Aphrodite, still in the guise of Mentor, stood at the window of the large ballroom, gazing out into the darkness. She had seen Xena and Gabrielle leave the party, seen them kissing in the darkness with a desperate urgency, seen Xena pull Gabrielle further into the garden. When they disappeared from sight, Aphrodite reached out with her mind and felt them, felt passion building. At that point, not wanting to intrude, she directed her thoughts elsewhere, but still she peered out into the darkness, a smug smile on her face.
There was a commotion by the doors out into the garden and she turned to see what it was. To her surprise, Gabrielle had re-entered the room dishevelled, upset and very much alone. Sappho was quickly at her side, asking her what was wrong, but Gabrielle brushed past her and made for the exit.
‘What happened?’ Aphrodite asked, coming to stand with Sappho on the dancefloor.
‘She wouldn’t say. She’s very upset.’
‘But she and Xena...’
The two women looked at one another with new understanding. ‘Xena.’ They said together in voices which were suddenly flat.
‘If Xena’s hurt her...’ Aphrodite muttered.
‘You really care about her, don’t you?’ Sappho said in a surprised tone.
‘Gabby’s a...’ Aphrodite paused; the gods weren’t supposed to get attached to mortals, but she found she couldn’t bring herself to lie. ‘Gabby’s a friend,’ she said.
‘Well right now I think your friend needs you.’
Aphrodite went to go after Gabrielle and then paused. ‘What about Xena? Shouldn’t someone find her?’
‘I think we should leave the high and mighty warrior princess to her own devices for a bit.’
Aphrodite nodded her agreement and ran after Gabrielle, stumbling slightly due to the unexpected weight of Mentor’s body. Before long, she spotted a small blonde figure walking swiftly through the trees ahead of her.
‘Gabrielle!’ she called, momentarily surprised by the sound of Mentor’s deep, booming voice.
‘i’m not really in the mood for a chat.’ Gabrielle called back and carried on walking.
‘Gabby, wait!’ Aphrodite called again, breaking into a run.
‘I said I don’t want to talk.’ She didn’t even look round this time, just carried on walking.
‘Gabrielle!’ Aphrodite ran faster and then stopped in surprise as Gabrielle turned and faced her in a fighting stance, the sais which had been hidden in her boots now in her hands.
‘Gabby! What are you doing?!’
‘What do you think I’m doing?! A man I hardly know is running after me in the middle of the night!’
‘But i’m your friend!’
‘You’re Xena’s friend.’ She almost spat the word ‘Xena’.
‘nah, the warrior babe’s not really my style. I mean, I like her and all, but she’s got nothing on you.’
‘Warrior babe?’ Gabrielle lowered her sais a little, confusion on her face. Quickly, the confusion turned to suspicion. ‘Aphrodite?’
Aphrodite shook herself until she was back in her usual form. She put a hand to her hair, feeling its softness and then looked down at her delicate feet which were still missing Hermes’ sandals. Then, she gave a small sigh. ‘So much better...’ she said.
‘Aphrodite?’ Gabrielle said again.
‘The very same, O Bardly One.’
‘But, what are you doing here?’
‘It’s a wedding, sweet pea. I like to drop by a couple now and then.’
Gabrielle seemed to accept this and attempted a smile of greeting, but couldn’t quite muster one which reached her eyes.
‘What’s wrong, sweetie?’ Aphrodite asked.
Gabrielle didn’t reply, but her eyes were looking suspiciously bright and her lip was beginning to tremble.
‘Did tall, dark and annoyingly moody do something to you?’
Gabrielle shook her head.
‘Then what is it?’
‘That’s the problem,’ Gabrielle finally stammered. ‘The problem is, she never does anything to me! She says all this stuff which makes me think that she cares for me and she kisses me, but then...but then...’ and here Gabrielle dissolved into a kind of desperate sobbing.
‘It’s ok, sweetie, it’s ok...’ Sincerely hoping that none of the other Olympians were watching, Aphrodite put her arms around Gabrielle and held her close. This definitely crossed a line as far as mortal/immortal relationships were meant to go; mortals were meant to provide you with worship, they weren’t meant to be hugged.
Gabrielle though, seemed completely unaware of this and had buried her head into Aphrodite’s shoulder. For a moment they stood there, Aphrodite stroking Gabrielle’s back and whispering words of comfort into her ear, and Gabrielle sobbing with the force of someone who’s been trying not to cry for far too long. Eventually, Gabrielle regained enough composure to pull away slightly and begin wiping the tears from her face.
‘Gabby...?’ Aphrodite asked gently.
‘I’m sorry,’ Gabrielle mumbled, a blush creeping across her cheeks. ‘I’m just rambling. I...’
‘Gabby, it’s ok. Just tell me what’s wrong.’
‘It’s Xena.’ Gabrielle took a deep, rather shaky breath. ‘I just don’t know what to do.’ And here the sobs threatened to overwhelm her again, but she managed to keep them under control. ‘I don’t know what she wants.’
‘What do you want?’
‘Her.’ There was no hesitation in Gabrielle’s voice. ‘I want to be with her. I’ve wanted it for years, but she won’t give herself to me even though I think she wants it too and I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take her leading me on like this and then pulling back at the last second. I can’t take not knowing what she wants me to do or who she wants me to be. I want to be in a relationship. I want to love and be loved and she won’t give me that and I don’t know what I’ve done wrong...’ And here the sobs took her once again.
‘You haven’t done anything wrong.’ Aphrodite said. ‘Xena’s a selfish fool not to realise what she’s doing to you.’
‘It isn’t her fault...’
‘It’s absolutely her fault.’ Aphrodite’s eyes were flashing in anger now. ‘I think it’s time to teach Xena a thing or two about love.’