DISCLAIMER: Don't own, yadda yadda. One day! ...Okay, probably not one day.

Xena watched Gabrielle out of the corner of her eye, while pretending to be lost in contemplation of her drink. She was laughing, talking animatedly in a corner of the tavern with a couple of villagers, using her hands, flashing them through the air, movements quick and graceful.

Xena never tired of seeing her tell a story, never tired of seeing Gabrielle in her element; she knew Gabrielle often compared her to something graceful, elegant - but deadly - when she told the tales of their adventures- panthers and lions and sabre- toothed tigers and Zeus knew what else. She always saw the same grace, that same trace of elusive wildness, of otherness, when Gabrielle wove a tale.

Xena smiled, shook her head slightly. She was obviously head over heels for this woman; she'd never studied someone so hard, never felt the compulsive need to be under their skin, inside their head. In their heart. She'd never missed someone, fiercely, even when they were in the same room as she was. She smiled again, rueful. Hades, she was a soft touch these days.

Gabrielle noticed the smile and broke off her conversation, stepping lightly through the crowd to reach Xena, who merely raised an eyebrow, idly wondering when exactly Gabrielle had learned to move as she did, deft and sure.

Gabrielle met Xena's gaze, a mischievious look flashing through her eyes before she nodded to Xena's empty mug.

"Buy you a drink?"

Xena shrugged. "Sure."

Gabrielle stepped a little closer, signalling to the tavern owner. "You looked a little lost in thought. I noticed you when I was talking with my friends."

Puzzling a little a Gabrielle's choice of words, she shrugged again. "Just a long day." And I've been in and out of the markets all day, trading weapons and food. And it's been a week in this little village, restocking and settling arguments, trying to talk out petty disputes. And you've been occupied with research for your new story. And I haven't seen you except back at the inn, where we're both too exhausted to do anything but sleep.

Xena realised Gabrielle hadn't responded, was studying her a little too closely. She cleared her throat. "How was your day?"

Gabrielle gave her a slow smile, then assumed her standard story telling expression. "Well. I have had the most gods-awful day-"

"-Really? Why?" Xena interrupted, mostly just to see the slight annoyance flash through Gabrielle's eyes, melt into humour as she realised what she was doing.

"Oh, I'll tell you why. But interested listeners would be wise to note the more interruptions I get the less time I'll have to review my plans for the rest of the evening." Gabrielle held her gaze for a moment.

Flustered, surprised and annoyed that she was flustered, she managed a nod, knew Gabrielle had seen the slight colour coming into her face.

"Good. So I've been travelling with my best friend, and we've both been very busy all week- completely swamped. And she keeps leaving really early in the morning so we can't...talk. So I haven't seen her. She was supposed to meet me here. I don't supposed you've noticed her?" Gabrielle raised a brow, her eyes sparkling. "Tall, dark hair, expression that says don't-even-think-about-it?"

Amused, Xena cocked her head. "Don't-even-think-about-it?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "Or there's-not-a-chance-in-Hades-buddy. Either, or."

Xena pretended to consider. "No. I don't think so."

Gabrielle nodded mournfully. "Oh, well. I don't suppose you'd like to keep me company while I wait?"

She smiled, getting the gist of the game, absurdly delighted that she was being asked to play. That someone actually considered her capable of being playful. "Sure. As a matter of fact I'm waiting for someone too."

Gabrielle leaned forward, eyes wide. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. Short, blonde. Kind of like a short, blonde...puppy."

"A puppy!" Indignant, Gabrielle drew back, then remembered her role. "I mean, that sounds like a really odd description."

"Not so much. She's eager, and naive. She doesn't watch where she's going and falls headlong into trouble. She has a bottomless pit for a stomach." Xena leaned back, smiled wolfishly at Gabrielle. "In fact, just yesterday she was whining about how much she wanted to eat something before falling asleep midsentence."

Gabrielle managed to hold her stare for about two seconds before flushing. "Well, that's not what I- I mean, maybe she meant something different."

"Hmm. Maybe." Finding the flush receding back down Gabrielle's neck fascinating, she reached over and gently traced a line over it. "You have a really pretty neck...stranger."

Gabrielle batted her hand away, fixing Xena with an aggrieved stare. "Yeah, well, I bet your puppy has a really pretty neck too."

"Mmm." Finding a strand of blonde hair to toy with instead, Xena watched the pulse beat above Gabrielle's collarbone. "Well, she does. You want to know why I call her my puppy?"

Gabrielle swallowed, noted the smirk on Xena's face, and crossed her arms defiantly. "I'm sure it'll be equally as insulting as bottomless pit."

Xena made a noncommittal noise as she continued to move her hand up until she was gently stroking the back of Gabrielle's neck. Hid a smile as Gabrielle arched slightly into the touch, then glared at Xena, stepping away to learn back against the counter.

"I call her my puppy because she started out with me. She's not so little anymore, and not so naive...sometimes not so eager." She said with a pointed glance at Gabrielle's crossed arms, smirking as Gabrielle crossed them tighter. "She knows me, knows my habits - the way I do things and my routine...in many ways, she's had to adapt more to my way of life and champion more of my causes then the other way around. And still she's loyal. She would fight a band of warriors for me- stand up to an entire village ready to burn me at the stake, go through Hades itself... She's my best friend. And my sister. And she has grown into such an amazing woman." Xena shook herself out of her reverie, noted with satisfaction the look on Gabrielle's face, and couldn't resist. "But I still remember the puppy. Cowering at every noise. Whining and whimpering on the trail...getting lost within two minutes of entering dense forest..."

Gabrielle's lips twitched, before she managed to pin Xena with a decent glare. "Huh. What do you say the chances are of her following you home tonight are?"

Tiring of the game, but knowing she had to make a point to get them back on track after a long week, Xena just gave Gabrielle the look she reserved for leaving her friend in no doubt just what exactly a week spent mostly apart had done to her self-control. Watching Gabrielle blink and inch backwards into the counter slightly, she flashed her a knowing smile. "Guess."

Gabrielle nodded, pretending to consider, then flashed Xena a bright smile of her own. "Slim to none?"

Xena blinked, then narrowed her gaze. Why, you little- that's it. Xena smoothly slid off her chair and into Gabrielle, trapping her against the counter. She sank her teeth lightly into the skin of Gabrielle's earlobe, felt her shudder as she spoke into the shell of her ear. "What about now?"

She felt Gabrielle pushing gently at her stomach and stepped back, but not far enough away to allow any chance of escape. Gabrielle just looked at her for a long moment, and Xena felt nervous, suddenly. Maybe she had misread the game- maybe she hadn't played it the way Gabrielle wanted to? Maybe she should have just played the warrior card instead of trying to be eloquent-

"-Well?" She tightened her grip on Gabrielle's arm, uncertainty making the words harsh.

Gabrielle placed her hand over Xena's, gently freeing the grip. Still saying nothing, she raised Xena's hands to her lips, kissed the knuckles. Then just as gently tugged her forward into a hug, stroking her hands down the warrior's back, kneading and soothing.

Something inside her heart that she hadn't realised was tense relaxed, and she wrapped her arms around the smaller woman, enjoying being close again. She kissed the top of Gabrielle head, lightly stroked a teasing hand down Gabrielle's ribs, laughing as Gabrielle tensed, then gently bit her collarbone in retaliation. "So?"

Gabrielle drew back, then started towards the door, throwing a laughing, saucy smile over her shoulder. "Woof."

A/N: I just got hooked on Xena- have never actually watched the lot so am making my way through now. I really love it- the push-pull of their relationship was really well written and acted and am definitely a Xena/Gabrielle shipper :)