A/N This has been in my head for a while. Not sure I quite like it, but oh well.
Disclaimer: I own them not.
They don't talk about it. They're aware it's there, of course, but they don't talk about it. It started after Xena was hurt in Cirra. Gabrielle was torn apart when Xena slipped away, right in front of her eyes. She was determined to honor the woman's final request, though. She started off to make sure she was buried next to her brother. That's when things got complicated. She was detoured into Amazon territory, and convinced to give Xena an Amazon funeral. That was when Autolycus showed up. Of course, it wasn't that simple. Xena was possessing him, in some sense, and she managed to drag Gabrielle into a state where they could talk, face to face.
That was when it happened. It was unexpected, and wonderful. Xena had stepped towards her, and taken her into a kiss. Gabrielle submitted willingly, kissing back with as much passion as she could muster. She was slammed back into reality, to find herself kissing Autolycus, his hand gripping her but.
After that, things changed. It was slow, small things. Gabrielle sat closer to the other woman when they ate. She moved from the far side of the fire, slowly moving closer to the warrior, until they were side by side. They lay there at night, looking up at the stars, talking, and laughing. Sometimes they didn't even do that; they'd just lie in each other's company until they fell asleep.
The first "I love you," comes from Gabrielle, late one night. It's a complete accident, and Gabrielle freezes up. She doesn't need to worry, though. Xena rolls over, and hugs the bard close, kissing the top of her head, and whispering, "I love you," into her hair. It's another small step, and from then on, that's how they fall asleep.
Hope tears them apart. Xena blames Gabrielle, and Gabrielle blames Xena, and herself, and underneath it all, they both feel guilty. Solan helps them through it, forcing them to face all of their betrayal and hurt. Things go back to normal after that, and their friendship is, if possible, stronger. Gabrielle can no longer fall asleep without Xena's strong arms around her, and Xena must have the bard held to her chest before she can rest easy. When Tara comes, they go two days with almost no sleep, because the girl is between them.
They fall into a natural pattern: go to village, fight warlord, defeat warlord, camp outside village. Or, at least, that's what happens in theory. It's almost never that easy, and they've come close to loosing each other more than once. It's terrifying and invigorating; Gabby wouldn't trade it for anything, for which Xena is glad. Xena knows that if Gabrielle were ever to leave her, she wouldn't be able to go on. She promised the bard that if anything ever happened to the small girl, she wouldn't turn into a monster, but she isn't so sure that's possible anymore.
She's fallen in love with the small talkative blonde. If anyone had warned her of this when Gabrielle first joined her, she would have laughed at them, or possibly be-headed them. Not now, though. Gabrielle's changed so much, and so has Xena. Gabrielle is harder, colder, and sometimes, Xena looks up at the stars and wonders why. Why did Gabby's spark have to be dimmed? It's not gone, never gone, just dimmed. Xena looks into Gabrielle's eyes, and sees a hardened spirit, no longer the little girl from Potidaea. Yet she's kept that love, that belief in good, she's merely less naïve, more experienced.
Somewhere, possibly around Eve's birth, everything changes again. It throws Xena off. It's in the hurt in Gabrielle's eyes when Xena yells, "I'm pregnant!" It's in the look of utter love and trust the blonde gives her when Livia has them locked up in Rome. It's in the quick, friendly kisses they share in the darkness of night, or the privacy of bathing. And then, when Eve is finally with them, safe and sound, they come together at night with a passionate kiss that they know even Eve, lying on the opposite side of the fire, can sense, though she pretends not to.