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DISCLAIMERS: We don’t own them, but MCA/Universal and Renaissance does. This is a not for profit endeavor, no copyright infringement intended.
LOVE IS JUST A FOUR-LETTER WORD: Sex, love, and romance between girls. Nothing terribly graphic, but if you can’t deal, the Family Channel is probably showing a rerun of "Little House on the Prairie" right about now, so run—don’t walk!—to that TV.
SEQUEL?: No, this is not really a sequel to the author’s previous story, "All the Colors of the World." That is coming soon...I hope. This is just a little something I dashed off while in rehab (joke, sweeties).
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She stood on the field of battle. Her clenched jaw presented its smooth, powerful and determined lines to any who dared to look. As Alexander had conquered, as Genghis Khan had ruled, as Xena had destroyed...so she would as well. She surveyed her troops. They were not the finest, it was true, but they were stout of heart and devoted to her. It was all she needed.
Janice Covington’s little fantasia was interrupted by a stocky middle aged man who flung a baseball glove at her feet. "You said I could play first base!" he shouted at her.
Janice blinked and adjusted the navy blue baseball cap on her head. So much for devotion, she thought. She sighed. "Joe," she began patiently, "I told you what would happen if you didn’t show up for practice on Tuesday. I told you I was gonna put Riley in."
"Aw, come on, Janice," he wheedled. "I only missed one practice!"
"Once is more than enough!" she barked. "What do you think this is, some sort of game?"
They stared at each other as reality made a surprise guest appearance in Janice’s mind.
"Uh, yeah," Joe replied sarcastically, "I guess I did think it was a game. It’s called baseball, ‘member?"
She drew a deep breath. Okay, okay, this isn’t exactly the World Series...it’s just a bunch of out-of-shape guys running around playing baseball for laughs. "All right, Joe. How ‘bout this: If all goes well I’ll pull Riley after the fifth, and you can finish out the game."
His jaw worked. "All right," he grunted. He picked his glove off the ground and headed into the dugout. As it turned out, all did not go well, and Janice found the amateur team she coached—the Charlotte Warriors—losing 7-1 in a game that lasted less than two hours. The triumphant Asheville Asteroids (derisively called the "Asheville Assholes" by their opponents) had sauntered off the field. At least, she thought, watching her "boys" skulk out of the dugout, I didn’t get ejected this time.
The high school team arrived for practice after the grownups had left; Janice, waiting for her ride, loitered in the bleachers and watched the kids play. She had sat down and lit a Chesterton, enjoying the drift of the smoke through the summer air, when a hand suddenly reached out from above her and snatched the cigarette out of her mouth. In spite of herself, Janice grinned. "Hi, honey," she said, without looking up.
"Think you can do this behind my back, hmm?" drawled Melinda Pappas. Mel, dressed immaculately in a navy blue suit, a leather briefcase hanging from her shoulder, held the offending cigarette in front of Janice’s face. "I thought you were giving this up," the tall Southerner accused gently.
"I still need it in times of stress," Janice defended herself. Mel raised an eyebrow. "We lost again!" she spat. "Farley struck out four times—"
"Oh good!" Mel said encouragingly. Janice glared at her. "I thought strikes were good," Mel added.
"Only if you’re pitching..."
"And he was...?"
"Ah!" Mel exclaimed, as if she had solved Fermat’s theorem.
Janice watched sadly as Mel crushed the defenseless cigarette underneath her heel. Melinda Pappas, Carolinian Princess, Destroyer of Tobacco. She sighed. "Well, enough about the goddamn game. How was your lecture?"
"It went well. I didn’t stammer once this time," Mel said, with a hint of quiet pride. She detested speaking in public, but a colleague at the university had bamboozled her into giving a series of lectures on the scrolls. The only reason she had consented was to generate advance publicity for the revised edition of Janice’s book on Xena, which was due out in the fall. Mercifully, Mel thought, this had been the last lecture.
Janice grinned. "Great. I knew you could."
Her companion smiled wistfully. "You’re the only one," she said; the phrase was imbued with many meanings.
"The feeling is quite mutual," Janice responded softly.
Mel smiled "Shall we?" She nodded toward the Packard, which sat not far away.
"Yeah, I want to get you home...."
"Mmmm?" A hopeful glint emerged in Mel’s eyes.
"...so you can work on my birthday gift." Their expedition to Syria last year had yielded a surprise: another scroll, written in the ancient bard’s indelible hand. Previously Janice had concluded that all of the scrolls had been unearthed—the ones they had all followed a precise chronological order, and nothing appeared to be missing. So the new scroll was a happy find. In between teaching, traveling, and lecturing, neither one of them found the time to work on it. But a few days ago Mel had started a translation, and promised her eager partner that she would have the entire scroll in modern English by the occasion of Janice’s birthday on the summer solstice.
As they walked to the car, a ball sailed by their heads and narrowly missed hitting the windshield of the old Packard. They turned to look back at the field.
The catcher, standing behind the plate, waved his glove apologetically. "Sorry, Miss Pappas!" he called. "Hey, Miss Covington—could you throw it back?"
Mel narrowed her crystal blue eyes. It irked her that this silly boy automatically assumed she could not even throw a baseball, and that she needed Janice to do it. Granted, she needed Janice in a variety of ways, even some of them outside the realm of the bedroom, but really, she thought, this is too much. Before Janice could do so, Mel picked up the ball herself and, with surprising ease and graceful motion, threw it with such precision that it sailed in a straight line like a bullet and landed with a hard thud in the kid’s mitt. It even staggered the husky boy a little bit. He immediately pulled off his glove and, wincing, waved his hand around.
"Son of a goddamn bitch," Janice whispered. Somebody call Leo Durocher! She turned her glittering green eyes to Mel.
Mel opened the driver’s door. "Are you coming?" she demanded. She noticed that several of the boys, in addition to her lover, were staring at her in shock, and—quite frankly—it was beginning to annoy her.
Janice eyed her suspiciously, a mischievous grin tugging at her mouth. "You’re not going all Xena on me again, are you?"
"Janice Covington, don’t you even start with me..." Mel climbed in and slammed the door shut.
Janice opened the car door. If I can only get her to pitch one game...who knows? She might learn to like it.
Many believe that I took Xena, the Warrior Princess, as my consort in an Amazon ceremony that affirmed my title and rights as Queen. As time passed—it’s been five years since that ceremony—I saw no reason to disabuse anyone of this notion. But a slip of my tongue recently has let a few people in on the "secret"—that I’d had the famed warrior before the ceremony. It’s not a malicious secret, by any stretch of the imagination, although I wonder whose reputation it would affect more—mine (the farm girl, the sexual innocent) or Xena’s (the rapacious, lustful conqueror of both sexes).
At the time of this writing my companion is on a diplomatic mission; I know such duties bore her to tears, but such are the expectations people have of her now—she is no longer feared, but revered, and in demand more than ever. I too had similar responsibilities awaiting me in Amazon territory. So reluctantly we parted for a few days.
This morning after breakfast, I walked with Ephiny across the Amazon compound, where we witnessed two young women engaged in a furious argument. I was ready to intervene but Ephiny grabbed my arm. "Leave it," she said. "It’s a lovers’ quarrel."
At this point they were shoving each other.
"It seems a little too...virulent for that, Eph," I responded.
"Trust me," Ephiny said, and we walked on. "Come on, I remember when you and Xena got together—even before then, you guys argued all the time, it seems. Now that you’ve been together a few years, you’ve mellowed out a bit." She paused thoughtfully. "Must’ve been all that sexual tension, waiting to explode."
"I don’t think you can attribute it all to sexual tension," I said. "It’s not like we hadn’t slept together before then—" My mouth hung open as I realized what I said. If Xena had been there, it would’ve been the perfect moment for her to growl out my name in that disapproving yet still sexy fashion.
Ephiny stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes widened. Without a word she seized my arm yet again and dragged me across the compound to her hut, as if she intended to ravish me. I noticed that no one seemed to care that their Queen was being dragged around like a sack of potatoes, and screaming in protest ("Who’s in charge here?") as well. It made me wonder what everyone thinks of my relationship with Ephiny...that perhaps the Regent will play while the Warrior Princess is away? (After all this time, I know how smutty the Amazons can think. We arrived outside the hut, and from the window I saw Eponin and Solari inside. Solari, languishing in a chair, was munching an apple and coaching Eponin as she performed some odd little song: "I’m a little kettle, short and stout—" Eponin sang tunelessly.
"Emphasize the stout, Pony," Solari said through a mouthful of food. "Do arms akimbo!"
Pony did so. Then we barged through the door. Pony snapped to attention and Sol sat up, apple lodged in her mouth like a cooked pig.
"Don’t you two ever do any work?" I asked, irritated at their presence.
"Calm down, Gabrielle. I was supposed to meet with Pony and Sol to discuss security protocols. "
"You were meeting without me?" I accused; the mere thought of being left out of the loop sends me into a paranoid fit.
"Oh for Artemis’s sake, Gabrielle, it was just a pre-meeting."
"A meeting to prepare me for my meeting with you tomorrow."
Whoever thought these things would be so complicated?
"Now dish!" she cried.
I looked for a plate. Spotting one on a table, I handed it to her.
She slapped my arm. "No, you silly goose, tell me about your first time!"
"What’s going on?" asked Solari. "What first time?" She exchanged a look with Eponin, then the two of them cooed, "ooooooh" simultaneously, knowingly. "But we know your first time was with...your husband," Eponin said delicately.
"Yes, that’s right," I said.
"I’m not talking about that," Ephiny said in exasperation, "I mean the first time with Xena!"
"It was the ceremony," Solari said. Then she looked at me. "Right?"
"Well...no." Having the three of them stare at me reminded me of the gossipy old crones that were my mother’s closest friends; I recalled how they would crowd around the kitchen table and whisper their secrets to one another. I was always envious; I wanted to know their tales, spill their secrets. It was probably the beginning of my desire to be a bard. And now—in front of my sisters—I would tell them my secret tale, which I will set down here for posterity.
It happened not long after Callisto and Velaska were entombed in lava. We were both tired from the events of those chaotic days and weeks, but Xena wanted to put as much distance as possible between us and the place where it happened. It was, we both knew, more for peace of mind than anything else. We were heading north out of the Amazon territory when once again we met up with Autolycus, who did not look pleased to see us initially. I myself was embarrassed, when I recalled the strange kiss I shared with him—when I thought I was kissing my best friend. I blushed, but he didn’t notice—as always, he quickly threw aside any discomfort for the chance to charm Xena. He kissed her hand, his dark eyes feasting adoringly upon the beauty of her barely tolerant face. "Trying to get under the leathers of the Warrior Princess is my most favorite idle pastime," he told me once. "Idle, because I know I have less of a chance than a three-legged billy goat." I was beginning to wonder who would ever have a chance with Xena.
"Where are you headed?" Xena asked him.
"Bucephalia!" he said with a flourish.
"Isn’t that where they have that weird festival—the Festival of the Cow’s Head?" I asked.
"Yup, that’s where I’m headed," he said. "three days of drinking, debauchery and worshipping cows. Have you ever heard of anything so crazy?"
I had to admit that I hadn’t. Although now, nothing surprises me.
"Taking a vacation?" Xena asked, skeptically. She leaned against a tree with her arms crossed.
"Even thieves need a vacation, Xena."
Xena smirked. She wasn’t buying it; she knew a festival was a perfect place for Autolycus to run amok and pick the pocket of every drunkard in sight. "Then you won’t mind if we escorted you there. I could use a little vacation myself."
"Aw come on," Autolycus moaned. "You had plenty of time to rest when you were dead!"
"That wasn’t a vacation," I snapped at him. Xena winced in sympathy; I had not told her so much concerning the depths of my anguish when I thought I had lost her for good—it was all too fresh in my mind. But I think she suspected; I also believed (sometimes foolishly, I thought) that she had missed me just as much.
"Look, Autolycus," Xena said, patting him on the shoulder, "after all you’ve done for me, I can’t let you go to Bucephalia by yourself. It might be dangerous...."
"The cows might break loose and stampede," I suggested stupidly. They both looked at me as if I were mad.
"Besides," Xena continued, "it wouldn’t be any fun by yourself, would it?" She flashed a disingenuous—and dangerous—smile at him. One that told him if he dared protest she would knock him into the next day.
His shoulders slumped with defeat. "I hate you," he muttered.
"You may hate me, but you’ll love your vacation," she retorted.
And so we were off.
Later, after lunch, Xena announced that we would be in Bucephalia by sundown. As we walked along the road, with Autolycus trailing behind us, I said, "Are you sure you want to go this festival, Xena? I know you hate crowds, and noise...and drunken idiots."
She looked a little wistful. "I...actually think I wouldn’t mind seeing people, Gabrielle. It would be nice, just to be around people having a good time. It might be...fun."
"Fun?" I echoed. "Did you say fun?"
"What was that?" Autolycus called.
"Xena wants to have fun!" I could not resist this opportunity to tease my friend. Meanwhile we had ground to a halt, and Autolycus and I circled Xena curiously, as if examining a prize sow at a market, as if our inspection—and none too subtle admiration of her body—would tell us why the mighty warrior wanted to have fun. This didn’t last long. Soon she had both of us by the ears and told us that if we didn’t behave nobody would be having any fun at all. Nonetheless I giggled intermittently the rest of the way to the city. Her sly smile and beautiful eyes told me that she did not mind at all.
We arrived at Bucephalia. Torches were lit in the crowded town square; musicians performed while people danced. It was all very pleasant and cheerful; strangely ordered, somehow.
"Aw geez, look at this!" Autolycus cried, surveying the square.
"What?" I asked.
"They’re all sober!"
"Probably all the drunkards are at the tavern," Xena remarked cynically.
We navigated around the square to the tavern on the other side; it was large, no doubt built that way because of the number of travelers who attended the festival every year. I went in to see about rooms, while Xena and Autolycus waited outside.
The innkeeper was a huge, strapping man called Primus—even bigger and taller than Hercules. He was so named, he told me, because he was the first child of a large family; he had nine other brothers. Luckily he had two rooms available. I told him I was a bard and willing to perform tonight, as part of the payment for the rooms.
"It’s a tough crowd, girl," he said. I hate being called girl. "Know lots of bloody stories?"
"A fair amount," I replied. "I am, after all, Official Bard of the Warrior Princess." Actually there is no "official bard"—but it does sound good and Primus was duly impressed.
"Okay," he said, "but keep it bloody."
Primus was right about the crowd. After dinner, the inn started filling up with men, and nothing but: warriors and soldiers, all clanking around with their armor, all growling and shouting in loud, crass voices.
We had all finished eating when one of these soldiers emerged from the gaming room on the ground floor, announcing a drinking contest. As he swayed drunkenly through the crowd, he boasted he would be able to drink anyone under the table.
I looked at Xena, knowing how she is utterly powerless to resist a challenge, especially one from an idiot. Her eyes sparkled as she stood up. I grasped her arm. "Where do you think you’re going?" I demanded.
"I’m gonna take this loser up on his challenge, that’s all."
"Xena—" I was apprehensive; after all we’d gone through recently, I did not want to let her out of my sight.
"Come on, Gabrielle. The guy is already smashed out of his gourd. It’ll probably take only two or three ales to put him under. I’ll be back before you know it." She bent down and whispered in my ear. "Try to keep an eye on Autolycus, okay?" The sensation of her breath pulsing against my ear sent a shudder of desire down my back.
"I can’t. I’ll be performing," I whispered back.
"Stop whispering, you two!" Autolycus shouted. "I hear ya. I promise, I won’t move while Gabrielle is doing the bard thing." He sighed and folded his arms, resigned to his fate. Xena smirked and left. I went up to the podium, and began.
Or so I thought.
I had started with a story of the Trojan war, which went well, then decided to follow up that one with my favorite subject.
"I sing a song of Xena, Warrior Princess—"
"Trollope!" someone shouted.
"—the mighty warrior—" I pressed on.
"Oh come on, warrior my ass!" I scowled at the burly heckler.
"She does have a nice ass, they say," another man rumbled.
"Yeah, ‘bout all she would be good for—" the first heckler continued.
"Hey, watch your mouth!" I yelled. "She’s my best friend!" Out of the corner of my eye I could see Autolycus shaking his head.
"Ho, little girl," he drawled—dammit to Hades, I hate the "little girl" stuff—"I’m just complementing the wench. She belongs on her back, not on a battlefield."
"She’s got great tits, I hear," said the second heckler. "That true, girl?" he called to me.
Obviously they had not noticed the Warrior Princess in their midst earlier. "What?" I shouted in disbelief.
"Answer him. Is it true?" the first heckler got in on the act.
"I don’t see why—"
"Ha, you ashamed of your friend? She must be uglier than Medusa by now, with scars and bumps and—"
"She is not ugly!" I declared. "She is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. She is tall and raven-haired, with flawless bronzed skin, and eyes bluer than the Aegean—"
"All fine and good, but you’ve not answered the man’s question."
"What question?" I saw Autolycus bury his head in his hands.
"Her tits!" prompted the first heckler.
I was pushed beyond my limits. The objects of the discussion loomed in my mind, tantalizing in their sheer perfection. I felt my lips tremble, then I exploded. "ALL RIGHT," I screamed, "SHE’S GOT GREAT TITS!"
Silence reigned. For a moment, anyway.
"Feh," snorted the heckler. "Like you would be a good judge of ‘em, little girl."
I lost it. "Why you—"
I had launched myself toward this towering, grubby idiot but did not get very far; Autolycus had inserted himself between my tormentor and I. But the King of Thieves could not restrain my flailing arms, and I managed to hoist a tankard off someone’s table and throw its contents into the man’s face. Then I bonked him on the head with it. He sank to the floor. His comrade threw a punch at Autolycus, who ducked, and hit the barmaid, who punched him back. Within a matter of seconds I had triggered a huge barroom brawl. I looked around for Xena, thinking the fight would surely get her attention, but no Warrior Princess emerged from beyond the door of the gaming room. "Let’s get outta here," Autolycus hissed, and he propelled me up the stairs as rapidly as possible.
We fell into Autolycus’s room, which was closer. He lit a candle, which almost extinguished as he blew out a breath of utter exasperation. "Keep an eye on me, she said—well, it shoulda been the other way around, don’t you think!"
"I’m sorry," I mumbled. "I don’t mean to ruin your vacation—"
"Great Hermes in the sky, Gabrielle, it’s not a vacation. I’m trying to work here!" He sighed again. "Look, I’m sorry too. It’s not your fault, that guy was out of line. Why, I was getting ready to pop him one myself—"
"Er, actually no. But I was thinking about it." He lit another candle. We sat in the room for a long time, it seemed. The noise from downstairs was dying out. "It might be safe for you to get to your room now." Gingerly he opened the door and peeked out. "Yeah, the hallway’s clear. Go to your room and don’t let anyone in, except Xena."
I sighed. "But I should go look for Xena. She might get—"
"Hurt?" He laughed. "I don’t think so."
"Gabrielle!" he barked. "Go to your room!" Just like Father.
I picked up my candle and left. Scuttling down the hallway, I noticed that the noise level downstairs had changed—it sounded like the brawl had turned into some massive party, of which I was grateful. I was tempted to go down, but thought my presence might again start some ridiculous conflict. Possibly Xena had shown up, assuring her scruffy admirers that she did indeed have good tits. I opened the door to our room and the candle illuminated a large, familiar figure sprawled out upon the bed. A figure that was singing: "Ninety-nine bottles of ale on the wall—" I thought for a moment Meg was at the festival, had infiltrated our room, and stolen Xena’s spare set of leathers.
"Xena?" I asked. She did not stir, but groaned a little. I put the candle down on the table next to the bed. Her face was flushed and she looked distraught.
"What wrong?" I said, alarmed. I leaned over her and placed a hand on her forehead. Then she expelled a mighty sigh, and the power of her breath was such that—had I held the candle to her mouth, she could’ve torched the entire inn.
"I lost," she moaned. "That fucker—by the gods, he can hold his ale."
"I told you so!" I chastised, like a wife.
"Don’t bug me," she muttered, like a husband. She closed her eyes. "Ninety-eight bottles of ale on the wall—"
"Don’t fall asleep. You have to take your armor off."
"You made me lose...something."
"You lost count, Xena."
"Never mind." I crawled over her. I thought perhaps if I released the clasps she could easily wiggle out of the breastplate. As I knelt between her legs and reached down for a hinge...
...I experienced an excruciating sensation, a pain unlike none I’d ever felt before It was as if all air was being squeezed out of my body. Xena had me in a fierce scissors hold: her powerful legs were wrapped around my waist. Was she exacting some murderous revenge, I wondered—for the pan flute, for my flirting with her ex-fiancé, for my incessant talking? Despite the pain, it was delicious to be so pressed against her. O happy death!
I tried to speak. But I could only squeak.
She giggled. "I’ve cut off the flow of blood to your crotch."
"Xena, by the gods, you’re killing me," I managed to gasp.
"Ha! That’s what they all say!" she rumbled derisively. "Ah...ninety-nine bottles of ale...no wait...ninety...four?" Her death grip around my waist slackened a bit, and once again I could breathe. Her eyes met mine. Then she latched onto something else randomly floating around in that ale-addled brain. "Who’s my little centurion?" she cooed in a babyish voice.
"What?" I muttered. I knew of Xena’s relationship with Caesar by this time; still, she had been less than forthcoming of the details. Was this some odd sexual game they had played?
"C’mon," she burbled drunkenly. "Tell me." Her finger playfully tapped my nose and then she cupped my chin. I reveled in her touch. My body shook with the effort to restrain itself.
"Xena, I am not—" The thighs tightened again. "Okay, okay, I’m your little centurion!"
"Thaaaat’s better," she murmured. Her hand, entangled in strands of my hair, traveled across my face until she touched my lips. "An’ I’m your...glaaaadiator. Your. Very. Glad. Gladiator." Her hand dropped. She closed her eyes.
I had never felt more confused. Long ago, my feelings had started out as hero worship mingled with lust; I knew that. But in time they had metamorphosed into something stronger. I was in love. I knew because nothing else I’d ever experienced compared to this remarkable feeling. And here I was, close to consummating a love I had only dreamed of before. But I could not take advantage of my best friend in her drunken, incoherent state. No matter how willing she seemed to be. There was trust in those blue eyes, now closed, that I loved so much. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I shouldn’t.
While my mind and my heart waged a battle, my young, impatient body followed its own dictates. Gently my hips thrust into her. She moaned. Stop, I thought. I closed my eyes, furiously wishing that I would stop before it was too late. Stop now, she won’t remember in the morning. I could feel sweat increasing on my brow and as I opened my eyes a drop splashed against her chest. I opened my mouth, hoping that if I said the word aloud, I would indeed stop and the spell of her body under mine would be broken. Instead, her hands groped blindly for my face and her fingers slid into my mouth. And I was lost.
I suppose she could add making love while dead drunk to her formidable list of skills. It wasn’t pure poetry in motion, though—I fumbled with her armor, I butted her head with my elbow (and who was drunk here, I thought later....I was....drunk with desire.), she nearly fell out of bed—everything was heated and rushed. The frenetic pace was my doing—I felt as if I would never get the chance again. I was blessedly wrong, as I would later find out.
But that night, I did not know. Afterwards she slept in my arms, and I committed to memory the feel of her skin and the stars that stippled the sky—I could see them from the window. The sky could collapse, and it wouldn’t mean a damn thing to me. In fact, it already felt as if the stars had fallen down and wrapped around me, blessed me in some sort of way. Under the blanket of sleep I knew not what raced through her mind, but I had this—the curve of her cheek, the slight twitching of her fingers, her hair flowing into mine—these little details, these little threads of a larger story. The story of my love. Her steady breathing, her scent surrounding me. She surrounded me.
I did not sleep until dawn touched the sky.
And I had not been asleep for long when I heard voices outside the room; in my weary state I could identify one of them as Autolycus. The voices grew closer; it sounded as if an argument ensued. "Wait!" I could hear Autolycus say—then the door of the room swung open. Primus, the innkeeper, filled the doorway. He looked enraged. Autolycus was behind him, both hands still clutching the bigger man’s arm; obviously he had been trying to prevent Primus from intruding upon us.
I knew, of course, what they saw: a naked, startled-looking bard draped across an equally naked, still slumbering warrior. Thankfully, a blanket was strategically draped over our nether regions.
Autolycus dropped his grip on the innkeeper and clamped a hand over his eyes. "I saw nothing, nothing!" he declared, and ran out. Primus stood there for a second longer, and I witnessed his expression move from anger, to shock, to embarrassment.
"I’m terribly sorry, girl," he said in low voice. "I didn’t mean to—"
My nod cut him off; in return he nodded gratefully, glad he didn’t have to say anything further. He left. And still, Xena slept. I couldn’t believe that she had slept through the whole thing. I panicked. Was she...dead? Had my furious, consuming passion killed the Warrior Princess? I envisioned a trial, where tired old men would force me to disclose every intimate detail leading up to Xena’s demise. Did it ever occur to you, Gabrielle of Potadeia, that your single-minded focus on having as many orgasms as possible would result in the tragic death of a great heroine? Aye, let this be a lesson to our youth on the dangers of unnatural sex practices...I hereby condemn you to a life of celibacy.
I touched her forehead. Still warm. I took her pulse. Still beating.
Gently, reluctantly, I disentangled myself from her body. I threw on a shift and ran to Autolycus’s room. The thief was sipping tea and awaiting his morning bath water when I burst in.
Immediately he was on the defensive. "I saw nothing!" he cried. "I swear."
"Oh, stop it," I snapped. "I know what you saw." I plopped down in a chair. "What in Hades was that innkeeper doing?"
"Need I remind you, dear heart, you started a fight last night. Remember the guy who razzed you?"
"How could I forget?"
"His name is Decimus." Autolycus’s eyebrow wiggled. "The tenth brother," he added mysteriously. Then it clicked: he was Primus’s brother. "So naturally Primus was a bit miffed. You started a brawl that trashed his inn and cold-cocked his brother to boot. So he was barging in this morning to demand that you pay for the damages."
I moaned. Xena and I barely had a dinar between us.
"Don’t worry about it," the King of Thieves replied, waving his hand. "After what he saw this morning, he knows you’re Xena’s...love puppy, and he doesn’t dare get on her bad side, so he said to forget about it."
I sighed with some relief. "That’s the least of my problems," I said. "I did a terrible thing last night," I whispered.
Idly he stroked the tiny patch of beard residing under his lower lip. "I dunno, Gabrielle, from my perspective it didn’t look like you did anything terrible last night—or terribly, for that matter...I mean, she was sleeping like a baby, you tiger!" He winked at me.
"You don’t understand!" I cried. I told him the whole story.
By the end he was staring at me with admiration. "Well done!" he said, slapping me on the back. "Tea?"
"You just don’t get it, do you?" I said. "I violated my best friend. Betrayed her trust. Possibly, irreparably damaged our relationship."
He rolled his eyes. "I don’t think so," he said sarcastically. "Look, Gabrielle, you’re a human being like the rest of us. You gave in to your desires. So what? You know she feels the same thing."
Again, another eye roll. "She was in my body, remember? I know what she feels about you."
She feels it too! I was giddy, elated. "Wow," I said.
"Wow what?" he asked, pouring me tea.
"I didn’t know she felt it too."
He looked at me, surprised. "Really?"
I nodded. "You say she feels the same way, but why didn’t she ever...and what if she can’t trust me..." The elation I felt a scant moment ago had dissipated. Doubt filled me. What if she hates me for taking advantage of her? I buried my face in my hands. I felt Autolycus’s hands on my shoulders.
"Gabrielle," he said gently, "all I know is that Xena cares about you a lot. Look, I don’t know what will happen...but just remember. She feels the same way." He paused. "I don’t think she could ever hate you."
His words calmed me for the time being. A knock on the door indicated that his water had arrived. Kindly he offered to let me use his bath, while he would go downstairs and get us breakfast. I agreed. I returned to our room, saw that Xena still slept, retrieved my clothes, then went back to the bath.
While bathing I decided to play the whole thing by ear, and see what happened when Xena awoke. After breakfasting with Autolycus, I returned to the room where I found Xena, sitting up in bed, cradling her dark head.
"Good morning, sleepyhead!" I piped up, happy to throw her own morning greeting back in her face. Payback is a bitch.
"Quiet!" she growled. "By the gods...I’m never doing that again," she added in a moan, rubbing her temple.
I sat beside her on the bed; she was wrapped in the blanket. I could smell her musky scent. Excitement added to my nervousness. "Are you hungry?" I asked.
"No, not now. Gabrielle, could you get me my herb pouch...I need some tea..."
I pulled the pouch out of a saddlebag. "Why don’t you just show me which ones to use, and I’ll have them make it for you downstairs," I replied.
Carefully she measured out the correct ingredients, and placed them in a separate pouch. "Please hurry," she groaned.
"I will..." I stood up. "Uh, Xena?"
I decided to abandon my wait-and-see plan and risk it all. "Do you...remember anything about last night?"
"Oh, Gabrielle..." she moaned again. I braced myself for the worst. She feels awful, betrayed, it was a big mistake..."I don’t remember a damned thing. Just drinking and drinking, trying to beat that guy...I don’t even know how I got back here. I’m just glad I did..." Bleary-eyed, she looked at me. "Hey, are you okay?"
"Uh, yeah." I was clutching the bedpost for dear life. She didn’t remember. My mind raced. Now what? Tell her?
"I’m sorry I hogged up the bed...where did you sleep?"
"Uh, bedroll. On the floor. I packed it up earlier."
"Damn. Sorry. I know you prefer the bed. You could’ve kicked me out, you know."
Kick the Warrior Princess out of bed? Highly unlikely. "It’s okay."
"No, it’s not. You look tired. Like you didn’t get much sleep." A look of horror crossed her face. "Gods, Gabrielle—"
"What?" I rasped, my heart in my mouth. She remembers!
"Was I...here with someone last night?" she whispered, mortified, looking down the blanket at her muscular, nude form.
"N-no, Xena. You were alone. After I was done performing, I came up here, and you were here, on the bed."
She frowned, puzzled. "I was alone...when you got back to the room?"
"Yes, Xena, you were alone. And very drunk, needless to say. I helped you off with your clothes, and uh, you insisted on not wearing anything to bed." I did not mention that I too was also rather insistent on nudity.
"Oh." Her look of anxiety passed, although she still seemed faintly troubled by not remembering anything.
"Well I...better get this tea for you," I replied, trying to sound cheerful, although a pain in my head indicated to me that I might cry at any moment.
"Sure," I said.
I walked out of the room and burst into tears.
Solari’s apple core sat on the table. "Wow," she breathed, "so she didn’t remember at all?"
"Nope," I said sadly.
"Did you ever tell her what really happened?" Ephiny asked.
"No," I replied.
"Even after all these years?" Eponin gasped.
"No," I said again. But someday, I thought, maybe someday...
"See, this is what happens when you’ve been together for so long with someone as laconic as our pal Xena...monosyllabic answers!" Ephiny bitched.
"You make it sound like Xena and I have been together for eons," I complained. "Like we’re some boring old married couple." Even though it has been five years, it still seems like yesterday.
"Well, it just seems like eons, Gabrielle," Solari teased.
"Perhaps," I replied, "you all wouldn’t be so absorbed in dissecting my relationship if you all had relationships of your own."
Three blank faces stared back at me. Then a sudden eruption of activity.
"Gotta get to the practice yards. Training session, y’know," Eponin blurted, jumping out of her seat and flying toward the door.
"I’ll walk with you," Ephiny said, jumping up. "I uh, gotta go talk to some of the scouts on the north ridge..." Together they ran out.
Solari and I stared at each other. "I hafta go pee," she mumbled. Then she too ran out the door.
Today my beloved returned from her diplomatic mission. The scouts had announced her arrival before she came riding through the village, so I was awaiting her in front of the stable. After she dismounted with ease, I had jumped in her arms, flung my legs around her waist, and affixed my lips to her own.
"If everyone were this glad to see me..." she gasped when I came up for air.
"You would be very popular indeed," I replied. "And you’d also be in a lot of trouble with me." I tried to look menacing but, as usual, failed.
She smiled. "Even so, there would only be you for me," she replied smoothly. Perhaps Ephiny was right, and we were influencing each other. A lot.
With my feet back on the ground, I walked with her back to our hut. "You made good time coming back," I commented.
"Well, I found a shortcut. The road around the valley is less traveled, so it’s actually faster."
"But aren’t there a lot of little villages around there?" I asked. In fact, that was where Bucephalia was.
"Yeah. But as I said, the traffic was minimal...even though that’s where Bucephalia is."
As if she read my mind. "Bucephalia?" I echoed innocently.
"Yeah, you know. That crazy cow town. Where you seduced me."
I stopped walking. I can only imagine the look on my face, for she laughed the whole way back to the hut. Once we were indoors I tackled her playfully and held her down on the bed. Rather, she allowed me to do all this. "Damn you—you knew all these years? And you never told me? Do you know how guilty I felt? For the longest time, I thought I had taken advantage of you in the most horrible way."
She laughed even harder. "Come on, Gabrielle. I awoke the next morning with a killer hangover, reeking of sex. And there you were, acting guilty, nervous, and skittish, with a hickey on your neck." She paused, and smirked mischievously. "Actually, Autolycus was acting pretty funny too...for a while I wasn’t sure which one of you I’d slept with. But I know I would’ve remembered a mustache, and you did have that hickey—"
"Well," I said spitefully, "maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe it was Autolycus."
"Hmm," she mused, running a hand through my hair. "That’s too bad..." She smiled at me. "I had always preferred to think it was you."
Later that evening I held her, once again, sleeping in my arms. It’s rare that she allows herself this; she usually wraps me up against her, protectively. It reminded me, of course, of that night. I think the sneaky warrior remembers more than she tells.
In between that night and a night five years ago when we declared our love, there was many an evening on the road, sleeping under the stars, where I was solitary, yet not alone. I would lay in my bedroll, my arms behind my head, the tiny lights of the world above me. I connected the lights into pictures, and those into words, and those into stories. I told them to my beloved. Sometimes I would tell them to myself, again and again. Just like this story. I would always be telling this story.
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