Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices
Note: Silences II is an immediate continuation of Silences. You wont have a clue of whats going on unless you read Silences. It was written in response to requests received from readers. Thank you to those who shared their thoughts.
Subtext: This story portrays a loving relationship between two women. If you are under 18 or if it is illegal for you to read this text please do not continue.
* * *
Still held in Xenas embrace, Gabrielle murmured confidently, "Be with me." Xena nodded in response. Gabrielle released the warrior, taking her hand and guiding her out of the stable. Ephiny was waiting. Gabrielle met her gaze. Ephiny held her question.
Gabrielle and Xena walked through the village center towards the Queens hut. Theirs was an explicit, proud, declaration. In one hand Gabrielle held the scroll, in the other, Xena. It was the first public sign of affection between them since their arrival four moons hence. The eyes of the Amazon nation were upon them. Gabrielle directed her guards that she was not to be disturbed. She released Xenas hand upon entering her quarters. She placed the scroll upon her writing table and then turned back towards the warrior. A new shy fragileness had formed between them within the span of their brief courtyard journey. The tenderness of their hearts was exposed. Xena stood with an intense expression. To Gabrielle it neared fear. Xenas jaw was clenched. The muscles on her face quivered with tension. Xena turned her head back towards the door.
Seeing this and sensing Xenas thoughts, Gabrielle gently pleaded "Xena, dont. Dont go back there. Be here with me. Now. Right now. Just you and me."
Xena returned her gaze to the bard. "What about tomorrow?"
Gabrielle would not worry about tomorrows. "We will be together until the fates say different. What more can we ask for?"
Xena was silent. She wanted an eternity.
Gabrielle tried to breech Xenas hesitation. "Xena, please. Ill hold you to your promise until the day I die. As long as Im with you Im willing to accept the fact that my death might come with the dawn. I cant change my destiny. I cant change yours no matter how much I wish I could keep you safe. I can only trust what Im given."
Gabrielle walked and stood before Xena. "I believe the greatest wrong is not to live a life because of the fear of losing it. I will not choose not to love you just because I know some day death will part us."
Xena finally found her voice. "I will never trust the gods."
Gabrielle raised her hand to Xenas arm. "I know."
Xena looked directly into Gabrielles eyes. "But I do trust you."
Gabrielle smiled. "I know that too."
Xena spoke in a hush. "Do you know what it means if I give myself to you?"
Gabrielle believed she knew the answer but it was for Xena to speak it. The bard took Xenas hands into her own. "Tell me."
Xena struggled. She didnt have the words. She didnt know how to express the shattering effect this moment was having upon her. Finally, the words came. "It means that Ive surrendered."
Gabrielle looked up at the woman who embodied strength, cunning and courage. Xena carried no doubts regarding her abilities to battle. Gabrielle learned early that for Xena, the Destroyer of Nations to exist, the woman from Amphipolis had taken one deliberate step after another away from her humanity. In the years that followed, as she has striven to atone, Xena slowly reopened her heart to its capacity for compassion and love. Those very emotions that she deemed dangerous, potentially lethal, in treacherous times. If she loved no one then no one could use her love against her. To allow Gabrielle to enter her life had been a compromise of her better judgement. Experience proved her right. More than once Gabrielle had been the target of those who would hurt Xena. Xena was not surrendering to Gabrielle. No, it was much more than that. Xena was surrendering to a destiny she would never be able to master. One that promised the risk of a loss that she was certain would consume her will to live if ever experienced.
Gabrielle knew that she could never completely understand what Xena had to overcome in spirit in order to return her love. "It must be your choice."
Xena tightened her hold of Gabrielles hands and raised them up and placed a kiss on each. "I made that choice when I let you into my life and heart. Its time I accept the consequences."
Xena gently kissed the bard upon the lips. Gabrielles response was timid. She carried her own fears. Xenas struggle was a mirror she would have preferred not to perceive in the moment. Gabrielles hand rested upon Xenas shoulder.
Noting the barrier her armor presented, Xena offered. "It might be a good idea if I get out of this."
Instead of offering to help, Gabrielle stepped towards her bed. She looked to her clothes. Since early in their lives together, she and Xena had bared their naked bodies to one another without hesitancy. She felt an unfamiliar, overwhelming modesty. Xena had removed not only her armor but also her leathers. She stood in her shift watching Gabrielles half-turned body.
"Gabrielle, what is it?"
Gabrielle could not look at Xena. She kept her eyes fixed to her hands, which held the ties of her bodice. "Have you ever been with a woman?"
Xena was uncertain of the intent of Gabrielles question. She only knew that she was required to be truthful in her reply. "Yes."
Gabrielle turned to Xena. "Will you teach me how to give you pleasure?"
Xena had feared recrimination or jealously. She should have known better. The bard knew her too well to be innocent of Xenas past. She went to Gabrielle and stood behind her. Gabrielle leaned back into the warrior as Xenas arms embraced her. Gabrielle allowed Xenas familiar warmth to bring her home. Home being that very private place she shared only with the warrior. Gabrielle turned and pressed herself against the warriors chest. It was a sweet sensual homecoming.
Xena spoke softly trying to reassure. "I have the feeling that I have very little to teach you. Gabrielle, you know what gives you pleasure. I dont believe we are that different." After giving a moment for her words to make their mark she continued. "You can change into your shift or not." Xena could not withhold a grin with her last comment.
Looking up Gabrielle responded warmly. "Its good to see you smile."
Xena answered with the lightest of tones in her voice. "Im suddenly feeling very happy. Its been a long time since Ive held you."
Gabrielle followed her heart leaving her fear behind. She reached and kissed Xena. Xenas response grew firm and passionate. Gabrielles hand wove itself into Xenas hair resting on the back of her head. She wanted no liberation. After a few passing minutes Xena stepped back. Her eyes needed to take Gabrielle in completely.
Gabrielle studied the woman before her. "Things will never be the same between us, will they?"
Xena had considered and took comfort in their truth. "Gabrielle, our lives have been a testament to change. This is just another of the many changes that weve shared in our past and that we will share in our future."
Gabrielle stepped forward and rested against Xena. Xena needed to broach a subject that had been demanding her care.
"I need you to help me."
Gabrielle stood back and looked at the warrior. Her eyes spoke the question.
Xena caressed Gabrielles cheek. "You must be honest with me. I do not want to hurt you or take you where you do not want to be with me. You must tell me if anything I do does not please you or frightens you."
Gabrielle protested, not being able to imagine any harm. "Xena."
Xena was insistent. "Your word."
Gabrielle acquiesced. "I promise."
Holding Xena with her eyes, Gabrielle untied her bodice and her skirt allowing both to fall to the floor. She stood naked. It was the only way she knew how to convey her trust to the warrior.
Xena spoke simply. "Your are beautiful."
Gabrielle yearned, her hand reached out to Xenas waist. "Let me see you."
Xena lifted her shift over her body and allowed it to fall beside Gabrielles own clothes. Xena took the bard in an embrace, flesh against flesh. Xena too knew that Gabrielle was her most intimate home. After a brief kiss, Xena whispered, "Come to bed." Xena raised the blanket, leading Gabrielle underneath it. She followed lying on her side, leaning over her love. Gabrielle looked to Xena with inviting warmth. Xena glanced down and took Gabrielles hand into her own. She moved her gaze once again to the bard. "Remember, I am yours." Gabrielles raised herself and took Xena with her hungry mouth. The bard welcomed the warrior completely.
* * *
Gabrielle woke gently from her sleep. Her body radiated with the lingering sensations of Xenas lovemaking. Lying side by side Xena held the bard in an embrace. Xenas breathing was steady. Gabrielle guessed the warrior was asleep. She chose stillness not to disturb.
A tear fell from Gabrielles eye. She felt completely overwhelmed. Her intimacy with Perdicas had not prepared her for the emotional intensity of the past few candlemarks. She had loved her husband. Their joining carried a gentle desire. They were first and foremost friends. Though they gave each other pleasure within their love she always knew that his longing for her exceeded hers for him.
Here she rested enfolded by Xenas protective arms and she could not imagine a more complete existence. Gabrielle was beginning to understand Xenas profession of surrender. Xena had been the wiser. Gabrielle could not imagine a passion greater than her own for her partner. Xena had taken her physically to a release beyond her imagination. The journey was joined to a lover that had commanded her spirit.
The second tear fell as she recalled her tasting of Xena. She tried to pleasure the warrior. She felt clumsy in the trying. Xenas lovemaking was fluid. Her own giving held the hesitancy of a novice. Xena seemed pleased. After the warrior had reached release by Gabrielles hands, she took Gabrielle into her embrace. In the moment Gabrielle had begun to tremble. She did not know why. Xena whispered. "Rest now." They both drifted into their respective dreams.
Gabrielles trembling began once again. Xena woke to the sensation. She raised herself in order to see the bard. She recognized the trace of tears. "Hey."
Gabrielle responded in shorten breaths. "Im sorry. I dont know whats wrong with me."
Xenas heart felt approaching remorse. "Have I hurt you?"
Gabrielle turned onto her back. Her hand reached out to caress Xena. "No, gods no."
"Then what is it?"
"I just didnt know I would feel like this."
"I love you so."
Xena smiled. "And I love you. Dont tell me that has brought you to tears."
"My heart its so full I can only cry."
"So these are good tears?" Xena gently brushed strands of Gabrielles hair aside.
"Xena, you made me promise to be truthful."
"Then you must be equally truthful with me."
Xena waited with apprehension. "What do you wish to know?"
Gabrielles fear was evident. "Were you happy with me?"
"Gabrielle. Yes. Of course I was. Forgive me if I didnt say the words. I thought my body spoke volumes."
"I felt clumsy."
"You were, you are wonderful."
Gabrielle placed her hand upon Xenas heart. "You word."
Covering Gabrielles hand with her own, "You have my word and my heart."
* * *
Her senior guard informed Gabrielle that Ephiny was last seen at the practice field. Gabrielle found Ephiny alone leaning against her staff. The queen approached her regent with uneasiness. She called out Ephinys name. The dispassionate regent turned to her queen.
"Ephiny, Im sorry. I should have confided in you."
Ephinys voice was void of harshness. "It was your decision to make."
Gabrielle felt the need to confess her motives. "I was proud, maybe too proud. I didnt want to go back to those first few days when all of you struggled to accept my injuries. I saw it in your eyes. We all got beyond that pain and hesitation with one another. I didnt want to do it all over again."
The regent tried to assuage her queens concerns. "I spoke to Simina. She told me it was your admirable caution that kept the secret. She said she agreed with her queen that it would be for the best."
Gabrielles was a heartfelt plea. "Do you forgive me for deceiving you?"
"There is nothing to forgive. Your reasons were justified."
Relieved, Gabrielle approached further. "Well then, if I dont owe you an apology then I do owe you my gratitude."
"I heard you with Xena. I couldnt have asked for a truer friend."
Allowing a smile, Ephiny quipped "Why you love that fool of a warrior is beyond me."
Gabrielle matched the tone. "She hasnt done well by you as of late."
"I assume youve worked things out."
Smiling Gabrielle confessed. "Yes. You could say the queen has a consort although Im not sure how Xena will take to the title."
"One thing Xena knows is that here you come first."
The queen spoke. "Your wrong to say that. Here the nation comes first. You taught me that."
Allowing her wit to completely surface Ephiny could not help but tease her friend. "Life should be less complicated now that you two are finally together. It took long enough."
Gabrielles response was unexpectantly thoughtful. "Everything in its own time."
Ephinys countenance shifted from lighthearted to sober. "Does that include leaving us?"
Gabrielle hesitated. "Xena and I havent spoken."
Ephiny replied with certainty. "You will."
Gabrielle sought counsel. "Am I wrong to leave with her?"
Given the opportunity, Ephiny chose not to exceed her bounds. "Gabrielle, I will never tell you how to live your life."
"Ephiny, you are the leader the Amazons need."
"And you, Gabrielle, are the friend I need."
Gabrielle embraced the regent. Ephiny held Gabrielle close. "You have brought us all so much joy these past moons. We, I will miss you."
A personal request. "Dont blame Xena."
"You know I love her too. Just dont tell her. Its for us to make amends."
"Youre determined to make her pay."
With a glint in her eye Ephiny contended "She owes me."
Smiling, Gabrielle replied, "Yes, she does. Now tell me. How do we best announce my return to health?"
"The Amazon way with a banquet. Wine, dance and lovemaking among the nation."
* * *
Gabrielle slept upon Xenas shoulder, her arm draped across the warriors waist. It had been a half moon since they had joined as lovers. Whatever doubts Gabrielle had felt regarding their intimacy had been swept away by their growing comfort with one another. She explored and learned Xenas body. In doing so Gabrielles capacity to feel and express her passion vanquished her remaining modesty. Xena had taken care not to ask too much from the bard. It was Gabrielles own growing boldness that freed Xena to express the full force of her desire. Xena, the warrior and Xena, the woman, the different natures were newly revealed to Gabrielle within the landscape of their lovemaking. The warriors driven, hungry, urgency resided in harmony with the womans gentle, calming, vulnerable spirit. Unbeknownst to the bard, it was she that enabled both to reside in one.
Xena stirred with the morning light. She felt the warmth and softness of her partner. Sensing the warrior waken Gabrielle turned to her. Between them, in the newness of their intimate discovery of one another, there resided a constant longing to touch. It spoke as a murmur of the heart. It engaged at first stirring and refused to disengage even as they fell into sleep. Xenas hand freely explored the bards cheek. "Good morning."
Gabrielle moved into Xenas hand. Inviting the warrior to continue her exploration. "Good morning."
Xena raised herself meeting Gabrielles lips in a light kiss. This was the sweetness of life. Gabrielle laid her head upon her lovers breast. Xena rested her arms over her. As much as Gabrielle cherished these passing days she knew that each dawn posed a question neither had yet chosen to ask the other. The tranquility of the present deferred consideration of the future. Gabrielle felt it was time to grant Xena freedom from a stationary life.
"We havent spoken about the future."
Xena remained silent. She had privately promised herself not to make any demands of Gabrielle. The past moons had been trying. Xena was spent. All her energies had been focused on an exodus from the bard. Having conquered her haunting demons, at least those that had prevented her from seeking their joining, Xena was not yet prepared to consider where their lives would take them. "Remember I once asked you about tomorrows and you said the fates would have their way."
Tracing Xenas arms with the light touch of her fingers, Gabrielle proposed. "I think its time we decide for ourselves."
"What are my choices."
Gabrielle raised herself to secure her lovers attention. "Our choices." She corrected.
"Our choices." Xena affirmed.
"We can make a life for ourselves here, settle somewhere else or continue our travels."
Firmly pressing Gabrielle retorted. "Thats not an answer, Xena."
Xena deflected the responsibility. "Then you choose."
Gabrielle would not capitulate. "Xena, what will make you happy?"
"Being with you."
Taking Xenas hand into her own the bard pledged. "I am yours no matter what we choose to do."
Knowing that there would be no end to the argument Xena confessed. "Gabrielle, I dont want to choose for the both of us. You must tell me what you want. You are queen of the Amazons. You have every right to want to stay here."
"There is so much of the world I havent seen. I know that I always have a place here but I dont believe its my time. Its Ephinys."
"So you want to travel."
"Yes. Its how we can do the most good."
Xena warned. "You know this will mean long days of travel, dingy inns, seeing the darker side of life."
Gabrielle countered, "It also means sleeping under the brilliant stars, meeting kind and generous people, telling my stories to attentive audiences."
"Youre not saying this because you think its what I want?"
"Xena, I know its what you want. But dont you think the reason weve been together these past few years is because the love of the road is something we have in common."
Gabrielles answer was decisive. "Yes
* * *
Xena entered the dining hall and walked directly to where Ephiny sat alone. Ephiny looked up. Her eyes followed as Xena took her place directly across from the regent. Xena wasnt sure exactly what she wanted to accomplish a lessening of the tension between her and the regent, a reaffirmation of their mutual concern and devotion to Gabrielle, some semblance of understanding and acceptance by Ephiny for Xenas past actions. It had all gotten rather muddy. As much as Xena wished she could say she didnt care what Ephiny and the rest of the Amazons thought of her she knew that within her core she did care. Xena held her burden for past harms against the nation close to her soul. The last thing she wanted was for any Amazon to consider Xena a perpetrator of new wrongs.
Xena tempered her voice as she opened the dialogue. "Ephiny. Can we talk?"
Ephiny wondered what had brought Xena to her table. The Warrior Princess was proud. Their conflicts always seemed to revolve around Gabrielle. In all other regards they were respected allies who, she had no doubt, would give up their life for the other. "Im listening."
"For the sake of Gabrielle, I was hoping we could come to terms."
Ephiny was smiling within. She was sure not to show it. Having Xena come to her to make peace was too delicious. She would enjoy each morsel of contrition. "What do you have in mind?"
"Gabrielle and I have decided to leave the village."
Ephiny was not surprised to hear that the decision had been made but she still felt the upcoming loss none the same. She held her tongue.
Getting no response Xena continued. "Its very important to Gabrielle to know that you support her choice."
So Gabrielle had not shared their conversation with Xena. Ephiny took advantage. "Gabrielle said this?"
Xena was sober. "No, but I know her and your blessing would mean a great deal to her."
Ephiny continued the play. "Xena, that is between Gabrielle and myself. She doesnt need you to be her ambassador. She can come to me freely."
Xena was struggling. Here voice carried an edge. "I know that." Xena looked down to her hands clasped firmly before her, hands that had become the physical center of her errant energies. She fell into a distressed silence. Observing Xenas genuine effort Ephiny began to lose heart in her torture.
Xena returned her gaze to the Amazon. "Ephiny. Im asking you for your blessing. I need to know that you trust me to be good to Gabrielle."
The warrior, the queens consort, Ephiny thought with a smile, had won the contest. Ephiny reached over and placed a hand over Xenas own. What followed was an unequivocal statement. "You have it."
* * *
Gabrielle and Xena were packed. Xena guided Argo out from the stable. Gabrielle looked to Ephiny, Eponin, Solari and Simina all taking heed. Gabrielle went first to Eponin and Solari and turned them away for a private word. "I need to ask something of you." Each looked to their queen for instructions. Gabrielle continued. "Ephiny doesnt ask for anything, but I believe she needs to be able to confide in a trusted friend especially when she must make difficult decisions. I know you two well. You are loyal but you are as talkative as Xena. Im asking you to try a little harder. For Ephiny."
Eponin spoke first. "Gabrielle, we cannot replace the special bond you share with Ephiny. But Im sure Solari and I can try to let Ephiny know that we are willing listeners." Solari nodded in agreement.
Gabrielle took a forearm of each with her own. "Thank you. Thats all I ask."
Gabrielle went to the healer. "Simina. Thank you for your care and your friendship."
Simina bowed slightly. "My queen. It has been an honor to serve you. You have given me as much as I have given you. Be well."
Gabrielle then turned to her regent and took her into an embrace. Gabrielle was at a lost for words. Ephiny broke the silence.
"Let me know if that warrior of yours gets anymore foolish notions."
Gabrielle smiled. "I will."
"She loves you, you know?"
"Yes, I know."
"Good. Bring her back soon. I can always use a sparring partner."
"Ephiny, I will miss you."
"And I you. Be happy and safe."
With one more final silent exchange, Gabrielle broke free and went to stand before Xena. Xenas surveyed the four brilliant Amazons. It was with her eyes that Xena bid her farewell. Her gaze held Ephinys for an additional heartbeat.
She looked to Gabrielle. "Ready?"
Gabrielle took Xenas hand. "Ready."
Together they turned and walked the path away from the village.
* * *
The days and nights passed. Where opportunity presented they provided help to strangers. The rhythm of their life on the road returned. Xenas attentiveness never subsided. Though subtle, it was a permanent remnant of recent times past. Gabrielle wondered if Xena had always been like this and if it was only now that she had noticed. Their redefined relationship gave each freedom to dwell on the other without embarrassment or fear of discovery. Intimacies were shared without self-consciousness. The physical proximity between them lessened considerably. Touch, even the light and brief touches given in the public eye conveyed a sense of belonging that was always welcomed.
Three highwaymen chose the mid-day as a good time to rob the two traveling women. Xena gave them a chance to change their minds but they were determined. Two challenged Xena while the third engaged Gabrielle, staff against staff. The latter was a large brute. With one devastating stroke he drove Gabrielle against a tree. Her head snapped back taking a forceful blow. She shook off the effect raising her staff in time to counter his attack.
Having driven the other two men away with non-lethal wounds, Xena pulled the brute away from Gabrielle. Xena split his staff with her sword. He took a knife from his belt. Xena glared at him. "Do you really want to die?" He looked to her and then back to Gabrielle who stood still against the tree. He chose life and ran off.
Xena turned to Gabrielle. "Hey, are you alright?"
Gabrielle heard Xena through a daze. "Yes, Im fine."
"Yeah. Lets just get going."
"Whatever you say." Xena turned away set on securing Argo. She did not see Gabrielle steady herself against her staff nor Gabrielles first tentative steps.
Gabrielles thoughts cut through the pain. She wouldnt accept it. She willed the pain to be gone but it only strengthened its hold on her as she began to walk beside Xena. Xena could not help but take note of the bards silence. She was no longer the excitable youth that could not cease reliving a battle in words, as if practicing her future storytelling of an event. Still, it was common for Gabrielle to comment afterwards, if only a jest to ease the tension. Xena placed her hand on Gabrielles shoulder. Gabrielle continued without acknowledging the gesture.
They set up camp in their customary fashion. Xena could not detect any perceivable difference in the bard other than her silence. Gabrielle worked deliberately preparing their meal. After eating, all was cleaned and stowed. Xena noted that Gabrielle did not go to her scrolls. She sat watching the fire, intent on the flames. Having completed Argos grooming Xena came to sit beside her. Gabrielle did not lean against Xena but kept what little distance separating them in tack. With her arm the warrior pulled the bard to her. Gabrielle did not resist. Only then did her head fall to Xenas shoulder.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Gabrielles voice was quiet. "What?"
"I dont know but something is troubling you."
Gabrielle pulled back. With an unexpected edge she replied, "Theres nothing wrong. I wish you would just accept that sometimes I just want to be left alone."
Xena felt the sting of Gabrielles words. Her anger rose. There were far better ways for the bard to speak to her. The warrior got to her feet. She didnt want to over react but now she too needed her space. "Im going for a walk."
Gabrielles watched Xena leave camp. Her head was pounding and she fought the dizziness and accompanying nausea. She had forced herself to eat knowing she needed to keep her strength. But every bite had been an effort. Not to eat would have been too obvious a sign of her ill health.
Gabrielle was fearful. A ringing in her ears had begun as she prepared their meal. Would the deafness return? Had her resistance to blows been compromised? She feared Xenas reaction. Better that the warrior feel smite for the evening than worried that Gabrielles recovery was only temporary. Gabrielle slowly moved to her bedroll. She needed to rest.
Xena returned to camp to find Gabrielle asleep. The warrior took a deep breath. Her eyes rested on the young woman. In her repose Gabrielle could not evoke any emotion other than gratitude and love. Xena changed into her bedclothes and joined Gabrielle. She gently wrapped her arms around the bard holding her close, hoping the morning would bring relief to the inexplicable tension between them.
Gabrielle awoke alone. She explored the back of her head. It was still tender. The wound was of considerable size. The ringing in her ears subsided but not the pain or she learned the dizziness as she tried to raise her head. She decided to get up. She didnt want Xena as an audience as she struggled for coherence and balance. The fear shadowed her and she could find little joy in the living.
For the next few days and nights they traveled. Xenas frustrations mounted. Gabrielle became increasingly distant and silent. No matter what Xena offered as a diversion, Gabrielle found reason not to take part. Xena considered the events that had preceded Gabrielles turn. She was mentally tracking a mystery but could find no clues to pick up the trail to the solution.
Gabrielle focused on each step. Her fatigue was great. She battled with herself and felt herself near defeat. If only she could rest but she refused to ask for more than the accustomed breaks in their travels. The ringing in her ears returned as the day passed. At night she would fall to sleep to the sound. By morning it was gone only to return as the sun passed overhead.
In the midst of the night Xena awoke abruptly. Something was wrong. Her hands reached for her companion but found nothing. She called out the bards name. There was no reply. Taking her sword in hand Xena began her search. The moon provided sufficient light to see. She moved toward the nearby stream. There she spied Gabrielle sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree. The bard held her staff upright before her. Xena approached slowly. She ensured she made sufficient sounds to warn the bard of her presence. Standing behind Gabrielle she placed her hand on the bards shoulder. Gabrielle covered it with her own. It was the first show of affection Xena had received in too many days.
Gabrielle continued to look ahead. "Xena?"
Xena hoped it was time to break the silence. She remained in her place. "Yes."
Gabrielles voice carried her submission. "I cant go on."
To this Xena sat across from Gabrielle facing the opposite side of the wood. She looked to Gabrielle who remained unflinching, in profile. "Gabrielle, what do you mean?"
Looking down, over taken by her anguish, "Ive been lying to you."
Xena felt her undefined fears break to the surface. "About what?"
"Im hurt." Gabrielle answered in a whisper.
Xena took the bard by the waist and turned her slowly to face the warrior. "Where? How?"
Gabrielle leaned her head against Xenas shoulder. "The highway man. He drove me against a tree. I hit my head."
Xenas examining hand went gently to Gabrielles scalp. She felt the damage. Gabrielle winced with the pressure.
"Xena, I cant stand the pain anymore. I get dizzy. Its hard to walk. Its too hard to do anything."
Xena held the bard close to her, using her hands to support and reassure. She needed to ask the question. "Why didnt you tell me?" She listened for Gabrielles reply but heard only the sounds of the night. Xena repeated her question. "Gabrielle, why didnt you tell me?"
"I was afraid. I dont want to lose you."
"Gabrielle." Xena lifted the woman into her arms and carried her back to camp. The bard had become small in her fragile state. Xena laid her down and covered her with a blanket. "Is there anything else I should know?"
Gabrielle felt her tears and closed her eyes in an attempt to hide them. In her broken pride, she did not want to be subject to the warriors piercing gaze. The sense of if was difficult enough. Gabrielles head swayed to the side. Her voice was weak. "I hear ringing in my ears. Not all the time. Not right know."
Xena moved the blanket over Gabrielles shoulders. "Its okay. Rest now."
"Xena, Im sorry."
There was a plea in Xenas voice. "Gabrielle. Please rest. Well talk in the morning."
The tone of the plea was echoed. "Stay with me."
Xenas voice was tenderness. "Ill be right here. Dont worry."
The puzzle solved. Another problem posed. Xena could not sleep. Her concerns went not only to Gabrielles health but also the bards reason for not admitting injury. Xena was hopeful that rest would allow Gabrielles concussion to subside. It was obvious that Gabrielle had likened the devastating results of her previous head injury with this latest assault on her well being. Xena also knew where Gabrielles greatest fear resided. It resided at Xenas feet. She feared the warrior would leave her once again. No matter what promises were made, only time would meld the bond between them. For now, doubt still had its residence in Gabrielles psyche. No bold heroics were called for, only the succor of Xenas constancy.
The sound of Xenas voice and the feel of her touch were a balm to the bard. Her exhaustion was complete. She could now rest where she could not before. After their meal, when she first laid her head down to the bedroll, there could be no sleep knowing that at dawn she would have to endure another torturous day, fighting the inevitable collapse of her body.
In the past few years Gabrielle had relished her growing physical prowess. Xena protected her, true. But Gabrielle knew she had become a force to reckon with. Or at least she thought she had. Sitting in the stillness of the night, looking out to the calm motions of the stream, she accepted that she had reached the end of her deception. When she heard Xenas footsteps she both welcomed and dreaded her forthcoming confession. It was time. She had no choice. She resigned herself as she had done before; faced with a loss she could not check.
In her half-conscious state she reached out with her hand. It was taken, caressed and sheltered in the hand of another. Gabrielle was not alone. What the morrow would bring between she and Xena, Gabrielle did not know. At least she would no longer be hiding the truth, living a lie. She had to trust in Xenas promise. She had to trust Xena. The fates kept testing her. Maybe that was the lesson she needed to learn. There could no longer be silence between them. For the sake of their lives and their love the truth must be spoken no matter now insurmountable the consequences seem in the moment.
Gabrielle had hoped for her health to return before Xenas suspicions could be investigated and proven. Had Gabrielles health returned Xena would have never known the fear Gabrielle held in her soul. A fear that would have continued to impress itself at each encounter with one whom would do them harm. By not knowing Gabrielles fear Xena may have lost sight of the bard. The concealment a cloak that by necessity would hide one untruth after another until the two stood incapable of recognition, having become strangers
It seemed odd that it was Gabrielle who held back. But then her motives where confused. Had silence been her mean to protect the warrior or to protect herself? There was one thing Gabrielle knew for certain. She had wronged Xena.
* * *
Xena went to the bard who was propped up against Argos saddle. She urged her. "Drink this tea. It will help ease the pain."
"Thank you." Gabrielle held Xenas gaze. They had said few words during the morning.
"Can I take a look?"
Gabrielle lowered her head to give Xena access. Xena explored the injury again. "It seems to cover some of the same area of your last wound."
"That one is more than five moons old."
"Head wounds, especially a concussion like the one you had can take a long time to completely heal. The only thing that can really help is rest. Looks like were going to have quite a few lazy days coming."
"Xena, Im sorry for what Ive put you through."
"I know you are." Xena placed her hand on Gabrielles thigh to assure. "I have to admit it would have been easier for the both of us if you had told me the truth."
Gabrielle was silent. She cradled the mug in her hands, focusing on the color of the tea. Xena had not admonished her. In a way Gabrielle would have preferred a tongue-lashing to the few words the warrior had offered.
Xena sensed Gabrielles remorse. She tried to console as she spoke her own painful truth. "I can understand why you where afraid. I know I need to regain your confidence. It would have been different if I hadnt disappointed you."
Gabrielle looked up at the warrior. Xena was so willing to bear the weight of responsibility. More so than she should. The bard needed to respond. "You always blame yourself when I get hurt. I wanted to spare you."
Xena could not allow that statement to go unchallenged. "Last night you said you were afraid of losing me."
Gabrielle struggled with her denial. She spoke not out of spite. There was no accusation, simply a statement of fact. Her voice was low and shy. "You left me once."
Xena entreated. "Gabrielle, I gave you my promise. And the truth is it was a selfish promise. As long as I keep it I have you in my life. Ephiny would be right to call me a fool if I broke it."
"You heard her?"
Xena smiled. "I heard."
Gabrielle returned to a serious tone. "Does this mean we will go on like before."
"We will go on but I hope next time, and given our lives there will be a next time, you wont hide your injuries from me."
"And you wont blame yourself." Gabrielle rejoined.
"Gabrielle. When I got badly hurt, how did you feel?" The bard looked away. She would never get accustomed to the wounds Xena endured. Xena took Gabrielles chin in hand and turned the bard to her. She silently commanded Gabrielle to look at her. "Did you feel regret that you couldnt stop it from happening? If you did then you understand how Im feeling right now. I love you. I dont want to see you get hurt and yes, it pains me when you do get hurt. That will never change."
"This is the life weve chosen."
"Yes. I accept that. Please, dont doubt me again."
With her hand Gabrielle pulled Xena to her. Having no words, she kissed the warrior. Xenas response was gentle. She knew Gabrielle was still very much in pain. Gabrielle leaned back. She was tired. She also felt a great relief.
"Xena, Id like to try to sleep."
Xena took the mug from Gabrielle and placed it aside. After helping her lie down she joined Gabrielle resting beside her. Gabrielle took Xena into an embrace. It would be a lazy day. Xena didnt mind. She knew that they had just bridged a familiar chasm. One created by the ironic combination of fear and love. She could only hope that it would be for the last time.
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