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Between the lines

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I like power. I enjoy taking control of a situation and forcing things to go my way.

Present me with a problem, a challenge and I will take charge and set things right. Throughout my time on this earth, this is how I’ve handled whatever life’s thrown at me. It’s the one thing that hasn’t changed on my road to redemption. But not all problems can be solved. Not every question has an answer. The issue I’m facing now is not of the sort that can be fixed with my chakram. The way of the warrior, my way, has very little to do with the question that is love.

Warrior princess in love. I know it sounds ridiculous and honestly, I never saw it coming. I guess being dead for a while changes things. On second thought, it wasn’t being dead that changed the status quo, not exactly. What turned everything upside down for me was watching you die on that cross.

Before that day you were my partner, my friend, my rock, literally the light of my life. The one person who was always there for me, keeping me in check. The one to show me the way of love in a world so torn apart by violence that it’s easy for someone like me to give into the call of darkness.

For years I haven’t known love. There were the thrill of the battle, the heat of revenge, the allure of power, strength, passion, blood-lust and there has been just the regular old lust, which of course can be easily mistaken for love. But there was never anything like this.

I guess I’m an idiot. It took watching you die to realize what’s been right here all along, buried just below the surface. I knew I loved you. You’re my friend, my family, all I have in this world and apparently the next, but I didn’t know how I loved you. We’d already been through so much together and it still took losing you to discover the truth. It took watching your life drain from your petite body to open my eyes to how I want you.

I’ve always needed you, even before I knew I did. I needed you when you were just a girl, a stranger that followed me uninvited. A girl with more words than sense. I thought you’d be a burden, a responsibility I was far from eager to take on. I was wrong. True, I have rescued your cute butt quite a lot of times, but you were never a burden. I’ve come close to losing you forever more than once and every time I almost did, I learned how much I needed you.

This time what I’ve learned baffles me.

It’s a problem. One I keep turning over and over in my mind.

I’ve never been in a situation like this before. There have been many conquests of course, but none of them have ever touched me in any other way than physically and I didn’t need any of them. I might have needed things they had, possessions they offered to share with me in the name of their love, but I wouldn’t call that needing them. My encounters were short lived and once the sharp edges had worn off the passion I could move on. No one ever touched my heart, in fact, I wasn’t sure I had a heart, not until I met you.

I’ve never looked at you the way I do now. I mean I could see you’re beautiful, I’m not blind. Anyone who met you noticed. I observed many people fall for you over the years. It amused me. To me, you were someone who needed protection, someone who had a lot left to learn. A progeny of sorts. Pretty, yes, pleasing to the eyes. Equal parts annoying and adorable. Someone I could share my life with, a home. But never someone I could long for.

I was blind.

I’ve watched you grow. Listened to your incessant babbling until I heard the wisdom in it. You are wise, as long as you’re not trying too hard to prove that you are. You are warm and you shine brighter than the sun. You changed me by always believing in me, and by sharing your thoughts even when I thought I didn’t want to hear them. People see you as my sidekick, they are mistaken. We are a team. You are the yin to my yang and without you I wouldn’t be much of a warrior. Without you I wouldn’t be much of anything. I’d still be lost, like I was when you found me.

It happened slowly, maybe that’s why it took me so long to come to this. I have learned. You are everything I need and want.

That is the problem.

With you I have everything to lose. If I were to tell you how I’ve come to think of you everything could fall apart and I’d be left with nothing. I’ll have lost my friend, my family, my home. Of all the things I’ve lived and died through I’m not convinced I would survive such a loss. That’s why you can never know, never discover just how much I long for you.

I turn around in my bedroll, too restless to sleep. There are too many thoughts clouding my mind. It’s not typical. I’m not one to lose sleep over anything. Usually by the time I lay my head down, my thoughts vanish and the sounds of the night lull me to sleep in no time. Not lately. Sleep has become elusive and whenever I do manage to drift off I’m shaken up by dreams. The type of dreams that make it difficult to look your friend in the eye the next morning. I’m starting to think I prefer nightmares.

You whimper in your sleep and I’m reminded of just how close you are to me. I don’t have to reach far to touch you, but I can’t think of that now. I’ve never been one for needless caresses. If I were to stroke your back now you’d immediately know something is up, which is about the last thing I want. So instead of reaching out I stare at your sleeping form.

All I see of you is your short blonde hair, that’s almost luminescent in the pale moonlight. You were pretty with your long hair, it was like a golden flag, a sign of your femininity, a reminder of the girl you were when you ran away from home to follow me. But I’ve grown to love your short hair just as much. It makes you look more like a woman and less like a girl.

I still don’t know what possessed you, why you felt like you didn’t belong in the village you were born in. At first I thought it was some sort of girl crush. I saved you and your sister from a life in slavery and you wouldn’t be the first person to be drawn to someone who is a hero in their eyes. Still. I can’t fathom why you chose me of all people. You’ve always been too good for me, especially at that point, when I had only just started to turn my life around. I was so flawed, so dark while you were so perfect, so innocent. I knew I would ruin that innocence and I have.

I have and I haven’t. Life has beaten you down, but you were never broken. Through it all you’ve held on to part of your innocence, your faith in humanity, your beliefs. That girl from Potidaea still lives inside of you. You held on to her the same way you’ve held on to me. I owe you everything because of that.

I turn my back to you. I don’t need to see you to be aware of your presence. I can’t forget.

I can’t forget how you told me you loved me when all had been lost and we were dying at the hand of Rome. I remember the softness in your eyes when you held my broken body to you in that Roman prison. I will always remember watching you fight off too many Roman soldiers after my own chakram broke my back. I can still see the desperate resolution to save me decorating your otherwise cute face. You looked like a lioness.

You didn’t lose hope then, when you strayed from your chosen path, killing everyone who tried to get to me. You refused to give up, although we both knew, in our heart of hearts that we’d already lost. Hell, if that’s not a declaration of love, what is?

I’d never seen you like that. It touched me. Witnessing proof of our bond in a way I never expected, not from you. For the first time I could see that you were no longer that naive girl I was still mistaking you for. You are all woman. Every bit as capable, as powerful and knowledgeable as I am. My equal in most ways and my better in some.
That is what has changed.
That is what’s keeping me up at night.

I open my eyes to find you’re already awake, heating up the remainder of the rabbit-stew you made last night. You look amazing even though it’s clear that you haven’t been up long yet. There are still traces of sleep on your face, your blonde locks messy.

”Good morning,” you smile at me and I feel a bit light-headed.

“Good morning,” I groan, my voice still hoarse from sleep.

“You’ve been sleeping in a lot ever since…,” your voice trails off, but you don’t have to finish your sentence for me to know what you mean. Since we came back from the dead.

“Some trouble sleeping,” I say as casually as possible. Images from my latest dream float back into my mind. The type of image that would make me blush if you were to look at me now, so I stare at your hands as they scoop up some stew and deposit it in a bowl that you hand to me.

“You?,” you sound surprised. “Trouble sleeping? What’s next, loss of appetite?”
I smile sheepishly cause that’s exactly what’s next. The stew in my hands smells good, but I’m so far from hungry that it might as well reek of horse manure.

“As a matter of fact…”
“You are kidding me! Is something wrong with my cooking?”
“No. No. It smells delicious, I’m just not very hungry.”

You stare at me like I just told you I’m signing up to become a Hestian Virgin, but you don’t say anything. You shrug.

The day unfolds like any other, albeit more peaceful than usual. No warlords, religious zealots, bandits, or any other sign of trouble. Uneventful.

Normally I would welcome such a day, but today is different. I’m antsy. My vivid dreams have left me on edge and all I want is something to take my mind of the distracting woman walking beside me. You. You’re unusually quiet and it’s immensely difficult to keep my eyes from wandering.

Your sense of style has never bothered me before, but lately I’ve been wondering if it’s absolutely necessary for you to show off so much skin. I know your belly button exists and is surrounded by strong muscles that make your abdomen look like something I’d like to eat from. I know your legs are strong and shapely and looking at them now makes me wish you’d wrap them around me like you did in my dreams. I don’t need to be reminded of your arms that I want to lay in, or your bosom that I want to burrow my face in. Do you have to have so much smooth skin on display? I don’t need to be reminded of your body, nor of what I’d want to do to you.

I can’t look at you cause I’m scared you will see the hunger in my stare, but it’s hard not to when you are like a magnet to my eyes. It’s hard to keep my gaze off my friend. I have to remind myself, that’s what you are. My friend, my family, my rock. More than a body that I could use to satisfy these sudden and unwelcome urges.

What do I know about romantic love? I was always drawn to power, to lust-filled moments that I had something to gain from. My body was a tool. An instrument I used to seduce and conquer, a playground for my temporary lovers. I gave it freely and easily to anyone who was of interest to me for whatever reason, lust, power, entertainment, love was never an option, even when it was. I gave my body in order to take what I wanted.

I don’t think I possess the type of love that you deserve, even if that’s what you would want from me. I don’t think it is. I’m sure you are aware that this type of passion exists between women. It’s rare and not much talked about, but not unheard of. It’s quaint. There has never been any indication that you yourself could ever go down that path. There have been men, however temporary. Lately I’ve come to dread the moment some guy might catch your interest.
People have speculated about us, two women travelling the world together, fending for themselves without any male companions. I’ve always laughed at those insinuations because it seemed so far from what was between us. I’d laugh and say I loved you like family.

Somewhere down the road that has become a lie. I can’t look at your lips without the desire to kiss them. I can’t lie next to you, and not long to hold you in my arms.

This is my life now and I don’t know how to fix that.

That night we book a room in an inn because it’s raining and I’m too tired to look for another solution. Sometimes when you stumble upon a warm, dry place to stay it’s worth every dinar. Especially when your companion looks like she’s been submerged in the ocean and her breath is coming out of her mouth in clouds because the sudden downpour has caught us by surprise.

“There’s a bath house over there,” The elderly owner of the inn informs us once I’ve paid for our room. “It’s free for all my guests”
Perhaps the man is trying to tell us that we stink. It wouldn’t be the first time. When you’re out on the road a lot, making camp in the woods, hygiene isn’t always your first concern. Then again, the guy does have a pretty big gravy coat on his bushy gray mustache, so maybe he’s just being friendly.

“Warm water sounds divine,” you confess, a huge smile plastered on your face. The guy hands me the key to our room and the key to the bathhouse. I follow you up the stairs, up to our room and unlock the door. The room is small and sober with just one big bed in the middle.

It’s not like we’ve never shared a bed before, but suddenly the thought of sleeping so close together is a bit scary. I can’t complain, not that I want to. Sharing a bed with you at this point seems like a spectacularly bad idea, but booking an extra room would only raise suspicion.

I sigh and put my drenched pack on the ground, spreading its contents out on the floor so they can dry. Your pack is more waterproof than mine, it has to be because you carry around your scrolls and papyrus basically dissolves whenever it gets wet. You just put your pack on the floor and take off the long sleeved top you put on to help ward off the cold rain. I look away cause part of me wants to rip the rest of your clothes off.
“You coming?,” you ask as you spin around and leave the room.
“Sure,” I mumble, following you back down the stairs, and then outside, to the shed that’s supposed to be a bathhouse.

We’ve never been shy around each other. In our travels, there was never any room for modesty. It wasn’t necessary. We shared baths, beds, massages, tended to each other’s wounds. I know your body almost as well as my own. I know its weaknesses. Which spot on your back stores your stress, which ankle is the most likely to strain. When two people rely on one another the way we do intimacy is unavoidable. If I were to suggest we’d take separate baths, you’d know something is up, so I don’t.

It doesn’t matter anyway. Seeing you naked isn’t +going to make me do something stupid. Even if it’s hard to resist you fully clothed, I’m still in control here. I’ve never been unable to control myself when it comes to this particular brand of temptation.

The tub is square and large enough for about five people. There’s a hearth in one corner and a bench with a small pile of towels on top of it next to the door. The room is small and doused in warm yellow light. The scent of vanilla fills my nostrils.

“That looks like a dream come true!,”you exclaim while I lock the door behind us.
When I turn around I’m looking at my own dream.

You’ve shed yourself off all your clothes. Your back turned to me as you’re standing in front of the tub. Your tanned skin looks even smoother in the glow of the fire. Sometime, when I wasn’t paying attention your soft, girly body turned into this toned, sculpted homage to what it used to be. You’re not overly muscled the way some of the Amazons are, but there is definitely a lot of definition. Your body is tough, strong, beautiful and unmistakably female just like the woman it houses. I loved your long hair, but seeing the curve of your neck everyday is doing something to me.
You are doing something to me.

Just when I think I can’t keep myself from wrapping my arms around you and pressing myself against your back you climb into the tub and rob me of my view. I’m relieved and disappointed at the same time.

“By the gods, this is good,” you moan.“Aren’t you coming?”
“I am.”

I start to unlace my boots and when I’m finally as nude as you I step into the water myself. Making sure I’m far enough from you to avoid any touching. The water is good, warm and soothing. For the first time this day I can feel myself relax. Maybe a bath wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

“So what’s wrong?,” you suddenly break the comfortable silence between us.
For a second or two I’m so caught off guard I don’t know what to say.
“Well?”
“It’s nothing.”
“Let’s see. You can’t sleep, you barely speak,” you’re counting the reasons on your fingers as you speak. “You won’t look me in the eye and your appetite is gone. Something has to be wrong. Just tell me what it is.”

No one can say you’re not observant.

“It’s stupid,” I say to buy myself some time. I know you’re not going to let this go. You can be quite insistent when it comes to things like this.
“You can still tell me. I don’t care if it’s stupid,” you scoot over to me and take my hand, making it harder to breathe.
“Xena, you know that you can tell me anything. Come on, tell me what’s eating you.”
Part of me is tempted to tell you that the problem is that no one is eating me. That would be random and uncalled for and might throw you off for a few seconds at least. I dismiss the thought even if I can’t think of a passable explanation.

“It’s what happened, isn’t it?” I swear I can feel your eyes on my face but I still don’t look back. I stare at one spot of the water without really seeing anything.

“Are you having nightmares about the crucifixion?”
That’s one way of putting it.
“You never should have been in that situation,” I say cause I know that even if you won’t accept it as an explanation at the very least it will distract you.
“Neither should you have,” you squeeze my hand. “What’s your point?”
“I put you there.”
“That’s ridiculous.”
“You know what I mean. If it wasn’t for me, you would have never ended up on that cross and you know it.”
“Maybe. That doesn’t make you responsible.”
“Doesn’t it? You were as innocent as a lamb when I met you. No one would have crucified you then.”
“Yes and if I hadn’t met you I would be a slave right now.”
“You wouldn’t have died that horrible death.”
“You don’t know that. Slaves die all the time.”
“True, but…”
“But what Xena? I chose my path, it was a conscious decision. My path is with you.”
I wish I knew exactly what you mean when you say that. My path is with you. That could mean anything.
“I knew what was coming. I’d been having visions of your death for months. I should have protected you. I failed.”
“You couldn’t have known.”
“I should have. And because of my failure to protect you I had to watch you suffer. I had to watch you abandon your beliefs in vain trying to save me. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life.”
“None of that was your fault and if I had to I’d do it again. I don’t regret anything. You are not to blame so don’t blame yourself.”

You press your body closer into mine, trying to comfort me the way you often do. This time my body responds in a new way. Tension crawls up my spine, bolting me in place while my heart starts pounding away in my chest so violently I’m afraid you will notice it.

“Gods, you’re so tense,” you say, and before I can protest your hands find my shoulders and start rubbing. I’m at a loss for words once again and you let your hands do the talking. They’re skilled, I’ll give you that, but in this moment I doubt that there’s any way you could touch me that wouldn’t be pleasurable to me. It’s hopeless.

Hopeless because even if you wanted me in all the right ways I still wouldn’t risk it.

Chapter Text

I watch her, how she rides next to me. How she looks at me when she thinks I’m not looking. I see her avoid my eyes when I try to make eye contact. It’s frustrating, not knowing what’s going on in her mind. Is she tired of me? Tired of the continuous fighting? Does she need a break from our life? From me? I don’t know what to make of this behaviour.

This morning she finally told me she has trouble sleeping. She still thinks I don’t notice these things, still believes that she can toss and turn for hours while I lay sleeping completely unaware of anything that might be going on with her. In reality, I find it hard to sleep knowing something is eating away at her.

Something has changed in her but I have no idea why. The obvious reason would be the fact that we died and came back, but I’m not convinced that’s what it is. You’d think dying and getting revived would bring two people closer together. Not in our case. Xena is more distant than she’s ever been. I can’t help but wonder if it’s something I did. I can’t imagine what it could be. I haven’t changed. I’m still the same Gabrielle I’ve always been. She’s not usually one to brood and lose sleep over stuff, but this time that’s exactly what she does. In general she’s the confrontational type, not one to hide her thoughts from me the way she does now. Something is wrong and I know she’s not going to tell me unless I force it out of her.

That’s what I try to do as she gets into the tub with me later that day. What she tells me is true, she feels guilty because of the crucifixion, as guilty as if she personally drove the nails through my hands and feet. So stupid. After all this time she still doesn’t know that I’d rather die at her side than face my life without her, so she feels bad about it. That much I believe, but I’m not convinced that’s the reason she lies awake at night.

I wonder why something as simple and relaxing as taking a bath together has gotten her all tied up in knots. I try my best to help her relax, but my hands seem to have lost their touch, she remains wound tightly, like a spring.

“What’s gotten into you?,” I try again.
“Haven’t we been over that already?,” She says, her voice low and rougher than I expected it to be. She’s determined not to tell me anything. Sometimes she’s more stubborn than a mule.
“I don’t think you’re telling me everything.”
“I told you everything you need to know,”her answer is a direct stab in the heart.
“I didn’t know your life was on a need to know basis,” I snap.

Occasionally I get the feeling that I’ll never be more to her than that stupid girl from Potidaea that started following her around like a lost puppy. I’m still the same person, but I’d hope by now I’d earned my place, earned her trust and that no part of her life would be off-limits to me. When she closes herself off the way she does now, it’s painful. She has to know she can tell me anything. So why won’t she?

I give up on trying to help her unwind with a sigh, taking my hands off her shoulders and distancing myself a little bit. I don’t want to be too hands on with her.

Ever since I met her I’ve been meticulous in not crossing any boundaries. I’ve skirted around the edges of what’s appropriate between two women who share their lives but not a bed. Not because I’m afraid of crossing the line, but because she might be. I don’t want to drag her down a road she doesn’t want to go down and risk our friendship. It means too much.

The first time I saw her she took my breath away.

Me, my sister Lila and a bunch of other girls from Potidaea were captured by a slaver and out of nowhere Xena appeared. She wasn’t even dressed like a warrior, but wore something that resembled a white undergarment. At first she didn’t do anything, she just observed the men and next thing I knew she was kicking and screaming, saving all of us from a life in slavery.

I will never forget how she took control of the situation, how she fought. I’d never seen a woman do anything like that. She wasn’t a woman at that moment, she was a force of nature. Wild, fierce, deadly and more beautiful than anyone I’d ever seen. I wanted to be her. I don’t think there was anyone who wasn’t exactly as awestruck as I was. I remember Lila asking me if I’d ever seen something like that. I could hear my own admiration in my sister’s voice.

I watched her fight with my heart in my throat. She had such control over her body, every movement measured, deliberate, meticulously planned and perfectly executed. Every step, every kick, every punch and every throw of her sword hitting the mark. It was like watching a dance, only much more exciting and infinitely more beautiful. She finished the job by throwing her chakram, it was like an extension of her own hands.

When I saw the chakram I knew who she was. I had heard bards sing about her, people who had crossed her path had visited my village and described her as the angel of death. The stories were wild, claiming she came down from the heavens in a flaming chariot throwing thunderbolts and breathing fire. Even before I ever laid eyes on Xena I knew those stories were fairy tales. Nevertheless, all stories had one thing in common, Xena was bad news. Xena was the destroyer of nations, someone so evil and violent there were rumours of her drinking the blood of the men she’d slain.

As I witnessed Xena in action I noticed how easily she took out a number of men that outnumbered her and I knew there was some truth to the rumours. I understood that someone so powerful might easily be swayed to the dark side. But she wasn’t destroying anything, she was saving us and I didn’t question her motives. I believed in her from the start.

I was mesmerized.

I’d been told of her beauty, but nothing I’d heard came close to what I witnessed. I knew I’d never meet anyone like her again and that I couldn’t just let her go, so I followed her. A decision I’ve never regretted, not even when I was dying on that cross. Life with Xena is not always simple. She never picks the easy road and she’s difficult, easily bored, short tempered, impatient, stubborn, blunt and she still has trouble letting people in, letting me in. That can be hurtful, but being with her makes it worth all that.

We finish our bath.

My wet clothes have dried and warmed up by the fire. Once I’ve dried off I put them back on and feel more comfortable than I have in days. Bathing always makes me feel new. Like submerging yourself can wash away more than just dirt.

I don’t look at her while she’s getting dressed.

I used to but I’ve come to realize, there’s no point in looking, in getting yourself all worked up over something you can never have. Something that’s so close and at the same time so far out of reach can drive you insane if you let it. I’ve stopped letting it. You can never stop wanting something completely, but you can stop thinking about it. Stop hoping, stop dreaming. And stop trying to be noticed by the object of your unwanted affection.

Once dressed we find our way back to the main building and eat in complete silence. She still won’t look at me. I can’t remember the last time the silence between us felt so awkward. If only she’d tell me what’s wrong, what I did to deserve this silence. If only she’d stop being so stubborn.

At least her appetite seems to have returned. Nothing is as worrisome as watching my friend just play with her food. At least that’s not the case now.

“How can I help you?,” I ask eventually.
She puts down her cup and finally looks me in the eye. Her eyes seem much darker than they are in the dim light of a single chandelier and a few mounted candles in each corner of the room.
“What makes you think I need your help?”
The question is kind of hurtful. Why has me offering to help her with anything earned me that tone?
“Please just tell me what’s wrong. Whatever it is we can deal with it. Together,” I try my very best not to sound whiny but I do hear the desperation in my voice. I don’t want to push her any further away by making her feel like she has something to feel guilty for, like she’s doing me wrong somehow, even if it does feel that way at least a little bit. I know she doesn’t mean to hurt me.
“What if this is something you of all people can’t help me with?” She looks at me quizzically, like she’s trying to determine if I’m worthy of her trust.
“Just tell me what it is.”
“I can’t,” she says as she lowers her gaze, closing herself off from me once again.

The walls have gone up and there’s nothing I can do now, but butt my head into them until I start bleeding. It’s maddening.
“I can’t believe it!,” my voice raises. “After everything you STILL don’t trust me!” I get up and snatch the key to our room off the table. I’m done with my food, my wine and her mood. If I stay I’ll only get more frustrated, more angry and I might start saying things I will regret later. I’ve learned that sometimes it is best to walk away, at least temporary.

 

I groan when I realize our room has a double bed. Speaking of Tantalus’ torture. Sleeping in the same bed as the one person in the world you actually want to sleep with, without any chance of anything happening, scores pretty high in that department.

I used to dream of situations like this, I used to think of them as opportunities. I used to try and create moments that would make it easy for our friendship to evolve, situations that put my body conveniently at her disposal. There was a time that I turned every time I changed clothes into a performance. It’s quite embarrassing to admit.

I would catch her staring every now and then and the look in her eyes was encouraging to say the least. Plenty encouraging to keep me going and to keep the flame of hope burning in my heart. I’m convinced she knew what I was trying to do. Subtlety has never been my strong point. I even went as far as to experiment with guys, trying to make her jealous. The results were varied. There were a few times I really felt like I was getting to her, but we never spoke about anything. Since she never acted on anything I did, I gave up eventually.

Thinking about the lengths I would go to just to catch her attention is pretty humiliating, so I don’t dwell on all that foolishness. Just like I try not to dwell on my feelings.

I’ve come to accept the way things are. Xena is the most amazing human being in the universe. She’s practically a goddess, inside and out. I’m lucky. She considers me her family. I get to travel the world with her, go places most women never get to go. I am always by her side, literally always, even in death she didn’t leave me. What more could I possibly ask for?

That question isn’t as hard to answer as I’d like it to be.

I curl up in the corner of the bed that’s closest to the wall and try to sleep. It’s not easy. One of my flaws is that I can’t sleep until I know Xena is safe and sound in her bedroll. I’ve left her downstairs in the small tavern and it’s unlikely trouble will find her there. When I went up to the room there were only two guys and the innkeeper left. Not that she doesn’t have a penchant for finding trouble. It’s just been such an uneventful day that I can’t imagine her getting into any problems now. Even if she did, she’s a big girl. She can get out of almost anything. Hades knows she’s saved me over and over again. I owe her everything.

It takes her a long time to find her way back to me and when she does she’s drunk. I can smell the alcohol on her even before she lays down beside me. She’s not one to willingly lose herself in anything. Getting drunk means giving up control and I know she hates doing that. If only I knew what drove her to drink today.

I don’t ask. I pretend to be asleep, my back turned towards her.

“Gabrielle,” she slurs and I ignore. I don’t want to talk, not now. It would be too easy to confess my feelings to a drunken version of her. Too tempting to fall back into old habits and see this as an opportunity. What if I turned around and confessed the truth of my love for her by pressing my lips on hers? Would she return that kiss just because her judgement has been impaired? The thought is tempting and also very stupid. I want to know what it’s like to kiss her, badly, but unfortunately actions have consequences.

I can’t foresee what they will be if I give in now. Even if she did kiss me back in this unguarded moment it could ruin everything that’s between us. Let alone what would happen if I really had my way and one kiss would lead to another, lead to more. The results could be devastating.

Some boundaries are best not to cross if you value your friendship.

Maybe, if it was an honest mistake from both of us, our friendship could survive a romp in the hay. But to have something like that happen with what I’ve been hiding from her, that would be a betrayal. I sigh internally and ignore her again when she whispers my name a second time. I love hearing her say my name, it’s not something I’ll grow tired of soon.

I hear the sound of her taking off her breastplate and then the bed dents on her side.
I focus on my breathing, trying to sound asleep as she lays down next to me.
“You know I do trust you,” comes her voice from next to me in a low whisper. Her words are still a little slurred but I can understand her perfectly.
“You know I love you more than anything. I know I can tell you anything but some things are best kept to yourself, you know?”
I know exactly what she means, but not what she is talking about. I hold still, hoping she’ll tell me more. The bed moves again and I feel her looming over me. Is she looking at me? If so, what is it that she sees? It’s pretty dark, so probably not much.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I just don’t want to ruin everything.”

She sounds emotional but that’s probably the booze. It still touches me to know that she really does want to open up, but for some reason feels like she can’t. It touches me, but also annoys me. I literally can’t think of a single thing she could tell me that would turn me away from her.

Her hand suddenly moves down my back, making me shiver. That’s unusual. She’s not the sentimental type, not someone who hands out touches and compliments and declarations of love just like that. For her to touch me like this, so suddenly and uninvited is strange. She caresses me again, her fingers touching down at the base of my neck before travelling down my spine. There is such tenderness in her touch it would surprise anyone who’s ever watched her fight.

I grow so weak inside that my resolve not to give in to temptation is starting to fade away. By the time her hand moves back up my spine, it’s almost impossible not to turn around. My heart rate went up and I feel as giddy as a young girl who’s about to lose her maidenhead. Of course I’m not on the verge of losing anything. That’s why I don’t move. Not when her hand moves over my side and settles on my abdomen, nor when her warm, soft body presses itself into my back.

By the gods, it’s hard to breathe this was, but gods, it feels fantastic to lie in her firm grip. A girl could get used to that. If this is the effect a little booze has on her I should really get her drunk more often. For the first time that day I feel her body relax and before long she’s snoring softly in my ear. Her breath warm and comforting against my neck. For me, it’s a lot more difficult to fall asleep, but eventually I do manage.

When I wake up the next morning, both her arms are wrapped around me, one of them beneath my neck the other one around my waist. How nice it must be to wake up like this every day. I should untangle myself from her, get up before she finds herself holding me like this. She might be embarrassed. I should, but knowing the right thing to do doesn’t mean that you can. I can’t move because I like being exactly where I am, in her arms. I feel like I belong there, like everything is finally the way it should be. So I lie, comfortably frozen in her arms. Until she wakes.

She grunts, my warrior princess turned teddy-bear and then she lets go of me, at which point I pretend to wake up. I turn around and smile at her.
“Good morning”

Her reaction is strange, a mumbled morning while she hurries out of the room as if she can’t get away from me fast enough. Maybe I should have saved her from waking up the way she did, or maybe I’m reading too much into it. It’s possible that she’s just badly hungover and in desperate need of the little girl’s room. I hope that’s true.

I get up, wipe the sleep from my eyes, brush what’s left of my hair and wait. When it finally dawns on me that she’s not coming back I go down to the tavern.

That’s where I find her, sitting at a table by herself with a bowl of gruel in front of her. Lost in thought so deeply that she barely notices when I join her. She looks lost, scooping the unappetizing looking mush out of the bowl just to watch it drip off her spoon when she tilts her hand. Again, not hungry. But not surprising considering she’s never cared for any kind of porridge.

“Hungover?”

She looks at me like I caught her in the middle of some illicit activity, blue eyes wide in shock, they only rest in mine for a few short seconds before darting off to the table between us.
“I should have tempered my thirst last night, that’s for sure.”
“Well, at least you got a good night’s sleep. That must have been the first one in weeks.”
“You don’t miss much, do you?”
“Not when it comes to you. I still don’t know what’s keeping you up at night.”
“You are never going to let it go, are you?,” she groans, finally taking a spoonful of gruel into her mouth. She swallows, makes a face and pushes the bowl away. I watch her pick up her cup to rinse the taste from her mouth.
I shake my head.
“Why not? Why can’t you accept that some things are better left unsaid?”
“I hate seeing you this way.” I want to take her hand but decide against it.
“What way? Hungover?” She jokes at the table, sporting that sexy, crooked smile she uses whenever she jokes to hide her insecurity.
“You’re obviously in pain. It must be bad if you feel the need to drown your sorrows.”
“I’m not exactly in pain, although I do have a throbbing headache.”
“That’s not surprising, you smelled like a brewery when you came to bed last night,” I immediately regret letting that slip. Not only because I just gave away that I was wide awake while I pretended to be asleep, but because I feel like my words turn one thing into another. When you came to bed last night. That sounds like something one spouse would say to another. It sounds married. I don’t want her to think I was just lying there waiting for her to cuddle up to me, but I’m afraid my words imply exactly that.
“You were awake?”
I grunt, putting my elbows on the table while I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Yes.”
I try to meet her eyes, but she’s fascinated with the table.
“Oh,”she utters, the sound barely audible. Her face is a shade of red that I haven’t seen on her before. It doesn’t make much sense. Sure, she was a little it more emotional than usual and she spooned me, but her booze filled state provides her with a perfect alibi for that behaviour. I, on the other hand, have no excuse for letting her hold me like we’re lovers, no other excuse than the truth.
“Why did you pretend to be asleep?”
“That is… a really good question.”f
“I guess you heard my apology after all.”
“I did.”
“I was drunk,” she looks up. I’ll never get enough of her eyes. Since eye contact has become somewhat of a rarity I’ve come to appreciate them more. In some instances her eyes are the most innocent cornflower blue, in other situations as grey as the sky before heavy rainfall. They’re very expressive, easy to read mostly, whenever she wants them to be. For other occasions she has a wicked pokerface. Right now I can’t read anything from her face, other than that it’s red.
“Are you trying to tell me that you didn’t mean your apology?” The red is slowly fading from her cheeks.
“No, that’s not it. I meant everything I said.”
“Good.”
I smile at her and she smiles back. It still feels awkward, her smile seems shy even if that word doesn’t fit with who she is at all.

“You don’t have to be embarrassed. I’m human, you are human. Humans sometimes need the comfort of another body pressed up against them. There really is no shame in that, it’s completely normal, I promise.” My mouth suddenly runs off with me, the way it tends to do in awkward situations, like I can talk normalcy back into any kind of weirdness. Usually it has the opposite effect.

I mean what I’m saying, but I can tell it’s not exactly helping the situation, the red is returning to her face with a vengeance and she no longer looks at me. The last thing I wanted to do is create more awkwardness and suddenly I wonder if what I said is weird, so I kind of repeat it.

“Everyone has physical needs. I mean platonic needs that are physical.”

I hear crickets as soon as I close my mouth and then I realize that I’ve made it worse. Because I’m an idiot I think I can rescue the situation by continuing on. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to talk about “everyone”maybe she’s embarrassed cause she thinks I only let her cuddle me because I felt bad for her and her needs. Like it was something I just allowed to happen out of the goodness of my heart.

“What I meant to say is that you’re not the only one with those needs. When I say everyone, I do mean everyone, me included. So that’s why I just let it happen. It was nice, like a nice platonic cuddle, you know. It didn’t really mean much, but it didn’t mean nothing either. Either way, it was just you and me being humans and seeking a bit of shelter because we both needed that, well, at least I did. I don't know about you, but since you initialised the cuddling, I can only assume that I wasn’t the only one who felt that need. So anyway. It’s okay. Nothing weird. ”

It’s at this point that I realize that I’m like a headless chicken, running around in the maze I created with my own dumb words. I’m talking about my feelings and my needs and even if I haven’t given that much away, I feel my own face catching fire. So I smile, to hide my discomfort. I try to stop verbalizing every thought that pops into my head, but the stream of words falling from my mouth, has taken off and is turning into a rapid of nonsense that inevitably leads up to a confession of sorts.

I hear myself talk in circles, about needs and human contact and friendship and family. About what she means to me, what our bond means. I try to stop myself, but I’ve come too far. I can’t stop this far down the line, consequences be damned. I seriously doubt I’ll be telling her anything new anyway.

“Look. I know you’re not interested in me in that way. I’ve long abandoned any hope of ever becoming anything more than what we are and trust me I am not complaining. I’m happy. I love you and you love me and I don’t need anything more. I mean, I wouldn’t say no to more, but realistically, who would? You are a goddess, really, I don’t have to tell you how beautiful you are. , ” I take a deep breath before I continue talking.

“What I’m saying is, you’re beautiful, inside and out and I love you. I guess one could say I’m in love with you. I totally am, for real. But however I feel is not your problem. ”

If I stare any harder at the table I might burn a hole in it. She doesn’t say anything. She’s probably in shock. I can’t blame her. I guess it’s a weird thing to hear from someone you see as a sister.

“Like I said. It’s not your problem. I can deal with it. I have been dealing with it. I don’t expect anything from you. ”

There it is. All my cards are laid out on the breakfast table. I’ve probably just added to her hangover and ruined the most important thing in my life, yet I feel strangely relieved. I never feel good about hiding things from her. I’m pretty certain I’ll start feeling extremely embarrassed in a minute or two, once she’s re-cooperated enough to properly turn me down. For now she’s still not saying anything, but she looks awfully shocked when I cast a quick glance in her direction.

“You know what?,” I speak again. “You don’t even have to respond. It’s fine, really. For some reason I just had to get that off my chest, but I’m good now, you know? Let me just wash my humiliation off and we’re good to go!” With that I get up and leave her behind.

Chapter Text

You leave me behind just like that. Stunned. I know why you ran away, you just poured your heart out and I didn’t respond at all. Nothing you could have said would have surprised me more. I pride myself on my instincts, yet you completely blindsided me. Wow.

To think I felt so guilty when I woke up holding you in my arms this morning. Obviously I thought my plan to drink myself into a stupor so I could finally get some much needed sleep, had backfired, until your unexpected confession.

Unexpected, but not unwanted.

I know you’re not interested in me that way. I’m in love with you. I have been dealing with it. Your words echo through my mind. How long have you been dealing with this? Is it possible that you’ve carried around these feelings for years without me noticing? That’s a very strange thought. The idea that I’ve been so worried about my own feelings is laughable now that I know you’re feeling the same way about me.

It’s nice, but it doesn’t solve my problem.

There’s still a lot at stake. Most romantic relationships I’ve come across were fleeting. Nothing lasts forever, least of all romantic love. I guess it’s not impossible, a relationship like that could last, but how can I be sure ours will? It’s hard to imagine there might ever come a day I will want to be away from you, but who knows what will happen if things change between us?

Things have already changed. You changed them by telling me exactly how you feel. It’s up to me to decide what to do.

If I tell you that I don’t feel the same way things will be strange between us. I don’t like lying to you at all and lying about this will hurt you. Hurting you is the last thing I want. I think I’ve hurt you enough for one lifetime.

I don’t know what to do. I could think of plenty of things I want to do, if only I was convinced that was the right path to take.

Whatever I’m going to do, I should do something soon. I can’t let you feel weird and awkward about something that’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I can’t let you feel like your feelings are unwanted. I have no choice. I have to tell you what I feel for you, but I also have to tell you that however we feel we can never act on our feelings. Acting on our feelings will only jeopardize everything between us. I’m sure that’s the last thing either of us wants.

There. I have a plan. All I have to do now is execute it.

I find you in the last place I expected to find you. You’re in the barn making small talk with Argo. I watch you while I’m gathering up the courage to start the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had to have.

You and Argo have grown closer. You’re still not exactly Argo’s favourite person in the world, and horses will never be your preferred animals or means of transportation, but there’s a certain understanding that has developed between my two favourite girls in the world. It brings me joy to watch the two of you connecting. However clumsy.

Both of you notice me as soon as I take a few more steps in your direction. You turn bright red all over again.

“I’m an idiot,” you start. “I never should have told you. Honestly, I don’t know what came over me. I’m sorry, okay? Sorry for being an idiot and I take it all back. Yup. That’s what I’m doing, taking it back. Which means I never said any of those things. Ha! You can’t confront me with something I’ve never said. Awesome. See? Problem solved.”

I can’t keep from smirking as I listen to your nervous chatter, something that doesn’t go unnoticed. You point your finger at me accusingly, squinting in a way that makes your face scrunch up adorably.
“Are you laughing at me?” You poke my chest with your finger a few times. “Unbelievable. I pour my heart out to you and you… Wait. No! I just took that back so I didn’t. I didn’t pour my heart out. So why are you mocking me, huh?”

I snicker. I gotta hand it to you. You are getting rid of the awkwardness effectively.

“Xena, stop it!” You fold your hands in front of your chest and give me a stern look.
I giggle again.
“No! No! NO. I didn’t tell you anything so you’re not allowed to make fun of me. Even if I had given you some sensitive information regarding my feelings for you, it would extremely rude of you to deal with that information by mocking me!.”
“Gabrielle,” I say softly. “You can’t tell me something like that and then take it back.”
“Tell you what?”
“That you are in lo…”
“No,” you interrupt me bluntly, pressing your index finger against my lips. “I never told you that. I took it back so you can’t talk about it.”
I gently pull your finger from my lips and take your hand in mine.
“Gabrielle, you know I love you. I do, but…”
You jerk your hand from mine and cover both your ears. “LALALALALALA I can’t hear you! I’m sure what you’re saying is really interesting, but I wouldn’t know cause I can’t hear you! Laaalaaa la.”

I watch you turn around, your hands still covering your ears.

It would be easy to just give you what you claim you want. Easy to walk away now and pretend like none of this ever happened. I consider it for a moment, but I know I owe you more than that, even if you think you don’t want to hear what I have to say.

I catch up to you as you move further away from me, cutting you off right before the entrance to the barn, facing you. You’re still making pointless noise. I grab both your wrists to pull your hands away and you fall silent. Whatever resistance there was is leaving your body. I push into you, until I have you pushed up against one of the supporting beams.

“Listen to me,” I say, but once you are listening the position we’re in is catching up to me and I become overly aware of all the places our bodies are touching. I forget what I was trying to tell you. I release your wrists and caress your face instead, just using my thumb and pointer finger. You close your eyes, long lashes resting on rosy cheeks. There is no more tension anywhere in your body, just a slight tremor.

You are completely soft.

Your eyes pop open. In this light it’s hard to determine if they’re more green or more blue today, but I’m more interested in the velvet expression in them anyway.
“Xena… what are you doing?” You’re so close to me, but your voice seems to come from far away. What am I doing?
“I have no idea,” I answer. I try to keep holding your stare, but my eyes end up on your lips. I love the shape of your mouth, so pliable and soft looking. I like your teeth and how they vary in size, I adore the way your face lights up every time you smile.But I’m in love with the soft, light cherry cushions that your lips are made of.

You move against me. Your hand finding the back of my neck. You pull my face into yours until our foreheads touch and I can feel your breath on my face. Both your eyes merge into one giant eye. My heart is picking up speed and I feel like I’m standing on a cliff looking down. Giddy, slightly frightened and a lot nauseous, but in a good way. I’m staring into the abyss getting ready to jump.

I can’t help myself, I press my lips on yours.

I’m instantly overwhelmed by the softness of your mouth and the intensity with which you return my kiss. I don’t know what I expected, but not this. Not such a maddeningly delicious combination of softness and hunger or this burning eagerness. You make my knees buckle and my core tremble.

I’ve jumped into the abyss with eyes wide open, expecting fire and brimstone but instead I’m soaring. My hair fluttering behind me like a flag of happiness, a gentle wind blowing in my face. I’m flying, finally completely freed of everything that was weighing me down. All that is left are you and I.

Your mouth beneath mine is like a fountain, spilling kisses that coat my soul like tender, liquid lava. It feels like something I had lost has been returned to me. Like everything that was wrong in the world has finally been set right.

I’m not a Hestian virgin. Hades knows I could never be. Although life has led me down a pretty much celibate road ever since I decided to leave the darkness behind. It was never my choice to abandon that side of me, but I did. Maybe that’s why a relatively innocent thing such as kissing my best friend, seems to be more intoxicating than makes any logical sense.

Perhaps it’s the consuming nature of my feelings for you that makes me quiver so exorbitantly at a mere caress. Both your hands are in my neck now, fondling the skin there and I’m gasping for air, shaking like a leaf in rough autumn winds. I’m amazed at my unseemly reactions.

I may be a little rusty in this particular department, but I do know that if we continue kissing like this for much longer I will start peeling off your clothes and do exactly what my dreams have me do all the time, right here in this barn, where anyone could walk in on us. That’s not what I want, no matter how much it seems to be exactly what I want right now.

I take a step back, untangling myself from you.
“What happened?” You look confused, red and incredibly cute. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No. You are perfect.”
“Then why did you stop?” Insecurity is painted all over your face.
“Not because of anything you did wrong.”
“Then why?”
“I don’t think this is the right place to do any of the things I’d like to do to you.”
“What?” You turn the colour of an overripe tomato once the meaning of my words penetrates your brain. “Oooh.” You sound so shy, exactly like you sometimes did during those first weeks we travelled together. I wonder if you already had feelings for me back then, it would explain the stalking.
“So? Do you wanna go back to our room or something?” You don’t look at me when you ask me that.
I laugh because it’s so cute that you seem to be in such a hurry.
“You’re laughing at me again. Great. I’ve done it again, haven’t I? I take it that means you don’t want to?”

Do I want to take you back to that room? Pay for a couple of extra days, lock the door and ravage you until we’re both too tired to go on? Of course I do, in fact, it’s hard not to set all that in motion right now. It’s not all about what either of us wants though. It’s about what is right.

“Gabrielle?”
“Yes?”
“Do you think that would be the right thing to do?”
“If we both want to I don’t see why it wouldn’t be.”
“Because you mean everything to me and these things always get messy.”
Your eyebrow raises. “These things?”
“You know, the romantic type of love-things.”
Your face lights up so bright it makes me smile as well.
“You do love me too!,” you exclaim.
“Well, yeah, that’s what I was trying to tell you before your inner child took over.”
“Ooh!” You smack my arm suddenly.
“What was that for?”
“For making me feel like sharing my feelings with you was the biggest mistake I ever made.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “This is uncharted territory for me too.”
“Because you’ve never been with a woman before?”
“No, because I’ve never been this close to anyone before.”
“So you have been with women before?” I think it’s funny how you completely ignore the severity of my statement and are suddenly very interested in my past lovers.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

I turn around and leave the barn. It’s started raining again and not a little bit. No way we’re going to continue our outdoor journey in this weather.
“So who was it, Lao Ma, right?”
I hope you let it go soon. I don’t feel like discussing any of the passengers that have visited my bed. It would be a very long conversation and one that would probably make you highly uncomfortable, no matter how much you might think you want to know. I don’t want you to feel insecure about people that have never really mattered in the first place, not compared to you. The past is best left in the past.
“You can tell me. No judgement, I swear, I’m just curious.”
“I know you are but I’m not going to tell you.”

I tell the innkeeper that I want to keep the room for another night and pay him. He doesn’t seem surprised. For him this weather must be like a gift from the gods. Judging by the expression on your face you feel about the same way, happy we get to stay another night. I wish I could share your enthusiasm.

I’m not sure what to do next. Having a roof over your head is nice when it’s raining, but being tethered to one place for any longer than a day always makes me restless. I need to feel like I’m moving towards something even if I don’t quite know where I’m going. If it was just me, I wouldn’t let any amount of rain hold me up, but I know you could do with sleeping in an actual bed another night and not getting soaked.

The thought of being cooped up between four walls with nothing to do but stare at the rain is already getting to me. I don’t want to think about any other indoor activities you and I might engage in. I need to clear my head first.

“I need to talk to Argo,” I say out of the blue.
“Of course, you need to talk to your horse, nothing weird about that,” you respond. You know what it means, though. You don’t follow me when I find my way back to the barn we just left.

I don’t really talk with Argo. She’s a smart horse, but not exactly a great conversationalist. I need to think about the message I just sent you by keeping the room, the implications that come with that. I pick up a brush and start to drag it across Agro’s fur. Doing so always calms me down. I tell Argo what’s on my mind during the brushing, simply to organize my thoughts. I stay for a long time, long after Argo’s coat is as smooth as wet stone. When I leave the barn the rain has stopped, but the sky is still so grey I know that it won’t be long till the next downpour.

You are inside, playing cards with the innkeeper and his wife. I join you and the elderly couple at the table, but I don’t feel like playing.

“So you’re Xena,” the innkeeper asks me.
“The one and only,” I answer. Revealing my name has become easier ever since I met you. People no longer see me as some sort of evil menace. Your scrolls have spread the word of my attempt at redemption. Most people are honoured to meet me now. I have to say that’s hardly any better than being feared. It makes me uncomfortable to be idolized. I’m not a hero, not by far. I’m still just as flawed as I’ve always been. I’m human, I make mistakes, just like everyone else. Sometimes I even lose battles. I may have done a lot of good things, but they don’t begin to make up for all the pain I’ve caused.

“I heard Ceasar got to you. They told me you were dead. Now, I’m an old man and my eyes ain’t what they used to be, but you sure don’t look dead to me, Missy.”

I smile. This man isn’t awestruck at all. Old people are wiser than that, they need to see to believe. I specifically appreciate the way the old man calls me Missy. It reminds me of being a child. I grew up in a place like this, though my father’s inn was a lot more run down in those days, a lot busier too.

“It’s complicated,” you start to explain and I listen as you start to tell the story of our resurrection, only occasionally nodding in agreement. You are such a good storyteller. I can tell the couple at our table is highly invested in your story, hanging on to your every word. I am too, even if I know the story well. The card game is forgotten while you do what you do best, making the hours melt away with your words and your mesmerizing voice.

Once you’re done, it’s close to dinner time, at least that’s what my stomach is trying to tell me.

“Well, that’s a mighty good story, little lady. You sure have a vivid imagination,” the man comments. He and his wife both get up. “Time has gotten away from me and I haven’t even fed the pigs yet. Speaking of food, I could eat a horse.” With that they leave us.

“I can’t believe he thought I made it all up, ” you say.
“If someone told you a story like that you’d have a hard time believing it too.”
“Maybe.”
“Definitely.”
“Hmpff. So what did Argo have to say?”

I lean closer into you, close enough to feel the warmth emanating from your body, which is distracting. “Argo wanted to know..,” I lower my voice. “Since when you have felt this way about me. She seems to think it’s been going on since day one. Is that true?”
“That horse will be the death of me one day.”
“Why is that?”
“So while I was here attending to two elderly citizens you were making fun of me with your stupid horse.”
“Obviously my horse isn’t that stupid. Argo saw right through you from the start.”
“Obviously,” you sigh.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“You are kidding me, right?”
“Not at all.”
“Hey, amazingly skilled jaw-droppingly gorgeous potentially evil warrior woman, it’s me, blonde nobody from Potidaea. I followed you here because, well… it seems like you may have some space for me in your bedroll. So I was thinking.. maybe we could.. you know.. make love, however two women would go about doing that.”
I laugh out loud, but when I see the look in your eyes, I rein in my laughter.
“You think I’m jaw-droppingly gorgeous?”
“I didn’t say that!”
“You kinda did.”
“That was just an example of something I could have said back then.”
“Oh. So you used to find me jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but you don’t anymore.”
“I got used to it,” you say. “You’re still gorgeous but I’m a lot less intimidated by it than I used to be.”
“You were intimidated?”
“Can we talk about something else now?”
“Sure,” I pause for effect. “So you wanted to make love to me from the very first moment you saw me?”
“I think I prefer you brooding and evasive after all.”

Before I can come up with a reply, the innkeeper’s daughter presents us with a good looking plate of chicken and a jug of wine.
“My father feels like he owes you for the entertainment you provided him with,” the woman explains. She’s about the same age as I am, but obviously a lot more well fed. She’s a big girl.
“Please give your father our thanks. That looks delicious,” you say and you add one of those extra bright smiles you save for when you need to show your gratitude.
“Yeah, thanks a lot,” I add.

We dig into the bird that looks like something that flew right out of one of my culinary dreams.
“Glad to see your appetite has returned,” you remark while breaking off a leg for yourself.
I like how you can eat with the best of barbarians. Who needs cutlery? Not you, you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty. It may not be very ladylike, but it is sexy.

We eat in silence, but it’s not uncomfortable, not the way it has been ever since my realization. Maybe that is why it’s the first meal in a while that I truly enjoy. It’s not only because I love watching you eat or because I’m tired of rabbit-stew, although admittedly, I am, very tired.

We take our time.

Me, because I want to postpone the inevitable. You, because you could literally eat a horse. You’ve always had an above average appetite. I’m sure that if you had stayed to live your days out in Potidaea, married to what’s his face, you would be potato shaped by now.

We finish the wine slowly, talking about nothing in particular. You probably know I’m dragging this meal out as long as I possibly can, but you’re playing along nicely, convincingly patient. I’m not sure what you expect once we’re tucked in that bed upstairs. I kind of hope you will let all the events of the day be and just go to sleep, but another, much smaller but also more persistent part of me feels like it has waited long enough. It’s preparing to jump into action. I’m not sure whether I want it to, so I focus on being in this moment. Ignoring that nagging feeling of anticipation. Que sera sera I guess, but whichever part of me wins, it will have to wait.

Chapter Text

I feel light headed. I’m not sure what kind of wine Anatolius has gifted us, but I feel like it has had a much bigger impact on me than the stuff I’m used to. It was nice of him though, to provide us with food and drink just because I told him a story. Unnecessary, but nice. I love telling stories and he and his wife sure were a willing audience. That’s exactly why I made such a show of enjoying the food. Granted, it was a lot better than the things we usually eat on the road, but it was mostly a sign of gratitude that we took our time to finish that plate. At least that’s what I was doing. I’m sure Xena had her own reasons.

I could tell that she really did enjoy the free meal and the wine, but I also knew that underneath that casual display of enjoyment she was nervous. Thinking about the reasons for her nervousness made me very twitchy. I think I hid that reasonably well, but I did drink more than I should have.

Today has been the strangest, most wonderful day ever. Sure, it started out messy with my impromptu profession of love, and for a minute there I was convinced I’d made a huge mistake, but then she pushed her lips on mine and my day turned around. My world turned upside down and I still feel like I’m living a dream. It felt so surreal and at the same time too good to be anything but real. You can’t dream that kind of happiness.

Every time I look at her lips now, I’m reminded of her taste, of how it feels to be that close to her and my heart does this weird, fluttery little dance inside my chest.

She kissed me, exactly like I’ve been wanting her to do. Boy did she kiss me. Her lips could have killed me, that’s how good they felt, how delicious they tasted. I wanted more instantly and for a while I got the impression that I would get my wish right there and then. But she backed off before such a thing could happen, and hasn’t kissed me again.

We haven’t been alone since and I’m certain that’s a conscious decision on her part. Xena obviously hasn’t decided if she wants to act on her feelings. It’s quite ironic if you think about it. She has a line of ex lovers that reaches from Amphipolis to Potidaea, and from what I’ve gathered, all those connections were pretty much completely meaningless, yet she wasted no time jumping into bed with any of them. I’m sure that if she hadn’t been known as “the destroyer of nations” she may have been dubbed “the rider of warlords.”

Not that I have a problem with that, everyone has a past and there is nothing wrong with having a healthy sexual appetite. It’s just very striking that she needs to think about “what is right” when it comes to me.

In a way it makes sense, because we will have a big fat problem if it doesn’t work out. It also doesn’t add up that she gave herself so easily to people who didn’t give two shits about her, and has to take a step back before giving herself to me. I love her. I’m not sure it’s really about our friendship. Obviously, that’s part of it, but I think it’s mostly about something else. She is scared. I don’t know if she’s scared of getting hurt or of losing control. Perhaps both, or maybe she buried her sexual desires together with her dark side and is afraid that unleashing one will unleash the other.

Whichever is the case, I have no intention of letting her hide her feelings and desires. I’m too selfish to allow that. I know there is nothing to be afraid of. Nothing will turn my friend back into who she used to be, I won’t ever let that happen. I don’t even believe it’s a real possibility, not any more. And about me hurting her, I will never do anything to hurt her. She’ll just have to trust me.

She gets up off the chair she’s been sitting in for what feels like hours, finally ready to go upstairs and I turn into a shaking ball of nerves. I follow her example and the wine hits me twice as hard as soon as I’m standing. The world starts spinning and my legs feel terribly unsteady. I wobble after her, which requires an awful lot of concentration. She somehow seems to be moving at the speed of light. She’s gone before I even manage to reach the door to the hall that houses the stairs.

Suddenly a strong arm wraps itself around my waist and for a moment I think she’s come to my rescue, but she hasn’t. It’s one of the other guests. A decent looking guy with a lot of facial hair who sat a couple of tables over the whole time we were eating.

“Let me help you,” he offers but it’s not really a question, it’s a statement. He’s already holding me and guiding me towards the door.

“I’m fine, really. Thank you, but I don’t need your help,” I say as I try to free myself.
“Where’s your room?,” he asks, ignoring my words.

“I’m perfectly capable of getting myself there, if only you’d let me…”

Before I can even finish that sentence the guy has picked me up and is carrying me up the stairs. I don’t protest, although I really find it very annoying. I think he honestly means well and if he doesn’t, well, what can I say? Having a warrior princess within earshot might come in handy. She’s not just within earshot, I find out when we reach the top of the stairs. There she is, standing with her arms folded over her chest, this semi threatening expression on her face.

My uninvited knight in shining armour practically drops me when he sees her. He lets me go very abruptly and since I’m not exactly capable of dealing with sudden movements at this point. I stumble and basically deposit myself into her arms. There’s the upside of not having that much control over your body.

“What’s going on here?, ” she asks.
I look over at the man behind me.
“This kind, youngish man was just helping me up the stairs,” I answer, pointing at my saviour like she didn’t just see him carrying me.
“Mhmm. The question is why?”
“Wine,” I point at myself. “A lot, apparently.”
“Aha.” A faint smirk crawls over her face. “Thank you,” she nods in the direction of my personal courier, puts her arm around my shoulder and navigates us to our room. Her arm stays in place even after she’s closed the door behind us.
“I can’t leave you alone for two minutes without you making new friends.”
“I’m fine, thanks for your concern, just incredibly hot,” I say, pulling myself free from her and dragging my rebellious body over to the bed. I plop down unceremoniously, hoist myself into a sitting position and start taking off my top.

“Yes you are,” I hear her mumble.

I look at her to find her staring at me in a way she never has before. The look in her eyes makes me feel weak suddenly. It takes a while to get my top off, due to the wine and it doesn’t help that she keeps her eyes on me the entire time. Once I succeed in freeing my upper body from clothes I struggle with my skirt and underwear, till I’m as nude as the day I was born, if you don’t count the boots. I’m not really in the habit of sleeping naked but tonight it seems like an excellent idea.

I bend over and attempt to unlace my boots, which is even harder to do because it’s so difficult to keep my balance.

“Sit up,” she instructs, suddenly a lot closer than she was before. I sit back up and watch her face as she squats down and starts to undo the laces.

“How drunk are you exactly?”
“I was fine until I got to my feet. That wine is something else. But it’s mostly physical.”
“Are you sure?,” she chuckles. “You were awfully quick to take your clothes off.”
“That was part of the plan,” I confess.
“Oh yeah? What plan is that?” She looks at me as she peels off my boots one by one. Then I’m completely nude, and she’s still fully dressed. I get the feeling my plan didn’t really work out the way I planned.
“For part two of my plan you need to lose this.. metal thing,” I say touching the shoulder part of her breastplate.
She gets up and takes it off.
“Slightly better,” I comment. “But I think you’d better take everything off.”
“Are you absolutely sure that would be best?”
“It’s imperative.”

I don’t expect her to listen but she does. I get to watch her strip off her clothes and this time I don’t have to hide that I’m looking. I’m not exactly unfamiliar with her body, but it’s like I’ve not seen it before. She’s tall and lean, strong, very well proportioned, almost a perfect hourglass. My eyes linger on her bosoms, they’re bigger than mine, just over a shapely handful. Her breasts might be my favourite part of her body. They’re so beautifully round and full, decorated with light brown nipples that seem to be looking me right in the eye. Her skin is smooth and peach coloured all over, there are no scars that I can see. I wonder if that’s a side effect of our resurrection. I continue staring long after she’s finished undressing. I want to touch her, but I’m enjoying this feeling of anticipation.

“Now what?”
“Come here and kiss me,” it’s definitely the wine talking. I am not that brave. I can be, if I have an idea what I’m getting myself into. Right now, I’m bluffing. I only vaguely know the kind of things two women get up to in the sack. I’ve read some scrolls, but they weren’t exactly instruction manuals. With all that flowery language it was hard to know what was exactly going on. Luckily I’m blessed with a vivid imagination. I know what I’d like to do, what I’d like to achieve, but it would help if I had either a clear plan, or full control over my body, preferably both.

She comes to me and I lose all coherent thought. Her body slides over mine as she pushes me down while kissing me. She’s so soft, her lips so hot, her hair silky against my skin. I burrow my hands in that hair. I’ve been kissed before, but not like this. A simple meeting of the lips had never had such an astounding effect on every fibre of my body. All parts are connected, that much has never been more clear. I tremble all over. She’s on top of me and every part of my skin that’s connected to hers is catching fire.

Heat rises up inside of me, like she’s pouring it into me. I feel somehow more alive, like I’ve been struck by lightning. It’s an exquisite current that flows through me. Inescapable and all consuming. All she’s doing is kissing me, imagine what could happen if she really applied herself.

She suddenly lets go of my mouth, I groan in protest.
Her eyes are all pupils when she looks at me.
“Gods, you’re beautiful,” I stammer.
“What’s next?,” she bites her lip.
“Aren’t you the one with all the experience?”
“Maybe.”
“Then how come I am the one telling you what to do?”
“I don’t have any experience with you, besides I’m very, very rusty.”
“Don’t you have many skills?”
She nods with this cute sexy grin on her face.
“Then I suggest you start using those skills on me, warrior princess.”
“Warrior princess?,” she laughs. “Why do I get the impression you want something from me?”
“Maybe because I do?”
“Ah, yes of course.”

Her hand moves over my body from my neck to my thighs. It’s a gentle sweeping caress that leaves a trail of goosebumps in its wake. I quiver. Once she reaches my inner thigh, she starts moving her hand back up, just as painstakingly slow. Her fingers fan out, her nails occasionally scratching me. It feels absolutely delicious.

Her eyes bore into mine, observing my reaction to her thorough caresses. It’s like she’s touching more than just my skin. My breathing gets heavier as desire is slowly filling up my body. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted her more.

I grumble when her hand leaves me.
“Don’t stop now plea..” her mouth shuts me up. Her tongue slips between my lips. She rolls onto her side so she can run both her hands over my skin while she keeps kissing me. Her fingers caress, knead, pinch and tickle, paying attention to every place they can reach. The combination is mind- boggling. I feel like I’m losing myself in stronger and stronger waves of pure pleasure. She’s only just begun and I’m already hooked on this feeling. Addicted to the way she’s making use of my body.

Her lips move away from my mouth, trail kisses down my neck, nibble on my ear and then move down to my collarbone. She’s all hot breath, warm tongue and gently grazing teeth. I’m loving every second.

I’ve fantasized about this a lot, but nothing beats this new reality.

Her hands become bolder, searching out places that I’m not used to being touched. I’m soon gasping for air. A wet, hot mouth travels down my torso, stopping as it finds some sensitive place to latch on to. My back arches, my heart beating faster and faster. I feel so hot I break out in a sweat, but it’s all good. I’m amazed by my body’s seemingly endless capacity to feel delight. It’s all building up inside me until I’m practically overflowing.

She slowly moves down, my princess. Further and further until she reaches the epicentre of my desire. The place where all my pleasure seems to reside. At first just her fingers, all gentle and careful, but effective. Then she moves her head between my thighs and I can feel her breathing over me. That already feels so overwhelmingly good that I’m not sure I like that idea.

“What are you doing?,” I ask when she’s about to put her lips down there.
She looks up at me, and I can see my own desire reflected in her eyes. I’m not the only one who is on fire. My stomach squeezes, sending red hot jolts through my lower abdomen.
“Trust me, this is the best part.”

She’s not wrong of course. My mind is blown by what she does next. I transform beneath her mouth. I turn into a new version of me, an impudent pleasure seeking thing. I grab her hair and pull on it, guiding her to the right place and keeping her there. I’ve never experienced these physical reactions, never heard myself make such blatantly brazen noises.

I’ve only been with men before and you’d think that generally speaking, they would be better equipped to pleasure a woman, but, as I’m discovering, that is far from the truth. No man has ever had this effect on me.

She seems so hungry for my pleasure, for me and that is a big part of my enjoyment.

I start convulsing all over, the pleasure becoming so intense it’s almost unbearable. I feel like I’m about to explode with desire, and that is exactly what happens.

She doesn’t stop just because I feel like I reached my peak. She continues, like she can’t get enough of me. I try asking her if it isn’t my turn by now and she just tells me “no”, before diving right back in. I am in no shape to protest. All I want is for her to go on.

Eventually she does stop, just before I think I’m gonna pass out. She wraps herself around me. Her skin just as heated and slippery as mine as it presses against me.

“This is the part where you tell me how good I am,” she whispers with her lips against my skin.
“I’ll admit that I’m starting to agree with the many skills part.”
“That’s all? Starting to agree?”
“Well, I wouldn’t want you to get cocky.”
“That good, huh?”
“I never knew you were so insecure.”
“I’m not.”
“Sure sounds like it.”
“It’s just common courtesy.”
“How about I write up a report and grade your efforts first thing tomorrow?”
“Very funny.”
“Is that a no?”
“Fine, be that way.”
I burrow my face deeper into her chest and kiss her skin.
“Xena, listen to me. I’ve dreamt of this since before I even knew women could love other women. Since the very first moment I met you. I’ve fantasized about it countless times. However, reality was better than any fantasy. ”
“That is amazing.”
“It’s probably because I’m so crazy about you, you know. I don’t think you could have done it wrong. I just really, really love you.”
“Alright, alright. Jeez, I love you too, but that’s no reason to go all mushy on me. ”
“You’re terrible.”

That’s what I say but I feel great. It feels bloody fantastic to finally be able to tell her exactly how I feel. To lie in her arms like this, after all this secret longing and hoping, waiting for something to change. It finally has and the best part is that this is only the beginning.

“You’re mine tomorrow,” I announce.
“I can’t wait.”