Xena would say one thing for these people - they sure knew how to throw a party. Then again, maybe the same could be said for anybody who hadn’t had a party in forty years.
The dancing had turned into something less than structured over the hours, especially as the contraband wine had been unearthed. Now that the sun had set and torches had been set up to keep the light, most of the dancers were either drunk and swaying in each other’s arms, or drunk and not much caring what they looked like.
Gabrielle, of course, was in the latter camp. Xena guessed she deserved it after everything the last two years had thrown at her, but it didn’t mean that she was going to let Gabrielle drag her into an all-night rager. Somebody had to keep an eye on Gabrielle if nothing else. Xena loved her, but she had an uncanny talent for getting herself dragged into things.
“You’re gonna let her go all night, huh?” said a wry voice.
Xena turned around, unsurprised to find Autolycus hovering there, still decked out in the black, dour remnants of his disguise. “Sure. Maybe it’ll get some of whatever this is out of her system.”
“Having trouble keeping up?” he asked, nodding sympathetically, and dodged her elbow. “All I mean is, that may be a good idea.”
Out among the dancers, Gabrielle spun drunkenly, eyes closed, face rapturous, and nearly fell over. Half a dozen hands reached out to right her, and she smiled widely at them before starting all over again.
“Clearly,” Xena drawled.
Autolycus was unruffled by her tone, and slid an arm around her shoulders conspiratorially, which Xena, bristling, permitted. “Xena,” he began smoothly. “As you know, I’ve been in the company of your fair companion for a few days now.”
Wherever this was going, Xena didn’t like it. “Have you got something to say?” she asked, eyebrows raised.
“Now, now, there’s no need for hostility,” Autolycus protested. Xena fought the urge to tweak him by his ridiculous goatee. “I’ve just made some observations that I thought you yourself might have been too busy recently to notice, what with all the do-gooding you get up to. And, as a friend to both you and Gabrielle - one who you could even say has been there with you from the beginning, and in a very literal sense - I feel it’s my place, nay, my responsibility, to bring it up with you.”
Xena scoffed, but wished that a claim like that even from Autolycus - okay, especially from Autolycus - wouldn’t actually seize her interest as immediately and wholly as it did. “Alright, this oughta be good,” she allowed. “What, exactly, have you noticed about Gabrielle that I haven’t?”
“Oh, just a certain level of - ah, frustration. ”
“Frustration?” Xena prompted, eyebrows raising further.
“You know,” Autolycus said, and leaned in closer. “Of a particular sort.”
Xena fervently hoped he wasn’t suggesting what she thought he was suggesting. “Autolycus, if you’re going where I think you’re going with this - “
“It just seems to me that you may not have been attending to your wifely duties lately, if you catch my drift.”
“I catch your drift just fine,” Xena snapped. “And I do not need advice on how or if I should be performing any kind of duties, thank you very much.”
Autolycus was looking far too smug for her liking, and she slapped his hands off her shoulders. Unrepentant, he grinned salaciously. “Well, you’re very welcome,” he replied, gallant to the end. “It’s always been my experience that a little after hours attention usually settles the little woman down again.”
“Oh, is it your experience?”
He must have heard the dangerous edge in her voice, because he backtracked. “Not with your little woman - little women in general.”
Xena rolled her eyes so far she was briefly afraid they weren’t coming back. She reminded herself, as she often did - and as he often did for her preemptively - of the enormous sacrifice this man, her friend, had made for her. It was a while ago, some voice in her protested, and she sighed, because it had been - but she also didn’t think she’d ever stop owing him for it.
Just as she’d made the decision to move the conversation to something more rational, he opened his mouth again.
“Of course, my experience with your little woman was actually completely the opposite, though I guess given the circumstances - and with you somewhere in the mix too, of course - “
“ - well, I guess you’re the primary expert on your little woman.”
“Then why are we having this conversation?” Xena asked hotly despite herself, arms crossed defensively.
Autolycus grinned. “Even primary experts need a second opinion on occasion.”
“That was a nice party,” Gabrielle slurred as they stumbled back to Telamon’s place.
“Yeah. You certainly seemed to have a good time,” Xena grunted.
Gabrielle fell the rest of the way onto their bedrolls with a happy sigh. For once, there were no more errant twitches in her fingers or arms or legs, and she looked to be exactly what she should be: a young woman, exhausted, happy, delighted with life. Xena couldn’t help her affectionate smile at the sight.
Which of course meant that Gabrielle peeked her eyes open in time to see it. Caught, Xena allowed herself to be pulled nearer by the arm.
“I had a great time,” Gabrielle sighed, and drew Xena fully down into her embrace. “Didn’t you?”
Gabrielle, already affectionate when sober, had always grown more affectionate under the influence of alcohol. Xena knew better than to try to resist it - not that she ever really wanted to, anyway - and said, “Sure. I’m happy to see you happy,” because that was closer to the truth.
Gabrielle’s response was another contented hum, a tightening of her arms. Xena stilled the question on her tongue - Are you happy? - in favor of reading Gabrielle’s body for evidence. Her melancholy disappeared as quickly as it had come upon her, and she promptly smirked at the location of Gabrielle’s unaware hands on Xena’s body.
But then again, Autolycus’ unsolicited, asinine suggestion that Xena wasn’t taking care of Gabrielle manifested again in her mind and made her frown more deeply than before.
“What?” Gabrielle asked, very sluggishly.
“Nothin’,” Xena replied. Gabrielle either didn’t care enough or was too tired to keep pursuing the question, and so Xena patted her stomach. “Go to sleep.”
And for once, Gabrielle did.
A hungover Gabrielle wheedled Xena into staying another half a day in the morning, which meant Autolycus left ahead of them. Not that Xena needed his knowing looks between her and Gabrielle for an entire day, or more if he’d decided he might as well travel with them a while.
Meanwhile, whatever dancing fever had overcome the town reasserted itself in Gabrielle’s body as the day wore on and she shook over the aftereffects of the previous night, which made Xena’s eyes narrow enough that even a still-impaired Gabrielle asked her, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Xena insisted. Gabrielle looked on dubiously, tapped her staff, and let it go.
The day was like most of the others in the region had been so far: hot and sweaty in all the worst ways, compounded by the immensely irritating factor of sand sticking in all the most inconvenient places inside her armor, leathers, and underwear. Xena couldn’t have felt less sexy if she’d actively tried.
But maybe, gods forbid, Autolycus was onto something: Gabrielle actually was looking hot and bothered.
Maybe this climate had just gotten Xena’s wires crossed. Maybe it had gotten Gabrielle’s wires crossed. After all, Gabrielle wasn’t shy about sex at this point, and definitely wasn’t shy about asking for it. Xena had been on the receiving end of enough of her creative and direct approaches alike to attest to that.
Gabrielle’s absent-minded fancy footwork caught Xena’s eye again, and she followed the line of her energy up to her face.
“Sorry,” Gabrielle muttered when she caught Xena staring, and stopped.
This would be one of the more creative approaches that Xena had been on the receiving end of - if that was actually what this was, which Xena doubted, simply because Gabrielle just wasn’t that patient. Stubborn, sure. But usually with good reason. When the option existed that Gabrielle could simply knock Xena over the head and say, “Take me to bed, stupid warlord,” she couldn’t imagine Gabrielle not taking it.
Briefly, Xena entertained darker thoughts of when Gabrielle hadn’t spoken up about her desires - or, actually, about much at all. Something similar wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility; but as Xena scrutinized her as covertly as she was able throughout the day, she didn’t detect anything alarming. Just the last of the hangover, a reflection of Xena’s own muted irritation with the desert heat and all that came with it, and the continued odd twitch of Gabrielle’s limbs.
“What’s gotten into you?” Gabrielle eventually demanded. “That’s the fifth time I’ve caught you staring at me today. Do I have something on my face? Is something stuck in my teeth?”
She’d turned back around to where a merchant had hung a reflective shield before the words were out of her mouth, and Xena caught her arm.
“No, you’re just… twitchy.”
“Twitchy?” Gabrielle repeated, looking down at her own body as if she’d catch it in the act. For once, her feet were firmly planted on the ground and her grip on her staff was secure. Xena wasn’t surprised by the raised eyebrow she got.
“Yeah, now you stop,” she muttered. “I woulda thought you’d got all the dancing out of your system last night, but it looks like you’ve still got a little ways to go.”
“That’s all?” Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “Come on, at least I’m not dancing circles around you anymore, and I’m not going to get us punished for it now. Haven’t you noticed all the people dancing through the streets today? I think it’s beautiful.”
She would. “I hadn’t paid that much attention,” Xena said honestly.
“Since when?” Gabrielle said, halfway between a scoff and a laugh. “Or was your attention… elsewhere?”
This was said with a ridiculously overt shimmy that nevertheless made the muscles of her stomach ripple enticingly. Xena, predictable as ever, didn’t look away.
“Oh,” Gabrielle said in some surprise. “It was? I just thought - with the heat and the sand and everything - “
Yeah, so had Xena. Moods changed, though. Xena grabbed her again by one shapely arm and tugged her into motion. “Come on,” she urged.
Their bedrolls were still laid out when they returned, but Xena didn’t waste time when there were convenient walls to make use of.
“Xena, what are you - oh mmph - “
Xena cut her off with a kiss while her fingers crept underneath Gabrielle’s top and squeezed. It elicited the desired moan, stronger than Xena had anticipated, as well as a similarly surprising fervor in the way Gabrielle returned it.
Xena let her hands do the talking while letting Gabrielle take control of the kiss. Sweat had already accumulated in the valley of Gabrielle’s breasts, a souvenir of the climate. It didn’t take much urging to get Gabrielle to shuck off the top once Xena had loosened the string binding it together, and Xena found sand there too - an added texture, but not a deterring one.
Everything was hot: Gabrielle’s skin under her hands, Gabrielle’s breath against her mouth, her own body constrained by her sweltering leathers. Gabrielle’s face was reddened with it too, and the sight only instilled a desire to see that same flush straight down her body.
“I need - “ Gabrielle said, but didn’t get any further. Xena grinned in delight at both the verbalization and where it stopped.
“I know,” she said, aiming for calm and cocky. It seemed to work, or maybe it was just that anything would work for Gabrielle right now. One hand teased down from Gabrielle’s heaving breasts and across her wildly contracting stomach, slick with sweat and the heat of the day, until Gabrielle was squirming.
“Xena,” she groaned.
Xena chuckled lowly, appreciating every moment. “I know,” she repeated, and let her hand slip under Gabrielle’s skirt.
It didn’t take much for Gabrielle to come, her desperate gasps coming to a quick, seizing climax, and Xena caught her as she fell against her body in the aftermath.
She couldn’t help laughing again, just a little, but in sympathy. Poor Gabrielle.
“Better?” she asked her while one hand stroked soothingly through her damp hair.
Gabrielle’s response was to stand up, eyes burning, pull Xena toward their bedrolls, and settle herself into Xena’s lap. It was enough to make the laughter die in Xena’s throat, especially when Gabrielle took her still-wet hand and guided it back under her skirt. Even more so when she took two of Xena’s fingers and directed them inside her.
"Yes,” she groaned. Xena’s breath stuttered at the sight and feel of her writhing on her lap, but was quick to follow the movements of Gabrielle’s hips.
Gabrielle’s hands kneaded compulsively at Xena’s shoulders one moment, and then at her own breasts when Xena’s other hand held her steady by the waist. There was the flush, there was the wantonness. She was golden and burning in the last of the sunlight, and Xena loved it all.
Her climax this time seemed to go on forever, and Xena was enraptured as she watched it break over her face and felt it break through her body. The aftermath didn’t leave her as spent this time, which meant that Xena only watched and waited curiously when that familiar tempered gleam entered Gabrielle’s eyes.
“Were you planning that?” Gabrielle asked her.
Xena decided it was best not to tell her about Autolycus, and stuck to simple denial, which was mostly the truth anyway. “No. Why? Feeling ambushed or something?”
Gabrielle reached down again, but this time drew Xena’s fingers out of her and up to her mouth. Xena was aware her own eyes had gone half-lidded and probably predatory, but Gabrielle knew what she was doing. When Xena’s fingers were clean again, Gabrielle kissed her, this time more slowly. Still, it gave her time to appreciate the taste, and she dragged those same fingers down to toy with the waistband of Gabrielle’s skirt.
Which prompted Gabrielle to break the kiss. “Not ambushed,” she said. It took Xena a minute to make sense of the response. “But you have been watching me all day. I was wondering what that was about.”
“You were looking burnt,” Xena said, lightly touching the reddened skin Gabrielle’s nose and forehead and shoulders, earning a slight flinch for each. “And with all your twitching, I was trying to figure out what kind of hot and bothered you actually were.”
“I’m glad you decided to find out,” Gabrielle said. She pushed Xena backwards, and Xena went willingly, while Gabrielle’s fingers immediately found themselves at the edges of Xena’s undergarments. “Can I take these?”
Xena snorted. She could take anything she wanted, and she knew it. “Sure.”
If Xena had been expecting the next logical step - the practical, if annoying movements needed to rid themselves of Gabrielle’s skirt and her own leathers - she was surprised when Gabrielle straddled her and pushed her thigh against Xena’s center.
The sensation was already an overload, and Xena gasped, wide-eyed, at the languorous press of Gabrielle’s body weight centered so intimately against her. From below, her immediate view was incredible: Gabrielle’s hair a mess, her breasts bare, her hips clothed.
“Better?” Gabrielle teased with a smirk.
Xena grabbed her hips in a not entirely successful bid to make her move. “Hey, I didn’t make you wait,” she said more breathlessly than she would have liked.
Gabrielle considered, and seemed to accept that fact. It was Xena’s turn to push their kiss into something desperate when Gabrielle offered her lips, her hands clawing at Gabrielle’s naked back, her body wholly preoccupied with the steady rocking of Gabrielle’s firm thigh against her. Her skirt had mostly rucked up, but Xena could feel it trapped between them, and knew that Gabrielle would be wearing Xena’s wetness on her until the next time they found enough water that could be spared to wash themselves and their clothes.
The thought of it and the way it would hold Gabrielle as she was now - golden, strong, determined, consuming - was enough to make Xena clutch her with a sudden increased desperation as a surprised moan was wrought out of the back of her throat.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Gabrielle coached her softly. “Feeling good?”
Xena would have laughed at how maddening the question was, if not for how maddeningly it was asked and how quickly it took her to the edge. She knew, she knew -
Xena came with a hoarse cry and an arched back, Gabrielle still moving against her slowly to make it long, to make it good. She collapsed limply when it was over and closed her eyes, feeling better than she had in… well, a while.
Why hadn’t they done this in so long?
You’re welcome, Autolycus’ voice said in her mind.
If she’d had it in her to scowl, she would have.
Gabrielle’s expression was intensely self-satisfied when Xena opened her eyes at the touch of her fingers on Xena’s nose and cheeks.
“That was good,” was all she offered, smiling, nose crinkled. “Wanna get out of those things and go again?”
Right now, Xena could think of few things she wanted more. Mischievously, she grinned and finally divested Gabrielle of her skirt, fingers lingering on the damp spots before she tossed it away from them.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Gabrielle said, laughing.
“Oh,” Xena said with a leer and a promise in her eyes. “You should.”