"How's this, Xena?"
"Gabrielle, you're not even close to being in the position you're supposed to be in. Weren't you paying attention when I showed you what you were supposed to do?" Xena asked, just barely hiding the exasperation she was feeling at the moment.
"Well... I was a little distracted," the bard admitted with a sheepish grin, causing the warrior to roll her eyes. "Don't you roll your eyes at me, Warrior Princess! I didn't see you complaining when you were teaching me to use the rod."
"That's because you were able to use the rod almost immediately," Xena muttered under her breath, earning a smack from her blonde partner.
"I'll have you know that learning to do this with your hands is much harder than learning to do it with a rod," Gabrielle told her. Xena wisely chose not to remind her forgetful, young friend that she had taught herself how to use the rod and her hands, so she knew exactly what the younger girl was going through.
Seeing that her dark friend wasn't going to argue with her anymore, the blonde bent over once more, hoping that she was in the position that Xena had shown her. The warrior shook her head before placing a firm hand on the bard's back.
"You have to get your head a little bit closer," she informed the younger woman. "Otherwise, you won't be able to see the fish very well," she explained before backing away so that she was back on shore. She didn't want to be tempted to catch one of the fish that had been swimming by. That would just make the younger girl feel worse about herself.
"If you say so, Xena," Gabrielle muttered with a sigh before doing as the warrior told her. They had been at this for hours, it seemed, and she still hadn't managed to catch one fish with her bare hands. Sure, she had learned how to smack a thug into a dark oblivion, but she still hadn't been able to learn the technique that Xena used to catch a fish without a pole. It was really beginning to grate on her nerves. She didn't even want to guess how much patience her friend had left.
The bard stood knee deep in the cold water of the gently flowing river for what seemed like forever before a flash of silver upstream caught her eye. She slowly moved one of her hands under the surface of the water, just like Xena had told her to. Just as the fish swam by her hand, she playfully began to wiggle her fingers, catching the attention of the fish. Gabrielle had to stop herself from giggling when she felt the fish begin to nibble on one of her wiggling fingers.
'I've got you now, my fishy little friend,' she thought with a smirk as she slowly brought her other hand over the area that the fish was in. Without warning, the bard let her hand fly into the water. Soon, she felt her hand wrap around her target, bringing a triumphant grin to the blonde's face.
"Ha! I did it! I told you I could do it, Xena!" she told her friend as she pulled her hands out of the water, her slimy prize in hand. "See? I finally caught one!"
"Yes, Xena?" the bard asked curiously, still smiling.
"You caught a rock," the warrior pointed out. The bard looked down to see that she was, indeed, holding a rock. Not a fish. It also happened to be a rock covered in slimy muck.
"Oh, that is just disgusting," Gabrielle muttered with a sigh as she dropped the rock back into the water, where it belonged. "Xena, I don't think I'm cut out to be a fisher," she mused as she began walking back to shore. "I mean, think about it. If I haven't learned by now, I don't-" The bard's sentence was cut off when her foot made contact with a rather slippery rock. "Ah!" was all she managed to get out before she slipped and fell backwards, landing in the water in a less than graceful manner.
"Are you alright?" Xena asked with a raised eyebrow, not bothering to hide the amusement in her voice. Gabrielle gave her a playful glare before cautiously getting back to her feet. She really didn't want to take another dive into the cold river water. Luckily, the rest of the trip back to shore was incident-free.
"Come on. I know of a nice, warm campfire with your name on it," the warrior said once the shivering bard reached the shore. Gabrielle nodded, her teeth chattering too much for her to say anything, before following her friend back to the camp they had made.
It didn't take long for the two travelers to get to the clearing in the forest where they had left their belongings, along with the Xena's faithful mare, Argo. Gabrielle had begun to gather firewood for the campfire, but was quickly stopped when she felt something hit her in the back. The blonde turned around to find a blanket lying at her feet.
"I'll take care of the fire," Xena told her, not bothering to look at her as she began gathering the firewood herself. Gabrielle watched her move around the camp for a moment before sighing and taking a seat on the ground, wrapping herself in the blanket that had been thrown at her.
She didn't know why the warrior always insisted on treating her like a child. They had been traveling together for almost two years now. If Xena couldn't accept her as an adult by now, what were the chances of the warrior ever viewing her as an adult? If she couldn't be seen as an adult by her friend, then there was no chance that she could move their relationship further, like she wanted to.
'Best keep away from thoughts like that right now, Gabrielle,' the bard chastised herself, although she was finding it rather difficult to stop her thoughts with the dark-haired warrior walking in front of her. Well, it wasn't really walking. 'More like floating,' she thought as a silly grin plastered itself on her face.
"What's got you so happy? The cold bath?" The sound of Xena's voice pulled Gabrielle out of her thoughts. Green eyes blinked and she found herself staring into clear, blue eyes. They reminded her of the azure waters of the river that she had just fallen into. While they were beautiful to look at, there was a coldness behind them. Luckily, Gabrielle was always able to look past that icy demeanor and see the warm woman hiding behind it.
A dark eyebrow raised when the bard didn't answer right away. Gabrielle could feel the heat rushing to her face, realizing that not only had she been caught daydreaming, but staring as well.
"Sorry. Just thinking," the bard replied truthfully, although she didn't plan on telling her dark friend just what, or who, she was thinking about.
"Right..." the warrior said before turning back to the firewood. "Well, don't think too hard. Wouldn't want you to hurt yourself while I'm getting us something to eat," Xena teased her. She didn't have to look behind her to know that the bard was scowling.
"Haha. You know, I don't know why you think you're not funny," the blonde said sarcastically, wrapping the blanket tighter around herself as she felt a cold chill run up her spine. She was never trying to fish without a pole ever again.
"Well, I guess that's what I have you around for," the warrior said with a shrug as she began setting the wood up into a pile. "Without you, who would tell me how funny I am?" The dark-haired warrior turned her head back for a moment and flashed the bard a hesitant smile, who returned it wholeheartedly.
Once Xena turned back to the firewood, a quietness descended on the small camp. The only sound was that of the flint scraping against Xena's sword. Even the talkative bard, who usually couldn't stay silent for more than a minute, was able to enjoy the comfortable quietness.
"I'll be back soon," Xena told the blonde once the sparks finally caught and she had a small fire going. "Try not to get sick while I'm gone." Gabrielle rolled her eyes at her friend as she walked back towards the river before scooting closer to the fire, her thoughts returning to the past year. It had been one of the most exciting years of her life yet, but it had also been the scariest.
She had lost her husband and childhood friend, Perdicas, to the insane Callisto; and after only one day of being married, too. She had nearly lost herself in her quest to avenge his murder. Luckily, Xena had come to the rescue with not only her actions, but with her words, as well. Gabrielle knew that her friend never prayed to the gods anymore, so it surprised her when she had found her on her knees, practically pleading with them. There wasn't a day that went by that Gabrielle didn't thank the gods for allowing her to stumble upon that moonlit scene.
Then she had lost Xena. It had hurt far worse than it did when Perdicas died. At first, Gabrielle had felt guilty for that, but the guilt was pushed back by the lost feeling that filled her after Xena's death. Once they brought Xena back with the Ambrosia, however, Gabrielle felt a different kind of guilt. She felt horrible for being angry with her friend for leaving her, especially since Xena had heard all of her thoughts. The warrior had assured her that it was alright, though, and that she understood that the bard had been hurting. In the end, the experience had left them with a closer friendship. It also left Gabrielle with a kiss to ponder, seeing as she was still unsure whether it had been Autolycus or Xena that initiated the action. She was desperately hoping that it was the latter.
If that weren?t enough, Gabrielle and Xena faced another ordeal that almost took the warrior away from the bard. When they had gone up against the Horde, Gabrielle was afraid that she was going to lose her friend to the darker part of herself. For those few horrifying days, she had been scared of Xena and what she was becoming. Words could not express how happy she was that her friend had been able to overcome that violent part of herself and find another way to end the conflict between the Athenian outpost and the Horde; even if it had taken Gabrielle risking her life to get the woman to see the solution.
Then there had been the incident with baby Bliss. As much as she enjoyed romance, the bard hoped that the little boy wasn?t able to get his hands on the arrows again. At least, not until he knew how to use them correctly. She couldn?t believe that she had been in love with Joxer! And that ridiculous song?
?I swear, if I ever hear that song again, I will throttle him!? she mentally promised herself as she stared into the flames. Thinking back on the baby Bliss incident, she realized how jealous she had felt when Xena had fallen for Draco. It was nearly as painful as watching her fall in love with Ulysses when they were headed for Ithaca. Despite the fact that she had been horribly seasick, she was still well enough to feel envious of the returning king.
?What did I tell you about thinking too hard?? Gabrielle jumped at the low voice that sounded next to her ear.
?For the love of Zeus, Xena! Would it kill you to make as much noise as a normal person for once?? she asked with a scowl as she watched the smug warrior take a seat next to her. She had a bag of fish resting between them, waiting to be cooked. ?Let me guess: Bare hands??
?How?d you know?? Xena asked with a smirk. Gabrielle rolled her eyes, muttering something that sounded like ?show-off? under her breath before pulling the first fish out of the rough bag.
?Well, I may not be good at catching these things, but at least I can cook them,? the blonde commented while she unwrapped herself from the blanket. She walked over to the large mare and grabbed one of the saddle bags before going back over to the fire. ?Otherwise, we?d be eating charcoal.? The teasing comment earned her a gentle slap on the shoulder when she sat down. ?Kidding, Xena,? she said as she pulled a knife out of the saddlebag and began preparing the fish to cook. Once Gabrielle had all of the fish roasting over the fire, she looked over at her quiet companion.
?You know, I really do appreciate you teaching me how to fish,? she said, sincerity sparkling in her emerald eyes. Not that Xena needed proof of the bard?s honesty.
?It was... interesting... teaching you,? she replied, turning her head back to fire to hide the smirk on her face. ?It wasn?t bad, for your first time,? she added on, ignoring the sarcastic laugh that came from the younger woman.
?Well, I?m sure with such a great teacher, I?ll be able to do it in no time,? Gabrielle said before leaning over to give the dark-haired woman a kiss on the cheek. It was at that exact moment, however, that Xena decided to turn her head towards her to say something. The result was practically electric as their lips met purely by accident.
Gabrielle?s eyes widened in shock when she first felt the contact, but she was quickly closing them as she deepened the kiss. She could swear that she had been struck by one of Zeus? thunderbolts when Xena began returning the kiss. Her, the little girl from Potidaea, was being kissed by the most magnificent woman in the known world. She couldn't believe it.
She had to fight a bubble of laughter that was threatening to escape her throat as she wrapped her arms around the warrior's waist. The sounds of the world seemed to be silenced to her mind. All that she was aware of was Xena. Why hadn't she ever felt that way with Perdicas?
Before Gabrielle's mind could contemplate what her heart already knew, Xena was breaking away from the kiss and the embrace. Confused, green eyes looked into sapphire blue, which, for a fleeting moment, looked frightened.
"Xena...?" The bard reached out to touch Xena's shoulder, only to have the warrior pull away from her. A flicker of hurt passed over Gabrielle's face. Had she really been such a bad kisser? She knew that she had been enjoying it immensely.
"I'll be back," was the only answer she received before the warrior got to her feet and began walking away, leaving Gabrielle sitting at the fire, dumbfounded. What the Hades had just happened?
Xena wasn't aware of time as it passed her by, never noticing as the sun was pulled out of the sky by Apollo's speeding chariot. The hours had simply went by unnoticed by the warrior sitting by the river. Her mind was still focusing on the events that had occurred with her younger companion.
She couldn't believe that she had allowed a simple accident to destroy the tight control that she always had over her emotions. One accidental meeting of their lips, and the bottle that she had kept her feelings for the bard in for so long was shattered. There was no doubt that her relationship with the young woman was in the same state.
'I don't know. She seemed to be enjoying it just as much as you were,' a small voice in her mind pointed out.
'That was just wishful thinking,' Xena, always the pessimist, reasoned with herself. She had to admit, though, even if she had acted without thinking her actions through first, the experience had been very enjoyable. She just hoped that she hadn't just destroyed her friendship with the bard by acting on her impulse. Not after they had been through so much together.
Over the last year, Xena had learned that there was more to the bard than she first thought. When she had first met the girl, she knew that the girl loved to talk. When they had just started traveling with each other, it had gotten on her nerves; she hadn't been used to so much chatter at one time. Over time though, she had learned to listen carefully to the girl's words. For one so young, she was usually very insightful, which surprised the warrior.
Xena had also learned that the blonde was a hard worker and determined to learn all that she could. She had been worried when the bard became an Amazon princess, but it seemed that the position of power simply gave the girl the chance to improve herself in order to help defend others. The warrior had to admit that she had become quite skillful with the staff and that she was very proud of the girl. She never said it in as many words, but she was sure that the girl knew her feelings already. Hades, Gabrielle seemed to know her better than her own mother did. She also believed in her more than her mother had.
When they had gone up against Callisto for the very first time, the bard had been able to pull a promise out of her that, at the time, she didn't think she was capable of keeping. She had promised that, if anything ever happened to Gabrielle, she wouldn't turn into a monster. At first, she had brushed the girl off; but then the bard was so persistent in making her promise that Xena had finally given in and gave the bard her word. Her word was almost tested when she thought she had lost Gabrielle in that healing temple in Thessaly. It was around that time that she began to realize that her feelings for the bard ran stronger than friendship.
As she had stood over her friend's frighteningly still body in that temple, Xena had felt as if something had been ripped out of her chest and torn into shreds. She had never fought so hard against the fates until that night. She could also never recall a moment when she was as happy as she was when Gabrielle came back to her. The bard had left the Elysian Fields, the paradise for heroes, for her. It shouldn't have surprised the warrior when Gabrielle told her that she was the reason she had come back. The bard was always putting the warrior ahead of herself. She even went as far as to do things requested of her that most people would consider insane.
Twice, the bard had done everything in her power to get Xena back to her brothers and mother in Amphipolis. The first time Gabrielle had had to deal with her death, she had fought through a warlord's camp in order to get her body back. Xena had never seen the younger girl fight like that afterwards.
Every time Xena thought about her second death, she felt extremely guilty. Whereas Gabriele had fought to come back to her in Thessaly, Xena had simply given up and passed on. She never thought she would hear such tortured thoughts coming from the younger woman once she died.
The bard's feelings had fought between sadness, anger, and loneliness. Some of the angry thoughts that Xena had heard had hurt far more than any wound could. But the loneliness she had felt emanating from the bard was the worst. She hoped she would never have to be the cause of that loneliness again.
"Xena?" The familiar voice of the girl she had just been thinking about pulled the reminiscing warrior out of her memories. When she looked up, there was no one there; but she could hear the footfalls of her companion coming from the surrounding trees. As hard as she tried, Gabrielle still couldn't master stealth.
The warning of her friend's presence gave the warrior two options: say nothing and allow the bard to pass her by; or call out so that Gabrielle could find her. Before she could come to a decision, fate seemed to make one for her.
"There you are," the warrior heard the younger woman say as she watched her stumble out of the vegetation of the forest. "Leave it up to you to come back to the river when you're sulking." Xena was about to object and say that she wasn't sulking, but thought better of it. She wasn't in the mood to lie to the bard.
"Didn't I tell you that I'd be back?" she asked instead, feeling that it was a safe question that wouldn't get the bard going into a rant.
"That was hours ago, Xena. I thought something might have happened to you," the young woman said as she took a seat next to the warrior.
"And you thought you would come to my rescue?" she asked, mentally wincing when she heard how harsh the words sounded to her ears. She hadn't meant for them to come out quite like that. The bard didn't seem to get upset, however, and instead placed a gentle hand on the warrior's tense forearm.
"I have to pay you back for all the times you rescue me, don't I?" Gabrielle gave her a smile, although it was hard to see in the dark, before getting closer to Xena. The warrior had the urge to rest her head on the blonde's, but then she remembered that it was feelings like that that had gotten her into this mess in the first place. So, she settled for the fair, young woman wrapping both of her arms around one of hers and leaning against her. The minutes went by with none of them saying a word, the sounds of nature encompassing them as they both fought with their feelings. As Xena stared out at the quickly flowing river, she had to stop herself from giving into those feelings once more.
She had learned a long time ago what happened when emotions controlled someone's actions rather than logic. Her emotions had gotten her crucified. Her emotions had gotten M'Lila killed. While she knew that Gabrielle was too good of a person to even think of doing that to someone else, of betraying someone like that, the old fear would not let the warrior give in to those emotions as much as she would like to.
?You didn?t have to run away, you know,? the bard said with a sigh, finally breaking the silence. ?It kind of ruined the moment.? Xena looked down to see her young friend giving her a playful smile. Her heart skipped a beat as she realized what the bard was saying. She really had been enjoying the kiss.
"Gabrielle... You know we can't be together," Xena said, regretting her words when she saw the bard's expression fall.
"I'm not a child, Xena. You don't have to worry about corrupting me if that's what the problem is," Gabrielle told her. Before the warrior could explain, the bard continued. "I mean, I'm nineteen years old. That has to count for something. But then again, if my parents couldn't accept that I'm old enough to make my own decisions, I guess I can't expect-"
The bard was cut off when Xena put her fingers to her lips, successfully stopping them from moving.
"Gabrielle, how many times do I have to tell you that you talk too much?" she asked with a smirk. The bard narrowed her eyes at her, but she was quiet when Xena pulled her hand away, allowing the warrior to explain herself.
"First of all, I stopped seeing you as a little girl a long time ago, so it isn't your age that's the problem," she started off. The blonde was about to say something, but Xena held up a finger, silencing her as she tried to choose her words carefully. "Second of all, I do have... well, I feel something for you. I don't know what it is, but I do know it's deeper than friendship. It's deeper than anything I've ever felt before," she admitted.
'Perhaps that's why it's so hard for me to classify it,' Xena thought as she watched Gabrielle think about her words. Even in the moonlight, she could make out the way the bard's brow furrowed when she was thinking hard about something. It was one of the many things that Xena found attractive about Gabrielle. 'No! Bad warrior!' she scolded herself.
"Well, if that isn't it, then I'm not seeing the problem," Gabrielle finally said, pulling Xena out of her thoughts. "If you're feeling the same things as me, I don't really see why you ran off like that."
"I didn't run off," the warrior objected, only to be met with the bard's version of 'the look', raising her eyebrow as if she were saying 'riiight'. Xena chose to ignore it, preferring to go on to listing her reasons as to why the two of them couldn't be together.
"Gabrielle, you know that every time I?ve trusted my emotions, I?ve wound up hurt in more ways than one,? she told the blonde. ?I?ve lost everyone I?ve ever felt anything for, whether it was to betrayal or to death. I don?t want that to ever happen to us,? she admitted, turning her gaze to the ground as she waited for Gabrielle?s answer. She had never told anyone that, and she wasn?t sure if she wanted to know what the bard?s reaction would be.
?Xena, you?re my best friend and the best warrior I know. I think I?m safe,? the bard told her, reaching a hand up and gently tilting the warrior?s head back towards her. ?Don?t you think you?ve proved that you can protect me?? she asked with an impish smile before becoming serious again. ?Besides, don?t you think I?m scared, too??
?Every relationship that I?ve had has ended... well... either the guy ends up dead or he?s already taken or he?s the son of a warlord,? she explained. Xena chuckled when she remembered the warlord?s son that Gabrielle had fallen for. She remembered how the girl wouldn?t stop talking about him being her tree, as well.
?None of that is your fault, you know that, right?? the warrior asked, going back to being serious again. Gabrielle sighed and nodded her head.
?The point is, Xena, I think everyone?s afraid. It just takes a lot of courage to overcome that fear and face the dangers that come with these feelings,? she said. The warrior smiled down at the bard, resisting the urge to kiss the blonde hair. ?And you?re the most courageous person I know,? the blonde added, green eyes sparkling with sincerity.
Xena wasn?t sure whether it was the bard?s words or the look in her eyes that broke the cage that she had on her feelings, but the next thing she knew, her lips were meeting Gabrielle?s in a much more graceful kiss than the first one they had shared. All of the warrior?s fears melted away as she turned herself so that she was in a much more comfortable position. She gently pulled her arm away from Gabrielle?s grip and wrapped both limbs around the smaller woman?s waist, the bard mimicking her action.
As the kiss deepened, Xena could feel a strange, burning sensation rushing through her body. She quickly decided it wasn?t a bad feeling, enjoying the warmth that was spreading through her. She had never experienced it with Caesar, or any other lover she had been with. She had to wonder if Gabrielle was feeling the same thing.
In an attempt to make the bard feel the same thing she was, Xena gently lowered them down to the ground, never breaking the kiss as she unwrapped her arms from Gabrielle?s waist and used her hands to support herself as she leaned over the bard?s body. Judging by the fact that she could feel the younger woman smiling against her lips, the warrior figured it was the right decision.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard someone tries, they can?t go without air forever. So, even though they wanted to continue, the Xena and Gabrielle broke apart. They both had to catch their breath after such a long time without air.
?Wow...? Gabrielle said after she finally recovered from the kiss. ?That was... I mean... I can?t even find the words to describe it,? she stammered. Xena smiled down at her before nodding in agreement. There was a silence surrounding them as they stared into each other?s eyes, neither sure of what to do next.
?So... want to do it again and see if you can find the right words?? Xena asked with a rare, playful smirk.
?Do the gods live on Mount Olympus?? she replied with a grin before leaning up and wrapping her arms around the warrior?s neck, pulling her in for another kiss. Before they could go too far into the kiss, however, they heard something that made both of them groan at the same time.
?Joxer the mighty roams through the countryside. He never needs a place to hide. With Gabby as his sidekick, fighting with her little stick. Righting wrongs and singing songs... Being mighty all day long. He?s Joxer... Joxer the mighty!?
?You have got to be kidding me!? Gabrielle muttered under her breath as she lay back on the ground with a thud. ?Talk about your bad timing.?
?Yeah,? Xena growled as she rolled off the bard, just as Joxer came into the dark clearing by the river. Both of them glared at the bumbling warrior, but he didn?t seem to notice.
?I thought I would find you two out here!? he exclaimed, the goofy smirk on his face visible even in the moonlight. ?But, what are you two doing lying on the ground?? he asked.
?Well Joxer...? Gabrielle started off, ?normal people like to sleep when the sun goes down.?
?Oh...? The man stared at them for a few moments before he caught sight of Xena?s glare. ?Oh! I bet you?re wondering why I?m here, right?? The warrior nodded, cueing him to explain. ?Well, I was thinking to myself ?I know Gabrielle told me that her and Xena would be coming this way. Maybe they need a strong man to protect them.??
?You got kicked out of the inn, didn?t you?? There was no answer from the bumbling warrior, which gave Xena and Gabrielle all the answer that they needed. The bard rolled her eyes before standing up, Xena getting up soon after.
?Come on, idiot. We have a spare bedroll you can use,? the warrior told the man before leading the way through the forest, back to the camp.
Once they reached the campsite, Xena pointed towards one of the bedrolls that was already laid out on the ground and told him he would be sleeping there. It just happened to be Gabrielle?s. This earned the warrior a glare from the bard. There was no way she was going to be happy sleeping with Joxer. Xena rolled her eyes before nodding towards her bedroll, raising an eyebrow. Getting the idea, Gabrielle smiled and walked over to the indicated bedroll and laid down, Xena joining her soon after.
The warrior smiled when the blonde rolled on her side and rested her head on her shoulder. Soon, she felt the bard?s arm cross her stomach before Gabrielle placed a kiss on her neck.
?I think I figured out the right word,? the smaller woman whispered so Joxer couldn?t hear her. ?Breathtaking.?