Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle and any other familiar characters are the property of Renaissance Pictures. I only meant to borrow them for a bit of number-crunching fun – but of course they now have no home to return to. There is quite a lot of profit in this story – but sadly none of it is mine.
Timeline: Not that it really matters much, but after Ulysses and before Dahak. No spoilers.
Violence: Two items of clothing end up a little the worse for wear, someone suffers a fair degree of humiliation and there is an oblique reference to fruit abuse.
Sex: Well yes, sort of. Nothing graphic, after all this is supposed to be humorous not an anatomy lesson (although humerus would be!). However a lot of terrible jokes do hint at some naughtiness involving Xena, Gabrielle and a mystery woman - although not all at the same time. Argo doesn’t stand for that kind of thing and neither do I.
Bad language: One four-letter word. Anyone cleaning up after an incontinent Centaur would probably recognise it.
Apologies: I can’t help it, I really like playing with words, especially puns and double entendres, so consider yourself warned!
This is my first ever story. Intelligent comments welcome to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * *
The Warrior Princess and her Wandering Bard found themselves at a small town near Lygeia after many days of hot, dusty and surprisingly violence-free travelling. Even warrior sweat loses its attraction after a few days, and a hot bath was becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity if they didn’t want to frighten the locals. Argo also needed some fairly expensive attention from the local blacksmith. After a quick inspection of their money it was decided that they could just about afford both.
Gabrielle had found an appreciative, though apparently poor, audience for her stories at one of the cleaner taverns in the prosperous little town and was coming to the end of a lively evening. Even with all the practice she gave it, her voice was starting to fail after projecting it over such a raucous group of people for so long. Xena had taken her customary seat at the back of the inn with a mug of something throat-searingly alcoholic, but Gabrielle had been so wrapped up in her tales that she hadn’t seen the dark ex-warlord slip out earlier in the night along with most of their money.
Gabrielle picked up the disappointingly few dinars she’d earned that evening and went over to ask the tavern-keeper if he knew where her friend had gone. She wasn’t worried. Probably seeing a man about a horse. Gabrielle mused. She always disappears for a couple of candlemarks in a town. Still, I have to find out which inn we’re staying at – she always knows the best places to stop, even if she will insist on paying full price to avoid haggling.
She stopped in front of the ale-stained, rough wooden surface of the bar and got the tavern-keeper’s attention.
"Hi there. I’ve finished with stories for the night, my voice won’t hold out much longer anyway, and I was wondering if you knew where the tall dark warrior I came in with has gone to?" she asked politely.
The tavern-keeper seemed a bit reluctant to answer at first, muttering something vague about her friend visiting ‘another establishment’.
"What’s the matter – didn’t she like your ale?" Gabrielle laughed.
"No, she liked it well enough. She said she was after a, er, different sort of entertainment for a while."
Gabrielle frowned. "Well, she’s heard all my stories a number of times. I mean, she’s in most of them so she doesn’t need to hear what she did all over again. Do you know where she went? We’re supposed to be meeting up for a hot bath afterwards."
The barman looked at her a little strangely and shrugged his shoulders. "I gave her directions to ‘The Rampant Centaur’ a little way down the road. You’ll want to be careful going in there on your own." he warned.
Gabrielle gave her staff a quick twirl. "It’s okay, I know how to handle myself." She headed for the door.
"If you’ve got the dinars, that’s the one thing you won’t be needing to do in there." she heard the man reply under his breath as she left.
* * * *
Gabrielle found the building easily enough – it was obviously one of the more popular places in the town judging by the amount of people going in and out of the entrance. As she glanced up at the sign above the door, a faint blush suffused her pale skin. She decided ’Rampant’ hardly seemed a strong enough word to cover the image in front of her. Actually, she thought, not only did ‘hugely-endowed’ also not cover it – even with her bardic skills she couldn’t think of any word that would truly do the picture justice.
The sturdy little blonde gathered herself together and went inside. At first glance it looked pretty much like any other inn, except there seemed to be a lot of traffic on the stairs to the upper floors. Try as she might, she couldn’t see Xena anywhere and was beginning to attract some unwelcome attention.
"Hello" a gravelly voice rumbled in her ear "are you looking for someone?"
She turned her head and almost inadvertently kissed a handsome-looking man because he was so close to her.
"I’m l-looking for a friend." She stuttered, nervously moving her head back. He was very close.
He leered down at her, "I could be your friend for tonight. I have many skills."
The effect of those particular words sent a shiver skittering up her spine. "Er no thanks, I really am looking for someone who came in here tonight. We’re supposed to be meeting up for a bath."
The man drew back and seemed disappointed. "Oh, well if you’re wanting to find a customer go and talk to Arcas behind the bar. He’ll probably know where your ‘friend’ is." Realising she was a lost cause he seemed to spot another likely target and slithered away.
Gabrielle made her way, with some difficulty, across the room stopping to remove various groping hands and smacking knuckles on the more persistent ones with her staff. She suddenly had a lot of sympathy for peaches on a market stall.
A slightly ruffled Gabrielle finally reached the bar wishing that she was being backed up by the usual 6-feet of armoured, leather-clad fighter, not wasting time trying to find out where she was. She leant on the bar and shouted across to the man standing behind it. "Are you Arcas?" she yelled above the din.
"Yeah. Who wants to know?" growled the large man coming across to talk to her. Arcas looked her slowly up and down, his eyes finally settling on her chest. He looked a bit puzzled for a moment and to her surprise said "Do I know you from somewhere?"
She was a bit unnerved by his fixated attention and waved her hand in front of his face. "Hello? I’m up here!" He finally looked her in the eye. Green eyes regarded him somewhat sourly. "No, I don’t think we’ve ever met and I never forget a face. I’m not sure exactly what it is that you never forget." she said tartly.
"Uh, sorry… it’s just….never mind. What do you need? We have all kinds in here." He offered.
"I’m looking for my friend – we’re supposed to be meeting up. She’s tall, dark, with piercing blue eyes and has lethal fighting skills."
"Oh, you must be Xena’s little bard, we heard she’d got someone travelling with her. We haven’t seen much of her around here lately, but good customers are always welcome back. She’ll be a little while longer – can I offer you something while you wait?"
Xena’s little bard? Gabrielle kind of liked the sound of that, although she wished someone would, just once, remember her name as well. Oh well, if she was going to have to wait she might as well see what they had on tap.
"Fine – what do you have on offer?" In answer the man jerked his thumb over his shoulder indicating a large board that looked a bit like a menu.
Gabrielle started to read the list. As she did so her eyes grew wider and her jaw dropped lower as she understood just precisely what was being offered in the upstairs rooms. She wasn’t exactly an innocent, but she did wonder why Xena had to use an establishment like this. Unless what she was after was so extreme that … no don’t there Gab, she told herself. She cleared her throat before she spoke again.
"Arcas, I wouldn’t want you to take this the wrong way or anything" she lowered her voice to a whisper, "but is this a House of ill repute?"
"Certainly not!" He said indignantly. "We have one of the finest reputes… I mean reputations… in this part of Greece."
"Oh right, sorry. Well if it’s not too much trouble, who, er I mean, what is Xena ‘having’ this evening?" she asked, not really knowing if she wanted to hear the answer.
"Oh she’s got a lot easier to please over the years. She’s ordered one of our finest 30-dinar hosts, including extras, for one candlemark." He peered at a graduated candle on a shelf behind him. "Time’s about up, she’ll be down any minute."
At that moment a familiar tall, dark and definitely stunning form made her way down the stairs looking unusually pensive. Lately, the sight of her best friend always got Gabrielle’s heart beating just that little bit quicker – and she was under no illusions as to why. However, Xena had never shown any recent interest in women and certainly none in her friend in particular – although Gabrielle had heard some very interesting stories about the ex-warlord’s past love-life. Still, at least her dreams kept her entertained at nights.
The warrior was just settling her weapons back in their usual place when she caught sight of a pair of unfathomable green eyes in a thoughtful face. Oh shit. The two women met at the bottom of the stairs.
"Been enjoying yourself?" Gabrielle enquired, unable to keep the slightly jealous tone from her voice.
Xena gave her a black look. "It was all right." Vainly hoping that the conversation would end right there and they could leave quickly.
"So, how much money have we actually got left after your fun evening Xena? I know there were precisely 39 dinars in that purse before you left and we haven’t paid for our room and bath yet."
"Uh, 4 dinars."
"What!" she exploded "Your friend Arcas over there said you spent 30 dinars – what in Hades did your ‘entertainment’ have to do that cost the extra 5 dinars? You didn’t…," she hesitated for a moment "Xena, please tell me you didn’t hurt him."
"Gabrielle! I thought you knew me better than that." Xena was shocked that her best friend could even think that she … actually, now she thought about it, the truth about what she had been up to was a whole lot worse. "No, I…" she shifted nervously, "I gave them a 5-dinar tip."
Angry green eyes met guilty blue ones. "Dare I ask what for?"
An unusually flustered Warrior Princess looked at her feet. "I don’t want to talk about it – it’s personal." she muttered. "Look, I’ll apologise all you want – can we just leave now?"
Gabrielle wasn’t finished with her yet. "Oh Xena, how could you? That’s more than an entire evening of my storytelling you’ve just spent on some hairy, muscle-bound gigolo. We don’t even have enough left for a room, which means no bath and we’ll have to camp on the outskirts of town. I don’t understand how you could be so selfish! Apart from that, you could have any man you wanted just by batting an eyelid – you have in the past." Gabrielle fumed, not having forgotten Ulysses. "Why you of all people need to pay for … whatever it was…I don’t know. I just really hope he was worth our money."
Before Xena could even answer, a loud voice was heard above the hubbub.
"Hey, tall dark and deadly! You forgot your over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder!"
Xena and Gabrielle both turned to see a small woman of indeterminate age standing at the top of the stairs looking somewhat rumpled. She was dressed in a flimsy robe that would have made even Aphrodite blush, and was wearing a badly-made blonde wig; she was also dangling what was undeniably Gabrielle’s spare green top from her finger.
Xena suddenly forgot how to breathe and her normally sturdy knees threatened to give way beneath her. Oh no, anything but that! Please if there are any Gods listening, kill me now – she swallowed very hard, fighting the urge to throw up. A number of the less drunk patrons had made the connection between the clothing, the warrior and her friend with the identical garment and were laughing uproariously. Xena was absolutely mortified and paled noticeably beneath her usually bronzed skin: she realised that the tortures of Tartarus would be a pleasant diversion compared to this. She certainly couldn’t look the all-too-obvious object of her affection in the eye.
Gabrielle just stared at her clothing in the scantily-clad woman’s hand. So that’s how it is Xena. Why couldn’t you just tell me? She mustered her dignity and slowly ascended the stairs to claim her apparel. The woman in the wig looked uncertainly between the two friends. She spoke quietly, her voice intended for Gabrielle’s ears only "Well, I’m guessing that you must be Gabrielle and this here is yours." She held out the clothing. "Look honey, if it means anything to you, your friend down there seemed really sad after…well…you know." The bard looked at her thoughtfully and smiled a little as she took her top back. A lot more graciously than she felt she replied "It’s all right – it’s just a job to you – but…thanks for telling me."
She went back down the stairs and addressed herself to the top of Xena’s lowered head. "I think I’ll let you conclude your business without me. I’m going to check on Argo – you can meet me there if, and when, you’re ready to leave."
With that, she turned smartly on her heel and left the room. What she didn’t let Xena see was the growing smile on her face as the implications of the encounter started to get her thinking. She headed out the door and across to the stable.
Dejectedly, Xena wandered over to the bar and just sat with her head in her hands. She decided she might as well spend the last of the money on the largest drink she could afford. She’d need it if she were ever going to face her friend again.
* * * *
In the warm darkness of the stable, Gabrielle put her arms around Argo, rested her head against the golden, comforting shoulder and shook with emotion. Tears rolled down her face and she couldn’t catch her breath from laughing so hard. She suspected she might be a touch hysterical – not that anyone could blame her. All that unnecessary humiliation! She would never, even after a thousand years in the Elysian Fields, ever forget the look on her friend’s face at the moment her guilty little secret was out. Oh Xena, she thought, paybacks are going to be such a bitch! She carefully planned her strategy.
* * * *
It was a very quiet campsite around the fire that evening. Xena had walked into the stable, a little unsteady on her feet, and had said nothing to either her horse or her friend because she didn’t trust her voice – she also had absolutely no idea what in Tartarus she could say that would make things right between them. She didn’t really understand why Gabrielle was still accompanying her, but they walked silently out of town, both occupied with their own thoughts until Xena found a good place to stop. They set up camp, smoothly falling into their nightly routine. Xena went and caught a couple of rabbits and brought them back skinned and jointed. Her partner, in the meanwhile, had set out their things as usual and had started the water heating for the stew she’d be making. The nearby stream also afforded them a chilly place to wash up. The cooking was completed against the sound of the fire crackling beneath the simmering pot and the quiet munching of Argo cropping the grass a short distance away.
After the meal, their usual routine continued. Xena sat sharpening her weapons, her eyes never once raising from their task, and Gabrielle just sorted through her scrolls. The silence was deafening.
Gabrielle realised she would have to make the first move. Probably won’t be the only one tonight. She carefully packed her scrolls away and went and sat beside her silently suffering soulmate.
"Oh Xena. How could you?" Gabrielle spoke quietly. "I would’ve understood if what you wanted was necessary for you, but it was almost all of our money and the worst of it is that it was with a woman. That’s just not right you know."
The warrior felt even more miserable. She had hoped that someday she’d be brave enough to tell Gabrielle just how she really felt about her, but judging from her reaction that wouldn’t have been such a good idea. And now it’s too late to pretend otherwise. She had obviously disgusted her friend with her choice of ‘host’ for the evening. Not to mention the other thing – please don’t mention the other thing.
"You know we don’t have very much money at the best of times and I do try to be, like, parsimonious. Being profligate with our hard-earned dinars on some strange woman in a sleazy bar doesn’t make any fiscal sense. It’s not as though you even gave me a chance to budget for something like that."
Profligate? Fiscal? And who in Hades is Parsimonious and why does she want to be like him? Xena was more than a little confused. What’s going through her mind? Gabrielle seemed much more concerned about the money than what she’d spent it on. That didn’t seem right did it? Why isn’t she mad about the wig – and the other thing?
"I could understand if you missed female company, but really Xena, it’s not as if I’m not here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I don’t cost much at all, in fact I earn us most of our money. And you obviously appreciate my dress-sense." Gabrielle bit her lip to stop herself from smiling. "And why didn’t you ask me to join you? Surely you didn’t think one night with Perdicus was enough to last me a lifetime? No disrespect to his memory Xena, but I doubt even Zeus is that good. Oh Hades, I doubt even you’re that good." She paused. "Are you?"
Is she asking me for a demonstration or …? Xena finally found her voice. "Well, I’ve never had any complaints Gabrielle. But then who’d be suicidal enough to complain in the first place?" She grinned from ear to ear. Thank the Gods, Gabrielle seems to be taking all this very matter-of-factly. Perhaps I’ve underestimated her. "And you’re right. I should’ve asked if you wanted to the visit the same place. I know you’re a grown woman, it’s just that I don’t think about you feeling the same way I do. Especially about some things."
"Well, I certainly don’t think I’d get as much of a kick out of this old green thing in the same way you seem to." Gabrielle indicated her chest. Xena couldn’t help her eyes settling on where her blonde-haired friend was pointing. The ex-warlord found herself tongue-tied and embarrassed once more. She just had to mention the green thing didn’t she?
"Well Warrior Princess, I knew you had many skills, but turning the colour of a beetroot is a new one." She relented a little. "Why didn’t you tell me how you felt, instead of sneaking off like that? You know, you’re not the only one who misses someone’s arms around you at night" she said softly, laying her hand on Xena’s forearm. "Am I so unattractive to you?" Gabrielle knew she already had her answer but she wasn’t going to let the warrior off that easily. She wanted to hear it from her lips. Those soft, moist, perfectly-shaped portals to…
Xena looked into warm green eyes sparkling with amusement and… something else infinitely more seductive. Now she found it difficult to speak because of a different reason. Oh Gods, I’m actually feeling shy. The former ‘Destroyer of Nations’ shy? Ares would bust his leather pants laughing if he ever found out.
"By all the Gods no Gabrielle, of course you’re not unattractive!" Wait, that doesn’t sound like much of a compliment. "I mean, you most certainly are very attractive. In fact..." Xena looked deeply into her friend’s eyes. "You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever shared a horse with." Oh great. No wonder you make sure you do all the fighting and she does all the talking.
"Thanks…I think." Gabrielle stood up and held out her hand. "Are you just going to sit there or am I finally going to see some action around here?"
Xena stood up, wrapped her arms around her and hugged the small warm bard. It felt very nice. So did the kiss that followed.
After a decent interval, Xena drew her head back to let them both catch their breath. "There’s just one thing bothering me Gabrielle. What’s all this sudden professional interest in our finances?"
"Well, remember the last time you left me with the Amazons for a week while you dealt with that old warlord friend of yours? Well, I got a bit bored with just queening around all the time…so I joined in some of their educational classes."
"Economics, scroll-keeping and accountancy."
"That sounds…interesting." Xena had to stifle a yawn.
"It’s a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. Amazons seem to have a different perspective on figures than anyone else. Anyway, does this mean you’re willing to trust me with your resources?"
"Oh yeah, anytime you like."
"After all this, I can just imagine how much money we’ll keep ahold of without your having to disappear every time we hit a sizeable town."
The tips of Xena’s ears reddened noticeably before she countered. "In that case I think we should start saving for a rainy day immediately, what d’you think?"
In answer, Gabrielle moved her hands lower.
"Uh, Gab? What’re you doing?"
"Handling your assets."
"Mmm hmm. The purpose of which is to …?
"Raise your interest."
Xena laughed. "Well, you’ve actually done that for years without realising it but feel free to carry on."
"No, that won’t work."
"Feeling free. There’s definitely no profit in that."
They gradually moved over to the bedroll and increased their economic viability with some very creative accounting.
* * * *
"Good grief Gabrielle, just exactly which class did you learn that in?" Xena demanded after they got their breath back.
"Amazon Advanced Accountancy in 3 Parts."
"Oh. In 3 parts?"
"What does Part 1 involve?"
"Well obviously you have to learn the theory before you’re actually allowed to practice." She explained. "I passed the exam for that one in two days."
"Remind me to send your teacher my sincerest thanks. Do you get a certificate or something?"
"Not until I pass all three parts of the course."
"Okay, I can see that. So when do you move up to Part 2?"
"Um, I think I just did." She said a bit sheepishly. "I didn’t realise how easy the practical would be when you had your own personal tutor. Especially since I was never very good at mathematics and always hated having to count on my fingers."
Xena gave her a mischievous look. "Actually Gabrielle, I was hoping to be able to count on your fingers for a very long time."
"Tsk. You’re just wanton."
"Not for a while I’m not" Xena smirked. "But after I get my strength back, I might just be wantin’ again."
"Good because, economically speaking, repeat business is always preferable to a one-off deal." Gabrielle lay back with her hands behind her head looking at the stars: she smiled up at the cosmos. "You know, I really think I’m beginning to enjoy handling figures, especially yours, except that I just realised it was a wasted effort me learning all my times tables."
"Why? Education is never wasted."
"Well no it’s not, but I somehow don’t think we’re in danger of any multiplication." Gabrielle laughed. "Anyway, there was something I wanted to ask you, but you might think I’m being a bit mercenary."
Xena raised a questioning eyebrow.
"So, after paying 30 dinars for the pretend me, how much is the real me worth?"
I’m never gonna live that down, sighed Xena to herself. "If you really must talk about hard cash, let’s just say that Autolycus couldn’t steal enough in a year to cover what you’re worth to me."
"You think I’m worth more than the annual income of the King of Thieves? That’s, um, quite a bit."
"Is that before or after taxes?"
"Gabrielle," Xena sighed, "he steals. He doesn’t pay taxes."
"Oh, yeah. Wait, that’s even more then?"
She was quiet for a moment longer. "Uh, Xena? I know you’ll think this is silly, but was I good enough for a tip?"
Xena lifted the edge of the furs and studied her naked self for a moment. "Oh, I think it’s safe to say you did well enough to earn both my tips anytime you like."
Gabrielle slapped Xena lightly on the stomach. "You know that’s not what I meant! But I definitely prefer those gratuities to actual dinars."
"Well I’ve never heard them called THAT before!" Xena laughed before lifting the furs again – this time peering intently at Gabrielle’s body.
"You know," she said, "I really think there’s gold in them thar hills. In fact, if we keep this up we’re soon going to be richer than Croesus and Midas put together."
"Hey Xena, how much more do you think we’d earn if we charged people to watch?"
After a few seconds of shocked silence the giggling started. And after that, well, a little more tuition seemed like a very good idea.
* * * *
"Um, Gabrielle? I think an apology might be in order at this point."
"What for? I’m not complaining about anything."
Xena reached one arm up behind her lover’s head and hooked the tattered remnants of a familiar item of green clothing. She dangled the pitiful material in front of her friend’s nose. "Sorry Gab, I think my profit resulted in your loss." she said, only slightly apologetically.
"It’s a good thing I retrieved my spare one from your earlier ‘entertainment’."
"Ah, well now you come to mention it, that one might also need a few running repairs before you can wear it again. There’s just something about ripping it off that’s so…so satisfying." She admitted with a rueful look.
"You know, I’m really glad embroidery is one of your many skills – you rip it off, you get to stitch it back together, O Warrior Seamstress. Anyway we really can’t afford the depreciation on my clothing." She thought a bit more about what she had just learned. "So does your deepest fantasy involve tearing off any of my other clothing or just that one particular item?"
There was a moment’s silence. "To be completely honest, and I know I haven’t been lately, there’s just something about the way that material feels under my hands. Although I gotta admit it feels a whole lot better with you inside it first."
Gabrielle just looked at her. "I suppose there’s no accounting for taste."
"All right that’s enough! Can we dispense with the bad accountancy jokes from now on?" said Xena plaintively "They’re really starting to get on my nerves."
"Oh," Gabrielle’s voice held a trace of disappointment." Does that mean you don’t want me massaging your figurework anymore?"
"Uh…no, you can keep doing that."
"Well, what about helping me with some homework? We only really covered theory, so I could sure use your help in some of the more difficult Part 2 practical stuff."
"Sure…anything for you my precocious little student. What exactly did you need help with?"
"I thought the double entry system looked pretty interesting on paper."
Xena raised both eyebrows. "You don’t think that’s a bit advanced for your level?"
"I’m a quick learner." There was a sudden movement under the furs.
"You got that right!" Xena gasped.
Intensive revision went on until the early hours.
* * * *
Later, the two study partners lay tangled together in a post-educational haze.
"So Xena, have you got a favourite number yet?"
The warrior shifted her hands and weighed up a couple of options. "Two’s good for me."
A smaller hand snaked down in between them. "Oh I don’t know, I think three seems better."
Xena’s eyebrows shot toward her hairline. She flexed her fingers. "If we’re talking about digits here Gabrielle, 10 is a very useful number."
Gabrielle stuck out a perfect pink tongue at her soulmate.
"Eleven." They both agreed simultaneously.
"So anyway Xe, what do you think of my scholastic ability?" Gabrielle was genuinely interested in seeing how many marks out of ten she might get.
"Oh, I’m loving every minute of it, except…" Xena hesitated for a fraction. "It’s no good Gab, I just can’t stop myself from asking you this. Just what does Part 3 involve?"
Gabrielle hid her face in her hands and giggled loudly.
"What’s so funny?"
"Well, it’s um….Xena, it’s an oral exam."
"Oh, that’s okay then."
"Definitely an A+."