Xena sighed and turned roughly onto her side, pulling the blanket tight around her neck. The sounds from the rooms either side of theirs were getting louder and more unmistakable; a rhythmic creaking, accompanied by sighs and occasional groans, that was growing more insistent with each passing moment. It was tempting to pull the pillow over her head to try and block it out…but, irritatingly, it was also causing just the lightest of tingles in her core as her mind inevitably started to create images to accompany the sounds. Gods dammit. I don’t need this now. I just wanted a good night’s sleep in a warm, dry tavern.
Oh, great. Of course Gabrielle’s awake too.
“Did you bring me into a brothel?”
The question sounded innocent, but with a hint of a wry smile behind it. Xena snorted.
“Are you sure?”
The creaking from one side had intensified to a banging against the wall, with alternating yells and grunts emphasising each thud.
“I saw a couple of working girls in the bar earlier,” Xena explained gruffly. “Sounds like they found work.”
“Yeah. One on each side of our room.”
Xena turned to glance over at her companion, sitting up in her bed by the window, hugging her knees into her chest. She couldn’t see her face properly.
“Is it really bothering you?”
“Well, it’s going to be a little hard to sleep through it,” Gabrielle replied. She cocked her head to one side as the moans from the room on the other side began to increase in volume. “At least they seem to be enjoying their work,” she added with a chuckle.
Xena made a face. “They’re professionals, Gabrielle. They have to sound like they’re enjoying it, to boost their client’s ego.”
“You can tell that they’re faking it?” Gabrielle almost sounded impressed.
“I’m guessing, but it sounds a bit too theatrical to me.”
“Huh.” There was a long pause. Xena could almost hear the cogs turning in the darkness. And then, sure enough - “Xena?”
“Yes?” Xena tried not to sigh as she braced for the inevitable questions.
“You’ve, um. You’ve had a few lovers. Right?”
“A few, yes,” Xena drawled.
“Did you…” Gabrielle cleared her throat delicately. “Did you always enjoy it?”
Xena slowly sat up. “That’s an interesting question.” It wasn’t quite what she’d expected Gabrielle to ask.
“It’s just…I’ve only ever been with one person,” Gabrielle continued quietly - or as quietly as she could, when trying to be heard over the racket on the other side of the thin walls. “So I don’t have much of a frame of reference.”
Xena paused, gazing at her friend, starting to make out her face in the darkness. Her expression was still and thoughtful, not troubled. They had talked so little of her brief, ill-fated marriage to Perdicus; perhaps Gabrielle was finally ready to open up about it.
“You want to know if -” Xena hesitated, seeking the right words. “If you can always know what to expect? Because - the short answer is no. But that can be a good thing, too.”
Gabrielle smiled briefly. “I think I know that. I didn’t know what to expect, with Perdicus. I’d been raised to believe it was all I should want, to be married to a man and to want to bear his children. Some of the women at home did talk about sex but it was all in vague terms, especially around the younger girls. Some joked about it, some talked about the…size of things.” She made a shape with her hands that almost made Xena choke, but she kept it together, nodding sagely. Gabrielle looked directly at her. “I was worried it was going to hurt, but he was very gentle.”
Xena returned her sad smile, a swirling discomfort making itself known in her chest. She knew Gabrielle needed to talk about this, but it wasn’t the easiest thing to hear. The noise on one side of the room had died down after a climactic shriek, but on the other side it was building to a frantic pace. It was an innocuous backdrop to a tense, sad conversation.
“I’m glad he was gentle,” Xena said softly, truthfully. “I’m just so sorry you never got the chance to add to that experience.”
“I thought we’d get better at it, over time,” Gabrielle said. Her tone wasn’t unhappy, just wistful. “It wasn’t that it was bad , really. It was nice. Just…not exactly earth-shattering.”
Xena tried, really tried, not to let her heart skip at this revelation - she was well-practised at refusing to let herself think of poor Perdicus with anything approaching envy. But she sat up a little taller, now even more intrigued by Gabrielle’s question.
“You - you’re wondering if you might enjoy it better with someone else?” She was treading carefully, not wanting to put words in Gabrielle’s mouth - but if she was able to think about wanting sex with another, that was a good signal that she was moving beyond the worst of her grief.
“I guess I’m thinking out loud,” Gabrielle said, wincing at a particularly high-pitched scream from the adjacent room. “Sorry if you don’t want to talk about this stuff.”
“No, it’s okay. I - I should have been more available to you, to talk about it then, too.”
Gabrielle gave a warm smile at this little admission of guilt. “No, you didn’t have to. I was the one rushing into a marriage. I can understand you holding back.”
Oh, if only you really knew why. Xena cleared her throat a couple of times, embarrassed; but they both laughed at the ridiculous shriek of a climax from the next room, cutting through the sombre moment. Then Gabrielle turned to face her, leaning her chin on the top of her knees, eyes dancing.
“But I do want to know. When it’s good, I mean really good…what’s that like?”
Xena blinked. “Um.”
“I mean - you don’t have to tell me specifically who it was, or anything. But…what makes someone a good lover?”
Okay, that’s an easier question. Xena shifted until she was more comfortable, stretching out her legs, steadfastly ignoring the lingering ache between them. Now that they weren’t being assailed on either side by the sounds of someone else’s pleasure, it was easier to categorise this as a simple chat between close friends. Gabrielle was pushing for information from the more experienced of the two, and that was fair enough, because who else did she have around her to ask?
“A good lover pays attention,” Xena said simply. “They don’t just pursue their own pleasure. They listen, they learn, they take their time. They communicate.” She couldn’t help throwing a slightly wolfish smile at her enthralled companion. “You get into a rhythm and the two bodies are moving like one, but also playing off each other. Like - like when you’re sparring with someone who's an even match. It’s exhilarating.”
Gabrielle nodded. Her eyes were glittering now. “And is it better with a man or a woman?”
Xena coughed to try and cover her surprise. Gabrielle grinned.
“Sorry. Caught you off guard there. You’ve, ah - you’ve been with both, right?”
Xena looked at her, mind whirling as she tried to remember who she might have talked about. Gabrielle certainly knew about Borias, Hercules and Marcus, and had obviously gleaned that there were quite a few other names littered across her past, but had Xena ever spoken of any of the women she’d had as lovers? Perhaps it was just a wild guess.
Mind you, Gabrielle was an Amazon, and who knew what conversations went on in the village steam hut? Gabrielle could be playing her right now, with far more awareness than she would ever let on, waiting to see how much juicy detail she could get her to spill.
“Xena? Did I - have I crossed a line?”
Xena’s eyes snapped up to meet Gabrielle’s, heart sinking at the worried little frown she now saw on her face.
“No. No, not at all,” Xena said gently. Gabrielle’s face lightened, shoulders sinking away from her ears. She waited expectantly.
“It’s hard to compare the two,” Xena began. “Men often see sex as quite a linear journey. It has a beginning, in which a good lover will take their time to make sure you’re ready for them. A middle, which is when they get inside you, and an end. Which is when they…” she waved a hand vaguely.
“Come,” Gabrielle finished for her.
“Right.” Xena nodded furiously, annoyed at the flush on her own cheeks. For Zeus’s sake, when have I ever been embarrassed to talk about sex? “Anyway,” she barrelled on quickly. “Sometimes, if that’s the kind of sex you’re in the mood for, it’s great. But for a lot of women, it’s common not to get nearly as much pleasure out of having a man inside you, as from other things.”
“Yes.” Xena leaned a little closer, determined to get this point across if nothing else. “Men would have us all believe that it’s the only ‘real’ way to have sex, because it benefits them. But for most women, that’s only a small part of the picture, and not the most interesting part either. Not by far.”
“So what is?”
Xena grinned at the eagerness behind this question. “That depends. When two women are having sex, there’s often a lot more imagination involved.”
It could have been a trick of the light, but Xena could have sworn Gabrielle just licked her lips. Xena coughed again, looking away. The telltale sounds had started up again in one of the other rooms. Whoever the woman was, she was certainly good at her job, to get a man up and going again so soon - assuming, of course, her lover was indeed a man.
“So…” Gabrielle was twisting her hands together now, usually a sign that she was building up to a difficult topic. The sound from the other room was building again, but it wasn’t as intrusive this time. Xena couldn’t discern who the lower-pitched voice might belong to, so she decided to place them as a woman in her imagination. It helped a lot. The smoothness of the curves, the soft bounce of breasts, the full lips meeting with hard, quick passion…much as Xena did enjoy men, especially a rough and ready encounter, she found her fantasies leaned more towards women. There was simply more depth, more variety, more richness to draw from.
Xena wrenched her attention back into the room, to her companion, sitting poised on her bed. Gabrielle’s whole being seemed to be quivering, and she, too, seemed momentarily transfixed by the sounds from the neighbouring room. It appeared to be a more varied experience this second time round, less of the obvious thrusting and more of an exploration, with a lot of surprised noises. Perhaps the woman’s client had turned out to be more generous than she’d expected; or, perhaps this was a different lover altogether.
“I, um. Yes. I was going to ask.” Gabrielle was definitely very distracted this time. She kept glancing at the wall, as if she could see through it. Her imagination was no doubt as vivid as Xena’s, but she had far less knowledge to fuel her fantasy. Perhaps that was the real motivation behind these questions.
“What were you going to ask?” Xena found herself pushing, gently but insistently. Now that she’d warmed up to it, she wanted to continue this conversation after all.
Gabrielle looked back at her, eyes amused and bashful at once, as the sounds next door stepped up another notch into wild abandon. Xena grinned, not taking her eyes off Gabrielle.
“What do you like best?” Gabrielle asked with a coy smile. “Men or women?”
“It depends on the person,” Xena answered smoothly. “Men are often stronger, which can be a lot of fun, and they can have their hands free while they’re inside you.” She found her voice growing husky. She didn’t try to stop it.
“Yes,” Gabrielle agreed in a breathy tone. Of course, she did know what that was like .
“But women aren’t distracted by the thing they want to put inside you,” Xena continued with a grin that was probably getting a bit feral. She was sitting on the edge of her bed now, leaning on her knees, fixing Gabrielle with an intense look. The air between them seemed to crackle. “They’re sensitive in a lot more areas, so they tend to play around more. They explore. And they can do very interesting things with their fingers. And their tongue.”
“Tongue,” Gabrielle echoed. “Yes. I’ve - I’ve heard that’s -” she bit her lip. “- good.”
“Men have tongues, too,” Xena added with a shrug. “But in my experience, women are more skilled at using them.”
“Perhaps because they have more practice with talking,” Gabrielle quipped. But her breath was decidedly heavy now, her lips parting as she gazed at Xena. The noise from the other room was getting achingly close to another peak of pleasure. Xena felt herself trembling.
They locked eyes for an agonising moment.
“I think that’s enough talking.”
Xena froze. What does that mean?
“I think…” Gabrielle pushed her blanket aside, slowly lowering her feet to the ground. “I think I should come over there.” She stood, a little shakily, and walked towards Xena. She may as well have been floating. Next door, one of the lovers gave a hoarse, lustful yell.
Gabrielle stopped just in front of Xena and rested her hands on her shoulders, gazing down at her with dark, burning eyes. Xena’s mouth went dry; her hands reached up unbidden to grasp Gabrielle’s hips, and she found herself staring at the inviting cleavage now at her eye level. Swallowing hard, she made herself look up again. Gabrielle’s mouth had curved into a quizzical little smile.
“Hi,” Xena echoed, heart hammering against her chest. Every part of her being was tingling in anticipation.
“Can I kiss you now?”
Xena just held back a groan of lust, relief and amazement. “Are - are you sure you want to?”
“Definitely.” Gabrielle’s hunger couldn’t have been more obvious. “I’ve been wanting to for a long time. I’ve been trying to tell you - I just couldn’t seem to get you to understand.”
“You were telling me?” Xena was baffled. Where was her little Gabrielle, and who was the confident seductress now standing in her place, trailing her fingers maddeningly up her neck?
Gabrielle just laughed, husky and deep. Her fingers reached the nape of Xena’s neck and pushed into her hair, sending delicious shivers down her spine.
“So…you were telling me about tongues,” Gabrielle whispered, leaning closer. Xena craned her neck, eyes flickering down to Gabrielle’s lips and back up again. Her grip tightened on her friend’s hips, pulling gently until she was standing firmly between her legs. Oh, Gods, this is happening.
“Yes,” Xena breathed. “I…I like tongues.” Oratory fireworks there, Xena. What a way to seduce your bard. Not that Xena was the one doing the seducing.
“Good to know,” Gabrielle murmured. And then she closed the tiny gap between them, her lips pressing against Xena’s with a surprising, gratifying fierceness, fingers tightening in her hair - and Xena was instantly consumed. Wow. Where did she learn to kiss like this?! In the brief moments where she had imagined Gabrielle might be interested in kissing her - where she might even have seen the thought flash through her friend’s mind across a campfire glow - Xena had assumed that she’d be tentative, nervous, in need of a bit of direction. But right now, Xena felt she was in the hands of an expert. Gabrielle’s kiss was just the right amount of soft and sensual; there was a languid generosity to it, a luxuriousness, as if she had all the time in the world, and all that time was going to be spent slowly but surely turning Xena to molten liquid.
Xena found herself grinning through the kiss, so complete was her delight in this unexpected moment. Gabrielle broke off, giving a nervous little laugh, her nose wrinkling in that gorgeous way that it did when she thought she might have done something a bit cheeky. Xena felt sure her heart was pounding on the outside of her chest, adoration written plain across her eyes as she gazed at her. This felt so good, so achingly, perfectly good, that she was lost for words.
“Wanna do that again?”
Xena didn’t bother to answer; grasping Gabrielle round the waist, she pulled her back into the deepest, most passionate kiss she had ever given anyone, and the world vanished around them.