The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo and Salmoneus are the property of MCA/Universal and were used here without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
Authors Note: Thanks to raven for all the encouragement and support and to Gin and The Hiker for all their help and kind words (and for going through this thoroughly so it did not turn out as complete stream of consciousness <g>) Feedback may be sent to email@example.com
Closest to Heaven
"And I'd give up forever to touch you
Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You're the closest thing to heaven
that I'll ever be
And I dont want to go home right now"
'Iris' Goo Goo Dolls
The tall, blue eyed warrior looked over at her traveling companion. The sun reached through trees lining the dusty road to spark fiery highlights off the smaller woman's blond head. It was a familiar routine; the warrior and bard roaming the countryside with the big gold mare.
"We're not headed anywhere in a big hurry and the last few months have been really...tiring. Do you think maybe we could stop somewhere for a few days and just take a break?"
What the bard had said was perfectly true. The stoic, detached warrior had found herself caught up in an emotional whirlwind lately and some time off to relax would do them both good. On the other hand, it would also mean no distractions from her feelings for Gabrielle.
She smiled affectionately at the bard. "We'll see."
Gabrielle sighed. She could work with that. Xena had not said no so she was pretty sure she could talk her into it. She smiled; she loved the dark warrior so much it was unbelievable the other woman had not picked up on it. Honestly, for someone with such a brilliant, analytical mind Xena could be so dense sometimes. Or was it that she just did not want to know? That was a possibility, but the warrior had become so affectionate recently, she had even told her she loved her and there was such tenderness in her eyes when she looked at her, but did Xena just regard her as her best friend or did she feel more. She frowned in confusion. Why couldn't Xena just kiss her again!
Xena silently observed the changes in Gabrielle's expression. What on earth could she be thinking about now? Probably another story in the making; she seemed to have a limitless imagination. Well almost limitless, she thought wryly. Maybe they should stop for a while. There was nothing pressing to be taken care of. They could camp somewhere quiet, near the river, just the two of them, alone... Are you crazy? hissed the little voice in her head. How many times do you think you can hurt her and still have her stay with you? Do you think she would still love and respect you if she knew some of the thoughts you had about her? It's bad enough you've been so mushy around her lately, telling her how important she is to you. It's a good thing she's so innocent and doesn't take it the way you mean it! What if she leaves you again?
Xena was pulled from her reverie by noises in the distance. They must be approaching a village, a pretty busy one if the sounds were anything to go by.
Troubled green eyes looked up into pale blues.
"There's a village up ahead. Why don't we stop for some food? You haven't had anything to eat since lunch and it's almost evening. I wouldn't want anyone to think I was starving you," she said sweetly, then laughed as she tried to avoid a well-placed punch from her friend.
"Hey, you don't let me eat nearly as often as I'd like to!"
An eyebrow immediately shot up as Xena suppressed a slight smile, "Riiight."
As Argo and the two women approached what was turning out to be a small town it became apparent that there was some sort of festival taking place. There was more than the usual amount of merchants, and gaming stalls had also been set up. Xena's lips pursed in disgust as she noticed the look of pleasure on Gabrielle's face. Great, now she was going to be talked into staying in this bustling place with all these people for at least a few days. Well at least you won't be alone with Gabrielle, the voice in her head informed her cheerfully. She didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
Xena rolled her eyes skywards. This was just getting better and better! She turned as the owner of the voice reached out to hug Gabrielle.
"Salmoneus!" the bard exclaimed, returning the stout man's embrace, "How long has it been?"
"Not long enough," the older woman muttered through her smile.
He released Gabrielle and turned to hug the warrior. A raised eyebrow and the look in the pale blue eyes made him reconsider.
"Xena, you look well." Stepping back, he smoothed his tunic and quickly included the bard in his gaze again, "I'm so happy to see you! You're just in time for the festivities!"
"What are they celebrating?" Gabrielle's eyes traveled curiously over the assortment of rainbow colored banners hanging from many of the stalls and buildings. She could see herself wandering around here for hours absorbing the sights and sounds, sampling the food.
"It's a celebration of love. In all of its forms," the salesman smirked at Xena who scowled back. "People come from neighboring towns and villages every year for it. Oh, and there's a storytelling competition tomorrow, 50 dinars if you win. Just let me know if you're interested so I can sign you up. Anyway I have some arrangements to finalize so you can find me in the tavern later." He turned and hurried away, calling over his shoulder, "You really should get an agent Gabrielle, we can discuss it."
Xena felt warm hands grip her arms and looked down into Gabrielle's animated face.
"Come on Xena, we could stay here for a few days. It'll be fun. Think about it! We could get a room and a bath, and 50 dinars would get lots of supplies!"
"Oh, all right." The warrior knew there was no way she could refuse. "You go get us a room, I'll take care of Argo. Catch up with you at dinner."
Gabrielle threw her arms around the warrior and gave her quick hug before she could walk off. "Thanks. You'll enjoy it too."
Xena smiled to herself as she headed towards the stables, barely registering an attractive brunette eyeing the departing Gabrielle appreciatively. It didn't take much to make her friend happy. The bard knew her well, too well occasionally. The next few days would be a great test of her patience, as frustrated and irritable as she was. Her monthly cycle was a week away and all her emotions were running closer to the surface. Being in contact with a few hundred strangers was not high on her list of things to do. Glad to be alone with her thoughts for a while, she tried to work off some pent up energy by brushing Argo vigorously but it wasn't really working. There didn't even seem to be any troublemakers around to beat the stuffing out of. Inevitably her mind returned to her best friend. It had taken her a long time to admit to herself the depth of the feelings she had for Gabrielle and in spite of all that happened between them: Chin, Hope, Solan's death, those feelings continued to grow. She had considered love once or twice before but had never felt about anyone the way she did about the bard, and it took all her control to keep her desires hidden from the one person who knew her best in the world. Gabrielle's affectionate nature did not make things easier either, always touching and hugging her. Ordinarily Xena hated casual physical contact, unless of course she initiated it, but with Gabrielle she relished it, the slightest touch from the bard warming her heart and causing her skin to tingle. It would be so easy to take her in her arms and kiss those soft, full lips, to run her hands down strong, muscular shoulders down to firm, round... Stop it! the voice in her head commanded as a shiver ran down her spine. How much good does that do you? In the past she would have gone out, found an attractive partner and spent a few hours satisfying her sexual appetites. That would no longer work; Gabrielle was her ailment. She was also the only cure. Xena snorted, and Argo turned to nuzzle her shoulder. She might never make love again! Maybe she would go for a swim in the lake before going back to the inn...
Gabrielle had managed to find them the last available room in the inn; the fact that there was only one bed was definitely not a problem. It seemed like this yearly festival was a pretty big deal she thought looking around smugly. She was well aware of how much Xena hated crowds. Face it, the warrior princess was not the most sociable person she had ever met so it meant a lot to her that she had so readily agreed for them to stay. Gabrielle moved with ease through the crowded market place, enjoying the sights and sounds, stopping occasionally to examine some trinket that caught her interest. She paused by a stall selling scented massage oils. Hmm, these could be helpful.
The merchant smiled knowingly, opening a few of the bottles for the bard to sample. "Oils for you, my sweet?"
"What exactly do you have?" Gabrielle smiled sweetly at the woman, a slight twinkle in her eyes.... A few tips on how to manipulate the senses couldn't hurt any in trying to help Xena loosen up.
"That depends on what you'd like to achieve..." The woman smiled back, her tone playful.
Gabrielle laughed, blushing slightly at the implications. If she didn't know better she would have sworn that this woman was flirting with her.
"I'm Tissume, " the merchant said, extending her hand to Gabrielle with a wide smile.
"Gabrielle," the bard replied, taking the proffered hand. This woman was very interesting. Her eyes were an unusual shade of violet, occasionally appearing as lighter, then darker shades of blue. Gabrielle was intrigued. Not only was the woman physically attractive, but the bard found her open friendly nature quite appealing.
"Um, so what precisely can I do with these oils?" she asked, attempting to break the eye contact so that she could stop blushing.
"Well, we have oils of tranquility," she answered handing over a small vial for the bard to sniff, "And then there's revitalizing oil," she said holding up another. "Of course, there is my personal favorite," With this she became a little more animated, her eyes wickedly dancing on Gabrielle's, an enticing smile on her lips. "The aphrodisiacs," she said, holding the vial under the bard's nose long enough for her to catch a whiff of sandalwood before replacing the cork. "Guaranteed to spice up your s...(ahem), love life." Her eyes wandered from Gabrielle's eyes down her elegant neck and onward to the cleavage beneath her skimpy top, before travelling back up to resume their gaze "Although I'm sure you don't need any help. I saw you and your ... friend come into town. Tell me are you two together?"
The red of Gabrielle's face clashed horribly with the green of her top as she fumbled for an adequate response to the unexpected question. Okay, she did not know better, the woman was flirting with her. For once in her life the young bard found herself at a loss for words.
"We ah...we travel together but we're not...together, together. I mean she's my best friend but..." Gabrielle gave up trying to explain a situation she was not sure even she could understand. "I'll take a bottle of each."
Tissume's smile widened "That'll be two dinars, and I'll throw in a massage for free."
The bard laughed again, handing over the coins. "Thanks, I think I'll just take these for now." She put the three little bottles in her bag. "Nice meeting you."
The grumbling of her stomach reminded Gabrielle that she had not eaten since lunch. Heading for the tavern she felt incredibly pleased with herself. She had noticed quite a few couples of the same sex openly holding hands or kissing and these displays of love delighted her. Tissume's interest also made her aware that she was still desirable to at least one woman. Maybe, between the relaxed atmosphere and the massage oils she could get Xena . A strong hand on her shoulder made her jump guiltily, looking up into her warrior's amused face.
"Gods, Xena, do you always have to sneak up on people!"
"Sneak? Gabrielle, I called your name twice! Where were you anyway?"
"I was just thinking how glad I am we stopped here. Why is your hair so wet?" Okay, she thought, that was about as subtle as a runaway chariot.
Xena's raised eyebrow indicated that she did not entirely believe the bard but she decided to let it pass... for now. "There's a lagoon just outside the town. I went for a swim." The warrior did not see the bard's look of disappointment as she led the way into the almost full, dimly lit tavern. Unlike most of the places they ended up in this one was clean and the patrons were well behaved. Several heads, both male and female, followed them as they found a vacant table. "I thought we could take some food and go spend the day there tomorrow. What do you say?" she turned as Gabrielle slid onto the bench next to her.
She was surprised by the huge smile on her friend's face. Gabrielle seemed so thrilled by the idea that Xena could not suppress her own silly grin. She felt the warmth of love surround her heart, melting further the glacier that had been there before.
Gabrielle gazed into the azure eyes, adoration evident to all except the woman sitting beside her. The warrior rarely asked her opinion when it came to their travels and she certainly never suggested anything remotely romantic. Maybe there was a chance.
"What can I get you ladies?" the barmaid noted the two women sitting together, arms almost touching, seeing only each other until her voice got their attention. What a lovely couple! She had seen love before and this was definitely it.
Gabrielle's attention returned to her stomach. "I'm starved, two helpings of whatever that wonderful smell is and some cider please. Oh and some for her too."
Xena smirked at the barmaid's amazement "Bottomless pit," she explained and received a good-natured slap to the stomach for her trouble. The other woman laughed, leaving to return a short while later with two very full bowls of stew and a jug of cider. While they ate Gabrielle filled her friend in on what she had done in her absence, editing only a few of Tissume's questions and comments.
Xena glanced up, chewing a mouthful of stew, in time to catch the younger woman blushing, as she talked about her encounter with the oil merchant. The woman had obviously been flirting with Gabrielle who seemed to be a bit embarrassed but not at all put out. The warrior's expression remained neutral as jealousy awoke and began to lick at her insides.
The rest of the evening was relatively quiet with only a few remarks on the atmosphere of the tavern and the flavor of the long desired food. Both women were engrossed in their own thoughts. Insecurity festered and bred inside of Xena and she fought hard to control the spiral descent of her mood. Gabrielle had probably not returned the flirting, but she hadn't seemed disturbed by it either. And what if Gabrielle were attracted to you, what would you do then? The warrior's appetite disappeared and she pushed the uneaten portion of her stew away as the heavy mantle of depression settled around her. She knew the answer to that one; she would do nothing. Fear would prevent her from pursuing what she wanted most.
Gabrielle couldn't seem to figure the warrior out; she had seemed almost jealous for an instant, but the bard couldn't be sure. She had gotten so quiet, so distant. Was she in some way offended by the idea of one woman flirting with another? No, that could not be it, she was pretty sure there had been something physical between Xena and Lao Ma and she had heard enough mumbled comments from her Amazon sisters to make her sure Xena was attracted to women. Maybe she was not Xena's type; maybe she liked more experienced women. Gabrielle glanced up to find the warrior staring intently at her, an unreadable expression on her face.
"Are you ready to go?" Xena asked quietly. She had had enough company for one day.
"Sure." As the bard rose she noticed her friend's eyes change focus to a point over her left shoulder, turning she saw Tissume making her way towards them.
Still seated at the table Xena watched the brunette's hand come to rest casually on the bard's forearm.
"Uh... Xena this is Tissume, Tissume this is my friend Xena."
The oil merchant gave the warrior a brief smile, which received a curt nod in response, before returning her gaze to the blond bard.
"I was hoping to catch up with you. Some of the local actors are performing tonight and I thought you might like to go. Oh, and your friend of course." Tissume turned the full wattage of the smile on for Gabrielle not even glancing at said "friend".
Gabrielle turned hesitantly towards the warrior. She wouldn't mind going but she was pretty sure Xena had used up her weekly supply of socialization skills already today, not to mention that her mood had gone downhill during dinner. She was surprised therefore when Xena gave her a quick half smile and suggested she go without her, claiming to have a slight headache and wanting to go to bed early. After a bit of persuasion from Tissume and assurance from her friend the confused bard allowed herself to be led out of the tavern. Why was Xena so eager to get rid of her?
Xena held on to her cool façade until the two women left the tavern. She considered ordering a mug of port but decided against it. The alcohol would only worsen her mood and it could get her into trouble. Maybe she should follow them. Why do you torture yourself? her little voice spoke up. Xena groaned and buried her head in her hands before jumping to her feet and striding towards the exit completely unaware of eyes watching her from across the room. She walked quickly to the edge of the woods then broke into a run, unerringly avoiding low hanging branches and fallen trees until she was brought up short by the lagoon in front of her. Sitting on a log, elbows on her knees, she stared blindly out at the calm, silvery water, oblivious to the beauty of the moonlit night around her. She couldn't deal with this. Living in fear that Gabrielle would leave her again. Each time the bard had left her was worse than the one before. Pain and loneliness engulfed her and she could feel the darkness within her rise. Gabrielle gave her life meaning, direction. The thought that the bard might leave her for another woman had not occurred to her before Najara. Now it was looking like a distinct possibility. She could feel the knot in the pit of her stomach tighten as the jealousy stopped it's licking and began to gnaw at her insides. She loved Gabrielle more than life itself; as far as she was concerned the bard was life itself. Unable to keep still, she jumped to her feet again and started pacing up and down along the water's edge. She was torn in so many directions: fear that if Gabrielle stayed with her, the vision of the crucifixion would come true and she would have led her best friend to her to death, terror that Gabrielle would fall in love with someone else and leave her, and above all, a sense of unworthiness. She would give her life, her heart, her soul for the bard but she wanted what was best for Gabrielle and deep down she knew she was not it. That was why she had always taken a step back and let the love of her life walk away. She had stood aside while the bard explored her feelings for men; she would stand aside while she explored her feelings for women. Her vision blurring with tears of anguish and frustration, the warrior slammed her fist into a fallen tree trunk. The pain shooting through her fingers and knuckles was nothing compared to the breaking of her heart.
The actors were quite good and Gabrielle enjoyed what she saw of the plays, particularly one about a warrior princess and her female lover, a bard. It seemed Tissume was not the only one who thought she and Xena were intimate. She sighed wistfully. Why couldn't Xena take a hint? A hand sliding into hers interrupted the bard's thoughts, fingers entwining with her own. Taken by surprise, she decided to ignore it in the hope that it would go away. It didn't. She declined Tissume's offer of a drink in her room as they walked back, disengaging her hand as they reached the tavern. When the brunette leaned forward, Gabrielle turned her head to the side, Tissume's lips catching her cheek two fingerwidths off their mark.
"Ahem. Well Thank you for a nice evening. I really must be going now." She smiled nervously, taking a step back and up.
"It's her isn't it?" the oil merchant smiled ruefully. "You're in love with her." Gabrielle's blush confirmed it. "Well you can't blame a girl for trying." She turned and walked away.
Gabrielle closed the door behind her as quietly as possible. Xena had ears like a cat and would probably wake up anyway. The bard could make out the still form lying on the bed illuminated by the moonlight streaming through the window. The warrior was sleeping. Moving silently, Gabrielle got ready for bed. Stopping next to her slumbering friend she gazed down at the face vulnerable in sleep, noticing slightly puffy reddened eyelids. She leaned over placing feather light kisses on each eye. She assumed the headache had been severe enough for Xena to take something to help her sleep. As she straightened up, the warrior turned, wincing in her sleep as she moved her right hand across her body. Gabrielle's eyes widened at the bruised knuckles and swollen fingers. What in Tartarus could Xena have been doing? Frowning, the bard climbed into bed knowing she would have to wait till morning to get answers, that is if Xena chose to tell her. She lay on her side propped on an elbow watching her friend sleep. Reaching over she gently ran the back of her hand over the warrior's smooth cheek. She knew Xena better than anyone; she had seen sides of her that no one would believe existed beneath the often menacing exterior. She had seen her laugh and cry and pout like child yet she seldom knew what was in the warrior's heart. There was a certain vulnerability she tried hard to hide. Gabrielle lay back and watched the shadows chase each other across the ceiling. Occasionally she thought she saw a glimmer of something more than friendship in the older woman's eyes but that was always quickly masked. Perhaps she should be more obvious about her own feelings. Eyes closing, she drifted into sleep.
Gabrielle slowly drifted up from the depths of sleep to the pleasant sensation of warmth under her body and a steady thud under her ear. Forcing one eye open, she found herself staring directly at Xena's shift-covered left breast, which rose and fell with the warrior's deep breathing. Careful not to disturb her still sleeping friend, the bard shifted her head from the pillow of Xena's right breast and removed her arm and leg, which were sprawled across the warrior's body. It was unusual for her to wake first. Dressing quickly, she decided to surprise Xena by getting breakfast and the picnic ready by the time she woke.
The unsuspecting merchant didn't know what had hit him. One minute he was about to make a few extra dinars off the naïve young blond, the next she had managed to get fruit, cheese, nutbread, smoked ham and a flagon of wine all for half the price he would normally have charged his regular customers. Gabrielle sat at a table in the half empty tavern, feeling rather pleased with herself. That had been one of her better deals. Xena would be impressed.
"Ah, Gabrielle, just the bard I wanted to see!"
"Salmoneus, I don't need an agent, I'm doing fine without, thank you."
Salmoneus looked crestfallen for a moment before waiving it away. "Your loss. Anyway I'm not here on business. I wanted to talk to you as a friend." He took a seat across from the bard. "Where's Xena?"
"She's still sleeping. Why?"
He took a deep breath. "How do I put this. Okay, you know I'm very fond of you both, I don't want to see either of you get hurt.
"I take it you have a point?"
"Gabrielle, how do you feel about Xena?"
"What do you mean how do I feel about Xena? She's my best friend. I love her."
"Yes, yes, we know that, but are you in love with her?"
The bard sputtered. Why was this becoming such an issue with everyone?
"Why?" she asked hesitantly.
"Because she's in love with you. I suspected it a long time ago. She's different with you. I've never seen her like that before and I've known her for a long time. She's trying to hide it from you and so far it seems be working, but if you look hard enough you can see it. Last night, did you know how hurt she was that you left with Tissume?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "She told me to go. She said she had a headache and was going to bed."
"Of course she did. She's not going to try to stop you from doing anything she thinks you want to do. Your happiness is very important to her even if she isn't the cause of it."
"What happened last night?"
"She held it together till you left, then she took off into the forest."
"You followed her?" Gabrielle interrupted incredulously.
"Of course not. I was concerned not crazy. I was sitting over by the window and I'd been watching you two for a while when Tissume came in. Let's just say Xena's not always as emotionless as she'd like to be. Anyway, when she came back she was holding her arm up across her body. I asked her if she was allright, she said she was. Apparently a tree fell into her fist." Salmoneus didn't think he needed to add that Xena's eyes had been red and her cheeks streaked with the tears that had dried there. Gabrielle was sitting with her head in her hands much like Xena the night before.
"Salmoneus, I had no idea. I never intended to hurt her. I wouldn't have gone Why doesn't she tell me how she feels?"
Salmoneus looked up as the barmaid placed a tray of ham, eggs and biscuits on the table in front of the bard.
"My guess is she's afraid, what's your reason?"
The bard bit her lip in acknowledgement.
"Gabrielle, she won't do it. It's up to you, if you love her and I think you do, you have to tell her."
"What am I supposed to do? Walk in and say 'I know you love me and that's good because I love you too?' I don't exactly have a lot of experience in these things!"
Salmoneus smiled as he stood and patted her on the shoulder, "You're the one with the imagination, think of something."
Gabrielle managed to make it back to their room with the breakfast tray and other purchases intact. She had no idea how she was going to broach the subject of love with Xena but she was too thrilled to care at the moment. She knew Xena well enough that coming straight out and telling the warrior that she was aware of her secret did not cross her mind. Oh well, she would just have to figure something out. Balancing the large tray on one hand the bard tried to turn the door handle with the other while still holding the heavy bag of groceries. The tray was just starting to tilt precariously when the door was flung open and Xena's strong hands shot out and stopped their breakfast from sliding to the floor.
"How did you...never mind." Gabrielle closed the door and followed the warrior over to the table.
"I was just about to come looking for you." Xena eyed the tray appreciatively.
"I was up early so I went out and got the stuff for our picnic." She smiled proudly, taking a seat opposite the warrior and starting on a piece of ham. She noticed that although Xena was using her left hand to eat, the swelling on the right had gone down significantly. Xena's recuperative abilities never failed to amaze her.
Xena glanced up at the bard giving her a half smile "Thanks for bringing this up," she said, waving a biscuit.
"Xena, I know how you feel about crowds of people, whether they're attacking you or not," she grinned back, "I really appreciate you agreeing to stop here."
"It's okay Gabrielle. I'm glad I could make you happy." She's in a good mood this morning. Xena felt her own mood begin to go down. Must have been a good night. She would have to tell the bard today about the decision she had come to last night.
"You do make me happy." Gabrielle reached across and caught the warrior's left hand, gently stroking the smooth, tanned skin. "Even when things are bad I'd rather be with you than with anyone else."
Xena was thankful she had nothing in her mouth, sure she would have choked. She felt the corners of her lips tug into a smile as her mood reflexively lightened. Careful, maybe it only means last night wasn't that good ? Still the smile remained. "Thanks, that means a lot to me." She knew they would have to talk but there was no reason they couldn't have a good day together and talk later.
As Xena had expected, Gabrielle loved the lagoon. The two women spent what was left of the morning and the rest of the afternoon lazing around and rambling from one topic of conversation to the next. Xena, against her better judgement since she firmly believed if you're not sure you want to know the answer don't ask the question, asked how the evening with Tissume had gone. The bard replied that it was okay but she was sorry Xena had not been there. Gabrielle's good humor was contagious and Xena was feeling relaxed and contented when the bard stood announcing that she was going for a swim.
Standing in front of the reclining warrior the bard unlaced her green top, shrugging it off her shoulders and letting it fall to the ground before reaching for the leather belt which kept her skirt in place. Xena carefully maintained a neutral expression as her best friend stripped in front of her, trying not to let her eyes roam over the exposed flesh. Come on Xena it's not like you haven't seen her naked before, get a grip here. Yeah, but she's so beautiful, so perfect and that smile
Gabrielle stepped out of the clothes puddled at her feet, smiling almost shyly at the warrior. She had undressed in front of Xena countless times but this was the first time she had deliberately tried to draw the warrior's attention to her body. It was working too, she noted with a slight rush of pleasure as Xena determinedly dragged her wandering eyes back up to the bard's face with a guilty smile of her own.
Feeling a sudden need to submerge herself in the cool water, Xena quickly stripped her leathers off. "Race ya!" she said as she ran past the bard and splashed into the lagoon. Gabrielle groaned watching the long, muscular body dive into the water. Getting Xena to notice her was one thing, getting her to act on her feelings was something else entirely.
A long, lazy backstroke brought Xena back to the bard's side. "Xena?"
"Hmm?" The warrior floated on her back, eyes closed to avoid temptation, giving Gabrielle the perfect opportunity to study the magnificent body in front of her.
"I know you've been with men before, have you been with women too?"
Xena's eyes snapped open as her body, no longer relaxed started to sink. Finally getting her feet beneath her, she pushed the wet hair out of her eyes and turned to the curious bard. Sex was the one subject they didn't often discuss, neither one wanting to dwell too much on the thought of the other being intimate with someone else.
"Yeah, a few. Does that bother you?" That was one way of finding out what the bard thought of it.
"No, of course not." Gabrielle blushed slightly keeping her eyes locked on the blue ones regarding her intently. "I just wondered what it was like," she finished softly.
Xena did her best fish imitation for a while before the words actually passed her lips. "It's ah," she cleared her throat and tried again, "It's different."
"Xena I know it's different but what is it like? Do you enjoy it as much?"
The warrior could tell from the determined expression on Gabrielle's face that being vague and avoiding answers was going to get her nowhere. Still she was not sure having this discussion with the naked bard less than two feet away was a good idea. As it was she was already trying to ignore her body's responses. She groaned inwardly. Part of her wanted to have this conversation with the bard so she could gauge her reaction but what if that reaction was disgust? It doesn't matter anyway, you've made your decision, her little voice reminded her.
Xena stared into space for a moment before looking into the sea-green eyes. "It's not that easy to explain Gabrielle, but I'll try. Yes I do enjoy it, very much. I prefer being with a woman. I love the way they smell, the way they feel, the way they taste. Having a woman respond to my touch is more exciting to me than sex with any man. The feel of soft, smooth skin next to mine, the sound of her voice, her breathing when I touch her, taste her. There's nothing like it."
Gabrielle's skin burned in spite of the cool water as Xena's deep seductive voice washed over her, leaving her aching with desire. She could see a hunger in the blue eyes that mirrored her own. Without realizing she had moved, her body was now only a hand's length away from the warrior's, the water surrounding her the only thing keeping her upright.
Xena, too, was caught by the almost magnetic force pulling them together. Before she could stop them, she saw her hands reach out and caress the bard's arms, gliding slowly over the smooth skin from shoulder to elbow and back. Gabrielle's gasp brought Xena back to the reality of what she was doing. Snatching her hands away from the bard, the warrior's look of longing was replaced by horror.
"Gab...I'm sorry...I didn't mean to... I should leave." She turned and fled from the water. Gabrielle stood there stunned, unable to say a word as she watched the warrior reach the shore and slip hastily into her leathers. By the time she made her way out Xena had already disappeared. She dressed slowly, hands fumbling numbly over laces as she tried to ignore the hurt inside her. Had she imagined the desire on her friend's face? Or the intent in the way she had touched her? Her body shuddered in response to the memory. No, she had not imagined any of it. Why then had Xena taken off as if Cerberus himself were at her heels? "Okay Xena," she whispered "Time to talk, whether you want to or not."
Xena had calmed down considerably by the time Gabrielle came into the room. She had separated her belongings from her friend's and had everything packed and on the table next to her chakram and sword. Having come that close to revealing her heart she knew it she had to do this now. Standing looking out the window she heard the door open and close behind her.
A jolt of apprehension shot through Gabrielle as she immediately noticed the warrior's possessions laid out on the table. "What's going on Xena?"
Emotions under tight control, Xena turned from the window to face the bewildered bard. It tore at her heart to see the confusion and pain on her friend's face but this was for the best.
"Gabrielle," the deep voice was gentle, "I have to leave; I think you should stay here. It'll be better for you
"What? I'm not staying here. Why would you even suggest that? Talk to me, what is this about?"
Xena started to pace. She had not really expected this to go well and it wasn't. "You won't be in danger here, it's safer than most places. I couldn't live with myself if anything were to happen to you. It's just something I have to do." This had sounded so much better when she had gone through it in her head.
The bard raked her hands through her hair in frustration. "I can't believe we're having this conversation! Gods, Xena I am not a child, I'm not the innocent little girl who followed you from Poteidaia. We've been together for three summers, I think I know by now how dangerous travelling with you can be!" Her eyes flashed angrily. Where in Tartarus had this come from all of a sudden?
Xena stopped her restless pacing, grabbing hold of Gabrielle's arms she tried reason with her. "Look Gabrielle it's not that I think you're gonna get hurt. It's not a feeling; it's something I know. I can't explain right now, just trust me on this."
"Trust you on this? Have you lost your mind?" The bard wrenched her arms free from Xena's grasp, took three steps away and immediately returned "Help me understand this Xena. We've always been in danger. Why do you suddenly want to leave me here? I thought we were friends. What happened to being able to face anything as long as we're together? What is going on?" Gabrielle ended on an almost pleading note, her face showing confusion, anger and more than a hint of pain.
You should have known better then to get into an argument with her, Xena's ever helpful little voice told her. The warrior's limited patience was wearing thin. It did not help that she knew the bard was right. She would hurt her more if she just left her here with the very vague reason she had given for their proposed separation than if she told the truth. Xena took a deep breath, closing her eyes and rubbing her brow before turning back to her best friend. She owed her the truth.
Gabrielle stubbornly fought back the hot tears threatening to spill over as she watched the raven-haired warrior reach a decision. Taking the larger woman's undamaged hand in hers she led her over to the bed. She had a feeling she would need to be sitting for this.
Xena's little voice, pissed at being ignored, had finally shut up. She studied the floor for a moment before raising twin pools of blue to the bard's face. Sadness, fear, pain and love, all evident in that look. Gabrielle had the uncanny feeling that she could see directly into the warrior's tortured soul.
Finally she began, her voice husky with emotion. "Gabrielle, after you and Hope fell into the pit I didn't know what to do, couldn't imagine life without you. I finally realized I had to find you somehow even if it meant following you in death." The small hand still clutching hers tightened its grasp. After Hades said he didn't have you I tried the Amazon land of the dead. I had to fight the shamaness who had helped me become the Destroyer of Nations." Her lips twitched in disgust at the title she had once been proud of. "My will to live was not that strong to begin with and she had pretty much won when she showed me a vision of my future; you were with me. That was a mistake on her part. My love for you gave me the strength to defeat her." She shrugged "You were alive, I had to find you."
Gabrielle regarded the warrior in silence, a single tear sliding down her cheek. She had never realized the depth of Xena's love for her or the lengths she would go to be with her. Why then did she want to leave her here?
"Xena, the vision, what did you see?"
Xena closed her eyes, every detail of Alti's vision immediately replaying itself on the background of her mind.
"Caesar's men were about to crucify us."
Gabrielle gasped, both hands increasing their grip on Xena's.
"We were lying in the snow next to each other, being nailed to crosses." She turned her haunted expression back to the stunned bard. "They were going to kill you because you were with me. I led you to your death. You can't stay with me anymore." she whispered.
"Xena," Gabrielle took the warrior's face in her hands looking deep into incredibly blue eyes, "that's not your decision to make." Then as the warrior attempted to pull away, "No, listen to me. We've both come close to death so many times and the only reason we've survived was because we had each other. I'm not leaving you again. I can't. I tried before but it doesn't work. It's like there's some force keeping us together and we can't be happy if we're apart. I'd rather die with you than try to live without you."
Xena's mind was having difficulty processing all the information it had just received. One part of her brain was trying to think of some way to get Gabrielle to understand the danger she was in, the other was going into paroxysms of delight at the thought of the bard never intending to leave her again, ever. She shook her head in an effort to settle her thoughts.
"Gabrielle I can't knowingly lead you to your death. You can't expect me to do that, I love you more than anything in this world." The warrior held her breath for a moment, hoping she had not said what her ears told her she had.
Gabrielle's troubled look disappeared as a gentle smile illuminated her features. "Isn't the purpose of visions to help us so that we can avoid certain paths? Xena we're partners. Where you go I go. If you were in my place would it keep you away?"
"It's not the same thing," Xena responded weakly. The bard's argument had planted a seed of hope in her ravaged heart. Hope that they could be together and live to enjoy it.
"Yes or no?"
Gabrielle's arms went around the warrior's neck. Pulling her close she whispered "I won't leave you again."
Xena buried her face in the sweet smelling blond hair, squeezing the bard tight and blinking back tears. What had she ever done to deserve this? Nothing at all that she could think of but now it was hers she was not about to let Caesar or anyone else take it away from her. They held each other for long moments, drawing comfort from their closeness and beginning to heal the emotional wounds of the past year.
Finally Gabrielle drew back enough to smile up into blue eyes full of love and tenderness. Gently she stroked away the traces of tears from the warrior's cheek, her thumb travelling down to brush across full lips. Leaning forward she replaced the digit with her mouth. Tentatively at first, then with growing confidence when Xena made no effort to bolt, she explored the warrior's soft lips. A warm flicker against her lower lip drew a gasp, permitting Xena the entrance she sought. Her tongue danced over lips and teeth before reaching in and caressing the bard's depths. Tangling her hands in the long raven locks Gabrielle pulled the warrior closer, returning the kiss with increasing passion. Tongues entwined, dancing back and forth from one mouth to the next as small hands began to roam over the leather covered body.
Xena could feel the last vestiges of control slipping from her grasp. She had wanted this for so long that she had grown accustomed to the ache within her. Still she had to be sure. She broke the kiss, her breathing coming in ragged pants, to search heavy lidded green eyes. "Gabrielle ?"
"Yes Xena, I want this I want you." Hungry lips reclaimed Xena's, quelling any further doubts she might have had. Her hands slid down the bard's sides, pausing when they encountered bare skin before continuing down to her hips. Without breaking the connection she easily lifted the smaller woman to straddle her lap. To Gabrielle's surprise she felt one boot slide from her foot quickly followed by the other. Strong, surprisingly gentle fingers stroked from her calves to the hem of her skirt and back down again lifting her legs onto the bed on either side of Xena's body allowing for even closer contact. Finding it increasingly difficult to breathe, the bard finally dragged her mouth away from Xena's to trail kisses along her jaw to her ear. The warrior inhaled sharply at the combined pleasure of hearing Gabrielle's labored breathing and the feel of the moist lips and tongue working a very sensitive spot just below her ear. Xena's gasp turned into a moan and her heart rate went up a notch as small hands came up between their bodies to cup her full breasts. She could already feel the dampness between her thighs from her soaked undergarment.
"Gods Xena I need touch you." Gabrielle impatiently pulled the straps off the warrior's broad shoulders pushing the leather down her firm abdomen. "Oh yes!" she groaned rubbing her palms over nipples which tried to bore into her hands. She wanted to touch everywhere at once. The feel of her love's exposed skin was pure bliss.
"Gabrielle wait." Xena had felt the slow rocking hips against hers pick up speed and intensity until the grinding against her pelvis threatened to overcome both of them. Summoning every last ounce of control she possessed, she took both the bards' hands in hers and took a deep, uneven breath. "We need to slow down a bit, okay?" She leaned her forehead against the bard's and felt the responding nod. "I love you," she whispered. Gabrielle looked back into pools of blue and had absolutely no doubts about the truth of that statement. "I love you too." Holding the bard's hands in one of hers, Xena reached out with the other trembling hand to untie the laces of the green top, gazing in fascination at the flesh it revealed. Gabrielle backed off of the warrior's legs to stand in front of her. Shrugging her top off her shoulders she reached for her belt, letting that and the skirt follow before slowly sliding her undergarment over her hips.
Xena swallowed convulsively transfixed by the beauty of the woman standing before her. Gabrielle stepped forward pulling the warrior to her feet. "This has to go," she smiled, pulling the leathers off the larger woman and hooking her fingers almost shyly in the top of her breeches. The bard tried to keep her breathing steady, her heart hammering against her ribcage as the last garment fell to the floor. She was way out of her depth here, going solely on instinct.
Sensing her uncertainty, Xena gave herself a little mental shake; "Gotta stop playing the virgin." Taking Gabrielle's hand she scooted back on the bed until she touched the wall, again pulling the bard onto her lap. All insecurities were forgotten, as both women groaned at the contact of skin on skin for the first time. Gabrielle reached forward, tracing the high cheekbones and strong jaws. In a sliver of moonlight she could see Xena's eyes dark with desire, the pupils dilated so much that there was now only a thin ring of blue. Tilting the warrior's head up their lips met in a heart-stopping kiss as breasts meshed together. Xena's lips blazed a trail along the bard's neck down to her breasts. Tasting the underside of each firm mound she deliberately avoided the sensitive tips for as long as she could before Gabrielle's hands in her hair guided her mouth to an aching nipple. Running her tongue over the puckered flesh she squeezed its mate between her thumb and forefinger alternating between the two until Gabrielle's whimpers were constant. The bard's wet center pressed against her muscular stomach sliding rhythmically up and down fueling her desire even more.
"Oh yes Xena!" the bard moaned, head thrown back, arching into the delicious suction. Surely nothing could feel this good; every tug of the lips on her breast was answered by a corresponding pulse between her legs. Instinctively she removed her hands from the warrior's head sliding them firmly down her chest till they encountered Xena's ample breasts. Rotating her palms over the aroused flesh she felt the warrior beneath her shudder. "Gods Xena, you feel so good," she murmured almost delirious with pleasure.
"You make me feel good, Gabrielle," she breathed sliding further down between the bard's legs, away from the distracting hands, the body above hers leaving a hot wet trail wherever it made contact. Her tongue traced the clearly defined abs and dipped softly into her navel before continuing towards the reddish-gold curls.
The former Destroyer of Nations lay on her back looking up the body of the woman who had found her heart. She could see the bard's desire glistening in her curls, the scent making her more lightheaded than the strongest drug. Xena parted the moist folds, groaning as her fingers found evidence of just how much Gabrielle wanted her, her own center throbbing in response. Bringing the bard closer, she delicately traced the aroused flesh with her tongue. Gabrielle's cries of pleasure increased as Xena's mouth covered her, feeling as much as hearing the warrior's own muffled moans. She braced her arms against the wall to support her trembling body, not sure how much more of this sweet torture she could withstand. Xena leisurely tongued the folds, carefully avoiding the hard bundle of nerve endings before plunging into the bard's slick depths. She knew her lover was close. Releasing her grip on Gabrielle's thighs, her hands reached up to squeeze her nipples at the same time she pulled the swollen bud into her mouth, swirling her tongue over the smooth skin.
Gabrielle's eyes flew wide locking on Xena's as a bolt of white-hot pleasure shot through her. Her hips bucked uncontrollably against Xena's mouth as wave after wave of ecstasy rolled over her, leaving her weak and shuddering. Xena rode out the last of the bard's spasms feeling the tremors in her own body as she stared back into unfocused green eyes.
Pulling herself back up the bed, she gathered the trembling bard into her arms, stroking the damp hair away from her flushed face as her breathing gradually slowed. A sense of peace and completeness she had never known before came over her. Someone else's pleasure had never meant much to her, not that she doubted her abilities in bed. She did, after all, have many skills she thought wryly. Still, it had always been about ego or a means to an end, never purely about giving. Until now. "I love you Gabrielle," she whispered into the blond head nestled between her breasts.
Gabrielle raised her head and propped on an elbow to gaze gently down at her warrior, seeing the single tear escape and run down to Xena's ear. "I love you too, I always have." Tracing the tear with one finger she lowered her lips to her lover's, blond hair falling forward and brushing over bronzed shoulders. "Let me show you." She sucked softly on Xena's full lower lip tasting herself there. "You are so beautiful," she murmured, trailing her fingers up over a sculpted biceps and shoulder, down to caress a full firm breast. "I've wanted to touch you for so long...to taste you." Her mouth covered the semi-erect nipple, her tongue swirling over the hard surface, her hand firmly massaging the other breast. Xena's eyes closed as the passion, which had been simmering just below the surface, flared again. "Look at me Xena" Blue eyes reopened. "I want you to watch me love you." The warrior moaned as Gabrielle shifted to lie on top of her, planting one leg between her muscular thighs. Grasping a breast in each hand, she alternated nipping and suckling on the sensitive nipples, delighting in Xena's little whimpers and the big, strong hands stroking her back. She could feel her lover's moisture on her thigh as Xena tried to get more direct contact on her heated core. Reaching between their bodies, she ran one finger through the dark curls to the warm wetness below and heard Xena draw in a sharp, hissing breath. "Gods Xena, you're so wet," she groaned, her own body responding to the warrior's desire. Bringing her fingers to her mouth, she slowly sucked the moisture from them. Xena shuddered, her eyes never leaving the bard's face. "Gabrielle...please," she whimpered, her hips rocking harder against the bard's thigh. Rising to her knees Gabrielle began to move lower down the long body intent on giving the warrior the same pleasure she had just received. "No" Strong fingers held her arms preventing her descent. Somewhat confused she looked questioningly at her lover. "I need to hold you." Gabrielle smiled, straddling Xena's leg again, gliding smoothly back and forth over the flexed muscle. "I'm here." She breathed into the warrior's mouth, giving her a searing kiss before returning her attentions and her lips to the neglected breasts. "So soft," she mumbled, her tongue travelling over the smooth, creamy flesh to circle a rigid nipple. Her hand released the other breast to descend once again to the dark thatch at Xena's center, her fingers playing in the hair there then sliding down to stroke the swollen lips. The warrior gasped, her hips thrusting up off the bed, her hands moving to grasp Gabrielle's hips, guiding her more firmly against her thigh. "Oh Xena." The combination of her lover's arousal and the friction against her own excited flesh was fast becoming too much for the bard. Breath coming in short gasps, she thrust two fingers deep inside the writhing warrior, feeling the slick inner walls clench tightly around her. Matching the pace of her hips to that of her hand, she added a third finger to her lover's overheated core, each thrust bumping her palm against the swollen bud. "Oh Gods," Xena moaned, her body beginning to shudder with her approaching climax "Oh yes, Gabrielle!" She grasped the bard's hand, holding it tightly against her pulsing center, fingers buried deep inside as her body spasmed. Gabrielle's frantic grinding against the warrior's leg became erratic, each contraction around her hand echoed in her own release. Letting go of the bard's hand, she hugged the smaller woman tightly to her, feeling after-shocks run through both their bodies.
Snuggled comfortably in Xena's arms Gabrielle smiled sleepily. "You know Xena, if you had told me before what your skills were, we could have done this a long time ago." She felt the deep rumble of her lover's chuckle as she slipped into unconsciousness.
Feeling a contentment she had never experienced before, Xena lay cradling the bard protectively in her arms. Watching the relaxed features even more gentle in sleep, she marveled that such a woman could love her. She knew she did not deserve it but she was determined to earn it. Slowly her eyes fluttered close, her mind taking her not to the usual bloody battlefields that haunted her dreams but to a peaceful beach where a blond bard took her hand and said "I will never leave you."
Copyright © January 1999 by K.R Brendan
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