Back Trouble by Della Street

The first thing Alera noticed was their queen, Gabrielle, backing into her hut. The second thing was the reason for her unusual entry: A pallet borne by four strong Amazons, on which lay an obviously irritated patient.

"This is ridiculous," Xena grumbled.

"Xena, please. We've been over this. You said you'd do this for me."

Xena rolled her eyes, but remained where she was.

Gabrielle kept her gaze fastened to the pallet and its occupant as they were lowered carefully to the floor of the healer's establishment. "Is Ephiny around?" she asked, tucking the blanket around Xena's legs.

Her Amazon escorts shook their heads. "She's with a hunting party," one offered. "They should be back in a few days."

"Rats." Gabrielle turned to the young women. "Thank you for carrying her. You did a wonderful job." With a subtle hand gesture, she dismissed the beaming helpers, leaving the queen and her friend alone with the healer and her apprentice. Over the next long minutes, she

watched as Xena was poked and prodded, grudgingly acceding to requests to turn onto her side, raise her arm, take deep breaths--

"Xena, stop that!"

The warrior puffed out her cheeks and expelled the breath she had been holding.

"You were lucky," the healer announced. "I think you'll be all right if you rest it for about a week. No running. No riding. No sparring." She retied the small bag of pain-killing herbs from which she had spiced her patient's tea. "No sex. No--"

Xena's hand snaked out to Alera's wrist. "What?"

"Your back needs complete rest." Alera pried the warrior's fingers from her wrist. "Maybe a slow walk once or twice a day, but--"

"No sex?" Xena demanded.

"Look, Xena," Alera replied, "I'm sure an Amazon village must seem like a smorgasbord to you, but you'll just have to pass up the finger foods for a week. I'm sure you can manage it."

"She can," Gabrielle said firmly.

"This is ridiculous," Xena insisted again. She turned to the Amazon queen. "I told you there's nothing--"

"It's not nothing," the healer's unwelcome voice interjected. "Any significant strain before it heals and you could have back problems the rest of your life."

Xena stared coldly at her.

"You'll be fine," Gabrielle said. "It's not like we came here for that, or anything."

Alera snorted. "Maybe you didn't, but they've been lining up three deep here since they heard the Warrior Princess was in the area."

Gabrielle frowned. "They have?" Her gaze shifted to Xena, who shook her head.

"I'm sure they haven't, Gabrielle," Xena replied. "They'd have no reason to think . . . ." She left the sentence unfinished.

"Well, anyway, you're under house arrest," the Queen declared. She turned to the healer's assistant. "Inform the guards that Xena is not to be permitted physical activity for one week." She looked over at the agitated patient. "Of any kind."

"Uh . . . ." The girl was trapped in the ominous glare directed at her from the Warrior Princess's bed.

"Xena, stop that!" Gabrielle beckoned to the girl. "Come on. I'll tell them." She stepped through the curtain, followed closely by the nervous assistant.

Xena rolled onto her side, and caught Alera's attention. "When she comes back, I want you to tell her you made a mistake," she said.

The healer drew back her head. "It's not a mistake."

"Yes, it is," Xena said with deceptive calmness. "I think you meant to say 'limited' movement. Some riding, some sparring, some sex."

"None, none, and none."

Xena's eyes narrowed. "No riding, no sparring, some sex."

"I know my business, warrior," the healer muttered as she leaned over to place some clean towels on a shelf. "I'm not changing my opinion just because you don't like being in a candy store with your hands tied."

She turned back around to find the Warrior Princess standing directly behind her. Instinctively, the redhead backed up, until she felt the counter behind her back cutting off further retreat.

"Look, Xena, I'm only a few years older than you. I know how it is, but--"

"No, I don't think you do," Xena said in a low voice. "Let me tell you a story." She leaned forward, but Alera decided against reminding the warrior at the moment not to stress her back muscles. "This isn't a true story, understand? Because if it were, I'd be in big trouble with

your Queen for telling it to someone other than her Regent. Got it?"

"Not a true story," the healer repeated.

"That's right," Xena said. "Now, imagine there was a warrior who travelled the countryside with a beautiful companion." She paused to ensure that she had her listener's full attention. "This warrior was still young enough to enjoy . . . having a good time." Xena's hands rested on the table, one on each side of the healer, and she leaned in a bit closer. "Imagine this warrior went a looooong time without 'having a good time', because she had a thing for her companion. Are you with me?"

Alera nodded, wide-eyed.

"Now, imagine that, one night by the campfire, this warrior found out that her companion had a thing for her, too." Blue steel bore into the healer's eyes. "Then imagine that, right in the middle of the most incredible experience of the warrior's life" -- she turned her head for a moment, and Alera realized she was trying to calm herself -- "they heard shouting, and the warrior had to get up and go rescue some stupid travellers from a bunch of moronic, inconsiderate sons of--" She paused to take a deep breath. "Thugs," she finished with visible restraint.

Alera suspected that 'deceased' was another adjective which might now apply to said ruffians.

"Imagine that the warrior had to slide down a cliff to save one of the travellers, and rammed her back against an outcropping, and her companion insisted that they rush to a nearby Amazon village instead of . . . doing what the warrior wanted to do."

Their bard queen wasn't the only one who could spin a vivid tale, Alera realized.

"Got all that?" Xena asked.

She nodded again.

"Now, imagine that some quack healer in this Amazon village told the warrior she couldn't finish what she'd started with her companion, the sexiest, most desirable woman who ever lived."

Alera realized that Xena hadn't blinked since launching into her story. What was it she had heard about about psychopaths and blinking?

"Did I mention that this warrior has killed many . . . many . . . people?" Xena asked.

Alera shook her head.

"Now, what do you suppose would happen under that sequence of events?"

"The warrior would go insane?" the healer guessed.

"That's right."

"And start hacking up Amazons?"

Xena nodded slowly.

"Starting with the healer?"

Another confirmation.


The warrior's head spun around to see a pair of angry green eyes spearing her.

"What are you doing out of bed?" Gabrielle demanded.

"My back feels fine," Xena replied. She straightened slowly, and returned to lie on the pallet. "In fact, I think Alera has a clarification to make about that," she added.

Gabrielle turned to the third woman in the hut. "What is it?"

The healer hesitated, then edged along the edge of the counter until she was near the Queen. "Xena will be able to walk comfortably in less than a week," she said uneasily, avoiding the icy expression that she knew was waiting for the right words. "But . . . it'sreallynotsafeforhertorideorsparor . . . engage in any strenuous physical activity." She stepped behind Gabrielle, placing the blonde woman between her and her patient.

A low growl emanated from the pallet.

"Xena! Stop that!"

* * *

Gabrielle reclined against the counter with a rueful smile. "Only four more days," she said wistfully, then sighed. "I don't think I can take it. All I think about is . . . ." She cocked her head self-consciously. "You know."

"You and me both," Xena replied. She sat up. "Gabrielle, I really do feel a lot bet--"

"No," Gabrielle interrupted. "Alera said a week. She's the healer."

"She'll need a healer when I get out of here," Xena mumbled.


"I said . . . ." Xena thought fast, and then a sly smile began to form. "I want you to come over here."

The bard stared at her suspiciously. "Why? What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking about what I was doing to you before we were interrupted last week. Do you remember?" She enjoyed the flush that spread across Gabrielle's face. She remembered, all right.

"Yes," the bard said quietly.

"We can do that, Gabrielle," Xena coaxed. "I can lie still on my back."

"Your back wasn't still at the time," Gabrielle said. "As I recall, your whole body was into it."

"That's because you're so delicious, Gabrielle," Xena said seductively. "Do you know what I want to do to you?"

Gabrielle hesitated for a long moment, then finally looked up. "What?"

* * *

"Oh, gods," Gabrielle moaned. Her fingers wandered restlessly across her own thighs, which rested along the edge of the counter on which she was perched. "Xena, you're driving me crazy."

"Come over here and let me drive you crazier," Xena urged.

Gabrielle focused on her with difficulty. "No," she said. "Letting you tell me all those things--"

"All those things I'm going to do to you."

"--was a bad idea," Gabrielle finished. "It'll just make the next four days that much harder." She took a ragged breath. "We can't, Xena. We can't risk your health."

Her tactical skills remaining unimpaired, Xena recognized the finality of the bard's decision, but her eyes followed the meandering of Gabrielle's fingertips . . . .

"All right," she conceded. "But just because I'm out of commission doesn't mean you can't have some fun."

"I'm not coming near that bed."

"You don't have to," Xena replied. "You can have fun where you are."

The bard's brow furrowed for a moment, and then she reddened. "You mean . . . ? Xena . . . . I can't do that . . . ."

"Sure you can," Xena purred. "It'll be fun." She met Gabrielle's gaze. "For both of us."

Gabrielle fiddled with the cloth of her skirt. "Xena . . . ," she scolded.

"C'mon, Gabrielle. I'm going nuts here." The warrior brought out the ultimate ammunition. "Please?"

Gabrielle glanced nervously toward the door.

"Alera just left for lunch," Xena assured her. "She'll be gone at least an hour. The guards never come in here."

Gabrielle laid a palm on her thigh uncertainly, and Xena licked her lips.

"You won't . . . do anything to strain yourself?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena shook her head.

"You just want to . . . watch?" Gabrielle blushed again.

Catching her lower lip in her teeth, Xena nodded.

After another moment, Gabrielle slowly slid her hand beneath her skirt.

* * *

A resounding crash of metal and pottery brought two panicked guards into the healer's hut, stopping in their tracks at the sight of their Queen on the floor beside the counter, attempting to wriggle out from beneath the Warrior Princess.

"My Queen?" the first guard questioned tentatively.

The women on the floor looked up, and Gabrielle took the opportunity to slide out from under her partner, straightening various items of clothing as she emerged. Xena reluctantly returned to her bed.

"What's going on?" The healer's angry shout carried over to them from the doorway.

"Xena forgot her instructions," Gabrielle huffed. "She wanted some exercise, but of course she CAN'T DO THAT that for another four days," she directed loudly toward the pallet.

The guards glanced at each other at the sound of the Warrior Princess's snarl, and carefully gathered up the sword and chakram from the corner as they slipped outside.

* * *

"Yeah, it's been very hard on her," Gabrielle agreed.

"On both of you, from what you've told me." Ephiny laid a hand on her friend's forearm. "Which is wonderful news, by the way."

Gabrielle smiled. "Well, I am anxious to, you know, spend some private time with Xena, but I'm still a little worried about her back."

From over the bard's shoulder, Ephiny caught sight of an unmistakable figure approaching them.

"I'm going to suggest a long walk," Gabrielle continued. "Then maybe a light practice with staffs. We'll take it slo--oh!"

Xena tossed the smaller woman over her shoulder, and strode toward the Queen's hut.

Ephiny watched the retreating figures. "Slow," she repeated. "Uh huh."


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