GUILT, LOVE & FORGIVENESS
Part 2 of 2
Safely nestled in bed, Xena's strong arms wrapped around her, Gabrielle couldn't help but think about how right it felt to be held by the warrior. Forgoing the pillow, she scooted down until her cheek was resting against the bronzed arm. "Xena?"
"I still love you. I know you didn't mean for this to happen." she felt the warm body pressed up against her shift as the warrior propped herself up on one elbow, the movement pulling the arm back until the bard's face was resting on the large hand.
"Gabrielle if there was a way, any way, that I could take back what happened-"
"We're supposed to let go of the past, right? Move on?" she inhaled a ragged breath. "I'm so confused I should hate you for this but all I can think about is that I'm partly to blame. I hurt you so much."
"Shh let's not talk about that." the warrior urged.
"No we can't just pretend that Britannia and China never happened, no matter how much we want to." she croaked. "We hurt each other. Now look what our lies and anger did." she leaned into the warm hand her cheek was resting on. "I never meant to hurt you."
"I know that, Gabrielle." she rubbed her hand up and down the bard's upper arm. "It's just not part of you to be hurtful. Come on now, let's get some sleep, okay?"
But that sleep was anything but peaceful. Twice Xena woke up to the sound of the bard crying out from tortured dreams, dreams that revolved around being dragged out of the Amazon village and through the countryside. Twice the warrior had to comfort Gabrielle, to whisper nonsense words into her ear to get her to calm down. And twice she had to lie there in the darkness of the night and think about the consequences of her actions.
"Good morning, Gabrielle." Cyrene said as she entered the room. "Are you ready for breakfast?" the sleepy bard rolled over and rubbed her face.
"I guess so." she sniffed the air. "I don't smell anything."
"I didn't bring anything. You have to come out to the tavern area." the innkeeper said, knowing full well that the young woman wouldn't snap at her in anywhere near the fashion she would at Xena. "Unless of course you aren't hungry."
"Are there a lot of people out there?"
"Not too many, actually a rather small crowd for today. Come, I have work to do." she crossed to the table and poured some water into the wash basin. "I'll put the cloth on the edge of the bowl. You'll find it, I'm sure. I have to check on my patrons but I'll be back in a few moments to get you." she took one quick look to make sure there was nothing between the bed and table that Gabrielle could trip over, then left.
Gabrielle sat there for several moments after the door closed, trying to find the courage to move about on her own in the perpetual darkness. She slid off the bed to the floor, leaning her back against the wooden frame. She felt around until her hand came in contact with one of her boots. "Well, there's a start." a bit more groping about turned up the other boot. That task accomplished, she stood up and felt along the edge of the bed to get her bearings. "Six paces, eh? Wonder if those are six of my paces or six of yours, oh long legged one." she aimed herself in the direction that she thought the table was in and took five steps forward, her arms feeling the air around her the entire time. At that point, she began taking tiny steps, fearful of banging into the table. She finally brushed against the wooden corner of the table and smiled. "Well, that wasn't so bad." she said just before turning to the side and crashing against a chair. Fortunately she ended up falling onto the seat instead of over the chair and onto the floor. "Ow ow ow." her hand went to her yelping shin. "That's gonna bruise." once the pain reduced itself to a dull, throbbing ache, Gabrielle resumed her task, feeling around until she found the cool metal basin and cloth. By the time Cyrene returned, the bard had managed to wash up but had not left the chair, not wanting to slam her shin into another piece of furniture.
By the time a hot and sweaty Xena came down from the roof for lunch, she found Gabrielle sitting at the bar, recounting the tale of Prometheus to Cyrene. To the warrior's surprise, her mother waved off a customer asking for more port in favor of listening to the talented bard. Unbeknownst to Gabrielle, several others had moved closer to hear the entertaining story. "So just when it seemed that all was lost, the torch burst to life, the golden fire blessing us with its light. Together with Hercules, Xena managed to free the Titan and save mankind." the bard finished, her hands outstretched, assisting her in her storytelling, just like whenever she appeared on a stage.
"That was beautiful." Cyrene said, turning her head to look at her daughter with pride, causing Xena to blush slightly and find a spot on the wall quite interesting. There was a collective murmur of agreement followed by clapping and the sound of dinars striking the counter in front of the astonished bard.
"It's for you, Gabrielle." Cyrene said. "Surely people have thrown dinars at you before in honor of your stories."
"Well, yes of course, but "
"But what?" Xena asked, moving close until her thigh brushed against the bard's hip. "Gabrielle, you tell wonderful stories, you know that."
"That was before." she said sadly.
"No." she took the bard's arm and guided her away from the crowd, stopping only when they were near the kitchen. "You're still Gabrielle, bard, Amazon Princess, my best friend. That hasn't changed. They didn't care if you could see or not. They cared that your stories brightened up what otherwise might have been a boring day for them." Xena brought her hand up to caress the soft cheek. "Just like you always brighten up my day."
"We're near the kitchen, aren't we?" she asked, her head turning toward the collection of tempting scents.
"Yeah." the warrior grinned, knowing full well what the next question was. "Come on, let's help ourselves. Mother won't mind."
With her confidence renewed, Gabrielle spent the rest of the day telling stories to the patrons. Cyrene cleared an area at one end of the room and put a stool there for the bard to sit on. In addition to being able to hear about some of her only daughter's exploits, the innkeeper also enjoyed a boost in business as customers stayed behind after their meal was over to listen to the young woman, which of course meant more drinks and dinars. While Gabrielle couldn't see their faces, she knew the audience was enjoying her tales by the sounds of applause when she finished, the generous clinking of dinars into the bucket near her feet, and the grumbling from other patrons when someone was stupid enough to try and talk during her performance. The bard told story after story until she no longer heard the sound of Xena working on the far end of the roof. "I'm afraid that's all for tonight. Thank you."
"No, please stay and tell more."
"Another story, just one more."
"Yeah, tell us another one."
"Cyrene, it's early, can't you make her stay?"
"Now look, all of you." the innkeeper said firmly. "If the child is tired, then that's it. I'm sure she'll tell more tomorrow. You can all come back then if you want to hear her." she crossed the room to where the bard was still leaning against the stool and picked up the bucket laden with dinars. "They've moved some of the tables and chairs around." she said in explanation for taking the young woman's arm. Gabrielle nodded in understanding. Her audience always had that habit.
"Is Xena in yet?"
"Not yet. She's probably just putting the tools away. I'll make up plates for the both of you." she led the bard to an empty stool at the end of the bar.
"I think it would be best if we ate in our room, if you don't mind."
"I'll bring them in there then." Cyrene said, looking over toward the doorway that led to the rooms. "You go on ahead. I'll let Xena know where you are."
"Oh " nervousness crept over Gabrielle's face. It was one thing to negotiate her way around when there was no one in the main room, but to do it with a full compliment of customers milling about was another thing altogether. "I think maybe I'll just wait here for her."
"There's no one in your way." Cyrene replied, not completely understanding the bard's reluctance.
"No, that's okay. I'll stay here. Could I have a port, please?"
Not wanting to push the issue and having several customers to wait on, Cyrene quickly filled a mug and set it on the counter in front of the young woman. Gabrielle reached for it but before her fingers could close around the mug it was taken away.
"Mmm, thanks. I was thirsty." Xena said before taking a long swallow.
"You know you could have gotten your own mug." the bard said.
"Ah, but it's more fun to take yours."
"Cute. I thought you might like to eat dinner in our room. Cyrene said she'd bring the plates in." she slid off the stool, the action putting her right against the warrior's body.
Xena's first impulse was to take Gabrielle's arm and guide her, but she stopped herself and took a step back. "That sounds fine. Let's go." although a bit disappointed, the bard nodded and followed the warrior by using a different sense smell. A full day of labor on the roof caused the scent of leather to mix with sweat, making it easy for Gabrielle to know exactly where Xena was as they made their way back to the room.
"Xena, can we go for a walk after dinner?" the bard asked, putting another spoonful of stew into her mouth. "Mmm, I mean, it's a nice night out, isn't it? It's not raining or anything and I'm feeling a bit cooped up staying in all the time."
"If you like, sure." the warrior replied, surprised. A moonlit stroll wasn't exactly what she had in mind for the rest of the evening, more like a hot bath and an early rest, but if Gabrielle wanted to go for a walk, and with her, there was no way Xena was going to say no.
It wasn't an especially warm night, but it wasn't too cold either. Just to be on the safe side, Xena grabbed one of her mother's shawls for Gabrielle on her way out the door. Making the bard learn her way around indoors was one thing, but outside was another matter altogether. With Gabrielle's hand firmly planted on her gauntlet covered forearm, Xena led them away from the inn.
"Amphipolis sure has a lot of sheep, doesn't it?" Gabrielle said, crinkling her nose.
"We used to have more, before Cortese and his men came in. In many ways, that attack changed Amphipolis forever. We used to be a leader in wool production. That's what made us prosperous. Unfortunately, it also made us a target."
"So now they just keep enough sheep for their own needs?"
"Well, a little more than that, but not anywhere near what we used to have." she sniffed the air. "It certainly smells better than it used to."
"I bet summers were pretty rough, huh?" Gabrielle joked.
"And you wonder why Lyceus and I used to go up in the hills and play? The hills were upwind of the village." she smiled and patted the hand resting on her forearm. "Come on, let's find somewhere a little less "
"Stinky?" the bard offered.
"That'll do." Xena grinned.
They made their way slowly through the town before ending up at a gentle grassy slope. "You want to sit and rest for a while?"
"That'd be nice." Gabrielle replied. A moment later they were lying side by side, one staring up at darkness, the other at the twinkling lights of the evening sky.
"I wish we had brought a waterskin." the bard said.
"You know I use it as a pillow."
"Oh. I'll fix that." Xena said as she sat up and removed her bracer and gauntlet from her right arm. "Here, lift your head." she slid her arm under the bard's head and over her shoulder, letting the muscled forearm fall loosely across Gabrielle's chest. "How's that?"
"Better." she replied, snuggling closer and shifting until both were comfortable. "Are the stars out tonight?"
"Sure are. Sky's full of them."
"Tell me about them." the bard urged, moving the shawl to cover her chest and Xena's arm.
"Well there's the one there that you think looks like an arrow."
"Um " a quizzical look came over the warrior's face as she tried to figure out how to explain to the bard where the star group was. "I got an idea." she shifted until she was propped up on her elbow, thus taking away the bard's warm, muscled pillow. "Okay, here's the sky " she ran a finger around the outer edges of Gabrielle's bare midriff, noticing not for the first time just how soft the skin was. " and the arrow is here." she drew the object with her finger just above the bard's belly button. "And the shield is here " she said, tracing an approximation of the five pointed constellation just below the ribcage, the highest point just a hand's width away from the edge of the green top.
"Is the scorpion there too?" Gabrielle asked. Xena looked up at the sky and swallowed hard.
"Uh yeah it is. It's um north of the shield. I guess the sky's bigger than your belly." she placed two fingers slightly apart on either side of one rib. "There's the points of the tail " she brought the fingers together before using just one to move in an 'S' motion down and then up Gabrielle's chest. " there's the body," her finger rested just halfway up the inner swell of the bard's left breast. "and the head " she hesitated, fully cognizant of where her hand was. "well, the head is up a bit more." she let her hand fall back to her side. The expression on Gabrielle's face was unreadable and Xena was sure there had to be more than one reason for the increase in the bard's breathing. "Um I think we'd better get back. Mother will worry."
"Hmm, I guess so." Gabrielle replied, not making any move to get up. "Xena?"
"You know what I miss most of all? More than the stars or the colors or anything?" she rolled over, wrapping her arms around the muscled torso and pressing her face against the leather clad abdomen. "I miss seeing you." she shifted until the back of her head was resting on Xena's stomach, their bodies perpendicular to each other. Gabrielle reached up and caught hold of the warrior's right hand, pulling it down until it was resting across her bare middle. "I could tell so much from your eyes. Even when you have that warrior mask of yours on, I can still figure out what's going on inside." she let her thumb move back and forth lazily across Xena's hand. "You're not one to tell me what you're feeling, you know." they both smiled at the comment. "I can't tell now." she added sadly.
"I never meant-"
"No." Gabrielle interrupted, squeezing the hand beneath hers. "I know you didn't. I drove you to the snapping point."
"No." Xena said firmly. "Don't don't think like that. I had no right, no matter what happened." she reached down with her left hand and brushed the soft golden hair off the bard's forehead, her fingers lingering over the point where her memory told her a large lump was only a few days ago. "I " she stared up at the night sky and took a deep breath, drawing courage from the continued gentle touch of Gabrielle's hand on hers. "For so long, I never cared about anyone, or anything. I let violence and anger rule." she gently plucked at the bard's hair. "Then you came along. You accepted me for who I am, the good and the bad. You helped me to see that I could still be worthy, that I could atone for my past. For a while I forgot that." she shook her head. "No, I didn't forget, I ignored it. I was in pain and I lashed out at you. Gabrielle, I'm sorry."
"I know, Xena." she said softly. She rolled over and shared a warm embrace, not caring about the brass armor pressing against her body. "I still love you." she whispered against the bronzed neck. The strong arms holding her squeezed even tighter. 'After all the things you've forgiven me for, how could I feel anything less?' the bard thought to herself just as she felt the soft wetness of a tear trickle down the warrior's cheek. "Hey, enough of that." she said, lifting her head and wiping away the errant drop. "We'd better get back before this turns into a major mush-fest." she moved off Xena's body and accepted the hand up. Their trip back to the inn was spent with arms around each other's waists and once inside their room, a gentle, peaceful sleep enveloped them almost as soon as their heads hit the pillows.
The next four days continued in much the same fashion, Xena worked on the roof while Gabrielle kept Cyrene company and entertained guests with tales. She'd start with a story about Hercules, always a popular one, then would move on to Xena once she had the audience in her grasp. She worked hard to highlight every good thing the warrior did, downplayed the violence, and in general made the former Destroyer of Nations into a hero in her kinsmen's eyes. Cyrene not only enjoyed the stories herself, but also the increase in business that having the bard performing brought. Xena worked diligently on fixing her mother's roof, starting shortly after sunrise and stopping only for meals or to eavesdrop on the golden haired woman's tales. Gabrielle still planned on going to Poteidaia but said nothing, not wanting to hurt her friend by reminding her. Xena, on the other hand, still hoped fervently that the bard would change her mind but was afraid to bring the subject up.
The midday crowd had dispersed, leaving the innkeeper and Gabrielle alone in the tavern area. That usually meant that the bard would quietly think about her stories and wait for Xena to come in to eat while Cyrene cleaned up and prepared the room for the evening crowd. So Gabrielle was quite surprised when the warrior's mother asked her to come join her at one of the smaller tables.
"Xena will be back soon." the bard said as she allowed herself to be guided to one of the simple wooden chairs. "Did you want to talk to me about something?"
"She'll be a while yet." Cyrene answered as she sat down in an adjoining chair. "Would you like something to drink? Cider, some port? Or eat perhaps? I have some gruel or perhaps some chicken."
"I'm fine right now. Cyrene, is something wrong?" it wasn't like the quiet innkeeper to ramble and the somewhat nervous tone in her voice worried Gabrielle.
"You know when Xena was a young child I had so many hopes for her, dreams of what her life would be like." she reached over and patted the bard's hand. "Perhaps if you had been her friend then, things might have turned out differently." she looked down at the table. "Tell me about Solon. Tell me about my grandchild."
"What " she cleared her throat, which suddenly felt very constricted. " what did Xena tell you?"
"I know what she told me, Gabrielle. I want to hear about him from you."
"I don't think I should there was a lot that happened "
"You feel responsible for his death, don't you?"
"I think I will have that port if you don't mind." the bard said, pulling her hand back from the innkeeper's grasp. She heard the scraping of the chair as Cyrene rose to retrieve the spirit, the gurgling sound as the liquid was poured into the wooden mug, the gentle sound of soft boots against the floor as the older woman returned to her side. "Thank you." she reached out and felt the weight of the mug being placed in her hand. Gabrielle took a slow drink while Cyrene returned to her seat.
"Cyrene, I don't think I'm the one who should be talking to you about him. Xena-"
"Xena won't tell me what I want to know. I know how he came to be with the Centaurs and that he died. I want you to tell me the rest."
Gabrielle took a deep breath and nodded. "He was a sweet boy. Eyes as blue as Xena's, but different. When we first went to the Centaur village, he thought of Xena as his enemy." she took a swallow of the port. "It tore her apart, I know it did. I should have been more understanding of the pain she was at in that time, but all I could think about was that he deserved to know that she was his mother. She never got to tell him that not until it was too late." her head hung down, the loose hair effectively hiding her face from Cyrene's gaze. "Solon wanted to be a warrior, he ran around with his father's sword. It was the last thing Xena wanted for him. She did everything she could to convince him that being a warrior wasn't the right thing for him. Before we left the first time, she did just that. He threw the sword away and never picked it up again." she blinked rapidly and drew a ragged breath. "Maybe if he did have that sword with him that day maybe he could have " she rubbed her forehead. "Did she tell you how he died?"
"You tell me."
"I I thought I was doing the right thing." she let out a short laugh. "If I had only listened to Xena, been honest with her from the start."
"Why weren't you? Why did you feel you had to hide the truth from her?" Cyrene asked, not fully understanding.
"I thought I was protecting Hope. I had to keep her away from Xena. She would have killed her."
"I was pregnant and gave birth to her in just a few days. Xena believed what the villagers told her, that Hope was the child of darkness. I knew something wasn't right, but Cyrene, you should have seen her." she smiled. "She was just so perfect, just a perfect little girl my little girl, my hope. I just couldn't believe that she was evil, even when the knights died. After the temple in Britannia, Dahok, Meridian, I I just couldn't accept that she was anything but what she appeared, a gentle innocent little baby." she took a long swallow of the port, letting the strong brew burn its way down her throat. "When Xena told me that she had to die, well I couldn't." she reached across the table and gripped the older woman's wrist. "I couldn't stand by and let her kill my own child, no matter who her father was or how she came to be. I just couldn't. I ran. I ran as fast as I could. I was desperate to protect Hope. I didn't know what else I could do. I put her in a basket and sent her down the river. By the time Xena reached me, I lied and told her that I threw Hope over the cliff."
"It sounds like you were just being a mother protecting her child. That was a very hard place for you to be in, to be forced to choose between your best friend and your child."
"It wasn't just that, Cyrene. I chose Hope. But I know Xena. If she knew that Hope was alive, she wouldn't have stopped hunting her down. I had to lie." she haphazardly wiped at the tears on her face. "I pretended that it didn't bother me. I got pretty good at hiding my feelings from Xena. Then we went to the Centaur village a couple of months later and Hope was there. I didn't know it was her at first, but when I found out, I thought I could help her fight her dark side, just like I help Xena."
"The baby made it from Britannia to Greece in only two months?"
"She wasn't a baby anymore. She was older, more like ten or so. I know it doesn't make sense, but I didn't care. Not a day went by that I didn't think about her, wonder where she was, if she was okay." she sniffed. "I couldn't talk to Xena about it, I kept it inside, my own personal Tartarus. The one person I trusted more than anything wanted to kill my child. It was so hard." a ragged breath. "When I found her at the village, I really thought I could help her, that I could show Xena that she was wrong, that Hope didn't have to die." she didn't bother to catch the tears as they fell off her cheeks and hit the wooden table. "I was trying to protect my daughter and it cost Xena her son. Can I have some more please?" she pushed the now empty mug forward. Cyrene took it to the bar and refilled it. "Thanks." Gabrielle said when the innkeeper returned. She took several gulps before continuing. "Callisto, you remember her she was there, she was working with Hope to kill the children. Well, I think that's what they were doing. Now now I wonder if it was just to get Solon. I didn't know, I trusted Hope I was worried about her. I sent her to the safest place I could think of, to the same place where Solon was hiding."
"Oh gods." Cyrene whispered.
"I was so wrong. I wouldn't listen to Xena and I led Hope right to him. When I told Xena what I had done, she ran right over there " her head hung even lower. "but it was too late."
"Gabrielle, you were trying to protect your child. You didn't know."
"I suspected. I didn't want to believe. Everything was there, I see that now. But I wanted so much to believe that there was good in her that a child born of me couldn't be capable of such evil." in her perpetual darkness, the bard couldn't see the mother sitting next to her nod in agreement. "I accepted the truth too late to save Solon. But I made sure that it wouldn't happen again." she said sadly.
"What did you do?" Cyrene asked, her tone almost fearful.
"I I took some poison from the healer's hut " her lower lip quivered. "I -I took it and I I " she sniffled and wiped her face with the back of her hand. "If there had been enough of the poison left, I would have taken it too. For days afterwards I wished I had."
"Gabrielle, you mustn't blame yourself. You had no way of knowing what would happen."
"Cyrene? If you had it all to do again, when Atrius was going to kill Xena if you knew then what you know now "
"Would it have made a difference? Would I have still stopped him?" she finished for the bard. "You don't know how many times I've asked myself that same question." she looked over at the bar, fully aware of the sword and chakram stored behind it on a lower shelf. "My daughter has been responsible for far more deaths than yours, Gabrielle. More than I think she even realizes. I'd hear. Neighbors people who used to be proud to call me friend, they'd come in and tell me how this village fell to her army and how many innocent lives were slaughtered on her orders. I won't lie to you, there was a time when I regretted stopping him, when I thought that I had made a horrible mistake in letting her live. But now now I know I made the right decision. Xena has a purpose in this world, just like you do. I was wrong to turn her away when she came home three summers ago. I was wrong and I thank the gods that you were there for her. You saw in her what I couldn't see. It takes a very special person to love someone like her."
"I guess that makes us both special people then." Gabrielle said, reaching across the table to squeeze the older woman's hand.
Just outside the back door, Xena leaned her head against the frame. She hadn't meant to eavesdrop on their conversation, but when she heard Gabrielle mention Solon's name, the warrior found herself frozen to the spot, unable to do anything but listen in. Caught up in her own guilt and pain, she never stopped to think about what the bard's feelings were about Solon. Never considered that Gabrielle was only doing what any mother would have done when she sent Hope to Kaleipus' hut...trying to protect her child or that the guilt she felt over Hope would cause her to consider taking her own life. Understanding flooded through Xena, making her see all of the bard's actions in a new light.
She backed away from the door, then returned, making her presence known before she reached for the latch. When she entered she saw Gabrielle still at the table but Cyrene wasn't in sight. "Where's Mother?"
"She went to the kitchen to get our meals." the bard replied, hoping that her eyes weren't as swollen from crying as they felt they were. "Um...do you want to eat out here or in our room?"
"Doesn't matter. I'll go help Mother with the plates." as she passed the table, Xena reached out and squeezed Gabrielle's shoulder affectionately. The action caught the bard off guard and she started for an instant, but before she could find her voice, the warrior was already out of the room.
"Mother?" she entered the kitchen to find Cyrene busily piling a mountain of turnips onto one of two plates sitting on the counter.
"I was just getting food for you and Gabrielle." she turned around to see what her daughter wanted and found herself enveloped in a warm embrace as Xena bent over and hugged her. The action, so very rare and most certainly unexpected, was nonetheless welcomed. Cyrene returned it with equal affection, her heart aching when she realized just how long it had actually been since she had been the recipient of such an act of affection from her only daughter. The hug she had received on their way back to Amphipolis from the Furies' temple was for comfort but this one this hug was that special hug reserved only for mothers. A hug that Cyrene hadn't felt from Xena since long before Cortese came to town.
"I love you." the warrior whispered, giving one final squeeze before releasing her grip and straightening up. They looked at each other for a long moment before Xena reached over and picked up the plates. "I'd better get back. Gabrielle will be wondering where I am." she turned and quickly left the kitchen but not before she heard her mother's voice say those three words back to her.
The evening strolls around the village were routine now, and that night just like the previous ones found them lying together on the knoll, the bard comfortably nestled against Xena's shoulder. For a long time neither spoke, simply enjoying the sounds of the night and the pleasure of each other's company. Finally it was Gabrielle that broke the silence. "Can I ask you something?"
"You just did." the warrior grinned. "Ooof."
"Oh please, that didn't hurt and you know it. I might as well have poked a stone wall." the bard said, returning her hand to it's comfortable position sprawled across Xena's belly.
"Okay," the raven haired woman chuckled. "what did you want to ask?"
"What would you have done if Vidalus didn't have any Egyptian senna? If you had been permanently blinded?"
"I didn't have time to think about it." her arm, which was lazily wrapped around the bard's shoulder, reached down to gently rub the bare lower back. "All I thought about was finding you."
"But what if?"
"I don't know. I would have figured something out. It wasn't something I concerned myself with at that moment. Come on, you know I hate hypothetical questions."
"Would you have stayed with me? Let me take care of you?" the bard asked, refusing to drop the subject.
"Answer the question, Xena. If you had been permanently blinded, would you have let me take care of you?"
The warrior took several breaths before finally answering. "No. I wouldn't have asked you to give up your future to play nursemaid to me." she rolled over, shifting the bard onto her back. "Gabrielle, it's a different situation. You can't compare the two."
"Can't I?" she asked, her voice cracking. "Why would it have been all right for you to leave but you're willing to give everything up to care for me?" she sat up and turned her back to Xena. "Don't you think I love you just as much? That I love you enough to spare you that kind of life?" she drew her knees up and buried her head in her arms. "And I wouldn't have been giving up my future. It just would have been different, that's all. We would have adjusted."
"Gabrielle " Xena sat up behind the bard and put her hands on the young woman's shoulders. "I don't doubt your love. Please don't doubt mine." she leaned forward, resting her forehead on the top of golden hair and wrapping her arms around the front of the bard. "I need you." she whispered, mentally cursing herself for being unable to hide the desperation in her voice. A long silence followed, broken only by the chirping of crickets and the occasional braying of sheep in the distance.
Xena would have been content to simply stay like that forever, to hold the bard in her arms and pretend the rest of the world didn't exist, but one nagging thought continued to interrupt the peacefulness of the moment. "Gabrielle?"
"Mmm?" she was relaxed, enjoying the closeness.
"I put you in a difficult situation in Britannia." the warrior said quietly. "I'm sorry."
"Xena you were doing what you thought was right." she stiffened and tried to sit up but the strong arms wrapped around her kept her in place.
"No, despite how she came to be, she was still your child. I should have been more understanding about your feelings." she nuzzled her face deeper into the bard's golden hair, the gentle scent filling her lungs. "It was my insistence on killing her that made you put her in the basket and send her down the river."
"I didn't have a choice wait, how did you know that?" Gabrielle asked warily. "I never told you."
"I overheard your conversation with Mother this afternoon." she admitted.
"Oh how much did you hear?"
"Enough enough to know that you were in pain and couldn't turn to me. That I was responsible for at least part of that." she squeezed the bard gently. "That I almost lost you. I'm glad you didn't take the poison." she whispered. "I don't know if I could live without you. And I don't want to know."
"I don't want to be without you either." she pressed her cheek against the warrior's arm. "So where do we go from here?" Gabrielle asked, her hand coming up to caress the muscled forearm that gently rested against her chest.
"I don't know." Xena admitted, letting her fingers draw lazy circles on the bard's shoulder. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "I I just know that I don't think the strongest tree stands alone anymore."
Gabrielle's heart skipped a beat and she wished more than ever that she could look into the blue depths that always gave her insight into the reticent woman's thoughts. She shifted in the warrior's embrace until they were face to face. "Xena " she whispered, the tone almost fearful, "Am I " she reached up and traced the warrior's jawline, her fingers coming up at the last instant to rest against Xena's lower lip. " am I your tree in the forest?" she gasped with the most heartfelt joy she'd ever known when the lips she was touching turned up into a smile and she felt the warrior nod.
"You're far more than that." Xena said, pulling Gabrielle close, her lips a hairsbreadth away from the bard's ears. "I love you." a tear spilled out of the young woman's eye and the warrior turned her head, the tip of her tongue slipping out to taste the salty wetness. Taking Gabrielle's face in her hands, Xena placed the gentlest of kisses on her cheek then, feeling no resistance, followed it with another one slightly lower.
"Yesss." the bard breathed, her fears and doubts washing away with each soft kiss. It felt right, so very right. Her own hands wrapped themselves around Xena's waist, trying to pull the warrior closer as the warm lips moved closer to hers. When their mouths finally met, it was as if it always should have been that way. Gabrielle was surprised to feel more than hear the softest of whimpers when she dared to let her tongue slip between their lips. Encouraged, the bard pressed forward, thoroughly exploring Xena's mouth while her hands danced over the leather clad back.
The warrior could remain passive for only so long before her own needs made themselves known. Her fingers sank into the bard's tresses, locking them together as she gently probed the sweetness of the young woman's mouth. There was no rush, no great hurry. Without realizing it, they shifted until Gabrielle's back was against the grassy slope, comfortably held in place by the weight of Xena's body half upon her. The kisses took away all rational thought, the most blissful of intoxicants. "Gods " the warrior husked when she finally broke the delicious contact to give in to the need for air.
"Is this a dream? Are you really kissing me?" Gabrielle sighed, her fingers tracing the outline of Xena's lower lip.
"If it is, don't wake me up." she replied as her lips returned to what was now their favorite place. The moonlight bathed them both in its gentle glow as they exchanged the softest of kisses.
To Xena, the Elyssian Fields had nothing to offer that could possibly compare to the ecstasy she was in at that moment. "I can't stop kissing you." she whispered, grinning at her inability to keep her mouth off the bard's.
"Don't fight it." Gabrielle replied, smiling when she felt those soft lips claiming hers again. Her hands, which had been entwined in the warrior's raven hair, now moved lower, brushing against the straps of Xena's leathers.
"Wait " she wanted everything to be perfect, although at that moment she couldn't imagine anything else being more so. "I never dreamed that this could ever be." her callused hand gently caressed the cheek beneath it.
"Make it real, Xena." she turned her head and kissed the warrior's palm. "Make it real for both of us."
"Gabrielle " she pulled her hand back from the bard's face and let out a short laugh. "I've never had my palms sweat before." she said before wiping them on the soft brown leather skirt.
"I guess that's a good sign."
"Oh, a very good sign." Xena corrected, placing her hand just above the edge of the green top. "Just like the way your heart is pounding."
Gabrielle ran her fingers up the length of the warrior's arm, passing over the muscles that had saved her life more than once. "I always wondered what it would be like to be loved by you, to have more than just your friendship. Love me, Xena."
With infinite gentleness, Xena slipped one hand behind the bard's back and the other behind her knees, lifting her up easily. Gabrielle's arms wrapped around her neck as their mouths found each other again. Playful nibbling mixed with loving kisses accompanied them on their way back to the inn. Xena used instinct alone to find her way back, her attention solely focused on the treasure in her arms.
Xena used her foot to shut the door to the inn, having absolutely no interest in setting the bard down until they reached their room. Only then did she relinquish her hold, even then only to secure their door. It would be the last time she would let go of Gabrielle that evening. She briefly thought about lighting a candle but decided against it, preferring to share the experience in the same darkness as her bard. "Gabrielle "
"I'm right here." she replied, reaching out to welcome the warrior into their bed. "I'll always be right here next to you." she smiled as she felt the soft weight press against her and opened her mouth to accept the warm tongue asking for entry. While most of her attention was focused on the mouth loving hers, Gabrielle was very much aware of the large hand roaming over her arm and torso. Her skin tingled wherever it was touched, pushing her desire higher than it had ever been before. "Gods..."
"So soft." Xena murmured, her lips moving along the jawline to capture an enticing earlobe. "You're so soft." she captured the skin in question and proceeded to nibble and suckle it while her hand worked its way under the bard's back to undo the intricately carved leather belt that held the wraparound skirt in place. Normally nimble fingers fumbled with the small hooks, causing the warrior to growl with frustration.
"Let me help." the bard said, trying to roll over slightly to make more room between her back and the feather mattress. "I can't move with you on top of me."
"Hmm, good point." she replied, but made no effort to change her position. "Do you want me to move?" she asked, placing a series of tiny kisses along Gabrielle's jaw.
"No...never." the bard sighed, tilting her head to encourage another kiss, which Xena was more than happy to oblige. She gave up her attempt at removing the leather belt, her long fingers finding themselves intertwined with the bard's smaller ones. She pulled their locked hands up to her mouth and proceeded to gently kiss each of Gabrielle's knuckles. "That's nice."
"Mmm, very nice." Xena drawled, torn between the soft mouth that beckoned to her and the delicate fingers that begged to have more attention lavished on them. Refusing to relinquish her hold on the bard's hand, she leaned up for another kiss, gently nipping at Gabrielle's lower lip. She brought their locked hands up the bare torso, their fingertips brushing over the green top.
"Yesss." the bard gasped, disengaging her fingers from Xena's and pressing the larger hand against the swell of her right breast. The warrior let out a groan of her own at the feel of the hardening nipple underneath the soft green material.
"Gods..." Xena sighed as she squeezed the soft flesh and locked her mouth over the pulse point of the bard's neck. The sensations Gabrielle was causing within her were overwhelming, the soft sighs that caressed her ears, the warm body writhing beneath hers, the salty taste of the sensitive skin against her mouth. Those things alone threatened to send the warrior into overload, but coupled with the bard's roaming hands, the warrior was certain she wouldn't survive the pleasure this night promised to bring.
It was only by sheer will that Xena was able to pull back from the bard's neck and focus her attention on the barrier between her and the young woman's generous mounds. Her right hand gently caressed Gabrielle's face while her left hand shakily worked to undo the laces of the green top. With both women breathing hard already, any thought of patience was long gone. The instant the material was loose enough, Xena pushed it up and over the bard's head. "Gabrielle..." she moaned, moving up for another kiss. Her hand, which had been resting on the bard's ribcage, slowly began to travel, the fingertips teasingly walking their way up the soft breast.
Gabrielle groaned loudly at the sweet pressure of the warrior's forefinger and thumb squeezing her hard nipple. "Yes, Xena...yesss." she cried into the warm mouth upon hers, arching her back in encouragement. Her mind struggled to define the intense feeling coursing through her but there certainly could be no words to adequately describe the pleasure. She answered every pulsing squeeze of Xena's fingers with a wordless groan and an equally intense pulsing far lower. She felt the warrior's head move, the long tresses gliding over her overheated skin, then it happened...the warm, moist mouth took the place of the wonderful fingers and sucked her nipple deep within. Gabrielle could do little more than cry out her lover's name and press her hand against the dark head, refusing to let it go anywhere. She dimly heard Xena moan, most of the sound drowned out by her own unintelligible groans. When long fingers began to blaze a trail down her side and over her pelvic bone, Gabrielle was certain that she would explode long before the warrior could ever touch her most sensitive area. Her hips, which had begun rocking uncontrollably some time ago, now bucked and begged for Xena's attention. "Pleeeasssse..." was the only word that her lips could possibly form.
The tongue and mouth that had so wonderfully obliterated her senses slowly kissed their way across her chest while the roaming fingers slipped under her skirt and pulled down her underwear before gliding up her inner thigh and over the soft curls. Gabrielle's hand gripped the raven hair mercilessly, urging the warrior to end the sweet torture. Her silent plea was answered a heartbeat later when Xena's lips closed around her aching left breast at the same time two long fingers slipped between her wet folds. "Unnnggghhh...oh gods!"
"So wet..." Xena sighed around a mouthful of responsive flesh. "So nice." the desire in her voice only added to the bard's rapid ascent into ecstasy. Coherent thought was an impossibility for Gabrielle, all of her senses focused solely on the dual assault on her body. The motion of the warrior's fingers changed, from long, slow strokes to the more deliberate action of lightly gliding one back and forth quickly over the hypersensitive clit.
"Xeeeenaaa..." her thighs began trembling, her head arched back into the pillow, and the perpetual darkness was replaced with a kaleidoscope of colors as the warrior increased the speed and pressure of her finger and matched the action with a similar motion on the bard's nipple. Gabrielle gritted her teeth and her body froze, her hands gripping Xena's upper arms with a strength neither knew she had. The softest of cries escaped her throat as the first of many waves crashed over her. Xena's mouth covered hers, swallowing the subsequent sounds from her as the warrior's fingers continued to move, drawing out the orgasm. When Gabrielle's arms fell limply to the side, Xena replaced her hand with her thigh and wrapped her arms around the heavily breathing bard.
"I've got you." Xena whispered, planting gentle, loving kisses on the closed eyelids. "I love you, Gabrielle."
"Mmm." was all the golden haired woman could manage.
"C'mere." she rolled onto her back, pulling the lethargic bard on top of her. Gabrielle buried her head into the crook of Xena's neck and sighed happily as strong hands that only moments before were loving her now gently stroked her hair and back.
Several moments passed before Xena felt the softest of kisses upon her neck. "I thought you fell asleep."
"No just enjoying the feeling." Gabrielle murmured, nuzzling the soft skin beneath her lips.
"You were quick."
"Mmm, couldn't help it. Just felt so good." she reached up and traced the outline of the warrior's ear. "You're amazing." she lifted her head slightly and kissed the underside of Xena's jaw. "I've never felt like that not even when I've pleased myself." she found some strength in her arms and leaned up to share a loving kiss. "I just hope I can make you feel as good as you've made me."
"You already have. I never received so much pleasure from loving someone. All I wanted to do was make you feel as special as you deserve."
"No one deserves to feel as wonderful as I do right now." Gabrielle whispered, returning to the warrior lips she loved so much. The kiss deepened, throwing oil on the flames of passion burning within both of them. Xena rolled them over, settling the bard back onto the bed. She began to kiss her way downward but only got as far as Gabrielle's neck before she was stopped. "Wait."
"Something wrong?" the warrior asked, concerned.
"Actually " the bard ran her hands up the leather clad back and tugged gently on the straps.
"Oh." came the sheepish reply. "I'll be right back." Xena crawled off the bed and quickly removed her leathers, britches, and boots. "Now it's your turn." she said, kneeling next to the bed and reaching for the laces of Gabrielle's boots.
"I forgot all about them." the bard chuckled, moving her leg over to make it easier. With Xena otherwise occupied, she removed her belt and began to unwrap the skirt.
"I'll do that." the warrior said, her voice husky. Her hands as shaky as when they tried to undo the laces of the bard's top, Xena slowly unwrapped her present. The scent of the young woman's passion wafted up to her as the golden curls were revealed and she was torn between removing the other boot or diving in and stripping away the bard's senses again. She took a deep breath, which only made the decision more difficult, then returned to her previous task. A moment later the boot found its way to the floor with a dull thud. "Now where were we?" she asked as she returned to the bed, crawling over and straddling the prone woman.
"I believe you were going to kiss me again." Gabrielle said, running her hands up the length of the warrior's arms. When Xena lowered herself, her swaying breasts brushed against the bard's, causing both women to moan.
"Gods, you feel good." she husked before claiming Gabrielle's mouth.
Naked bodies rubbed together as their tongues danced from one mouth to the other and back. Gabrielle felt the wiry, kinky curls pressing against her thigh and without thought raised her leg to press against the moist warmth. Her action was met with a deep groan and the feel of the warrior's leg slipping between hers. It didn't take long for the bard's hips to start pressing upward against the strong muscled thigh. Xena's own passion was rising thanks in part to the continued pressure against her own wet center but she couldn't ignore the renewed desire coursing through the young woman. She braced herself on her elbows and scooted down to visit the bard's heaving breasts. "Oh gods " Gabrielle groaned, arching into the welcome touch. Xena shifted until most of her body was lying next to the bard and let her left hand trail downward until it slipped between the folds of the young woman's overheated sex. The warrior smiled against the breast she was loving when she felt the bard's legs spread wide with invitation.
"Mmm, I think you like this."
"Um very much so." Gabrielle replied, rocking her hips in rhythm to the warrior's touch. Xena stroked downward at the same moment that the bard lifted higher, causing her fingers to be poised just outside the opening.
"Gabrielle?" she kept her hand still, her voice betraying her uncertainty. Xena wanted nothing more than to slide deep within but wouldn't make a move without the bard's approval.
"Do it yessss." she gasped as she felt one lone finger slowly enter her. "Oh gods, Xena, unngh take me."
Needing to concentrate, the warrior reluctantly raised herself up to a sitting position, abandoning the perfect breast for the time being. With supreme gentleness she slowly worked her way deeper inside, groaning in harmony with the bard at the exquisite feeling. Warm moist muscles clamped around her finger, threatening to never let go. Moving off of Gabrielle's now damp thigh, she braced herself with her free hand before pulling back and sliding in again. Her action was met with the most sensual of groans and the bard's hips rising to meet her. "Gods, Xena...yesss...oooh." Gabrielle planted both feet flat on the bed and thrust upward to meet the warrior's strokes. "Yesss..."
The brazen action caught Xena off guard and she eased up, afraid to hurt her precious bard. "No...please don't stop." the highly aroused woman cried. Her plea was answered when the warrior thrust in deeply. "Oh gods, yes, just like that." They fell into a rhythm, Gabrielle's hips bucking to meet each stroke. When Xena felt the time was right she pulled back until she was just at the edge of the bard's entrance and added another finger, already well lubricated by the young woman's passion. The action had the desired effect as she sank in deeply and felt muscles clench around her fingers.
"Feels so good, Gabrielle...you feel so nice inside." Xena sighed, moving in and out with purpose, blessed each time with a throaty grunt from her beloved. The bard's arms flailed about until she brushed against the arm that the warrior was using to brace herself.
"Yes, Xena...more...more..." she gripped the strong arm and held on for dear life as the raven haired woman pumped in and out of her pulsing sex. "Oh...oh gods...Xena, don't stop, please don't stop."
That was the end of any rational thought for the bard. Overcome by the need for consummation, she drove her hips upward again and again, taking all that Xena could give her and then some. Gabrielle's movements were raw, primal...begging to be taken in a way that only her warrior could give. And give Xena did, pressing in deep and curling her fingers to stroke the smooth spot inside while her thumb purposefully rubbed back and forth across the bard's clit. "Xena...oh oh OH GODS!" her body jerked upward one final time as she went over the edge. Her body clamped down around the warrior's fingers, refusing to let them go as the liquid essence of her passion pulsed out around them. Gabrielle dimly felt Xena's mouth upon hers, planting gentle kisses between murmurs of love. Her body shuddered with aftershocks as the warrior gently pulled her fingers out and cupped the still throbbing sex.
"By the gods, that was amazing." the bard murmured, her body lacking the strength to do anything more than lean limply against Xena's. She felt the hand resting against her center move slightly and pulled back from the touch. "Oh no, I'll never survive."
"Guess I wore you out." the raven haired woman chuckled, pressing her lips against the sweat soaked forehead before moving her hand to wrap around the bard's back. "I aim to please."
"Good aim." Gabrielle sighed happily, snuggling closer into the loving warmth the warrior's arms offered. "I could stay like this forever."
"Sounds good." Xena replied, gently stroking the bard's back. They stayed like that for several moments, simply enjoying the comfort of each other and the glow of love that surrounded them.
Gabrielle's heart felt like it would burst as awareness returned. "I..." she ran her fingers lightly down Xena's side. "I can touch you." she said, her voice full of awe.
"Yes. Anything you..." her voice caught as the bard's hand traveled over her breast, barely missing her nipple. "Um...anything you want."
"What do you want, Xena? What can I do to please you?" she felt the softness of the warrior's mouth covering hers and parted her lips to grant access to the gentle tongue. While they kissed, Gabrielle felt herself being rolled onto her back, Xena's body carefully straddling hers. The bard's hands roamed across the muscled back, over the curve of the buttocks, down the sides of powerful thighs, anywhere they could reach. When her thumbs grazed over the soft skin of the inner thighs, Xena groaned deeply.
"Gab-ri-elle..." the warrior husked as her mouth left the bard's. The golden haired woman felt the body above her shift upward and then felt a warm softness rest against her lips. She opened her mouth to accept it and moaned when she realized that it was Xena's breast. Gabrielle ran her tongue over the soft skin, feeling it harden and contract instantly. "Gods yesss..." the warrior groaned, the passion and desire in her voice encouraging the bard. There was no stopping Gabrielle then, the knowledge that what felt so good to her obviously felt just as good to Xena freed her from any reservations she may have had about what to do to please her beloved. She wrapped both hands around the warm flesh and flicked her tongue rapidly across the hardened nipple.
Gabrielle lost herself in the sensation, gaining almost as much pleasure as the warrior as their mutual moans filled the air. Her lips, teeth, and tongue lavished love upon the one breast while her hand traveled across the chest above her to the other one, capturing that nipple between her forefinger and thumb. Her fingers began a pumping action in rhythm to the flicking of her tongue. "Yes, Gabrielle...just like that..." Xena panted, spreading her knees further apart. The feel of wet curls pressing against her abdomen caused the bard to gasp and increase the activity on the warrior's breasts. Soon loving Xena's mounds wasn't enough, she had to have more. Placing both hands on the scarred ribcage, Gabrielle kissed her way over to the right breast and captured that nipple in her mouth before letting her left hand trail down between their bodies until it reached the top of the warrior's curls. Xena whimpered and lifted up slightly to allow the bard all the access she needed. Gabrielle gave a sensual groan against the soft flesh in her mouth as her fingers slipped between wet folds to bathe in liquid passion. "Oh gods..." Xena rocked against the gentle touch that threatened to send her over far too soon. "Stroke it...yes, just like that...just like that." Xena sighed, her hips moving faster. The bard sucked harder in response to the increased motion, the length of her fingers sliding slowly over the hypersensitive clit. The nonsensical sounds coming from the warrior's lips caressed Gabrielle's ears, every cry, groan, or sigh filling her indescribable pleasure. She lost herself in the beautiful noises as the controlled rocking against her fingers gave way to frantic jerking motions. "Har..harder " Xena gasped between gritted teeth.
Unsure to which activity the warrior was referring to, Gabrielle did what any good lover would do both. She captured the engorged nipple between her teeth and flicked it firmly with her tongue while rapidly rubbing her soaked and now puckered fingers across the center of Xena's passion. "Yesss just a little more almost oh gods!"
Gabrielle released the well loved nipple when she felt the warrior's body tremble. A incredibly erotic cry caressed the bard's ears as sweet pulses coated her hand with evidence of Xena's pleasure. Gabrielle put her hands on the warrior's hips and guided her back down onto the bed, covering the larger body with her own and planting loving kisses on and around Xena's lips. "I love you." she whispered, propping herself up on one elbow and using her free hand to wipe the sweat soaked strands of raven hair from the warrior's brow, instinctively knowing they would be there.
They stayed like that for several moments, Xena trying to get her heart and breathing rates under control while the bard loved her with gentle words and tender kisses. "I can't move." she whispered.
"Good." Gabrielle replied, nuzzling into the sweat soaked hair and planting a soft kiss just below the ear. "I love you and I love loving you." she brought her hand up to caress Xena's cheek, the scent of her lover still evident on it. With a contented smile, the bard snuggled closer, tossing arm and leg over the warrior's body.
Gabrielle fell into a light doze for a short while, waking to find herself in the same position, Xena's strong hand gently rubbing her back. "You okay?" she queried.
"Yeah." the warrior answered, giving a light kiss to the bard's forehead. The early grey of morning filtered into the room. "How are you doing?"
"I feel very loved."
"Good. You should." she continued to absently rub her hand up and down Gabrielle's back.
"Any regrets?" the hand stopped. "Xena?" the word held with it unspoken fear. "Do you regret what happened?"
"What, loving you? Never, Gabrielle." she rolled onto her side, bringing her lips down to the bard's kiss-bruised mouth. "I'll never regret that, ever." she sealed the promise with another kiss.
"Then what is it?" the bard asked.
"This." Xena replied, running her fingertip around the edge of Gabrielle's eye. "More than anything I've ever done in my life, that's what I regret most of all." she let out a low sigh. "If there-" she was silenced by the feel of a finger pressing down on her lips.
"Shh. I know that." Gabrielle whispered. "We'll get through this, together. I know it won't be easy "
"It never is with you." Xena teased, drawing a smile from the bard's lips.
"Do tell, Miss Easy to get along with." she teased back, enjoying the slight rumble of the body half beneath her.
"You got a point there." the warrior deadpanned. "I'm not exactly quick to tell you how I'm feeling most of the time, am I?"
"Hmm, usually its when one of us is in grave danger of meeting Hades real soon." Gabrielle replied. "Well, maybe a little more often than that, but you get the idea."
"I do." she found her lips hopelessly drawn to the bard's delicate ears. "I'll do better." she promised. "Right now " she couldn't stifle a yawn. "I think it's time for both of us to get some rest." Gabrielle nodded and snuggled into a comfortable position, her head resting on Xena's shoulder. Lying in each others arms, sleep took them just a short while later, less than a candlemark before the rooster would crow. It would be close to midday before Cyrene would see either one of them stir, not that she would expect them to. The walls between the rooms weren't that thick, after all.
The evening found Gabrielle telling stories in the tavern while Xena was off giving the neglected Argo some attention. The warrior never went near the roof that day, having gotten out of bed only shortly before dusk. From tickle-fests and playful nose rubbing to the most serious vows of love and devotion, the day spent in each others arms was a joyous time of love and healing, in more ways than one.
The dinner crowd gone and the patrons thinned out to just a few, Gabrielle was sitting at the bar, listening to Cyrene tell a rather amusing and of course embarrassing tale of Xena's childhood. " and you just know that she and Lyceus didn't listen to me. I told them that Gabrielle, are you all right?"
"Fine it's just " she rubbed her temples, her face screwed with pain. "Gods, it feels like Zeus himself is dancing around in there." she took a deep breath and then it hit, hard, sharp intense.
The innkeeper ran around from her side of the bar but was unable to catch the bard before she pitched forward. "Someone get Xena." Cyrene yelled, kneeling down to lay a gentle hand on the young woman writhing in agony on the floor. "You, help me with her."
Xena arrived to find Gabrielle lying in bed, Cyrene tenderly wiping the young woman's face with a damp cloth. "What happened?" she asked, moving forward to take her mother's place.
"Hurts " the bard croaked, her hands pressing against the sides of her head, desperately trying to ease the pain.
"Okay I'm here now " Xena said softly, sitting down on the bed and taking over the task of massaging Gabrielle's temples. "The headaches are back?"
"Yes." she cried. "Worse."
'Shh okay now. We'll do something about that right now. Mother, in the saddlebags is a black pouch with several smaller pouches in it." she never turned her attention from the bard, not even when Cyrene returned with the requested item. It took only a little while for the herbs to take effect, sending Gabrielle into a deep slumber. Xena stayed by her side, refusing dinner despite being hungry because it meant she would have to stop rubbing the bard's temples in order to eat.
Gabrielle woke in the early morning with the same pounding headache, yet something seemed different. She picked her head up from the warm body it was lying on and looked around. Nothing just pure absolute blackness, then
"Xena! Xena, wake up!" the bard was so excited that she totally forgot a cardinal rule never wake the woman with lethal combat skills up by shaking her. In a flash Gabrielle was on her back, a wide awake and fully alert warrior standing up with sword in hand.
"What is it? What's going on?" Xena looked around but saw nothing out of the ordinary, other than noting by the position of the sun that she had slept in. Gabrielle sat up and turned her head from side to side, the headache forgotten as a smile crept across her face.
"Xena move a pace to the right." the smile grew as a black shadow blocked the square of dark grey. "There's a window behind you, isn't there?"
"Gabrielle? W-what do you see?" she asked hesitantly, afraid to entertain the hope.
"Mostly darkness, but just behind you I see light just a dim sort of grey, like during a bad thunderstorm." the shadow moved and the bard found herself swept up in powerful arms. "I think it's coming back, Xena. I'm going to see again." the arms she had wrapped around the warrior's neck tightened as she drew the raven haired woman in for a kiss. "I love you." she whispered, her breath caressing Xena's lips. "Now let's go share the good news with Cyrene."
"In a moment." came the reply as the bard felt herself being lowered onto the bed. She felt a soft kiss to one eyelid, then the other before the warm lips rested upon hers. Mumbled 'I love you's and content sighs mixed with gentle kisses and loving caresses. There was nothing that mortal or god could ever do that would convince the lovers there could ever be anything more pleasurable than being in each other's arms.
It took a few days before Gabrielle's vision fully returned and a couple more after that before she wasn't overly sensitive to the brightness of the summer sun. It was an emotional parting from Cyrene for both of them. Gabrielle had found someone to share her pain with that truly understood what it meant to have a child become a murderer. For Xena, it was as if each board of wood she placed on the roof was a plank on the long broken bridge between daughter and mother. Love helped them forgive, and with that forgiveness the weight of guilt lessened. The circle was completed the easing of guilt allowed the love that had been there all the time to break through. They never learned what had truly caused the temporary blindness, Xena believed it was because of her violent attack on the bard while Gabrielle believed that it was a result of the deep emotional pain and stress within her. Whatever the cause, both agreed that in the end it didn't matter.
"So what do you figure two more days until we reach Thessaly?"
"We would have been there by now if you didn't keep making us take breaks." Xena replied, rolling up the blanket.
"*I* make us take breaks?" Gabrielle snorted. "I'm just walking down the road. You're the one who keeps stopping. Oh look, another grass stain." she wiped at the spot on her skirt, knowing it wouldn't help.
"Just walking, uh huh, sure, Gabrielle. Walking and making suggestive comments, you mean." she replied, tying the blanket onto the back of Argo's saddle. "A warrior can't let a challenge go unanswered."
"What challenge? I just said that I could never get tired of the way you touch me." she stepped up behind the tall woman and gently hugged her.
"And I was just trying to prove that it's true." Xena said with a wicked grin.
"Well, I think you just like to show off another one of your many skills, like when you do your flips."
"Ah yes, another skill that's come in handy from time to time." Xena teased before leaning down for a quick kiss. "Now let's get on the road before I decide that I need to practice my skills some more." she tugged lightly on Argo's reins and headed toward the road.
"Practice your flips? Oh please." Gabrielle said dismissively. "I bet I can do a flip just from watching you do it. Well, with a staff of course."
"Oh, of course." Xena replied wryly. "You've become pretty good at handling yourself but I think flips are a bit out of reach. Come on, let's go."
"No wait. Are you telling me that I can't do a flip?" the bard's words had a challenge to them .
As always, I'd like to thank Verda and Lunacy for beta reading for me. B L
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