"Oh Gabrielle! Don't you eat? You've become as thin as a post."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and looked at Xena who was walking beside her, Argo in tow. The warrior grinned at the bard, moonlight washing over both of them.
She wanted to visit the family. Xena smirked silently. Serves her right.
Gabrielle recognized the look, even in the near darkness, and whispered her threat. "Don't even say I told you so."
As they approached the little farm house Gabrielle once called home, her mother walked out to meet them. Her father, however, stood on the porch his steely gaze unflinching on the warrior.
Xena had met some frightening men and beasts in her time... but nothing compare to Herodotus of Poteidaia at this moment.
"And this outfit!" Gabrielle's mother continued as she moved closer. "You're parading around half naked for Zeus' sake! You look like one of those Amazon harlots!"
That broke Xena's reserve. She had to chuckle. Hecuba didn't find it all that amusing and Gabby went for the save.
"Nice to see you too mother," the bard interrupted before the attire- or amazon comment could go any further. Guilt always worked on her mother. This time was no different.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. You know I'm happy to see you. Come in. Come in!"
As they walked, Gabrielle pointed out the barn to Xena. "Why don't you settle Argo for the night?"
Just then Lila came out, running to meet her sister. "How have you been?!" she asked as they embraced. "I got you're last scroll!"
"Good." Gabrielle smiled. "How have you been? Still seeing the blacksmith's son?"
"Yes, but father still won't meet his dowry," she whispered.
"You could always elope," Gabrielle offered in a like-tone. There was mirth in the bard's voice, but Lila knew she was totally serious too.
Hecuba had walked ahead of the chatting sisters, traveling inside the house.
"How have you been?" Herodotus asked, stone-faced as always.
"We've been good," the bard answered with a grin and a nod. "How's things around here?"
"Stuff needs fixin'," he replied. "Could use some extra hands," he added.
"Well, I'm sure Xena could help you. She'd go nuts here if she had nothing to do."
Gabrielle never noticed before, but Xena was a lot like her father - communicating with one syllable words or sometimes just grunts. She didn't have long to dwell on it. Her mother called her into the kitchen.
"Come eat, Gabrielle," Hecuba insisted. "And put some meat on those bones."
As Gabrielle entered the house Xena came back from the barn. Herodotus still stood on the porch, watching the warrior.
"Women are in the kitchen," he said as Xena walked up the stairs.
The warrior realized she should say something to Gabrielle's father, but 'How's life since I stole your daughter away' didn't seem very wise, although she was sure that's what the man was thinking.
As he began to take a seat on the porch swing, Xena felt somewhat relieved.
"Do you mind?" Xena asked, motioning to the space beside Herodotus.
"Suit yourself," her replied noncommittally.
Xena sat for a moment, but it felt like hours. Not a word passed between them. She had to remind herself to breathe. She couldn't understand it. Here she was - a woman who had battled Titans for Olympia's sake. How could a farmer, who by the way was three inches shorter than her, scare the life out of her? The silence was driving her nuts.
"It's been... dry... lately."
Chit-chat was never Xena's strong suit as this moment proved.
"Uhh Haa," Gabrielle's father replied, drawing out his reply.
Xena quickly realized the bard's gift of gab didn't come from her fathers side as the porch fell quiet again. Feeling more and more uncomfortable, the warrior rose.
"Think I'll go check on Gabrielle," she muttered. "Coming inside?"
"In a few," he answered.
As Xena walked inside, she realized she'd met someone who actually spoke less than she did. Once at the kitchen, she found a kings banquet on the table and Hecuba insisting that Gabrielle eat.
"Oh! I have apple pie. Would you like some pie, dear?"
"Mother. No. I'm fine. Really." Gabrielle looked over and saw Xena. "Xena! Sit down! Eat. Please."
The bard would never finish despite of her absorbent appetite and Xena realized the plea in the bard's voice. With a smile, she took a seat and reached for some grapes.
"Are you sure you're all set dear? I could make Xena a plate too," Hecuba offered.
"No mother," Gabrielle insisted once more. "This is fine. It's late. I'm tired and I'm really not that hungry."
"Oh my!" Hecuba exclaimed with a concerned look.
"What?" the bard asked.
"Where is Xena going to sleep?" she wondered out loud.
"With me," the bard said casually.
"Gabrielle," her mother protested. "Your bed is too small for the two of you."
"Don't be silly," Gabrielle answered. "It's fine. Besides we've slept in smaller beds on the road... Not that size matters anyway. I usually wake up in the middle of the night to find myself locked in a bear hug." The bard chuckled as she finished, but she soon realized the company in which she said it. "What I mean is that she's a cuddler," the bard added quickly in explanation; only digging herself in deeper.
The bard didn't think her family's eyes could get any wider or Xena's face any redder.
"What she really means," Xena offered, "is that it's a matter of survival. If we're outside or at an inexpensive inn, it's often cold. You do what you can to keep warm."
Hecuba and Lila both nodded and proceeded to busy themselves with their backs turned to the duo. Xena took the opportunity to scold Gabrielle with her eyes as the bard shrugged her shoulders. Gabrielle began to grin and Xena couldn't help, but grin too. She swatted the bard's arm playfully and tried to keep from laughing.
As the family turned back to face the pair, Xena and Gabrielle quickly went back to eating, acting as if no communication had passed between them.
"This is really good nutbread," the bard announced, hoping to change the subject, as well as giving them an avenue of escape, "but I'm really tired. Mind if Xena and I call it a night?"
"Of course not dear. Lila can help me clear the table while you and Xena dress for ... bed."
Xena could see a thousand thoughts and scenarios running through Hecuba as she said the word 'bed'.
"I'll get our pack," Xena added quickly, excusing herself as Gabrielle headed to the room.
Xena returned, bags in hand to find the bard in her britches and bosom wrap.
"I can't believe I said that," Gabrielle confessed with a giggle.
Xena gave Gabrielle a full tooth smile and walked over. She gently pulled the bard into her protective arms. She had to chuckle. "Did you see that look on your mothers face?! And your sister?! I thought she was going to choke on that stuffed grape leaf she was eating."
Gabrielle pulled back and playfully slapped the warrior's arm. "You're so understanding," she whispered sarcastically.
Xena watched Gabby start to take off the remained of her clothes and the warrior couldn't stop her humorous though that surfaced as a giggle.
"What?" Gabrielle asked, cloaked only in her wrap.
"Don't you think you should get your shift out first? I mean... what would you sister say if she walked in to find you 'caught with your britches' down?"
Panic washed over the bard's face and she raced to the bag. She spilled the contents on the bed and Xena laughed at her traveling companion.
"This is not funny!" the bard whispered in a hostile voice. "I don't want them thinking that we're... that comfortable with each other."
"But we are that comfortable," Xena said matter of factly. "I've seen you naked more times than... " Xena stopped herself, giving a mischievous grin. "Wait a minute. You're not talking about 'comfort'. You're talking about sex."
"Shhh," Gabrielle insisted with her finger over her lips. "Keep it down, would you please?"
"You're really afraid your parents think we're lovers?" Xena asked.
"Why?" Xena asked.
"What do you mean 'why'?" the bard countered.
"I mean, why do you care? You're a grown woman now."
"Yes. I am... but... ."
Xena smiled. "They're still your parents. You think this isn't what they would have wanted for you, right?"
Gabrielle returned the smile this time. "Yes," she muttered.
"I understand," Xena replied, losing the happy gesture. "It's not what they would have wanted - their idealistic creative daughter tramplin' 'round the country side with the ex-destroyer of nations."
Gabrielle could see the ache in Xena's eyes as she spoke. "It's nothing like that."
Unlike Xena expected, Gabrielle didn't elaborate. And unlike she expected she found herself insisting, "Then what is it?"
Gabrielle sighed and slipped the shift on, covering her body. She still felt naked; exposed.
"Let's just say they wouldn't be too pleased that a choose another female as my soulmate." Gabrielle hoped that would end the discussion.
Xena didn't know what to do. It was obvious the bard didn't want to continue, but the warrior's interest was growing. She watched Gabrielle slip under the covers and pat the bed invitingly.
Xena discarded her armor and leathers for her sleeping shift. As she snuggled into bed she tried to get comfortable to no avail.
"Here," Gabrielle offered as she shifted. Xena laid down on her back as the bard snuggled back down using Xena's shoulder as a pillow.
It was always difficult for the bard, having the warrior so close; so oblivious to her longings. She was not the little girl her folks wanted her to be. Not at all. But she never wanted Xena to know.
She closed her eyes, trying to ignore how easy it would be. She could turn her head just a little and place the most delicate of kisses on the warrior's shoulder. She could work her way up to Xena's neck to her lips. She could always work her way down too. Her body shuddered at the idea.
"Are you okay?" Xena asked feeling the vibrations pass over the bard.
"Of course," Gabrielle answered quickly. "Just nerves winding down. It's been a long day."
"Know what ya mean," Xena yawned.
Before Gabrielle could reply Lila entered ready for bed. "I'm sorry," she said to the tangle of human flesh on Gabby's old bed. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"That's okay," Gabrielle said suddenly feeling quite sleepy. "Thanks for taking care of the dishes."
"No problem." Lila grinned. "It's nice to have you home... but you better help tomorrow," Lila added with a mock threat.
"And what if she doesn't," Xena growled before cracking a tiny grin.
Gabrielle pinched Xena's side and the warrior yelped. "See Lila. Her bark's worse than her bite."
As Xena chuckled, Lila relaxed. 'What do ya know? She's got a sense of humor.' The bard's sister thought as she climbed into bed. She also realized she didn't really know the warrior at all. They spent only a few minutes together years ago, before Herodotus kicked her out of town. Of course Gabrielle spoke of Xena at nausea in her letters home, but she never knew the warrior of her own accord.
As Lila closed her eyes she made a decision. She knew Xena was important to her sister so she would make the effort to try to get to know her.
"Goodnight you two," she whispered over.
"Goodnight," the replied in harmony.
Xena was just returning from taking Argo for a morning run to find another feast on the kitchen table - eggs, bread, pork, cheese - you name it.
As Xena sat down, Gabrielle's father walked in and took a seat. As if commanded, Hecuba jumped up and began filling a plate for him, rushing it to the table. As he started to eat he looked at his wife. Suddenly she jumped back up, bringing his cider.
Xena couldn't help, but notice the interaction of master/servant between them. Gabrielle didn't pay it much heed until she looked at Xena. The warrior's eyes became slits and she knew Xena was on the verge of making a comment.
Quickly the bard shot up and started piling some eggs on an empty plate. Perhaps she could keep the warrior at bay with some food. "Do you want bread Xena?" she asked, trying to hide the nervousness from her voice.
"Yes." Xena smiled, focusing on Herodotus the entire time as she took her seat, "Please," she added politely, not backing down from his gaze.
The comment wasn't lost on the other feasters. It was loud and clear. They noticed something else too. Gabrielle was serving Xena - much like Hecuba served Herodotus; much like a married couple.
Gabrielle took her seat again as Xena stood up. "Oh! Cider!" the bard exclaimed, moving upward again.
Xena smiled and put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "Thanks, but I can get it." As the warrior passed Herodotus she added. "Not like my legs are broken or anything."
Lila quickly stuffed some food in her mouth to keep from laughing. At that moment, she began to see just what her sister admired in Xena.
Herodotus was getting ticked, agitated. Okay. He was downright pissed. How dare this daughternapper question his authority in his own home?! And he knew just how to turn the tables.
"So Xena," he began casually. Gabrielle, Lila and Hecuba all tensed, sensing trouble ahead. "What's your future plans?"
"We're on our way to Amphi-
"No," he interrupted. "I mean your 'future' plans. Can't be a warrior forever although I'm sure in your line of work warriors don't live to grow old. But you... I hear you're the best. What are you going to do when you gray like me?" The condescension was heavy in his voice. He had her now.
"Well, I thought about the Am-
Xena stopped herself, remembering Hecuba amazon comment earlier. "The Amphipolis Inn, that's if my brother isn't running it. If so, I could settle someplace else that needs a healer. Gabrielle could work at the local tavern telling her stories."
Herodotus chuckled lightly at the last remark. Gabrielle felt a churning in her gut when she saw Xena's eyebrow go up.
"What's so funny?" Xena asked innocently. She looked to everyone around the table. Hecuba and Lila were busy looking at their breakfast plates avoiding eye contact with anyone.
"Still telling tales huh Gab?" her father asked.
"Why shouldn't she?" Xena asked. She tried to stay neutral, but the defensive tone was picked up by Gabrielle. "She's a wonderful bard. All the money we earn is brought in by Gabrielle, so it's obvious I'm not the only one who thinks so."
Herodotus felt his argument crumble and the group finished their meal in relative silence. Upon finishing Xena turned to Hecuba.
"Thank you. Breakfast was wonderful, but if you'll excuse me I have to see to Argo before I start the day."
"I'll give you a hand," Gabrielle offered, rising with the warrior. The bard never helped with the mare, but Xena realized it was an excuse.
Quietly both women left the house. Once they were near the barn Gabrielle turned to the warrior.
"Thank you," she said sincerely.
"For what? Giving you the chance to escape the 'Castle of Herodotus'," the warrior teased.
Gabrielle chuckled before looking serious again. "No... For defending me," Gabrielle said as they entered the bard. "About my stories, I mean," she added to clarify. "No one's ever done that before."
"What kind of champion would I be if I didn't?" Xena replied, giving a sexy smirk. Gabrielle was sure the warrior never intended the smirk to be anything along the lines of sensual, but that was the way she perceived it. The bard watched and Gabrielle could tell what Xena was thinking - The warrior almost mentioned the amazons.
"You almost said it," Gabrielle teased, playfully waving her finger.
"But I didn't'," Xena countered, waving right back.
Gabrielle watched as Xena removed Argo's saddle. She liked to observe Xena tending to the mare. She was so gentle, so affectionate with her - a glaring contrast to how she treated many people. However, in their line of work they didn't often find people who deserved to be treated treasured or respected. Most of them were highwaymen, outlaws or warlord wannabes. As Gabrielle watched Xena she felt fortunate that Xena saw her as a true part of her life; inseparable.
"So you've thought about the future huh?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena tensed and she hoped it didn't show. "Yeah. I have," Xena answered calmly.
Gabrielle wasn't sure of how to proceed. "I noticed you included me too."
"Why wouldn't I?" Xena asked. "You go where I go. Think I'd just pack you off someday."
Gabrielle thought a moment. "Maybe... Well, not so much pack me off, but marry me off. Convince me to find some nice old man who spends his days whittling or something."
Xena studied the bard for a moment. "Not a chance." She smiled. "If anyone 'marries you off' it will be you; not me. Who knows? Maybe you will find another understanding man. And like I told you before - seeing you happy makes me happy. I might get lonely without your voice around, but... if you were happy with your life that would help the void caused by your departure."
Gabrielle felt herself smile in response. "That's good to know," she whispered. "But that's not going to happen. Looking back now I realize Perdicus was a mistake. I'm not going to find an all wonderful 'Mr. Right'."
'Mr. Right' Ha!' Gabrielle thought silently, 'Who could compare to the Warrior Princess?!'.
Xena, on the other hand, felt something wash over her as she stood in that smelly barn. The tone of Gabrielle's voice. The smile on her lips. The sunlight shinning through the door bringing out the red in her hair. All these things were adding up in the warrior's mind.
For a moment Xena could have swore her heart stopped. She realized just what that something was - she was falling in love.
Quickly, she turned and she pushed the thought aside. Gabrielle didn't love her; couldn't want her - at least not in 'that' way. She remembered their conversation the night before when the bard thought the idea of them as a couple preposterous.
She didn't want Gabrielle to see her at this moment and she took a deep breath to steady her nerves. And her memory raced to the last point of their conversation. She realized she needed to speak before the bard asked if anything was wrong. Xena was a terrible liar - at least to Gabrielle because the bard always saw right through her. 'She knows me so well,' Xena thought, happily and despondently. 'Add that to my list of wonderful Gabrielle qualities. Oh Gods! Now I'm making a list! This has gotta stop. Okay Xena. Okay. Think... Oh yeah! Mr. Right... '
"You'll find someone Gabrielle," Xena said without judgement, her back still turned, avoiding Gabrielle's eyes. "You're too special not to. I spend most of my time in taverns beating them off with your stick," she chuckled.
'Yeah. I do that, don't I? Xena considered silently. 'And I've done it for quite awhile haven't I?'. Xena began to examine the fact that maybe this 'love thing' she was feeling at this moment wasn't that new. Maybe she's felt it all along. With that, she relaxed a bit... but she was still scared as Tartarus. Xena knew she had to change the subject quick.
"Sooo... Your dad needs help today huh?" the warrior asked finally having enough nerves composed to turn around.
"Yeah... Do you mind?"
"No. Not at all," Xena said confidently.
"Okay. I'll let him know," Gabrielle said making her way back to the house.
Xena ran her fingers through Argo's mane. She rested her head on her strong, muscular neck.
"Oh girl," Xena whispered. "What am I gonna do?"
Argo whinnied a response. "Should I tell her?" Xena asked
Argo nodded her head and Xena had to chuckle. Could it be possible the horse actually understood her? "Easier said than done," Xena replied.
"You ready to work warrior?" Xena heard the voice ask behind her. She turned to see Herodotus standing with his hands on his hips, a mischievous smile on his face.
'Now I know where Gabrielle gets that smirk when she's up to something,' the warrior thought. "Sure," Xena replied aloud. "Where do I start?"
"Right here," he said proudly tossing Xena a rake. "Muck the stables... Please."
Without comment she grabbed the rake and went to work as Herodotus walked off, laughing heartily.
Gabrielle spent most of the day helping her mother with mending and cooking. It was near lunch time, so she thought she would spend a few moments with Xena before she called her into eat.
She found the warrior atop the roof, mending a hole.
"Xena? You want some cider?" she called up. The warrior nodded and jumped from the roof in a single leap.
The tight braid in the warrior's dark mane was now loose and wet with perspiration. Her bronzed body shimmered. Gabrielle would say the warrior looked quite sexy, however,she looked too whipped. As Gabrielle handed the mug over, the bard thought Xena might just fall over.
"You okay?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena didn't answer. She finished off the mug handing it back empty.
"I have done every ... stinkin'... large... and tiny... job today."
Gabrielle looked the warrior up and down and held her nose. "It smells like it," she teased.
Xena rolled her eyes and stole Gabrielle's mug finishing it off too.
"I mucked the stables, but he said I didn't do it good enough. So after I mended the well, I went back to finish the job... again."
Gabrielle looked at the tired, frustrated warrior who, if she didn't know any better was holding back tears.
"I smell," Xena continued. "I ache... And my list of many skills is dwindling by the hour."
Gabrielle chuckled, "Welcome to my childhood."
"Oh gods," Xena whispered, running her hand over her sweaty face. "You are the strongest person in the world to put up with that man."
Gabrielle gave a deep laugh this time, but it didn't last long. Her father peeked around the corner. "Hurry up Xena," he ordered. "Gotta clean the outhouse next." He ducked back out of sight and Xena fell to her knees.
"I want my mommy," she sobbed, starting to rock back and forth.
Gabrielle did a quick scan north and south to see if any villagers were watching them. "Please get up, Xena. This is embarrassing," she whispered, trying not to move her lips. She didn't want to be seen talking to the 'crazy woman'. When pleading didn't work she tried bargaining.
"Okay! Okay!" Gabrielle said softly, but optimistically, as if she were speaking to a small child. "We'll see your mommy tomorrow. Come on." With that Gabrielle kneeled down and helped Xena to her feet. The bard pointed to the trees.
"Why don't you go sit in the shade for a bit? Get out of the sun and we'll have a nice picnic lunch okay?"
Zombie-like, Xena headed to the area Gabrielle pointed to. Without delay, Gabrielle bolted into the house. The family gathered together eating lunch.
"You made her muck the stables! TWICE!" Gabrielle roared, tearing into the kitchen. She started throwing food onto some plates.
Herodotus seemed unaffected, casually eating his spinach. He listened as the bard continued. "Then you put her on the roof, with the sun high I might add!"
"You didn't?!" Hecuba challenged.
Herodotus now looked guilty. His wife seldom challenged him, but when she did... "You could kill her in this heat!" she added bitterly.
"She's fine. She's a warrior. She can take it," he answered.
Gabrielle stopped preparing lunch. She turned away from the table and she put her hands on the counter, clutching the sides in anger. Lucky for her father she wasn't holding her staff.
"She CAN take it," Gabrielle said soundly. "It's ME who CAN'T. How dare you put the woman... " Gabrielle stopped, opening herself up to a small debate inside. "the woman I love in that situation," she finished.
The room fell silent.
"I thought you out grew your ... fascinations," Hecuba said to Gabrielle's turned back.
Slowly, the bard turned to face her mother and her heart threatened to pound out of her chest. It wasn't the sight of her mother that brought on the reaction. It was the warrior standing in the kitchen doorway.
All eyes turned to Xena. After a few heartbeats Xena cleared her throat.
"Came in to give you a hand with lunch," she told Gabrielle. Cautiously she picked up a jug of cider and two mugs, "I'll see ya outside."
Once the front door closed, Gabrielle sighed. "Son of Bacchae," she cursed under her breath. Gabrielle picked up the plates of chicken and spinach, making her way outside.
"You hold it right there, missy," Herodotus warned.
Gabrielle stopped and looked over her shoulder. "Go to Hades. You don't own me anymore."
Herodotus jaw hit the floor in a shocked expression that rivaled the rest of the tables'. No one spoke. No one moved - except for Gabrielle, who carried lunch out to the warrior.
Gabrielle couldn't look at Xena as she walked over. She waited until the last possible moment when she handed Xena her plate. Neither woman spoke nor moved as they examined their food.
"Woman you love, huh?"
Xena knew she had to initiate this conversation. Thank the gods that's all it took. Gabrielle poured her heart out.
"Oh Gods, Xena," she sobbed. "I never wanted you to know. I mean I did want you to know, but... not like that. I always had fantasies about what I would say; what you would say; what we would do. That incident in the kitchen wasn't in any of them and I'm sorry. If you want to leave me here and go on alone I'd understand... "
"You love me?" Xena asked, trying to clarify.
Gabrielle nodded, but she wouldn't look at Xena. "I have for a very long time now... but I didn't say anything because I didn't want to lose you... This changes everything. So I understand if you want to travel alone. I'll go to the amazons."
Xena didn't reply immediately. 'Am I ready to love Gabrielle?' the warrior wondered. She didn't know. Her own arousal was so new. She didn't want to disappoint the bard, but she didn't want to mislead her either.
"Gabrielle, please look at me," Xena began. As the bard looked up Xena sighed before she continued. "I can't say-."
"Please," Gabrielle stopped her. "I don't want to hear anymore. You can't say you love me and that's fine. I just-."
"You didn't let me finish." Xena smiled. "Or more to the point, you didn't let me start."
The smile was a positive sign, Gabrielle considered, so she held her tongue.
"Can I continue?" Xena teased. Gabrielle gave a sheepish grin and nodded. "Good," Xena began over again. "I can't say that I've loved you for a very long time. Don't get me wrong. I do love you... I just never thought about being 'with you' until we talked about your 'snuggler' comment."
As Xena paused to get her barring as Gabrielle gave another bashful grin. "This morning in the stables... I realized just how much you've changed. How much we've shared and I realized there was only one thing left to share... our bodies... You're not a girl anymore Gabrielle. You're an intelligent, beautiful... sexy... woman. But as I said - this is so new to me."
"You've been in love before," Gabrielle countered.
"No." Xena smiled. "That was lust. Marcus. Hercules... They were good people, but the attraction was physical at first. With you... I've loved what's inside; what's most important, for a long time. And it's only recently, very recently, that I've considered that love to become physical."
Gabrielle cocked her head. "So what are you saying, Xena?"
The warrior paused. "I'm saying that I've loved you for quite a while," she said softly. "I now realize that I ... desire you... But I don't want to destroy our friendship because of it. It has to be something we're both sure of and at this point I can't say that I'm certain because... I'm scarred," Xena confessed.
"Scarred of what?" Gabrielle asked sincerely.
"Losing you." Xena smiled nervously. "Whether it be to warlords who would use you as a target against me for being my lover or even ourselves."
Xena nodded. "What if we realize we can't make it as lovers? What happens then? Chances are I'll lose the greatest friend I've ever known. I'm scarred to take that chance."
Gabrielle took a deep breath and cleared her throat. "Xena," she began, "I've been a potential target for years; no matter what our relationship may be. I can take care of myself pretty well now. And as for losing our friendship goes... I can't give you an answer. I don't know what the future will hold for us... but know this: I'm willing to take that chance. And I'm willing to wait as long as it takes until you're willing as well."
Xena smiled, but she could feel herself holding back her tears. She sat her plate down and opened her arms for the bard, which Gabrielle welcomed.
"See?" the warrior grinned. "That's why I've loved you and why I'll always love you... You truly are the best thing that ever happened to me."
Xena kissed Gabrielle on top of the head as she finished.
The simple affectionate gesture made Gabrielle's heart jump into her throat. She realized she had to make a move. If she didn't do it now it may never happen. She had to kiss the warrior.
She pulled away, but remained locked in Xena's embrace. She tilted her face upward, hoping the warrior would take the first step... The warrior who was examining the bard's lips with uncertainty.
Now or never Gabrielle reminded herself. Her lips began their assent toward the warrior's. With velvet softness they connected. It wasn't the first time their lips touched during their travels together. This time, however, would be burned in their memories for all their days.
This lip locking wasn't the result of injury or good-by as in times past. It was an unspoken acknowledgement of the future and joyous times to come. Gabrielle kept herself in check although she found it difficult. She didn't want to frighten the precocious warrior with her growing passion. So as a preventative measure she pulled away.
At that point, Xena remembered to breathe. The automatic function was stolen by the bard's lips. Xena knew at that moments she was in trouble, but she also knew it was the best trouble she'd ever been in. She couldn't explain it. She felt giddy and she shuddered against the thought. 'Warriors aren't giddy' she chastised herself. The gruff reaction was only momentary. As she studied Gabrielle's beautiful face, she knew all her feelings were perfectly acceptable.
"Xena! Lunch is over!" the voice boomed from the house, making them both jump. "Forget the outhouse. We gotta work on our wagon wheel."
Gabrielle slipped out of Xena's sweaty arms.
"What about the roof?" the warrior asked.
"Well," he said apprehensively, "I decided it was too warm right now. Go up around sunset."
Gabrielle knew as she watched her father walk away that her mother had won this battle although he'd never admit it. That, however,didn't stop her from smirking at her mothers victory.
"Gotta get back to work," the warrior shrugged.
"Not until you eat something," the bard ordered. "He can wait a few minutes."
With that, she picked up a chicken leg and wiggled it in front of the warrior. Xena took a bite, but in the course of eating her lips brushed against Gabrielle's knuckles. The bard could feel a tingle shoot up her arm and travel between her legs. Shaken by her desire, she dropped the leg onto the plate as she quickly apologized.
Xena could tell how flushed the bard became and had to chuckle.
"Gods Gabrielle." Xena grinned as she chewed. "If this is how you react to feeding me, I actually might kill you if we make love."
Gabrielle grew red in an instant. "Perhaps," she nodded in agreement. "But I'd die with a huge smile on my face."
Xena chuckled again. She was on the verge of a response when Herodotus called again.
"Xena! You comin'?!"
"On my way," she shouted back, rising to a standing position. She finished her drink and handed the cup back to Gabrielle. "Duty calls." She grinned. "We'll talk some more later, okay?"
Gabrielle nodded and watched the warrior leave. "Xena?" she called out making the warrior turn. "Are we... okay?"
Xena smiled at the bard's uncertain nature. It was endearing in a special kind of way. "Yes, Gabrielle. We're very okay... Tonight my bard," she added with a promise.
'My bard', Gabrielle thought as she watched Xena walk away. She always wanted to be independent - owned by no one, but herself. The possessive spin Xena put on the departure, however, didn't feel suffocating. She found it just the opposite in fact. Instead of feeling controlled she felt loved; cherished - and she couldn't stop smiling. That mood, however, altered when she realized she had to face her mother.
Quietly, she walked back into the house. Her mother was gathering lunch dishes. She looked up briefly at her daughter when she came in, but she went back to her task without comment. Lila, for her part, sat at the table wrapping up the left over bread, saving it for dinner.
"Are you going to speak to me?" the bard asked her mother.
"What's to say?" her mother replied despondently.
"Say you love me. Say you hate me. But say something," Gabrielle insisted.
Hecuba dropped the dishes in the rinse basin with a clatter. "You need a man Gabrielle! Someone who will feed and clothe you. Someone who'll protect you; love you!"
Gabrielle let the silence linger a moment as she moved closer. "I have someone mother," the bard said softly. "Her name is Xena."
Lila walked out the pantry door, giving her mother and sister the chance to be alone.
Hecuba turned to the bard. "Well, what about children, Gabrielle. You always wanted children and you'd make a wonderful mother. She can't give you that!"
"Children were always you're dream mother; not mine. Yes, I think I would make a good mother and perhaps someday when MY wander lust has settled Xena and I will build a family. I keep us on the road, mother. I enjoy it and if one day I want to be a mother I'm sure Xena and I will find a way to make it happen. But I also realize you can't have everything you want in life. You taught me that."
Another silence passed between them until Hecuba asked. "Are you happy?"
"Not at this exact moment." The bard grinned although still discomforted. "But if you're asking if Xena makes me happy the answer is yes."
Hecuba didn't reply immediately. "So you have the perfect life then?" she asked sarcastically.
"No," Gabrielle giggled. "It's not PERFECT. Sometimes it's very hard. Sometimes we fight, but, in the end, I know I love her. We always comeback to each other. I don't always agree with her and vise versa, but we talk things out. We find a middle ground to stand on. She respects my opinions and I respect hers... She's the one Mom."
Hecuba let Gabrielle's words settle in. "Maybe I'm jealous," she confessed softly.
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked cautiously.
"I see the way Xena treats you and your father was like that once... many years ago." Hecuba shook her body ever so slightly coming back to the present and her daughter - her grown daughter who had made her choice in life.
"Mom-, Gabrielle said, starting to sympathize.
"No," Hecuba said placing her hands firmly on the bard's shoulders. "Listen. If you're happy then I'm happy. And ... now don't take this the wrong way... , but if it doesn't work out with Xena, you're always welcome here despite anything your father might say. Always."
Gabrielle pulled her mother into her arms and hugged her tightly. "Thank you," she whispered sincerely.
They stood for a long minute, just holding each other close. "I still say you're too thin," Hecuba prodded playfully as they pulled away.
Lila could hear their laughter from the kitchen and a smile found its way to her face.
"So you love her, do ya?"
Xena nearly dropped the wagon she was holding up as Herodotus removed the busted wheel. But reflexively, she tightened her hold. Crushing Herodotus with the family wagon wouldn't increase her standing in the family one single bit.
Once it was off, she sat the wagon down, feeling confident enough to answer. "Yes I do."
"I see," he replied. He didn't add more as he rolled over the new wheel. He chuckled lightly to himself. Xena was unsure, but she asked anyway.
He met the warrior's eyes as he knelt, getting ready to finish the job. "Just thinking about Hecuba's father."
"What about him?" the warrior asked feeling safe to press on in the conversation. It was the most he had said to her since they arrived. Xena could see Gabrielle's family resemblance as the man smiled.
"When I asked for Hecuba's hand in marriage, he put me on detail at his farm. He worked me sun up to sun down. Thought he was trying to kill me. Made me do every stinkin' job he could find. At the end of the day, he asked if I still wanted Hecuba hand."
Xena smiled. "Lemme guess. You did, right?" He only nodded his reply. "Did he make you clean the outhouse?" Xena asked.
"No," Herodotus answered with a laugh. "He wasn't that cruel... Neither am I," he added with a wink.
Xena joined in his laughter and added, "Thank the gods."
Herodotus slowly became serious again and turned to the warrior. "You still want my daughter's hand?" he asked.
Xena considered the question carefully yet quickly. She had debated all day about her feelings for Gabrielle and she knew her life would be empty without her.
"Yes," she answered soundly.
Herodotus grinned and nodded upward. Xena understood and she lifted the wagon as he finished the wheel. When Xena sat it back down, Herodotus still smiled as he rose.
"I remember how happy Hecuba was the day when her father said yes... It's been years since I've watched her smile like that."
As he finished, Xena witnessed the smile fall. She found her heart going out to the man.
"You could make her smile like that again," Xena offered.
Herodotus didn't reply, but he seemed interested in what Xena was saying so the warrior continued. "You could take her out to dinner some night at the tavern or maybe buy her a new dress."
"Don't have the money," he brushed off. "Times are tight," he added.
"Okay," Xena answered, not quite giving up. "Perhaps you could make her something. I've seen your woodshop in the barn. And if that doesn't seem practical you could take a stroll by the river. Moonlight is free, ya know?" the warrior teased.
Herodotus thought about it and ran his fingers through his hair. "Ya think so?" he asked.
"Of course," Xena replied. "Let her know you love her."
"She knows I love her. She's feed. She's got a roof over her head-."
"Yes, but when's the last time you told her? When's the last time you said 'Thank you for washing my clothes'? Those little things go a long way."
Herodotus didn't argue. Xena could see the wheels turning in his head. "I guess I could make her something," he admitted. "But what?" he wondered aloud.
"What does she like?"
"She likes to cook," he answered. "But she got some wooden spoons for solstice. I don't know what else I could make."
Xena thought for a moment. "What about a holder for all her herbs and spices that are on the counter?"
Herodotus thought about the idea, as Xena continued. "You could mount it on the wall so it's outta the way and easy to get to."
"Yeah!" Herodotus agreed, looking almost excited. "Like a rack, huh?"
Xena grinned and nodded.
"Wanna call it a day?" Herodotus asked. "Head over to the woodshop?"
"As long as you let me finish the roof after dinner," Xena answered offering her forearm. "I insist," she added. Herodotus sealed the pact by grasping it.
"Deal," he said firmly with a smile. He patted her back as they walked over to the woodshop.
By this time, Gabrielle had finished talking with her sister by the pantry door. They had been watching the exchange between their father and Xena.
Lila squinted her eyes, but they soon got wide and she turned to Gabrielle.
"Is he... smiling?" Lila asked in disbelief. "He never smiles."
Gabrielle didn't answer right away. She watched him lead Xena into the woodshop. The woodshop with the axes, the bard thought.
"Oh gods," Gabrielle whispered. "He's gonna kill her."
"He's not gonna kill her," Lila answered. She watched the pair travel into the barn, grins still planted on their faces. "He's not going to kill her," Lila whispered again with less confidence. After a few moments, she added, "... Is he?"
The sisters looked at each other briefly. Then they watched the closing bard door. Both women shot to their feet and darted to the woodshop with Gabrielle in the lead.
The bard arrived first and pushed open the door. "Everything alright?" she added short of breath. Xena and Herodotus were examining some wood and turned to see Lila screech to a halt, but not before slamming into Gabrielle. The force knocked Gabrielle to the ground and Xena rushed over.
"Sorry," Lila said sheepishly. "But we thought... we thought you might need some help."
"Are you okay?" Xena asked the bard helping her to her feet. She did a quick appraisal of the bard's body with her eyes. Nothing seemed bruised or broken.
"Yeah," Gabrielle answered once she was upright and dusting herself off. "Can I speak to you outside?" she whispered.
Xena nodded. Then she turned to Herodotus, "Be back in a second." Once they were out the warrior asked, "What in Hades is wrong?"
"I was going to ask you the same question," Gabrielle countered.
"What are you talking about?" Xena asked getting frustrated with the sisters.
"I saw my father smiling," Gabrielle pressed.
"And smiling is a bad thing because... ?" Xena questioned exaggerating with her hands.
"She thought he was going to kill you," Lila offered.
Gabrielle smacked her sister's arm and Xena had to laugh.
"Really?" Xena asked. "You should know by now I can take care of myself."
"Against warlords? Yes," Gabrielle agreed. "But this is my father we're talking about."
Xena smiled. "Don't worry... I asked for your hand and he said yes."
In that instant Xena knew what Herodotus had tried to explain earlier - that smile at the prospect of spending their lives together shown happily on the bard's face.
"Really?" Gabrielle asked. "You asked for my hand."
"Yes. Really. I have every intention of making an 'honest woman' outta ya," Xena teased. "And since he said yes that means you two are interrupting a real 'bonding' moment... so go away."
"I'm sorry." Lila grinned as she began to walk away.
"Me too," Gabrielle answered as she started to leave as well.
"Not so fast," Xena ordered. She pulled Gabrielle back to her by the waist and planted a delicate kiss on her lips. It was soft. It was light. But it still stung with passion. "We'll talk tonight," Xena whispered.
Quietly, Xena went back into the shop as Gabrielle felt her body sway in the light breeze. "Tonight," she muttered to no one, but herself.
Everyone was finishing up dinner as Hecuba started to clean the table.
Herodotus stopped her. "Kids can do that," he announced. "I wanna show ya something."
He untied her apron and took her into the family room - Lila, Gabrielle and Xena all peered though the doorway, each fighting for a view. Xena smiled as Hecuba eyes lit up upon receiving the spice rack. Moments later Herodotus took it from her, leading her out the front door.
"I don't believe it," Lila whispered in astonishment. "They're holding hands!"
"What did you say to him?!" Gabrielle asked the warrior. "Did you threaten him?"
"No," Xena answered a bit offended. "I just helped him stroll down memory lane." She smiled.
Gabrielle returned the smile with a look of admiration. "You do have many skills," the bard whispered.
Xena's fingertips caressed the bard's chin, raising her face so their eyes locked. "Many, many skills," the warrior corrected seductively.
Xena's voice was deep; husky. Gabrielle sighed at the way it made every hair on her body tingle.
"Is it 'tonight' yet?" the bard asked in a quiet yet anxious voice.
Lila was trying to ignore the electricity flying in the kitchen. She was happy when she saw her beau peek through the window.
"Psst," he whispered. "Think your folks will let you take a walk?"
Xena and Gabrielle watched the young man with grins.
"He's cute," Gabrielle whispered to her sister.
"He's smart and funny too," she replied proudly. She took a moment to admire him. "Do you mind if we '
"Go have fun," Gabrielle answered before her sister could finish. "But not too much fun if you know what I mean," she added.
Lila knew just what her sister meant - sex. The warning was needless however. Lila considered herself a young woman of virtue. But instead of wasting words she nodded to Gabrielle and quietly left from the pantry door, leaving Xena and Gabrielle alone.
"Well," the warrior said with that mischievous smirk on her face, "Looks like Mom and Dad left you all alone." She made sure to wiggle her eyebrows to emphasis her point.
Gabrielle laughed. "You never answered my questions... Is it 'tonight' yet?"
Xena planted both hands on Gabrielle's naked sides and pulled her closer. She bent over, her lips almost,, but not quite touching the bard's ear.
"I promised your father to fix the roof," Xena whispered seductively. She let her lips make one light stroke on the bard's ear. "Why don't you finish cleaning up in here while I see to it?"
Gabrielle groaned in frustration. "You're bad," she giggled.
"And you're beautiful," Xena complimented, giving a playful swat to the bard's backside. "Get to work and come see me when you're done."
Gabrielle watched helplessly as Xena offered a quick wink as she walked out the front door.
Half a candlemark later the bard was calling up to the warrior. "Finished yet?" she asked.
"Patience is a virtue Gabrielle," the warrior teased. When the bard started tapping her foot the warrior couldn't contain her laugh. "I'm just about done," she reassured.
Gabrielle climbed up the structure to kneel beside Xena.
"Looks good as new!" Gabrielle complimented.
"I just hope it hold up after the next rain." Xena smiled.
After Xena finished the last nail, she heard Gabrielle chuckle.
"What is it?" Xena asked.
The bard pointed to a rock by the river and two lovers cuddling close. "Look at what you've done to my parents. They look like a couple of teenagers," the bard answered.
"Yeah. They're a good match." Xena grinned, taking in the scene as well.
"They're not the only ones," Gabrielle added.
Xena knew just who Gabrielle was referring to in her equation.
"Oh yeah," the warrior joked. "Lila and her beau seem quite well suited."
"I wasn't talking about Lila," Gabrielle insisted softly.
Xena put on her best 'whatever do you mean?' face before she cracked a tiny, almost unnoticeable grin.
"Your 'looks' don't work on me any more warrior," the bard boasted.
"Ohhh?... I'm sure I have a few that could work," Xena retorted, her voice thick and her eyes heavy with desire.
Gabrielle ate it up. "Okay. You win," she replied quickly.
Xena chuckled and took the bard's hand. "Come on," the warrior said as she rose. "Let's go talk."
Quietly she reached the ground first and helped her bard down. Once their feet were on soil neither woman wanted to end the close embrace.
Xena placed a delicate kiss on the bard's exposed shoulder. "Let's go inside," she whispered. All Gabrielle could do was nod and allow Xena to lead her.
Xena got some fresh water as Gabrielle went to the family room. She found Gabrielle sitting comfortably on the sofa as she entered with the two glasses. The bard looked like perfection. For a brief moment she wondered why she never notice how alluring the bard could be 'no' she wondered why she never acted on it. But in any regard, there Gabrielle was waiting. Waiting for her; waiting to talk about their future together.
Gabrielle thanked Xena for the drink as the warrior sat down.
"Things have changed," the warrior began.
"Change isn't always a bad thing ya know?" the bard offered.
"No it isn't," Xena added.
After a brief silence, Gabrielle asked, "Any regrets? About us and-."
"No," Xena offered immediately. "Gods no... What about you?" the warrior added tentatively.
"Not at all." Gabrielle smiled.
Both women felt like they were tiptoeing around each other. Each was unsure of what to say. Being a woman of action, not words, Xena put her arm around the bard, drawing her closer. "C'mere," she whispered.
Gabrielle snuggled in finding a comfortable spot. Xena felt the bard chuckle against her shoulder.
"Okay. Out with it," the warrior said in a mock-threat.
"It's nothing. Just thinking," the bard evaded.
Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Us. Together. For months, I've had all these fantasies about the two of us. About how you would confess your undying love, then carry me to the bedrolls and make mad passionate love to me," the Gabrielle chuckled again as she finished. "Just the bard in me I guess," she added with a shrug.
"No," Xena countered. "Not the bard. The romantic in you... And ya know what? I wouldn't have it any other way."
Gabrielle looked up into Xena's eyes. "Do you really mean that?"
"Without a doubt," the warrior whispered as she made her way to Gabrielle's lips. "I've realized something for the first time. Something that, in truth, I knew all along," the warrior added after the delicate kiss.
"What?" Gabrielle asked intensely interested.
Xena offered Gabrielle her hand which the bard took. Carefully as if her precious bard were made of glass, she led Gabrielle to her feet. She led Gabrielle back to the bedroom and quietly locked the door behind her.
"I'm yours," Xena confessed. "Everything I do is because of you; for you. If I had the choice of never being a warlord which means never having you in my life ... I still would have walked the same path - all because, in the end, it lead me to you."
Gabrielle smiled at the declaration. "And you say I'm the romantic one," Gabrielle laughed nervously. "I've got nothing on you," she added taking a seat on the bed.
"Well, it's the absolute truth... I wouldn't trade a second of my life if it meant losing you."
An unsettling silence passed between them as Xena knelt taking Gabrielle's face in her hands. Her thumbs caressed the captured cheeks, feeling the bard's softness. Gabrielle simply closed her eyes, soaking in the gentleness.
Moments later, a surge of desire coursed through Xena's veins. She realized that she could very well make mad, passionate love to the bard.
And when Gabrielle shifted her head, placing the most loving of kisses on Xena's right thumb, the warrior shuddered at the sensations, emitting a small moan. Nice and slow was no longer an option for either woman.
Xena kissed Gabrielle deeply; ardently and Gabrielle whimpered at the connection, returning it with as much fervor. Minutes, and a series of kisses later, Xena felt her leathers being pulled form her body. The bard's hands were questing to touch Xena's skin.
The warrior found herself stripping the bard of her garments as well. Finally both women lay naked, their breathing now labored. Xena's made her decent, covering the bard.
Gabrielle realized the warrior just might be correct in her equation from earlier in the day. She just might kill her with their passion. But just as Gabrielle had deduced... she would die with a smile on her face.
When Gabrielle woke to the morning sun, the first thing she noticed was the smell. The room and her body had a lingering odor - a mix of sweat and excitement. The aroma made the bard grow wet again. She looked down at her lover. Xena was still out, but she slept with a small curve on her lips.
"Finally awake?" Xena whispered.
Gabrielle smiled. "I thought you were asleep," she replied, poking Xena's side playfully. "You faker," she added with a kiss to the warrior's neck.
"No," Xena answered. "I was just comfortable here holding you."
"I thought you wanted to get an early start to Amphipolis today?" the bard remarked.
"I did," Xena admitted. "But lying here with you became much more important."
Xena continued to smile as she said the words, but she suddenly tensed up. Gabrielle understood it was a bigger confession than the warrior intended to make. They may have shared their bodies the night before, but things were still tentative; uncertain.
"It's good you have your priorities straight," the bard replied. It reassured the warrior to know the bard wanted her just as much.
They kissed delicately, still tasting their passion from the night before. Soon, the kisses deepened as hands began to roam. Xena pulled back first.
"We gotta cool things down," she said fighting for breath. "Don't need your mother coming in insisting that you eat breakfast."
"I'll just tell her I'm having breakfast in bed," the bard cooed before capturing Xena's earlobe. "Besides, what I have here is much more tasty."
Xena could only moan a response and it was all the fuel Gabrielle needed. By the time they did make it to the breakfast table in the kitchen, their porridge got quite cold.
As Gabrielle helped her mother clean one last time, Xena saddled Argo. She heard the cough behind her aimed to get her attention. Little did Herodotus realize she already knew he was standing there.
"I wanted to thank you," he said sincerely as Xena turned around.
"I was happy to help. I'll make sure Gabrielle and I stop by more often to help with the chores," Xena replied.
"Well," he began as he started to... blush? 'Well, I'll beeee' Xena thought trying to hide her smile. "I was actually talking about Hecuba and your advice," he added meekly.
"I take it, it was a good night last night?" Xena asked mischievously, her eyebrow arched.
He buried his embarrassment as the gruffness returned. "Yeah," he said matter-of-factly. "It was a good night."
"Glad I could help," Xena said offering her forearm. Herodotus took it firmly. "With everything," she added with a sly grin.
As they walked out, they saw Hecuba following Gabrielle with a basket in her hand.
"We'll be in Amphipolis tonight," Gabrielle argued. "We really don't need it, mother."
"You don't have to eat it," Hecuba offered. "Although you could use it," she muttered under her breath.
"Mother!" Gabrielle exclaimed. Before she gave another argument Gabrielle took the basket calmly from her mother. "Thank you," she said graciously. Gabrielle realized it was important to her mother that she accept the gift so being the good daughter she was, she did just that.
As they embraced, Hecuba told her, "I'll miss you."
"We'll be back soon," Gabrielle whispered. The bard hugged her sister next and made her way over to her father and Xena. "I wanted to apologize again for the 'Go to Hades' comment. I had no right to say that," Gabrielle began.
"Why?" Herodotus smiled. "You're right. I don't own you... Come to think of it I never did... You always had a lotta fire Gabrielle." He pulled his daughter into a tight embrace. "I love you, Gabby," he whispered. "Always have; always will."
He had told her she was beautiful. He had told her that he cared for her. But he had never in all her years told her that he loved her.
Gabrielle pulled back quickly so her father wouldn't see the tears threatening to escape her eyes. She turned to their saddle bag and tightened it so she could wipe her eyes. Only then did she face her father. "I love you too," she whispered.
Xena mounted Argo and offered Gabrielle her hand. Herodotus called up to the warrior, "You take good care of her," he threatened as Gabrielle took a seat behind her, basket in hand.
"I will," Xena nodded with reassurance.
With that the warrior and the bard waved to the family as they made their way out of the village.
"Could we visit my folks more often?"
"Certainly," came the brief reply.
"I do still miss them, but like I've always said, it's not so bad since I have you."
"That's good to know." Xena grinned.
Gabrielle smiled. "Xena?"
"I really do love you."
Xena clutched tighter onto the bard's arm, that was snug around her waist. "Love you too."
"To Amphipolis?" the bard asked.
Xena knew the Gabrielle's real question - what will Cyrene think? Xena was unsure, but she mustered up her confidence and remembered the bard's ability to win people over. She knew her mother already had a deep appreciation of Gabrielle and no matter what Cyrene may or may not say didn't matter. Xena knew she had Gabrielle and that's all she truly needed. Xena smiled as she voiced her reply.
"Yes, Gabrielle. Amphipolis."