Disclaimers: I don’t own
the characters, I just love writing about them. If you like to read stories in
which women express their love for each other physically, this would be right up
your alley. If not... Oh and there’s some violence, but nothing special.
Description: As you know, the Xenaverse began many years ago in the TV-movie “Hercules and the Amazon Women.” At the end of the movie, Hercules convinced Zeus to turn back time so those who had died might live on, thus creating the alternate time line we know as the Xenaverse. However, in the original world, Iolaus was dead, and Xena never met Hercules. She did, of course, meet Gabrielle, and this is how it happened.
Thanks: To the Bardic Circle.
Didja Like It?: MiladyCo@aol.com
On The Way To Corinth
copyright August 2001
by Julia Noel Goldman
aka Xena’s Little Bitch
My army moves south quickly. This will be over soon, then on to the next conquest. I’ve had enough of trying to gain the world by accessing extraordinary powers. This time I’m gonna do it just like anybody else would: hard work. Big army, plus no partners and lots of blood, equals me on my way to ruling the world. Thanks for the focus, Ares, but now I’m on my own.
Argo’s back beneath me is solid and warm; she is the only person I trust, and the irony of that is not lost on me. It’s a sunny afternoon, the warmth feels so nice on my skin it almost makes me feel good, like I’m a real person. For a moment my anger calms a bit. In the distance I see a strangely shaped grouping of people moving along slowly. Slave traders! An unexpected blessing is any unanticipated conflict. We attack, laughing at our own ruthlessness. As my sword slices through flesh, I feel strong and powerful, even though I know that fighting foot soldiers from horseback is like spearing fish in a barrel. It still feels good to use my muscles like this, to anticipate the enemy’s next three moves and watch them play out. I was born to fight.
In moments the girls are free. But there’s this one girl. Not even twenty, with long red-gold hair. She stands in the middle of the road, her head cocked to the side, looking at me oddly. I have to admit she is exactly my type. Naive yet somehow savvy. I dismount and walk over to her.
“Xena,” I say, and nod at her.
“Of course you are,” she says, smiling warmly, her voice deep and hoarse. Now that I’m closer to her I can see she’s splattered with slaver’s blood.
“Why do you say that?”
“Just look at you! Tall, beautiful female warrior, dressed in black; who else would you be?”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Gabrielle,” she says, suddenly shy, “I tell stories and I... I didn’t think it was right to just leave without saying thank you.”
“I didn’t do it for you. I just like to fight,” I say, feeling compelled to add, “but I don’t think anyone should be enslaved.”
“How is that different from what you do?” she asks me. I move so I am standing an inch away from her. She stares into my chest and does not back down. When was the last time that happened?
“I do not keep slaves.”
“You enslave entire provinces to your will.”
“That’s not slavery,” I explain angrily.
“It’s not that different,” she says quietly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“To..?” I say, stepping back from her so I can see her better, this child-woman who would dare presume that she’s effected me emotionally. She meets my gaze and I just... I have such a terrible track record with women. Men are easy. But women, gods, they always end up killing me in the end. And this one would be just the same, if I let her do it. I hate women. So deceptively gentle. Men are simple and women are...
I’m staring at the girl and it’s one of my soldiers speaking, suggesting we move on. I mount my horse and we head out. I don’t look back.
I warn my soldiers to stay away, for I am in one of my moods. I go into my tent and break things. Pots and mugs, anything I can find to smash. I really do hate every single person on the earth. They are all like pins sticking into my skin. They are like poison. Their simple lives and their happy smiles exclude me, mock me. And the mean ones, the ones who are easily and needlessly cruel, the ones like me, well, I hate them too. I hate everyone and everything. There is nothing anywhere for me. I wish I had died at Amphipolis.
Today I wake up and I am in just as dark a mood. Why is my life what it is? I dress, arm myself, and walk out into the glaringly bright day. My men are everywhere, and that bastard Darphus walks up to me. He is the last person I’d choose as a leader, but he’s all that’s left, and I’ve about had it with him. Even if I didn’t think he was about to betray me, I’d be sending him packing soon enough. It must have rained overnight; water drips from trees, along robust, bright green leaves.
“Xena!” he calls out, and all the men turn to watch. It’s a set up. I can’t wait, but I’ll let it play out for full entertainment value.
I turn to look at him. “Darphus,” I spit out.
“I challenge you to a battle to the death, for leadership of this army.” He’s got a swagger today that I just want to smash with a hammer.
I laugh. I can’t help it. I address my soldiers,
“You all agree he is the best of you, the one fit to lead, more fit perhaps than I?” I pause as if I am expecting a response. “Then please, I want you to all watch carefully to see how easily I defeat him.”
The men are silent; perhaps they are already realizing what a mistake it was to back someone who was stupid enough to challenge me. How dare they? It makes me want to kill them, but that would entirely defeat my purpose in being here. Darphus makes like a warrior, twirling his sword around, so of course I have to pretend to yawn, covering my mouth with my left hand. I smile and he comes at me. I hate to waste a potentially interesting fight, but I must make my point, so with a single slice of my sword, I slit Darphus’ throat. His body falls to the ground.
I look at my men dispassionately. “I am disappointed in you. That you could forget for even a moment that I could take you all on at once and not even break a sweat truly makes me wonder at your worth even as soldiers.”
The sun is blinding. I am still half asleep. I walk away from them, into the woods. They’ll be there when I get back; they wouldn’t dare desert. Gods what an idiot I was to trust anyone with any power at all. Well, that’s all over now, thank the gods. Won’t have to see his disgusting face again. I wander through the woods blindly. Every day is a horrible struggle and it’s not enough anymore. There are gaps I used to fill with something, not sure what, but spaces are now empty that just can’t be filled with blood.
I find myself in a small town, and I head to the tavern. It’s nice and dark and I find a comfortable table in the back. I order ale, and lots of it. Today is a good day to drink, so I do. I didn’t touch liquor for a year after Higuchi. Couldn’t afford to be that vulnerable, no matter how bad it hurt. But now, now I don’t really care. Rule the world, die in a puddle of my own vomit; it’s all the same to me in the end. Nothing is important now the way it was to do what Akemi asked. I failed her, like I failed everyone else I cared about. I’m not supposed to think about what happened with Akemi. It’s like a switch has been turned off in my head and now things I had under control aren’t anymore. Gods.
I find myself carving the outline of a woman’s body into the surface of the table with my knife. I rub ale into it as I carve, and I remember the girl from yesterday, was it yesterday? She was so lovely, was she worth trying to find? For what, now, really? I don’t want to hurt women anymore, and more than that, I don’t want to be hurt by them. That’s what always happens, no getting around it; even if we were only together for a night, one of us would end up getting hurt. And at this point in my life, chances are it would be her. My heart is not connected to my body the way it used to be. I’m not sure it’s connected to anything anymore. I can’t believe I’m even thinking about this. I should stop drinking, and yet I feel drawn to this, this feeling of... I don’t know. Not murderous rage, anyway.
My eyes wander past my collection of empty ale mugs and thoughtlessly stare at women as they walk past. I find myself staring at one’s backside and imagining it’s Gabrielle, the red headed girl. I press myself up against her back and she moans with pleasure. I shake my head to clear it and pull my eyes back to my carving. Though my heart may be connected to nothing, the ale connects me to my lust; I knew there was another reason I avoided liquor. Gods. I could have any of these women if I wanted. I am the consummate seductress. In fact, I’ve never failed to bed anyone whom I desired. It’s easy, just like war: find the weaknesses and exploit them.
But this girl. In one short conversation, she told me she thought I was beautiful and that I was bad. Who cares? It’s a shame I don’t have sex with men anymore. That never hurt, somehow. It was way too easy. I wonder where Gabrielle lives? I hate myself. I know I’m going to go after her and end up hurting her and it makes me want to kill something. I could pick a fight easy. I wouldn’t need an excuse on a hot day like this one. But her words keep ringing in my head, “You enslave entire provinces to your will.” I don’t like to think of myself like that. But she’s right, of course she’s right. Somehow women always know, like Lao Ma knew, like Akemi knew. Why don’t I have that kind of knowledge? About myself, about the world? It’s like I live in this delusionary nightmare that for moments at a time I can see out of, and then I am asleep again, lost in it, this thing I have become, this way of life that’s killing me and everyone who crosses my path.
When I was little, the first thing I wanted to be was a healer. I loved taking care of my brothers when they were ill, I even took care of the sick plants in the garden. When I got a little older, it was horses. I wanted to raise them and train them, but really I just wanted to ride. And then there was the first time I held a sword in my hand. It made me feel powerful, and when I learned to fight with it, well, I realized what I could be. Even at fifteen I knew that in the real world, what it all came down to was that the stronger person had the last word. No one wanted to die and if you held that power you owned everyone. It was intoxicating, because it didn’t take me long to realize how good I was and by the time I was sixteen, I was the best fighter in Amphipolis. It was scary and exciting to have that kind of power.
The tavern has become crowded and I’m on my twenty-first mug of ale. A band warms up on the stage, people seem to be in unusually high spirits. I don’t want to stand out during this celebration, and I’m not ready to go up and face my nightmares yet, so I take off my armor and my weapons, wrap them in my cloak, and lay the bundle on the bench next to me. A drunk woman in a brown shirt and dirty leather pants. No one special, no one to bother noticing.
There are so many little villages on my way to Corinth, I don’t know where to start. Should I flip a coin? It all seems too easy, there could be a catch, so I must be cautious, use every advantage I have, from the terrain to the element of surprise. On the other hand, it might be best to take to the water sooner rather than later. Move south through Poteidaia, then sail down and around to the Gulf of Corinth. The image of rolling waves on a stormy day fades from my mind and I find I’m staring at a woman’s backside. She is dancing in someone’s arms, slowly, and she has such perfect command of her hips. The dress is tight, light blue cotton with a pattern of tiny flowers or something on it, and her backside is perfectly shaped, amazingly firm-looking. I can feel my hands cupping it as I pull her against me. My eyes travel up her body, her curvy hips, her small waist, and I notice she has red hair, up in a bun with more than a few strands slipping out of it. It’s just the same color as Gabrielle’s. Suddenly the man dips her and I feel a tremor run through me because it actually is Gabrielle. She’s flushed and laughing; she looks beautiful. Perhaps this is a celebration of the fact that many of these people just escaped a life of slavery. As I look around, I realize I do recognize some of them vaguely from the other day.
With no awareness of it, I find I have walked onto the dance floor and tapped Gabrielle’s dancing partner on the shoulder. They both turn and look at me, and her smile of pleasure is so honest it almost knocks me down. I put out my hand to her and she takes it, her partner bows and leaves the floor.
“May I have this dance?” I ask her, waiting to put my hand on her hip.
“You may,” she answers, blushing, a more flirtatious smile flitting over her lips. The music begins again and I guide us through the slow dance, moving in a circle with the rest of the dancers. I can tell from the way people are glancing at us that two women dancing together is an unusual thing to see in this town, and some of them whisper, because they know who I am. Yet Gabrielle’s body is relaxed in my arms, as if the opinion of others matters nothing to her.
“It’s a surprise to see you here,” she begins.
“Well, this is where I live.” She smiles at me. Her left hand holds my shoulder firmly. I hold her right hand gently in my left, delicate like... like... On a scale of one to ten, ten being the drunkest, I am only six at most, so I don’t understand why my skin feels like it’s burning.
“Then I guess you’re just where you should be.”
“I don’t think so.”
“No? Where do you belong?”
“I don’t know yet. Just not here.”
“So what’s the celebration about?” I ask, changing the subject because I think I know exactly how she feels.
“Actually, it’s to thank you, in a way. For saving us, whether you did for us or not. And by the way, it wouldn’t be so terrible to do something for someone else, you know.”
I snort in response. We’re quiet for a few moments, just gliding along the floor. Without thought I hear myself ask, “Why are you dancing with me if you disapprove of me so?”
She looks at me seriously, her cheeks flushing slightly. “Because I can’t believe something so beautiful could be entirely evil.”
Everything seems to stop for a moment and I want to hurt her for saying that, but I don’t. I continue dancing. Though I’m sure she can feel the difference in my touch, she doesn’t flinch.
“There are flowers, and fish, that I have seen in my travels,” I say icily, “painted in rainbows you couldn’t imagine, yet their touch is death. Full to the brim with poison.”
“Yet their beauty is worth something still, if it moves the soul.” So lovely and so naive is this Gabrielle. It makes me want to...
Suddenly my anger rises to the top and I pull her off the dance floor. She stumbles along after me until we find ourselves in a dim hallway near the tavern’s kitchen. She is breathless and I slam her against the wall as gently as I can slam. I stand an inch away from her, and she meets my gaze boldly, though I can feel her body tremble. I’m shaking too, and I clench my fists in an effort to bring myself under control.
“I am not evil,” I whisper angrily, begging her to understand, to make it true.
Gabrielle reaches up and brushes her fingers along my cheek. Her eyes hold something I can’t quite identify, but might actually be compassion.
“I know,” she whispers. I feel light-headed, as if her belief somehow finally proves it to me; I am not evil. I reach forward and pull her into my arms; her softness is indescribable. Our lips meet tentatively at first, gently, as if we’re both afraid of scaring the other off. Then her strong, warm hands climb slowly up my torso and entangle themselves in my hair, pulling me into a deeper kiss, making my whole body shiver. It feels so good, the soft cotton of her dress under my hands, her quiet sighs of pleasure. How can I be part of such tenderness? I find that I am slowly losing my ability to stand and I pull away from her. The way she looks in this moment touches a part of me that I do not want to feel. Yes, it is compassion, and more.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. I turn and run. I run through the back of the tavern, through the town, and deep into the woods, far away from my campgrounds. I push all thought out of my head and when I reach the lake I don’t stop, I run into it and dive deep, skimming along the sandy bottom. I swim for hours, then stagger back to camp to collapse, soaking wet, on my bedroll, not a thought in my head.
In the morning I am badly hung over. My muscles ache but I don’t care why, I’ve blocked out the night before, except for that it left me angry. My soldiers look busy this morning, sparring with concentration, pretending to be real warriors. How amusing. I decide to take my anger out on them, fighting one after another, until I’ve defeated a hundred of my own men. And before breakfast!
Then there’s food, and then the maps. Like others can lose themselves in a story, I can in a map. Everything’s there. I thank Ares again for teaching me to focus, and I lose myself in this routine for a few days. Sparring, planning, running to exhaustion. Corinth. This time I won’t give up. And suddenly the memories of my first siege of Corinth come flooding into my mind with such clarity. First, the incredibly glorious feeling of winning, how powerful I was then, over my army, over Borias, over the world. Second was my anger, yet the pregnancy made me feel things I didn’t usually feel; I couldn’t believe it when Borias left me. I didn’t think he had it in him. And the baby was so beautiful, my baby. I wanted the things Alti promised but the pain was the third thing, and it was too much. I was on the verge of my greatest victory, but I backed down after Borias died. I gave it all up, the power, the baby, and I retreated inside myself again, for a long time.
Why am I thinking like this? I should be focused on the task at hand, and yet we are still camped just outside Poteidaia. We are not marching towards Corinth at all. Suddenly I fear that this is one of those turning points, one of those moments in life where you have to make a choice. I can remember some of mine so well, and just the quickest whiffs of the memories are torture. No! I refuse to feel like this! I walk through the woods unseeing, trying to push from my mind the images of all the people I’ve loved and disappointed, all my terrible choices, my endless failures.
I find myself in front of an old tree stump and I draw my sword. With all my strength I slam my blade into its flesh again and again, putting all my anger into my blows. I continue until I am sweating, until there’s nothing in front of me but wood chips. I stand there panting and re-sheath my sword. What the Hades am I gonna do with myself? Talk about pathetic.
Suddenly I hear music on the breeze. I can’t tell what it is but I follow the sound. As I get closer I realize it’s a flute, and the beautiful, lilting music pulls me along, entices me, promises me something wonderful. It lulls me into mindlessness, and as that’s what I’ve been seeking, I give up my will to it. The melody is simple and finally it pulls me into a clearing. On a rock in the middle of the clearing sits the musician, and when the moon comes out from behind a cloud, I see that it is Gabrielle.
“Xena! I was just thinking about you,” she says, grinning and practically clapping her hands, as if she is not surprised to see me here in the woods in the middle of the night. Why is it that I’m not surprised to see her either?
“What were you thinking?” I ask, my voice raspy with desire just from looking at her. Tonight she wears a long dress in a dark color, I can’t tell which one in the lack of light. It laces up the front and I can’t help but stare as I walk slowly towards her. She looks so young, so beautiful. I can still hear the simple, romantic tune in my head, though she put the flute down moments ago.
“I was thinking about your lips, and about your hands,” she says, her voice deep and quiet, “I never felt anything like... to be honest I don’t think I’ve thought of anything but you since... then.”
I blush and admit I have tried not to think about her lips, and her hands.
“Why?” she asks. Such a simple question.
The only way to explain is to show her, so I move closer to the rock on which she sits, and I stand between her parted legs. My breathing quickens as her thighs tighten around mine. I touch her lips with my fingers and she gasps.
“Don’t you feel the magic when we touch, Xena?” she whispers, “It’s like I always imagined it could be.”
“I don’t want magic,” I whisper, “I don’t want to feel like this.”
“What do you want?”
“I don’t know.”
Gabrielle leans in closer. Her hair smells like rosemary. I close my eyes and inhale. I rest my hands on her thighs, my palms burning from her skin, even through her skirt. She whispers into my ear, “Yes, you do. Tell me one thing you want. Come on, Xena. Give.”
I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for hours. It’s only a girl, Xena. Just kiss her. “I want to kiss you,” I whisper, “No past, no present, no future, just this.” I cup her face with my hands and I kiss her. She responds tenderly, calming me, as if she knows the war that rages in me. I let myself relax into it, let the sensations claim me, make me their slave. There are so many parts of her that I want to kiss but my mouth won’t leave her lips.
After a few minutes she pulls out of the kiss and rests her head on my shoulder. I stroke her hair and enjoy the feeling of her arms around my waist. It’s like she brings out a part of me I haven’t seen for years, that I didn’t even think was still there.
“Will we see each other again, after tonight?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I answer, feeling my hands tighten their grip on her back.
“I hope we do,” she whispers.
I don’t know what to say, so I lift her chin with my fingers and kiss her again. It’s just that her lips feel so nice against mine. I lose myself in it, no idea how long she’s been in my arms. It’s probably late, so I pull my mouth away from hers, almost losing my balance for a moment.
“I’ll walk you home,” I say. Gabrielle stares at me; she seems surprised that I’m choosing to stop. So am I, really. I help her down from the rock. She leans against me a moment to get her bearings, and my arms just seem to wrap around her. I hear her inhaling my scent and it reminds me that we don’t have to stop, that I don’t want to stop. The grass looks soft and her body feels so right in my arms. For reasons I don’t understand, I take her hand and we begin to walk.
As we travel slowly through the dark forest toward her home, she tells me about how she wants to be a traveling bard. She wants to write stories that change people’s lives.
“What kind of stories do that?” I ask.
“Well-told stories,” she says thoughtfully, “I think if you tell it right, capture people’s attention and draw them into your world, you can get people to see things from your point of view.”
“Really?” I say skeptically.
“Yeah. And sometimes, you don’t even have to tell stories.” Gabrielle grins up at me and squeezes my hand.
“How old are you?” I ask suspiciously.
“Yes, really. I don’t lie,” she says, her voice deepening again.
“What kind of stories do you usually tell?”
“Adventure stories, about heroes. That’s what people like to hear mostly. And love stories,” she pauses, and I imagine she’s blushing but I can’t tell in this light, “Lots of people are inspired by tales of romance and adventure, you know. Things they worry might never happen to them.”
“Do you worry about that?” Why am I asking her?
“Sometimes. But then I figure, I’m still relatively young. Anything could happen.”
“You’re not young to be unmarried.”
“True, but I don’t hope to marry.”
“Well, I thought it would be obvious to you of all people, but, I like kissing girls.”
“You really do have a unique way of putting things,” I say.
“Thank you, Xena.” And she gives me the big grin again. Her secret weapon.
When we get to the edge of town, she turns towards me and says,
“You better come back. I want... I want to see you again, Xena.”
I lean down and kiss her once more. Our lips know each other now, already they feel at home. I pull away and squeeze her hand before walking slowly back into the woods.
I spend the next week putting my army through the most strenuous drills they’ve ever experienced. We have a long sea voyage ahead of us, so I figure it’s best to do a lot of training beforehand. I teach them all kinds of tricks of warfare; how to use distraction in a fight, how to turn people’s emotions into weapons against them. Whatever it takes to give a smaller army the advantage. My free time I spend in my tent, looking over maps and trying to think of ways to gain control over the world without hurting non-combatants. I know my army wonders what’s really going on, why we haven’t taken Poteidaia or any of the surrounding villages. But I can’t take Gabrielle’s village, hurt the people she cares about. And the scary thing is I can’t really picture taking the chance of hurting other innocent villagers either.
Really I stay away from my men because I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know how to behave. I just keep quiet, a blank look on my face, and that seems to work, but it won’t for long. Tonight the camp is celebrating the successful hunt of a huge wild boar, and the completion of their training in the use of the quarterstaff. I retired for the night hours ago, and have been sitting in my tent reading and drinking port.
“Commander!” I hear from outside the tent.
Two of my soldiers enter the tent, pulling Gabrielle behind them. Just in time, I remember to keep my face blank. But the way she looks, out of breath and flushed, breasts heaving from her constant attempts to free herself of the soldier’s hands, makes it difficult to maintain my control.
“She was found sneaking around the edge of the camp,” explains one of the men, “We thought it best to bring her here directly.”
“Good. Now, leave us.”
She stops struggling and they leave.
“What did you think you were doing?” I ask her coldly.
“I, uh, it had been a week and I hadn’t heard from you...” her words trail off. She looks as if she thinks maybe she’s made a mistake, and maybe she has. Maybe I have, or maybe I’m about to. I know I will, soon enough, one way or another. I always do.
“You could have gotten... hurt,” I mutter.
“I wasn’t really thinking,” she says. Gabrielle looks around the tent, her eyes follow me as I walk to a chest and pour her a goblet of port. The tent walls are brown, and the ceiling is high. A few standing candelabras keep the place light enough. Other than the chest and a few trunks, and my map table, it’s mostly pillows and Oriental rugs. It’s the tent of a successful warlord, no doubt about that, and I can see it placing me in a new context for her. I walk over to her where she’s absentmindedly caressing a gold cup that pokes out of a chest full of treasure and I hand her the goblet. I try not to look at her too closely.
“You knew who I was,” I say.
“Yes,” she says, taking a sip of the port and shivering from the potency. “A powerful warlord.”
We stand a foot away from each other, staring into our glasses, at the ground, into the fire. The sounds of the drunken celebration outside reach new heights.
“But you thought, ‘Maybe...’” I say.
“Yeah. I thought maybe.” I feel her grinning at me and I look up at her, unable to control my face as a smile spreads over it. Her presence warms me and it’s hard not to move closer to her, yet at the same time my surroundings remind me of who I’m supposed to be. I find myself slowly circling her and she turns in place, keeping eye contact.
“You know you can’t leave now,” I say, “you’ve been caught sneaking around my camp. You’re lucky my soldiers didn’t keep you.”
“Very,” she says, taking another sip of port. I imagine she will get dizzy soon, with the drinking and the turning in circles. “Why are you still here?”
“What?” I stop short, almost spilling my drink.
“You. Here. Still. Why?”
“Tactical decision.” I imagine the guards outside my tent wonder why they don’t hear the tell-tale sounds of a young girl being ravished.
“Who are you fighting?” she asks me, draining her glass. She wants to be drunk. So do I, so I pour another round.
“You know, you’ve got everyone around here afraid,” she tells me suddenly, “They don’t know why your army has been camped out here all this time, why you’re not attacking anyone, why you’re not moving on. People are scared to go to the river, or travel the local trade routes. They don’t know what might happen.”
“I didn’t mean...” I begin. I really haven’t been thinking. Trying not to think will do that. It used to feel good to know that people feared me, but I didn’t mean for... I feel my eyebrows pull together into a scowl.
“See, I, I have this idea,” she says, her voice suddenly faltering, “about why you’re hanging around and I thought maybe if... maybe if I was right, maybe I could help, make things better...” She looks back into her wine goblet. I step forward. My movement surprises her and she looks up. “I thought maybe you were still here because of me. That maybe you can’t stop thinking about me. Maybe if I just showed up...” Her voice trails off as she stares at me. I don’t know what my expression is like, but it disturbs her. She blushes and looks down again, then whispers “I didn’t mean... I meant...”
“I don’t think of you at all,” I say. It’s hard to say it but I do. It’s not really a lie.
Gabrielle stares at me, her head cocked to the side like the first time she looked at me. I’ve hurt her; I see it in her eyes before she covers it. I knew that would hurt her and I said it anyway. I step towards her and she takes a step back and walks over to my map table. She puts her goblet down on it and stands there, holding the edge. The sound of my men singing says their night will soon be over. Something in my chest hurts terribly and forces me to follow her across the tent.
I stand behind her, only an inch from her back, eyes closed, smelling her hair. I can feel her shaking. I don’t know if she’s crying, or if she’s just afraid I’m going to do what any warlord would do in this situation. But I’m Xena, warrior princess, so I put my lips against her ear and I whisper,
“Thinking about you scares me. It confuses me and makes me forget who I am.”
She steps back into my arms and I close them around her, pulling her close. She takes my right hand and places it over her heart, her hand over mine. Such an intimate gesture. I can do nothing but stand there, holding her, my eyes closed. I have never felt so comforted just from holding someone.
“Why are you doing this?” I whisper.
“Same reason as you,” she says, turning in my arms until we’re face to face.
“Because you’re bent on self-destruction?”
She laughs. “No,” and then she whispers, “because my heart tells me I must.”
“See, just like I said.” Her heart? She is so naive. The pain in my chest gets worse. “You don’t belong with a warlord. Not even for a night.”
“You’re right,” she whispers, standing on tip-toe to capture my mouth. Her lips are so soft, and her face; I can’t help but rub my cheek against hers between kisses. I brush her hair back from her neck and I kiss the skin behind her ear. Gabrielle’s sighs turn into moans as I gently suck her neck. She’s wearing a blue peasant shirt with a plunging neckline, and my lips move lower slowly, until I’m kissing the smooth skin of the tops of her breasts. Her fingers are tangled in my messy hair, and the sounds she makes continue to arouse me like the most intimate of caresses, so much so I realize I can barely stand.
We sink slowly to our knees, kissing each other hungrily. Her passionate confidence excites me. I feel her tugging at my pants, pulling my shirt free and sliding her hands along my naked back. Her touch makes me tremble, and even as I feel it I don’t believe it. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Her hands continue to caress my skin, moving smoothly along my sides to my stomach, inevitably reaching my breasts. I gasp and pull out of the kiss, then stare at her, panting, as she gently pinches my nipples. She looks so sexy, so recklessly amorous, not like a village girl at all.
“Gabrielle,” I hiss.
“Xena,” she whispers, looking into my eyes and slowing the movement of her hands on my breasts.
“You wanna keep going, right?” I can barely hold my eyes open I’m so aroused. There’s a flood between my legs and images of how we must look together flash in my mind, exciting me further.
“Oh yeah,” she whispers, her voice even deeper than usual, lowering her head and brushing my throat with her lips.
“Good,” I moan, my hands moving under her skirt and slowly climbing up her legs. I massage the backs of her thighs and she groans, sucking the flesh of my neck into her mouth. My hands reach her bottom and slip under her britches, squeezing gently. The skin of her backside is so smooth I am almost moved to tears by it, and so hot that I find it hard to control myself. Her hands wander into my hair again and pull me into yet another intoxicating kiss. I tug her britches down until they are around her knees, then pull her body tightly against mine, my hands squeezing her bottom hard. I feel her press herself against me; it’s as if her passion matches mine exactly, and yet every time she moans I feel my pleasure heighten.
My fingers gently slip between her cheeks, and I whimper at the warmth and the damp softness. She moans my name again, sucking harder on my tongue. My touch is so delicate and yet it arouses her so. I hear the cloth of her britches rip as she moves her knees further apart, inviting me in. My hands move lower and caress her inner thighs, smooth and hard, up and down, never quite reaching the place she wants me to touch. Her wetness drips slowly down her thighs onto my hands and I realize I’ve never reveled in another’s responses like this before. I let my hands move closer and closer, gently massaging the skin nearest her pubic area, not giving in to the pressure from her body to go faster, to make her come now. My left hand moves back to her bottom, gently squeezing her lovely flesh, and my right hand inches along her damp, sensitive skin, sliding through the wet heat into her pubic hair.
“Unh, Xena,” she groans into my mouth as I stroke her from behind, slowly, and she shifts her pelvis back so my fingers are touching her where she wants them to. I deepen the kiss, my tongue pressing strongly against hers, not even sure where my own mouth ends and hers begins. My fingers move in a lazy circle in her wetness, hot and glorious, liquid fire. Her hands grip my shoulders for support and her breathing becomes labored. She pulls out of the kiss and rests her forehead against my shoulder. Somehow I continue to stroke her slowly, perhaps because it feels so good to touch her like this. I want it to go on forever but I know she can only hold back so long.
Gabrielle moves herself back and forth against my hand in an increasingly more frenzied cadence, so I follow her desire, easily and quickly taking her to the ultimate point of pleasure. She moans my name when she comes, and rests her face against my neck, panting. We kneel there in silence for a moment, but only a moment before I feel her lips moving on my neck, her hands unlacing my leather pants and pulling them down to my knees. I let my head fall back and give myself over to her without thought. I hear her throaty laugh and I know it’s because I’m not wearing anything under my pants. Her hand slides between my legs and holds me gently. I whisper her name. She continues to cup my most sensitive area, gently squeezing, and I gasp as everything presses together, slippery and exquisitely wet. The pressure of her palm moving in slow circles is almost too much, and I barely notice as she pushes me back onto the floor.
“Gabrielle,” I moan again, and this time it’s my hands that tangle in her hair as she settles between my thighs, showering them with the gentlest of kisses. She inhales my scent and then suddenly her tongue enters between my lips, and my hips rise from the floor, taking her with them. She licks me slowly, from bottom to top and back again, and it takes all my strength to keep myself still. The feeling of her tongue is luscious, and her hands slide under my bottom, squeezing it with the same perfect rhythm. It takes only moments of this attention to send me past the point of endurance, and I scream, pulling her face deep inside me as I climax. I let her go and she climbs up my body until her face is level with mine. She kisses my lips and then falls down upon me. I wrap my arms around her and hold her close, listening to her breathing calm.
“Xena, that was amazing,” she whispers, her voice throaty, tinged with wonder.
“Come with me to Corinth,” I hear myself say.
“I can’t,” she answers sadly, pressing her face into my neck.
“You said it yourself. I don’t belong with a warlord.”
“What if I was Queen of Corinth?”
She giggles. “I don’t think a change in title would help.”
“I know.” I kiss her head and we lie there a while longer. It’s dawn and I realize I should take her home before my men wake up. She’s half asleep and I rouse her with kisses, we smile at each other sadly as we rearrange our clothing. How can this be the end if I didn’t even get to see her naked?
We wander outside; the camp is silent and the morning fog is thick. I whistle quietly for Argo and she wanders up, half asleep herself. I quickly attach her saddle and bridle, then I mount, pulling Gabrielle up behind me. She scoots up against my back and wraps her arms around me without hesitation, like it’s just where she belongs. Except I’m a warlord. But I’m not evil so I guess that’s something to hold on to. I let Argo walk along slowly through the forest towards Poteidaia so Gabrielle and I can enjoy holding each other as long as possible.
Eventually we find ourselves riding up to Gabrielle’s house. We dismount and stand there, looking at each other in the gray morning. I find myself holding my chest, wishing I could stop it from hurting so much.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
“My chest hurts.”
“Xena, that’s your heart,” she says, like I’m a moron, “This is the thing I want you to think about, okay? Do you really need to conquer the world, or could you maybe try to help save it? Promise me you’ll think about it?”
“I promise,” I say. I grab her shoulders and pull her into a passionate kiss. Then I let her go and she enters her home. I slap Argo on the butt so she runs off, then I slink around the corner of the house to listen at the window. I can hear them immediately, Gabrielle and her family, and I press my back against the wall, staying in the shadows.
“...out all night by yourself?” Gabrielle’s mother (I assume) asks.
“I went to talk to Xena, to see if I could figure out what’s going on. I don’t think she’s going to attack us.”
“Why not?” asks her father, sounding like an angry man given an excuse to be angry.
“She just won’t,” says Gabrielle, sounding nervous.
“You let her take you, didn’t you?” he asks, his voice harsh.
“Herodotus!” scolds her mother loudly.
“You let that warlord bitch take you and now you’ve ruined yourself for a decent marriage!” says an outraged Herodotus.
“You did that for us, Gabby?” asks another female voice, a sister maybe?
“Well, no. I mean, yes, but it wasn’t like that and I did it for me,” Gabrielle says almost proudly, then more softly, “and for her.”
“Are you all right, Gabrielle?” asks her mother, concerned. What kind of monster do they think I am? Didn’t I just save their damned village, aren’t I not attacking it now?
“I’m fine, Mother,” says Gabrielle, sounding very tired.
“You don’t think she cares about you, do you?” asks her father, “You’re just a piece of--”
“Herodotus!” yells Gabrielle’s mother.
“You’re nothing to her,” he says savagely, “She’s a vicious warlord and you’re a silly village girl.”
“Thanks for your support as always, Father,” says Gabrielle softly.
“Come on Gab, let’s go to bed,” says her sister kindly.
And then silence for a moment. I don’t want to hear the parents discussion, so I sneak out of my hiding place and walk back into the forest. The sun is up now and I’m exhausted, having gotten no sleep at all the night before. I return to my camp to find my men still passed out all over the ground. The grass reeks of ale, piss, and vomit. Another successful party.
In my tent, Gabrielle’s goblet still sits on my map table, so I lift it to my lips and drink. My hair falls in my face and it smells like her. I pull my shirt off over my head and bury my face in her scent. I throw the shirt to the floor and finish the port. I pour more and I stare at my maps. By land, by sea, by land, by sea. Could go either way, really. Or not. Or really not.
You’re nothing to her, he said. She’s a vicious warlord and you’re a silly village girl. My first impulse had been to punch him in the mouth and say it wasn’t true. Wasn’t it true?
Though my bed is only pillows on the floor, the sheets are silk, from India, with piles of smaller silk and cotton pillows, and dark purple curtains that come down from the top of the tent and surround the bed when the gold cords that bind them are untied. Many of the pillows are gold and pink, like Gabrielle. I sit down on it to take off my boots, smiling to myself at the thought that we’d never even made it to the bed last night. Images of Gabrielle come into my mind and make me dizzy. She’d sounded so sad when she was talking to her parents. I finish the port and fall back on the bed, passing out.
I don’t believe that dreams have meaning, though as I wake up a few hours later I can still hear her voice in my mind; “You have to decide; do you want to conquer the world or try to save it?” How dare her father assume that I wouldn’t care about her? How could anyone not care about Gabrielle? Yeah, even me. I can hear the sounds of my men beginning to clean up the camp, as well as some of them retching in the bushes behind my tent. I feel rotten, yet my body remembers her hands on my skin quite vividly. I put the shirt I wore last night back on and sit on my bed drinking port.
Someone calls from outside, it’s one of my older, more experienced soldiers, a man called Meleager. I yell out that he may enter and he does. He looks like crap, bloodshot eyes, his armor covered in dirt and grease.
“Commander Xena. On behalf of the entire army I apologize for the state of the camp. It was a very late night.”
“I understand,” I tell him, and just stare at him. If I do something now when I’m not thinking clearly, something that just can’t be taken back, I won’t have to decide later. “Was there ever a moment in your life where you wish you’d taken a chance you didn’t take?” I ask him.
“A million times. I’ve come to terms but still, I have regrets.”
“Would you really do it differently, do you think?”
“What would you have done, Meleager?”
“Pardon me for it, but I would never have become a soldier, I would never have joined up with your army. If I had another chance, I’d look for, well, happiness instead of excitement. I was young at first, but I just kept making the same decision over and over again by never making a different one.”
He looks down, hoping he has not said too much.
“What about now? Is it too late?” I ask him, pouring myself yet more port.
“I don’t know. I’d have to see if I could make a different decision.”
“I will make it for you. This is over. No Corinth, no army, no me.” He looks at me wide-eyed. “Can I trust you?”
“Always, Commander,” he answers, clearly surprised by my question. Why do I believe him? Were there always people here I could trust?
“I’m leaving. I want to put you in charge of handing out payment to the army. Can I entrust that to you?”
He nods, speechless. He knows how much treasure there is. Enough that each man could retire if he so chose.
“Will you suggest to them that they give up fighting?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“It’s what I want. Dismissed.”
“I won’t let you down, Xena.”
I nod. He exits. Meleager has the respect of the men; I know he will be able to pull off a task that others would get killed trying to accomplish. That’s age and experience for you.
I pack. Some clothes, camping supplies, and as many gold coins as Argo can carry. I am taking my chance. If it’s a mistake, I can always build another army. I’ve done it before, it’s not hard when you have the right skills. I’m so drunk that tying the knots to secure my packs to Argo isn’t easy, but I do it. I mount her and look over the quiet campsite. I’ve lived like this for ten years, it’s strange to say goodbye. So I don’t. I turn Argo and we ride away into a future that makes very little sense to me.
I continue drinking on my dangerously fast ride to Poteidaia. I jump off the horse in front of Gabrielle’s house, taking a last swig of the port before tying it to a pack. Don’t think about it, Xena. Just act.
I knock on the door, feeling terrified and very foolish. The woman who must be Gabrielle’s mother opens the door and stares at me. Suddenly I feel like I’m sixteen and I don’t know what to say.
“Uh, hi. Is, uh, Gabrielle at home?” I ask, trying hard not to slur my words.
She is about to speak when Herodotus pushes her out of the way.
“You stay away from my daughter, you monster!”
I feel this anger boiling in me but that’s not my goal here. I am here for Gabrielle. I will not give in.
Still looking at her mother, I ask, “Is Gabrielle at home?”
The mother looks down. The sister peers around the edge of the door. She looks like she’s been crying.
“She ran away. Will you find her?”
“I’ll find her. Do you know which way she went?”
The girl shakes her head. The mother continues staring at the floor. I think she’s crying.
“Stay away from her,” says Herodotus strongly.
“I’ll find her,” I say to the women, and I turn and mount Argo, riding out of the village in a cloud of dust. I’m shaking and I can’t think. What if something has happened to her? I circle the village perimeter slowly, looking for signs of her passing through. She was probably upset so she wouldn’t have been careful. She might not have even known where she was going, except away. Broken branches! Here we go. I’m on her trail; she moved through the brush along the side of a road. I follow her footprints; every so often I find a tangle of red-gold hair in a branch along the way. I’m going to find her soon. I ride faster.
Late afternoon turns into early evening and I hope I catch up to her before full dark; it will be harder if she’s asleep and I can’t consider sleeping myself until she’s found. There’s no question it’s my fault if something happens to her, and I’ll do anything to prove her father wrong. I don’t know the last time I hated someone so much. The low-hanging branches cut my skin as I push by them savagely. I’m too drunk to care.
I’m still riding dangerously fast. Argo trips on a root and I fly over her head, cursing to myself as my arms flail, reaching for anything to stop my trajectory. I hit the ground with a terrible thud and crack, landing on my leg. It’s broken, I can tell immediately, and I’m glad I’m drunk. If only all one’s injuries could occur when one was drunk. I don’t even stop to consider the minor cuts I can already feel bleeding, as I pull myself up against a tree, standing on my right leg. It’s obvious Argo hurt her leg as well when she tripped. It’s a minor injury compared to mine, but riding her would exacerbate it, so I hop over to her and grab onto the right side of her saddle for support.
“We’ve got to find Gabrielle,” I remind her, “It’s getting dark.”
Argo and I stumble along near the path. Suddenly there’s a break in the bushes to my right, and the sound of running water. We’re moving slowly, but I think she’s close now. I can smell a fire; is it hers? I hop along next to Argo, still swearing from the pain; I’m disoriented at this point, and more than a little nauseous. Suddenly we come to the edge of a little river. The sun has gone down and the moon is just rising, so there’s enough light for me to see someone squatting in the damp sand, probably filling something with water. She’s okay. Yeah, I guess that pain is my heart after all. I can see her campsite behind her, piles of blankets and an impressive-looking fire.
“Gabrielle,” I whisper. She looks up me, a dark shadow at the edge of the woods.
“Xena?” she asks tentatively, standing and moving towards me before I can push an answer out. Argo and I limp forward into the moonlight. I’m sure I look terrible but it doesn’t stop Gabrielle from smiling at me.
“Are you okay?” she asks, pausing about a foot away from where I’m trying to stand upright. “What happened?”
“The alcohol dulls the pain. A lot,” I say, staring at her. She’s so beautiful. “I got drunk and disbanded my army. Then I broke my leg while I was looking for you. I should probably splint it soon...”
“You were looking for me?” she asks.
“Yeah. I wondered if maybe I could come with you,” I grin.
“I’m not really sure where I’m going,” Gabrielle admits.
“That sounds perfect.”
“Then we’ll go together,” she says, shaking her head at me and smiling.
“You were right about the pain in my chest, Gabrielle.”
“I know,” she says, stepping forward into my embrace. We hold each other tightly for a moment, then she puts her shoulder under my left arm and helps me walk towards her fire. Suddenly there’s no doubt in my mind that together with her is exactly where I want to be.