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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Happily Ever After
By Della Street
Hercules trudged wearily across the porch and into the house. A few steps beyond the threshold he paused, his ears picking up sounds from the next room.
"Ohhh, Gabrielle . . . that is soooo good . . . mmmm . . . ."
"Mmm . . . I'm glad you like it."
"Oh, yeah . . . more . . . ."
Hercules stepped through the curtain. His wife and her best friend -- his own best friend's wife -- looked up from a large bowl cupped in Xena's hands. Gabrielle's hand stilled the spoon she had been using to stir a pasty substance.
"Oh, hello, Hercules," Xena said. "You caught us."
"We thought we'd surprise you," Gabrielle added, indicating the bowl. She tossed a tiny pinch of spice into the dish and stirred it. After a moment, she dipped her index finger into the mix and extended it toward Xena. "How do you like it now?"
Xena took Gabrielle's finger into her mouth and sucked gently on it, licking it clean with her tongue. "Mmmm . . . . " She met her friend's gaze. "I love it."
Gabrielle cleared her throat. "Actually," she said, "that's the same finger I used before. You may still be tasting some of it before I added the spice. Do you want another finger?"
The women looked at each other again. "Mm hmm . . .," Xena murmured. "I'd like it right now."
Gabrielle scooped some batter onto her middle finger and held it out. Xena caught a dripping on her tongue, then closed her lips around the finger and consumed it, her tongue moving up and down slowly to make sure she got everything.
Hercules watched as his wife sucked on her friend's finger, and felt himself blush. He wouldn't embarrass the women by saying anything, but the scene was really kind of stimulating.
"It gets better every time," Xena said in a low voice.
Gabrielle slowly drew her finger through the mix again, and brought it to her friend's lips.
"What is it?"
The women jerked their heads toward Hercules, almost seeming to have forgotten his presence.
"Oh, it's, um, a thing," Gabrielle stuttered.
Hercules smiled; funny how the bard was speechless so much of the time. He stepped closer and leaned in toward Xena. She moved her head slightly, offering her cheek to him, and Hercules chuckled. His warrior wife was surprisingly shy about public displays of affection, even in private. He kissed her on the cheek.
"Iolaus stopped at your house," he said to Gabrielle.
"Who?" Gabrielle was staring at her finger still in Xena's mouth.
"Iolaus. Your husband."
"Oh, yeah." Gabrielle puffed one cheek out, then lazily began to lower herself off the edge of the counter she had been perched on. The smooth wooden platform was the bard's customary spot, although Hercules remembered coming home once to find her raising herself to a sitting position on their dining room table, with Xena standing beside it. "Xena wanted me on the table," she had explained, to the big man's shrug. Xena obviously hadn't thought that one through--the table was plainly too low for Gabrielle to be at eye level.
"I guess I should head over there," Gabrielle said.
Xena circled her friend's waist as her feet touched the ground. "He'll figure out where you are."
"Gabrielle?" Iolaus' voice carried in to them, his blonde head poking through the curtain a moment later. "Here you are."
"Hi, Iolaus." Gabrielle wagged a couple of fingers at him.
Iolaus reached out to his wife with both hands, but suddenly Xena was in the way. "Oh, sorry, Xena," he said, starting to step around her. "Oh, oops." The taller woman was in the way again. Iolaus craned his neck, and a small hand reached out from beneath Xena's arm. He shook it, and the hand retreated behind the warrior.
"So, how'd it go?" Xena asked.
"Well, it's funny," Hercules replied. "When we got there, there wasn't any emergency."
"Really," Xena said, her face expressionless.
"Yeah. They hadn't even sent for us." Iolaus tossed his hands into the air.
"No kidding. I'm sure that's what we were told." Xena turned to the woman tucked under her arm. "Isn't it, Gabrielle?"
"Oh, yeah. No question about it," the bard confirmed. "You know," her hand swept casually through the air, "that gorgon probably just moved along peacably, and they were too embarrassed to admit it was a false alarm."
"Still, it would have been nice," Iolaus grumbled. "That was a long way to go for nothing."
"Yeah, too bad," Xena said. "I hope the same thing doesn't happen to us."
Both men looked at her.
"We've been sent for," Gabrielle explained.
"But we just got back," Iolaus said.
"Yeah, we know."
Hercules frowned. "Darn our luck. So where are you headed?"
"Niagarus," Xena replied.
"Niagarus?" Iolaus scratched his head. "I've heard of that. It's called the Lovers' Garden, right? I've never heard of them having any trouble before."
"Well, then it's even more essential that we check it out," Xena said.
Gabrielle nodded enthusiastically.
"I guess it could be interesting," Iolaus said uncertainly. "Don't they have some kind of water thing there?"
"A beautiful, enchanted waterfall to bathe under," Gabrielle said, closing her eyes. She crooked her hand around Xena's elbow. "Lush, green fields to roll around in . . ." Her fingers trailed lightly up and down her friend's arm. "Sunshine to warm your bare skin as you--"
"We should get going," Xena announced. "We'll probably be back in a couple of months or so."
The men looked at each other and shrugged. It couldn't be helped.
Iolaus stood next to Gabrielle as she packed. "You guys really have to rush off?"
"Well, Xena wants to get started, and you know how she is -- when she wants something, she wants it now." She stuffed her spare tunic inside her travel bag, then walked over to the dresser and yanked open a drawer. "She likes me to be ready at all times." Gabrielle grabbed a handful of undergarments, and tossed them on the bed. She looked down at the pile for a moment, then emptied the drawer out, and shoved them all into the bag.
"Yeah, um, but I thought you might want to . . ." Iolaus edged closer to her, but the bard stepped over to the dresser again.
"Want to what?" Gabrielle pulled out a scarf, and pursed her lips thoughtfully. She tugged gently at both ends, smiling, then drew out a second scarf, and thrust them both into the bag.
"You know . . . ." Iolaus jerked his head toward the bed.
"Hm? Oh, sorry, Iolaus. Duty calls."
Something slipped out of the blonde woman's fingers onto the coverlet. "What's this?" Iolaus asked curiously, holding up a sheer, dark-colored garment.
"My night shift."
Iolaus fingered the material. "It seems pretty thin." He held it up toward the window. "It looks almost see-through."
"I wear it when it's warm," she said, retrieving it from him and slipping it inside the bag. "It's black, so an assailant would have to be right on top of me to see me in the dark."
"Really? Does it work?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Every time."
Iolaus followed Xena into her bedroom, pacing back and forth beside the bed as the warrior sorted through her few possessions.
"Something on your mind, Iolaus?"
"Well, kind of . . . ." He hesitated. "Can I ask you something, Xena?"
"I was just wondering . . . Do you and Gabrielle ever talk about sex?"
Xena's hands stopped moving, and she considered the question. "Talk? Yeah, sometimes."
"How do you think Gabrielle feels about it?"
"Well, bards tend to be very passionate, you know."
"I wish I did." Xena looked at him, and Iolaus reddened. "We've never actually . . . you know, done it."
Iolaus sat on the bed. "I know that you and Herc don't-- I mean, I know it makes you uncomfortable to do things you used to do when you were terrorizing everyone, like looting, pillaging, having sex . . . ."
Xena ran her tongue around the inside of her cheek. "Right."
"And hey, I respect that. But, you know, I'm thinking Gabrielle might . . . I mean, she did kiss me at the wedding."
"The wedding," Xena repeated slowly. "Her mother's dying wish."
"Yeah." Iolaus nodded solemnly, then laughed. "Funny how she made that amazing recovery, huh?"
"What a great day," Iolaus reminisced. "The double wedding of the century. Came off without a hitch, too, except for that knife fight in the brides' section."
Xena grunted. "Took Gabrielle long enough to break it up," she groused.
"And that mixup at the end." Iolaus chuckled. "'You may kiss the bride,'" he said, capping his impersonation of the priest with a dramatic gesture. "Then you and Gabrielle get turned around and kiss each other." He slapped his thigh, giggling, and exhaled contentedly. "Who would have thought things would turn out so perfectly for us?" After a moment, he remembered the subject at hand. "Ah. So, anyway, you don't know any reason Gabrielle wouldn't want to . . . ." He illustrated the concept with a crude gesture.
"She might be saving herself for the right person," Xena said, resuming her packing.
Iolaus's brow furrowed. "I'm her husband."
"Oh, yeah." Xena shrugged. "Well, you really haven't spent that much time together." She fastened the drawstring on her satchel. "You wouldn't want to rush anything. I'd give it a few years, see what happens."
Iolaus brightened. "You're right. She's worth the wait." He smiled proudly. "She's pretty attractive, don't you think?"
"Adorable face . . ." he sighed, ". . . delicate hands . . . ."
Xena sat beside him, her own gaze growing distant. " . . . firm thighs . . . breasts that fit perfectly in your hands . . . ."
"Some day I may touch her cheek . . . kiss her lips . . . ."
" . . . bury your face between her legs . . . feel her hands claw at your hair . . . watch her back arch as she screams your name . . . ." Xena stood abruptly. "Did Gabrielle come back here with you?" she demanded.
Xena strode from the room, with Iolaus trailing behind her. The warrior spied Gabrielle in the kitchen, checking on the progress of their meal, and grabbed the younger woman's hand. "Gabrielle, I need your input on something," she growled.
Gabrielle looked up at her friend with wide eyes. "Xena . . . right now?"
"Uh huh." Xena dragged her back to the bedroom and slammed the door.
Iolaus stirred the pot, wondering what Xena was showing his wife that was taking so long. He shook his head affectionately. Women.
Gabrielle stumbled into the kitchen, straightening her skirt. She leaned against the counter for a minute. "What was I doing?" she asked.
"Lunch?" She held two fingers to her forehead. "OK. Just give me a second to remember what that is."
Three moons later . . .
Iolaus watched his wife unpack. "Boy, am I worn out," she yawned.
Worn out? Did that mean she wouldn't want to--
"If it wasn't for this excruciating headache, I'd be dead to the world right now."
Oh. Iolaus sat on the edge of the bed as Gabrielle drew out the black shift, now in tatters.
"Good grief. What happened to this?" Iolaus inspected the torn cloth.
"I was attacked by a sex maniac."
"Geez! Where was Xena?"
"Right there with me." Gabrielle pulled a torn pair of undergarments out of the bag and tossed it on the bed.
"Gabrielle! Was that from the same encounter?"
She picked up the garment and studied it for a moment. "No, this was a couple of days later, I think." She reached into her bag again, and started to extract another item, then changed her mind and turned the bag upside down, dumping out a pile of shredded apparel.
"Zeus, Gabrielle! How many times were you attacked?"
"How many days were we gone?"
"Hey, you two here?" Xena's voice floated into the room.
"We're in the bedroom," Gabrielle called out.
"We probably ought to go out there, Gabrielle," Iolaus said. "They won't come back here if they think they're interrupting--"
"Hi!" Xena flashed a brilliant smile as she stepped across the threshold. Hercules followed a few steps behind, peeking cautiously through the curtain.
Xena headed over to Gabrielle and laced her fingers together with the bard's. "Nice to see you again, Iolaus," she said over her shoulder.
"Thanks." His jaw dropped. "Yikes! What happened to you, Xena?"
"Those scratches." He pointed at her back.
"Oh, nothing to worry about. They're from wrestling with Gabrielle in the bushes."
Hercules smiled. "I admire your ambition, Gabrielle. I don't even know if I could take her. How'd she do, Xena?"
"She gave me everything she had," Xena replied, "but I ended up on top."
Gabrielle turned to face her friend. "I had you first," she countered, bumping against Xena slightly with her chest.
"Then I had you." The women locked gazes. "I guess it was a draw," Xena said warmly. "We'll have to have a rematch."
Gabrielle's eyes lit up, and she nodded.
Iolaus snickered, picturing his little bard trying to pin the fierce warrior. "Well, I'm glad you're both back safe and sound," he declared. "It's nice that we can all be together for a change."
Hercules shook his head. "I'm afraid not, my friend. Xena tells me we're needed urgently in Tyral."
"Tyral? Where's that?"
Xena bent to a hand-drawn map on the bedstand, pointing to a small dot about a hand's length north of their present location.
Gabrielle peered down at the map for a moment. "No, Xena, I think you misspoke." She laid her hand over Xena's and gently eased her finger upward on the drawing. "It was Tuvalle, wasn't it?"
"Good one, Gabrielle," Xena said. "I mean, good that you caught my mistake."
Iolaus gaped at the map. "That's a four-month walk!"
"Hmm . . . I think you're right," Xena agreed. "The, uh," she glanced down at the map, "Tuvallian we encountered said they only had about four months' worth of food. If the--" She paused, and looked at Gabrielle.
"Cyclops." The women spoke at the same time.
"--the harpy cyclops isn't vanquished by then . . ." Xena shook her head, her eyes closed. ". . . the children . . . ."
Gabrielle dabbed at the corners of her eyes with a strip of underwear.
"Geez, Herc, if they've only got four months' worth of food, there's no time to waste!"
Hercules stepped up to his spouse. "I'm sorry, Xena. We'll have to go."
She nodded. "I thought you would." She turned her cheek for a quick peck.
Iolaus reached for Gabrielle, but at that moment she was drawn into Xena's comforting embrace. Iolaus smiled gratefully at the warrior. "I'm glad Gabrielle has someone to keep her spirits up while she's alone." He patted the bard's shoulder. "Make sure she doesn't lie around moping too much."
"Don't worry," Xena said. "I'll be on her the whole time you're gone."
In less than an hour, the heroes began their long trek, faint sounds reaching their ears as they drew farther away from the house.
"Ohhhh, Gabrielle, that is sooo good . . . mmmmm . . ."
The men stopped to listen for a moment, and Iolaus turned to his companion. "You know, Herc, sometimes when I hear those two, I start to think."
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Hercules nodded. "Yeah." He smiled, and clapped a hand on his friend's shoulder. "How'd a couple of dumb clucks like us get to be so lucky?"
"You got it." Iolaus grinned, and the pair continued on their journey.
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