Disclaimer: Neither of our heroines, dead or alive, belongs to me in any shape or form. They remain the sole possessions of their creators at Renpic and the folks at Universal/MCA, and here’s hoping they get them out every now and again to give them a little dusting prior to their triumphant return to a screen large or small.

Warnings: This was my first ever ‘alt’ story, and boy, was I nervous about writing even these incredibly mild descriptions of love between women. Sometimes I am such a guy.

Note: This was written about in early 1998 and is set near the start of the third season, pretty much immediately pre-rift saga (nice to think of classic X+G and the warm and fuzzy feelings I got when the show was new to me). I’m giving it an airing again now because Lunacy was kind enough to give it a review all those years ago, and the review is still online even though the story vanished some time ago – so I thought it was a good idea to rescue it from the vale of lost Xenafic. And besides, I’m behind on the next story in my post-FIN ‘Am I Really Who I Am?’ series. J

Dedication: This one started when I was e-mailing Charmer about my very first story and she commented on one of the worst aspects of Xena stories, both canonical and fan fiction. It occurred to me that even bad things can be turned to useful advantage. So - Charmer, this one was for you, and I even quoted you briefly. Hope you didn’t mind taking the rap. You’re still one of the finest that the Xenaverse ever produced.




Very Like A Whale


By Mike







The hot afternoon sun beat down on the landscape, and there was only the slightest of breezes to cool the heat that radiated from the bodies of the two women as they lay on the grassy riverbank. The beauty of the landscape was surpassed only by the beauty of the women.


Gabrielle sighed. ‘Why can’t this moment last forever?’


Her companion opened her eyes. ‘Why would you want it to last forever?’


‘Because of the gorgeous scenery. Because of the weather. Because for the first time in days my stomach is full. Because of the company.’


Xena closed her eyes again. ‘Because then we wouldn’t have to get up and cross the river?’


‘Mmmmm. That too.’


‘Well, there’s no hurry. We can stay here for a while yet. We aren’t due in Megara till nightfall.’


Gabrielle pushed herself up onto her elbows and looked at the dark woman. ‘Nightfall may be quite a ways off, but it’s not forever, Xena. The word doesn’t have the same - quality - somehow.’


Xena was unmoved and unmoving. She spoke with infinite patience. ‘This is another bard thing, right?’


Gabrielle glared at her and lay back down on the softly yielding grass. She considered sulking but realised that it wouldn’t get her anywhere, so she decided to try again. Her voice was playful. ‘Xena, look at that cloud. It’s shaped like a chakram.’


Xena breathed deeply and opened her eyes again. She made a show of looking around her while limiting her actual movements as much as possible. ‘No. Don’t see any clouds shaped like a chakram.’


The younger woman pointed. ‘There. The big cloud followed by the two smaller ones.’


This time Xena didn’t move at all. ‘Missed it. Never mind.’


Gabrielle refused to accept the possibility of failure. ‘That one looks almost like Argo. Look, you can see her ears to one side, and there’s her mane. Incredible!’


Xena’s voice was still less than enthusiastic. ‘Incredible, Gabrielle, truly incredible.’


The bard pursed her lips, made a mental note of how much she was suffering, and determined to make Xena pay for it at some later juncture. She went on doggedly. ‘And - yes, it does! That curly one over there looks just like the design on your breastplate! I don’t believe it!’


Xena opened her eyes wide and folded her arms stiffly across her chest, replacing the stress that until then had been oozing from her body. ‘Gabrielle, I realise there must be a point to this, but what exactly is it?’


Gabrielle looked daggers at her friend, stood, and placed her arms against her hips. Her face was a picture of self-righteous outrage. ‘Point? Point? There is no point, Xena! I’m trying to create a mood here - an atmosphere! Not a point!’


Xena grimaced. ‘Still sounds like a bard thing to me.’


‘Yes, alright, it’s a bard thing! Haven’t you been around me long enough to have learned how to do the odd bard thing occasionally?’


Xena frowned. ‘Why would I want to do that?’


‘Because - because- ohhh, you’re impossible!’ Gabrielle prepared herself to walk off in a temper, wondered if Xena deserved one last chance or if the effort simply wasn’t worth it.


The moment was perhaps fortuitously broken by the sound of clinking metal from across the other side of the river.







Both women looked up to see a band of six foully dressed, foully weaponed, foully leering men of a distinctly foul type staring across at them. Even separated by twenty feet of water and a few extra feet of grass, their rusty swords and bad teeth were obvious. Their leader turned and grinned at his fellows. ‘Looky here, boys. Two lassies for the taking!’ He laughed fiendishly, and was joined in his exertions by the rest of the gang.


Gabrielle was seething. ‘Not now! Why does this have to happen now?’ She clenched her fists.


Xena, in contrast, looked almost happy. ‘Leave this to me, Gabrielle. It’s a warrior kind of thing.’


Gabrielle turned to stare at her companion. ‘What did you say?’


Xena looked at her. ‘I said ------’


‘I heard what you said! And I don’t believe it! Xena - Xena, let me handle this. Promise me you won’t interfere!’


Xena was puzzled. ‘I can’t promise that. You could be killed.’


‘Alright then. Promise me you won’t interfere unless it looks like I‘m going to get seriously hurt!’


‘Gabrielle ------’


‘Promise me! And then sit down. And be quiet. And watch me go to it!’


Xena’s face was a mask of confusion. ‘What’s going on here?’


Gabrielle glared as mightily as she was able at her friend. Xena held up her hands in front of her. ‘I promise, I promise!’ She sat down on the grass.







Gabrielle picked up her staff from beside her blanket and moved forward until she stood fully at the edge of the river. She stood leaning on the weapon and stared across the water at the six ruffians, who were about to begin their passage across.


She called out to them. ‘Excuse me. Before you come over and take advantage of our womanly frailness, may I just interject a thought or two here - sort of get to know you a little, help you to think through the situation, offer you a little friendly advice?’ She smiled sweetly.


The leader looked at her in surprise. ‘That’s a little unusual, isn’t it? I mean, there isn’t usually much talking in these situations. Just a few raucous laughs, a couple of battle-cries, and the screams of the helpless maidens.’


Gabrielle nodded. ‘Yes, but we don’t have to be bound by convention, do we? There’s lots of ways to do this. I mean, why go for clichés? We could have a bit of a discussion, for instance - on, say, the declining number of people working in the banditry trade these last few years. And the downwards turn in the quality of the people going into the job.’ She raised her eyebrows invitingly.


The head ruffian frowned. ‘That’s nonsense. Look at me and my lads here! As fine a gang of roving cutthroats as you could find anywhere!’


Gabrielle shrugged. ‘Exactly my point. Three years ago, there’d have been a lot more competition for you, and being the finest gang around would have really meant something. But now - you’re first in a class of so few and such poor quality, it’s embarrassing!’ She smiled apologetically. ‘No offence intended.’


The leader looked ready to explode. ‘Now just a minute there! You can’t-----’


He was interrupted by one of his own men, a lanky individual wearing a soiled eyepatch and carrying a particularly filthy-looking mace. ‘Actually, she’s got a point, boss.’


The leader turned to him slowly. ‘What did you say, Dacoitus?’  His eyes burned into his subordinate.


Dacoitus returned the gaze thoughtfully. ‘I said she’s got a point. Y’know, when I started out as a young footpad, the greats were just coming into business. Blackfang’s dozen, the Milan Mountain gang, Hesiod’s hellions; and later on there was Toxeus and his team, Deathbringer’s crew, the Morpheus outfit and the Tartarus mob. And where are they all now? Dead, retired or in prison.’ He shook his head. ‘When’s the last time there was a convention in Athens to talk over bandit etiquette? When did you last meet up with another bunch of lads on the road and have to fight them to decide who had first claim on the next passers-by? It’s just not the same any more.’ He looked genuinely sad.


The leader’s expression was getting steadily more disgusted. ‘We have a job to do here, Dacoitus! Maybe things have changed, but that’s no excuse for us to start acting all unprofessional! Now let’s get on with it. Forward, lads!’


Gabrielle tut-tutted loudly, and sighed theatrically. The gang stopped in their tracks again and looked at her. She sounded wistful. ‘I was just thinking of all those brave men who’ve left the business never to return. Sad to be part of a dying breed.’ She placed a heavy emphasis on ‘dying’.


Dacoitus looked thoughtful; he turned to the man on his left. ‘Wasn’t it you who told me that Toxeus killed his own men, Vandammedes?’


The youngest of the party nodded grimly. ‘Xena the warrior princess met him in Sisyphus’ kingdom and killed him, apparently. But you know what Toxeus was like - didn’t let a little thing like death stop him. His lads didn’t want to go up against Xena again, so Toxeus polished ‘em all off. That way they had to help him in stopping Xena from rescuing Death from Sisyphus and sending ‘em all to Hades. Didn’t succeed, though, and bandits have been dying ever since.’ Suddenly he looked over Gabrielle’s shoulder at the seated figure of Xena. ‘What’s your friend’s name, girlie?’


Gabrielle was about to speak, but Dacoitus interrupted her. ‘And it was Xena who took out Hesiod as well, wasn’t it? Apparently she took on his entire mob and defeated them and then captured Hesiod to take him for trial.’


Vandammedes looked puzzled. ‘But didn’t I hear Hesiod got trampled by a titan?


The leader reluctantly decided to get involved in the discussion, interested despite himself. ‘Yes - but Xena was involved in that, too. Seems some friend of hers - an irritating little blonde protégé - released the titans accidentally, and Hesiod was stupid enough to try bargaining with them instead of running away when he escaped Xena’s clutches.’ A thought appeared to strike him, and he looked at Gabrielle suspiciously. She stared innocently back at him, her smile never wavering.


Another gang member spoke up. ‘Surely Xena’s a little overrated these days? OK, so she got lucky and took out a couple of the big boys. But I hear that since she changed sides she’s gone all soft - doesn’t like to fight any more if she can avoid it.’


Dacoitus shook his head vigorously. ‘That’s not what I’ve heard, Ferretus. A few months back there was this rumour going round that she’d been cursed with madness and become an easy touch. The Tartarus mob bumped into her near Amphipolis and thought they were onto a good thing but Xena beat ‘em all without even making use of weapons for the most part. Apparently she could have killed the lot of them, but she was so out of it she wandered off in the middle of the fight and left them all lying around unconscious. Snaggleteeth himself told me that one - said he was so ashamed to see all his men beaten by a raving lunatic that he was giving up the business to earn an honest living as a mercenary.’


Ferretus frowned and worked hard at thinking the problem through. ‘Are you saying that Xena’s responsible for all of the retirements, trials and dismemberments of our highly esteemed rivals these last few years?’


The leader interrupted Dacoitus before he could answer. ‘No, that’s ridiculous. What about the Milan Mountain Boys? It was all over the place about Xena being days away from them helping out King Lias when they got arrested and thrown in prison. They came up against that mystery man who beat ‘em all virtually by himself - real ladies’ man apparently, brilliant swordsman, had a lot of us worried when we heard about him. But he never took on anyone else, just dropped out of sight. Called himself Joxer the Mighty, they said. Wonder what happened to him?’


Dacoitus was rubbing his chin thoughtfully. ‘I heard he wasn’t completely on his own, boss. When I was in prison in King Lineas’s jail for brawling last year I came across a couple of the Milan lads awaiting trial. They told me this Joxer did have some help - an irritating little blonde sidekick with a stick she used as a weapon.’ Slowly he turned to face across the river and looked at Gabrielle. She waved at him in a friendly fashion, still leaning on her staff.


The leader wasn’t giving ground, however. ‘Alright then, let’s forget that one. But what about Deathbringer and his crew? It was Hercules put them out of business when they ran into him near Amazon country.’ His point made, he stood with hands on hips and beamed.


Ferretus coughed in an embarrassed fashion. ‘Actually, that’s not true, boss.’


The leader swung round to face the small bandit. ‘What do you mean?’


Ferretus grinned in an eager-to-please fashion. ‘Well, it’s just that I ran into Deathbringer in an inn over on the coast a few months ago. He told me that story about how he and three of his lads went up against Hercules, and got pasted but only after a gargantuan struggle. But he got a lot more drunk as the evening went on - seems he’s been hitting the bottle in a big way since his crew left him - and then he told me how it really happened. Seems Hercules was nowhere in sight - instead Deathbringer and three of his lads came across this little blonde thing all by herself and proceeded to ply their trade. Only she beat the stuffing out of all four of them with a battle staff and then to add insult to injury, this curly-haired little runt turns up and slaps Deathbringer around all over again. Then they ran. Oh, and boss---’


The leader was rubbing his eyes tiredly. ‘Yes?’


‘You remember that rumour about Xena being dead about a year ago? Well, it seems this little blonde was claiming to be taking Xena’s body back to Amphipolis. That’s why Deathbringer had a go at her; he thought if the story was true, the body might fetch a good price.’ He smiled, his story told.


Dacoitus spoke again, with some real excitement coming forth in his words. ‘This is very interesting! There seems to be an emerging theme here. Every time one of the big boys goes out of business, it happens after they meet either Xena - a big, bad, leather clad woman with lots of attitude - or this little blonde with a stick. Or both. What do you think it means, boss?’


The leader of the ruffians turned slowly to look at Gabrielle again. She winked at him broadly and blew him a kiss. His gaze travelled to Xena, still sitting further back on the grass, impassive and apparently not even listening. He cleared his throat and called across to Gabrielle. ‘My colleagues and I are going to confer before we proceed any further. We won’t be long!’ He walked away from the river bank, rapidly motioning to his men to follow him. They stopped fifty yards off, but despite the distance, Gabrielle could hear raised voices and grumbling from the assembled half-dozen. Only a couple of minutes passed, and then they began to walk back to the riverbank opposite her.


When he was in place again, the leader called across the water in a supposedly friendly fashion that actually sounded desperate rather than companionable. ‘Good news, girlie! It’s such a beautiful day that we’ve decided we’re going to stop work early and er, - well, go for a walk or something! You and your friend can be on your way!’ He gave a sickly smile.


Gabrielle affected a thoughtful expression. ‘Well, that’s a start, I suppose. But it’s not really enough. I mean, I’m ever so grateful that you’re not going to attack us, but - well, there’s other people to consider, isn’t there? I’d feel very bad if I let you walk away from here only to find that you’d attacked the next travellers you’d met on the road. I couldn’t live with myself if that happened. No, I’m afraid your careers are over.’ She nodded emphatically.


The bandits shuffled about, looking at each other uncomfortably. The leader tried to speak once, found his words strangling in his throat, was more successful the second time. ‘What - what do you mean?’


Gabrielle waved a finger in the air. ‘It’s very simple, really. There are three ways this can go. One: the way that Toxeus and Hesiod went - dead, and so irrevocably out of business. Two: the way that the Milan boys went - imprisoned, and out of circulation for a long time. Three: the way that Deathbringer and the Tartarus mob went - retirement. And I hope you work a bit harder at finding gainful employment than  Deathbringer has - if that’s the option you choose, of course.’


The bandits looked at each other sheepishly. The leader glared hard at Gabrielle, seemed unwilling to say anything, but Dacoitus nudged him and made a gesture in Gabrielle’s direction. The leader cleared his throat again, and spoke in a pained voice. ‘Well, business has been poor recently. And I wouldn’t mind seeing my home village again. We’d, er - we’d like to retire, please.’


Gabrielle beamed. ‘Excellent choice - so much better for all of us, I think. Now I want you to split into pairs, and go off in three separate directions - two go west along the river, two go east along the river, and the other two go back down the path you came from the north. And in the morning you all have to leave your partners and head off in different directions again.’ Her voice took on a harder edge. ‘Oh,  and ‘laddies’ - if my friend and I ever see two or more of you together again, your options will be strictly limited.’ She made a shooing motion. ‘Now go, go, go!’


The six ruffians reluctantly split into three pairs, not without some harsh words and a few obscene gestures towards each other. Finally sorted, they set off towards the three points of the compass, looking back frequently towards Gabrielle. She remained lazily leaning on her staff, and watched them for many minutes until they had vanished into their respective distances.






Gabrielle turned around and walked the few yards back to Xena. She stood before her companion and looked down questioningly. ‘Have I made my point?’


Xena refused to meet her gaze. ‘Which would be what?’ She was working hard at sounding uninterested.


‘You know very well what my point was!’


Xena shrugged, spoke sulkily. ‘You mean that you’ve learned how to do warrior things, and that I should be equally versatile and learn how to do a few bard things?’




Xena lay back on the ground and stretched out comfortably. ‘It’s not the same.’ She shut her eyes.


Gabrielle exploded with rage. ‘Why do I bother? Why?’ She stalked off and took refuge under the branches of a nearby tree, sitting back against the trunk and hunching her body up stiffly. I’ll sit here until she apologises, she thought. Until she admits she’s unreasonable. Until she tells me I’m right and she’s wrong. She breathed in deeply, closed her eyes, and prepared herself for a long wait.


There was a sound to her left, and she cautiously opened one eye. Xena had come to sit beside her. The bard held herself as rigidly as possible, and pretended that she hadn’t noticed her companion’s arrival.


Xena spoke in a clear and friendly voice. ‘Gabrielle, have I ever told you that you’re my heroine?’


Promising, very promising, Gabrielle thought. But she’ll have to work a little harder than that.


She felt a light touch on her shoulder and upper arm. Was that a moth? She looked surreptitiously at the ticklish area out of the corner of her eye. Xena’s fingertips! This is beginning to look good. Don’t fail me now, Xena.  She suppressed a smile.


There was a long silence. Gabrielle wondered if Xena had given up, hoped that she was thinking it through, that she had a final weapon with which to make victory certain.


Xena spoke, her tone playful and throaty. ‘Gabrielle, look at that cloud. It looks like the bodies of two lovers entwined ------’


Gabrielle laughed out loud, opened her eyes, and turned towards her partner. Slowly, she placed her arms around the dark warrior and gazed hard into her eyes. ‘Xena - Xena, I knew you could do it!’ Gabrielle leaned forward, eyes flashing, until their lips met.






The hot afternoon sun beat down on the landscape, and there was only the slightest of breezes to cool the heat that radiated from the bodies of the two women as they lay on the grassy riverbank. The beauty of the landscape was surpassed only by the beauty of the women.



(Friendly criticism sent to mrbacim@btinternet.com is always welcome, and hopefully this ‘reprint’ wasn’t a waste of everyone’s time. J. Many thanks for listening).