The Dance

 

As the sun was breaking over the Eastern sky the festival was winding down to a close. The sky was a deep, beautiful orange as the dawn encroached on the shadows. Pockets of Amazons lingered by the scattered fires talking in hushed voices or clinging in drowsy embraces. Some shimmied together in couples to the lazy rhythm of the assembled musicians. A few couples bid farewell and departed to their huts while the others remained dancing. Xena and Gabrielle watched them in silence occasionally lifting their mugs to their lips for a slug of ale. The revelries of the night remained clear in their minds. They had been inseparable and sat closely beside the dying embers of a petering out fire. It was a comfortable silence that came easily yet their minds jostled with trivial unspoken words and the threads of something deeper and elusive. A million conversation openers sparked then fizzled out. Yet there was no need to express in words the contentment they felt in their own company. Their complete absorption in each other was clear to all that observed them.

As the morning light crept into their cozy corner Xena turned her attention to Gabrielle momentarily and smiled. The smile faded as she saw her friend’s eyes were glazed with the mist of tears. She couldn’t decipher what she read there but whatever it was, it jolted her. As concern passed over Xena’s expression Gabrielle reassured the warrior with a groggy smile. "I’m okay, Xena. It’s just...."

"What?" Xena gently prompted. She reached over to clasp Gabrielle’s chilly hand.

The bard glanced over at the embraces of the dancing women and shrugged nonchalantly. "Just...sometimes I wish I had someone. You know?" Xena's stomach fell through her body in anguish. She tried to avoid Gabrielle’s gaze for a while but she eventually settled her eyes on those sparkling emerald ones. The strained expression on Xena’s face was not lost on the bard when she turned to face her friend again. Seeing Xena’s hurt, Gabrielle quickly corrected herself. "I mean, not that I don’t value our friendship. I do. Honestly, I’m happy travelling with you."

Xena slid her a weary glance and released the bard’s hand. "Don’t worry about it, Gabrielle. I understand." For a moment Gabrielle pondered on this - it was true that she had never heard Xena complain. There was a chill where Xena’s fingers had pressed lightly on Gabrielle’s hand. Wishing again for the warrior’s warm contact, Gabrielle shuddered involuntarily. Maybe she liked it too much. They sank into another silence but now there was an almost palpable tension that thickened the air. The bard watched Xena’s profile in a daze. "Don’t you ever get lonely though?"

It was a long moment before Xena answered. She shrugged her shoulders. "Not really, no." She replied softly then made the slightest of pauses, "I have you." The slight emphasis on the "you" went over Gabrielle’s head.

"It’s hardly the same thing though is it, Xena?" Gabrielle blurted without thinking and fired an incredulous stare in Xena’s direction. Then she noticed the flinch that registered in Xena’s eyes.

There was a sharp intake of breath. "Well, maybe not. But there’s love if you want it." The warrior said in a subdued voice. There followed a painful, suffocating quiet between them. Slowly realisation filtered through Gabrielle’s mind. It took her a minute to understand exactly what Xena was saying here. She found herself stammering then shut her mouth. Every memory of her time with Xena seemed to flit before her eyes, seen now in at a different slant. How could she have been so blind to what was staring her in the face? How could she have so carelessly overlooked what she had taken for granted? All that time they had been together without her knowing! But it was perfectly obvious to her now - all she had ever wanted and needed was right here beside her.

Immediately Xena knew that she had made a mistake in showing Gabrielle her true feelings and just how vulnerable she was under the breastplate and scowl. By throwing herself at Gabrielle’s mercy she had put herself out on a limb. She waited for Gabrielle to say something, anything. Why couldn’t she have kept her closely guarded secrets to herself? She had kept quiet this long, why get talkative now? What if she lost her friend now? What would she do without her beloved bard? Setting down her empty mug on a nearby table, Xena prepared to retire for the night. Maybe in the cold light of day Gabrielle would forgive her her foolish pride.

"Xena, where are you going?" Gabrielle asked suddenly, as if snapping out of a trance, breaking Xena’s doom-laden thoughts.

The warrior ducked from eye contact. "Just to get some rest."

"Stay." Gabrielle said urgently and caught Xena by the arm, surprising them both. "Please?"

Slowly, Xena nodded. An Amazon coupled passed them, arms around each other, intimate and smiling knowingly. It seemed half the Amazon nation knew for all eyes were now rooted upon them in curiosity. For something to do Xena poured herself another drink and Gabrielle hovered restlessly taking an uncommon interest in her boots. "Do you want to dance?" She blurted out of nowhere.

Xena widened her eyes. "Dance?" She echoed uncertainly.

"Yeah, you know, when people move around in time to music." Gabrielle joked in a clumsy attempt to lighten the atmosphere.

"Very funny," came the warrior’s droll reply but her voice softened after a moment. "Alright, Gabrielle, but you’ll have to show me what to do."

The grin that spread across Gabrielle’s lips lit up her face. "You mean the mighty Warrior Princess doesn’t know how to dance?" She teased and Xena rolled her eyes as she followed her friend to the centre of the clearing. A few couples lurked there and one or two winked suggestively at Xena. One glare from the warrior was enough to avert their lecherous stares. As they began to sway in time to the music Xena felt exposed and foolish. Her first instinct was to flee but the bard’s eyes anchored her to the spot.

Soon there was nothing but Gabrielle’s beautiful face looking up at her. Xena focused on those lovely green eyes and was all too willing to let herself drown in them. "Put your arms around me." Said Gabrielle, her dusky voice barely above a whisper. Hesitantly Xena rested her hands lightly on Gabrielle’s slender waist. There was but a stride between them. They both understood that there was no going back now. Reaching up Gabrielle laid her arms on Xena’s broad shoulders. She was witnessing a transformation, the warrior’s cool, collected exterior melting before her eyes. Was it fear she detected in those icy blue eyes? She would not let her warrior get away this time. The bard made a stealthy move, stepping in closer.

Consequently Xena trod on her toes. The yelp that Gabrielle gave drew cruel laughter from the remaining Amazons. Xena jerked away from her friend in embarrassment. "Did I hurt you?" She asked with stricken concern, her cheeks coloured with shame.

"I’m fine," the bard replied firmly and cast a glare at her Amazon subjects. Then, seizing Xena hastily by the waist, Gabrielle pulled the brooding warrior closer. Without a further word Gabrielle, standing on her tiptoes, stole a kiss from Xena. As Gabrielle drew back Xena stared at her in astonishment. In the warrior’s mind there had been a script for this seduction but it lay in tatters now. There was a glint of such knowing in Gabrielle’s eyes that Xena wondered if another bolder Gabrielle had replaced her bard. And what surprised her most was that those lips were so much less frightening than she had imagined they would be.

With long-suppressed desire firing her eyes Gabrielle drew her warrior closer again and it didn’t matter that there were eager spectators watching their every move. There was no longer fear in Xena’s eyes, any apprehension, only warmth and love and longing. A steady smile spread over Xena’s lips. Tilting her head to one side she leaned in for another kiss, capturing Gabrielle’s lips with her own. As she did so Gabrielle squeezed Xena’s waist in a tight hug. The kiss began tenderly, so soft it was almost imperceptible as if they had merely brushed lips and not kissed at all. But when their mouths locked the kiss became more urgent. That it had taken so long for them to express the intimacy they shared amazed them both. Xena felt her lips yield to the bard’s insistent tongue. The bard flicked her tongue over the roof of Xena’s mouth, finally entwining and battling. A sliver of a shiver snaked down the warrior’s spine. Grasping Xena’s raven hair roughly between her fingers, Gabrielle pulled the warrior’s head down and kissed her more deeply. Joyfully, Xena submitted. She gently cupped Gabrielle’s face in her hands, her fingers tracing and retracing the outline of the bard’s ears. The warrior’s touch burned and created chaos in Gabrielle’s mind, she was blissfully unable to think and could only focus on the sensations.

Finally Xena withdrew, still cradling Gabrielle’s head in her hands. Slowly Gabrielle opened her eyes and her knees promptly gave way beneath her. With her usual lightening reflexes Xena caught the bard in her arms. "By the Gods...!" Gabrielle sighed breathlessly and Xena gave her an indulgent grin. There were murmurs of appreciation from the Amazons watching but the music had long since ceased.

"I don’t think I was ready for that!" Gabrielle laughed with a blink and a shake of her head. The warrior absently stroked Gabrielle’s cheek and the bard felt her knees giving way again. Something would have to be done about this falling over thing….Tugging Gabrielle closer, Xena wrapped her arms tightly around her love as they continued to dance to soundless music whispering soft I love yous, hardly aware that they were finally alone now. The Amazons had slipped away, respectfully leaving Xena and Gabrielle in the paradise of each other.

 

The End