A/N: This fic is set in early season 4. A good reference spot would be right after the episode, "In Sickness and in Hell." I want all the Xena and Gabrielle history to be there, without getting into the crucifixion prophecy plot line. Essentially, the idea of the story is this: Xena and Gabrielle's relationship has always been a bit unclear, especially on the question of are they just friends or is it something more? As all Xena fans know, more often than not, there is subtext and on occasion it appears to be maintext. However, both women tactfully dance around the very question itself, never fully confronting it head on, regardless of speculation. So, what happens when Xena and Gabrielle's ambivalent behaviors are blatantly challenged? An unexpected journey with an open couple unearths secrets that both women have been hiding, causing frustration and distress specifically for Gabrielle. No more ambiguity; it's bold straightforwardness from now on.
"Xena, will you please slow down?" Gabrielle begged as she scaled up the hillside, desperately trying to keep up with her friend. "I can't climb as quickly as Argo." She added in a tone that reflected her aggravation.
Xena slowed down and turned Argo around, eventually circling Gabrielle and coming up behind her as she was trudging up the hillside. When Xena was close enough, she swooped down, captured the bard, and pulled her up onto the horse. On the rare occasion that Gabrielle would ride with Xena, she always took her place behind the warrior, but this time Xena seated the younger woman securely in front of her. Gabrielle began to object to such treatment at first, taking this action to mean Xena had grown frustrated with Gabrielle not being able to keep up, but then realizing the intimate position of Xena's arms engulfing her as they continued to ride, she remained silent.
"We're close to Athens." Xena barely spoke above a whisper; her breath faintly brushed across Gabrielle's neck causing a chill to race through the younger woman's body. Usually, if Xena mentioned anything while they rode together, Gabrielle would never be able to hear unless Xena turned her head and said it loudly over her shoulder, and that certainly didn't produce the same effect.
Unable to resist a smile, Gabrielle titled her head slightly and looked up Xena, "We should ride this way more often. It's convenient… and comfortable." She added. "Without you in front of me, I can actually see where we're going."
Xena let a smile sneak onto her lips as well, "I suppose it is convenient." She agreed, pressing Argo on up the hillside. "The sun will be going down soon, but we should make it into the city by night; perhaps a little after."
"Good." Gabrielle concluded, "I'm exhausted."
As the two women reached the top of the hill, Gabrielle gasped at the sight of Athens off into the distance. The setting sun painted the city in a gorgeous glow of orange and red. "Xena, look how beautiful."
"I find more beauty in nature than in any city." Xena replied, though she paused long enough for them both to get a good look before continuing down the other side of the hill.
Gabrielle laughed lightly, "Yes, I know. You hate cities."
"Cities are too loud and…" Xena continued.
"Too crowded." Both women said in unison.
Gabrielle laughed again, "Sorry. You've just said it so many times."
Xena smirked, but didn't reply. Keeping both hands on the reins, and both arms securely around Gabrielle, Xena gently kicked Argo into a swift trot, in hopes of getting to Athens not too long after nightfall. Gabrielle leaned back and relaxed herself against Xena. Xena stiffened to support her weight. Content, Gabrielle closed her eyes and felt the steady rhythm of Argo's pace. It wasn't much longer before they arrived at the gates of Athens, but Gabrielle had nodded off by then.
"Gabrielle, we're here." Xena spoke softly into the woman's ear. Gabrielle mumbled a few incoherent words, and then turned and cuddled closer into Xena. "Gabrielle… wake up." Xena instructed, nudging her friend.
Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open and she looked around sleepily, "Wha-" She paused, "I fell asleep." She realized, though a bit confused.
Xena smiled, "Only for a bit." Xena jumped off her horse, and helped Gabrielle down as well. "There's a tavern just inside the gates; we can stay there."
Gabrielle yawned and followed behind Xena. They walked into the tavern and were welcomed warmly by the owner.
"Hello! Welcome to Priam's Tavern. I'm Priam. May I Interest you in food? A room? Food and a room?"
"Just a room for now…" Xena replied, "and a stable for my horse."
"Right away!" Priam replied. "I'll give you the best room I have available."
"We'll take the cheapest." Xena interjected.
"Of course, the cheapest, best room that I have." Priam's face lit up. "Right this way!" Priam led the women outside, through the stables, and into his spare rooms at the back of his property. "Here." He announced, "Plenty of hay for your horse and your room will be right in there." He pointed. "Good?"
"This is fine, thank you." Xena replied, paying the man a few dinars.
"How long will you be staying?" Priam asked eagerly.
"A couple of nights at least. If we decide to stay longer, may we rent the room for a few more days?" Gabrielle asked.
"Of course!" Priam exclaimed with joy. "Please, stay as long as you wish!" Priam patted each woman on the back, "You're good customers." He smiled as he walked away counting his dinars.
"He's very happy to see us." Gabrielle noted. "I'm guessing he doesn't get many customers."
Xena looked around, "The place is a bit run down, but it's great for people like us, eh?"
Gabrielle smiled, "You mean the kind of people who are used to sleeping on the ground?"
"Yeah." Xena replied nodding her head, "Those kind." She began brushing down Argo and unloading their packs.
Gabrielle opened the door and walked inside the small, but quaint, room. She lit a candle and helped Xena unload the packs. Within a few minutes the women were settled down for the night. "I honestly don't recall the last time I was this tired." Gabrielle replied, rubbing her neck as she sat down on the bed. "I feel like I haven't slept in days."
"Well, now you can enjoy some rest in an actual bed for a few nights." Xena smiled, "Instead of falling asleep sitting straight up on Argo." She added jokingly.
Gabrielle chuckled lightly, "Hey, it's not like I frequently fall asleep while riding horses. Usually, I'm hanging on for my life back there. It's different sitting in the front; it's much easier to relax. Plus, you don't make such a bad pillow, you know. Just have to watch out for that breast plate."
Xena had stripped down to only her slip. She walked over to the bowl of water sitting by the door and washed her hands and face. Gabrielle changed into her nightclothes as well, and then used the water bowl after Xena had finished. Xena folded down the blankets and blew out the candle. Once the two women had settled down under the covers, Xena closed her eyes expecting that they both would fall asleep quickly.
"Xena?" Gabrielle's sleepy voice called out.
"Hmm?" Xena replied, keeping her eyes closed.
"After we purchase supplies in the market tomorrow, can we go to a poetry reading?" Xena didn't immediately reply. "Please?" Gabrielle continued, "I haven't been to one in ages."
"You can go, Gabrielle." Xena finally answered, "I'll meet up with you afterwards."
Gabrielle leaned up on her side, facing the warrior, "I'd like for you to come with me. I think you'd be surprised. You may even like it."
Xena's eyes opened and focused on Gabrielle, "I doubt it."
"Okay, so maybe you won't like it." Gabrielle admitted, "But that doesn't mean you will hate it. Perhaps you could just… tolerate it?"
"Or, I could avoid it." Xena concluded.
"Come on, Xena. I don't want to go alone." Gabrielle's eyes saddened, as she begged. "Please, come with me? Please?"
Caving in, Xena sighed, "All right. I'll go, but I'm not staying the entire afternoon." Xena warned.
"Deal." Gabrielle replied happily. Now content, she lay back down in the bed and closed her eyes.
Xena glanced over at the younger woman who was still slightly smiling, "Goodnight, Gabrielle." she whispered.
"Goodnight." Gabrielle repeated softly. She reached over and took Xena's hand in her own. Within minutes, she had fallen asleep. Xena followed soon after.
The next morning came quickly. It was no secret that Xena never slept well in cities. As soon as the streets became crowded and noisy, she woke immediately. Her eyes opened to reveal Gabrielle who was still sleeping pleasantly, her hand, even now, interlocked in Xena's. Xena lay there for a moment, reluctant to break the peacefulness between them, but then a knock at the door caused Gabrielle to stir, releasing Xena's hand as she sat up in bed.
"I'll see who it is." Xena replied, rising to her feet, "It's probably Priam."
"If he's offering breakfast, I'll take it." Gabrielle yawned and wiped at her eyes.
Xena initially opened the door only enough to peek out, but instantly opened it wider when she saw who was standing on the other side.
"Xena..." The woman wearily replied. "I need your help."