Xena didn’t answer, couldn’t answer, didn’t know how to answer. Her mind was awash with thoughts, hopes, fears, doubts, uncertainties. There were a million things she wanted to say, a million different ways she could let herself feel, but she pushed all the confused jumble aside. Now was not a time for thinking.
Instead, she wrapped her fingers around Gabrielle’s wrist and, wordlessly, pulled her outside into the dark garden. Even the slight contact of her fingers brushing against the skin of Gabrielle’s wrist was enough to set her heart racing and her skin burning.
Gabrielle took a breath as if to speak, but then their eyes met, and she fell silent. There was no point in speaking – Xena knew that she would never remember what was said in this moment. She would only remember the way Gabrielle looked, the moonlight glinting on golden hair, picking out soft highlights, the lips slightly parted, the eyes full of anticipation.
Xena reached out running the fingers of one hand through the silky blond hair, while the other hand found its way to the small of Gabrielle’s back and pulled her closer. Gabrielle’s own hands were both in Xena’s hair, stroking, caressing.
And then they were kissing again, just as hungrily as before and there was a desperation in their kisses now, as though they were trying to make up for time which had been lost or as though they weren’t sure how long this time would be allowed to last.
For a while, they just kissed, and then they remembered they had hands as well and soon their hands were everywhere. Xena ran her fingers up and down Gabrielle’s back, across her shoulders, and Gabrielle matched her touch for touch. Their bodies were pressing closer and closer together, as though they were trying to mould themselves into one being. Seemingly of their own volition, Xena’s hands were running across Gabrielle’s collarbone, straying dangerously close to soft breasts, and Gabrielle was gasping.
With a flash of sudden awareness, Xena remembered where they were, became momentarily conscious of Sappho and Mentor and the other wedding guests dancing in the room just behind them. She stepped away from Gabrielle and grasped her by the wrist again. ‘come on,’ she whispered and pulled her across the dark lawn behind a screen of bushes.
There was a bench hidden away there, a curved loveseat with a padded back, and they stood in front of it kissing again and again until they were drunk with kisses. Then, somehow, they were on the bench, side-by-side at first and still kissing.
They turned to face each other. Gabrielle sliding her legs onto the bench in front of her, while Xena found herself kneeling, one leg on either side of Gabrielle, her face and body above the smaller woman’s. Gabrielle had snaked her arms around Xena’s neck and was clinging to her for support. Without thinking about what she was doing, Xena gently lowered Gabrielle down onto the bench until she was lying on her back. They kissed again, drinking deeply of one another, and then Xena reached down, running her hand across Gabrielle’s leg and then slowly inching up her inner thigh.
At once, Xena heard a soft whimper and, for a moment, Gabrielle froze. Then, she was kissing her again just as hungrily as before. But that moment of hesitation had been enough to bring a crashing awareness of who she was and where she was to Xena. She withdrew her hand from Gabrielle’s thigh as though stung.
‘Xena,’ Gabrielle had broken off their kiss to speak. ‘Please don’t stop. I don’t want to stop. It’s just I’ve never done this with a woman before. I haven’t done this with anyone since Perdicus and I’m nervous, but that doesn’t mean I want to stop.’
Xena was feeling more and more like a monster. This was Gabrielle, not some girl who worked for Sappho. Gabrielle deserved something far better than a fumble in the bushes at someone else’s wedding. Gabrielle deserved something far better than a beat-up ex-warlord with a bad attitude.
‘Xena?’ Gabrielle’s voice was small now, afraid almost.
‘I’m sorry...’ Xena whispered, tears pricking in her eyes.
‘Don’t you want this?’ Gabrielle’s hands were in her hair again and the touch was almost more than Xena could bear.
‘We can’t...’ Xena said. She grasped Gabrielle’s wrists again and pulled them from her hair. She kissed the middle knuckle of each hand, letting her lips linger for a moment, and then pulled back completely, sitting up so that their bodies were no longer touching.
‘I love you,’ Gabrielle said in a voice which sounded hollow and broken and very, very lost.
‘Love you too,’ Xena managed to choke.
At that, Gabrielle shuffled closer again and pressed herself into Xena’s side, head on the taller woman’s shoulder. She reached for Xena’s hand and twined their fingers together, but Xena pulled away once more. This time she stood, putting all the distance she could between them.
‘We can’t do this,’ Xena said. ‘I can’t take advantage of you like this.’
‘You deserve someone better.’
‘But I choose you.’
‘You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know all the awful things I’m capable of...’
Gabrielle was standing now too and reaching for Xena again. ‘Please don’t.’ Xena said.
‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what you want.’ There were tears sparkling in Gabrielle’s eyes too and Xena couldn’t take it anymore.
‘I have to go,’ she said. ‘I need to be alone.’ And, with that, Xena was gone, running across the dark garden and towards the city outside.