It was early morning on the island of Lesbos. The sun was rising over the Aegean, tinting the waves a pearly silver. There was a slight chill in the air, thanks to the earliness of the hour, but it would be gone by mid-morning. In the middle of the island was a wooded glade at the foot of a mountain. A waterfall tumbled down into it, water pouring over mountain rocks in crystal rivulets. The slopes of the mountain and the floor of the forest were purple and blue with wildflowers, in the trees were songbirds and, in the stream were darting golden fish. It was a place where even an immortal visitor might pause to gaze in wonder and delight.
Or at least most immortal visitors. Aphrodite had never been a fan of the great outdoors. She was standing, invisible to mortal eyes, by the side of the waterfall, shivering in the breeze and glaring angrily at a nearby rabbit which she’d just tripped over. There was mud on the hem of her skirt and droplets of water were beading in her hair. What she wanted was to find the nearest warm temple and party with some worshippers for a few hours, but she knew she couldn’t. She was on a mission and she was here to observe Gabby and her warrior friend.
Xena woke first. There was nothing unusual in that. Xena always woke first. She heard the chattering of the waterfall behind her and Gabrielle’s steady breathing in front of her. She was on her side, Gabrielle’s back pressed into her front and she had one arm draped across Gabrielle’s waist. They were sleeping like this almost every night now. Xena knew it was strange, knew that they had entered some bizarre, semi-platonic, semi-not territory, and, she knew that, sooner or later, they would have to choose, to become entirely platonic or entirely not, but, for now, she tried not to think about it too much. For now, she just wanted to enjoy the closeness of Gabrielle, the calm serenity of her soulmate as she slept.
Xena kissed the top of the blond head and then lay still, the rhythm of her breathing matching Gabrielle’s. Every morning, she was amazed anew at the comfort simple closeness could bring, how wonderful it could feel just to hold and be held. She felt a stirring in front of her, a certain tenseness start to creep into Gabrielle’s muscles as the younger woman began to wake up. With little snuffling sighs, Gabrielle rolled over, pushing Xena onto her back. Then Gabrielle settled her head onto Xena’s shoulder and snuggled closer. Xena smiled, stroking soft blond hair.
‘It’s a beautiful morning,’ she whispered.
‘It’s an early morning,’ Gabrielle mumbled, barely awake.
‘The sunrise is lovely.’
‘Don’t like sun.’ Gabrielle had turned her face fully into Xena’s shoulder. One thing they never agreed on was mornings. Xena was a morning person, Gabrielle was not and nothing in the world was likely to change that. Not that Xena minded Gabrielle’s grumpiness in the mornings. Instead, she found it rather adorable. Xena smiled to herself, fully aware of how pathetic that was.
She gave up on conversation and attempted to ease her shoulder out from underneath Gabrielle’s head, thinking that she might as well go and start breakfast. Gabrielle was never much use for anything until after she’d eaten. Gabrielle though wasn’t giving up her pillow that easily. She pressed her head more firmly into Xena’s shoulder and clamped one hand, vice-like, around Xena’s arm. Her grip was like iron. When did you get so strong? Xena thought to herself as she settled down on the ground again, resigned to at least another hour of holding Gabrielle while she slept, secretly pleased to do so.
Aphrodite watched in amazement. When had the mighty warrior princess become so...soft? No wonder Ares didn’t hang around her so much anymore. He wasn’t really her patron god now, not really. It seemed she’d moved on.
‘I think you might be mine now,’ Aphrodite whispered as she moved closer to the pair on the ground. She paused for a moment, just letting herself feel and there it was – love, plain and simple – and it suffused both of them, filled them completely. Cautiously, Aphrodite bent down and placed the palm of one hand flat against Gabrielle’s forehead and put the other hand on Xena’s, allowing the love they felt for each other to flow through her. She shivered in delight. It was the real thing alright; love of a kind even she didn’t encounter often. And it was more than that; their souls were bound together for eternity.
When had that happened? Truthfully, she wasn’t sure. In recent months, she’d felt herself drawn to them more and more, but only now did she understand why. As corny as it was, it was the love which had pulled her to them. What she couldn’t fathom was why they weren’t already together in every sense of the word. Xena must be the most stubborn person in the world not to have given in by now and taken the next step. And it was only Xena who was holding back – Gabrielle was willing, Aphrodite could feel it.
At that moment, the warrior princess’ eyes fluttered open, her body becoming instantly alert, as she stared in Aphrodite’s direction. She couldn’t see her, but she seemed to be sensing that something was there. Hastily, the goddess withdrew. She had promised not to use any of her Godlike powers, so what she needed was help from a mortal in the know, but who to ask? Her nephew, Hercules, would probably be willing to try and talk some sense into Xena, but he was rather pre-occupied with those pesky twelve labours Hera had forced on him. And the other heroes were out – Jason and Achilles just didn’t have the people skills and Xena had a downright weird relationship with Odysseus.
Aphrodite suddenly became very aware of exactly where she was and it felt remarkably appropriate to her current mission. ‘When on Lesbos...’ she murmured to herself as she left Xena and Gabrielle asleep by the waterfall and went to see if Sappho was at home.