DISCLAIMER: All named characters in this story do not belong to me, they belong to the creators and producers and studios that own Xena: Warrior Princess.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Mature for detailed female/female sex. This fanfic includes a loving, consensual relationship with female characters, Xena and Gabrielle. I would like to say thank you to my beta-reader, Kristin for all of her valuable time and help. Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org To understand Gabrielle's perspective, you should probably read the first story: Sacred Rite, or this might seem a bit dramatic. This is the positive (sort of) to Sacred Rite's negative. Story can be found at: Sacred Rite.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: A Family Affair.
It was nearly dawn. The air was cold in its infancy, awaiting the nurturing warmth of the sun. It would be an hour or two before sunrise and the land was still dark, though awakening by degrees. The remnants of nocturnal insects retreated into silence and guarded against the looming daybreak. Greyed light cast dulled hues of colour, delayed transfiguration from the purgatory of rest into the vivid colours of day. Somewhere between the natural order of wakefulness and sleep, Gabrielle removed herself from bed and padded into the hallway. Tired eyes misted with grey stared distant at the narrow corridor.
She walked, absent of consciousness, through the house and out toward the barn, still clothed in her white nightgown. With effort, she forced the wooden doors open, felt the evidence of her weakened state. She could not recall the last time she ate, slept; lived for a moment through typical routine since the memory of falling back, falling downward, being seized by profound dread as her feet slipped from the edge of the pit. She remembered the fire, the searing heat, violent and unrelenting. The details lingered, meticulous repeats of pain and fear. In the day, the innocent warmth of the sun on her back elicited panic, prompted the sight of her skin separating, layer by reddened layer, torn apart by the sulphurous fumes and burning steam. It brought her back to the desperate moments where she kept herself barely alive, clinging to a dented ledge, struggling for splinters of breathable air, mercy; saviours, gods.
Yet scrutinizing her bare forearms, healthy though slightly more pallid than usual, there were no scars, no signs that any trauma had crossed her. What was it that she did, she wondered, in that desperate hour of certain death, when the pain was too great, to crawl away intact and clean? She troubled herself over it. What was it, indeed. Had she sold her soul to the first velvet voice that promised rescue? Had she betrayed herself, or Xena? She wished the answer was no, that was the intellectual response: to remain faithful to the people one loved. But pain was the ultimate determinant of mortality. Fear and torture combined yielded a response that was always the same: capitulation, vulnerability, self-preservation. It was neither weakness nor infidelity to surrender to it; no mortal hero was greater than the sum total of their human mind, bodies macerated to damaged nerves. She hoped the consequences were her own to bear.
Awakened from her reverie, she stared at the vast and emptied barn floor. Her feet carried her to the spot in the center and her sandals began to lift with resistance as they stuck to the stone, the floor caked in the remnants of cleared blood. It was Hope's blood, and the blood of her son, their bodies living only hours ago.
At the time of their deaths, Gabrielle waited in the house, let Lila distract her with inane stories of their childhood. She couldn't look at her mother, for even fleeting glimpses turned the matronly face sallow and anxious. Despite the level of Lila's voice, Gabrielle could still hear the commotion in the barn: her father and Xena dragging the corpses across the stone, loading them on a wagon to be buried or burned or tossed away. Joxer too, was clearing the dead, and for an instant, she imagined him, and the extra lines on his daunted face when he saw that he carried a body identical to her own.
Joxer. He had tears in his eyes as he came into the house, asking for a mop and pail. He didn't try to look at her, or her sister, Lila. Clenching the items in shaking fists, he simply turned, wandered out the door, retreating within his burly frame. Soon, he too, would disappear by degrees. Gabrielle felt guilt collect heavy in her chest, and she inhaled a breath with difficulty. Her sister watched her strangely, and Gabrielle raised her hands, as though in defeat. She bade her mother and sister quick goodnight, and ran to her bedroom, tears spilling from her eyes as she closed the door. More innocence lost. He should never have met her. Never.
Gabrielle wretched as she rushed out of the barn, sick from the lasting scent of coppery blood and putrefied well-water. She gulped the fresh air in ecstasy, freed from the choking, hot reek trapped inside the stables, the scent of death. Her eyes wandered curiously upward, scanned the buildings in her hometown as her feet continued marching. Potidaea. It felt different: foreign, as though the essence of it had just been replaced. But it was the same. She had changed, become remoulded. Still, part of her lingered in Potidaea, recognised and instantly settled into it, adored it; became it. And yet, a small but voluble fraction of her resented the place, hated that she could never go to school, loathed the village tradition of condemning the female sex. She shook her head and dissolved the thought. It wasn't important anymore.
She found herself entering the front door of her family home; the dull ache behind her eyes longed for sleep. She crossed the abandoned kitchen, sifted back through the empty hallway and entered her bedroom. Her parents made it to her liking as a gift for her return: a single bed and a room to herself. Lila slept across the hall. Solitude. It was quiet, comforting. Dark.
The heat in the room was rising as the dawn approached. She hated the heat, the haunting flavour that gathered in her mouth of dried air and choking smoke. Her nightgown suddenly felt as though it were tightening, squeezing her along the seams, crushing her. Steadying her hands, she bent, gripped the hem and moved to lift it over her head.
She jerked and turned to look behind her, eyes wild with terror.
"Sorry," Xena said, raising her hands in a gesture of defeat, "I couldn't sleep. Came looking for you "
Gabrielle nodded, paused a moment on Xena's face, and then, aware of herself, looked away. Xena moved to walk past her, exit the bedroom door in haste. She was trespassing, and they were both unnerved: unsure of how to exist as people do, having been thrown from death back into life, in the middle of private turmoil and the chaos around them. Old wounds, still open, gaped a little less, bled slowly. It was not time that healed, but rather separation, longing and regret.
Gabrielle gently placed a hand on Xena's shoulder, stopped her from leaving.
"It's almost dawn I can't sleep either," she said, searching for a kernel of wisdom that might heal them both, put them at ease. She knew the effort was useless. The silence reigned over them, reserve and doubt imprisoning thoughts that yearned for escape. Xena continued to look at the ground, unable to meet Gabrielle's eyes without something to tell her. There was nothing to say. Gabrielle watched the slivers of emotion breach the surface of Xena's face and quickly fade, leaving blue eyes vacant, and a façade cracked with grief.
It was stark: the misery and the guilt written in it, etched into the new lines of trauma and age. Gabrielle pursed her lips, bit slightly at the softened flesh as her gaze travelled to Xena's collarbone. Her brow arched. A new scar: dark brown layers of fresh skin, stretched below her collarbone, across her chest. A hand lifted, traced the shape of the mark and startled Xena upon contact. Their eyes met.
"Where did you get this?" Gabrielle stared up at her unflinching.
Xena shrugged, feigned passivity and looked away, "I don't remember."
Her eyes never faltered. Gabrielle gazed at her openly. She recognised the quick flutter of Xena's lashes, the slight quirk at the corners of her mouth. A lie. She was certain. The scar disturbed her. She would never know what it was that Xena did when she was gone, never know what madness lurked within her friend while she thought her dead. Her hand closed on Xena's arm, gripped it forcefully as her thoughts darkened, imagining the wrath in Xena's conscious, both impulsive and tempting. The violent nature that crept beneath the surface of her stoic resolve.
Anguish emerged on Xena's face. She was aware of the loaded silence, the charged scrutiny. Spoiled to the world of men, she found the same trite suspicion in Gabrielle's eyes, the glare that followed her from one town to the next in the gaze of locals, with hatred lurking behind clenched jaws. Judgement again, informed by all of Xena's abuses: direct and indirect on the young Gabrielle, impressionable as she once was, now corrupted, confused, and unhappy.
Gabrielle frowned, unable to comprehend the profound grief in Xena's expression, disturbed by the sudden intensity of it. She felt the tension play beneath the surface of her flesh, exciting nerves and pains in her head, her chest, and up her arms. She swallowed and observed, with some incredulity, a woman that seemed diminished, defeated, robbed of pride and conviction. The authority of her presence erased.
Pain surfaced on Gabrielle's face. Empathy. It was returning to her in shattered fragments not unlike the way it was before, in the life she lived before Hope. But the essence of the sentiment was lost, devastated on an invisible and discarded plane. She struggled to weather the violent realities that destroyed her conviction, usurped the world she knew for an empty and desolate place. And Xena, little by little, revealed her darker histories, heavier burdens that weighed on Gabrielle's mind for days and weeks until she fell victim to her own form of Xena's rage. Unravelling on their own, Xena and Gabrielle sought to rip the flesh from each other's bones, wanting to see the other a little more vulnerable, a little more ill, a little less motivated than they were before. Xena commanded her, restricted her and used her. Gabrielle accepted it, wanted for the bit of suffering that felt more and more like justice until she'd had enough. And then they returned to simple exchanges, sustaining one another: sex was comfort, civility meant purpose. Objective satisfaction, nourishment for their lust and hunger and primitive drives.
Gabrielle clenched her jaw, infuriated by the memories. She stared at the scar, sick of violence and the hate they used against each other, the madness that followed the murder of Solan and Hope. She ached for absolution. But she was not sure if Xena was willing to give it, and somewhere deep in the pit of her gut, anger boiled at the thought of bearing responsibility alone
Leaning in toward the scar, she kissed the tip of it. Something sweet. Soothing. Delicate and weightless. A pardon, a plea. Months before, she would never have dared; it did not exist for her: gentle affection. But she risked it now: feeling and sincerity, longing for a moment to exist as she was, before Britannia, before she had to tuck herself away for days and months and years.
Xena's arms encircled her waist unexpectedly. Gabrielle cupped both broad shoulders to steady herself. She felt the change in the embrace, the relinquish of control. Xena clutched her to her chest, her head coming to rest in the crook of Gabrielle's neck. Gabrielle held onto her, felt lips and moist breath close to the pulse in her neck, scoured her brain for proof of what Xena was thinking:
Was it relief? Fatigue? Guilt, it could be. Guilt again. How she adored it so, that feeling of remorse. What was she thinking? Wanting for an explanation: why protect Hope? Why do you love her? Why, why
Tears gathered in Gabrielle's eyes but did not fall. Nose and cheeks and the tips of her ears tinted pink with the wave of emotion. She held it back, froze it all before it peaked, a habit forced into her. She looked up, stared at Xena as she felt hands curling golden hair behind her ears. Xena averted her eyes. Illegible. Time rolled onward, languid and bereft.
"I love you."
She looked back at Gabrielle. Shaking and encumbered with history, it ebbed from her lips, painfully seeking approval. Gabrielle stared back, disoriented, breath hitching at the back of her throat. Her chest swelled as she heard the words echo in her mind, memories of a time before: when she was younger and believed that life was enchanting, indeed felt the wonder of it manifest in thoughts and sensations. It was pure as it was ordinary, adulterated only by the moralist principles that tradition engrained in her. But it was ecstasy, desire as poets suffered to describe: passion and fantasy and aching. And in it, she remembered taste, sight, scent, and the little nuances they exchanged. Her and Xena, in the beginning. It returned to her perforce.
Gabrielle cupped the back of Xena's neck and pulled her down, catching her bottom lip between her own. Returning the intensity of it, Xena entwined her fingers in Gabrielle's long wheat-blonde hair, her other hand snaking down her back. They broke contact and panted in the small abyss between their lips until kissed she her again, and again, desperation in their movements, the abrupt exchanges marked by soft groans.
She reached for the hand at her waist and brought it to her belly, flattened it against her abdomen. In her trembling grip, Gabrielle pushed it downward, over her nightgown, stopping when she reached the apex of her legs. Curling fingers cupped her through the thin fabric and she lifted her leg to wrap it around Xena's waist. Her hips grinding against Xena's hand, she concentrated on the mouth that moved down to her jaw, travelling down to the pulse in her neck.
Gabrielle lowered her leg, put her hands on Xena's shoulders and pushed her away, walking forward and coaxing Xena to move. Xena's knees bent as she felt the edge of the bed, and Gabrielle forced her downward. She climbed on top of her, straddled her hips and her hand darted out, seizing Xena's wrist. She kissed the open palm, isolated two fingers in her grasp and took them into her mouth, working her tongue around and between them, pausing to liberally wet the tips as she withdrew them. Xena watched, eyes narrowing, as her hand was guided down, wet fingers dragging along the inside of her thigh leaving a thin sheen of wetness. Her fingers disappeared beneath the hem of the nightgown, and Xena moaned as she felt Gabrielle's arousal.
Hips bucked as she rubbed herself on Xena's fingertips, held them poised at her entrance. She watched Xena's eyes, her own heavy-lidded, glimpsing the unabashed desire written in them. Reckless, animalistic need consumed her, and Gabrielle fought to think. It was incomplete. Was it supposed to mean something? She stared, felt Xena's fingers advance through her and relented her suspicion, lowering her body the rest of the way down.
Back and forth in an undulating movement, and she fell forward onto her hands flanking Xena's head. She gripped fistfuls of the cotton sheets, groaning softly, hips rocking, mattress creaking. More and more, she sought it with greed, bending down to fuse her lips with Xena's, lifting to inhale a quick breath. Grinding her hips in circles and then back to a constant rhythm. Close now. Very close.
Leaning her chin against Xena's bottom lip, she struggled for air as she tried to stifle the sounds of pleasure that tore through her. Xena's other hand cupped the back of her neck as she kissed her hard, swallowing the deep moans that would give them away, dangerously travelling through the thin walls. Gradually, Gabrielle calmed, swivelling her hips to steal every sensation of ecstasy that lingered just out of reach. She would be denied nothing. Demanded obedience. If it was all she would receive, she was at least worthy of it.
Quiet. Xena sat up with Gabrielle in her lap, thighs straddling her, hand slipping out from her fevered body. The sound of their erratic breathing filled their ears. Gabrielle rested in Xena's arms, face buried into her neck, arms and legs slack. She felt the tension between them strengthen. Xena stiffened in her arms, cleared her throat.
"I'm sorry," she rasped, her voice raw.
Gabrielle leaned back in the embrace, met her gaze. She imagined the thoughts forming, the words in Xena's head and she saw her attempt to convey them: opening her mouth and abruptly shutting it again. Gabrielle shook her head, brought her fingertips to Xena's lips and silenced her.
"I have to-"
"Don't." Her melodic voice had turned cold, severe. Xena stared back at her horrified. Gabrielle faltered under her gaze, "S, Stop." She leaned in and softly brushed her lips against Xena's. "Stop." Another kiss, bruising and distracting. Her hand meandered down her body, following the same path trailed over her nightgown, and placed Xena's hand close to her again, encouraged her fingers to penetrate. Xena acquiesced and Gabrielle placed her own hand beneath the leather skirt, found the waistband of her undergarments and roughly sought Xena's entrance. Fingers slicked through her arousal and slipped inside. And they rocked against each other, Gabrielle riding on top of her, each climaxing a short time later.
Xena pulled out of her, cupped her face, kissed her, wetness trailed along her cheek and everywhere Xena touched. Their scents marked them, arousal painted on them as sweat formed on their foreheads, collected beneath the heavy locks of their long hair. They were silent again, lips and tongues mingling to keep each other quiet. It passed the time, it filled the air. No talking. Gabrielle moaned softly, pushed onto Xena's mouth to intensify the kiss. No talking.
She collapsed in Xena's arms, wanting only to feel her body heat. She jerked as Xena's voice rumbled through her chest,
"Don't ever leave me again."
She heard the words and felt her emotions rising to the surface. It was in her nature to cry; she was easily moved. It was love, surely, but there was something wrong. She pulled away from the embrace and removed her nightgown, revealing her naked body in its entirety. Her fingers curled around the backs of Xena's ears and she pulled Xena's face down to her breast, mind whirling with private, forbidden thoughts as she felt the exploration of an insistent mouth,
Yes, good. I remember this. Craved it. How long has it been? I've missed you. But it hurts a bit. Doesn't it? I can still see her in the field. I remember the poison I fed her. I did it because of you. And I hate it. Can't forget it. But come with me now. Please, I want it. Touch me. Want me. Need me. I've chosen you. I love you and my daughter is dead. I love you, and it will haunt me forever...
Xena's lips moved down her body, getting closer and closer. She fed her mind, exaggerated the sensations hoping pleasure would consume her again. And devour her quickly, it did.
Gabrielle woke with a start, unaware that she drifted into sleep. Xena's arm was over her, a protective hand covering her exposed breast, keeping their nude bodies close together. The dawn had passed into the moist heat of the afternoon, suffocating and sweet with the scent of summer. She stared out the window, the windmill on the ledge was motionless. Dead heat. The kind that carried the stench of decay for miles.
Her thoughts instantly betrayed her, cheated the bliss of her reunion. Her fingers entangled themselves with Xena's, and she gingerly raised the hand to her lips, kissed the pulse at the wrist, kissed the palm and placed it back against her chest. How she adored her. Passion and agony were one in the same. Hope's body was mangled somewhere out in the planes of grass and dirt, buried and rotting in Potidaea. Someday, she too, would perish like that, like Hope, awash in misery. Her guilt overwhelmed her, sped up the process of decomposition, nibbled away the pieces of her strength.
She turned cautiously in the warm embrace, stared at Xena's peaceful expression, the handsomely defined jaw and long feminine lashes. Gabrielle's brows furrowed, lips pursed. Guilt. I'm becoming you, she thought, How you warned me. I never imagined it would feel like this.
Blood innocence lost, and doubt and shame. She wondered what her soul looked like, or if she had one at all. Perhaps it was a lie people told one another, that they might take comfort in being alone, being forgotten by gods and by family, by strangers that were no more or less human or treasured than they were. The thought repeated, frightening her. I'm becoming you, Xena. Tears welled in her eyes, trickled down her face, at last finding release. She shook her head. There had to be another way.
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