~A Days Journey Into Hell ~
by K. Glasgow
Disclaimers: OKOKOKOK The characters of Xena Blue Eyes Princess Babe, Gabrielle the Staff Swingin' Girltoy, Ares (ackkk) and Argo are all property of MCA/Universal blablabla. I am not making a profit on this and I will return all of them when I have them where I want them.
This is a re-write of my very first story. It's a little darker than my normal writing, but I only go where my muse takes me. Please take this story in the spirit it was written. There is survival. There is love. It is hurt, comfort and angst. I can write it but I can't read it!
***This story has disturbing content. It deals with rape. It is NOT graphic and it is not a game!***
Violence Disclaimer: There is Violence of an extreme nature and it has lots of angry words. There is an evil yucky person and his thoughts described within the text of this story. Don't worry though. He gets his! If this type of person disturbs you, DON'T READ THIS STORY!***
There is a loving and sexual relationship between two women depicted herein. If this is an issue with you, well, we all have issues to deal with. If you are too young to read this DON'T! For more than one reason! If this is illegal in your area, same goes for you. Don't do it! Don't even think about it.......you're thinking about it aren't you. Uh huh! See how you are!
Spoilers: Season three before "The Debt" so if you don't want to know don't read.
This story may upset you, but I promise to make it up to you in the end!.
If this depresses you read The Stranger Paths series.
Enjoy! Send comments to UgoXena@aol.com
The day began as any other day that Xena and Gabrielle had traveled together. The morning air was crisp and a slight hint of saltiness hung in the air. "We must be near the sea." was the first groggy thought that came to Gabrielle's sleepy mind as she awakened. She was not near as proficient at recognizing the landscape and where they were in relation to it as Xena. "Is there anything she is NOT good at?" She mused, "Yeah! Cooking!" Gabrielle amused herself so much with this last thought that she laughed aloud.
Xena had been saddling Argo but had stopped for a moment to watch the young bard as she slept. She smiled as Gabrielle's chuckle caressed her ear. Xena was so impressed with Gab's ability to be light at heart in almost any circumstance. They had been traveling long hard roads the past few days and the exhaustion was beginning to show even on the tireless Xena. The mountainous areas they had just been through were necessary evils to get to the township where they would replenish supplies and maybe stay the night at an inn. "A soft bed and a hot bath would do us a world of good." Xena thought. She caught herself thinking back to the last time she and Gabrielle had shared a bath. The water fight had been in fun. There had been an indescribable tension in the air that had to be broken before Xena did something she thought she would regret later. Splashing Gabrielle had been the quickest way to dissipate that building pressure.
As Xena stared off in thought, Gabrielle, now fully awake, watched intently for a sign that Xena would be rejoining reality sometime soon. When became apparent that she would not Gabrielle broke the silence.
"A dinar for your thoughts." Green eyes were framed by brows raised in interest.
Startled by the sound of Gabrielle's voice, Xena turned her head quickly to see an amused expression in the emerald eyes of her companion. The warrior turned her head away just as quickly so as not to give the blonde a chance to see the redness in her face. Xena gathered herself and turned back.
"By the Gods, look who's up! I thought you would sleep 'til mid-day." Her voice was teasing and playful.
"Well?" The bard was never one to let things go very easily.
"Well, what?" Xena replied.
"What were thinking about?" *Give it up Warrior Girl. You got something rolling around that pretty head of yours*
Xena could feel one of Gabrielle's' inquisitions coming on.
"I was thinking of how famished I am." She tried to lie. She didn't do a very good job of it.
"Xena. Don't change the subject!" Thoughts of wild dogs on a kill came to mind with this subject.
"Gabrielle, I'm not. I was thinking about eating." *True enough.* Xena smiled at the double innuendo.
Gabrielle decided not to pursue the discussion any further. If there was one thing she was sure of, it was that you couldn't get Xena to talk if she didn't want to. And boy, she didn't want to. Instead she rose stretched and took in the fresh air with a deep cleansing inhale. She realized then, that she too was famished! She went to the packs to see what, if anything, she could find to fix for breakfast.
"Uh, Xena?" The frown infiltrated her voice.
Xena smirked and replied, "Uh, yeah?"
"Do you realize that we are out of almost everything?" She dug deeper hoping to find anything worthy of consumption.
"Yes Gabrielle, I noticed. I am taking Argo into town to get us some more provisions. If I leave now I will be back before nightfall."
"Why don't we both go and we can forage on the way. We can live at least a couple more days like this." Gabrielle continued her rummage through the almost empty bag.
"Honestly, I am more concerned with the "nature" of the town than running out of food. I haven't been there in a while and I have heard both good and bad of it. I would rather go get us a few supplies and check things out at the same time. If we are going to stay there I want to know what happens "around town". I would really prefer that you stay here and keep an eye on things, and I think you could use the rest." Xena gazed at Gabrielle with great tenderness knowing that Gabrielle was tired whether she wanted to admit it or not.
The bard knew that this was Xena's 'I have to keep the Bard safe!' side springing forth. She wasn't being condescending just overprotective. Gabrielle tried to decide if there was a difference but didn't pursue it. On another occasion she might have tried to badger Xena into changing her mind, but she decided that a little time alone to write and rest would be a welcome change.
"Fine. Go have your little warrior fun while I stay here and tend to things at "home". A sidekick's work is never done." She flitted her fingers at Xena in feigned exasperation.
Xena smiled at this and touched Gabrielle's shoulder. "I'll be back before you know it." She pecked Gabrielle on the forehead. She walked to her steed, mounted Argo, turned her and took off at breakneck speed.
Gabrielle shook her head and smiled. She enjoyed few things more than watching Xena fly on Argo, knowing her own joy was from the fact that Xena enjoyed the flying.
Speed was one of the many things that truly exhilarated Xena. The wind rushing up to her unafraid of the confrontation with this mighty Warrior Princess. The elements were the only things that had no fear of her. Even the Gods had some fear. Mostly of losing power, losing face or losing a battle. But the elements had no equal. Wind. Fire. Water. Earth. Against these none could stand. As Xena rode she became one with the wind she respected. The wind seemed to have a cleansing effect on her, not a physical cleansing but a cleansing of her mind and her soul. She had felt like exploding the past few days and this was a chance to unleash some of that pent-up frustration.
Frustration was putting it mildly. Her growing affection toward Gabrielle was beginning to become almost overwhelming. She knew she was in love with her but she just wasn't sure of how Gabrielle felt about her. Certainly she had no idea as to the thoughts that had occupied Xena's mind just that morning. *God's if she had any clue about what I was thinking this morning, she would die blushing!*
Xena loved the fact that she and Gabrielle slept together most of the time now. She seemed to live for the time of day when she could just gather Gab into her arms and hold her. The smell of her skin and hair was like a tonic to her normally tortured soul. It was the most replenishing sleep she had ever had. The more she thought about, it the more she came to comprehend the magnitude of these emotions. *I have either got to tell her and suffer the consequences or let this eat me alive.* That last notion brought an entire onslaught of new and disturbing thoughts with which to fill her mind on this ride. She spoke aloud to the wind that chased her, "Ya know, I was going to clear my head and it's only gotten worse now that I'm away from her. What if she rejects me? What if I tell her and she wants to leave? But I'm Xena. No one rejects me. But what if .. Oh BY THE GODS!!! HAAAA!" And she egged Argo to pick up the pace.
If she rode fast enough these thoughts would just blow away. "Yeah, right." was sarcastic remark to the notion.
Gabrielle watched Xena for as long as she could see her. She was so fascinated by the way the warriors' body moved with such grace. It filled her with a feeling she could not quite comprehend. It wasn't really pride, although standing aside and watching Xena at times made her puff up. No these feelings were quite different and removed from that. She knew that she loved that Warrior Princess with all of her heart and couldn't imagine life without her. But then, they both knew there was a bond of friendship between them that went deeper than life itself. Gabrielle would die for Xena and Xena for her. These were all unspoken facts of their relationship. Confusing thoughts continued to roll through her mind and could still make little sense of them. "Maybe if I write this all down I'll understand it better." It seemed she was, at times, more able to write her emotions out than try to figure them out in her head.
"But, first things first." she said aloud to no one in particular.
She was still hungry and there really was not much in way of food in the one pack that Xena had left with her. There was some dried meat, a small lump of cheese and one very sorry excuse for an apple.
"Time to play hunter gatherer." she mumbled to her self. The forest around her was full of food if one knew where to look. Fruits and nuts were a fine way to start the day anyway.
"No need to go off killing things if you don't have to. Unlike Some People I Know." She smiled at her own Xena ribbing even though Xena wasn't there to play along. Suddenly she wished very much that the warrior were there. "Hurry back." She whispered. It was almost a plea.
After she foraged, ate and wrote a few lines, she began to tidy up the camp a bit. Her thoughts were not much clearer than they had been before but she had written a few new lines to an old story. Rolling up the blankets last, she was stopped in mid-fold by a smell so familiar it touched her heart. She pulled the blanket up to her face and took a long draw. The scent was Xena. The smell overwhelmed her senses and she ached at that moment be back in the folds of Xena's strong and gentle embrace.
"What's happening to me?" She was now confused beyond her ability to sort it out.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a rustling in the bushes.
"Who's there?" Gabrielle moved smartly to her staff and with expertise brought it to the ready. There was no answer.
"Xena? Is that you?" She listened intently but all was quiet again. "Must have been some little furry creature." Within the split second of finishing this thought three unkempt men jumped out at Gabrielle.
"Well, well what little thing have we here?" The dirtiest of the three growled first.
"Well, not what you think!" Was Gabrielle's smart reply. She didn't really know what they thought but she was quite sure their thoughts did NOT run even remotely close together.
"Girlie, a well fed thing like you has got to have some money somewhere." The second smelly man with maybe a total of five teeth in his head spoke teasingly at her.
"I don't have any money and I am close to being out of food." She tried to be as truthful and kind as she could. Maybe she could defuse this situation before it got out of hand. Her words had saved her in worse predicaments in the past. She could only hope.
"We'll just see what you do have." They all laughed and leered at this comment. They all pulled their weapons and started to come at Gabrielle.
This was not looking promising.
The Amazon Queen had been trained well in the use of her weapon of choice and Xena had taught her not to give in to her fear but to use the heightened awareness that it gave. As the first man swung his sword at Gabrielle she blocked it aside and swung the staff around with such force that the head blow lifted him off his feet and flung him back 10 paces. Seeing that she was not the easy mark they had anticipated, the two standing men began to circle around to get Gab between them. Knowing that she did not want to be in the center of a rogue sandwich, Gabrielle backed away from them waiting to let them take the offensive. She didn't notice that she was backing into the man she had just laid out. As she tripped the men saw the advantage they were looking for and took it. They leapt at Gabrielle as she went down. She still had her wits about her enough to raise her staff and push it forward. As luck would have it the staff hit one of the men squarely on the throat and sent him gagging. As she hit the ground Gabrielle rolled to avoid the last leaping man. Launching quickly to her feet Gabrielle took the staff, still in her hands, and whacked the last man hard across the temple rendering him unconscious. Still breathing hard she began to relax her stance when out from the brush came a man, not a giant, but a huge muscled monster of a man. He was nearly 8 feet in height with more muscles than Gab had seen on the strong men in the traveling circuses. With a menacing glare he chilled Gabrielle to the very core of her being. She had seen true evil before, but never in human form. It had always been half-human or not human at all. She had seen warlords and murderers. She had witnessed men torturing children in the name of religion. She had even carried evil inside of her, but never in her life of seeing evil, and what it could cause men to do, had she ever seen evil walk as a man.
As he walked toward her she realized that she was most likely going to die. If she was dying today she was going out fighting. She screamed her best Xena scream and propelled her small frame directly at this beast of a man. With one flick of his massive hand he knocked Gabrielle aside with a stroke that sent her reeling to the ground. Shaking off the dizziness she was suffering she struggled to her feet. The man looked at her without passion or emotion. He did not care that he had injured her nor did it appear that he was angered by her in any way. He showed absolutely no emotion. She decided then that she was furious! She would have passion enough for the both of them! Still holding her staff she began to circle him. Still impassive he watched her. No time would ever be the right time to attack so she sprung again and again he struck her down like a gnat. She knew that he had swung harder this time. He had opened a gash on her forehead with the force of the blow and blood was dripping into her eyes. She got once again to her feet. She staggered a bit but stood. Wiping her eyes she looked around for a way of escape.
The other men were starting to come around and stand up. They began to move toward Gabrielle. As they did so they were motioned to back away by the huge monster-man. This one simple action put such fear in Gabrielle that she started to truly panic. She knew in her very soul that he did not want her dead. He wanted more. He wanted to steal her very soul from her being. Her thoughts now were to flight. She sprinted to the edge of the clearing. Just as she reached the tree line she was grabbed from behind by her hair and hauled back kicking and screaming. She was unceremoniously dropped to the ground in front of the evil man. One of the others kicked her in the back from behind. The pain seared down her legs to her knees and she screamed in agony. The muscled behemoth then slapped her across the face knocking her unconscious. Groggily she came to with this evil man right in her face. As she lay there he violently ripped off her shift. Even with her half-naked he stared with the same dispassion as before.
She wished she were dead. She tried to struggle but the pain in her head was too much. She tried to scream but the words were mixed with blood. And when the violation came she screamed with her soul the only thing she could, "XEEEENAAAA!!"
Xena reached the town before mid-day. Considering the late start she was quite pleased with the quick trip it had turned into. She left Argo at the stable and began to stroll to the center of town. She hadn't eaten before she left *You can't eat what you don't have.* and decided food was her first order of business. She found a vendor in the square selling meat combined with various vegetables grilled on a skewer. "What a novel idea. What will they think of next!" She marveled. She ate quite a few of these unique tid-bits, paid the man and moved on.
She wanted to find the town alchemist. Gabrielle liked to play healer and was actually getting quite good at it. Xena decided to pick up some of the more exotic herbs that she and Gabrielle couldn't find in the nearby forests. She strolled in to the nearest inn to inquire of the innkeeper where she might find one. She entered and strolled to the bar.
"What'll it be?" the barkeep inquired gruffly.
"I am looking for the alchemist. Can you tell me where I might find him?" She was in a good mood and didn't allow the gruff man to ruffle her feathers.
"Her." Came a voice from behind her.
Xena turned to see who had spoken. "I beg your pardon?"
A woman seated at one of the tables she had passed on the way in had answered her.
"Her. You asked to see him. Him isn't a him, he's a her."
"Oh. Well, then where may I find HER?" Xena smiled in spite of herself. She of all people should know not to assume the gender of a person by their profession.
"Ya found her. That's me." The woman pointed a crooked finger at herself and smiled.
Xena smiled back. "That was easy. Do you mind if I join you?"
The woman made a positive nod directing Xena to the table. Xena sat down across from her. She was an odd looking woman. She was several years older than Xena but how many was hard to say. Bright red hair hung down across her eyes in a mass of curls. Her eyes, framed perfectly by the flow of her hair, were bright and full of life. They were of a green that was hard to describe. Seafoam-green was the closest Xena could come to describing it. The color of the waves just as they broke and became a translucent green color. "Remarkable." Was Xena's thought.
"Bargus! Bring us another" The redhead yelled at the barkeep.
Xena waved him off and said, "My schedule won't allow me to indulge."
"Not for you! For me!" She laughed heartily and touched Xena's forearm with light caress.
Xena smiled in spite of herself. She liked this woman for some odd reason. Xena didn't know her but there was a familiarity about her that put her at ease.
"So! Why is a leather bound warrior woman lookin' for an alchemist?" the green inquisitive eyes peered at her from under ablaze of red.
The gaze was somewhat familiar and very unsettling. She shook off her unease. "I am looking to find some herbs for my friend to add to her collection.
"Why isn't your friend here to get 'em his self?" She took a draw from the ale the keep had delivered and looked hard at Xena. The warrior didn't look the type to do anyone's bidding....unless.
"Herself." She smiled at the irony. "Well, I left her this mor . Is this important information?"
Sure enough. She smiled knowingly. "Not really. Just nosy I guess. I am Arthenia; my friends call me Artie. Nice to meet ya."
"I'm Xena. My friends call me . Xena," she said with a smile. "Pleased to meet you as well."
"Where is your friend. Out shopping?" She glanced over Xena's shoulder expecting her companion to be at her side any moment.
"No. I came to town alone. She is a few miles out at our site. I left her there to get some rest and I am hoping she is taking the opportunity to do it. If I know Gabrielle, however, she has found some kind of trouble to get into." She laughed at this but Xena was suddenly worried about her. "Geez! Stop worrying. She's fine.", she thought to herself.
Artie saw the look of concern flash across Xena's face. "I think we can find what you are looking for in a hurry so you can get back to your, uh, friend. Let's go upstairs and see what we can find for her and you can be on your way."
They got up from the table and made their way to the stairs.
"So you do business here?" Xena inquired.
"Not really. I own the place. I just happen to be the town healer too. Convenient really. They come in with their troubles. I listen, pour drinks and try to heal their lives. They come in broken, I listen, give them medicine and try to heal their bodies. They come in tired, I give them a room and let them take care of themselves for a change." They both laughed at this last comment.
They came to a good size room on the third floor. It was unusual to have more than two floors but this was off set and not a full floor. It had a balcony overlooking the town center and was high enough to look out to the ocean.
"What a wonderful view! How peaceful." Xena could feel the tension wash from her as she stood in the comfortable room.
"Great ain't it? The floor below has a room where the sun shines right through the window on to the bed at sunset. That is a spectacular sight. It really only happens in the spring though. Wrong time of year now." She shook her head and went to her cupboard in search of the unusual.
"Maybe we'll be back next ." Xena stopped in mid-sentence. "Gabrielle." She whispered.
"Is there a problem, Xena?" Artie frowned.
"I have to go! Something is wrong. Something has happened to Gabrielle." Panic grew in her gut and she knew.
"How can you tell that from here?" She knew, but she didn't think the warrior did.
"I don't know but I have to go NOW!" and Xena bolted out the door and flew down the stairs missing most of them.
Artie watched her leave knowing that she would be back with the companion that she knew Xena loved and would die without. She said a silent prayer, "I know what it is like to live life without the woman you love by your side. Don't you take that Gabrielle and let it happen to this poor creature, too."
Xena flew to the stables and found Argo. She didn't even take the time to saddle her. She leapt on to her trusted steeds back and cried, "GO ARGO! And don't stop until we get to Gabrielle!"
With that said Argo sped off faster than she had probably ever gone in her life. She had been in battle many times with her mistress and knew her every emotion. This was one she had never felt. She sensed, though, that this was perhaps the most important ride of her life and she would do her masters bidding. If this meant her own death then so be it. She would get Xena to Gabrielle's side come Hades himself.
Xena rode with only one thought. Gabrielle. She felt that something was horribly wrong. She hope that she wasn't right and that she had let her imagination run away with her. But with a sick knowledge she knew she was right. She had felt Gabrielle scream in agony and despair. How she could feel her she wasn't about to ask and she didn't really care.
Argo ran and kept running. Like Xena, she was a tireless warrior.
It was dark when Xena and Argo reached the clearing. There was no fire and it was deadly quiet. Xena drew her sword and flew off of Argo to the ground. She stood statue still and listened for signs of movement. There was nothing. Then a small, almost inaudible, moan came forth.
"Gabrielle! I'm here! I can't see you. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on." Xena was searching for her by the sound of her breathing.
And then Xena saw her. A tiny form curled up in a ball so tight it looked painful. She saw that her companion had been beaten badly and her clothes were torn.
"Oh Gods. Gabrielle." Xena ran to her and was careful with her movements. If Gab was as bad as she thought she might make it worse by quick movements. She cradled her in her arms and looked at her wounds. They were bad, but she had seen others not as strong that had suffered worse in the past. >From what Xena could see she would recover.
Gabrielle opened the eye that wasn't swollen shut. "Xena?"
"Yes Gabrielle. I'm here. I'm here. I have you." Xena was crying in relief seeing that Gab was alive and talking. "Don't speak. I need to get you warm and cleaned up."
She walked over and picked up the folded blankets. She gently covered Gabrielle up and started a fire. She heated some water and began to clean the small woman's wounds. Gabrielle was still cold and going in and out of consciousness. Xena needed to move her closer to the fire if she was to keep her from getting the cold sickness. Carefully she lifted Gabrielle up into her arms and began to carry her to the fire. As she did so the blanket that was covering Gabrielle fell to the ground. Xena saw a stream of blood dripping down the inside of Gabrielle's thigh to her knees. She gazed in confusion as to where the blood was running from. Gabrielle wasn't due for her cycle for another half moon. And then the understanding hit her like a sledgehammer. Xena could barely stand. She felt as if the whole world had begun to spin out of control. Her legs gave way and she fell to her knees still holding Gabrielle in her arms and she wailed with a primal scream.
It seemed like hours before she could breath or even try to let go of Gabrielle. She wanted to hold her forever in hopes that it would undo the horrid wrong that had been done to this woman she called her life.
She lay Gabrielle down by the fire and covered her with the fallen blanket all the while her tears falling on Gabrielle's face.
She walked a slight distance away and began to pace like a caged animal. Finally she began to speak and then to wail "No. No. Not my Gabrielle! Ah Gabrielle No. NO! NOOOOOO!!!!! I'LL KILL YOU, YOU BASTARD! I'LL CUT YOUR THROAT AND USE YOUR SKULL FOR MY BREAKFAST. I SWEAR AN OATH WITH MY BLOOD THAT I WILL MAKE YOU PAY FOR THIS!" With that Xena took out her dagger and cut a swift slice across her palm letting the blood spill to the ground and mix with the tears that refused to stop falling.
Xena knew that she had to get Gabrielle to the healer. She was still bleeding and her pulse was starting to weaken. She and Argo had ridden hard to get to Gabrielle and it was time for one more ride. She hated to ask her golden mare for anything more this night but if Gabrielle had any chance for survival it was getting smaller with the passage of time. Xena wrapped Gabrielle in a fur that Gab liked to wear. She felt a deep trembling as Gabrielle slipped into consciousness one more time. She gathered the injured bard into her arms and mounted Argo.
"Xena?" Her voice was so small and weak it tugged at Xena's soul.
"Yes, love. I'm here." She laid a soft kiss on Gabrielle's head. The term of endearment was lost on Gabrielle.
"I tried. I tried so hard. I fought and kicked and ran and it didn't matter. It didn't matter." She began to cry tears that stung the cuts on her face.
Xena's heart began to break so deeply that she wasn't sure it would ever recover.
"Shhhh, Gabrielle. Hush now. You're going to be fine. It's O.K." She tenderly rocked Gabrielle and knew things were a long way from being fine and they may not be fine for a very long time. Maybe things never would be.
*I should never have left her alone. This is all my fault. If I had been here instead of playing the "poor me"" game we would be eating the evening meal right now or talking by the fire. But noooo, 'ol Xena here has to get away from it all. What in the name of the Gods was I thinking?* Her thoughts began a long steady road to torment.
The ride was uneventful if not filled with agony. The three reached town just as the sun was peaking over the horizon. . Xena rode directly to the tavern/inn of the red headed healer named Artie. She had been waiting for them, all night by the looks of her eyes.
"Take her up to the second floor, Xena. First door on your right. I'll have Bargus tend to your horse." She was direct and certain of her instructions. She knew that time was of the essence.
Xena did as she was instructed. The room was especially warm and well lit. There was a fire going with water heating above the flames. There were several herb bottles that lay on the stand beside the bed. Clean cloths were stacked on the stand with the bottles. There were some instruments there as well but Xena didn't recognize them.
Xena removed the wrap from around Gabrielle and carefully put her on the bed. She looked awful. The cut above her right eye was deep and would need stitches. The entire left side of her face was unrecognizable. The swelling would go down in a couple of days.
Xena began to unlace Gabrielle's boots and top. As she carefully removed the cloth the warrior was humbled by the sight. The bard's poor body was bruised in spots that Xena had never seen.
What caught her undivided attention was a bruise on Gabrielle's thigh that was in the shape of a handprint. This was no ordinary hand. It was huge. Xena put her own hand up to compare the size. She put both hands up to see if she could cover the span. She could not.
In shock she began to grasp the gravity the horror that the small woman had had committed on her. She knew that Gabrielle had more serious injuries than even she had imagined.
Artie entered the room with a serious attitude. Nothing like she had appeared the day before. But then things were NOT like they had been the previous day. The world had been shattered and it was up to a healer in a little town to put it back together. Xena trusted with her gut that this woman, if any, was the one that could do that.
Artie spoke with authority, "Warrior, if you're going to stay I'm going to put you to work."
Xena began to reply but Artie waved a hand to silence her. "I know that you have seen and battles and many injuries worse than this, but those people weren't her. You weren't in love them. This will be harder than anything you could imagine."
Xena wasn't going to ask how Artie knew of the love she had for Gabrielle she just replied, "I can't leave her side right now. I will do what ever you need." The answer sounded brave but Xena was scared to death. She could not begin to fathom a life without the lilting laughter and kind heart of her beloved.
"Alright, let's see what we have here." Artie began to expertly explore the wounds that Gabrielle had sustained. "She is unconscious and we need to keep her that way for what we need to do."
"What's that?" Xena needed to know but was afraid of the answer.
"She needs to be stitched up inside. If we don't she might bleed to death. We could try to pack the tears and hope that the bleeding stops but she has lost so much blood already I don't think it's a risk worth taking." Artie wanted to make sure Xena knew the options.
Xena drew a deep breath and nodded in agreement. "What do you need me to do?"
"First I need all the light we can get and I will need you to be my assistant. Open the shutters and help me move the bed into the light."
Xena complied with the woman's request moving the bed slowly so that Gabrielle would not be disturbed.
"I am not going to let you watch what I am doing. You need to trust that I am doing the right things. You will have to keep a finger on her pulse to make sure she's still alive and you will be handing me things as I need them. O.K.?" Artie looked at the warrior and saw the look of pain in her eyes and thought. *She is trying to tough this out. That's good I need her tough!*
The healer sat at the foot of the bed. Gabrielle was directly in front of her with her hips tilted up. She gave instructions to Xena, "Hand me the bottle marked Papaveraceae"
Xena looked a minute and then handed the container to the healer. She knew most of the herbs known to man and how to use them, but this name didn't ring a bell. "What is it?" she asked.
"Poppy capsule. We have to kill the pain before we do any thing."
"OPIUM?" Now Xena wasn't sure that Artie knew what she was doing. "I don't like ."
She was interrupted. "If you want this girl well you'll listen and don't argue! She isn't going to smoke it. I'll make a poultice that will deaden the pain and keep her out. It may get into her blood stream. That's why you need to keep an eye on her pulse. Do you understand?" She was adamant in her instructions. There would be no more questions.
Xena shook her head and was quiet now but wary. She watched with great concern.
Artie crushed the small bulb in a bowl with some other herbs Xena thought were clove and purple sage. One was for the pain and one for an antiseptic. She added a small amount of water and with some of the gauze made a small pack. She placed it inside of Gabrielle and waited. She reached to the table and picked up an instrument that was long and round in shape and looked menacing.
Xena was going to ask the red headed woman what it was for but thought better of it. Artie was in another state of mind right now and the warrior knew about the importance of focus. Besides that she didn't think she really wanted to know.
Xena saw where Artie was putting the device and couldn't watch. She bowed her head looked into the face of her beloved companion and prayed to whatever gods would come to her tormented mind. Silent tears fell once again for the small woman as well as for the guilt of the warrior. This was going to eat her alive.
Artie worked with dogged determination. This was the difficult part and she concentrated on repairing the damage that had been done. Fine needle and thread were the tools she used to proffer her ministrations on Gabrielle's body but it was her soul that had the healer worried. As she worked her mind would not rest. She had no control over what the warrior woman would do but she knew the type. She would avenge this attack. Artie wasn't sure if that would be in the best interest of the young woman. Gabrielle would need Xena to stay with her while she healed but Artie knew that wouldn't happen. The trail would grow cold if Xena didn't leave soon. If she left she wouldn't be back until the job was done or she was dead. "Gods help us." She sighed with a heavy sigh and continued her work.
The healer leaned back after what seemed like days and stretched. Xena had been handing her cloths, towels and needles in a dazed state. Artie thought she was in shock.
"Xena? Are you alright?"
"I'm fine." It was a cold hard response and Artie knew the Warrior Princess had returned.
"Xena, don't leave her like this!" Artie was pleading now.
"I have to go. I have no choice" The warrior's face was set as stone. Her anger immersed her very soul. The need to find and punish Gabrielle's attacker was her ONLY need.
"You do have a choice. Damn you! Listen to me!" She pulled on Xena's arm and was shrugged off vehemently. This woman was either brave or stupid." That girl up there needs you to be here when she wakes up. She needs you to help her through. YOU DO HAVE A CHOICE, DAMN IT! Make it be the right one."
Blue eyes shone with the fire that was in her heart. It was a cold fire that raged out of control threatening to devour her. "I trust that you will be able to take care of her needs. I will be back as soon as I can." The words were cold but the emotion came through like a sharpened blade.
Artie knew this was a fight she would not win but she chose to fight it anyway. This was a hill that was worth dying on. "You have to come back to her Xena. Don't go off getting killed."
"I have no intentions of getting myself killed." She tried to reassure both the healer and herself. Xena knew that intentions were not all there was to warfare and she was making no mistake. This was warfare!
"Believe it or not Xena, I have heard those very words before. I live my life alone because Carynous had 'no intentions' of getting herself killed. Please, let this go and stay with Gabrielle. Don't let there even be a chance that she should have to live without you." Artie felt the hurt of many years past as if it were a fresh wound in her heart.
With true sympathy in her voice Xena replied, "I am sorry for your loss, but this isn't that kind of relationship."
"Oh No? Come now Xena. It was obvious to me the minute you spoke of her." Her green eyes told Xena that she would not let this go.
"Well, you saw in five seconds what she hasn't seen in three years. I loved her the minute she told me I wasn't alone. I felt her then. It took time for me to realize it, yes. But, look...AAH! Why am I telling you this? Listen, she doesn't have the same feelings for me, Artie. To her this is a friendship and nothing more. It is no more important to her that I stay with her than you." She very deeply believed the words that she said.
"For your sake and hers, I hope you are right." But the healer knew the mighty warrior was very wrong indeed.
Artie watched Xena turn Argo around and ride away without a single backward glance. This was a battle that she knew the raven-haired woman would fight to the death if necessary. She spoke to the Gods and asked that the revenge she sought would not be the warrior's undoing or Gabrielle's. .
She turned with a slow a deliberate movement and walked back to the inn.
Xena rode the long trek back to where this nightmare had begun. The path was wrought with the memories she could not shake. The sight, in her mind, of her Gabrielle curled up in fear haunted her very soul. She had not been there to protect the one she most loved in all of creation and now her tormented mind was a constant reminder of that failure.
She knew that it was likely that she was wrong in her decision to leave but she was determined to find the monster that was responsible for this. She also knew that she couldn't face Gabrielle. This all happened because she had refused to let the bard talk her into a couple more days of inconvenience. She had wanted to be alone and now she truly was.
She arrived at the camp sight and saw in the light of day the evidence of the struggle that Gabrielle had been through. The footprints in the soil told the story. Three men. One monster. Spots of blood scattered on the ground and blankets. The scene made Xena nauseous. She had seen battlefields littered with bodies ripped into pieces that were unrecognizable. Blood was not a stranger to her sight, but this was so different. In her spirit she could feel the depth of fear and anguish that the young woman had endured. She saw in her mind the fight and the loss. She couldn't stand the sight and allowed her anger to blind her to the thoughts that were assailing her senses.
"THAT'S ENOUGH" She screamed aloud. Xena began to pace back and forth. She was losing her focus. She began to calm in a slow decisive manner. Now was not the time to break down.
The warrior began to tear down the campsite and gather the supplies she would need. The men had left an obvious trail in their departure. They didn't care if they were found. If the size of the footprints were an indication, the man had no need to worry. No one would be dumb enough to come after him. *Wrong again! I'm "dumb" enough!* Xena smirked at her thoughts.
She loaded up Argo with the supplies and headed off in search of the one she thought could bring back her sanity by his death.
==/~~~~~~~~~~~> ==/~~~~~~~~~~~> ==/~~~~~~~~~~~> ==/~~~~~~~~~~~>
It had been four days since the Warrior Princess had left the township of Paliceinous. Artie was well aware that the journey that Xena was on could take weeks even months but it didn't keep her from worrying. She knew the woman was quite capable of handling anyone and anything. It was not a concern for Xena's physical self that made her uneasy.
*Damn, that girl! She is going to lose herself and Gabrielle if she's not careful! *
Artie knew the warlord type quite well. Xena could become lost in the powerful draw of revenge. It was a fine line she was walking. She wasn't saying that revenge was never right, but in this case, it was a matter of timing. Xena may not have suffered at the hands of the men that attacked Gabrielle, but the damage, even if different, was just as real and just as deep. Her heart was broken and she was acting out in the only way she knew how, or maybe the one with which she was most familiar. The one person that could have talked her into realizing another way through this, was lying in a bed unable or unwilling to wake up. Without Gabrielle to help her, the warrior was lost.
Artie knew that Xena would be too proud to ever admit the pain and guilt that were driving her actions now. *C'mon Xena, figure it out!*
While the thoughts ran hither and thither through her mind, Artie didn't notice the young blonde's eyelid flutter and open.
"Xena?" The voice was small and scratchy.
"No, honey." Artie spoke softly so as not to frighten the fragile girl.
"Xena? Where is she?" If she had had enough energy to panic she would.
"Hush now child." Artie was not sure she wanted to tell Gabrielle that the warrior had gone. She was still very weak.
"She's gone isn't she?" Gabrielle knew with grief in her very soul that Xena had left her.
Artie, searching for the right words to say could think of none. All she could do was nod the affirmative.
" I knew she wouldn't stay with me after that. How could she?" She was distraught in her heart. Broken.
"Do you think she left because of what happened?" Artie was sure Gabrielle felt that way.
"Of course she did. She had to. I am sure she is disgusted by...it." She had wanted to say "by me" but couldn't bring herself to use the words. Stinging tears tried to escape her swollen eyes.
Artie reached out to take the broken woman into her arms. "Sweet girl, she left to avenge the attack that was made against you, not because of what happened to you."
Gabrielle pulled away from the older woman with what strength she could muster. Artie didn't fight her.
"So she just left me here alone." The bard was beginning to feel the anger welling up inside of her. "Well, isn't that thoughtful. I am here close to death and she goes out to play Warrior Princess."
"She did it for you." *Lame* thought Artie. She wasn't sure that Xena had done it for Gabrielle.
"She knows me well enough by now to know that 'revenge' isn't what I would want. No, she did this for herself." Her bitterness was growing. Festering.
*This woman knows her warrior's mind.* How to make her know her warrior's heart and it's struggle to deal with the pain was the challenge.
"But why? And who are you?" She was in a strange place with a strange woman and Xena had left her alone. Great.
Artie had forgotten that though she was quite intimate with the young bard, Gabrielle did not know who she was. "I am Artie. I own the inn here and I am the town healer. I ministered to you when Xena brought you in. It was rough there for a while. I wasn't sure you were ever going to wake up but your fever seems to have subsided for the moment."
"How long have I been here?" She looked around the room but things were dark and out of focus.
"Four days." She squinted knowing the reaction of the bard before hand.
"FOUR?" Gabrielle let the surprising information sink in and then asked, "When did she leave?"
"Gabrielle, let's not talk about things that will upset you now. You lost a lot of blood and the injuries to your body are extensive. Please, rest "
"Artie, one thing you are going to find about me is that I get answers to my questions. So, you might as well tell me now and save us both the pain and suffering. O.K.?" Her determined attitude shone through in spit of her injuries.
Artie took a deep breath and looked at the woman in her charge. *No, I don't suppose you give up easily little one.* "She brought you to my inn after having ridden all night to get here. She stayed and assisted me while I treated some of the injuries that she could not. She left about mid-day that same day."
The young bard absorbed what Artie had told her and closed her eyes. The thoughts raging in her head were full of torment. *She left me. She was disgusted by me and left. God's can I blame her? Yes! I can. She left me behind AGAIN! She always wanted to be away from me now she has her wish. She has a perfect excuse. DAMN YOU XENA! WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME ALONE?*
Tears began to fall down the woman's face, stinging the scratches that lined her fair cheeks. The eye that was swollen shut ached from the tears it was trying to shed. As she cried and thought a light shone on some information she had paid no attention to before. Her teardrops began to slow and she spoke .
"Artie? What wounds do I have that Xena couldn't fix? She is a talented healer. I have never seen a wound she wasn't familiar with."
"Gabrielle, I think she could have tended the injuries you have, but I think she didn't have the heart for it." Artie wasn't positive she was telling the truth but it was close enough. "You have some discomfort in you private area, yes?"
The blonde head slowly nodded.
"I had to take some stitches there and well "
"Xena was sickened at the thought of having to even touch me. I knew it."
"No no! Gabrielle, you have no idea what Xena was going through. She loves you more than life itself. She just couldn't do it. It pained her too much." She would try to save this if she could.
"Oh Right. That's why she's here now, because she cares so much for me. Give it a rest there Artie. Save it for someone dumb enough to believe that load of Bachai dung. I need to rest. Could you leave please?" Her new attitude was not at all bard like. She was pissed and bound to stay that way.
Artie looked intently at the young woman. She was indeed tired. The healer doubted however that Gabrielle would be able to get the sleep that she so desperately needed. "I will go, but first I want you to drink some tea to help you rest."
Gabrielle started to protest but knew that she could use the escape and her body actually did need the rest if she wanted to heal. The last thought began to take hold in her mind. Did she really want to heal?
For three days and nights Xena had tracked the group of men that had taken her life from her. She knew that Gabrielle would probably never forgive her for leaving. The anger and rage that overwhelmed her drove her forward. In her heart she knew that turning back and taking her place and the bard's side was the thing she should do but what she was doing now was the thing she was driven to do. Blind fury was the only emotion she allowed to the surface. Darkness had consumed her soul and she was giving in to it. She was comfortably familiar with the blackness that was now her existence. There was no mercy in her. These heathens would pay a dear price.
The warrior princess led Argo into a small farming village. There was a small tavern at the end of the road, the woman was thirsty and in need of information. *Let's see what the 'ol locals have to say.* As she entered the establishment all eyes turned to take in the sight of the tall threatening ex-warlord. Piercing blue eyes met the stares with cold steel. All looks that were met turned back slowly to find their drinks suddenly very interesting.
She sauntered up to the barkeep and expressed her desire for drink.
"That'll be a dinar, and no trouble if you don't mind." He was nervous to have a wild looking warrior of any type in his small establishment.
"I don't mind. There won't be trouble, that is, not unless you have a mind to look at me wrong."
The tender observed the woman and decided that it was not his place to question the seriousness of her statement. He wouldn't look at her at all if that was what she wished. He nodded, bowed his head and walked away from her.
Xena picked up her drink, left the payment on the counter and approached a group of men who looked as if they had been drinking for the better part of the day.
"Hey, boys. Nothing better to do with your time? Jobs? Family? Wives to attend to?" Angry sarcasm filled her voice.
The most inebriated of the group stood in defense of his honor. Xena put a hand on his shoulder and none too gently shoved him back to his seat.
"No need to get up. I just have a couple of questions. I'm looking for a man "
She was interrupted by an idiot. "Well, honey, you sure came to the right place." The drunken leader stood and placed a dirty hand on the tall woman's thigh.
With the speed of an Egyptian jackal Xena snatched hold of the man's hand and began to slowly apply pressure until the sound of the bones beginning to give way brought a satisfied grin to the irritated woman's face. The man started to scream in agony as the pain began to seep through his drunken state. "You'll not do that again if you know what's good for you." Xena stated. As if the ex-warlord turned headhunter had needed to state the obvious. She roughly released his hand by throwing him back in his seat.
Xena motioned to the table and nodded in askance to join the men. The ragged men each look to the other to see if any were going to be fool enough to deny the woman that had just crippled their comrade. No. They were drunk, not idiots. Well, they were drunk.
"Let me start again. I am looking for a certain man. This man hurt my friend and I hate when that happens. Get my drift? I'm a little edgy, ya see, and if I don't get the information I'm looking for I just might lose my temper. How do you boys feel about me losin' my temper?"
The poor men sat with heads bowed and merely grunted their response. They really didn't want to piss this woman off. She was a nutcase if they had ever seen one. Hair all askew and a wild look in her startling blue eyes. No. Her keeping her temper would be a good thing. A very good thing.
"Now, here we go. See if your puny little minds can follow me. This man is big. Not giant huge but BIG. His hands are two span of mine." She held up her two hands to make the point. "You couldn't miss this guy. So, tell me boys, have you seen him?"
The group was hesitant. They had seen the man the woman was speaking of but they couldn't decide which was the lesser of two evils. An angry, giant, killer man or a psycho, outta control warrior woman. One of the men decided that the present evil was the most threat and spoke up.
"Yeah, we seen him couple a days back. He and his men, they was headed to Corinth. Went south most likely."
"What time of the day was he here?" She pressed them for more details.
"Why ya' need ta know that?" The least drunk of the group asked.
Xena threw out a hand and snatched the man's collar and slammed his head sharply into the table. "I think I was the one asking the questions here, Buck. Just answer. No questions, just answers. Got it?"
Several heads turned in the direction of the commotion but not one comment was heard from the patrons. Silence. Dead silence.
The man gulped and forced a whisper in reply. "Yeah. I got it." The warrior released him and he slowly raised his eyes while he lifted a hand to his bruised forehead. "Ow."
"Gooood. Now what time of day was he here? " Blue eyes sparked with anger. It was obvious that she was on the verge of losing the temper was held in check by only one thought. *Gabrielle.*
"OKOKOK. They was here late afternoon. Boyo, did they drink! They musta drank all night cause I saw 'em leavin early, just before dawn. They was singin' and carryin' on like they was drunk or somthin'."
"Gods! Brilliant reasoning. You sure you're not a healer?" Blue eyes were rolling around at the absolute idiocy of these buffoons.
The fellow took a little ribbing from his drinking mates.
"So it was yesterday morning that they left, right?"
"Good boy!" Xena whacked the man on the back of the head and stood up. She was a sight to behold in the eyes of the intoxicated men. There was just something about a woman in leather.... no matter how dangerous. Maybe the danger was a part of the appeal. Yeah, maybe.
Xena knew she was close to her goal. If they had left the town on an all night drunk they would surely have to sleep it off somewhere on the road. She strode out of the tavern never looking back. The men at the table fought over who would get drink the warrior never touched.
Xena rode Argo out of the village heading south. She easily picked up the trail of the band within a few leagues and soon found the campsite the men had used. By the looks of it they hadn't been feeling very well. The fire pit was still warm and the warrior's blood began to stir with battle-lust. Adrenaline coursed through her veins as she mentally prepared for the ensuing battle. She closed her eyes and envisioned the steps she would take to gain victory over her quarry. Time was now very short.
The Warrior Princess spurred her Battle Steed on to their destiny with evil. In less than three candle marks the band of men were being sight-tracked by one pissed off warrior. She waited patiently for the exact moment of her attack. She hid silently behind a large tree and waited for the group to pass. As the last man passed her she dropped silently behind him and put a hand over his mouth while she dragged him back a few paces. Without making a sound Xena hit him in the throat with her fingertips.
"I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain and you'll be dead in thirty seconds unless you tell me about your friend. First let me introduce myself. You really don't want know who I am but I'm gonna tell you anyway. I'm a VERY close friend of the girl your friend raped a few days ago and I was a little disturbed by that. Tell me, what's the name of your big friend there."
With great effort the man spoke. "Cortindan. I didn't know he was gonna do it! Honest."
"That was truly a moving speech and as much as I would like to let you live I just don't see the need. You made me take much too long to track you down and that upset me. Oh and by the way, you have about twenty seconds left to live. You might want to start praying to whatever god you worship."
Xena turned her back on the dying man and went to her second place of strategy. The second one would have to be a quick kill due to the proximity of her main goal. She placed herself ahead of the last two and flipped herself into the trees above them. She could hear the conversation the men were having.
"He's just taking a leak. He'll catch up."
Xena noticed the second smaller man was carrying Gabrielle's Amazon staff. *Oh bad idea guy. BAD idea!* The warrior was seething now.
And Ares was laughing. He had never dreamt of such a great scheme. It wasn't his, but it was working out better than he could have planned. Now if he could keep her away from that annoying blonde thing he'd have it made and the irritating one would still owe him. Eternal life was good. Even as he laughed a small trickle of rain began.
The dark haired warrior flipped down, sword in hand, and landed directly in front of the man that held Gabrielle's prized possession. Without so much as a word spoken to him, in the split second between seeing the woman in front of him and looking into her startling eyes he knew he was dead. He couldn't have been more right. Xena took no more than that split second to relieve the man of his head and snatch the weapon before either the head or the staff hit the ground.
Cortindan couldn't quite believe his eyes. No one would dare try to rob him especially not a woman. Women didn't even belong on the same soil with him let alone on the road. They belonged in the kitchen or in the bed, serving and servicing him. Just a few days ago he had shown one of those tramps why they didn't belong in the same outside world with the men. That was a lesson she wouldn't soon forget. He couldn't help but notice his friends head on the ground and a blood stained sword in this female's hand. He had heard stories of women that carried swords and fought in armies. Those were the 'unnatural' ones. Those called Amazon. *A sick group that needs to be wiped from the face of the world.* This one didn't dress like one of the Amazon harlots, but by the God's she looked like one. This was not at all acceptable. This bitch needed a lesson and he was going to be the one to give it to her.
"Well, girlie. I can see you're in need of instruction on the proper treatment of your superiors." His voice was condescending.
"Oh. Yeah. Well, if you happen to see any, send 'em my way. I'll respect the Tartarus out of 'em." Piercing blue eyes held humor that threatened the man. It made him angry.
"Your wit will get you no mercy with me whore." He was shocked at the lack of fear and respect this worthless wench showed.
"That's good 'cause I'm not lookin for mercy. I'm_lookin_for_revenge." Xena continued to swing her sword down and around. A sly smile creeping across her face. Killing this guy was going to thrill her. Rain was falling harder as it began to pelt her skin. She didn't pay it any attention.
"Revenge?" He was the last person any sane man would seek revenge from. Of course the beast before him was neither man nor sane.
"Use that feeble mind of yours for a minute and think a few days back. A sweet innocent girl, alone in the woods. Remember?" She almost wretched thinking about what this man had done to her beloved.
All too well he remembered soft flesh, hot tears and screaming. What a stimulating combination it had been. He would relish the experience in his fantasies for a very long time. The driving thought of it aroused him even now. The look on his face betrayed his thoughts just as well as his body.
"Yeah. You remember. Well, that girl means more to me than my own life so you can only imagine how I feel about you. It will give me great satisfaction to watch you die. I sure hope it was worth it." As soon as the final syllable was released from her lips Xena leapt to strike.
"YIYIYIYIYIYIYI! AAAAAAAAAAH!!!!" She swung her sword in a high arch over her head. Metal struck metal as the huge stranger's sword was thrust out to parry the strike. The tall dark warrior swung again at her opponent's midsection. He plunged his blade down just in time to let the blow glance off to the side. That had been too close. He had underestimated the skill of this wench. It would not happen again. The huge man backed slowly away from his enemy to assess the situation.
The Warrior Princess was a complete step ahead of him. She knew this type of man. Women were less than slaves to him and here was a woman challenging him. He didn't like her even a little bit, and he miscalculated in assessing her skills. She could use that to her advantage. She would draw him in thinking he could defeat her and then POW! She would injure him in some small way and seek his wrath. If she could piss him off enough to make him lose his temper, she would have him. Separate a man from his focus, or his penis and you can defeat him. She swore she would steal both from this man.
The two opponents circled slowly as they each devised a plan of attack. Cortindan was not impressed with this sorry excuse for a woman. He had been taken by surprise on the first encounter. She no longer had that element in her favor. As far as he was concerned she no longer had anything to offer him but the satisfaction of her untimely demise, or perhaps her violation. *Oh yes. That would be sweet victory indeed. She thought her friend had been ravaged, but she had no idea the ruin he could inflict when truly inspired. She will soon learn!* He lunged at the raven-haired woman with great enthusiasm, for he now had an objective.
Xena was prepared for his move and acted in her best interest. She parried the shot just enough to avoid injury but without the strength to gain his attention. She wanted him to come closer. The web was being spun in earnest.
Cortindan grinned with the revelation that this woman was indeed an imposter posing in warrior's clothing. He had heard that the Amazon sluts were mighty warriors. Obviously he had heard wrong. This one was big and was no doubt one of the best that the Amazons had, but she was no match for him. He moved closer to his prey and with speed belying his size feinted at Xena's mid-section and then shifted his blade up slightly taking aim at her right shoulder. He was attempting to take her arm and her weapon from her. His goal was not to kill her right away but to make her very sorry that she had ever even seen his face.
The man was indeed fast but the Warrior Princess was nearly as strong and much swifter. With great dexterity she blocked the first feint and read the telegraphed attack to her shoulder. She moved with his sword and using his momentum against him blocked further out to her right leaving his sword blocking his body. Using her free left hand, she grabbed his wrist and pulled him into her and catapulted her knee directly into his stomach. As he doubled over in surprise more than anything, the angry woman kicked him in the butt and pushed him to the side. *That should do it!* It did. She could have easily killed him at that moment but she had not come this far only to end it quickly. She had special plans for this one.
In a scream of fury the huge man leapt to his feet. Veins stood well away form his forehead and his eyes blazed in malignant hatred. That was enough! *No more toying with this worthless hag!* Cortindan swung his blade over his head and came straight at Xena swinging down with all of his might. The blow almost staggered the strong warrior but she had anticipated the maneuver and had braced her stance firmly beneath her. Cortindan's blade rang sharply as it deflected off. He raised it again and swung with more passion than the last. Again the woman of azure eyes was braced for the impact and again the blow glanced off harmlessly. The swinging blows continued as the warrior allowed the disgusting being to wear himself. When it became evident that he was beginning to tire the relentless warrior deflected one last blow and flipped over his head to land behind him. He spun in confusion and sweat dripped into his eyes. The tireless woman was not even breathing hard.
In his blindness Cortindan heard a blade ringing across flesh and there was a sudden rush of warmth running down his inner thigh. He grabbed for the center of his universe to be certain he was still intact. All was well except for the rather large gash running a line across his quad. It was deep but not life threatening. The blood rushed to the ground, mixing with the water that was beginning to pool from the torrent of rain that now washed over them. It was the last thing on his mind. The rage that coursed through his veins blocked out all remaining rational thought including any pain he might have suffered. His total concentration was focused on his opponent. He was beginning to realize, perhaps a bit too late, that he might have truly underestimated her. She was a woman there was no doubt to that but she displayed strategy like a man. *Who is this? Surely I should know.* He squinted his eyes in curiosity and disbelief.
"Who are you?" The question was incredulous as if he wanted to know but was in fear of the answer.
"Did I forget the formalities? Forgive me. I'm Xena. Ya know, Warrior Princess, Destroyer of Nations, Lion of Amphipolis." Xena grinned evilly as recognition began to seep into the rapist's mind.
Cortindan had heard of Xena but thought her to be the stuff of folklore. No WOMAN could do what she had. But there was little doubt that this was indeed her and he had made a grave mistake in his actions. His arrogance was going to cost him dearly.
All of these thoughts came in an instant which was all the time it took Xena to take the offensive in the battle. Raven hair flew as a mighty warrior raised her weapon, screamed her battle cry and lunged in hatred at the monster before her. "Ahhyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyi! Yaaaaaaaah" Strike upon countless strike flew at the hapless giant. He was being shredded with precision even as he struggled in earnest to defend the lighting fast strikes. Xena was in a place she had never hoped to be again. But the dance of the battle coursed through her like liquid fire to her soul. She could not stop. Small cuts and deep punctures, none enough to kill, slowly eroded what was left of his skin. Blood was rain washed away from his skin revealing with a stinging manifestation each cut and puncture. Kicks flew at him and he was helpless to defend against them. He felt his ribs give way and a sharp crack acknowledged the fractures.
Sweat and blood flew in a torrent around her and she relished in the lust of the battle. She was finished toying with him. The next blow she threw took his knees out from under him and he bowed before her reluctantly.
Xena grabbed him by the back of his hair forcing his head back. She glared at him with a piercing gaze of blue. "You disgust me!" She spit in his face. "Get up, slime."
He hesitated partly out of fear but mostly from weakness.
"Get up or I will run you through where you are! GET THE FUCK UP!" A small spray of spittle flew form her angry mouth.
The venom in her voice caused trembling fear to rise up out of the depths of the man's very soul. He had never felt this fear and came to a realization at that precise moment that he had put scores of men and women in this very place. Remorse struck him as if he had been slapped and he was dumbfounded. The epiphany caused him to cry out, "By the Gods! What have I done?" He climbed unsteadily to his feet
"What have you DONE?! WHAT have you done! You have stolen the very innocence of the most pure woman to walk the land! You have destroyed anything and everything that could have been! AND I HATE YOU!" The swing was true and with one strike he lost his genitals and when that realization hit him he lost his head.
The Warrior Princess dropped to her knees and in anguish released all of the pain that racked her soul. The scream that issued forth from her lungs split the night sky and the tears she spilled rivaled the rain that fell on her bowed head. She had nothing left.
Days had passed and still Xena did not returned. Gabrielle didn't know how too feel anymore. She was healing on the outside but the inside was a torrential storm of anger, sadness and guilt. The days after she had awakened had been difficult to say the least. Her body had been wracked with fever that refused to abate. She and been conscious off and on but her sleep had been filled with dreams and terror. Each time she awoke reaching for her strength and support only to find her bed and her arms empty. The pain that had made a strong hold in her heart, was growing each passing moment threatening to make a permanent residence there. Artie was her only hold on reality. The kind hearted woman had cared for her with great patience. She had watched over her while she tossed and turned in delirium. She had held her when she awoke from the nightmares that had threatened to steal away her sanity.
"Thank you, whichever God sent her." Gabrielle thanked in secret the one responsible for her savior. *My savior. I always thought that would be you, Xena, but you're not here, are you. No. Just couldn't find it in that heart of yours to stick around when the going gets really hard, huh?* "I will never leave you, my ass."
"Are you speaking to me, Gabrielle?" The innkeeper was a tad shocked at the words that had come out of the bard's mouth.
"Artie. I'm sorry. I didn't hear you come in." She felt sheepish that she had been caught.
"It's alright, sweet one. How are you feeling today?" She patted Gabrielle's shoulder and pushed her golden hair back over it.
"I am bored out of my mind. Can I get up yet?" She hated being a whiner but she didn't have anything else to do with her time.
"Let me see." The slight red head put a cheek to Gabrielle's forehead and nodded her approval. "I think a small walk to the porch and back may be in order today. Remember that you will be very weak. Don't expect to be dancing in the town square any time soon."
"Artie, dancing is the LAST thing on my mind." She smiled slightly.
"Would you like to share with me what is on your mind?" Artie knew that the dreams the beautiful young woman had been having were not totally about the attack that had been made against her. She had screamed out in the fear that comes only from being abandoned. The Warrior had left her behind to heal and be protected but Gabrielle didn't see it or feel it that way. She had cried and sobbed in her sleep begging for Xena not to desert her. Her biggest fear coming to fruition. The warrior said she would return but Artie didn't think it would be enough. Her leaving had left Gabrielle with no emotional anchor and with a very large scar on her heart.
"Artie I have so much on my mind I wouldn't know where to begin." Gabrielle dropped her head and golden bangs hung like curtains over her emerald eyes.
The sadness couldn't be hidden from the innkeeper. She reached out a hand and placed it under the chin of the bard. "Gabrielle, look at me."
Slowly Gabrielle raised her head and green eyes met each other. "I know your heart. I have heard your cries at night. You can't hide from me."
"I know." Gabrielle sighed and was hurt that Artie was the one that knew her pain. The one she wanted to help her through this had left her behind because of.....it. *Damn!*
"She's coming back. I promise." Her words were sincere and knowing.
"Maybe, Artie, but at what price? She has proven to me my worth to her and that's not much." The anger was simmering just below the surface. It wouldn't be long before it boiled over.
"You listen to me! Xena is a different breed than the rest of us. What she does she does because she lives by a different code."
"To Tartarus with her stupid code! That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. She swore to me she would, and I quote, "never leave". Do you see her here?" Her heart was showing it's pain now. "DO YOU? HUH!?" She was pissed.
Though the question was rhetorical, Artie had to shake her head. Indeed, the warrior was not here.
"I rest my case." She sat back with a humph.
"Your case may be made, but I beg you, please don't pass your judgement just yet." Green eyes implored her for leniency where the warrior was concerned.
"Why are you so interested in this? Why should you, a stranger, be so concerned." The blonde raised eyebrows in true curiosity.
"I was here when Xena brought you in and I know how this affected her. I wouldn't want to see you do something that you may one day regret."
"I think SHE already took care of that." The bitterness was hard to hide.
Artie was afraid that the small injured woman taking refuge at her inn was more than correct. *My, that Xena is a stubborn one. Thinks she can't change and then tries to prove it by doing things like leaving behind, for what ever reason, the one thing that can help her truly change.* It was not her job to worry about Xena. The task at hand for her now was to help the golden red head to heal. She would do all in her power make that a reality. She had made a promise and she would stand by that with her life.
"I'm ready." Gabrielle was almost excited to go out.
"I'm ready to go down to the porch." She reminded the healer of her eariler promise.
"Alright, let's take it slow." She put a solid arm out to steady the small strawberry blonde.
Gabrielle sat up slowly and tested her balance. She had tried two days ago to stand and had blacked out. She had a concussion true but there was more to her dizziness than the slight head injury. The high fever had taken its toll and left her very weak. This weakened state made it necessary to be assisted in just relieving herself then it was back to bed. Her fever had abated and food was staying on her stomach. Perhaps she had the strength today.
Artie got an arm behind her and hands grasped for balance. Gabrielle placed her feet on the floor and stood shakily to her feet. Her legs threatened to give way beneath her. She had suffered a great deal of physical distress that was taking its time in healing. There was green and yellow bruising that joined the swelling that had yet to go down fully on her face and sides. She could finally see clearly see from her eye. Her legs still had bruising coming to the surface. The blows had caused deep muscle trauma to her thighs and knees. Standing and walking was more than a simple act of a physical nature, it was an act of sheer will power on the part of the simple girl from Potedia. She was going to prove to herself and to The Warrior Princess that she could and would do it on her own. *Thank you very much.* This small act was the beginning of that journey.
The two women made their way across the room out to the stairs. Now came the true challenge. One unsteady step at a time the two small red headed women labored with one woman's struggle.
The air outside was a healing balm to Gabrielle's tormented soul. She had never been one for staying indoors. She was so used to traveling and sleeping under the stars it was as important to her well being as breathing. She took a deep breath and sat gently in the chair Artie provided. The sun felt like life itself. "Thank you, Gaia!"
"Can you behave yourself if I leave you out here alone?" Artie looked at her from under red curls. She gave Gabrielle a teasing look.
The golden haired beauty raised her head, amused eyes shining. "I promise not to scare off any would be customers with my threatening demeanor. And, I won't steal any sweets from passing children. Fair enough?"
"It will have to do for now. One other thing; NO Sword play in the town square!"
"Awww Artie, you're no fun at all!" A smile that had been rare as of late radiated from Gabrielle's face.
It was no wonder the strong warrior had gone to avenge this woman. Goodness shone from her in an almost visible fashion. Artie herself would have considered doing the same. Only AFTER the small woman had recovered. *Is it too late, Xena? I hope not.*
"Yes I am! Just not today! I'm very serious, Gabrielle. No trying to stand unless I or Bargus are here to help you."
"Yes ma'am." She bowed her head in submission.
"Good. If you need anything, I'll be right inside." She turned with one last look and went inside the inn.
Gabrielle sat and took in the sights of the town. She wanted, so badly, to go visit the merchant across from where she was sitting. He was bargaining with every potential customer that came with in 15 meters of him. He was keeping the little bard amused with his banter, for which she was grateful. Her heart was still heavy, but being outside and listening to life going on around her, made her feel as if perhaps she would eventually recover.
A commotion just to her left caught her attention. Two large men were harassing a smaller over the price of a chicken. The argument was becoming heated and weapons were being drawn. Gabrielle stood to her feet quickly without thinking and her world faded away. Just as she lost consciousness and began to plummet she felt strong arms envelope her and lift her to safety. She had felt those arms around her a thousand times.
"Xen..." It was all she could get out before her reality slipped away.
Artie looked up in total shock as the warrior carried her precious cargo into the inn.
"Hey Artie. Is it still the same room?" She didn't stop for an answer but headed to the stairs.
Artie came out form the bar and followed behind Xena. "Uh, yes. Yes it is. What happened?"
"She seemed to think that an injured woman was the answer to a ruckus in the town square. She stood up a little too fast. She'll be fine." Her voice was still cold with battle.
"Well, I for one am pleased to see you. I am not sure your love there will have the same reaction."
"Thanks for the encouragement, Art. AND, to set you straight one more time, she_is_NOT_my _love!" She would have no more of that. After what she had done, Gabrielle was sure to hate her, or in the least reject her.
"Right. Whatever. Take her up to the room and I'll get some tea started." Artie shook her head and walked the other way.
Xena rolled her eyes and sighed heavily. *'My love.' How wrong can one person be. I mean, yeah, I love her, but.....well...she doesn't....she doesn't...she just doesn't.* Xena glanced down at the form in her arms. A tear escaped down her cheek and she felt the grief and guilt begin to build a higher wall. It was more than the warrior could take. She could ignore her feelings before; pretend that they were just a phase and in time they would fade. Now someone else knew of her love for the bard and it suddenly made it all very real. "Gods, Gabrielle, I am so sorry." The tall woman whispered through her tears. "Know this, my bard, I love you with every fiber of my being. If I could roll back the sun and change the world for you, I would do it." It was a shame that the small golden haired woman did not hear the deepest confession of the warrior's heart. It would have changed the world right then. Instead, the raven-haired woman locked up her feelings of love and hid the key so deeply that it would take a God to find it.
Xena ascended the stairs to the room that held Gabrielle's healing bed. She gently laid her down and retrieved a chair from the corner of the room. She had been alone with her thoughts all during the long return back. She had figured that her feelings and the torment in her soul would subside once she reached Gabrielle. Now, sitting alone in the same room with her, she knew those ideas to be false. The pain of what had been stolen from the both of them was nagging at the pit of her stomach. Artie's entrance to the room was a welcome relief to her ponderings.
"You look like Tartarus."
"Thanks again, Artie. Do you have any nice things to say in your repertoire?"
"You have great taste in women." She smirked meaning to lighten the mood
"That helps. I feel sooo much better." Sarcasm dripped from Xena's voice.
"I'm having Bargus bring in another bed for you. I am guessing you haven't slept more than a few candle marks since you left. Here, drink this." She handed the dark warrior a cup.
Xena lifted a leery eyebrow and glared at Artie. "Uh uh. I'm not sleeping 'til Gabrielle wakes up."
"Oh! Noooow you show an interest. Listen you big lug...." She had had enough of the poor me attitude.
"Watch your words innkeeper." Xena was practically growling. She was exhausted and full of anger. Not a good combination in anyone, especially an ex-warlord.
"I'm not afraid of you young lady! So, give up the attitude!" She shook a threatening finger.
"YOUNG LADY!" Xena stood quickly to her full height.
She towered over the small woman, but Artie did not back down. She stood eyeball to shoulder with the warrior and held her ground. Xena glared and Artie huffed. Xena finally realized that she could never raise a hand to this bold lady any more than she could have to Gabrielle.
Bargus appeared with the extra mattress just in time to see Xena back down from his boss. He was glad he had missed the fun. He wouldn't want to see either one of the strong willed women pissed.
Xena plopped herself down with a haughty action. "Humph. Women! You're all the friggin' same.'
"Right back at you. Now, drink this and lay down. Gabrielle will be here when you wake up."
Xena took the cup and drank. 'Whatever."
Gabrielle let one green eye slide open and she peered off to the side and the bard thought she saw a weary warrior in the bed next to hers. She figured she was dreaming and closed her eye and drifted back to Mopheus realm. Several candle marks later she came more fully awake and found it was not a dream. She reached out one tentative hand and caressed a tanned cheek. "It's nice to see you." She whispered so that none save herself and a sleeping Xena could hear.
Xena slept on through the night and late into the next day. It was not like her, but then she was no longer the person she used to be.
Gabrielle had been fully awake for a long time watching the woman next to her sleep, waiting to see the blue eyes that she had missed. Her thoughts were a mass of confusion and conflicting emotions. She was happy that Xena was safe and present, but the bard was feeling, quite deeply, some anger and not a little bitterness. She wanted to grab the warrior and shake the living day lights out of her. Smacking her up side the head seemed like a good idea, too. *It might knock some sense into her.* Then again, Xena had taken her share of head whacks and she still didn't have a clue sometimes.
With a deep breath and a stretch, Xena finally came up from the depths of slumber.
"Well, look who's alive. Sleep well?" Gabrielle smiled inspite of her feelings of anger.
Xena refused to meet the face of the woman speaking to her. For some reason, she just couldn't bring herself to do it. If she looked at Gabrielle, all of the love, pain, grief and everything else, would show the bard her very heart and that was not going to happen. She refused to let it.
"Yeah, I did. Thanks."
"I should hope so. You have been asleep almost a full day. That little trip you took must have really taken it out of you." Gabrielle was none too kind in her tone of voice. The remark came out a little more angry than she had intended. The emotion was true, she just didn't want to begin a fight she had no energy to finish.
The anger held in the words was not lost on Xena, but she didn't let on that she had noticed.
"It was.....a difficult excursion. I brought you something." The dark haired woman rose from the bed and moved across the room to where her bags had been placed at some point since her arrival. She picked up a leather pack and handed it to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle took the pack from Xena's hand and tried to catch her eye. Xena wouldn't even look at her. *I was right. She can't even look at me she is so disgusted.* She opened the pack and was overwhelmed by the contents. It was her staff. The sections wrapped and placed with care in its soft leather case. In spite of herself she grabbed Xena's hand and squeezed. There were tears welling up in her emerald eyes and she put the hand to her cheek.
"Thank you. I can't tell you what this means to me. Just...well, thank you." Her green eyes sparkled at the warrior.
Xena couldn't tell Gabrielle what it meant to her as well. She longed to reach out and return the small gesture of kindness, but she couldn't. Instead she pulled her hand away and turned her back. "You're welcome. I collected from the campsite the important things and left the rest."
"My staff was there?" She didn't remember much from that night.
"Uhh, no. I had to.........go find it." She tried to avoid the inevitable.
"Where was it?" Gabrielle's voice turned to ice.
Xena took a long time deciding what, if anything, she should tell the bard. She decided the less the better. "You don't want to know."
"Ah. And now you decide for me what is good for me to know and what is not. I see. You came to this conclusion, how exactly?" As much as she didn't want to vent her anger at the warrior, it was becoming apparent it would be impossible. She had held her emotions in check for so long they seemed to be leaking out of her very pores.
Blue eyes, full of hurt at the harsh words, rose slowly to finally meet green eyes brimming with anger. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..." Xena didn't get a chance to finish the sentence.
"Mean to what? To hurt me! To upset me! To abandon me!" Her eyes flew open wide at the implication. Gabrielle wished she could retrieve the words the second they left her mouth.
"Gabrielle, I.." She tried to defend herself.
"Save it Xena. I don't have the strength to fight with you. I am sure you have better things to do with your time anyway. Thanks for getting my staff back. I am sure someone is either dead or maimed because of it. Maybe you're right. I don't need the details."
"Gabrielle, listen. I know we have some things we need to talk about. But, we can't do it at each other's throat. Can we call a truce for the moment?" She put up her hand in mild surrender.
"Yeah. I can't fight on an empty stomach anyway."
Xena smirked in spite of herself. "I'll get changed and see what Artie can scrounge up for us."
Xena changed into her leathers and made the trip downstairs. This was not going well, was all she could think. Gabrielle was more than a little angry with her and she supposed with good reason. She had let the little bard down. The guilt that waged war inside of her festered. *If only I had taken her with me when she had asked this whole situation would never have happened. Did I ever mess up. Left her alone at the camp and then left her here. What is wrong with me? I just had to run off and play warrior. Sad thing is I liked it. Watching that worm grovel was true revenge.* The memory of Cortindan's face the final seconds of his life brought a satisfied if somewhat evil grin to Xena's face.
"What's got you lookin' like you swallowed the magic beans?" The woman behind the counter couldn't let the smirk on Xena's face go without comment.
"Swallowed the what?" Xena sat down at the bar and gave the innkeeper a confused look.
"Never mind. What are you thinking about? You had a funny look on your face."
"Nothing really." She thought Artie was getting a little too personal anymore.
"Xena, this is me you're talking to." Artie was demanding that Xena face herself.
"Artie, did I ever mess up." Xena put her fingertips on her eyebrows and tried to rub the headache away. "I mean everything. I left Gabrielle alone out of pure selfishness. I just had to have time alone. And look what happened."
"Xena, you couldn't help what happened out there. Stop beating yourself up for it. What you need to admit is that you were wrong about leaving her alone with me."
Xena took a deep breath. Indeed, as much as she had relished in giving evil it's due, she knew she was wrong. And on top of that, she had let her dark side take over at the very time Gabrielle had needed her most. She hadn't changed. She was playing at doing and being good. The bard had been her light in the darkness. The minute something had threatened that light she had reverted to her old ways. Ares was right. She could never truly change. She belonged to war.
"Yep." She was wrong.
"What are you going to do about it?" The healer started the ball rolling.
"Nothing I can do. She hates me. Can't change it. Won't try." She had already given up.
"Great. That should make life for you two just wonderful."
"And just what would you have me do?" Xena threw up her hands in frustration.
"Talking is always a good start."
"We tried to talk and she jumped down my throat. She is sweet, but that mouth can be razor sharp when she's mad. Let me tell you, she is mad enough to string me up."
"Give her some time. She'll come around." She hoped the bard would. She could only pray.
"I don't think so. This is different. She's been angry with me before, but this, this is different. She is seething. She's hiding it well, mostly because she's weak. I can't see any forgivness in her eyes. And you know what?" Xena peered up at Artie, tears welling up in crystal blue eyes. Artie shook her head in response. "I can't blame her." A lone tear slowly laid a trail down a high cheekbone.
Despite their differences, Artie felt deeply for the warrior. She placed a hand on Xena's head and hoped the warrior was wrong.
The days and weeks went by and Gabrielle's body healed but her heart did not. The anger she had for Xena wouldn't let her go. The fact that Xena refused to spend more time with her than was absolutely necessary wasn't helping. She knew Xena couldn't stand to be around her, but she could at least be civil. It was just making matters worse. The warrior spent more nights in the stable with Argo than she did in the room with her. *She loves that stupid horse more than she does me. What am I saying? She doesn't have any love for me. She never did.* She wanted to cry but her fury held her tears in check. *Why did this all have to happen? I want my life back. I want Xena back! The one that was my friend. The one that kept me safe. I don't want this stranger who hates me!* "Yaaaaa!"
Gabrielle started. She hadn't heard Xena enter the room.
"Can't you knock?" She was furious that she had been caught in her anger.
"It's my room, too. Why should I knock?"
"You wouldn't know it's your room. You're never in it." It was a cutting remark but she refused to take it back.
"You know I've been up and out hunting early. I don't want to disturb your rest." She knew it was a bad excuse. True, hunting was her way of paying Artie, but Gabrielle could sleep through anything. Her rising early included. She was trying to give the bard the space she wanted without causing too much friction. Gabrielle didn't want her around but complained when she spent her time away. It was really her guilt that kept her on the hunt longer than was necessary. It gave her a reason to avoid looking into the hurt gaze of her bard. *My bard. There is an expression that is losing meaning. That Gabrielle was lost because of my stupidity.*
"Xena, stop with the excuses. I know you don't want to be in here with me. So save it. O.K." She was seeing through the warrior's porous facade
"Gabrielle, look, we need to talk. It's not that I don't want to be in here with you. It's that we can't seem to be decent to each other. You can't hold your tongue to save your life." She wished she hadn't said it as soona s it flew out of her mouth.
"OH! So we're going to blame this all on me. That's just great! You sure know how to make a girl feel wonderful. Let me tell you something "Warrior Princess"! You're as much to blame here as I am! NO! Let me rephrase that. You are totally to blame here!"
Gabrielle didn't really think or feel that Xena was completely to blame but she was so angry now that logic was quickly going out the window. The fiery red-head continued;
"YOU left me in that clearing by myself, even after I suggested that we go together. YOU never listen to a word I say! YOU always have to do things YOU'RE way, no matter the consequence! YOU left me here, near death, to go do Gods know what . Dammit Xena, did you even stop for one second to think about someone besides yourself?"
"Gabrielle, you don't know how sorry I am..." she tried to tell the red head how she really felt. The pain, the guilt and the sorrow that weighed her down but Gabrielle wouldn't let her.
"STOP! Don't say you're sorry. What I really DON'T need here is your pity. I needed your support and you left. I found out in quick order exactly what I mean to you. NOTHING! Why did you even bother to come back?" She never expected an answer and she didn't get one.
Xena dropped her head and could say nothing. The bard didn't understand that what had happened to her, in a way, had happened to the warrior. The woman she loved with abandon, had been violated and that violation was taken personally by Xena. She had wanted revenge not only for Gabrielle, but for herself as well. AND that was the truth of the matter. Xena had been selfish in her actions and she deserved to pay for those mistakes. Even if it meant giving up the bard. It was obvious that Gabrielle didn't want her around, she would not stay where she was not wanted.
Xena moved across the room to her belongings. With great effort she picked up her pack and saddlebag. Without saying one word in her defense she walked to the door.
"Where are you going?" She felt te loss in the pit of her stomach. "WHERE ARE YOU GOING?"
Xena just looked at Gabrielle one last time and walked out the door and down the stairs.
Gabrielle yelled after her the tears apparent in her voice. "I guess 'never leave' doesn't apply to rape! Eh, Xena! COWARD!" Gabrielle slammed the door.
The last word was the deepest cut. The truth is the worst conviction.
As she awoke, the pain in the back of her head was the first thing she experienced that proved she wasn't dead. The second was the light shining brightly through the that was attacking her senses. Xena slowly pried open one eye to survey her surroundings. They did not look even vaguely familiar. She heard a slight sigh and a whimper as there was shift in the covers next to her. Slowly she turned her head and looked over in dread at the naked woman sleeping next to her. She had done it again.She had wandered into another village had gotten drunk and slept with the first man or woman she found to her liking. She hoped that she had not gotten into any fights or injured anyone. That unfortunate occurrence had happened more than she cared or even dared to remember. She groaned aloud, "What in the name of Zeus am I doing?" She held her head in her hands and tears threatened to fall. "I can't keep doing this." She whispered out the grief that was in her heart, "Gabrielle, I need you. You are the source that keeps me from killing myself. Please, Gabrielle let me come home." But she knew that Gabrielle didn't want to ever see her again. She couldn't go on like this. She rose silently from the bed and dressed. She now had a purpose and she moved with intent.
Focused, she saddled Argo and mounted up. She rode until she came to the place she had seen the day before. She dismounted and removed her armor. Standing on the edge she felt her skin crawling. "Damn it! NOT NOW!"
"So, Xena, here you are again. Edge of the cliff ready to end it all. Is she really worth all this emotion? Come on! She's just a little kid. Granted I did like her for almost a minute when I had no power over it. But still..."
"Ares, get away from me. I don't need this right now." Xena was spitting out the words in anger.
"Oh, that's right. Poor Xena. Leave her alone, she feels bad. There is nothing in life worth living for anymore. Well, how about this, a challenge. You want a real challenge Xena? Face your self. Here you are "The Mighty Xena" afraid to face reality. All your life you have made things workout. Cheated death and then laughed in Her face. But this was something you could do nothing about. You had no control."
"What do you know about any of this, Ares? " Xena spoke with poisonous venom. "You weren't there. You have no idea what you are talking about."
"I know more than you think I do. I know that you weren't there when Gabrielle needed you. You couldn't stop her anger with you and with herself. Even after you killed Cortindan it didn't make things any better did it? It's really a shame you know. You don't have the courage it takes to confront that kind of failure. Face it, Xena, you lost. But you need to realize this is only the first round. To win the war you MUST fight the battles one at a time. If you give up now you will die never knowing the sweetest victory of all: to conquer your own demons and not those that are of another's making. Hey! Pretty insightful for a God like me, don't ya think?" The God paused for a moment to let the words sink in. "Go back to Gabrielle, Xena. She needs you, you need her, and I_need-you."
He hated that he had to try to convince the warrior to return the side of the irritating blonde, but if he didn't he'd lose the warrior all together. *Besides without you, she'll die and she still owes me. I certainly don't want to lose out on that.* With a sparkle and a smirk Ares was gone and Xena was alone again with her thoughts.
Gabrielle had called her a coward. The comment had cut to the very heart of her. No one had ever dared call her that. As she thought she began to recall the warrior training she had received. "Courage is not being without fear. No, true courage is to acknowledge fear and acting in spite of it." True courage. There was no doubt, in her mind at least, that Xena was a living example of how courage didn't work. She had been a ruthless warlord and had killed hundreds maybe thousands, but killing was easy. Living seemed to be the hard part. Living with fear seemed to be impossible. She had never known fear in a real sense so she had never learned to live with it. What was she afraid of?
"Why am I running?" Xena knew the answer. *Gabrielle.*
*So big bad warrior woman is afraid of a little girl* *No, you are afraid of how you feel about that "little girl.*.* *She's a beautiful woman now, ya know.* *Yeah, I know.* "So ..you are waiting for what exactly? A sign from the Gods? I think you had that."*
"I have to go back. Damn it, Gabrielle! Why did you do this to me?"
Xena put on her armor once again, whistled for Argo and headed back to the woman that held the warrior's life in her gentle hands.
Artie climbed the familiar path to Gabrielle's room. She didn't knock as she entered and there she found the truth of Gabrielle's heart.
The small woman was sitting on the bed with her knees pulled up to her chin. She hugged those knees so tightly that it seemed she was trying to find a way to not fall from the world itself. Her green eyes were red and swollen from hours of crying and the circles under them told a tale of many sleepless nights.
"Gabrielle?" Her voice soft in the dark room.
There was no answer. The bard was in her own tormented world and did not hear the healer enter the room.
Artie made the journey across the room. She sat slowly down on the bed and reached out to touch Gabrielle's arm. She flinched at the contact. Her eyes flew to see who had summoned her from her suffering.
"Artie." She tried to hide her face from the older woman. "Don't you believe in knocking?"
"Not when I fear for the well-being of a guest in my establishment."
I'm FINE!" Her red eyes told the truth of the situation. Her heart was broken and it threatened to kill her.
"Is that why you haven't eaten in days and why you haven't been down to share yarns with the guests?" Green eyes plead the case for her.
"Ya know, I just need my space right now, O.K.? Just leave me alone. I have a few things I need to think out and I don't need you nosing around!" Gabrielle was regretful the minute the words were spoken.
Artie took no offense at the words that came from Gabrielle's mouth. She knew the young woman well enough to know that she had not even the tiniest of mean streaks. In fact, she knew that the storyteller had a heart that was more pure, honest and full of love than any she had ever encountered. And now that gentle heart was breaking.
"Gabrielle, you know that I would not pry into your personal affairs unless I felt the need. I feel the need now. What is wrong, my sweet child?" She reached out a gentle hand and stroked the head of the fair-haired one. She waited patiently for the answer.
Gabrielle sighed heavily and tried to speak but the words felt too heavy to come out. She closed her mouth and looked into eyes that were the same color as her own. Tears slowly began to trail down her sunken cheeks. Finally with trust in her heart she spoke.
"Artie, I am pregnant." The confession fell like lead from her lips.
"Well, little one, I knew that, and so did you. You have known for a while now." Her knowing voice surprised the little bard.
"How did y .?" Her eyes were wide with curiosity.
"Gabrielle, I watch and see things. You haven't been acting yourself. It started before this not eating and crying phase you're going through now. So, what is the real trouble here?"
"That's it. That's all! Isn't that enough?" She knew where this was going and she didn't care to make the journey.
"The problem goes deeper and you know it. You may be too stubborn to see it but, to me, it's as plain as the nose on Xena's face." *Try that on for size Gabrielle. You are going to see the light like I or not!*
Gabrielle's head snapped at the mention of the name. Her eyes filled with fire. "What has SHE got to do with this!"
"You know the answer to that as well as I, but I'll tell you what she has to do with this. You want your warrior at your side for this. You don't want to face it alone." Logic was the only way to approach this. That and the truth.
"I don't need her! She left when I needed her the most and I got through that, I can get through this!" She was in total denial at this point. She didn't want the truth. She didn't want the woman that had left her. And yet she did.
"Yes, you survived. But are you through? Is your soul healed? You know you can't heal your soul without the other half; the half that belongs to Your Warrior."
"Stop calling her "My Warrior"! She's not mine, not anymore." Oh, how she hated this!
"Oh, but you are wrong Gabrielle. She belongs to you even more than she belongs to herself. Without you in her life she will become an empty shell. She will go back to being the person she was before she found a haven in your heart. Get her back Gabrielle, or I am afraid you will suffer the same fate." Artie was cutting through all the layers of anger and pain to uncover the truths of the love of the bard and the warrior. Artie left the room to let Gabrielle think that one through. Some truths were hard to bare and this one was going to be a toughie.
Gabrielle began to go over in her mind the things that Artie had just said to her. "Xena? Belong to me? I don't think so. Xena doesn't belong to anyone." Even as she spoke these words she began to be plunged headlong into memories that had been submerged for what seemed like a lifetime. She recalled all of the touches. Every time that Xena had touched her, the message had been conveyed but she hadn't listened. Xena had said the words, but she didn't think well she just didn't think. What shocked her like cold water on a steamy day were the looks. Every time she had looked into those crystal eyes they had said, "I love you." and she had been blind.
"I've been both stupid and blind. I can't ask her to come back. Not after the things I said to her and now look at me. She won't want to be tied down to a child."
Her conscience began to attack her, "You'll never know unless you ask her to come back. What if I don't want her to come back?" *Oh yeah, I don't want her to come back. Sure. Uh Huh. Are you nuts? Look at you*. You'll die a slow death if she doesn't.* "I hate when this happens!"
FINE! Damn it, Xena. Why did you do this to me!"
As she sat down to write no words would come that would convey all of the feelings that were raging in her mind.
Gabrielle lifted her head and thought, "What can I possibly say that would let her forgive me and come back? I after what I said I'm sure she doesn't want too ever see me again. Maybe Artie was right. Then again maybe not."
As she let these many thoughts have reign in her head an almost imperceptible change occurred in the room. She knew that feeling. She then felt the presence of someone standing in the doorway. She was hoping and fearing at the same time. With her heart pounding out of her chest she spoke without turning from the table, "Xena? Is that you?"
There was a long pause as the query hung in the air. Xena was afraid to speak and more afraid not to.
"Yes, Gabrielle, it's me." She was not sure she wanted to speak. She wanted to turn and run but she was trying the courage thing jsut this once.
Gabrielle couldn't believe her own ears. She spun in her chair began to ask questions before she even thought. "Why are you here? Why did you come back? Did Artie send for you?" The questions sounded like accusations.
Xena felt all of the pain in her heart at that one moment. She knew this would happen, the inquisition and then the rejection. She crossed the threshhold and strode into the room. "Gabrielle, please, don't be angry with me. I had to come back. I need to tell you something and after I'm done, I'll go."
Gabrielle was dismayed. "You came here to tell me something and then leave. Why did you even bother coming back then!" She was beginning to feel the anger all over again. *How dare She play with me like this!* Her thoughts were raging.
Xena became the cold warrior she was. She steeled her emotions from the verbal onslaught. "I came because this is something I can't have someone else tell you. I couldn't just send word!"
Gabrielle calmed down and prepared her self to hear what she was sure was bad news.
"I'm sorry, I don't like to think that you came here just to leave again." The disappointment was heavy in her voice. It was then that she decided she might as well get it all out if Xena was just going to leave anyway. "I have something I need to tell you, too, and I think you will want to leave after I tell you anyway, so, let me go first and then you can decide if what you have to say even needs to be said."
Xena nodded in concession. She was pleased that Gabrielle was upset that she might leave, but she didn't think she wanted to hear the rest of what she had to say.
"I really have no way to say this other than to just say it." There was a long uncomfortable silence and then Gabrielle cleared her throat and spoke. "Xena, I'm pregnant."
Xena sat stunned and not a little nauseous. She had to think. Staring off into space she began the to process this new information. The only real question in the midst of all of these thoughts was, "But do I still love her?" Xena knew the answer before the question finished forming in her head.
"Xena? Did you hear me?"
She shook her head and answered, "Yeah, yeah, I heard you. I had to let it sink in. Who's the father?" She wished the moment it came out that she hadn't said it. The thought of Gabrielle with someone else made her sick and the thought of Gabrielle pregnant by Coirtindan was just as bad. *Now, that is selfish. It's no wonder she can't stand you.* She beat her self up in her own mind.
The hurt registered on Gabrielle's face. In dismay she replied, "Do you really need to ask? What kind of person do you think I am?" Gabrielle now thought she knew what Xena really did think of her and that was not much.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Forgive me. I was being selfish again." She shook her head at her idiocy.
Gabrielle looked at her confused and thought, *What in Hades did that mean?* She wanted to ask but Xena began to speak.
"Gabrielle let me say what I have to say before I explode." They would address the news of Gabrielle's pregnancy later....if there was a later.
"O.K." Gabrielle turned to fully face Xena. She wanted to see the expression on the warrior's face when what ever she had to tell her came out.
Xena bowed her head and began to speak; "You know, I left here expecting never to return. I knew you didn't want me around because I was a reminder of what happened to you. I know you blamed me for leaving you and not being where you needed me to be." Gabrielle wanted to speak but Xena continued, "I also left because I was so full of guilt and anger and I was taking it out on you. Every time I looked at you I knew that I had let you down and that broke my heart. I know that you wanted me to go but I was already on my way long before you spoke the words. Don't ask me what I did while I was gone. I'll never tell you. I will tell you that I almost died and my soul died a thousand times over. I had to come back to you Gabrielle because..." She paused and took a deep breath. Her hands began to sweat and her heart was at full gallop in her chest.
Gabrielle looked at her in expectancy and said, "Becaaaausse ..?"
"Because, I'm in love with you." She looked up quickly expecting something but not sure what. She didn't expect what she saw.
Tears began to form in Gabrielle's sad green eyes and slowly started to run freely down her cheeks. "What!?? You're in love with me?!!" She was incredulous and angry." Are you crazy? Xena, how can you possibly love me? I am not even worthy to be seen by you let alone be loved by you. I am filthy and vile and pregnant on top of that!!" She was almost hysterical now.
Xena hesitated no longer. This woman was all she had in this life or another she would not lose her agian. She cross the distance to her, pulled her up into her arms and there she held her.
"No Gabrielle! You are beautiful and kind and innocent! And it doesn't bother me you are pregnant! You are who you are and I love you no matter what!" She words were adamant and packed with all the emotions she possessed.
Gabrielle drew back in a jerk from her and looked at her in confused disbelief. "Innocent? Have you been living in a cave?"
"Let me finish!" Xena interrupted "Don't you understand that this is no one's fault. I'm not to blame and neither are you! I left here taking all of that blame and guilt with me, and let me tell you, it got too heavy to carry. I had to let it go or let it kill me. It's time for you to put your's down as well. You can't see right now that you are such a wonderful person! You saved me from myself now let me try to do the same for you. Gabrielle, you don't know how precious you are to me. This is going to take you some time to fully understand but your innocence can never be taken by force. You have to give that part of yourself up willingly, and I won't let you do it!"
Gabrielle was crying cleansing tears now. All the agony of the past few months was coming to the surface and she was letting it come. She was so tired of holding in all of the rage and anger. She was wracked with pain to her very core. She continued to sob angry tears into Xena's neck as the strong warrior held her. After a time the tears began to subside and calm began to take over. Xena had Gabrielle sit back down as she went to the night table and got Gabrielle a cup of water and a cool damp towel. She handed the cup to younger woman and then knelt down next to the chair. With the most tender touch she could use she began to wipe swollen eyes and face with the cloth.
Gabrielle smiled at the touch. With more love than she realized was in her heart she said. "I have missed you so." She reached out a hand and placed it softly on Xena's face.
Xena's azure eyes gazed into the translucent green of Gabrielle's and she thought she saw forever there. She stood up and bent down to Gabrielle. She then swept her off of the chair up into her arms cradling her there.
Gabrielle's legs dangled as her arms wrapped around "her warrior's" neck. She was in a place she never dreamt she would be. She didn't even know she wanted to be until at last she was.
Xena leaned in and placed her lips within mere millimeters of Gabrielle's, waiting, hoping.
Gabrielle could feel Xena's breath tickling her lips and she closed the gap between them. Their lips brushed softly across each other and then met fully. Gabrielle's tongue slid slowly across Xena's lips and they parted as if Gab had the only key to opening them. It was a perfect fit.
The kiss deepened and Xena pulled Gabrielle closer to her and she was shocked at the size of her companion. She was so small and frail. She was afraid to hold her too tight for fear of breaking her. She felt as if she were carrying a doll instead of a well-toned athlete. She knew by the feel of Gabrielle that any amorous ideas she may have would have to wait until Gabrielle was stronger physically as well as emotionally.
Gabrielle broke the kiss with a start. "Oh! Xena!" The cry was one of pain not pleasure. Xena was immediately concerned. She carried Gabrielle over to the bed and laid her there.
"What's wrong, Gabrielle?"
"I hurt in my stomach. It feels like a knife running through me. Ahhh!" She doubled over in pain crying out again
Xena ran out the door yelling Artie's name.
Artie heard her name and almost ran into the warrior half way up the stairs "Xena! What are you doing here?" She was surprised but very pleased to see the stunning woman once again. "Thank the God's. They both may have a chance now." It was her silent prayer.
"There is no time to go into that. Gabrielle is having pains! Bad ones!"
The two women rushed back into the room. Gabrielle was balled up in sheer agony. Artie rushed to her side and gently touched the small woman's forehead. She cried out again and Artie knew the problem immediately.
"This isn't good. She's losing the baby." There was great concern in the eyes of the healer.
"What do we do?" Fear filled the warrior and she wanted to panic. She would die if she were to lose her bard.
"YOU can put water on to boil and bring me cup and the bottle with the goldenseal in it and then you can leave the room."
"I'm staying!" She was trying her stubborn routine on the wrong person.
"NO, you're not! Now go!" Artie knew the feelings raging through the tall dark warrior, but she needed Gabrielle isoloated from any excitment. Xena would only add fuel to the fire.
Xena started to argue when Gabrielle screamed out in agony once again. As the bard turned over to stop the two from arguing the blood on the sheets told the story. It would be another long night for the three women joined by the pain of one.
It was almost dawn when the small redhead with the green eyes stepped through the doorway.
"Can I go in now?" Her eyes, filled with concern, plead with the healer to let her enter. Xena had come close to wearing a hole in the floorboards outside the doorway.
"Yes, Xena. You may go in." She placed a hand on the strong woman's arm. "She had a tough fight and lost a lot of blood. She is very weak. I want you to know all of the truth."
Xena dropped her head. She didn't want to hear the healers next words.
"Xena look at me."
The warrior raised her head to look Artie in the eyes. Worry framed the green she gazed into and terror gripped her heart.
"Xena, I don't need to tell you that Gabrielle is a very strong woman but she has put herself through so much torment over losing you and now this. If she as going to survive you will be the key."
"ME? What have I to do with her recovery?" She didn't understand the obvious yet.
"Do I always have to spell everything out for you two? Look, I am tired and don't want to seem cranky, but you two are blind as newborn kittens. I know you love her and wouldn't be here if you didn't. She loves you, too. She'd die without you and I mean that literally. She needs your strength to be hers right now. Go in there and be with her and don't you dare leave her side. Those are doctor's orders. You are the best medicine I have for her right now but I don't think you would fit in one of those little bottles," with a small smirk she added, "but I bet you would make a great tea. I'm going to bed. Call me if there are any changes."
Amused, Xena watched the compact woman traverse the stairs and realized what it was about her that she had been so comfortable with in their first meeting. She had Gabrielle's eyes. They were eyes she had learned to trust with the very life that was within her. Now it was time for her to win back the trust of the bard.
Xena entered the room in silence. Gabrielle was asleep. For this Xena was grateful. It gave her the chance to gaze at the beautiful woman who had gone through so much tragedy.
The great warrior crossed the room and lay down next to the friend who was the very soul of her. She reached out to stroke the golden hair of the sleeping woman. In a whisper she spoke. "My sweet Gabrielle, I am so sorry for abandoning you. I never meant you harm. I really thought I was leaving for your good. Little did I know it would tear us both apart. Please believe that I could never do anything I felt would injure you. At least I never thought I could. Please, forgive me." Tears were falling in a gentle stream down the mighty warrior's cheeks.
As those tears began to fall, Gabrielle, awakened when the warrior lay down, whispered weakly to her, "I can only forgive you if you forgive me also."
"But you " Xena tried to answer, to explain, to dispute.
"Shhh. Don't argue with a sick woman." The bard gave her friend a weak smile.
"I wouldn't dream of it." She placed a small kiss on the forehead of the strawberry blonde and lay down next to her. As she held the frail woman in her strong arms, she wasn't sure of the future but she was sure of her heart and where it belonged.
The evening was still early and the sun was warm shining through the window in Gabrielle and Xena's shared room. The time had gone by so quickly. It seemed that it was just yesterday that Xena had returned to Gabrielle and yet it had been three full moons. The healing of her body had taken a relatively short amount of time. Her soul had been a different story. She found that with the passing of time and the patience of Xena she was able to put most of the painful memories behind her. Gabrielle stared off into space as she had thoughts of the passage of time. She and Xena had spent countless hours talking and laughing. She was pleasantly surprised at the depth of thought evident in the less than talkative woman. Xena had never opened up to her in the manner she did now. Gabrielle found her to be most romantic. She was privy to quite a different view of the warrior than most people would ever see. Xena had lavished attention on her by taking her for moonlit walks by the ocean and picnics by the stream that ran not to far from the village. Holding hands they would talk and laugh and play. Xena would pick wild flowers and present them to Gabrielle with a slight blush on her cheeks. She decided though that the most endearing thing that Xena had done for her was to never make her feel uncomfortable. She knew the feelings that Xena had for her ran deep as did hers for the warrior. But not once had Xena forced the issue. She would have waited until the next lifetime for Gabrielle had the bard desired it. But desire it she did not. She had a desire of a different sort and the time had come to voice it.
Gabrielle's daydreaming ended and she began puttering and fidgeting with this and that, picking things up, moving them around the room. Placing scrolls in her pack, folding clothes, anything she could find to do.
Xena was lost in thought as she sharpened and polished her sword.
Gab stopped what she was doing and watched her intently. Her heart was pounding almost out of her chest as she mumbled to herself, *What am I doing! Just walk over there and and and what? This is so confusing. O.K. Hey! Xena! Babe. Wink, wink. Oh yeah, that's rich.* Gab rolled hey eyes at her own thoughts. "OK here goes."
She cleared her throat and tried to speak. "Xen ." Her voice was lost in a choke. There was no reaction that Xena had even heard her. She cleared her throat and tried again, "Xena?"
"Um?" Xena answered in a far away response.
Gabrielle, frustrated, strode over to where Xena was sitting. She reached out and delicately grasped the hand that held the sharpening stone. Xena stopped and looked up at her. She was about to feign being annoyed but saw the seriousness in Gabrielle's eyes.
"Gabrielle, is something wrong?" She was a little more protective than she used to be and her heighten sense of Gabrielle's feelings caused her to jump to conclusions.
"No, not wrong. I just want to talk to you." Her voice was sturdy and belied the anxiety she was feeling.
"Oh. All right, you talk. I'll listen." Gabrielle talked a lot and Xena had learned to listen and work at the same time. She went back to sharpening her sword.
This time Gabrielle stopped her and coaxed the stone out of her hand. She then persuaded Xena to hand the sword over also. Gabrielle then turned and placed both of them on the table beside her. She turned back to the warrior and sat on Xena's lap facing her. It was now Xena's turn to be nervous.
"Xena. I need to talk." Her emerald eyes stared deeply into the cerulean of Xena's and the tall woman caught her breath.
For once Xena didn't know what to say. She had some ideas on what to do, but words had no part of that.
"I want you to know that I have been feeling much better lately ."
It was all Xena could do to restrain herself from throwing Gab over her shoulder and carrying her to the bed. But if anything were going to happen Gabrielle would have to initiate it. This was at the bard's pace. After that
Xena interrupted Gabrielle's sentence, "Yes. You are looking much better. Your color is good and you look fit. You also ." Gabrielle placed two fingers over her mouth silencing her.
"No, Xena. I mean my heart feels better. You have helped to heal a part of me I thought had died in that clearing. I love you for that and I can't begin to tell you what that means to me."
That said Gabrielle wrapped both of her arms around Xena's head and pulled her close. As their lips touched Xena let out an audible moan. Her hands came up and gently followed the natural path of Gabrielle's body up from her knees to her thighs and shapely posterior then up her back. The kiss deepened and their tongues flicked gently across each other. Xena's hands ventured under the shift the Gabrielle was wearing. Her hands touched the softness of Gabrielle's skin and panic set in. Xena pulled her hands away and broke the kiss. Gab looked at her with questioning in her eyes.
"Hang on, Gabrielle. Can you be sure your ready for this? Do you know what you're doing?"
"Well yes..er..no. Well, not really, but I think I can make my way through. I mean, I am a woman after all and I'm sure ."
It was Xena's turn to quiet Gabrielle.
"No, Gabrielle." She smiled in spite of the seriousness of her feelings. "Do you know what this means? Do you know how it will effect you and your life? Is this what you want? Is your heart ready?" She placed a large gentle hand on Gabrielle's chest above her heart.
Gabrielle thought for a moment gathering all of her emotions to one place then she spoke her very heart.
"Xena, all I know is I love you. Gods know I've always loved you. I'm IN love with you. I know that now and I feel the time has come for us to.....deepen the bonds of this relationship. I don't want to ever be away from your side. Please, take me with you, always." Gabrielle knew the words were not the best of prose, bards didn't always have just the right words, but the intent held with in them was priceless.
Her voice was so soft and sincere it brought tears to the eyes of the once hardened and callous warrior. It took her some time to gather the thoughts that had been raging through her head for months. She said the only words she could out of all the millions she had thought.
"Gabrielle, I know now that I could never live without you. I don't ever want to try again. I will take you with me if you promise you'll stay always."
Gabrielle nodded in agreement.
Xena smiled and said, "Now, if you don't mind I will do some of that taking right NOW!" With that she hoisted Gabrielle up over her shoulder.
Gabrielle let out a delighted scream and feigned anger. "Xena! Put me down!"
"Oh. I'll put you down alright!" And Xena carried Gabrielle over to the bed, discarded her there and turned to walk away.
"Hey! Where are you going?" She frowned in confusion.
"To bolt the door. We can't have people running in and out ya know. Speaking of in and out, where was I?" She waged her eyebrows up and down.
"Come here," teased Gabrielle "I'll show you."
Xena crossed the room and knelt next to the bed. She leaned in and brushed the strawberry golden hair away from Gabrielle's eyes with her fingertips. As their eyes met she wanted to speak but here were no words that could convey her thoughts. Xena pressed her lips to Gabrielle's and kissed her with the all of the passion that she had holding back for so long. With their lips still entwined, she climbed into the bed next to her bard. She let her free hand slide down Gab's side to the rise of her hips and the fullness of her tight bottom. Her hands rose back up and slid under the blonde's shift. She didn't stop this time. She unlaced the ties that were securing Gabrielle's top and removed it from her. Without hesitation she continued her exploration. Her hand brushed against the side of Gabrielle's breast and the smaller woman let out an involuntary shiver. This pleased Xena to no end. She opened her hand flat and rubbed ever so lightly bringing the nipple to tautness. She took the whole breast in her hand and cupped it as if weighing the possibilities. Firmly, but not hard enough to cause pain, only pleasure, she grasped the erect nipple between her thumb and forefinger and began twisting it gently back and forth. Gabrielle was squirming with pleasure.
Their mouths parted company and Xena traveled with the very tip of her tongue drawing a line from the corner of Gabrielle's lips to her earlobe. Xena paused to delight in the very feel of this one small part of her lover in her mouth. As she sucked slowly and deliberately she whispered to her new lover, "Use your imagination. What do I have in my mouth?" Gabrielle tried to speak. "Don't answer. Just think."
As Xena continued, the bard's very vivid imagination began to wander to every part of her body, imagining what that persistent oral fondling would feel like. Her mind touched places that filled her with wanton desire. Xena left her ear to capture the hollow of her throat. She began to place soft and gentle kisses that were soon replace by a hungry devouring. Her own passion was rising to ecstasy. She wanted Gabrielle so badly it was beginning to ache.
Gabrielle was so fully aroused that it was all she could do to refrain from screaming for Xena to "take me now!" She was thoroughly enjoying the lovemaking at which the warrior was obviously skilled. She didn't care. She was the beneficiary of that experience.
When Xena's mouth enveloped her breast, Gabrielle moaned loudly in obvious delight. She couldn't believe that a thing so simple could feel so incredible.
Xena reached down and with her finger traced a line up from Gabrielle's knee to the inside of her thigh. She came in contact with Gabrielle's skirt and decided that it had to go. With one swift movement the vision of beauty was naked before the great warrior. Xena was in awe of what she saw. Gabrielle was so well muscled and defined and Xena couldn't help but reach out and run her hand along the whole side of her body. Her blue eyes sparkled with desire.
"Unreal! You are so beautiful! I swear I'm dreaming." She spoke aloud without meaning to.
This made Gabrielle smile. She had been worried that Xena would not be pleased with what she saw. Obviously her worry had been misplaced.
Xena slid her hand down Gabrielle's stomach to the very edge of the hair that surrounded the pleasure that awaited her. Taking her finger she began to slowly outline the entire area. She drew a line down the crease between the thigh and Gabrielle's outer lips. Her finger continued down to her knee. She slowly retraced her artwork and Gabrielle opened her legs slightly in invitation. This caused a smile to creep across the face of the mighty woman. She knew now that Gabrielle did want her to make love to her completely. "Very well."
Xena captured Gabrielle's mouth once again and entwined it with her own. Their tongues were dancing across each other with fury. Her hand traveled one more time. This time she touched the softness of Gabs lips and felt the abundance of wetness that was begging to be played in. The feel of Gabrielle's wetness on her finger made her moan involuntarily.
As Xena spread Gabrielle's lips to enter her, the Amazon Queen had a death grip on Xena's shoulders. The absolute delight Xena took in this was overwhelming her. Xena's fingers came to rest on the entrance to sheer joy. Gabrielle was shaking in anticipation. Xena was about to be lost inside of the woman she loved more than life itself. Finally, she entered and joined herself with Gabrielle's softness and moist warmth.
Gabrielle moaned into Xena's mouth and her hips began to move in rhythm with the thrusts of Xena's fingers.
Xena was slow and methodical. She wanted to feel every fold and curve that made up this creature that had so captured her heart.
Gabrielle felt herself going over the edge to ecstasy. Before she could, Xena withdrew her fingers. Gabrielle groaned in disappointment.
"Don't worry, my love, I won't leave you in need of release. Be patient." Xena reassured her. This was NOT going to be one of those times when she was quickly finished with and then discarded the other. No, Gabrielle was worth all that she could give and more.
Xena rose to her knees and straddled Gabrielle. She reached over her head and removed her tunic. Her long raven hair fell in a cascade over her shoulders and breasts.
The exposed delicate skin beckoned and Gabrielle couldn't resist. She tentatively reached out with her hands and placed them on Xena's hips. Xena placed her own hands over Gabrielle's and drew them slowly up her body.
Gabrielle had known that Xena was wonderful to hold but touching her in this way was nothing short of magical.
Xena let her hands fall to her side and the bard's hands continued to rise up until they met the fullness of Xena's breasts. She knew in that instant that she had to relish in the taste of those fantastic orbs. Without hesitation she sat up and placed one of Xena's extended and engorged nipples in her mouth. Reveling in the taste and the feel of it, her head rushed to dizziness. Not wanting to ignore the other she reach over and ensnared the right nipple in her fingers.
Xena entwined her fingers in golden locks with both hands. She was flying. She wanted desperately for Gabrielle to make love to her as well, but not yet. She gently pulled Gabrielle's mouth away from her breasts and held her face in her hands. She took in every line and freckle that was her precious Gabrielle. Their eyes fell into each other. Their mouths met so softly that lips melted into one another and tongues touched without resistance. They lay back down and their lips parted.
Xena began a journey that in the end would bring their lives up from the depths of the hell to which they had traveled and into the heavens themselves. She kissed and tasted every inch of Gabrielle that she could find on her way down. When she reach that most intimate part she inhaled deeply the sweet aroma that was Gabrielle.
"Now that is truly "nectar of the Gods"." She whispered.
The bard was not quite sure where Xena was going with this. Fortunately she had read the Amazon scrolls about love making between two women. It had been an....educational experience. She had spent the better part of two moons with her hands pleasuring herself after having read them. Now she was in the midst of the reality and was aching for the warrior to share with her the pleasures she had only read about. She was soon to find out.
Xena ever so lightly licked the moist outer lips from bottom to top. She tasted with her mouth the wetness of the promise that lay within. She allowed her tongue to probe deeper into the folds exploring every minute detail with great pleasure. She let her tongue flick across Gabrielle's clit causing the latter to jump.
Gabrielle began to squirm in expectancy. She placed one hand on the back of Xena's head and the other was drawn to her own nipple. She arched her back and shivered with hunger. This was more than she had ever fantasized about. Much more!
Xena's excitement rose watching the young woman touch herself in pleasure. Xena's long fingers spread back the folds of Gabrielle's lips to uncover the treasure within. The moment was now. She submerged her tongue deep inside of her precious love. When she did, Gabrielle cried out in utter joy and gratification. Xena continued to probe in and out with her tongue meeting the rhythm of Gabrielle's movement. She brought her hand up and with her thumb began to massage Gabrielle's very swollen clitoris
Gabrielle's breathing was becoming shallow and her body was beginning to tense. Her head thrashed from side to side. "Oh! By the Gods'. Don't.... you........dare..... stop. umuuuumm."
The great Warrior Princess had no such ideas.
Gabrielle shuddered and was over taken by the magnitude of her climax. The waves of pleasure broke over her like a tsunami. She had never felt anything as intense in her life and she screamed out her lover's name with pleasure. " Oh yeah! OhYEESSS! GODS! XEEENAAA! AAAH!!
Xena could feel the pulsating deluge of pleasure overtake Gabrielle. She couldn't help but feel satisfaction and passion at the same moment. She rode the tide out with her lover and rose up her body to enjoy the trembling thrill of Gabrielle in her arms. As the feeling passed from ecstasy to calm, Xena wrapped herself around Gabrielle and held her while she recovered.
When she could breath again she looked into the depths of Xena's vivid blue eyes.
"I never knew it could be like this. I never dreamt of love so indescribable. I love you."
She leaned in and kissed Xena tasting herself there for the first time and knew it was not to be the last. The taste drove her to an insane desire for her warrior. She brought her knee up between Xena's thigh. Xena's reaction was to grind her now slick, cotton covered, mound into the firmness of Gabrielle. Their kissing and Xena's grinding became more desperate with the passing moments. Gabrielle was now in charge of this situation and she knew it. If there was one thing that the 'one of many skills' had taught her was to take advantage of every situation and she was going to do just that. She drew her leg away from Xena, untangled herself from the raven-haired woman's embrace and sat up.
"I think the breeches need to go." This was her first directive. Xena complied with help from Gabrielle. Now it was Gabrielle's turn to be in awe. The soft curls of her pubis served to enhance Xena's long limbs and dark skin. She was truly gorgeous.
She didn't let her awe stand in the way of her action if anything the beauty she beheld made her more desirous to possess completely the woman before her.
She moved to straddle Xena. She grabbed her wrists, held them down and kissed her hard. She ended the kiss and whispered, "Tell me what you want." She ground her wetness into Xena's stomach. Xena reached her head up to kiss Gabrielle again but Gab avoided her.
"Ah, ah, ah. Tell me what you want." She was teasing her warrior
"Do you really want to know?" She was enjoying the game!
"Yeah, I really do." She licked Xena's jawline.
"Come here." Xena was a master of seduction as well.
Gabrielle leaned in close and Xena whispered in her ear. Gabrielle giggled in delight at the idea and slid her body sensuously and very slowly up deep olive skin until blonde curls were with in centimeters of Xena's smiling face.
Xena once again delved into the young temptresses wetness. She reached up with both of her hands and seized Gabrielle's pert breasts. She was lost in wild abandon.
Gabrielle, not wanting to lose control, eased away from Xena and slid back down her body.
Xena protested the movement but relented in the end.
Gabrielle paused long enough to kiss Xena once on the lips and then covered her neck in more of the same. She bit and nibbled her way down Xena's neck and chest to those stunning breasts. Not wanting to miss any part of her warrior's body she sucked one breast deeply into her mouth while one hand roamed free. It was free but not for long. She discovered a wetness that held her fascinated. She was the cause of this arousal and was amazed that she could have such an effect on this very adept lover she had found. She longed to be inside of the warmth this moisture. She ran her finger up and down the length of Xena's vaginal lips. Xena moved in sync with Gabrielle's fingers. Then Gab immersed her two middle fingers into Xena's wetness.
Xena let out with a soft cry at Gabrielle's entrance to her. Nothing had ever felt so right, and with the felling of this one final barrier, they both knew they were no longer two people but one heart, one soul. Inseparable.
Gabrielle was so intrigued with the feeling she had to get closer. She moved to put her head between Xena's legs and watched in fascination as her fingers disappeared inside of this amazing woman. With a tentative slowness she let her tongue slide along the small hooded bundle of nerves. She had never experienced such softness. Xena pushed into her instantly and Gabrielle took the hint. She enveloped Xena's clit with her mouth and continued to probe deeper and harder with her fingers. She sucked on the bulging bundle of nerves from root to tip and back again in rhythm to her strokes.
As she began to feel her orgasm overtake her, Xena grabbed Gabrielle's blonde head and pushed into her mouth. She cried out "OH YES! Gabrielle!" And she exploded in unexplainable ecstasy. She felt as if Gabrielle had lit her heart on fire and placed it between her legs. The sexual pleasure and the total love combined made this a new and wonderful experience for the woman who, in a time not so long ago, thought there was nothing more to feel in this life. She was glad to be alive and finally in the arms and heart of her Gabrielle.
"I love you My Bard." Xena kissed Gabrielle's temple.
"And I you, My Warrior. Thank you for coming home." She kissed soft lips again and smiled.
They were both home.
Artie heard the sounds of passion wafting down to the room just below the one shared by the warrior and the bard. She smiled. "Thank you Fates! Destiny is back on course!"
A shimmering light filled the room and a dark haired, leather clad man stood before the innkeeper.
"Artie, Don't you ever get tired of protecting those two?"
"Now Ares, you know the warrior is not mine. The bard is my chosen, Xena just happens to come with her." She smiled at the thought and at the pun. With Gabrielle protected by her, Ares really had no way to claim Xena anytime soon.
The fates had played an awful trick on the God of War, and he was none too happy about it.
Another glimmer of light shone in the room and a flaxen haired beauty stood in the midst of the two.
"Oh, Lighten up Ares. What's one little warrior? Yeah, yeah she a hotty, but come on! Cupid got all this started and it's just a bitchin' love story! I couldn't have done better myself!"
"Thanks mom!" A head appeared in the room and Cupid smiled.
"Did I invite you all to a party of some sort?" There was an edge to the voice. Artemis was beginning to feel slightly invaded.
The others looked at each other and then back to Artemis and with the same shimmer with which they had appeared they were gone.
"That's better." And the guardian of the Amazons felt the world fall back into place.
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