's also about purging all the fear and horror she's been through. If she needs me to hug her all night long, and nothing more, I will. It might kill me, but I will.
I feel her hands begin to wander, at first just up and down my back. Then they move up, running along my shoulders and down my arms, and she nuzzles my chest, her breath even warmer than this water. Okay, apparently, she doesn't want to just hug. That's a good thing. I take her face in my hands, and kiss her slowly, just savoring her taste and her touch, careful not to demand anything of her. I pull back and meet her eyes. "Take your time, sweetheart."
"I . . . I just need to know . . . " she trails off and laughs nervously. "It's like I have to make sure it's you. I know I can see you. I . . . just . . ."
"Do whatever you need to do, Gabrielle." I kiss her again, and pull back, as her hands find mine and grasp them. I lift one of hers and brush a kiss across her knuckles. Her other hand finds my stomach, her palm pressing flat against me, and slowly it slides up. She uses both hands now, just her fingertips circling my breasts, and my stomach clenches, in a good way, before the sensation works its way down, settling in my groin with a pleasant throbbing.
"You're so soft," she comments with wonder. "I knew that, but . . ." Her thumbs brush across my nipples, and my eyes slam shut. I bite my lower lip and let her explore. "Gods, you're shaking." She laughs lightly, and I open my eyes and allow her to see the desire I know is there. I smile, seeing that desire mirrored in her eyes -- the tiny gold flecks that dance against the green somehow more vivid than usual.
"That's a good thing, trust me." I can't stand it anymore, and I pull her to me, kissing her hungrily this time. Her arms wrap around my neck, and I stroke her back, my hands moving ever lower until I grasp her behind, and slide my knee between her legs, pressing her against me. I hear her whimper, a good whimper, I'm fairly certain, and I continue to kiss her senseless, while slowly and softly grinding my leg against her. Finally, I pull back, and ease up on my grip. "How about we move over to those nice, soft furs, huh?"
She nods, and I hug her one more time, feeling her heart beating against me. I kiss her forehead, and stroke her hair, just letting her breathe for a moment -- I want her to know not only that she's desired, but how much she's loved. We step out of the pool on shaking legs, and hastily dry each other off, trading more touches and kisses in the process.
At last, I scoop her up and she giggles, as I carry her the few feet to our furs, where I deposit her carefully on her back, then lower myself down next to her, stretching out on my side. I drink her in, as I stroke her hair, and then her face. The emotions are so thick between us, it's almost overwhelming in its intensity. "I love you, Gabrielle." The words seem almost inadequate for what I'm feeling at the moment. For all the evil I've done, somehow I've come to this one, pure and sweet moment -- a gift I absolutely don't deserve.
I trail one finger slowly up her midline, between her breasts, until I cradle her face in my hand, drawing her close for a kiss. I move from her lips to her jaw, and then to the baby-soft skin below her ear, kissing her and flicking lightly with my tongue. She releases a few short breaths, warming my neck, and pulls me close. "I love you, too, Xena." Her words are right in my ear, sending a pleasant shiver across my skin.
My wandering hand settles below her breast, cupping it and feeling its weight in my hand. I look into her eyes as I stroke her slowly, feeling her nipple harden against my thumb. She arches into me and I smile, and wink at her, then lower my head, taking her into my mouth, suckling lightly, and feeling her hands thread through the hair at the back of my head. I chuckle, a rumble all through my chest, and switch sides, chuckling again as she gasps and takes an even firmer grip on my head.
Reluctantly, I release her to explore further, nibbling my way down her stomach and circling her navel. She tastes salty and sweet, and her scent is intoxicating, the little noises she's making serving to heighten my desire. Her muscles are constantly shifting at my touch, and I want to keep moving downward, but I sense there will be time for that later tonight, or some other night. For this first time, I need to see her face and keep that connection. Slowly, I lift my head and ease closer, hovering over her, as I slide my leg between hers, while I lower myself and find her mouth with mine, engaging her in a dance of lips and tongues, teasing her, drawing her up with me, until I'm lost in her.
Ever so slowly, I pull back, just enough to meet her gaze, our breath mingling in the space between us. I slide my hand down her side, and over her hip, then run it up and down her thigh, before I nudge her legs further apart. Our eyes lock, as I reach my goal, cupping her at first, then lightly stroking her, before I deepen my touch. Her eyes flutter closed and she gasps in pleasure, her hands flying up to rest against my back. She doesn't clutch at me, but I feel her fingers, trailing against my skin and occasionally her hands press firmly against my back, lightly massaging.
I pause for the briefest second, catching my own breath. She's so wet, I wonder for a moment if she can actually feel me, and I play against her, stroking her lightly. She gasps again, arching into me, and I realize I have nothing to worry about. Then I am lost all over again, falling into a place I never want to leave, touching her, stroking her, and watching her face, savoring her pleasure, and hoping she's mentally with me. "Hey, you okay?" I duck my head and kiss her. "Open your eyes, sweetheart." Slowly, those beautiful eyes open halfway, enough for me to see that there is only pleasure there, and this time she does clutch at me, her breathing coming in short, warm pants.
I want to slip inside her, but I refrain. I want no memories of Perdicus to creep in and rob her of even one moment of what we're sharing. It's too precious. She's too precious. Suddenly, my heart fills to overflowing, and I slide my free arm under her, supporting her and pulling her as close as I can, brushing my body against her, savoring the contact. I can tell she's close, her hands clasping and unclasping at my back, "It's okay, I'm here with you." I nip at her neck, and her shoulder, then find her lips, swallowing a few whimpers as I kiss her. "Let go, sweetheart. I'll catch you."
She tenses and stills, then her climax washes over her, her stomach rippling against me, her hips rolling in rhythm with my fingers. I continue to stroke her, slowly easing off, and I nuzzle her neck near her ear, making nonsense noises, hearing her cry out as I bring her up one more time, and then take her slowly back down.
I gather her into my arms, kissing her forehead, and her nose, and then her lips, and then I simply hug her, feeling her plaster herself against me. She's still breathing hard, and so am I, and I can feel her heart, pounding against my side. I reach over and press my hand against her ribcage, feeling it. "Shhhhhh." I kiss her head again, and stroke her hair, and her back, and feel her breathing gradually slow. "I gotcha."
She sighs in utter contentment and nudges my breasts with her face, rubbing her cheek against my chest. "You okay?" I pat a cute butt cheek, and trail my hand lower, stroking a firm thigh that she's tossed across my legs.
"Yeah," she gasps, still out of breath. "That . . . " She kisses me first at the base of my throat, and then on the upper curve of each breast. "That was better than I ever dreamed it could be." I chuckle and pull her on top of me, settling her against me and bouncing her up and down a little bit. She grins and ducks her head, and it's my turn to gasp, as she kisses her way from my collar bone to an aching nipple.
"Gabrielle . . . you . . ." I trail off. I hadn't even considered she'd reciprocate, figuring she'd be worn out, but her touch has invaded my dreams for so long, that I decide to just go with this. My own desire is so great at this point, it won't take much to send me over the edge. Her mouth is warm and wet, and my entire body pulses in anticipation, in time with the suckling at my breast.
"I've wanted to do this for so long," she murmurs. Her hands are wandering everywhere, stroking my side, running along the curve of my hip, teasing my breasts, and then she slides it between my legs, and I immediately shift, giving her as much access as she needs. I determine to keep my eyes open, sharing this with her, and I gasp quietly as I feel her touching me, her motions delicate and firm, all at the same time. Gods, she knows exactly what to do, and I wrap my arms around her, pulling her close, needing to feel her body against mine while she loves me.
Her eyes are full of wonder, and love, and just a hint of a question. "Is this . . . ?"
"Just right," I cut her off. She smiles, almost shyly, and continues her motions, her eyes roaming over me, making me ache for her all the more. I can hold back no longer, and too soon, I'm shaking in her arms, powerful wave after powerful wave rolling through my body. The force of it is shocking, and I groan, just holding onto her until they dissipate.
As soon as a few brain cells return from the stratosphere, I take her into my arms once again and kiss her slowly, and passionately, rubbing noses with her and kissing each of her eyelids closed, until finally, I just hold her, our sated, sweat-slicked bodies molded together. I look down at her face, and she's smiling, her features a study in utter peace. "Thank you," I whisper into her ear, and a final shiver works its way through her body. I've been thoroughly loved, I realize, for the first time in my life.
As for Gabrielle, that smile is still there. I wasn't sure what to expect from her. Tears perhaps, but there are none, and I'm glad. She's happy and at peace, and my own heart soars, knowing that for once, I'm the one that took her to that place. "Xe . . . " she sighs dreamily. "So nice," she whispers. "Wish I could just . . ."
"Shhhhh." I kiss her head, and rub her back. "I understand. Sleep, sweetheart. It's okay."
"Okay," she parrots me. I feel a feather-light kiss to my shoulder, and then I feel her relax against me completely, one hand curled at my waist, just above my hip, and that leg tossed across mine again.
I want to fight sleep, but I know Morpheus is going to win
that battle. For as long as I can, I
savor the sensation of holding her, lying naked here together beneath the furs
I've pulled over us. It's the greatest
peace I've ever known, and as I drift off, I'm sure that somewhere on
Next in the BTL series, The Gift (post "A Solstice Carol")