FYI: This work of fiction contains scenes of love between women. If this does not appeal to you, or for some reason it is illegal for you to read about it, don't read the story.
Description: A first time story, taking place a while after the flashback period occurring within the episode "Destiny," except this time, Xena didn't let Caesar board her ship and betray her.
Copyright 7/00 by Xena's Little Bitch
Didja like it? MiladyCo@aol.com
Today was different. We were docked, getting supplies. Beautiful sunny day. I felt good. For me. I walked slowly through the stalls of the open air market, not really looking at anything. I was eating an apple, throwing it into the air between bites and catching it, which was honestly becoming disgusting, when I heard them. Girls screaming. Nothing I'm driven to make stop like that particular sound. There, boarding a ship, a handful of girls chained together, a bunch of ugly armed men. It took me only moments to kill them; I have issues with slavers. I freed the girls. They were crying and hanging all over me and thanking me. I'll admit it felt good. The thanks, and the bodies of the girls against mine. But there was one girl, a few years younger than the rest. She was twelve maybe, I'm not good at guessing ages. It was as if there was a giant brightly painted sign above her with my name on it and an arrow pointing at her. But the sign didn't outshine her long red-gold hair, it served only to accentuate it, and everything else about her. She stared at me as I paid the wharf master for the trouble of disposing of the bodies. She just stood there, looking at me, as the older girls scattered. What was I gonna do? There was my name in the sky above her head to consider after all. So I walked over to her.
"Where do you live?" I asked her.
"Nowhere anymore," she said.
"Where are your parents?"
"They're dead," she told me.
"What's your name?"
"Gabrielle. What's yours?"
"Xena," I said.
"Take me with you," she said.
So I did.
Yeah, I do what twelve year old girls tell me. I brought her back to the ship, gave her some of M'lila's old clothes to put on. I have to admit I've missed M'lila a lot. I can't blame her for wanting to see her homeland. I've just missed having someone to communicate with, someone with more on their mind than the sea and jewels and ivory. And now here was this girl, this Gabrielle, in M'lila's old shirt with the design on the front. She stood in the door to my cabin with this smile on her face. It was the first time I saw her smile.
"You look beautiful," I told her. She blushed. "I need to attend to something. What do girls your age do, anyway? To keep busy?"
"I don't know about other girls, Xena, but I like to write."
So self-possessed! I found her some scrolls and quills and ink both black and gold, sat her down in a corner of my cabin, and went to speak to my men.
I gathered them on the deck and explained very clearly that if any of them were to touch Gabrielle in any way at any time for any reason, they would pay with their lives. Though they know not to cross me, a couple of them snickered. Could they really think I'm desperate enough to force this girl to share my bed? I could have anyone I wanted--they know I had Julius Caesar, for Aphrodite's sake! There's no accounting for taste. We set sail.
My men dealt with, I returned to my cabin. Gabrielle sat in the corner writing, just as I'd left her. It hit me then, as I poured myself some wine, that she reminded me of Lyceus. Something so innocent and so straight-forward about them both. Something true. I've always wondered what that felt like, not to feel conflicted all the time.
The cook brought our dinner, and I think Gabrielle was impressed. When it comes to the way I live my life at sea, I spare myself nothing; I live well.
"So what happened? How did you end up here?" I asked her.
Gabrielle paused. "The slavers came. To the village to take us. They killed the people who tried to defend us. They brought us here."
"Did they," because I had to know, "Did any of them touch you?"
"Of course, how do you think they forced me to--oh, you mean in that other way, don't you? No, I'm happy to say. That makes a slave less valuable, doesn't it?"
I blushed. Yes, I blushed. "Yeah. I'm glad they didn't. Touch you."
"Me too. Why does it make a slave less valuable, Xena?"
My first evening with this girl and she was already asking me about sex. "You know that's a hard question to answer. Because the men who buy slaves like to touch them that way, they like to be the...first one to touch them. It's worth money to them."
"It's like...anything, a new weapon--or a toy; if it's yours, you want to be the first to...play with it." Gods.
"How did you end up here?" she asked me.
I came close to snorting wine out of my nose.
"Uh... A few years ago, when my village was attacked, I was a little older than you are now, and I could fight. I rallied the people and we fought and eventually won, but lives were lost. Including my brother's. I was blamed. It hurt. Let's just say I lost my way for a while and eventually I took to the sea."
"Are you a pirate?"
"You could call it that." Yes, you could, and you'd be right. Basically.
"That means you steal, right?"
"You could call it stealing." Okay, so you'd be right here too.
"What was your brother's name?"
"I remind you of him, don't I?"
"Yes." Maybe she's not really a girl. Maybe she's a sorceress.
"Are you going to let me stay with you?"
I looked at her over the rim of my goblet. This was a commitment, taking on the welfare of this girl. Sure, she'd seen me kill, but did she have any idea of what she was asking?
"Let me tell you some things. This is not an easy life, on this ship, always traveling, running into danger. And I'm not a happy person, I feel bad about my past and I'm not a lot of fun to be around. I can be really mean and I can be quiet for days and it's been a long time since I've been around children."
"I'm not a child, Xena. And I could leave any time I wanted."
"Yes. I'd find a safe place for you." Not that I could think of one offhand. Maybe send her to my mother? Ha.
"I want to try."
"Because I want to have adventures. And I want to be with you."
And just like that, my life changed.
Gabrielle sleeps soundly on a mattress in the corner of my cabin. I'm exhausted. Far too much self-reflection here. I should go to bed.
The Next Day
I woke up this morning with a beautiful young girl in my arms. I didn't know how she got there, and for a moment I was completely at a loss as to the time and place. Gabrielle, I remembered. She must have gotten into my bed during the night. Holding her felt wonderful. A quiet current of joy running through me. It reminded me of the kitten I'd had when I was little, how good it felt to wake up with her sleeping on me. Like if something that pure could trust me I could not be all bad. Not all bad indeed, Xena of Amphipolis. The name alone had caused villages to surrender instantly. Her hair smelled so good. I breathed her in and sighed and realized I was going to have to find a way to turn off my desire. I would never take advantage of a situation like this, I know that, but to even think about it is torture. And I know because I did think of it. The sounds she made while sleeping, her body moving against mine as she sighed and turned and pressed herself more deeply into my embrace. Her gentleness brings out my tenderness, and with my tenderness comes my love and, well, we know where that can lead. I would be no better than the slave owners, well, not much better than them anyway.
She woke up with a start.
"It's Xena. You're safe."
Gabrielle turned in my arms and looked at me, "Good morning. I'm sorry about being in your bed. I just...felt lonely."
"It's okay," I said, "I feel lonely too sometimes. Let's have breakfast."
I'd heard my breakfast coming down the hall, but to her it seemed like magic when the cook brought in the tray of fresh pastries and juices. Her face lit up at the sight and we ate together in my bed. I didn't care what my cook thought.
"So Xena," she asked tentatively, "Are you in a good mood?"
"Yes," I said, drawing out the word to make her realize she should still be careful.
"Have you made a lot of money being a pirate?"
"A great deal, I'd say," I was proud. I was good at something, and I usually managed not to kill people when I did it.
"I have this idea...have you considered becoming a trader?"
"You know what I mean, Xena. If you have enough money, enough possessions, but you still want to sail around the world and all, you could trade."
"Why would I want to do that? Ruling the seas is what I do to control my urge to try to rule the world."
"Rule the world?"
I can't believe I said that out loud. Gods. "Yes, there are times when I think about it." How good I was at what I was doing when I took the villages near Amphipolis. How naturally that kind of leadership came to me, strategy, tactics. The satisfaction and thrill of battle. Towards the end it was getting scary; I was enjoying the kill too much and I felt as if there was a malevolent presence watching me when I fought. The last village I attacked was the one where I met Caesar. Somehow, M'lila had gotten me to question myself; who was I to have so much power? She helped cure me of my hubris, and yet, still sometimes in the back of my mind I remember how good it felt to have hundreds of armed men at my back, following me into battle. M'lila showed me what the quest for power had done to Caesar. But she didn't show me what to want instead of what I wanted. What could really substitute for ruling the world?
Gabrielle ate and watched me, like she knew she was making me think. I bet I'm as much of a project to her as she is to me. Already. Less than twenty four hours and I feel accountable to her.
"You don't want me to be a pirate."
"You'd rather if I were a trader of goods, if I sailed around the world selling spices and silk and trading ivory for diamonds?"
"Not ivory. But yes."
"Of course not ivory. Couldn't hurt the elephants now, could we? Why?"
"Well, because I want to be with you, and I don't want to be with someone who steals."
And that is the story of how Xena of Amphipolis became a trader of fine exotic goods.
Two Months Later
I have been busy. Converting a pirate ship full of pirates into a relatively respectable merchant vessel full of sailors is not an easy task. Never mind the years it will take to change my reputation. I am far from finished, but I feel hopeful. Things have slipped into a rhythm in my life with Gabrielle. I wake each morning with her curled up in my bed, we have breakfast and I listen to her talk. I check in with my crew and she writes. I gave her a list recently of skills I was willing to teach her, and she chose to learn to speak and read Latin and to defend herself with a staff. We spend the mornings sparring on the deck; my men learned to stay clear of us the hard way. We have another meal, and rest a while, slowly moving into our afternoon lessons. Later I work on my record keeping, or my maps, or whatever I used to do before I had her company. And Gabrielle writes. After dinner we talk, and she reads me her stories. She is amazingly good, and she's so funny. Sometimes at night I teach her about the stars, simple navigation. It's not an exciting life, but it feels good every day.
This afternoon we were fishing over the side of the ship. It was beautiful out and the fishing was fine.
"I have to tell you something," she said.
"Then tell me," I said.
"I lied to you about my parents. They're not dead."
"No. They did try to save us, but not hard enough to get themselves killed. I couldn't blame them for not wanting to die. When I saw you I just knew I was supposed to go with you. You had this glow. I can't explain. It was like you stood out from everyone else on that dock, you were all I could see. I wanted to tell you the truth then but I figured you wouldn't take me with you if I did. Are you really mad?"
"Nah," I said, ruffling her bangs and smiling down at her, "Mad at you? Never."
Just then something grabbed her bait so she wasn't looking at my face when it dawned on me; this girl is my soul mate. Gods on Mount Olympus!
I'm going to make her write and tell her parents she's okay. A runaway. Gods. Just this moment it hits me--it didn't occur to either of us that I would send her home now.
Tomorrow we are stopping in Argos for the solstice festival. Gabrielle has spoken of nothing else since one of my sailors mentioned it to her. I'm even starting to look forward to it.
Three Days Later
Have spent the last few days just sober enough to keep my eye on Gabrielle. I have let her pull me around the festival, trying everything once and the things she liked best two or three times. We've eaten delicacies from around the world, shopped everywhere. Though it turns out Gabrielle has a gift for getting a deal, I still have never spent this much money in three days in my entire life. Except on weapons. Hundreds of dinars on clothing for her, expensive quills and sheets of papyrus from Egypt, even some toys! But money is not like the look on her face when she sees something she finds beautiful. And Gabrielle finds almost everything beautiful.
Late last night I was quite drunk and engaged in what was becoming a very competitive game of darts to win her gods know what. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my competitors put his hand on Gabrielle's hip. A second later he was on his knees, the flow of blood to his brain suddenly cut off. I towered over him, barely containing my rage, and said, "You ask before you touch a woman, cretin, and you never even think about this one again."
He nodded. I released the pinch and he fell to the floor of the tavern. I was still trembling with rage and I kicked him in the stomach savagely. I felt Gabrielle's hand gently touch my arm and noticed that everyone in the tavern was staring at me.
"You're scaring them. Come on, let's go," whispered Gabrielle.
I slammed a handful of dinars down on the bar and we walked quickly to the door.
A very drunk man spoke to me as I passed him; "I'm sorry for my friend's behavior. He never would have touched her if he'd known she was yours, Xena."
I brushed him off and walked down the street so quickly Gabrielle had to run to catch up with me.
"Xena!" She grabbed my wrist to stop me and I looked down at her. "Calm down, Xena. He didn't do anything to me."
"I know that. I just don't like the idea of someone like that even thinking about you."
"Why?" she asked, looking at me intently in the moonlight.
My eyes searched the night sky for an answer to this question. "I feel...I feel protective of you, and I don't want anyone to touch you like that until and unless you want them to. If fact, I swear to you that I will make sure that does not happen."
She gave me one of her warmest smiles and took my hand. She pointed out the constellations she recognized as we wandered slowly back to the ship.
We lay in bed falling asleep, my body curled around her back, my arm around her waist. I felt her hand cover mine where it rested against her stomach.
"I love you, Xena," she whispered.
My heart stopped cold. I didn't say anything. She pinched the back of my hand.
"Don't you love me, Xena?"
"Then please make the customary response."
I laughed and kissed the back of her head. "I love you too, Gabrielle."
"Well done. Thank you."
"Go to sleep," I said. She did, soon enough.
Today was our last at the festival. We went to all of Gabrielle's favorite spots one last time. In the morning we set sail. I have not yet decided on a destination.
Six Months Later
We've been busy. Too happy to dare analyze it. Trading is treating us well. Met a man in Athens a while back named Salmoneus. He had a great deal of unique merchandise for sale, and many amusing stories. We've traded his canteens and knapsacks all over the Mediterranean. He told Gabrielle new tales about the hero Hercules, which she's spread everywhere we've gone, as she has tales of the more exciting of our own adventures. I capture slavers and instead of killing them I send them to jail and she writes me as a hero. Imagine that. But more importantly, my charge is becoming a fine bard, and I'm proud. We're on our way to Egypt. Gabrielle is out of her mind with excitement. All she talks about is the great library at Alexandria. I will admit that when I was last in Alexandria, I was far more captivated by the queen herself than I was by her books. In fact I do not recall leaving Cleopatra's bed once during my stay. I sent a message ahead to tell her we were coming to take her up on her offers of hospitality. I haven't told Gabrielle yet. The library is an exciting enough prospect for now.
My Gabrielle is of course an exemplary student. Already she is conversant in Latin and proficient with the staff. Of course she will not stop until she has mastered both, and sword-fighting, and the various languages of Gaul and Chin. I never had the desire for knowledge like she does. When I was her age, only a few years ago but it seems like forever, I wanted to play. To run and fish and fight with my brothers. I didn't want to learn anything new or go anywhere in particular. I didn't care about history, I didn't think about the future.
I look forward to showing her Egypt as if it's beauty and majesty are my own creation. Everything I show her makes me feel a little like that, like somehow because I introduce her to it, I become a part of it's splendor.
The Following Week, in Egypt
Gabrielle almost peed her pants when she heard where we were staying. She wore her favorite silk dress to meet the Queen of Egypt; light green and in the style of Chin and it flattered her. To put it mildly. She was tan and strong and beautiful, her long hair spilling down her back, and suddenly I knew that she would pique Cleopatra's interest. Well, I'd sworn to protect her honor, and would do so proudly until such a time as she no longer desired my protection. I just hope that time does not come while we are here in Alexandria.
Cleopatra's throne room is huge and airy and has a balcony that overlooks everything there is to see for miles. Gabrielle's eyes hit the queen and stuck there. I bowed with a smirk on my face and introduced them, "Cleopatra of Egypt, Gabrielle of Poteidaia."
Gabrielle bowed and muttered something about it being an honor. I watched the queen admiring my young bard's curves under the silk of her outfit and felt as much as saw Gabrielle blush.
Cleopatra flirted with us both mercilessly throughout dinner. We drank something with more alcohol in it than I knew, and soon after dinner Gabrielle fell asleep on a pile of pillows. Cleopatra escorted me out onto the balcony to look at the stars. We stared at the sky in uncomfortable silence and I wished I were a little bit more sober.
"She's quite something," said Cleopatra, already looking into my eyes for my reaction. I gave her none.
"Yes she is."
"Are you sleeping with her?"
"No. She's only thirteen, for the gods sake!"
"That's old enough. Really now, Xena. I remember being thirteen. Don't you?"
It had been months since someone had flirted with me like this. I kept to the subject at hand. "She's ready when she says she's ready and not before. And still then she is only mine if she chooses to be."
"And who would not choose to be yours given the option?" Cleopatra whispered, her breasts pressing against mine, her hands gently stroking my arms. How did I let her get this close to me? I couldn't deny that I wanted her, wanted to take her then and there on the balcony in the moonlight and for all of Alexandria to hear her cries of ecstasy. But I could feel Gabrielle asleep just inside the room as if she were sleeping on my chest. With every breath I felt the weight of her love and somehow it was a greater pressure than that of Cleopatra's warm, willing body against mine. I heard Gabrielle stir and I stepped back from the queen.
"Another time, perhaps?" I whispered.
Back in our room Gabrielle was wide awake and drunker than I'd ever seen her. And she was angry.
"I'm just...Forget it. It doesn't matter."
"Is it my business?" she asked hotly, staring me down, "Is it my business what you do?"
"Yes, of course it is."
"Did you kiss her?"
"Did I what?"
"Kiss her. You heard me. Did you kiss the queen of Egypt."
"No," I whispered.
"I didn't want to. There; you have your answer."
"You didn't want to? I don't believe you. You slept with her before. Don't deny it. Isn't that what you planned? Pack me off to look at the pyramids while you spent the day in her bed?"
I looked at her. I'd never seen her this angry. "No," I said.
"Why didn't you kiss her?"
"Because my heart belongs to someone else, and I no longer allow my body to act separately from my heart."
It was unnaturally quiet.
"Please say it belongs to me," she whispered.
"It does," I whispered and pulled her into a tight hug, "but I promise you, my body requires nothing of you but your nearness."
"I love you so much Xena sometimes I don't know what to do with it."
"When you know, I promise I'll be here."
Things were far calmer the rest of the trip, now that everyone knew where they stood in terms of my affection. As it turned out I found the great library almost as fascinating as Gabrielle did, and we spent hours in the huge, drafty building, pouring over ancient maps and poetry. She convinced me to create a diversion while she hid one of her own scrolls in a pile of others that were marked Tales Of Contemporary Greece. Now she can tell people her work is part of the collection here, she explained, laughing.
The pyramids, of course, inspire her to write. Poetry it seems, and a great deal of it. We spend hours hiking in the desert and I can't remember the last time I spent this many days on land. It's a strange feeling. The sunsets here are incredible. I will be almost sad to leave, but I have caught up with Cleopatra and made my peace; it's time to move on.
Three Months Later
Since Egypt things have fallen again into a routine. Eat, study, write, practice, fish, talk, work, eat, read, sleep. It doesn't feel routine, though. It feels, for the first time, like I have an actual life, like things make sense. I'm so proud of Gabrielle, she's fluent in three languages and almost my equal with the staff. She forces me to question everything I think and then she writes stories about it. And she makes me so happy. Just being around her. I can't explain it, but I accept it joyfully.
A few weeks ago we ran into a barding contest at some village, and she won it hands down. Looking at her up on that stage, the audience enthralled by her words, I felt about her as I had felt before about showing her the pyramids; that she was extraordinary and the fact that I brought her here to compete made me somehow part of her success.
It was that night she learned there were try-outs coming up for the Athens City Academy of The Performing Bards, apparently the best place on earth to study, something she had never before allowed herself to dream about. I don't know what she needs to study--my Gabrielle is incredible already. But I don't know anything about stuff like this. If she wants to go compete, if she wants to study in Athens, it's her choice. I can't try to stop her from going for her dreams, no matter how they might conflict with mine. I can't.
A Month After That
She left for Athens a week ago. I can't blame her and I won't. It's not her fault that the sun dims when she is not here, that music is just noise, that rainbows are merely colors in the sky, that I write romantic drivel in my captain's log. I miss her. I miss the little braids she'd braid into my hair every morning, the way she looked when she was trying to keep a secret from me. I received my first message from her today. In Latin.
Surprise--I got in! In fact, I placed first in the competition. I'm sure you're thinking that's not surprising, but honestly, it was to me. I mean, bards from all over the world, Xena, people with all sorts of training and experience. I was proud of myself for you.
It's exciting here. Stuff happening all the time, classes start tomorrow. I've met some really nice people, well, boys really. In fact, I'm the only female in the entire academy! It's just not fair that so many women don't get a chance to lead interesting lives like we do. What can we do to change that?
Every story I've told so far is about you. Helps me feel like you're here and reminds me that you're not. I miss waking up with you and sparring with you and even fishing.
And even fishing. My new favorite activity is to sit in bed and drink and play darts. I could go to Athens. Live there for a couple years while she finished school. There's just something about living in a house that makes me feel uncomfortable. What would I do? I need to keep moving. I miss her so much. Now that she's not here, erotic images of her float through my mind constantly. And I keep telling myself that this is exactly what we needed to happen. She's out there in the world, surrounded, admittedly, by boys. She'll be able to make a more informed choice. I know that it will make her less likely to choose me, but it will also relieve some of my guilt if she does. So I drink, and drinking, may I remind you, is not a crime. Not in these parts, anyway.
A Month Later
I believe that I have finally completed the best set of maps of the land surrounding the Mediterranean that have ever existed. Each inch mapped to perfection, a key describing the condition of the land in every area. There's got to be a use for them other than war. Until I figure out what that is, I'll be keeping them hidden. But it gives me a sense of accomplishment and I can write to Gabrielle about it.
Received this from a fishing ship yesterday:
Recently we were asked to write a poem about beauty. This was the first thing that came into my mind. Please write soon and tell me you are well.
deep into the night
we'd sit below a field of sparkling black
the moon lighting my scrolls
and I'd read to you
your profile against the sky
I longed to let my gaze wash over you
and lately I must admit that
as I write, I memorize my words:
my eyes are wasted on a scroll when you are near
so I recite slowly from memory
and stare at you for hours
Obviously the poem is about me. And the more I read it and the more I drink the more I think maybe it's about someone she's met there. Maybe she's trying to tell me something. Maybe I have a drinking problem. At least I'm not killing people. You don't see me killing people, do you? Well, all right then. I'll write her back and I won't mention the poem. That'll do.
Three Months Later
Ran into Salmoneus a while back. He himself was doing the running, away from some warlord he'd made a shady deal with. He traveled with me for a few weeks. I don't know why I like that man so much. We drank a lot and I won all his money from him in a card game that went on the length of his visit. We talked about our lives, about the places we'd been and what the wine was like there. It took my mind off Gabrielle a little. But the underlying sadness of the man made me think. A nice person like that without someone to love. Maybe it doesn't come if you don't look for it. I miss her so much.
Two Weeks Later
This morning a carrier pigeon brought news from Gabrielle. She's turning fourteen and wants me to be there. The invitation comes just in time; I was going to break. It's been more than four months since I've seen her, and it seems like forever. I'm not going to tell her I'm coming. I will suddenly appear at the academy as if I were the dashing hero she paints me; it's what they expect, perhaps what she expects, even. Gods, I have to buy her gifts! So many things I want to get for her. Almost everything I see, I think, Gabrielle would love this. I can't wait to be with her.
Two Weeks After That, In Athens
I'm writing from the balcony of my incredible suite at the finest inn in Athens. The hugest bed I've ever seen and a tiled bathing pool built into the floor. As if I were what I am, a wealthy trader on holiday. If I'm honest, when I see myself in my mind's eye, I'm 15, standing outside my mother's tavern. I'm tall and skinny and covered in dirt and blood, breathing hard after practicing sword fighting with my brothers. Exhausted and buzzing with energy, wondering what I'm supposed to do with it. Wealthy trader indeed! But the room is gorgeous.
I have for Gabrielle more presents than any one person could possibly deserve. She'll be happy I spent so much time shopping. Like it's a sign that I'm doing well without her. Her birthday is tomorrow, her friends are giving her a party in the evening. I can't wait to see her. Did I write that already?
Athens, Two Days Later
I woke up at dawn on Gabrielle's birthday. It's been years since I had a reason to dress for a particular effect, but this day was different. I was entering Gabrielle's new life, meeting her new friends, hoping that I did not pale in comparison to all this newness and excitement. I went with a subtle and elegant pirate look; thigh-high black leather boots, black leather pants, sword hanging from my belt. I wore one of the silk shirts I'd had made years ago expressly to match the color of my eyes--at the least I have to give myself credit for always understanding the importance of one's presentation to one's effect.
By the time I got to the academy, it seemed like the day had been going on for hours. How many times had I brushed my hair? It was a gray morning, and everything seemed to glow against the grayness. I could tell she was near because I was beginning to see the colors again. I figured she would still be in her room, and I decided I would find it for myself. So I caught her scent on the breeze, tracked her to a large stone building and climbed up the wall into what I hoped was her bedroom.
She was still asleep, and the sight of her almost knocked me back out the window. The blue of the curtain I had just climbed through bathed the room in shadow, and Gabrielle's naked body virtually glowed on the bed. I stood and stared. She was even more beautiful than I remembered, so beautiful that I felt my heart would burst.
"Gabrielle," I croaked. She stirred. I said her name again and she shot up in the bed, pulling the sheet to her chest. Then she saw me and the look on her face was priceless. She screamed my name and grabbed me, pulling me down onto the bed and covering my face with kisses. I tried to tell her happy birthday but I couldn't get the words past my own laughter. It was one of those reunions that suddenly makes it seem as if the separation was simply a means to this end. Her eyes sparkled with excitement.
Suddenly there was a commotion at the door to her room and four teenage boys came tumbling through.
"Gabrielle, are you o--" one began before he had taken in the scene; Gabrielle, wrapped in a sheet, sitting on another woman's stomach, screaming and kissing her face. As if one, the young boys blushed and began to stammer about having seen someone climbing into her window and they hadn't realized it was me--though they seemed to know it instinctively now. We sat up as she secured the sheet around herself and made formal introductions. Though barely out of my teens myself, boys their age hold as little interest for me now as ever, but clearly these four cared about Gabrielle so I did my best to charm them. I think I probably scared them a little, though. Once they were sure she was okay and had given her the bouquet of flowers they'd dropped in the hall in their haste to protect her, they wished her a happy birthday and exited.
"Well," I said, "That was something."
"I've never had a birthday that began with such excitement," said Gabrielle.
Silence. We sat on the edge of her bed, holding hands. Suddenly I could feel nothing but the intensity of her skin against mine; the places where her fingers touched my hand were hot. A throbbing that connected her hand with my heart. It was terrifying and exciting, exquisitely delicate. Like nothing I had ever felt. It was like magic. Moments passed. I couldn't get my heart beat back to normal.
"Xena," she whispered, "you feel it too, right?"
"Yes," I whispered, staring down at our hands where they lay on the bed between us. Everything skipped a beat when she said my name. We looked up and into each other's eyes at the same moment. I felt love so powerful it was like being hit in the chest with a battering ram and yes I have experienced that so I know. "I love you more than I have never loved anything," I whispered slowly, my eyes locked with hers.
"Xena," she whispered, "Is this when we kiss?"
"Is it?" I whispered with confidence I didn't feel.
With an intensely serious look on her face, Gabrielle moved closer so our thighs were touching, still holding my hand that now rested on her hot thigh, my knuckles burning against her skin. She leaned towards me and I towards her and our lips met. Our first kiss was hesitant yet wildly powerful. Her lips were soft and hot, as if I'd already been kissing them for hours. Once we knew neither of us was pulling back, our kisses became more passionate, more sensual. I held her hands, both of them now, in her lap, and I touched the tip of my tongue to her lips. The tip of hers met mine and I could feel her shiver. I felt like I was floating and burning at the same time. It was the most incredible sensation.
"I want to be with you forever," whispered Gabrielle.
Her words aroused me. I hadn't been prepared for the kind of intensity that necessitates this kind of honesty, but as I slid my arms around her and pulled her body close, the feeling of the skin of her back under my hands, her breath on my neck. It felt better than I had ever imagined anything could.
"I want you to never let me go," she whispered.
We sat there for a few moments longer, our senses tingling, our blood rushing through our veins as if it were being chased. I hadn't expected this to happen. Here in the first half hour I had played almost my entire hand; told her I desired her and pledged myself as hers forever. So much for not putting pressure on her. Again I was that young girl who thought she was a boy, too overwhelmed by emotion to imagine taking action. We promised we would kiss more later, and went out into the day.
The early afternoon sky was dark, the wind rustled through the trees. It was only a matter of time until it rained, but we were in Athens, so there would always be somewhere to take shelter from the storm, as long as price was no object. We held hands as we walked down the streets of a city I had seen before, but not with her. I'd learned over time that adding Gabrielle to any scenario improved it a thousandfold, and though I was starting to become used to the new way it felt to hold her hand, it was still intoxicating in its rightness. Everything sparkled.
The rain began slowly; little spots of dark on her green cotton top.
"Should we take shelter, my lady?" I asked her.
Gabrielle looked at me and laughed. We stood in the street holding hands and gazing at each other as everyone else ran for shelter. Just as the rain began to pour down, she looked up into the sky and counted to three. She stood on her toes and pressed her wet lips against mine, then turned and ran into a tavern, pulling me behind her.
It was a tiny place, stuck in between two larger buildings, and we were the only customers. There was a bar that ran from the front to the back, the stools at the bar, and not much else. It was open at the front to the elements, and we took the stools nearest the storm. We drank wine and held hands and talked for hours. Somewhere nearby someone played a flute, the seductive music floated on the breeze. Suddenly she was in my arms and we were dancing together in a tavern where probably no one had danced for decades. We'd had a lot of wine and the music was overpowering. The scent of her hair stimulated all my senses. My body subtly guided hers around the little tavern under the amused and watchful eye of the old barmaid, and I felt myself flush with the awareness that I was holding a woman in my arms, not just my precious Gabrielle. An accomplished and exquisite woman. The music had stopped and we stood there together. I didn't want to let go of her.
"When are we supposed to be at your party?"
"An hour or two ago, I guess," she said, the palms of her hands burning outlines of themselves on the skin of my back.
"Shouldn't we go?"
Her birthday party was complete insanity. Everyone in the tavern knew her and had something wonderful to say or some story to tell. She pulled me around the by my hand as always, but it felt different. I was out of control in love with this girl. I wondered that I had ever been able to control it.
At some point it became clear to me that she'd given her friends a signal to let us have our privacy. Every so often I'd catch one of them looking at us and smiling. Was I something she'd talked to her friends about? Gods what a prospect!
"How much longer?" I whispered in her ear.
"Why do you ask?" she whispered back, a devilish look in her eye.
"I have...gifts...for you," I almost stumbled over my own words. Gifts indeed.
"What kind of gifts?" she whispered. She was flirting with me!
I gave her a very serious look and stated, "Personal gifts. And you're going to love my hotel room."
"I guess we'd better go," she said, and she snuck us out the back of the tavern.
We walked to my hotel. She pointed more things out to me; the shop where she bought her quills and the place that had the best stuffed grape leaves. I wondered when she had time to study. She gave me a playful punch. I put my arm around her shoulder as we walked on.
Of course she loved the gaudy glamour of my hotel room; the gold trim on everything, the thick velvet curtains, the vibrant tapestries that hung from the walls. I was nervous having her there. Everything felt different. I wished we were back on the ship.
"This feels so strange," I said.
"Not to me," she said, "It feels wonderful to be with you again."
She came up to me and took my hand. We kissed. It was like melting.
"It's what you want, isn't it Xena?" she whispered.
"Oh yes," I whispered back, pulling her tight against me and deepening the kiss to prove it. Her fingers untucked my shirt and slipped beneath it, lightly caressing my skin and making me shiver. Her lips radiated heat by my ear.
"You waited for me, didn't you?" she whispered, her hands moving from my back to my stomach.
"Of course I did," I whispered, her hands were making me feel so good I had to force myself not to pull away. She licked my ear.
"I waited for you too," she whispered, bringing her mouth back to mine for a kiss, "it was easy."
"Easy," I whispered, still managing to stand as she bent at the waist, lifted my shirt, and pressed her lips into the flesh of my stomach. I could feel my body tremble, and I could barely stand. "Please," I whispered, "Slow down."
She stood straight and looked me in the eye and gave me a smile as warm as the mid day sun.
"Really?" she asked, incredulous.
"Gabrielle, from the moment I first saw you, I knew there was no one else for me. Don't doubt that I desire you. I just...maybe we could just take it slow?"
That she knew I desired her was obvious when I looked at her face. And she desired me so much and so truly that the delay only added to her pleasure. Seeing her beautiful, mischievous smile now touched with lust was just too much to bear and I kissed her again, tangling my hands in her hair.
We carried a huge couch out onto the balcony and lounged upon it for hours. We drank wine and opened birthday presents and talked about all kinds of things we'd never talked about before. It was like everything was different and everything was just the same. Like it was supposed to be, like it always had been. Hard to describe. Maybe I've just never been in love before.
So she asked me how I immediately knew she was the one for me.
"There was a sign."
"In the sky above your head," I gestured in the general area.
"Describe it," she said. She was eating cherries and grapes from this huge silver bowl and spitting the pits at the nearby potted plant.
I could still see it in my mind, "It hung in the sky above your head, a huge, thick red arrow pointing at you, and it had 'Xena' written on it in gold."
"Gabrielle, if I were going to make it up I would make it more believable."
"I guess you're right. I mean, you would have noticed the huge red arrow hanging in the sky even if it didn't have your name on it."
"I suppose so."
"That's so romantic."
"Well, you said I practically glowed on the dock that day."
"I just said that so you wouldn't send me home."
"Funny," I said.
She snuggled up against me and I put my arm around her. My skin felt dramatically warmer where it came in contact with her body or the clothing that covered it. We looked at the sky together for a while.
"The sky looks different at sea," she said.
"I'm not sure. Maybe it just looks bigger. Maybe because there's nothing to compare it to."
"Maybe," I said.
"I guess I should tell you now that I plan on leaving Athens with you."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I want to be with you. I've had fun here, I won't deny that, but it's not like being with you," she whispered, "nothing's like being with you."
"But I thought this was what you wanted to do. I don't want to come between you and your dreams."
"Yeah yeah yeah. You want me to come back and live with you on the ship. Admit it!"
"Of course I do," I said, "I want that more than anything. I'm miserable without you. But what about your lessons?"
"The guys can send me anything worth learning."
"I see you've been thinking about this."
"Since the first day I got here."
We laughed and kissed and wrestled a bit.
"So what do you want to do, if not study to be a bard?"
"All kinds of things. First, there's being a bard. Traveling the world hearing stories and telling stories. Like we were before, maybe on land for a while. Or even teaching little girls to write--we could open a school to teach girls all the things they usually don't get to learn."
"Like sword fighting."
"Well, yes. And history and science. Or we could study to be healers and open a hospice some day. I'd like to study the mystical arts. Maybe learn to read the future from the stars..."
"Those things sound nice," I said, rolling over so I was lying on top of her, "As long as we do them together."
"Well, that's the point," she said, pulling me down by the hair for a kiss. She held me there on top of her as she asked, "What about you?"
I knew she was going to ask that, and I gave her the only answer I'd been able to think of, "Help people. Be with you."
"That's the best answer," she whispered, kissing me some more.
"Better than ruling the world?" I asked.
Before I opened my eyes the next morning I knew the following things: that we had fallen asleep on the couch on the balcony, that it was going to be a hot day, and that the feeling of Gabrielle's body was totally different this morning. It made my entire body damp. Or was that the heat? Already it was impossible to tell. For the first time in two years I woke up with her in my arms and allowed myself to feel. My breasts pressed against her back felt as if they were being held. I curled my body more closely around her. I can't even begin to describe how good it felt to touch her like that.
She groaned and stretched in my arms, her body pressing harder against me.
"Ummmm, Xena," whispered Gabrielle, her voice husky from sleep, "Touch me."
I ran my hand up her stomach to her breast and squeezed. Her response was immediate and intense, her back arching against me, my name moaned under her breath. She turned in my arms and we were kissing hungrily, her hand now on my breast, her name torn from my lips. I could hear the city waking up below the balcony, horses snuffling, people greeting each other, things clanging together as folks set up the market in the square. The sun beat down on everything, including us, yet somehow we were insulated from it all. Her lips on my neck, her hands unbuttoning my shirt. My heart was beating as if I just dove into a freezing lake.
"I think my heart's gonna explode."
Gabrielle pulled back and looked at me, smiling. "What is with you?"
"I guess I'm scared, okay?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Too bad. You have no choice," again with that adoring, patronizing, mysteriously sexy smile.
"Why don't you guess and I'll tell you if you're right."
She laughed and pulled herself up against me so her whole body was encircled by me and her mouth was against my ear. She whispered, "You're scared of giving me that part of you because you have already given me everything else. I have your heart and your soul; if I were to have your body too, your vulnerability, all the power over you that making love to you will give me, would I not have everything you are? What would be left for you? And what if, once I had you, owned you, made you feel like you were loved and accepted, what if then I realized that you were not what I wanted, not someone I could really love the way I'd thought I could."
"How did you know all that?"
"Because I feel the same way, Xena. I'm just being the confident one because I know you're not going to do it. You are all the stars in the sky to me. There is nothing but you forever."
"You know I feel the same."
"Yes. We're soul mates, aren't we?"
"So it would seem."
I don't know why I can't tell her Caesar was the last person I made love to, but I can't. When I heard later that he had indeed planned to betray me that night at sea, that he would have crucified me, I felt like I was changed forever. It was like everything I had believed about love and the goodness in the world had been foolishness. How many times can you learn that trust equals betrayal before you believe it's true?
"I will not be deprived of everything I want because your last lover was a jerk," Gabrielle said sweetly as she pushed me onto my back and gently sat on my stomach.
"Are you a mind reader? Just admit it."
Gabrielle held my wrists above my head and started kissing my neck. "No I'm not a mind reader, I just know you. Listen to me. It's a beautiful day. Can't you feel the sun on your skin?"
"Ummm," I answered, feeling the sun but also her leg as it slowly snaked between mine. I groaned.
"The sun feels good, doesn't it? And I feel good. I know that because the way you feel," she gasped as she slowly began to ride my body, "You just feel so good, Xena. Please, give yourself to me."
The birds singing and the sounds from the street and Gabrielle's breathy plea in my ear. I freed my hands and put them on her, slowly caressing her back and her neck and her bottom, her sides and her thighs, her hair. And as I touched her, my body responded to her touch, to her deep kisses, to the slow steady rhythm she had set between my legs. It felt too good. I had to give in to the pleasure. In that moment, I knew that I would give up everything I had, everything else I was, just to continue touching her. I never imagined I could feel like that. I felt her moving away from me and I opened my eyes to see her pull her shirt over her head, and there she was looking down at me, so big she blocked out the sun behind her.
"I'm yours," I whispered as my hands slid up her taut abdomen to her breasts. I saw the change in her eyes as I said it, and now that her heart's desire had been granted, the woman was unstoppable.
"Take off your clothes," she said. So I did, and the rest of hers as well and then she was straddling me again, her naked center pressed damply against my thigh. It was thrilling. It was compelling.
Looking into her eyes I said, "I am so in love with you."
Her expression moved from passion to wonder to ecstasy as she took in my words, the look on my face, and the firm caress of my hands on her breasts. Her eyes closed and she continued to press herself against me. My hands slipped to her hips and I moved her back and forth against the hot flesh of my thigh, pressing my own center up and into hers. Her luscious body swayed above me, and suddenly she bent forward, grabbing my breasts and kissing me aggressively. The kiss became everything. I could feel her love for me everywhere she touched me, and I realized that tears were dripping out of my eyes. She moved a hand to my cheek and felt the dampness.
"You're crying?" she asked quietly, looking into my eyes, her hand still cradling my face.
"The way you love me is so beautiful."
"I promise I won't ever stop," she whispered.
And our love making continued, slow and sensual. The sun beat down on us and her lips were so soft and my tears continued to flow. Gabrielle lay on top of me, and I wrapped myself around her, my hands on her bottom pressing her center against me, thrusting myself up to meet her. I lost myself in the heat from the sun and Gabrielle's moans in my ear. I sucked and gently bit the skin of her neck and the rhythm of her breathing told me how close she was, and I was there with her, my whole body opening up like a flower. I bit into her neck to keep from screaming, but my Gabrielle did no such thing and the word "Xena," screamed in passion, echoed out into the square. I held her to me tight and began to laugh as the applause and cheering rang out from below.
She gasped, "Is that for me or for you?"
"Well, me, obviously," I said, laughing harder
"Funny, I figured it was for me," and she snuggled down onto my body, her mouth resting against my neck. "Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"That was wonderful."
"Yes," she said
That was a few hours ago. Gabrielle has gone to settle things at the Academy, and I've been sitting here writing since then. Don't think I've ever written this much in my life but I had to get it all down while it was fresh in my mind. Not that I could ever forget it but gods, gods what a morning, what a couple of days! It's impossible to put into words how I feel. Like parts of me I didn't know existed now feel free. The way I see the world has changed, again, because of Gabrielle. It's a world of possibility, a world of love.
Two Weeks Later, At Sea
Life appears to be back to the way it was but of course it is completely different. We attend to the needs of our ship and we write and we research and we fish and we make passionate love at least three times a day. How could we not? Just the feeling of knowing she is on the same ship as I am even if I can't see her excites me, brings me joy. Everything that happened in the past is so unimportant in comparison. I know I'll go back and make peace with my mother some day. I don't care that Caesar wanted to crucify me; he didn't win and I met Gabrielle. All those stories have ended for me now.
Last night at dinner we stumbled upon the topic of spiritual strength, and I told her I'd heard of people who could perform amazing physical feats with only the power of their minds.
"It's not the feats that interest me so much it's the genesis of the ability to perform them," she said. There was that look in her eye again, the one that says "I have an idea and we both know it doesn't really matter what you think because we'll act on it anyway."
"Oh?" I asked, taking a gulp of my wine and sitting back to hear what fate she had prepared for me.
She leaned forward excitedly and said, "I've heard about this woman in Chin who is the courtesan of the ruler of one of the great houses. It is said that she has unique wisdom. I want us to go to Chin and try and meet her. What do you think?"
"Sounds interesting," I said, "It beats crocodile hunting on the Nile."
Which is my round about version of noting in my captain's log "We have set sail for Chin" with the date and the weather conditions, and so on.
Later last night when we made love, Gabrielle's eyes were a deep dark green, and as I came I stared into them and found myself again lost in her, and loving her somehow even more. We lay there breathing.
"I could have been anything," I whispered.
"Did I ever tell you why we were docked there getting supplies that day?"
"No, actually," she said, as we turned to face each other, smiling.
"We were low on wine and we didn't have a full set of playing cards among us."
Gabrielle laughed, "Pirates without playing cards and wine! In an emergency like that, I'm amazed you even noticed the slavers!"
"But I'm glad I did."
Gabrielle reached onto the table by the bed and handed me my drink. We toasted.
"To playing cards and wine," she said.
"To us," I said, "and forever."
The ship plows on towards Chin and my love sleeps comfortably against me.
I am more than content. I am happy.