SAPPHOS COUPLES COUNSELING SERVICE,
OR, ON THE COUCH
As characters, Xena, Gabrielle, and any other characters taken from the show, Xena: Warrior Princess, belong to MCA Universal and Renaissance Pictures. As fantasies, they belong to us all. In this series of therapeutic vignettes, Ive borrowed them for my own perverse purposes as a hopeless subtext romantic. This session contains specific references to the following episodes: "Maternal Instincts," "Bitter Suite," "Tale of Two Muses," and "The Prodigal."
"Whats this, Gabrielle?" Xena said, scowling at the hieroglyphics carved over the entrance to the cave.
"My birthday present? the Bard answered innocently.
"I dont get it. Saphhos Couples Counseling Service?"
"You said youd do whatever I wanted today, didnt you?"
"Yeah, but--" Xenas upper lip twisted into a snarl.
"You said that was my birthday present." Gabrielles chin trembled, but, as usual, she showed her Amazon mettle and held her ground. "So this is it, this is what I want for my birthday. Youre not going to spoil it, now, are you?"
"Wouldnt dream of it," said Xena, taming her snarl into a half-smile. "So how longs it gonna take ya?" She yanked her sword out of the scabbard.
"Guess Ill get to polishing this while I wait, since I wasnt able to get to that last night with all your crying." She looked around for a mossy place to sit.
"This is for both of us, Xena. Couples counseling, get it?"
Xena balked. "Dont be ridiculous. Im not going in there, Gabrielle."
"Xena, you promised." Gabrielles sea-green eyes grew damp around the lashes.
Xena scowled again and sighed deeply. She had promised, that was true. She had to remember not to make blank promises like that anymore. Gabrielle always tricked her into doing something totally unwarrior-like, but what else could she have done? It was the only thing that made Gabrielle stop crying. Shed been crying every night lately, especially at certain phases of the moon, and recently, it had become part of their nightly get-ready-for-bed ritual. Untie the bedrolls"whimper; roll out the blankets, sniffle; crawl into bed, bawl.
You dont love me any more, Xena, I can feel it. Ah, Gabrielle, you know how much I hate it when you cry. Its true, isnt it? Theres someone else. Honey, there could never be anyone else, not after everything weve been through. Were each others flesh and blood. Then why dont we, why dont you, why do I feel like you dont want me any more. I dont know why you feel that, Gabrielle, but its not true. Now cmere, lemme hold you so you can get to sleep. She had tried kissing her cheeks and forehead, nibbling on her earlobes, stroking her hair, rubbing her back, tickling her ribs--ll to no avail. Look. (She had finally hit upon an idea.) Since tomorrows your birthday, whaddya say we do anything ya want. Really? Anything that I want? No matter what? You name it, its yours. Thats my motto. You wont change your mind? I promise.
Xena slammed her sword back into the scabbard and took Gabrielles hand. "All right, you got me," she said. "Im all yours."
Inside Sapphos Couples Counseling Service, the cave smelled of bat guano and damp limestone. Right away, Xena felt her allergies coming on. Her nose started to twitch and she had to concentrate to keep from sneezing. Gabrielle gave her name to an attendant in a blue toga. Nice thighs, thought Xena, trying not to stare at the slit in the fabric through which the attendants muscular leg showed.
"You think shes pretty, dont you?"
"Huh? Who?" said Xena, rubbing her nose hard.
"Yeah, who," said Gabrielle, giving Xena her fierce femme look.
The attendant came back and told them they could go on in. The doctor would be right there.
"Doctor?" said Xena, cocking an eyebrow.
"Doctor Love," said the attendant, smiling. "Thats what we call her around here. Shes so healing. Oh, but youll have to leave your sword with me. No weapons allowed during the session."
"If my sword stays out here, so do I," said Xena, forcing herself to look up from that distracting thigh.
"Doctors orders," said the assistant.
"Xena, are you coming?" Gabrielle called out.
"Im not going anywhere without my sword," said Xena, then lifted a corner of her mouth and gave the attendant one of her most lop-sided of smiles. "So, whats it gonna be? You dont wanna watch my friend break down into a big, bawly mess, do ya?"
The attendant blushed. "Oh, okay. But youll at least have to take it off when youre in there."
Xena winked at her and turned to follow Gabrielle, who was waiting for her at the door with her fists perched on her hips.
"Took you long enough," said Gabrielle.
"She wanted to play with my sword," said Xena, "but I talked her out of it."
Doctor Loves office contained two fur-covered chaise lounges and a wide-armed wicker chair draped with a wool rug. Xena headed for the chair, when an elegant older woman--her black hair streaked with white, her lavender toga festooned with strands of heliotrope--walked into the room and told her that was her seat.
"You and Gabrielle sit over there," she said, her voice rich and smooth as a bards. "Those seats are more comfortable anyway."
Xena didnt like to sit anywhere with both her legs up, but it was either that or the guano-stained bearskin on the cave floor. She unclasped her scabbard and leaned it against the side of the chaise lounge. Gabrielle reclined in her own seat and stretched out her legs, ceremoniously closing her eyes and resting her hands on her flat, bare belly. Xenas tongue flickered over her lips as she remembered the softness of her lovers skin, but the doctor piped in and spoiled her revery.
"Im Sappho," said Doctor Love, "and you must be Xena. Gabrielles told me a lot about you. Im so glad you could make it."
"I didnt know you two already knew each other," said Xena, scowling at Gabrielle.
"We met at the poetry recital in Lesbos," Gabrielle explained, eyes still closed. "Remember I told you I had met a really interesting woman? Shes the poet who sponsored the event." She cracked one eye open, then the other.
"You didnt tell me it was Sappho," said Xena "and you also forgot to mention that she was in this line of work." Xena narrowed her eyes and shot Gabrielle one of her youre-gonna-be-sorry looks.
"Well, now," said Sappho, all smiles and business. "What seems to be the problem? I do charge by the hour, you know."
"You tell me," said Xena, bothered that Gabrielle had tricked her into airing their problems out to this total stranger, who, no doubt, would end up writing about their foibles in her verses. Cant trust bards or poets, she thought. She rubbed her nose even harder, smearing her palm with the first traces of allergy snot which she proceeded to rub on the leather fringe of her uniform.
"Gabrielle, perhaps you should begin," said Sappho.
"Yeah, Gabrielle, why doncha illuminate us both?" Xena smirked.
Gabrielle fluttered her eyes and smiled sheepishly. "Ok, ok, but Im not sure where to start?"
"I guess this goes way back," said Xena. "Whatever this is."
"Youre a storyteller, Gabrielle," said Sappho. "Pretend youre telling me a story."
"Oh, no, ya dont," Xena interrupted. "Not if youre charging by the hour. You have no idea how long Gabrielles stories can be."
"Ok, ok," Gabrielle said again, then cleared her throat and looked at Xena. "I know how much you hate talking about our lives to strangers, Xena, but I really think we need some help in figuring out whats come between us."
With her eyes, Gabrielle pleaded with Xena to cooperate, or at least play along. Xena looked down at the hilt of her sword. No way she was going to let herself get mesmerized by Gabrielles eyes right now.
"Youre not still mad at me, are you, about Solan and everything?"
"You know Im not," Xena mumbled into her cleavage, really hoping Gabrielle wasnt planning on telling the whole maudlin tale to Doctor Love here.
"Then what is it, Xena? Why have you pulled away from me all of a sudden?"
Xena could not look up. The answer to Gabrielles question was "cuz you cry too much and I cant stand cry-babies." But she couldnt tell her that, now could she?
"Xena?" said Sappho. "Im perceiving a problem of intimacy between you and Gabrielle--"
Hey, brilliant deduction, Xena wanted to say, but she chewed on her lip instead.
"--an intimacy I assume was there until recently?"
"Until very recently," said Gabrielle. "Things were going so well, better than ever, actually. Right, Xena?"
Xena nodded, eyes now focused on the copper swirls of her breast plate.
"What do you mean by better than ever, Gabrielle?" asked Sappho.
Xena closed her eyes and steeled herself against Gabrielles inevitable confession, trying not to squirm or grimace as Gabrielle recounted all the nasty details of their lovemaking. All the tub and soap stories, the fish stories, the bacchae stories, the lets-pretend-youre-Argo-and-Im-riding-you stories (Xenas favorite).
"Well, it all seems perfectly healthy and delightful to me," said Sappho. "Im afraid I still dont see the problem."
"Yeah, me either," said Xena, daring a quick glance at Gabrielle.
"But it never changes, Xena." Gabrielle was rapidly approaching the whiny stage. "You always get to do it all."
"Ahhh," said Sappho, jotting notes into her tablet with a stylus. "I think I see what the matter is now."
"Will somebody let me in on it, please?" said Xena.
"Just last week, for instance," said Gabrielle. "When we spent the night in that town that had forbid dancing, Calliopes town? Remember how you flopped into bed and just fell asleep, didnt even say goodnight, and you wouldnt let me dance, either? I had to just lie there next to you."
"I was tired, for Zeus sake," said Xena.
"But then you woke up and you wanted, well, you know, you wanted to be intimate with me, you said you needed it, and I let you, as usual, but I could tell there was something happening over on your side that I wasnt a part of, and then it happened, and you stopped and fell asleep again."
Xena pressed her lips into a thin line. Her ears and cheeks felt hot. She had nothing at all to say to that, didnt even remember it happening, to tell the truth. Guess Im playing with her in my sleep, she thought. If theres a word for sleepwalking, she wandered off on a momentary tangent . . . .
"For both of you?" interjected Sappho. "It happened for both of you?"
"I just wanted to dance," said Gabrielle. "Xena needed to get off."
"Gabrielle!" Xena interrupted, shocked at Gabrielles language. "I think she gets the picture."
"Yes, actually I do," said Doctor Love. "Ive seen this kind of thing before. Happens quite frequently in Lesbos, actually, among the younger crowd whos trying to be politically correct."
"Politically correct? Whats that?" Xena sneered. Sounded like an Amazon affliction to her.
"Its something new," Sappho explained. "The younger kids have different ideas about sexuality these days."
"Hey, Im not a kid," Gabrielle got huffy of a sudden.
"I didnt mean it that way, Gabrielle. Its just that we cant deny you belong to a younger generation and Xena, here, shes closer to my generation, not that shes old, but shes cut of the same ancient pattern, if you will. One thats very strict about certain things, thats got roles pretty well defined."
"I guess Im not following you," said Gabrielle.
"Makes two of us," said Xena.
"Well, then, lets get blunt, shall we?" Doctor Love continued. "What youre saying, Gabrielle, or, what youre trying to say is, the real problem is that Xena wont let you touch her."
Xenas face burned. Gods be damned, Gabrielle, she thought. Thats private.
"Right," said Gabrielle, expelling a sigh of relief. "In a nutshell."
"Xena?" Doctor Love prompted, but there was no way that Xena was going to meet the womans gaze. She rubbed her nose as hard as she could and mumbled something about the stench of bat guano.
"Xena?" Doctor Love said again. "Are you uncomfortable with what Gabrielle is saying?"
Xena smirked. "You could say that."
"Do you have anything to say to Gabrielle?"
Xena turned her angry gaze on Gabrielle. "That was private," she said.
"The thing about couples counseling, Xena," said Doctor Love. "is that we learn to be open with each other here. Nothing is private. Nothing is off bounds. Thats how it works, and itll help Gabrielle a lot right now if you told her how you feel about this perception of hers that you dont want her to touch you."
"Its not a perception," Gabrielle whined. "Thats how it is between us."
"Why does she want to touch me, all of a sudden?"
"Ask Gabrielle, not me."
"Whats with the touching, Gabrielle? Dont you like what I do any more?"
"I love what you do, Xena. Its just that, well, its just that I would like to do something else. I want to know what it feels like to touch you, for a change, to participate in what happens to you, but you slap my hand away whenever I get near you. At first, you wouldnt let me touch your chakram. Then you wouldnt let me touch your horse. Now you wont let me touch you. Thats why I think theres someone else."
"I told you, Gabrielle, theres not someone else, for Giaias sake."
"I dont like to take the name of the Almighty in vain," said Sappho. "But lets backtrack a little bit. Gabrielle, you just said that now Xena wont let you touch her. Does that mean she did before?"
"Just that one time, Gabrielle."
"Details, ladies, details."
"Who ya callin a lady?" said Xena, placing her hand on the scabbard, feeling a great and sudden need to go outside and take a leak or check Argos saddle.
"The time I came back from Potidaea," Gabrielle recounted. "I went home to visit my family, not because I was homesick, so much, but because of some wierdness I was going through where I felt like I was in Xenas way all the time, that she was constantly having to save me from some dumb thing Id done or another, and I decided Id better just go on home and stop endangering Xenas life."
"And she let you go?" asked Sappho.
"Course I did," Xena muttered. "Shes not my slave, ya know." Well, at least not all the time, she added silently.
"Xenas wise, she knew I needed to figure something out on my own, and I went and figured it out and of course I came back. I guess I needed to know she really wanted me around but the only way to know that was to leave and realize how much I really wanted to be around her. So I came back and she was SO happy to see me. I saw it right away in her eyes, her big smile, that was the real clue. Xena doesnt usually smile very much. I knew Id done the right thing, and I realized all I wanted was for her to take me in her arms and sweep me off my feet, but that was before, well, before things really started up between us, when we were still just thinking of each other as traveling companions and best friends."
"I see," said Sappho. "You left because you realized you were in love with Xena."
"Well," said Gabrielle, lifting her shoulders in that uncertain way of hers, shining a shy smile toward Xena. "I guess so."
"What about you, Xena? Were you worried youd never see Gabrielle again?"
"Nah," said Xena, "I knew shed be back."
"How could you be so sure?"
"Cuz I was gonna go get her if she wasnt back in a coupla days."
Gabrielle pursed her lips and flashed her a wicked look.
"And then what happened?" Doctor Love had gotten hooked by Gabrielles story. "When you returned? Did she open up?"
Xena glared at Gabrielle and made a gesture with her hand to tell her to keep it short.
"It was our first time together," said Gabrielle, her voice low. "We were lying side by side, looking at the fire, and I had my back turned to her and Xena started to stroke me, just like that. She touched my shoulder, first, then moved it down to my waist, then let it drift lightly over my hip. It felt so sensual, I got a chill and shivered. That made her move closer to me, and I could feel her bare legs against mine. She said shed missed me and wanted me to tell her why Id left. I couldnt answer her. I was so happy that she was touching me like that and all I wanted was to focus on her hand, on the heat of her body so close to mine, but I knew she deserved to know what I felt, and so I told her, you know, that maybe I loved her and I was afraid she didnt love me back, me being such a clutz and all and always getting into trouble, making her risk her life all the time to get me out of one scrape or another.
"I told you," Xena interjected, "that it was a risk I thought I could take."
"She did. Shed said that to me already, before I left, but when she said it again the night I came back, in a tone of voice Id never heard her use before, with her fingers grazing over my belly, by now, and her warm breath on my neck, her breasts pressing against my back, I knew she meant it, and I . . .
Sappho and Xenas eyes locked in the long silence that followed.
"And I turned around and gave myself to her. Ive never known anything like that moment. It was so beautiful. We touched each other all night, all night, gently, hungrily, lasciviously. We did it all and didnt stop until sunrise, and even then, we stopped only to move into the shade of the woods, and kept going."
Gabrielles eyes looked like tiny green ponds, her gaze focused on that moment in the past, her hands stroking her own voluptuous breasts as she spoke, her taut belly, thumbs getting dangerously close to that soft cleft between her thighs. Xena felt her crotch grow wet. Shed never heard Gabrielle tell a story like that before.
And suddenly the hands stopped moving and Gabrielles eyes were dry, her gaze trained hard on Xena. "She hasnt let me touch her ever since."
"How long ago was that?" asked Sappho.
"Three years," said Gabrielle.
"That doesnt mean I dont love you, Gabrielle," said Xena softly.
"Then why cant I touch you, Xena?"
"You touch me all the time. Youre always kissing me and hugging me and braiding my hair and snuggling up to me wherever you can."
"Thats not what I mean, and you know it."
"Were different, Gabrielle. Cant you accept that? Cant you be happy with the pleasure I give you?"
"But I want to give you pleasure, too."
"Dont you know how much pleasure you give me?"
"But I dont do anything, Xena. Not really. I just lie there and let you do what you want."
"Thats what I like, Gabrielle. I like it when you just lie there and surrender yourself totally to me, like you did that first night. That gives me the most pleasure. Im not faking it, honest."
"Lets backtrack a sec," Doctor Love interrupted. "You said a key word there, Xena. Surrender, you said. Is that what touching is about to you?"
The proverbial nail got hit on the head. "Im a warrior," said Xena.
"Warriors dont surrender."
"Aha!" said Sappho, her stylus working the tablet, "to allow yourself to be touched is to surrender; to do the touching is to, what? Control? Conquer? Dominate?"
Xena remembered every detail of their first night: the firm, plump feel of Gabrielles breasts and thighs beneath her, the smell of her own sweat mixed with the salty scent of the girls desire, the way Gabrielle quivered under her every touch at the same time that her virgin hands fumbled with Xenas shift, the leather britches, the chain mail of the Artemis loin-belt she wore to keep her warrior body chaste at all times. She squeezed her eyes shut and relived Gabrielles fingers wriggling roughly through links of the chain, pulling at the hair, burrowing through the skin till they found the wetness that was Xenas secret road to surrender.
"Im outa here," said Xena, grabbing her scabbard and flashing out of the stinking cave.
"Thatll be seventy-five dinars," she heard Doctor Loves assistant say.
Xena threw a pouch of coins on the table as she whooshed past.
"Nobody tames the Warrior Princess," she said. "Alalalalalalalalala!!!!!!"
continued in "Sunset Interlude"
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