Subtext Disclaimers: Well, it wouldn't be X:WP if there wasn't sexual ambiguity, but as things go along, the sex gets less ambiguous. In fact, it gets decidedly lesbian. I think Aphrodite would, like, approve.
Copyright and Spoilers: This is mine, mine, all mine? well, except for all the stuff I disclaimed above. Don't plagiarize me and pay me if you find a way to publish it because it's copyrighted and I'll hunt you down. This contains spoilers for "The Convert"
"What kind of warrior kills somebody then has nightmares about it every night?"
Joxer's words repeat themselves in my head over and over as I walk the perimeter. I'd seen the look Gabrielle had given me, but ignored it. I knew exactly what kind of warrior did that: me. Problem was, no one would believe my answer but her. She'd held me through so many nightmares, mine and her own.
"Xena," her soft voice didn't surprise me. I knew she'd follow once she got her charges resettled for the night. Some things in life you can count on, no matter what. Gabrielle following me for a sensitive chat is one of them.
"Here," I answer, coming up behind her.
She whirls instantly, already in the defensive posture, staff or no staff. We both grin as she read my mind.
"You're too good a teacher," she shrugs.
We fall in step together, continuing my circuit.
"Are you all right?"
"Of course," I smile it off, but know I don't fool her.
"He didn't mean anything by it," she offers. "He doesn't know..."
In a gesture so habitual I doubted she even notices what she does, she curls her hand around my arm, and her fingertips brush unconsciously over the thin white scar on the outside of my bicep. I feel that touch to my very core. A Persian sword had sliced me there in that frenzied defense of the armory roof. I hadn't even noticed at the time, but later-- a lifetime later-- she had. And she'd touched it often with gentle hands or tender lips, as if to remind or reassure herself of everything that we'd survived, everything that we'd promised. It had always brought me to tears... or climax.
I stop and shake myself loose.
She frowns. "I didn't realize you were still angry."
"I'm not angry," I lie casually. "I said my piece."
Her look says she knows I'm lying and that she'd expected more than that from me. I am amazed at how defiant that makes me. She thinks I'm just jealous, that my ego won't stand her interest in someone who's bested me in battle. And she is partially right, but that isn't all.
Part of me is jealous as Hera, but a bigger part is actually mad at Gabrielle, not Najara, and at myself. Her for trusting that nutcase fanatic's stupid conversion story and me for being angry that she still-- even after everything-- wants to see the best in everyone she meets. Where would I be, I ask myself, if she didn't? She would never have followed that embittered, uncommunicative ex-warlord out of Poteidaia; she would never have forgiven me for trying to kill her in Amazonia; and she would never have sacrificed her life for mine in that temple. And I? I would never have known what true love felt like.
"Xena," she sighs. "I didn't come out here to start that whole argument over again."
"Then why'd you come?" I hear the sharp edge on my voice.
"I came because... because I miss you."
"Gabrielle, we haven't been apart in weeks."
"We've been apart since Najara reappeared," she counters, her eyes daring me to contradict her.
I, who have stared down gods and warlords, look away first. "It's hard with all these people around," I mutter, lying through my teeth.
She sees right through it. "It never used to be."
"Is sleeping on the other side of camp. And I'm sure you're not worried about Najara hearing us." Her hand rises to my cheek. "You'd probably score big warrior points if she did, right?"
"Gabrielle..." That warning tone, low in my throat, used to make men wet themselves. I see her catch the smile before it curls her mouth, but it sparkles in her eyes as she looks up at me through her lashes.
"Xena, you're not going to make me beg, are you?" she whispers, her voice deepening as well.
I have no defense for that voice. It halts me in my tracks everytime, loosening my jaw and sending my brain into some limbo, the same limbo where I first kissed her, first heard her say she loved me.
She is against me before I can retreat, and her strong, soft arms twine around my neck, pulling me down.
"Baby," I whisper against her lips and feel her melt and sigh. That sigh is my undoing. It's been too long and she knows me too well. Sexual tension, between us, seldom goes this long without release. I need her now.
This woman owns you, warlord, some deep, hidden voice chuckles, and I try to disentangle myself, try to withdraw gracefully, try to find some reason not to do this, but Gabrielle's hands move across my cheek, down my throat, under the shoulder straps of my leathers and I'm trembling as much as she is.
"We shouldn't," I argue, even as my fingers find the edges of the sari top and begin to work under it.
"We'll make it fast," she grins, stripping my shoulders, laying her mouth against the newly exposed skin.
It is rather hasty, but tender and loving nonetheless. Afterward, we take a moment to lie together, cuddled in the debris of discarded clothes. She teases a fingertip across and around my nipple, watching it stiffen, then relax again.
"I love you," she whispers.
"Still mad at me?"
She smiles. "No."
"It worked then," I comment, giving her a knowing smile and she crinkles her nose at me.
"It always does," she shrugs.
We laugh and climb to our feet, sharing a last kiss before heading back to our crowded camp.