"Three, and from what Jors said, they took turns."
"Oh the poor child!" Maris exclaimed. Xena stood there in shock, the meaning of the conversation settling in. Her body trembled as her emotions went into overload. Slumping to the hay littered ground, she buried her head in her arms and sobbed like never before.
"Oh gods, no, not Gabrielle." Xena cried over and over. Maris and Mikki heard the strangled cries and entered the stable.
"Oh my gods, Xena. I didn't know you were in here." Mikki said softly, giving Maris a look of guilt. Xena took deep breaths and fought to regain control. Standing up to her full height, she wiped her eyes and walked out of the stable, not looking at the two sad faces.
Xena stood outside the door to Gabrielle's room, trying to find the courage to enter. Time passed and she still didn't reach for the door handle. Finally she turned around and stormed out of the palace, heading for Artemis' temple. Her anger and rage were in full force by the time she arrived at the stone structure.
The temple priestess and aides cleared out the instant they saw the angry warrior storm in and scream out the goddesses name. "Artemis! Dammit, show yourself! How could you let that happen to her?! She's your chosen, your queen! What sick game are you playing with her?! Artemis!" Xena ranted while storming around the interior of the temple. She stomped up to the dais and smashed her hand down on it. "Artemis!!" A white light appeared and formed into the figure of the Moon Goddess, her eyes full of fury.
"How dare you come into MY temple and yell at me, mortal!"
"You let them rape her!" Xena ignored the words of the goddess. "You had the power to stop them! Why didn't you?" Her anger was still full, although she stopped stomping around the room and was now staring at Artemis.
"I couldn't stop them, Xena. I did all that I could. She asked me only to protect the girls. She chose to make the sacrifice. There was nothing I could do." The goddess' voice held the touch of regret and sadness that she felt. It had been all she could do not to go down and kill the men herself.
"What do you mean, she chose to make the sacrifice? Why would she choose to be raped?" Xena couldn't imagine any reason. The goddess sighed with both sadness and pride at her amazon queen.
"One of the men went after Jors, intending to rape her. Gabrielle intervened, offering herself to protect the girls. She prayed to me only to protect the girls from these men, never once asking for herself. You know she's like that, always thinking of others before herself. I honored her prayer and put the men to sleep as soon as I felt their evil thoughts." She looked Xena sternly in the eye. "They were planning on raping them all."
"What do I do now?" The anger and fight were out of Xena now, replaced with concern and love for the storyteller. Artemis moved over to a marble slab and sat down, motioning for Xena to do the same.
"Love her, Xena. That's what she needs. Love her and stand by her, no matter what. Anything less will kill her, do you understand?"
"I do love her, Artemis."
"I know you do, child. You've only just begun to realize the depth of the love she has for you. You have to be patient and tolerant with her for quite some time before this issue resolves itself. Understand this, things will never be the same between you two. This can rip you apart, or it can bring you together in a way you've never dreamed of. It all depends on you, Xena. You have to believe in yourself and in Gabrielle's love for you. She may try to push you away. She may make decisions that you don't like or don't make sense to you. But you have to hang in there and love her, just love her." Xena nodded, not totally understanding, but understanding enough. Artemis' face became stern again. "Xena, if you need support, you are welcome to come to me. I will appear before you if you request it. But here this, mortal. I am very tolerant of you because of your quest for redemption and because of the love that my queen has for you. I will not, however, tolerate any more tantrums in my temple or any more insults from you, do you understand?" Her last words were said through gritted teeth.
"Yes goddess." Xena said quietly. Artemis' face softened slightly.
"Your lack of respect for the gods is well known on Mount Olympus, Xena. I imagine most of that distrust is a result of Ares. I have no quarrel with you, despite your past. Don't have one with me, especially when I've done nothing to deserve it. I have listened to Gabrielle's prayers for you and have helped whenever I could. If it weren't for that beautiful woman's love for you, you would have been in Tartarus long ago. Now, let's call a truce. I respect what you're trying to do with your life now, Xena. Take care of Gabrielle." The vision of the Moon Goddess and Protector of the Amazons faded, leaving Xena alone in the temple. She sat there quietly, piecing together all the information she had, deciding on what to do. After a long period of introspection, she quietly rose and left the temple. The priestess and aids scurried in, expecting mass destruction, and were completely surprised to find everything as it was. No one had ever entered the temple and yelled at the goddess like that before. The temple keepers were left looking at each other in disbelief.
Ephiny had been summoned at the word that the former Destroyer-of-Nations had gone berserk and attacked Artemis' temple. She (and six royal guards) stopped Xena just as she left the temple. She had expected to see fury and anger on the warrior's face, but saw only sorrow and loss.
"You know." The amazon said quietly.
"How did you...?" Xena's face betrayed her surprise.
"I spoke with the girls. The older ones told me. She needs you, Xena. Go to her." Xena nodded and headed back to the palace, unsure of what to say or do, but knowing that she had to do something.
Xena entered Gabrielle's room just as dusk was settling in on the village. "How are you?" She asked as she took a chair and sat down. Gabrielle was sitting on the bed, her back against the wall, feet tucked up underneath her.
"I'm fine, how are you? I heard you went storming into Artemis' temple this afternoon."
"Word travels quickly in a small village, Xena. Besides, don't you think they would tell the queen if someone was engaging a goddess in the middle of the village? Not to mention the fact that it was you?"
"Sorry, guess I wasn't thinking." Xena said sheepishly, her face showing her embarrassment.
"Nope, guess not."
"I guess it must been a frightening sight for them, huh?"
"You scared the living daylights out of our poor priestess. Can you imagine what she was thinking? A furious warrior enters the temple and starts yelling at the goddess, what would you think?"
"I would think there would be one less warrior in the world."
"Exactly. Xena, what made you do something like that? What made you so angry that you yelled at Artemis? What could possibly upset you so much?" As many times as Gabrielle had seen Xena's anger, she had never seen it directed at Artemis or any other god, save Ares. Xena lowered her eyes and focused on the floor. When she did speak, her voice was noticeably shaky.
"I know what happened, Gabrielle." She took a deep breath. "I heard two of the mothers talking about it. That's what Jors' mother meant when she said that she knew what you did to protect her daughter. You sacrificed yourself." Her last words were practically whispered, the meaning of them hurting the warrior's heart so much.
"I had no choice, Xena. I couldn't let them go through that." Neither woman looked at the other. The words were hard enough for them to come by as it was, even for the bard. "I'm their queen. I swore to protect them with my life if necessary. How could I do any less?"
"You couldn't, Gabrielle. Your heart is too pure." The blue eyes of the warrior were blurred with excess moisture. "Gabrielle, you need to see a healer."
"I can't." The storyteller closed her eyes to block the tears. Xena looked up at her.
"Gabrielle, it doesn't have to be me. You can see Saras, if you prefer. But you need to be checked." A small choke interrupted her words. "I don't want to lose you over this. I love you." Gabrielle's blue-green eyes opened and looked into the tear-filled blue ones. She saw pain, concern, and most importantly, love in Xena's eyes. Time passed as they quietly looked at each other, their minds digesting the information.
"I don't want you to see..." Gabrielle's words were cut off by a sob she couldn't stifle. Xena bolted from the chair and moved onto the bed, pulling the crying bard into her arms. Gabrielle held on to her fiercely, drawing the comfort she so desperately needed from Xena's strong arms.
"Shh...It's okay...it's going to be all right now, Gabrielle...No one's going to hurt you now...shh..." Xena repeated the words over and over, letting her own tears fall as she felt Gabrielle's own against her shoulder.
A soft knock announcing dinner startled them both. "Just a minute." Xena yelled as she and Gabrielle separate and wiped their eyes. One look at the queen's red and puffy eyes told Xena that she didn't want to be seen like this. Xena walked over to the door.
"I'll take care of it." Xena said as she opened the door and reached for the tray. The serving girl nodded and handed the meal over. Xena closed the door and set the food on the table, then went back to the bed and sat down next to Gabrielle. The warrior left some space in-between them, not certain if the bard wanted any more physical contact.
"Thanks." Gabrielle said quietly, her gaze focused on a small tapestry on the wall.
"Do you feel like eating?" She asked, hoping that Gabrielle's infamous appetite was still there. Xena heard of women starving themselves to death after being raped. She flinched noticeably at the thought.
"Not really, I haven't been able to keep much down lately."
"Gabrielle, I know you may not want to, but you really should try. You know how important food is. Please, for me?" Xena begged, having no pride at all when it came to protecting her little bard. Gabrielle knew how hard it was for Xena to ask for anything, much less plead for it.
"I'll try." She followed Xena to the table. A thought occurred to her. "Xena, will you have some with me? After all, I bet spending the afternoon yelling at Artemis must have worked up an appetite." Her attempt at humor was not lost on her friend.
"Sure, I guess I could stand to put away some food." Since the cook planned on Gabrielle having her normal appetite, there was plenty of food. However, there was only one set of utensils. They passed the utensils back and forth while they ate and talked.
"Xena, would you move in here with me?" Gabrielle asked as she shoved a piece of bread into her mouth. "I mean, mmph, would you stay here in this room with me instead of next door?"
"Anything you want, Gabrielle. I'll get someone to help me move the bed in."
"Do you think they can put it next to mine, instead of all the way over by the other wall?" She wanted Xena close by, to protect her, but not in the same bed.
"Sure." Xena was happy to stay with her. "Gabrielle?"
"Mmm?" She was chewing on a sticky bun.
"If you hadn't asked, I would have. I don't want to be too far away from you. I don't want to fail..." Her own emotions were too close to the surface for her to bear. Xena stood up quickly and turned away from the bard's concerned gaze.
"Fail at what, Xena?" Gabrielle's voice held the soft, loving, concerned tone that always gave encouragement and comfort to Xena.
"Fail to protect you again." The warrior admitted. She sat back down, but looked at the table instead of the blue-green eyes.
"You didn't fail me, Xena." Gabrielle reached over and put her hand on Xena's. "I'm the one who left, the one who ran away instead of facing my fears, not you. You did nothing wrong, Xena." Gabrielle gave the warrior's hand a gentle squeeze, then pulled back. She looked at the now empty plates of food. "I guess we were both more hungry than we thought, huh?" A crooked smile came to her lips.
"I guess so, my little eating machine." Xena teased. An unexpected burp came from her mouth, sending them both into little chuckles.
"Sounds like you had enough too, my big dumb warrior." Gabrielle teased back. Her voice got quiet and her smile faded as she looked downward again. "Do you need to talk any more tonight?"
"No, Gabrielle. We can talk more when you're ready." Xena caught the word 'need' instead of the usual 'want'. Gabrielle didn't want to talk about it any more. Xena stood and busied herself with cleaning up the tray of dishes. Gabrielle stopped her.
"I'll do that. You move the furniture."
They each slept in their own beds, pressed up against each other. At some point during the night, Gabrielle's hand reached out and laid on top of Xena's. Morning found them both on the edges of their beds, hands on each other's forearms.
Saras gave Gabrielle a thorough examination that left the bard in tears, despite the healers best efforts to provide comfort. The queen had made Xena wait outside, unable to stand the thought of her seeing what had been done to her. "You can sit up and put your clothes back on now, my Queen."
"Please call me Gabrielle."
"As you wish, my-I mean Gabrielle." Saras walked over to the door and motioned for Xena to come in. They waited beyond a privacy screen until Gabrielle was finished dressing, then joined her in the small examination room.
Saras took a deep breath and looked over at Gabrielle. "Are you sure you want her to know everything?" She had wanted to tell the queen the extent of her injuries in private, but the stubborn woman insisted that she wanted Xena to be there.
"Yeah." Gabrielle said quietly as she looked into the blue eyes for support. Xena smiled back gently.
"There are no injuries that required stitches." Saras started with the good news first. Xena released a breath that she didn't realize she'd been holding. The healer continued. "However, she does have a nasty infection on her left breast." Gabrielle lowered her head in shame, blinking to keep the tears back. Xena moved over to stand next to her.
"It's all right, Gabrielle. It wasn't your fault. You have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of." The bard nodded, but still kept her head down. Xena turned her attention back to Saras. "What kind of wound?"
"They're bite marks, Xena."
"There's more than one set of teeth marks on each breast. Two of the sets on the left one are infected." Saras took a step forward and put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. The bard jumped noticeably at the sudden contact and pulled back. The healer quickly removed her hand. "Are you sure you want me to go on?" Gabrielle nodded and moved closer to Xena, pulling the warrior's hand into hers and giving it a gentle squeeze. She gave a small smile when the squeeze was returned. Saras took another deep breath before continuing. "Her sex is inflamed and there is some severe bruising but I don't foresee any permanent damage. I worry more about the bite marks than anything else, except pregnancy."
Xena looked up at the healer in horror. Pregnancy, she'd never even gave it a thought. "Do you have the herbs here?"
"Well, we don't have much use for them here in Amazonia, as you well know, but yes, I do have a supply of them." Saras answered.
"What are they for?" Gabrielle asked.
"To eliminate the possibility of a pregnancy." Saras explained.
"To eliminate? No." Gabrielle shook her head emphatically. "I can't do that. I won't take an innocent life."
"Gabrielle, it's not a life, not yet. If you take the herbs, you can prevent it from becoming one." Xena reasoned.
"Xena, I don't want this to happen anymore than you do, trust me. But I won't take a life, any life. We don't even know if I'm pregnant, but if I am, then it's too late to do anything about it anyway." Her eyes flashed with determination.
"Gabrielle, you don't want this to happen. You don't want to give birth to..." Xena couldn't even say the words for what she thought of those men or any offspring they might create.
"I don't have a choice, Xena. I won't take a life. Especially an innocent one."
"But what about the risk to you? Do you know what can happen during childbirth? You're so small, Gabrielle, and they...you just can't take that chance. You can't risk your life like that."
"Xena!" Gabrielle raised her voice a little louder than she meant to. "It's my body, it's my choice." She turned to Saras. "How long before we know for certain?"
"At least three more quarter-cycles."
"Fine. We'll wait twenty-one days and see what happens. Is there anything else that I need to know about, Saras?" Gabrielle lowered her tone, but still did not release Xena's hand, much to the warrior's relief. This was a subject that they had never talked about, and it was obvious that both women had strong opinions on the matter.
"No, that's pretty much it. Take hot baths and change the bandages frequently. Oh, one more thing." She walked over to the window and picked up a large plant. "This is an Aloe plant. After the infection is gone, use the sap from the leaves as a salve. It will help prevent scarring." Gabrielle took the plant with relief. That was one thing that she had been worrying about. She didn't know if she could go the rest of her life with visible reminders of the trauma. She thanked the healer and allowed Xena to lead her back to their room. Both were silent on the trip, knowing that words were going to be exchanged once they were behind walls.
Nothing was spoken about the matter until later in the evening, both women struggling with their emotions on the matter. The Gods refused to render a decision on ending pregnancies, leaving the choice up to the individuals involved to make. It seemed that everyone felt rather strongly about it, one way or the other.
"Xena, let me speak first. Then, I'll be quiet and let you have your peace, okay?" Gabrielle waiting for the warrior to nod before continuing. She was sitting on the bed, curled up against the wall, Xena sitting cross-legged on her own bed, facing the bard. "Xena, I know you only want what's best for me, but you have to understand that I'm not changing my position on the matter. A life is a life is a life to me. I can't take one, no matter what the circumstances are. I don't force that belief onto others, you know me better than that. I can't punish an innocent child for the sins of the father. There's nothing we can do for the next three quarter-moons, so I'd like to drop it until we know for sure." Gabrielle stopped speaking and looked down at the bed. Xena took a long pause before speaking.
"I have always respected your devotion to your blood innocence, you know that. I also know that you're a grown woman, capable of making your own decisions."
"I won't change my position on this, Xena."
"I know, Gabrielle." Xena said in a slightly defeated tone.
"One more thing."
"What?" Xena said. Gabrielle moved away from the wall and sat right in front of Xena, their eyes only inches apart. There was a deadly seriousness to Gabrielle's tone when she spoke.
"I'm aware that you know which herbs to use and how to use them. If I am pregnant and you do anything...I...would never...ever forgive you." Xena's eyes flickered as she briefly thought that the bard had read her mind. It would have been easy, so very easy, to hide the herbs within a soup or a dinner. Gabrielle moved away and rolled over, grimacing as the bandaged breast announced that the infection was still there.
"What is it?" Xena was at her side in an instant, looking for the source of the pain.
"Oww." Gabrielle groaned as her arms instinctively moved to cover her breasts. "I think it's time to change the bandages."
"Oh." Xena said quietly. Gabrielle looked at her seriously. There had been no discussion about changing the bandages. Saras had assumed that Xena would change them and Xena hadn't given it any thought, so much more her mind was on another matter.
Gabrielle had thought about it but had not made a decision. Letting Xena change the dressings would reveal the terrible marks that were made. Gabrielle knew all too well how strong the warrior's feelings were about rape. She didn't know how Xena would react to the bright red semi-circles that stood out against her pale breasts. She also knew how much she had cried when Saras had touched her breasts earlier in the day, more from emotional feelings than physical ones. Could she handle someone else touching her again, ever? The other thought tugged at the back of her mind, knowing that it was not yet the time to come out. Gabrielle sadly wondered if it would ever be able to come out.
"Gabrielle, I'll understand if..." Xena offered a way out, although she wasn't totally sure which one the offer was for. She had been torn earlier when they were at the healer's. She wanted to be there for Gabrielle, but at the same time, didn't know if she could look at the injuries without crying or screaming in rage. So strong were her feelings for honey haired woman. Xena knew in the corner of her heart there was a monster banging on the door, raging to be freed. She also knew that a sorrow greater than any she'd ever known before was waiting for her to release it from the room that it was locked in. Never in her life had the mighty warrior been so afraid of her feelings.
"Uh, I don't know what to do. I want you to help, to take care of me, but I'm scared too, can you understand that?" The pleading yet gentle tone tugged at the warrior's heart, threatening to send all the doors open.
"I understand, Gabrielle. I'll talk you through it, tell you everything that has to be done. You decide what to do, okay?" Xena made sure her voice was gentle and soft.
"I can stop anytime?" She knew she didn't have to ask, but fear made her do so anyway.
"Anytime, Gabrielle." There was a deadly seriousness to the warrior's voice. "I won't hurt you."
Gabrielle turned her back to Xena and removed her shift. She slowly unwrapped the bandages. Xena held a bowl with warm water and a clean cloth. Gabrielle moved over to the headboard and leaned her back against it. Her eyes locked on Xena's, she lowered her trembling arms.
Xena kept her eyes on the bard's face, the blue-green eyes reminded her of a frightened doe. The full lower lip quivered slightly, the jaw tightly clenched. Slowly Gabrielle lowered closed her eyes, unable to look at whatever reaction Xena would have to seeing the marks. Xena lowered her eyes slowly, cautiously, afraid of what she would see. She was unable to strangle a small cry in her throat when she saw the marks. The tear the warrior thought she could blink away fell down her cheek. Gabrielle opened her eyes slowly, noticing first the tear, then the look of empathy on Xena's face.
"Doesn't look good, does it?" She said quietly, needing to break the heavy silence.
"Uhm..." Xena's normally deep voice seemed to be pitched higher. "You have to wash the old salve off." She forced something other than sadness into her voice and held the wet cloth out for Gabrielle.
"Yeah." She took the cloth. Gabrielle cleaned without looking, knowing all too well the effect the marks had on her tear ducts. Xena watched the bard's face, unwilling to look at the crimson reminders any more than she had to. Gabrielle held the cloth out, indicating that she was finished. She wiped her eyes and held her hand out for the salve. Xena handed her the small jar of medicine and watched as the bard applied the black, gooey paste wherever she felt the marks were. Satisfied that they were covered, she handed Xena back the jar and wiped her fingers on the wet cloth. "I can't wrap the bandages myself, Xena."
"Okay, um...move up here and sit up, I'll get it." She took two squares of cloth and a long wrapping and moved behind Gabrielle. "You'll have to raise your arms." Gabrielle started to move her elbows, then brought them back down.
"I can't see you." Her voice trembled. "I need to see you."
Xena moved around quickly, but gently, not wanting to startle the storyteller. She sat facing her, making sure there was sufficient distance between them so that Gabrielle didn't feel threatened. She waited for the bard to raise her arms.
"Be gentle." She barely whispered as she raised her arms. Xena leaned forward slowly, bringing her arms around Gabrielle's back and starting the wrappings. As she brought her hand around the side, she whispered in a serious voice.
"You know I will. I won't hurt you, Gabrielle. I love you too much." She quickly placed the squares of cloth over the wounds and continued the wrapping.
"You know this is killing me." Gabrielle said it so solemnly that Xena snapped her head up to look at her. The bard met her gaze. "I can't write, I can't think of stories, I can't think of anything else but what happened." Xena tied off the end of the bandage and handed her the shift.
"Do you want to talk about it, Gabrielle?"
"No, not yet." Her look turned thoughtful. "Xena? Would you sleep with me tonight? Hold me?"
"Anything you want, Gabrielle. I'm here for you."
"I want you to hold me tonight."
That night turned into two quarter-moons of nights. Gabrielle would clean the fading marks and Xena would wrap them. Then they would sleep together, Xena against the wall, the smaller bard tucking against her. Through the process of tossing and turning, Xena usually woke to find herself on her back, half of Gabrielle's body on top of her, pinning her down. Every morning found her more unwilling to bolt out of bed, enjoying the closeness and intimacy instead.
They still spoke little of the rape, creating an uneasy silence around them most of the time. Occasionally Gabrielle would express an emotion with words, but only twice had she broken down into tears, allowing Xena to comfort her. Gabrielle wouldn't let Xena leave her side, even to tend to Argo. The bard would stand there in the stable, staring at the hay or talking niceties with the amazons who were in there taking care of their own charges. Xena had not yet been able to vent her own feelings, they were still too strong for her to vocalize. She would wait to see what the results of the test were before she took time to go to the forest and release her fury in private.
Several times Xena tried to get Gabrielle to write down her feelings, thoughts, anything at all. Each time the bard refused, citing tiredness or just saying no. Gabrielle's feelings were all over the place. What if she was pregnant? What would she do? She knew that the amazons would be willing to care for the child, but could she leave? If she was pregnant, would Xena stay? Xena was a warrior, a restless spirit. She couldn't stand to be in any one place for more than a few days. How could she possibly expect the warrior to settle down in one village, even if it was Amazonia? Gabrielle sadly feared that a pregnancy would cost her Xena. The night before the test, Xena held her while she cried with no explanation given for the tears. Gabrielle couldn't tell her that the tears were for fear of her leaving.
Saras was pleased with the progress. The wounds were now a pale pink. She told Gabrielle to start using the liquid from the aloe leaves. She no longer needed to wear the bandages, but still preferred the full white amazon tunic to her usual half top. On the plus side, her appetite had returned, and on a rare occasion, even her sense of humor.
"Xena?" She gently nudged the sleeping form behind her.
"Mmm?" Xena's face was buried in the honey colored tresses and she was in no mood to move. She had quickly adjusted to curling up with the bard at night.
"Why did you come after me?" Xena's eyes popped open at the question. Gabrielle wanted to talk! She was wide awake and alert now.
"I had to. I couldn't let you go without talking to you."
"What did you want to say?" Gabrielle left the loaded question in the air, giving Xena a chance to choose her answer. "After reading the note, Xena, what did you want to say to me?" She rolled over to meet the blue eyes with her own blue-green ones. Their faces were inches apart. She whispered. "Say it."
"I love you. I don't want you to leave my life. I came after you because I can't live without you."
"And now?" The question took Xena aback. Gabrielle's intense gaze, visible by the full moon, spoke of the significance of the answer.
"I feel the same way, probably even more so." Not sure if she should say it, she continued. "I love you, Gabrielle. I have for a long time now. I'm sorry I never had the courage to tell you before you left." She was silence by Gabrielle's finger against her lips, a delicious feeling indeed.
"I want to know something. Will you let me find out?" Gabrielle's voice held an almost hypnotic quality to it, pulling Xena in. The bard's face showed her nervousness. Xena nodded gently, not trusting herself to speak.
Xena waited as Gabrielle slowly traced the warrior's lips with her delicate fingers. "I never knew you're lips were this soft." The bard murmured. Xena remained still, knowing that Gabrielle had to control whatever would happen. She felt the bard move closer, lips scant finger widths away. "I can't promise..." Gabrielle's words were cut off when she pressed her lips against Xena's. The kiss was gentle, tentative. She pulled back slightly, looking into the familiar blue eyes. Gabrielle moved forward and tasted her lips again. The second kiss was less tentative, more curious. Gabrielle's bardic lust for new sensations and feelings brought her tongue out to graze along Xena's lower lip. Xena was unable to stifle the small groan that rose in her throat. Gabrielle's kisses were as soft as cotton, more gentle than Xena could have imagined. Her lip tingled where the bard's tongue had caressed it. Gabrielle pulled back, putting a friendly distance between them. Her blue-green eyes were dark with emotion. "I don't know what I can give you, Xena. I can't ask you to be patient forever, but..." She brought her mouth back close to Xena's. Their breaths mingled in front of them. Xena's eyes were on the bard's lips and where they were headed. "I like...this." She kissed the warrior with slightly more passion and more curiosity. Gabrielle's tongue gently parted the lips and slipped in. She tasted port in Xena's mouth and her body instantly froze. Xena felt the reaction, watching Gabrielle with concern as she pulled back and shifted her body away slightly. "I need time."
"Take all the time you want, Gabrielle. I'm not going anywhere." There was a long silence before Gabrielle spoke again.
"I'm sorry I got spooked." She said softly.
"Talk to me, Gabrielle...Let me in." Xena's plea begged the young woman to take a chance and reveal the truth.
"Oh." Xena understood. Gabrielle rolled over and pressed her body against Xena's, reaching back to pull the warrior's strong arm down across her belly. A belly that may be getting much bigger soon, she thought sadly. As she drifted off to sleep, Xena made a mental note not to drink any more port.
Xena paced around like an expectant parent while they waited for Saras to give them the results. Twice she had loomed over the healer's shoulder, trying to find out for herself. Both times resulted in quick-witted comments and thinly veiled threats being hurled back and forth. It was only through Gabrielle's power of title did Saras not throw the agitated warrior out of the hut. The bard thought that smoke was going to come out of Xena's ears by the time Saras motioned for them to sit down.
"Well?" Xena didn't bother to hide the agitation in her voice. Saras looked at Gabrielle and smiled gently.
"Not pregnant." The look of relief was evident on all three faces. This part of the nightmare was over. Xena and Gabrielle exchanged looks, both knowing that the worst part was yet to be faced. They thanked Saras and went back to the palace, a thick cloud of silence over them. Until now, they had both been holding their thoughts and feelings back, waiting for the news. There was nothing to hide behind now, the ugly truths and fears would soon have to be faced, for both of them.
"I noticed that you didn't have any port with dinner. Why?" Gabrielle's question woke the sleeping warrior. Gabrielle rolled over to face her. "Why didn't you, Xena? Were you afraid it would bother me?" Blue-green eyes bore into blue ones, begging for the deep truth behind the action. Xena's jaw clenched slightly as she chose her words.
"I don't want anything I do to cause you pain, Gabrielle. You've been through enough already." Her eyes closed tightly, her body trying to hold back a painful fear. Gabrielle's small hand reached out to touch the chiseled features of Xena's cheek.
"What? There's something you're not telling me." Her hand stayed still, except for her thumb, which gently stroked the bronzed skin. Xena opened her eyes, looking into the storyteller's, trying to draw courage from her.
"I don't know what to do, Gabrielle. I'm not sure when a word or a touch is going to trigger a reaction from you." A long silence fell between them, Gabrielle knowing that it was now time for her to open up. Never had words come so hard for the bard.
"I'm not sure either. Sometimes I worry that a campfire, or the hard ground, or any number of things that make up our lives will never be the same." Gabrielle closed her eyes. "I remember it all, Xena. Every sound, every smell, every..." She sat up and tucked her legs under herself. Xena quietly did the same. The pale moonlight gave a dim glow to the room. Gabrielle's hands fidgeted in her lap, her eyes watching them. "There were three of them, you know."
"I know." Another long silence followed.
"How many did you kill?"
"The tall, thin one and the big one."
Gabrielle closed her eyes, remembering their faces above her, taunting her, hurting her. "Thank you." She reached out and took Xena's hand in her own, focusing her gaze on them. "I love you, Xena. I ran from you and you came after me, then you stayed with me. You've been very patient with me and I appreciate that."
"If I've been patient, it's only because I learned it from you. Gabrielle, I love you. That won't change, no matter what you tell me, do you understand? No matter what happened, my feelings for you will still be the same."
"Xena?" Gabrielle paused. "What if I can never make love again? Gods knows I want you, but..." She let the thought hang, there was no need to finish it.
"Gabrielle, I think it's a little soon to be thinking about that."
"Yeah, I guess it is." She looked thoughtfully at Xena. "But I do. I think of you. I think of how it would feel to touch you, kiss you, love you. I thought those feelings would go away for a while, but they haven't. I don't know what to do." Her thumb moved more firmly against the warrior's cheek, the motions conveying an underlying desire within the storyteller. Xena leaned into the warm hand and gave it a gentle kiss.
"You do what you feel you're ready for. You can stop anytime you need to. I won't push you, Gabrielle. I won't ask for more than you're willing to give."
Gently pressing Xena down to the bed, she laid down next to her, faces only inches apart. "Tell me." Her warm breath caressed Xena's lips.
"I love you, Gabrielle." She was rewarded with a feather-light kiss.
"Mmm, tell me again."
"I love you." Gabrielle kissed her again for the words, then once more for the pleasure of feeling Xena's lips against hers.
"Nice." Gabrielle murmured as she looked down at the blue eyes through half-closed lids. "I like the way you kiss, Xena. Very soft."
Xena was barely able to think, much less speak. The bard's kisses had a dizzying effect on her senses, leaving her dazed and breathless. Xena knew at that moment she would be forever helpless to the storyteller's touch. Gabrielle's hand moved down to gently trace the strong jawline she had dreamed about so often. Her lips tentatively followed her hand, placing gentle kisses from ear to chin and back. "Xena." Her warm breath and hypnotic voice sent a shudder through the helpless warrior. Gabrielle smiled gently at this feat. "I love you too." She flicked her tongue across the earlobe before giving it a gentle kiss.
Gabrielle took her time placing kisses all over Xena's bare skin. She explored the warrior's throat, causing soft groans from both women. Her tongue tasted its way around the soft skin, tracing every line, feeling every corded muscle, memorizing Xena's body. The bard lost herself into the feelings, reveling in the reactions she was creating from the raven-haired beauty. Only when she was satisfied that she had kissed every inch of Xena's face, neck, and shoulders did she bring her mouth back to the warrior's lips. Another series of dizzying kisses followed before the storyteller finally laid back and looked at the ceiling. "I've always wanted to kiss you like that."
"I'm glad you did." Xena's breathless reply caused another smirk of satisfaction from the bard.
"You okay?" Gabrielle asked seriously, turning her head to face Xena.
"Yeah." She said softly. "I'm fine, Gabrielle. How are you doing?"
"It...was nice. It was all I ever hoped kissing you would be and more." She leaned over and gave Xena one more kiss. "Hold me." She curled up into the warrior's strong embrace and quickly fell into a deep sleep. Xena laid awake for a while longer, enjoying the closeness and love that came from the bard in her arms.
Within two quarter-moons, the bite marks were barely noticeable. Gabrielle continued to cover them with the liquid from the aloe plant, noting that most looked like they wouldn't scar. She kept her back to Xena while she did this, although more and more she wanted to have the warrior apply the aloe instead.
The nights were still full of gentle talk and kisses. They had moved the extra bed out of the room since they now sleep together, snuggled up so tight that even air didn't pass between their bodies. Xena made herself content with the multitude of kisses that the bard gave. She always let Gabrielle lead the dance, fighting her own desires to make the bard as breathless as she made her.
It had been an extremely hot day and both women were dusty and sweaty. They had spent the day at the training grounds, working out with the other amazons. The minute they entered the palace, Gabrielle ordered food to be sent up, as well as a hot bath. Both women rested on the bed until the knock on the door indicated one of the items they had ordered was ready.
"I don't know which I prefer, food or a bath." Gabrielle said as she sniffed herself. "Oh, I think I want it to be the bath." Xena chuckled at the bard's grimaced face as she went to answer the door.
"You must really stink to pick a bath over food." The warrior teased. She opened the door to see several serving girls with buckets of water. Letting them in, she realized that the food was there as well. The amazons emptied the buckets quickly and left. Gabrielle hopped up and went to check the temperature of the water, having seen the steam pouring out from across the room.
"Ye Gods!" She exclaimed as she brought her hand back. "Hades, that's hot! What are they trying to do? Boil the dirt off my skin?" Gabrielle's exclamations brought a chuckle from the warrior.
"Come over here and eat, Gabrielle. The water will cool down enough by the time we're done." Xena said, taking pity on the dejected bard. Gabrielle grumbled and flopped down into her chair.
"I wanted to take a bath first and...what's this? Mmm, fresh venison...and nutbread?" All thoughts of the bath were forgotten as the always hungry queen worked her way through the plates of food. Xena knew enough to fill her plate with what she wanted before the bard ate everything in sight. Conversation was actually pleasant and cheerful. Gabrielle chattered on about the day at the training grounds. She told Xena about who she sparred with, the latest gossip she had heard, all the little conversational things that she loved to talk about that Xena had missed. She contentedly sat back and listened to Gabrielle loose herself in the memories of the pleasant day. Only when she heard the story about the two amazons on a horse for the third time did she finally interrupt.
"Gabrielle, I think the bath is ready."
"What? Oh, I guess I was rambling, huh?" Xena didn't answer, she just gave the bard a lopsided grin. Gabrielle smiled back and went to check the water. "Perfect." She quickly started to remove her sweat-soaked garments. Xena watched her unlace her boots and wondered if she should leave or not.
"Gabrielle?" The bard pulled off her boot, then looked up to see the questioning expression on the warrior's face. "Do you want me to leave?" Xena wasn't sure what to do. Before the rape, they had never bothered with privacy amongst themselves, always chattering away while they bathed. Since then, evenings were quiet and baths were private for Gabrielle, although she made no effort to leave when Xena took hers. Tonight had been different. There had been conversation, laughter, even gentle teasing. The evening had the atmosphere of evenings past, when the two friends did everything together, well, almost everything.
Gabrielle thought about the question for a moment. It had been so automatic for Xena to leave when she took her bath that they never spoke about it or questioned it. Now Xena was asking her to make the decision. She looked at the warrior thoughtfully for a moment before answering. "No. Stay with me." Xena moved from the chair and stood next to the bard.
"I love you, Gabrielle. I'm not asking for anything or pushing you."
"I know, Xena. I want you to stay." Gabrielle stared into the electric blue eyes she loved and lost herself to her visions of a wet, naked warrior for a moment. Breaking the gaze and clearing her throat, she decided to take a chance. "Xena, do you think we can try to share the bath? Just a bath?" Gabrielle knew she didn't have to repeat the last part. Xena had made no effort to push her, accepting only what she had been willing to give, but part of her still needed the affirmation.
"Only if you want to, Gabrielle." The bard's eyes returned to the blue ones.
"I think I do."
Xena started to unlace the white tunic she had been wearing since they came to the village. In the intense heat, it was suicide to continue running around in the brown leather when there was a much cooler way to stay covered. Gabrielle's small hands came out and covered the warrior's. "Let me." She said. Xena let her arms fall down to her side, steeling herself for the delicious experience that was about to happen. Gabrielle opened the tunic and slipped it off Xena's shoulders, exposing the warrior's upper body to her. She had seen Xena naked before, but not usually this close unless she was covered with blood. In the candlelight, the warrior's body shone with a beauty that Gabrielle had not seen before. Her eyes brazenly looked over Xena's chest, noting every faded and not so faded scar. She licked her lips subconsciously as her gaze fell on the darkened nipples that rested upon the full round breasts.
"Breathe, Gabrielle." A startled bard realized that she had indeed been holding her breath, so intent was she on her study of the woman before her.
"S-Sorry. I was just..." She stammered and blushed furiously. Xena chuckled and arched her eyebrow at the sight of the blushing bard.
"I know what you were doing, Gabrielle." She teased gently. "I just didn't want you to pass out from lack of air." Gabrielle moved forward quickly, wrapping her arms around Xena's neck, pulling the tall woman's mouth to hers. Her lips spoke of the passion that burned within her. The bard's curious tongue parted the willing lips and explored Xena's mouth. She brought her lips back to Xena's again and again, trying to fill what seemed like an insatiable thirst for the warrior's mouth.
She pressed her body against Xena's, feeling the heat between them through the tunic she still wore. She marveled at the soft pressure of Xena's breasts against her body, the warmth of her breath, the sound of the warrior's strong heart beating within her chest. Only when she felt Xena's legs tremble slightly did Gabrielle release her hold and stand back. She slid her hands from around the neck down to hold her forearms.
"I like kissing you, Xena." Gabrielle's voice was slightly raspy. Unable to resist, she moved back in for one more quick kiss. "Yeah, I really do." She said softly.
"The water will get cold." Xena said as she regained the use of her voice. She reached out to help Gabrielle out of her tunic, then remembered and pulled back. The bard noticed, but did not say anything. She had another decision to make.
"Uh, let's get in there." She backed away and waited. Xena understood the message and removed her skirt and breeches. She went to get into the tub when she saw the look in Gabrielle's eyes. It froze her to her place. "By the gods, you are beautiful." Gabrielle said in awe of the vision before her.
"Only in your eyes, Gabrielle. Only in your eyes." She responded.
"Mine are all that matter."
Continued - Part 3 (Conclusion)