Aphrodite sauntered into her room, a smile on her face. As soon as she reached the mirror her smile widened even further. She couldn't get over how great she looked. After the ordeal with the rogue goddess, Ate, and her return to chains, everything had started returning to normal. With the mortal's prayers her powers returned to her in a rush. The sensation had taken her by surprise but it had not been unpleasant. It had hit her when she and the other gods had returned to Olympus almost immediately after helping the mortals. The combination of Cupid's bow returning to working order and the mortal's prayers made a big difference. The negativity that had claimed everyone lifted and Aphrodite couldn't feel happier for it. She felt livelier and sexier. The love goddess had returned.
She fingered the curls of her hair, twirling them and bit her lip as she gazed at her devastating reflection. "Boy, you look good."
"I couldn't agree more."
Aphrodite grinned. There was no way she couldn't mistake the gravelly tone for anyone else. "Heph, what are you doing in my room? Aren't you supposed to be checking out all the weapons to make sure they haven't been tampered with?"
"Already done," he replied and she heard the smile in his tone.
Hephaestus rested his hand on the love goddess's shoulder, gliding it over her luxurious, creamy skin. "I couldn't bear the thought of being away from you," he said and kissed her neck.
Closing her eyes, Aphrodite savoured the touch of his lips against her skin. She could think of nothing better than the idea of falling into his arms and making love to him like they used to, but she still had a job to do. With great reluctance she pulled away from him. As she turned to face him she took his hands and looked up at Hephaestus, smiling at the look of confusion in his face.
"Easy, big boy, there will be time for that later. There's a couple of things I've gotta do – people I gotta see."
He caught her hand as she made to turn, spinning her back to him. "So are you saying there is a chance for us again, Aphrodite?"
The goddess looked up into his eyes and found herself momentarily lost in the mixture of love, hope and fear that dwelled within them. She patted his cheek fondly before breaking away from him. "There's always a chance. I can't think of anything I would like more."
Gabrielle sighed happily and laced her fingers behind her head as she peered up at the night sky. The stars dotted the blackness and twinkled like diamonds. There wasn't a cloud in the sky as the night rolled in making the view quite spectacular. It looked peaceful and reflected the way she felt within.
"Hey, Xena?" she asked.
Beside her, the warrior yawned. She felt so tired and after the fortnight they'd had, she needed her rest. "Hmm?" she managed to mumble.
"What do you suppose is out there?"
Xena opened her eyes to look at whatever it was Gabrielle was talking about. She looked past Gabrielle's pointing finger to the sky and saw nothing. "Out where?"
"There," Gabrielle prodded toward the sky, gesturing to it all, "Past the Earth, stars and the clouds. Do you think there is just more out there? People like us on other stars, or do you think there's nothing? That we're the only ones?"
"In the cosmos?"
Xena lifted herself up onto her elbows and stifled a yawn. As she looked out at the darkened sky she thought about the existence and found it didn't seem like such a silly idea, but with her combined tiredness and hunger, her crankiness leaked through. "Why are you still awake contemplating the universe when you should be sleeping?"
"I thought you'd be awake."
"And thought I'd want to spend my night talking about stars and planets." Xena rolled her eyes and closed them, dropping her head back onto the bag she was using as a pillow. "Get some sleep."
Gabrielle looked over at her and smiled. She noticed the way the low flames threw shadows across the warrior's face and couldn't resist reaching out to touch her. "The reason I asked was because it just got me thinking about destiny, the future…us,"
Xena looked back at the bard and felt her stomach flutter. She had always dreamed of Gabrielle's touching her this way, but the casual ease of the gesture made her happier than she had imagined in her head. It was as though it was completely normal for Gabrielle to reach out and cup her cheek and gaze fondly into her eyes.
"And, ah, what about us?" Xena replied.
"I've been wondering. I love you, Xena. I do, I really do, but I've never, um…" she trailed off looking embarrassed. She looked to the warrior imploringly, hoping she could fill in the blanks without her needed to explain. In the end she gave up and sighed heavily. "You have had experience with other women and, well," Gabrielle bit her lip. "When we…I want it to be right."
Xena smiled at the bard's concern. "Gabrielle, there's no rush. I don't expect you to do anything you don't want, or aren't ready to do, just because I've declared my love for you."
"But how will I,-?"
"Gabrielle?" Xena interrupted, placing a finger over Gabrielle's lips. "When your heart is ready you will know."
Feeling a tingling at the back of her neck, Xena dropped her hand. There was a god nearby but she didn't feel a malevolent presence. She relaxed somewhat but stood ready just in case.
"Where are you going?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena looked into the trees nearby and saw the blonde goddess start walking toward them. She smiled down at the bard. "We have a visitor."
Gabrielle stood quickly, grabbing her staff as she moved to Xena's side.
"Hey guys!" Aphrodite said as she approached.
Seeing her immortal friend, Gabrielle smiled and rushed forward into Aphrodite's arms. She pulled back and looked up at the striking blonde. "Aphrodite! What are you doing here? Is there more trouble?"
"Ate didn't escape again, did she?" Xena asked seriously.
Aphrodite waved her hand. "Nah, dads still got her shacked up in some immortal cell somewhere. Heph volunteered to put in overtime to make sure she won't get out again. Her screams of outrage tell me she likes it," the goddess grinned broadly.
"She gets what she deserves," Xena scowled. "After everything she's done."
"I don't disagree with you there. She's going to be away for a long time after what she did. Influencing Hephaestus to sabotage Cupid's bow without him knowing is a big no-no. Poor Heph. He was going out of his mind trying to figure out how it happened." Aphrodite put her hands on her hips. "My boy is sweeping through Dreyas at the moment to try and help. It was a shame so many died, but he's working to put some love back in the people. Hopefully they'll find solace and happiness eventually." Suddenly the goddess smiled at the two women. The expression nearly took up her whole face.
"Anyway, that isn't why I'm here." She squealed and linked arms with the bard and warrior, shuffling closer excitedly. "You two! Aww, I'm so happy you finally stopped being so dense and opened your eyes. It's been driving me nuts watching you both all these years and not being allowed to do anything!"
Xena and Gabrielle glanced at each other, then away, smiling like love-struck teenagers as they grasped one another's hand. "Thank you, Aphrodite. It wasn't easy but…I found my heart eventually," Gabrielle said.
With twinkling eyes Aphrodite nudged the young bard with her elbow and smirked. "I knew you would. It was all just a matter of time but waiting for it to happen sucked." She looked up at Xena and pointed. "And you!"
Xena took a step back, her eyes wide with the goddess's sudden seriousness. "Me? What?"
"Get a clue, huh? It was painful to watch you struggle – both of you. You're smarter than that, Xena." Aphrodite smiled softly at them both and her face lit up anew with happiness at the new couple. "N'aww, look after each other, 'kay? Finding love is only the beginning. It doesn't get any easier. You won't be just friends anymore and that's a big step from where you were to where you are going to be."
Xena raised an eyebrow at the goddess after appraising Gabrielle's suddenly anxious expression. "Gee, Aphrodite, you really know how to make things sound fun," she sighed.
"I'm just tryin' to help my favourite warrior and bard duo. I want you two to be happy." She bent to pat Gabrielle's cheek fondly. "You'll be fine. It'll work out, sweet pea. Don't look so worried."
Gabrielle smiled and nodded. "Thank you, we appreciate your – hey, where are you going?"
Aphrodite turned in mid walk to look back at them, causing the diaphanous material of her gown to float around her form. "There are a couple of boys I need to go see. They're just as dim as the both of you," she jested lightly, winking at them. "If they're destined to conquer the Known World together, they need to see what's in front of them first."
The information peaked Xena's interest. She stepped forward. "Who's destiny?"
The goddess tapped her nose, smiling. "Ah-ah, that would be telling," she said and snapped her fingers, disappearing in a flutter of hearts and sparks.
Both women watched the space their friend disappeared. When they finally turned their heads to look at each other, their expressions mirrored the others.
"I wonder who she was talking about."
Xena raised an eyebrow when an image flittered in to her mind. She smiled then at the harmless blonde face of the young boy she saw in her vision. "I think I know who she means. If I'm right, he will make a good leader one day. He's the son of a man named, Philip. I didn't catch his name though," she replied to Gabrielle's confused expression.
"Oh, okay. I don't know who that is," the bard said as they walked back over to their bedrolls.
Xena looped her arm around Gabrielle and pulled herself closer until her body slid in place along Gabrielle's back. The motion felt right, completely natural – as if she had done it every day for a decade. When she felt the bard move under her, shuffling her body back until they both fit snugly under the furs made Xena smile and her stomach tighten with affection and excitement.
Neither of them noticed that Gabrielle took Xena's hand in her and placed it over her chest, just beneath her chin, and stroked the back of it lovingly with her thumb as they spoke.
"He was only about thirteen summers when I last saw him, but he showed great promise as a warrior and a leader even as a child. I was in his home stealing food, but because I wasn't caught, I just left. Not before I saw him tame a great beast of a horse, though. It trampled everyone else, but the boy seemed to tame him somehow. Even with the way I was, I could appreciate talent when I saw it, and this boy had it in him."
"He sounds like he'll be great." Gabrielle smiled and kissed the back of Xena's hand. "Just like you."
She swallowed, anxiously waiting in the dark as she stared at the flames from their little camp fire. Gabrielle didn't know where they were exactly in their new relationship – everything was so new. She didn't know what was expected; only that she wanted to kiss the warrior and was too shy to say anything after their talk earlier, both alone and with Aphrodite.
She had to admit it to herself. The goddess's words had scared her a little. The bard knew as sure as her name was Gabrielle that she loved the warrior with all her heart, but she couldn't bear the thought of losing Xena. What if something went wrong? What if things didn't work out? Would they be able to return back to being friends?
Suddenly, Gabrielle felt Xena's hand snake over her stomach; her thumbnail gently grazing over the exposed skin and making the muscles twitch with anticipation. She closed her eyes, loving the sensation, imagining the warrior's fingers dancing delicately over her stomach and the path they were making. Taking Gabrielle's breathy sigh as encouragement, Xena continued. However, when Gabrielle's felt Xena's hand brush over the top of her skirt, the bard froze and grabbed Xena's hand. Xena felt her stiffen and kissed Gabrielle's cheek.
"I'm sorry," Gabrielle apologized. She frowned in confusion. What was wrong with her?
"Gabrielle, it's okay," Xena breathed into her ear. The warrior brought her hand back up and looped it around the bard protectively.
Gabrielle turned in Xena's arms and sighed. "I don't know-,"
Xena kissed the bard long and slow, making the bard's doubt fly out of the window as she fell willingly into the kiss. When Xena pulled away, Gabrielle was left grinned. "Gabrielle, don't be sorry. You're not ready." Xena brushed a loose strand of the bard's golden hair behind her ear and kissed the young woman's forehead. "I understand."
Feeling happier than she could remember being in a long time, Gabrielle smiled and revelled in the knowledge that she was in love and loved in return with the warrior of her heart. Xena's love and understanding knew no bounds and it only made Gabrielle love her more. She smiled broadly at the striking blue eyes gazing back at her in the dark and reached out to cup the woman's cheek.
"I love you, Xena."
Xena smiled back at the bard knowing that the words held new meaning to the both of them. "I love you, too, Gabrielle," she whispered, sealing their night with a loving kiss.
Hey guys. I know some of you were unsatisfied with the ending because X & G didn't 'hook up', but this is a character driven story. If they aren't ready, I'm not ready to write it. Their relationship will continue to develop in the sequel where 'hooking up' will be a possibility as everything in this book has been a creative challenge for me to overcome.
Again, thanks for your support, guys. I really appreciate your thoughts and reviews.
This story is dedicated to my inspiration, SilvermoonlightGJ, who without her encouragement, this story would not exist. (Go check out her stories. You'll love them - I do ;D)
Until For Love's Sake: Royal Pains...happy reading! :D