They walked in a happy daze, each step taking them further from Sappho’s island and closer to their destination. They were back on the mainland now, somewhere in the vicinity of Athens, but the route Xena had chosen was made up of quiet backroads where they could walk for hours without seeing another person. And, in truth, that was what they both wanted. They were still getting used to the new dimension to their relationship and they needed time alone to explore it.
They were shy with each other at first, blushing as they held hands, asking permission before seeking a kiss, but gradually they became bolder, freer. There were times when one of them would pause in her walking and pull the other off the path and behind a tree or a rock and then they would just kiss for a solid half hour.
At night, they shared a bedroll without hesitation, curled up in each other’s arms under the light of the stars. And they talked for hours, telling tales of their childhoods, of their dreams, of their innermost desires. Sometimes, they played word games or made up silly stories about dragons and unicorns and, through it all, they revelled in each other, breathed each other in, learnt each other far more thoroughly than they had before.
After two weeks of meandering walking along back roads and through scenic valleys, they came to countryside which Gabrielle began to recognize. ‘That’s the road to Thebes’, she said one afternoon. ‘My father took me here once when I was a child.’ The next day, they passed her grandfather’s farm and then the tree which she and Lila had slept under one night when they’d wandered too far from their parents on market day.
‘You’re taking me home,’ she said at last, a puzzled frown on her face.
‘Nearly,’ Xena said and didn’t elaborate further.
After another hour of walking, they paused in the entrance to a cave which itself stood on the edge of a woodland clearing. Xena glanced across at Gabrielle, heart thudding, hoping she’d done the right thing.
‘You’ve taken us home,’ Gabrielle said and Xena sighed in relief. Gabrielle understood.
‘That first night,’ Gabrielle said ‘we spent it here, in this clearing, by this cave. I slept here,’ she pointed to a spot on the ground ‘and you were there,’ And now she pointed at a place a metre away.
‘I thought you were beautiful even then,’ Xena said, a blush creeping across her cheeks.
But Gabrielle was lost in reverie. ‘I was so young,’ she was saying softly. ‘I had no idea about anything.’
‘Neither did I.’
‘That’s not true. You knew everything.’
‘I knew a lot of things – things about fighting and hunting and warfare – but I didn’t know anything about love or self-sacrifice or kindness. I needed you for that.’ She stepped towards Gabrielle and kissed her slowly and gently. ‘I always needed you far more than you needed me.’
‘That’s not true...’
‘Yes it is. You could have learned to fight without me. I couldn’t have learned to love without you.’
‘Maybe you taught me to love too.’
Their lips found each other again and the kiss was warm and soft and unhurried.
‘This place is the most important place in the world to me,’ Xena said ‘because it’s where I met you.’
‘I love you, Xena,’ Gabrielle whispered.
‘Love you too.’
They were interrupted by a rumble from Gabrielle’s stomach and Xena laughed. ‘There’s a stream over there. I’ll catch us some fish for dinner. Do you want to get the fire started?’
‘Sure,’ Gabrielle said and they each caught the other’s eye, something unspoken passing between them, a certain feeling of inevitability about what was going to happen after dinner, once the stars had come out. Gabrielle flicked a pink tongue across her lips and Xena shivered in anticipation before turning and heading towards the stream.
Once there, and out of sight of Gabrielle, she paused and took a deep, ragged breath. Suddenly she was more nervous than she could ever remember feeling. They were going to make love tonight. Of that she was almost certain and that thought was wonderful, but terrifying at the same time. She had faced down armies single handed, she had fought gods and monsters, but, somehow, the thought of making love to her best friend scared her more anything she had ever experienced before. She splashed cold water onto her face and turned her attention back to the fishing and to the evening ahead.