UNDER MY SKIN
Disclaimers: Gabrielle & Xena belong to Renaissance Pictures. The Blood & Roses Xenaverse belongs to Katrina. This is an alternate reading of Gabrielle and Xena's relationship in the altaverse.
Manhattan, mid-summer, 1998...
A petite, emaciated woman with reddish-blonde hair let her head fall back, reveling in a wave of ecstasy that overtook her while a tall brunette yanked a hypodermic from the smaller woman's forearm. Her breathing slowed and quieted. The tall one grasped the other's chin in sweaty fingers and shook the bleary visage gently from side to side.
"Come on, Bri. Don't blink out on me here. You're on in ten."
They could hear the anxious cheers, stomping and staccato applause of the nightclub just on the other side of the dressing room door. They were already an hour late because Gabrielle, lead singer and bassist of The Amazons, had to be sobered up. But then she'd done a little too much coke and had to chill. And then Loren had left the stuff at home so everyone had to go back to the house and find the stash. Gabrielle never, ever did a show without junk.
Loren, the tall, lanky brunette bar manager, placed a resounding kiss on the full, pouty lips of the ostensibly delirious but still delicious blonde straddling her lap. And was surprised by the instant, heated response which left her breathless as Gabrielle's tongue invaded and conquered Loren's mouth.
Gabrielle's lips slowly retreated to within inches of Loren's and she whispered into her lover's mouth. "I hate it when you do that."
Loren, not recovered from the mind-searing kiss just bestowed on her, was unable to respond. A grin teased her thin lips as she waited, eyes closed, for what she assumed would be the usual relentless ribbing.
"Why do you do that? Have you ever seen me check out off junk? Nooooo," Gabrielle sing-songed. "It clears things up for me." In demonstration, the blonde moved adeptly from her position on her lover's lap and strode fluidly across the room where the rest of the band, who was oblivious to the routine exchange between the lovers, was passing around a joint. Gabrielle snatched the hallucinogen from the drummer while strapping on her base.
"Did we do sound check yet?"
Dark brown eyes flashed at her from across the room.
"Kidding. By the gods, Lo. You gotta lighten up some. You always act like I'm on the verge of bailing -- physically and mentally." The honey-haired blond plinked at the strings on her bass. "Man, I been selling out this place for months." Her tone, up till then, good-natured and playful, suddenly turned testy. "Been fucking you senseless for five fucking years," she practically growled, moving to stand opposite her lover. "Why do you doubt me?"
The air in the room thickened. The other Amazons' usual constant stream of low teasing banter stopped. Three pairs of eyes focused on the couple now faced off in the middle of the room.
Loren looked down at the floor. She knew this wasn't the time for this discussion. "You could easily move on, Bri. It's not like you signed any papers or anything," the gangly bar manager continued, in spite of her better judgement. "Ain't no ring on your finger..."
Shit, thought Gabrielle. Here we go again. Damn. She's gotten so funky lately about this whole commitment thing. Things are going so well and I told her from the beginning that I wasn't the marrying kind. The band is really starting to jell. What's her fucking problem?
"This is soooooo not the time for this discussion, Loren." Gabrielle took a deep breath, trying to reign in her temper. She counted to five. It wasn't working. She was really on edge tonight; thought about taking another hit. She counted to five again, fighting the animal in her, feeling the Hunger overtake her. She looked up across the room at her girlfriend, hazel eyes roiling, shifting to a deep, mossy green. She knew she was losing control, the monster was finally going to have to come out. And she was afraid of what it would do to this woman she had loved, who had loved her, for five years.
For five years she'd been able to keep her vileness in check, to quash her blood-lust with the junk. But over the last couple of months it had attacked her with a vengeance, as if to make up for half a decade of abstinence -- of denying her true nature. The Hunger wrenched her gut at the most inappropriate times, but especially when her partner was particularly vulnerable and engorged: right before menstruation. The scent of her woman during the cycle overwhelmed her preternatural sense of smell. It drove Gabrielle insane, rendering the small blonde breathless and forcing her to slip out into the sweltering carbon-monoxide heat of the Manhattan summer nights -- only to return at dawn with flowers and teary apologies. But only after she had Fed on enough small strays or rodents to return her wolfish incisors to their human range.
She's coming for you. And you will Feed...
Gabrielle shook her head in an attempt to dislodge this line of thought, as if it were a droplet of water she could flick from the end of her finger. Then she advanced on her partner.
"We fuck on command, Loren. You feed me well. My shit is really together with the band, which your club is about to make a shitload of money off of, by the way. You know I love you. Just tell me what the fuck is your problem. Because I'd really like to know."
Gabrielle's junk-abused frame advanced stealthily across the floor with supernatural grace, stalking her lover like a wild animal. This time, a smaller hand roughly grabbed a larger, angular chin, forcing Loren to meet the lead singer's hungry gaze.
And inhaled sharply, reversing her steps as she was sucked back into her body, her teeth quickly retreating at the tears she saw pooled in the dark brown eyes. Deep sorrow and tears Gabrielle knew she caused threatened to spill down exquisitely angled olive cheeks.
But you'll never be in love with her. You know it and she knows it. There's only one for you...
Again Gabrielle shook her head, refusing to remember why she'd ended up in Loren's arms, instead conjuring a memory of a gold band offered to her six months ago. A commitment she had no right to entertain, could never make to the brunette. An unbreakable vow she'd already made over two thousand years before...
"I'm so sorry," the lovers said in unison. Gabrielle closed her eyes. The tension in the room was tactile as the rest of the band watched the scene unfold. The Amazons had seen numerous displays of the small blonde's temper: kicked chairs, thrown instruments, pieces of glass and fragments of percussion instruments. Especially over the last few weeks. But never, ever had they seen Gabrielle take this tone with her lover. And the stalking thing...
The lead singer turned toward the door as the crowd exploded into a chant, commanding the band to perform.
That was their cue. The women followed their leader out onto the stage.
Loren sat, wiping her eyes with the back of her hands, trying to regain her composure.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid girl. You knew she was wild when you took her in..." Her thoughts trailed off at a vision that intruded on her self-pity: a woman, tall, with long raven hair and azure eyes; a woman who had come to the last five or six shows and watched from the shadows at the end of the bar. The woman watched Gabrielle like a panther watches its prey. Hungry. Needy.
She always sat alone at a small table against the far corner of the stage drinking very expensive scotch. Loren hadn't had much opportunity to really look her over because she was always in shadow, and she never moved except to come in or leave. But one time when the woman got up to leave -- they were closing and the lights had come on -- what Loren had seen had practically robbed her of her senses. The woman had flawless olive skin, eyes a shade of blue Loren had only seen in pictures of the Mediterranean sky. And that body. My god the woman had to be six feet tall, perfectly proportioned. To die for, really. But it was unnerving the way the woman watched her lover with a sense of self-possession and ownership that Loren could feel clear across the nightclub. It made her insanely jealous. It also made her afraid.
Well, maybe Mystery Date won't show tonight. Bri hasn't noticed her yet, though I bet she would tonight. Not good. Loren sent out a silent plea. Please don't let that woman come in here tonight...
The bar manager felt an irrational sense of anxiety and panic creep across her skin and knot her stomach. The first chords of The Amazon's opening song assaulted her ears through the door and she headed out, needing to assure herself of her partner's presence on stage as much as the other's absence. She stood behind the band, drinking in the vision of her honey-haired love warming up, then scanned the bar. In the back corner was a trio of frat boys, practically drooling, clearly captivated by the gyrations of the all-girl band.
Loren wanted to be disgusted but was so relieved to not see Mystery Date that she grinned, resolving to buy the boys their next round. She chuckled to herself as the tension left her body, wondering if she wasn't just making things up, wanting to believe that there was something other than Gabrielle wrong with their relationship. Gabrielle really wasn't wrong, she was just wild. And she did seem happy -- well, most of the time. Things were good, getting better since the band was developing a loyal and consistently larger following.
The bar manager sent out another silent prayer and settled in to watch the show.
Xena sat very still, watching her lover of over two millennia dance across the stage. She'd been coming to Club Feral for almost two months, having finally located her rebellious lover on a tattered flier stapled to a bulletin board in a random café. She'd known Gabrielle would finally come back to the city. Xena had been there for 30 years. Waiting
The 60's had been a trying, ultimately traumatic time for the lovers. The warrior had despised what she considered the false consciousness of "free love" while Gabrielle had embraced it whole-heartedly. Still, Xena had followed Gabrielle from party to party, demonstration to demonstration, concert to concert. Gabrielle failed to notice Xena's increasingly frequent indulgence in drugs and alcohol, which helped her deal with the crowds, the noise, and so many people wanting to touch her bard. Until finally, one fateful afternoon, they had awakened from a drug-induced haze, Xena's naked body wrapped around someone other than Gabrielle. She'd tried to explain, make excuses about the drugs and alcohol, but the rage and pain in the bard's eyes had rendered every word moot. Xena had scrambled through the room of still unconscious hippies reclaiming her clothes. But by the time she was half dressed, her mind beginning to clear, Gabrielle was gone.
She'd waiting months in their Upper West Side condo, starving her mind and body in a meditative trance, willing Gabrielle to come back to her. Finally she'd accepted that her long time lover had left the state -- most likely the continent. Ten years of rage and pain, hunting and killing unmentionables in the urban jungle, followed. When her fury was sated she'd spent the next fifteen years coming to terms with her failures and her limits in terms of her relationship with the bard. Finally, she'd just waited for Gabrielle to come home.
Loren stepped off the side of the stage, weaving her way through the crowd toward the boys, and slid behind the bar. She joked with them, letting relief roll of her in waves, fixing them a round and settling back next to the cash register to watch the delicious sight of her gorgeous girlfriend in full form. She let her gaze linger over the black leather bra visible under the white linen shirt which was unbuttoned down to Gabrielle's navel. Hmmmm. Can't wait for that to come off. She closed her eyes and pictured the tattered Calvin Kleins, loose, riding low across smooth, creamy hips. She saw her long fingers there, allowing herself to mentally undress the small blonde as the band finished up their second song of the evening.
But was soon jolted from her reverie by an unfamiliar beat.
A new song? Bri didn't mention a new song.
She blinked her eyes open rapidly to see her girlfriend, sans bass, her back to the audience, seductively removing the shirt as if she was doing a striptease to the undulating, sensual rhythm being plunked out slowly by the congas. The performance was mesmerizing. When Gabrielle's back was fully exposed, a rich, smooth tone erupted from the singer's throat.
Said good-bye and I meant it too
Wanted anyone in the world but you
My heart was broken, nothing left to say
I thanked the gods you let me walk away
Lost my mind
Even ambrosia can't
Bring back my smile
You are my soul and I
Can't wait to get you back
Can't wait to get you back
Back under my skin
Somewhere mid-chorus, the sultry songstress had swirled around to face the audience and a cheer erupted. She was dazzling. Jesus Christ Mary Mother of God, all that exposed skin. And the teasing display of the low slung jeans -- no panties in sight. Loren watched, captivated, as her lover gyrated around the stage, moving hips and shoulders in ways the tall bar manager had only seen in their bedroom. The crowd was going wild.
Normally Loren would have melted. But this was no normal evening. In fact, her heart had frozen in her chest. She struggled for breath as her blood chilled. The expression on her lover's face, up there on that stage, was a most feral, primal, sexual gaze; and the hazel eyes had darkened once again to a deep, mossy green. Those eyes were glued to a lone figure seated at a table to the right of the mosh pit, up against the stage.
Loren began to tremble. She had probably walked past her -- possibly even brushed her arm or leg, as she had moved back to the bar earlier in the evening.
She recognized those midnight tresses, even from the back.
For Gabrielle, it had started twenty years ago when she'd awakened one morning in Paris to the sounds of her daughter crying, a piercing ache in her heart she could no longer ignore. A pain that could be soothed by Xena alone. She'd spent the next fifteen years in guilty, anguished withdrawal from her family until Hunger for her one true love had drawn her scrambling back across the ocean, abandoning her husband and child, seeking to make amends with her Life. Her Xena.
She discovered she was unable to face her partner immediately -- knowing she'd completely overreacted and was at least as much at fault for that horrible morning as her wayward lover. Gabrielle was afraid, unsure how to begin again. So she'd rented a one-room flat in Soho and started playing guitar. She'd begun experimenting with drugs again as soon as she'd returned stateside. The Hunger for the blood of her immortal lover was too much to bear alone. Quickly she'd met Loren and settled into a routine -- playing clubs and writing songs. Hanging out in the same dives.
The first time Xena had come into the club, the bard hadn't seen her but she had felt her presence, the familiar tingle, the Xing. The second time she'd looked all evening for her ex-lover, knowing she was out there somewhere. But as the evening drew to a close she felt the presence slip out immediately after her last song. Which was okay. She could wait. She would wait.
Hades, it had been, what, thirty years since the last time they'd seen one another? Since she'd foolishly tried to leave her lover of over two millennia?
It was after Xena's second appearance at the club that Gabrielle had started working on that song. The Amazons had picked it up like a bad habit. The orchestration flowed from them all spontaneously.
And tonight, when Gabrielle had sensed her former lover's arrival, she didn't even attempt to locate her. She knew that when Xena wanted to be seen, she would be seen. And so she hadn't even noticed her until the end of the second song, when her g-string had broken and she'd kneeled down to fix it.
And almost drowned in a particular shade of blue she'd known for her entire lifetime.
Gabrielle found it all she could do not to laugh out loud with joy. It had taken years to realize it, to understand the gravity of her error in thinking she could leave Xena. She knew well the depths of passion -- in anger, hatred and love -- that her soulmate was capable of and had not dared speculate what had occupied the past 30 years of Xena's life. Being a daughter of Ares had saddled her with a blood-lust much like Gabrielle's own. The Hunger was the same. But while Gabrielle needed to feed, Xena needed to spill blood, to take life. And they both missed the days before guns, when a sword was the weapon of choice and there was plenty of blood to be spilled in hand to hand combat. There was no thrill, no challenge, no hunt with the guns.
Gabrielle blinked as two millennia of memories flashed before her. She bit back a grin, recognizing the mischief in her lover's cool countenance, the smile that threatened the cold line of Xena's lips. Gabrielle started to speak but swallowed instead, as a warning flashed across the breathtakingly sculpted, yet eternally familiar face.
Something niggled in the back of her mind, something she couldn't quite remember. Something she needed to say? To do? Now? Gabrielle closed her eyes to concentrate. And suddenly, it was there.
It was a murky, muddled thought, as if from a long forgotten dream. Her eyebrows crinkled together and she fought to control the train of thought; to recognize it. She opened her eyes to see Xena slowly shaking her head, a hint of sadness creasing her eyes and mouth.
Goddamn sonfabitching junk! Gabrielle felt like a fool. Of course it was Xena talking to her, but she was so junked up she couldn't hear.
Well, what did you think was going to happen, Red? Gabrielle chided herself, still studying her soulmate's face, reacquainting herself with every angle, every line, every curve. And thriving on the sensation of the re-establishment of an age-old connection between herself and her best friend. Her only true love.
"Gab, you alright? You need some help?" The guitarist, Trace, approached from the lead singer's right, nudging her with an old Converse-covered toe while staring between her leader and the striking woman at the table.
"What kind of freaky shit you got going on here, Gab? You fix your string or what?" Trace was well known for her lack of diplomacy.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and stood slowly, then peered at her bandmate through half-lowered lashes, grinning broadly.
"Yeah. S'alright. Hey. Let's do the new one, okay?"
"For real? Fucking cool!" Tracy turned to the drummer and percussionist and yelled, "UNDER MY SKIN!"
© Nommo, 1999. e-mail comments or not to firstname.lastname@example.org
Continued in All Over Me
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