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Five Times They Talked About Xena’s Admirers And One Time They Didn’t

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1.

It had been a long day of work and Xena and Gabrielle were both exhausted. All of the preparations that could be made against the warlord’s attack had been put in place and there was nothing left to do but wait for his arrival sometime the next morning. It wasn’t much of a village, but it was all these people had, so Xena had done her best to train farmers and blacksmiths to use the tools of their trade for more martial pursuits, and left Gabrielle to oversee the construction of the fortifications she had sketched out.

A young village girl, Malia, not much younger than Gabrielle, had appointed herself Xena’s personal guide and messenger, not leaving the warrior princess’ side since they arrived three days ago, unless she was sent on an errand by Xena herself. If she had been any younger Gabrielle might have dismissed it as mere hero worship, which she completely understood. As it was, Malia seemed a bit too eager, stood a bit too close, and something about the way she stared at Xena when her focus was elsewhere caught Gabrielle’s attention.

During the day there were too many tasks to complete to give it much consideration, but lying here quietly in the dark gave her thoughts time to circle around, and it was either think on Malia or worry about the approaching warlord. She sighed and flipped onto her side, hoping sleep would claim her soon.

“Will you keep it down over there?”

Gabrielle turned back over to face towards Xena. “I didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t have to. I can practically hear you thinking,” Xena replied without turning around. “We have an early start and a long day tomorrow. Try to get some sleep.”

Gabrielle flipped onto her back and stared at the ceiling, then sighed again as her thoughts refused to settle.

“Gabrielle, I swear to the gods, if you don’t stop tossing and turning and sighing like a leaky waterskin I will make you sleep in the stall with Argo.”

Gabrielle turned back to Xena again and said, “I’m sorry, it’s just… I was just wondering…” She paused, uncertain of how to proceed now that she’d started. Normally she wasn’t one to shy away from conversation, even if she was the only one doing to the talking, but she’d only been travelling with Xena for a month or so, and she hadn’t really encountered this situation before, and was wary of how to approach the often prickly warrior princess.

“What?”

“I was just wondering… does this sort of thing happen a lot?”

“What sort of thing?”

“With Malia.”

“What about her?”

“Well she seems awfully fond of you.”

“Oh really?”

“Like, very fond.”

“Are you suggesting that it’s strange for someone to like me?” Gabrielle could hear the smirk in her voice.

“No! I mean, I like you, and Argo likes you, and all of the villagers you’ve helped liked you, and of course there’s your mother, although the rest of Amphipolis had some issues, and that Cyclops definitely didn’t like you but I hardly think his opinion counts…” The conversation was going completely off course and the more flustered Gabrielle got the more she babbled, which only made her more flustered. At some point during her rambling Xena had finally turned over in her bedroll and was staring Gabrielle down with her arctic blue eyes until she finally stuttered to a stop. Xena raised an eyebrow at her as if to question exactly what point Gabrielle was trying to make.

She took a deep breath and looked away into the darkness of the room. “It’s just… Malia is acting the way that boys in Potedeia act when they want to take a girl for a walk in the woods or off to a secluded hayloft,” Both of Xena’s eyebrows were raised and there was definite smirking now. “And I’m not trying to pry into your personal life, but I was just wondering if this sort of thing happens to you a lot.” The last sentence came out in a flurried string of words and Gabrielle sat there in the semi-dark, not sure at all what Xena’s response would be. As the seconds stretched on Gabrielle wondered if she would even get a response, or if Xena had gone back to bed as a way of ending the conversation. She looked over to see Xena smiling gently at her, and Gabrielle let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“Not precisely, no,” Xena answered. “I do get interest, mostly from men. In fact, I get interest from most men,” Xena elaborated with a slight grimace. “Occasionally from a woman. But this starry-eyed puppy love is somewhat new.” Xena’s face darkened, the planes of her face sharpening as she pursed her lips. “You have to understand, the person I was, the person most people still see me as, wasn’t anyone that inspired those sorts of feelings, and definitely wasn’t the sort of person that someone as young and impressionable as Malia should be around. So I appreciate what that sort of attention represents, even if I have no intention of doing anything with it.”

With that, Xena returned the soft smile that Gabrielle was giving her and turned back to her bedroll. “Now go to sleep.”

Gabrielle lay back down on her own bedroll, the weight of her thoughts lifting from her mind to be replaced with sleep. “Goodnight Xena.”

“Xena?”

“What is it now?”

“You wouldn’t really have made me sleep in the stall with Argo, would you?”

“Of course not.”

“I thought so.”

“I’d never do that to poor Argo.”

Xena laughed as Gabrielle’s pillow thumped against her back, accompanied by an affronted ‘hmph’.

****

2.

“You know, I’m thinking of setting aside a scroll just to keep a tally of all of the poor lovelorn souls you’ve left behind as we travel across Greece.”

Xena looked behind her as she led Argo by the reins down the dirt road. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh please. You can’t tell me that you didn’t notice the way Huger the blacksmith lit up like a solstice candle every time you came in the shop.”

“I’m sure he was just appreciating the obscene amount of money I was spending in his shop to repair my armor.

“Uh-huh. I’m sure that’s why he offered to re-shoe Argo for free. Because he’s such a savvy businessman, and not because he wanted you to stay in town a few hours longer.”

“I’m sure he gives discounts to all the patrons who drop that many dinars in his shop.”

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. “And I’m sure Samocles the farmer always lets strange travelers stay in his barn for a week without any payment in return?”

“There was a violent storm and he was just being neighborly,” Xena replied blithely.

“Does he also give his neighbors a sack of provisions for the road and invite them to return whenever they’re in the area?”

Xena smiled. “I’m sure he doesn’t, since his neighbors are already in the area and have homes of their own.”

Gabrielle adopted a pensive look and tapped her chin thoughtfully. “So was the barmaid in that tavern we visited last week being neighborly or business-savvy when she gave us free refills?”

“I’m sure-”

“All night. Free refills all night, and I’m sure that the price the owner gave us to rent the room for the night was at least twice what that barmaid charged us in the morning.”

Xena laughed. “All right, what’s your point?”

Gabrielle smiled back at her. “My point is, I feel, in the interest of the Grecian economy, that I should start keeping a list of all of the swooning admirers you leave behind. Money is expected to change hands for goods and services, and if people keep falling in love with you and giving out free meals and merchandise then pretty soon the whole system will collapse. So we need to make sure that the local economy has time to recover from your last visit before we return, and for that we need a list.”

Argo flicked her ears in annoyance as Xena threw back her head and laughed. “Well I certainly wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.” She rifled through one of the saddlebags until she found a blank scroll and tossed it back to Gabrielle. “For your list.”

“When did you pick up a blank scroll?”

Xena rubbed the back of her neck. “When we went to the market back in the town with the barmaid. You were busy talking to the proprietor about ink and the shop boy asked if I needed anything. I mentioned needing scrolls but not knowing which kind you used, so he, uh, might have, um… let me take a couple for free.”

Gabrielle pressed her hand to her forehead and chuckled. “OK, we’re obviously not going back to that town for a while. Who else was there?”

The pair continued down the road in the afternoon sun, name after name joining those of Huger, Samocles, and the others, punctuated by laughter and groans of embarrassment as the list grew.

****

3.

“I think I prefer your worshipers on the less violent side of the scales.”

Xena turned away from where Joxer was sleeping and raised an eyebrow at Gabrielle, who was sitting on the steps by the altar.

“You know, more like, say, Hower, and less likely to pull a knife on me or throw me in a jail cell.”

“Gabrielle-”

“Or try to beat me up in a tavern,” Gabrielle continued.

“Tara was a confused-”

“Or steal from my friends and get them beaten up.”

Xena interrupted, “Wait, is this about Rafe?”

“He’s a thief, Xena!” Gabrielle yelled, before looking over at a sleeping Joxer and dropping her voice down low. “I know I joked about you liking bad boys, but he’s a thief and a con man and he nearly got Joxer killed.”

“We need his help to fleece Titus and Leo, his and Eldon’s. You know we do.”

“I wasn’t aware that we also needed kisses and massages to get his help. I thought we’d covered that with the whole ‘help us or we’ll make your lives painful’ talk we had in the tavern.”

Confusion shone on Xena’s face. “Gabrielle, what-”

“Did you know they have a wager going between them on who can kiss you first?” Gabrielle crossed her arms. “I heard them discussing it. Thirty dinars to the one who can get you to kiss them.”

Xena crossed her arms as well. “I know.”

“It’s sick, Xena. It’s- …wait, you know?”

“I figured it out while I was brushing up on my skills in the tavern. I know what it looks like when someone’s interested in me, and Rafe was trying entirely too hard for it to be just that,” Xena said with a small smirk.

“So what are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?!” Gabrielle looked outraged.

“We have more important things to worry about than their adolescent wager.”

“But Xena…” Gabrielle held out her arms helplessly before letting them drop to her side.

Xena looked mildly curious. “Why does it bother you so much?”

Gabrielle crossed her arms and looked away.

“Gabrielle?”

“It’s disrespectful!” she said, turning back to face Xena.

Xena’s lips quirked at the sight of Gabrielle so offended on her behalf. “Do you think they should have wagered more?”

Gabrielle huffed out a breath “That’s not what I meant.”

Xena stood and walked over to her friend, placing her hand on her upper arm. “Hey.” She waited for Gabrielle to meet her eyes “It’s just a stupid bet between two intellectual lightweights whose names we probably won’t remember in a year.” The bard smiled and ducked her head. “Don’t worry about it, ok? Let’s just get Joxer better, take Titus for all he’s worth, and leave this town in our dust.”

Gabrielle nodded her head and rose, limping over to where Joxer slept to replace the wet compress on his forehead. Xena’s face softened as she and wondered not for the first time how she’d gotten so lucky as to have the loyalty and friendship of this sweet girl.

****

4.

“You’re awfully quiet.”

Gabrielle looked up from sharpening her sais to stare across the fire at Xena.

“Something on your mind?”

“I’m just trying to concentrate. I didn’t really have to use a whetstone on my staff, so I want to make sure I do this right.”

Silence fell back over the campsite, broken only by the soft sound of stone on steel.

“Are you planning on giving up the staff entirely?”

Gabrielle stopped her work, but didn’t look up.

“I know you’ve been conflicted about your path, and I’d hate for you to think that this is something you have to do.”

Gabrielle looked up at this. “It is, though. It is something I have to do.”

“Gabrielle…”

“No, Xena. I told you. You are my way as much as I am yours. There is nothing I would rather do in this life or the next than walk through the world by your side. That is my path, but we both know that it is a dangerous one. By the Gods, we both died! There are dangerous people, both in our past and in our future, and if the next one to take an interest is more like Caesar and less like Joxer, then I need to be prepared. Hitting them with a stick isn’t going to get the job done anymore.” With that, she set about sharpening her sais more vigorously than before.

Xena stared at her friend, her best friend, her family, and her heart broke to see how she had changed, how different she was from the girl who followed her out of Potedeia, how different even from the disciple of Eli she was just a few short weeks ago. And she could have blamed it on the smoke from the fire, but she knew that wasn’t the reason why her vision blurred.

“Gabrielle, I’m sorry.”

Gabrielle’s head whipped up at the break in Xena’s voice and, seeing her tears, she set her weapons down and moved to her friend’s side.

“You don’t have to apologize.”

“I took you from your home, where it was safe, and brought you out into a world full of dangerous people from my past, people who are fixated on me, and you’ve been so hurt by it. How is that something I shouldn’t apologize for?”

Gabrielle set her hand on Xena’s knee. “Because it’s not your fault. Xena, look at me.” She waited until blue eyes met hers and continued, “It isn’t your fault. I chose to leave my village. I chose to follow you, accepting the consequences of my actions.”

“You couldn’t possibly have known it would be like this. Gods and emperors using us for sport, killing our children, killing us…”

Gabrielle took a shuddering breath at the thought of Hope and tried to ignore the stabbing pain of guilt that clenched around her heart for what had happened to Solan.

“You aren’t responsible for the harm others do, Xena, any more than you’re responsible for the choices I’ve made in my life. I’m a grown woman, and my choices are my own. It was my choice to follow you, it was their choice to harm others. All we can do is try our best to help people when we can, and stop others from hurting the innocent. It’s a good life, a worthy life, and there’s no one I’d rather have by my side than you.” Gabrielle paused a moment to let her words sink in, then continued in a lighter tone. “No matter how many bloodthirsty ex-lovers you have.”

Xena gave a short laugh and wiped at her face. Gabrielle smiled up at her and squeezed her knee, then walked back over to her side of the fire to give Xena time to compose herself.

“Hey, bring those over here, I’ll show you the right way to sharpen them. Just in case any of those ex-lovers are lurking in the bushes.”

Gabrielle laughed and returned to her friend’s side, and underneath the stars the low sound of Xena’s explanation joined that of the sparking fire and wind in the trees.

****

5.

“You and your bad boys.”

Xena glanced at Gabrielle in the mirror and continued applying the kohl to her eyes. If there was one disadvantage to playing Cleopatra, it was the excessive amounts of preparation she had to do before appearing in public.

“I told you, I know what I’m doing and I have everything completely under control.”

“Xena, you were two minutes away from mounting him right there on the floor yesterday. And now you’re off to meet him alone. What if he tries something?”

Xena put down the brush and turned around to face her friend. “I certainly hope he tries something, or this whole plan has been for nothing. I need him to try to seduce Cleopatra’s navy away from me.”

Gabrielle crossed her arms. “And I ask again, how far are you willing to let it go?”

“As far as I have to for the plan to succeed. Or would you rather I try to fight both Antony and Brutus together? The Egyptian navy is the envy of the Mediterranean, but even with my skills I don’t think we could win against their combined forces.”

Gabrielle sighed and looked down. “I know. I just… I don’t like it.”

“I’m playing a part, Gabrielle. Think of it as one of your stories. It’s Cleopatra who has feelings for Antony, not me. I’ll get Antony just where I want him, we set him and Brutus on each other, figure out what to do with Octavius, then we’ll leave the Egyptians to their own devices and head back to Greece.”

“If you say so,” Gabrielle said, though she still looked skeptical.

“Everything is going to work out just fine, Gabrielle. Now help me with these ridiculous golden hair things. I have a general to seduce.”

Gabrielle stepped forward and began braiding the golden strands back into Xena’s hair. She worked in silence for several minutes until she was done, occasionally casting glances at Xena in the mirror. When she was finished Xena stood and drew a spotted pelt over her shoulder and headed towards the door and her rendezvous with Marc Antony.

“Xena?”

She paused at the door and turned back to face Gabrielle.

“Just… Just be careful, alright? I know it’s all for show, but he’s handsome and dangerous and just your type, and sometimes things happen that we can’t control.” She paused and took a breath. “I would hate for you to get hurt without meaning to.”

Xena smiled at her friend. “I know what I’m doing, Gabrielle,” she repeated. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon.”

With that Xena turned and walked out the door, leaving a worried and somewhat sullen Gabrielle behind to pace Cleopatra’s chambers until her friend returned.

****

6.

“What?”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“I know you didn’t Xena, but you’ve been staring at me off and on since we left Amphipolis, so I figured, while Eve and Virgil are off collecting firewood, I’d take the opportunity to ask what was bothering you.”

“Nothing’s bothering me.”

“Are you worried about Lucifer? Because he’s stuck in Hell, and there’s no way he’s getting out.”

“I know that. I’m not worried about Lucifer.”

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow at her friend and then shrugged. “OK, if you say so.”

“It’s just,” Xena paused and scratched at the dirt with a small branch, “…what did Virgil mean by ‘the mistake of a lifetime’?” She looked up after a few moments when it didn’t seem like Gabrielle was going to answer.

Gabrielle opened and closed her mouth a few times before looking up at the sky as if the right words would descend from the heavens. Finally she sighed and met Xena’s eyes. “Virgil and I were going to sleep together. During the festivities to tempt Lucifer, after you and I, uh…” It could have been trick of the setting sun, but the bard seemed to flush red as she cleared her throat and looked away. “Danced. After you and I danced, and Virgil interrupted us, he and I left together and I’m certain we would have slept together if we weren’t interrupted ourselves.”

A sharp crack echoed in the clearing as the stick Xena had been scratching in the dirt with broke in her hands. “Is that so?”

“I’m glad we didn’t. Like he said, mistake of a lifetime.”

“Right.”

“I mean, talk about embarrassing. He’s Joxer’s son, for Hera’s sake.”

“I know.”

“Not that it would have been anyone’s fault. We were all under the influence of Hell.”

“Uh huh.”

Gabrielle paused in her ramblings to observe her more-taciturn-than-usual friend. “OK, I don’t see what the big deal is. Nothing actually happened, and it’s not like you and Lucifer were off innocently playing dice somewhere.”

“No, we weren’t, but that was part of the plan. Lucifer had to be corrupted to take my place in Hell. Nowhere in our discussions did we talk about the part where you sleep with Joxer’s muscle-bound moron of a son.”

“I didn’t sleep with him. But even if I did I don’t see how it would be my fault! We were being corrupted by the powers of Hell. And even if I did I don’t see how you’re in any position to judge.”

Xena stood. “What exactly is that supposed to mean,” she asked in dangerous voice.

“Marcus, Hercules, Caesar, Lao Ma, Ulysses, the former God of War, the new King of Hell... That’s not even a quarter of the list. We can’t seem to go a month without running into someone who either has been or wants to get into your leathers.” Gabrielle gave a short half-laugh that spoke more of aggravation than humor, “I’m sorry, there’s only so much a girl can take.”

“Right, like you and Virgil haven’t been huddled together for weeks, talking about poetry.”

Gabrielle threw her hands up in the air. “By the Gods, Xena, what is your problem with Virgil? He’s a sweet kid who just lost his father. We both enjoy poetry, and I thought it would be a good way to help him deal with that. I swear, it’s like-” Gabrielle paused, turning to look directly at the warrior princess. “…Are you jealous of Virgil?”

“Gabrielle, that is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

The bard half-smiled in wonder. “You are. You’re jealous of Virgil. You don’t want us spending time together.”

“I’m not going to stand here and listen to this. If you want someone to talk nonsense with, wait until Virgil gets back to camp. I’m sure you and he have plenty to talk about.” Xena turned to stalk off into the forest, but before she took two steps a small hand caught her by the elbow. She looked down at the earnest face of her friend.

“I don’t want to talk to Virgil. I don’t want to be with Virgil.” Gabrielle took a breath to gather her courage. “I want to talk to you. I want to be with you.”

Xena could only stand there stunned by Gabrielle’s confession.

“We’ve faced giants, gods, countless warlords, we’ve died and come back more times than I can count, and telling you how I feel is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. You are the most amazing, frustrating, brave, stubborn, beautiful woman I’ve ever met, and I’ve wanted to be with you since before you died on Mount Nestos.”

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Xena asked in a quiet voice.

“There was always someone else. Many someone elses. Better someone elses. Sure, I know my way around a weapon now, but back then I was just a bard from Potedeia. I was no one special, and I didn’t want to be just another one of those silly village girls that always follow you around.”

Xena grabbed Gabrielle’s arm. “You are special. You always have been. There was never anything ‘just’ or ‘merely’ about you, and your value to me has never been about how well you could fight.”

Gabrielle smiled. “You’re my best friend, Xena. My family. I didn’t want to ruin what we had if you didn’t feel the same way.”

“Gabrielle, there is nothing you could ever do that would change that. You are my best friend and my family too. And I wish it didn’t take putting our lives at risk for us to admit what we mean to each other, but I guess we’re both stubborn that way,” Xena said with a smile.

“I’m not nearly as stubborn as you,” Gabrielle teased.

Xena raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

“Absolutely. You’re mmph-”

Over the years Xena had developed several ways to deal with her overly-chatty friend. And while she would never admit to Gabrielle that she might be correct about her stubbornness, privately Xena could admit to herself that that trait had long delayed her discovery of the most effective method of quieting the bard: kissing her senseless.

Bending down and catching Gabrielle mid-sentence, Xena pressed their mouths together, before slowly moving her tongue against the blonde’s bottom lip. A small moan let her know that such attention was well received, as did the arms twining around her neck in an effort to pull the taller woman down for a more accessible angle. Xena snaked one arm around her friend’s waist and pulled her in tight, sliding the other hand into the short blonde hair that she had grown to love.

“I think we hav- ah!”

The two women jumped in surprise and pulled back as Eve’s voice interrupted them. Caught up as they were, they hadn’t heard the woman’s approach, hers or Virgil’s, who now stood stunned at the edge of the clearing.

Eve, on the other hand, seemed mainly amused as she looked at the two women who had raised her together for a short time before fate intervened. Two women who were very rapidly turning the shade of the sun that had just about set over the horizon.

“As I was saying, I think we have enough firewood. We heard arguing earlier so we decided to keep collecting and let you two work out your issues.” Eve smirked. “But there’s only so much a person can carry, and it sounded like you two were done fighting, so we assumed that you had worked out whatever problem you were having and it was safe to come back to camp.”

Xena smiled down at her friend. “I don’t know Gabrielle, have we worked out our problem?”

Gabrielle grinned. “I think we’re nearly there. There are probably one or two more points that need to be discussed. Just to be sure.”

Xena turned back to daughter, who was doing her best to maintain a look of benign interest and general helpfulness while obviously trying to hold back laughter. “Eve, why don’t you and Virgil head down to the river and see about catching us some fish for dinner. And take your time. Make sure you get enough for all of us. I imagine we’ll have quite an appetite by the time you get back and we wouldn’t want anyone to go hungry.”

Eve smiled pleasantly. “Oh no, we wouldn’t want that at all. Come along Virgil, let’s go get dinner. …Virgil. …Virgil!” Eve, in a manner not generally associated with disciples of Eli, smacked the blacksmith, who had yet to make a sound or take his eyes off Xena and Gabrielle, on the arm.

“Huh, what?”

“We’re going to the river to fish for dinner.”

“But…”

“We can talk about it while we’re fishing, come on.”

Grabbing Virgil by the vest, Eve gave it a sharp tug that got him stumbling in the general direction of the river.

“Well that takes care of two issues at once. We don’t have to worry about telling Eve, and I don’t have to have a friendly chat with Virgil about backing off.”

Gabrielle smiled up at Xena. “Friendly chat, huh?” Xena nodded. “Speaking of discussions,” Gabrielle said while winding her arms back around Xena’s neck. “I believe we hadn’t finished ours before we were so rudely interrupted.”

Xena grinned as she settled her own arms around Gabrielle’s waist. “You’re right. And I think we should make it a point to have these talks more often in the future, don’t you?”

“Absolutely.”