DISCLAIMER: Xena Warrior Princess is the property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Della Street
Gabrielle's eyes lit up. Yes! Perfect. She sneaked a look at her companion.
Gods, she's gorgeous when she snarls. Gabrielle gazed at the other woman's face for a long moment, then remembered what she was supposed to be doing. She pursed her lips, mentally ticking off on her fingers: Snarling; approaching a village mid-festival. She shook her head slightly. Nah. Didn't count. Xena hated crowds of any kind.
"Why does there have to be a festival in every damned village we come to," Xena grumbled.
"Because it's the equinox," Gabrielle answered absently, ignoring the I-know-that-I'm-just-irritated glare directed at her by the warrior.
"Look, why we don't we camp outside of town?" Xena urged. "Aren't you sick of festivals? This is the fourth one in a fortnight."
"No," Gabrielle said brightly, "I've been learning a lot." And she had. Enough, she had decided, to compose an accurate list, which she had committed to memory and promptly placed in the fire last night while Xena was checking out the noise Gabrielle insisted she had heard.
Trying to avoid the festival. The bard assessed it, her head cocked slightly to one side. Nah. Four festivals was a little much for anyone. She grinned. Anyone without a list, that is.
She glanced over her shoulder, more from habit than necessity. Xena would be there, following closely behind, her expression the warrior's unique blend of irritation and disinterest. Gabrielle had fallen for it so many times, causing the young woman's own emotions to sway between natural excitement at the crowds and letting her bored friend off the hook by suggesting an early night. Usually they would reach an unspoken compromise.
But not tonight. Nope; tonight Gabrielle was conducting an experiment.
They reached the doorway of the inn, and Gabrielle paused before stepping across the threshold into the square. "You don't really need to do this," she said. She waved a hand toward the mass of humanity. "There are plenty of people here; no one'll bother me." She looked up at the Warrior Princess.
1. Act bored but insist on coming with me.
Xena shrugged. "The tavern's closed, and I don't think he'll be working on Argo's shoes tonight." She jerked her head toward the pot-bellied blacksmith holding a plate in one hand and using the other to steady the astonishing mountain of food amassed on it. "I want to see if the wind's picking up," she continued, peering up at the sky. "We may be heading into a storm."
Uh huh. Gabrielle smiled at her friend and checked the first item off her list. She watched Xena stroll over to the drinks table and pluck a healthy mug from the assortment, then take a seat on a bench whose other occupants responded enthusiastically to the warrior's worldess suggestion that they go dance or something.
2. Watch me the whole time.
Gabrielle made a beeline in the opposite direction, letting herself be absorbed into the milling throng. Spotting two of the village's more sizeable residents enjoying the festivities in close proximity to each other, the tiny woman glided behind them, smiling up at their inebriated good humor.
One minute . . . another . . . . OK. That ought to do it.
Gabrielle popped out from behind the human wall and looked over to see Xena on her feet, eyes urgently searching the crowd before meeting hers and dropping quickly to the mug raised oh-so-casually to the warrior's lips.
Yeah, just stood up to stretch, huh? Gabrielle hid a smirk. Check.
3. The look.
Not 'The Look,' that magnificently arrogant sneer the bard loved to see even when it was directed at her. No, this was a different look entirely. One that Gabrielle was sure -- well, was hoping -- would cross Xena's face in a few minutes and then disappear.
A tinge of sadness passed through the light-haired woman. I have to do this, Xena, she thought, resisting the urge to look over at her friend again. If I'm wrong, it won't matter. If I'm right, I'm sorry. Gabrielle smiled. If she was right, she would be able to make it up to Xena later.
She took a deep breath and broadened her smile, sweeping casually among the dancers as she conducted her inspection. Green eyes traveled surreptitiously from man to man, noting with a bard's perception the multitude of heights, and weights, and colors, and--there he was. Shorter than Xena, a few years younger--just about Gabrielle's own age, in fact-- shoulder-length curly brown hair pulled back with a tie of some sort. Kind of a sensitive air about him . . . . Oh, yes. Definitely the one.
Holding up her goblet to avoid errant elbows, Gabrielle floated through the happy mob toward her quarry. Eventually she stood next to him, and favored him with what she hoped was an irresistible smile.
"Hello," she said, much to the young man's delight. "What a wonderful festival."
The tanner's son couldn't believe his luck. The gorgeous flower who had ridden into town today with that intimidating warrior woman was standing here talking to him. All the guys had assumed the warrior would keep the young woman under her protective custody, but here she was . . . . He stared dazedly at the bard, forgetting for a moment that she had spoken.
Gabrielle finally decided that she would have to take the initiative. "Look, do you want to dance?" she asked, a little impatiently. They were wasting valuable time here.
He gulped. "Oh, man--I mean, yeah!"
The Amazon Queen readied herself. Her timing had to be perfect. In a seamless motion, she placed her water on the table behind her, grabbed her new dance partner's hand, and spun him around to get a peek at Xena over his shoulder.
The Warrior Princess was sitting there, staring at the couple, fingers clamped around the mug which rested on the table beside her. For an instant, her face was frozen in that same stony expression -- or lack of expression, really -- that Gabrielle had first noticed when she happened to catch a glimpse of her friend while being squired around by that blonde barber in Rhyus a few weeks ago.
Gabrielle had hurried over to Xena then, worried that she might be ill, sliding the back of her fingers under Xena's bangs to check for fever, but at the warrior's emphatic reassurances and swats at the offending hand, Gabrielle had left her alone again and resumed her enjoyment of the evening. The bard's mind, though, had begun to wander . . . .
4. Bite my head off.
Gabrielle wasn't looking forward to this one, but in for a dinar . . . .
"Hi." She plopped down on the bench, breathing hard from her exertions with the tanner's son, who had turned out to be quite an enthusiastic dance partner.
Xena grunted and brought the mug to her lips.
"Are you having a good time?" Gabrielle asked.
"Oh, yeah," Xena said sarcastically, staring down at the mug as if preparing for battle rather than another swig.
"How's your drink?"
"Lousy. This is what they serve in Tartarus."
Gabrielle clamped her lips together to stifle a laugh. "Well, maybe if you had something to eat," she said. "How about some stew?"
"It's slop," Xena said curtly. "It tastes like Argo's already eaten it."
My yes, the warrior seemed rather irritable at the moment, Gabrielle noted. Problem was, Xena was so darned cute when she was irritable. Gabrielle steeled herself, fighting to keep the grin from her face. Focus, she reminded herself. Stay focused.
5. Clam up.
"Well, I'm having a good time," she said. "I met a nice guy."
Xena sipped from her mug.
"See him?" She pointed into the crowd.
"Pretty cute, don't you think?"
"He's the blacksmith's apprentice," the bard continued. She leaned back against the edge of the table. "Think how handy that would be, having a blacksmith around all the time."
Xena stared out into space.
"Someone to fix Argo's shoes . . .," Gabrielle chirped on, ". . . bend your armor back into shape when somebody's sword dents it . . . ."
Xena set her jaw.
"Yep, pretty darned handy." Gabrielle took a deep breath and stood up. "Well, I think I'll see if he wants to dance some more. He's got lots of energy."
Xena ground her teeth together.
With a flourish, Gabrielle flounced over to the young man and was swept up into his arms again.
6. Make gratuitous jabs.
Gabrielle flopped down on the bench beside her friend. "Ohhhh," she groaned, "I don't think I can take one more step."
"Maybe you should ask what's-his-name to carry you to the room then," Xena said.
"I meant I can't dance another step," Gabrielle amended wryly. "I can still walk."
"I'm surprised, with all that swooping around."
"Did you see us?" Gabrielle asked. She waved a hand in front of her face to cool her flushed skin.
"It was hard to miss."
"Moran loves to dance."
"Is that what he was doing?"
During her time with the Warrior Princess, the bard had learned to keep a straight face when Xena was in one of her moods by picking a certain spot in the distance and staring at it. That horseshoe-shaped knothole on the hitching post in front of the tavern had saved her life more than once tonight.
"Well, I think I'm going to turn in," she said. "You coming?"
"I need to check on Argo." Xena took another gulp of whatever she was working on now. "Maybe I oughtta ask Moron to do it. I'm sure he's gifted with animals or something."
Gabrielle wondered if anyone had ever held an actual horseshoe up to that knothole . . . . After a moment, she tossed her head toward the inn. "Come on, Xena, let's call it a night."
7. Feel guilty and try to set me up.
Gabrielle gazed expectantly at the stiff back turned toward her while the Warrior Princess knelt before the fireplace. Would she use one of the ones she'd made at the last three festivals? Nah; Xena didn't like to repeat herself. Excuse No. 4 coming up.
"I think Argo needs some rest," Xena said suddenly. "I thought we might stick around here for a couple of days."
"Really?" Gabrielle let her eyes wander across Xena's shoulders and down the white shift the other woman had finally stripped down to under the bard's pestering.
"It'd give you a chance to catch up on your writing . . . take in some of the local color . . . ." Xena paused. ". . . spend some time with Moran."
"I didn't think you liked him."
"What makes you think that?" Xena tossed another stick onto the flames. "I thought he was fine. He seemed nice."
Gabrielle's breath caught. This was it. The last thing on her list. Her eyes widened at the additional realization that she had absolutely no idea what to do about it. A gentle inquiry? A bold declaration of love? A flying leap across the room to land on the warrior and tear her shift to shreds?
No, too soon. It would all be too soon. Just because she had figured it out didn't mean that Xena had. Gabrielle chewed on her lip. Xena was waiting for a response. Any second now, she would turn around, wondering what the bard's problem was.
Oh, what the hell. "What do you think our children would look like?"
Xena's head jerked up. "Your children?"
"Moran and I. If we had children, what do you think they'd look like?"
Wow. You could bounce a dinar off that back now, Gabrielle thought.
"I don't know," Xena said. "Blonde, probably."
"Hmm. Yeah. Do you think they'd be cute?"
Xena stabbed at a log as if it had just called her a feisty hussy. "I don't know. Guess it'd depend on which one of you they took after."
Gabrielle grinned. "You mean if they looked like me, they'd be cute?"
Xena rose and strode over to the bed. "Gabrielle, I don't know what your kids would look like," she said irritatedly. "I didn't get a good enough look at" -- she grimaced -- "Moran to know."
Gabrielle eased under the sheet and made way for Xena to slide in next to her.
"I didn't find him very attractive," she said.
Xena swung her head around. "You didn't?"
Gabrielle repositioned herself so that she faced the wall. "Nah. I don't think he's my type."
"I thought he was exactly your type." A pause. "What is your type?"
"I don't know," Gabrielle said. "Maybe women."
"What?" Xena sat up, then quickly lay back down again.
"Well, I'm not sure," Gabrielle continued, "but I'm thinking about giving it a try." She didn't dare turn around to see Xena's face. "You've probably been with women. What do you think?"
"About what?" the warrior choked out.
"Do you think I might like women?"
"Uhh . . . . Gabrielle, I wouldn't . . . I don't . . . how would I know?"
"Oh, I don't know; I just thought you might have some notions. I think I'll just lie here and think about going to bed with a woman. You know, see if it warms me up."
"What would two women do together?" Gabrielle mused aloud. She hoped Xena was still breathing. "Kiss, I guess. Women would kiss a lot, wouldn't they?"
"And breasts. They probably--"
"Gabrielle, just-- just go to sleep. I think you've had too much to drink."
"I haven't had anything to drink."
"Go to sleep, Gabrielle." Xena turned stiffly onto her side.
Gabrielle rolled onto her back, imagining the twinkling stars she saw most nights as she relaxed beside Xena before they fell into sleep. She risked a glance at her friend, who lay quietly facing away from her. The warrior was far from sleep now, Gabrielle suspected.
A grin formed slowly on her face. By the next full moon, she would know the answers to all her questions.
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