"You know, I don't think you two ah gentleman understand what you're getting into here." Gabrielle tried to keep her voice light and upbeat. She didn't want these men to sense how frightened she really was. Since she'd awakened in this strange camp with these strange men, she'd tried to reason with them.
"Do you ever shut up?!" One of her captors growled at her.
Maybe it's time to think, not talk, the bard thought to herself. She tried to study her surroundings. This was obviously her captors' camp. Gabrielle was sitting on the ground, her legs straight in front of her, her hands tied behind her back to a thick post that was anchored in the ground. To her right was Eileen, tied in a similar way. The Amazon was slumped forward, her face covered with dark purple bruises. Bloody areas indicated where Gabrielle imagined the blows had broken her skin. Her clothing was torn in several places, and legs and arms were dirty and bruised as well. She had to stare at the still woman for a few moments to be able to detect the slight movement of Eileen's chest. She was still breathing, but barely.
As yet, Gabrielle was unharmed. The back of head
did ache from where she'd been hit from behind, but other than that she hadn't been
touched. Stupid Gabrielle, stupid! She had figured that it would be okay to keep
her usual routine and went into the woods for her daily meditation. Since Xena had been
going with her for the last week, the warrior's presence was sorely missed, but Gabrielle
didn't want to dwell on the fact that Xena wasn't going to be there to hold her that
She hadn't been meditating for very long, really just starting, still evening her breath. Suddenly, she felt a blinding pain and then blackness surrounded her. She had awakened where she was now, tied in her kidnappers' camp, with a raging headache.
Turning to study the men that had taken her, Gabrielle's green eyes narrowed with disgust. She was surprised she hadn't smelled them before they'd gotten close enough to hit her. The first man was tall with long stringy hair that fell over his shoulders. The word that came to mind when she looked at him was long. His face, his arms, his legs, and his torso were all long and thin. He had dull blue eyes that seemed to look right through her. A reddish beard covered the lower half of his face.
The other man was the one that worried Gabrielle. He seemed to be full of anger, every now and again looking at her with complete hatred. She tried to place him, but he didn't even look familiar to her. Shorter than his companion, he was stocky in all the places the blond man was long. Meaty arms and legs gave Gabrielle a good clue as to where Eileen's bruises came from. His black hair was cut short, and his rounded face was hairless except for one long, dark eyebrow that extended over his dark brown eyes.
If Gabrielle could, she would have been kicking herself. She couldn't believe that she'd gotten herself into this situation. If only she'd been more careful, if only she'd been more aware of her surroundings! She could hear Xena's voice, full of anger, telling her just that. The anger wouldn't last long though. She understood that Xena's anger was normally a result of her feeling helpless when something happened to Gabrielle and she couldn't be there. Almost smiling, she thought of just how well she understood her warrior. Probably more than Xena knew, Gabrielle did understand her, but she didn't always agree with the warrior's methods.
Fear of what was going to happen to her welled up, causing Gabrielle's stomach to ache. She knew that having doubts would only make her feel more helpless, but she truly couldn't imagine how she was going to get out of this one. Her jaw trembled as she fought to keep her motions back and the tears from falling. Xena, I need you, she thought in her mind, hoping that somehow, some way the warrior would received the mental message. Xena will come, she reassured herself. As much as she wished she didn't have to always have Xena rescue her, it was nice to fall back on that idea when Gabrielle was in trouble.
Though deep in thought, Gabrielle was still aware of the man who'd moved closer to her prone position.
The dark haired man crouched down until he was face to face with her. Dark eyes starred at her, but she didn't look at him, fearful of what she'd see.
"You Amazons are so fucking proud," the man muttered, his face developing red splotches as his anger grew.
"Why why do you hate Amazons so much?" Gabrielle asked tentatively, hoping to keep him talking.
"You took my land! The land that's rightfully mine!" His voice grew louder as his body shook with anger. He grabbed Gabrielle's chin in a vice like grip, forcing her to look at him, painfully squeezing with his beefy hand. "MY land! You all think you can just sign some papers and take over what isn't yours! Damn you women!" Spittle flew from his mouth, splattering onto her face. He brought his other hand up, slapping Gabrielle's face fiercely. Her head snapped to the right at the force of his hit, her face growing numb. The power behind the hit had startled Gabrielle, who realized just how strong her capture was.
Her eyes narrowed as anger filled her, almost completely blocking the peace she'd tried to instill over herself. Okay, you asked for it. She looked at the red faced man and used the only defense she had against him -- words.
"Is this the only way you can get a girl to go home with you? Hitting them from behind and tying them up?" She sneered at him in disgust.
A moan from her left distracted both of them. Two bloodshot eyes opened slowly. Eileen saw her queen sitting next to her. It had been her queen's familiar voice that had drawn her out of her week stupor. "Gabrielle no " she whispered through dry, cracked lips.
A malicious grin formed on the dark haired man's face. "Gabrielle, huh? You should listen to your friend here." He stood, towering over the bard for a moment before turning to Eileen. Suddenly he delivered a vicious kick to her side. Eileen's eyes closed tightly, but she didnt cry out.
Laughing, the man turned back to Gabrielle. "See? She learned." His muscular leg dispensed another powerful kick to the Amazon warrior's ribs, and this time Gabrielle heard the distinct crush as his boot broke a rib.
Struggling against her bonds, Gabrielle wanted to break free, desperate to throw herself between the man's boot and Eileen's body.
"Leave. Her. Alone." Gabrielle hissed through clenched teeth, drawing the man's attention.
"What will you give me if I do, you little bitch?" He began to advance on her when suddenly a hand clamped on his shoulder from behind.
"We've had this discussion before." It was the gangly blonde man. It was the first time Gabrielle had heard him speak. From his voice she could tell he had been given a good education somewhere. The timbre was low and brassy, surprising for such a thin man. His voice belonged to someone more barrel chested. "You hurt them, then we have nothing to bargain with. Do you want your land or not?"
With a snarl, the shorter man backed away from Gabrielle, but she caught the dangerous glint in his black eyes. His anger and resentment ran very deep and she knew he would find restraint very hard.
Giving Gabrielle a look that lacked emotion, the blonde turned and led the other man to their fire a few hundred yards away.
Her anger simmering, Gabrielle tried to find some sort of balancing peace within her. Her usual questions of where peace ended and violence began to run through her thoughts. As she tried to focus on this internal struggle, she felt something in her heart give a tug. Immediately, she knew what that tug meant. Xena was coming for her.
Kneeling by the small pond, Xena studied the ground for any clue. She knew that Gabrielle used the pond as her place for meditation, an escape into herself aided by the calming presence of the water.
Carina searched in earnest as well. Her own love for the missing woman wouldn't allow her to do anything else. Very aware of Xena's resentment, she tried to aid the hunt for clues. It didn't matter that the woman with her had Gabrielle's heart. Carina just wanted for the bard to be safe.
Suddenly, Carina felt an intensity coming from Xena as the warrior rose from her crouched position and, staying low, began to move rapidly away. Thank Artemis! Carina thought. Xena had found whatever clue she needed.
She'd fallen asleep. A swift object making contact with her ribs woke her up with a jerk. As she started to cry out, a rough hand clamped down tightly over her mouth, forcing her to take a deep breath through her nose. The stale odor of sweat and alcohol filled every breath she took. Opening her eyes, she couldn't see anything in the darkness, but she sensed another person leaning over her. Trying to struggle, she felt her hands being released from the stake. She was lifted up onto her feet, only to have her legs swept out from under her. The impact of the ground against her body was bone jolting. She winced at the pain in her back. Her hands were retied, this time in front of her.
She attempted to find purchases on the ground with her feet. The man grabbed her by the hair and slammed her head into the ground. Her vision blurred as tears began to sting her eyes. He let go of her mouth and punched her hard on the side of the face. With another blow to her face, he bent down and whispered into her ear. "The more sound you make, the worse you'll get it bitch." His tongue reached out and licked at her ear. Instinctively she tried to turn her head away. "None of that you fucking whore. If you keep that up, your friend over there will meet Hades after a long, slow death." A loud, shrill sound burst from his lips and Gabrielle realized he was laughing.
She felt a rough hand pushing up her skirt, the fabric ripping against the abusive treatment. The cool night air invaded her as her breaches were torn off in one violent tug. No! Please no, please! her mind cried out, but she kept silent. Her thoughts went to Eileen. She couldn't see anything of the other woman in the inky darkness. What if she were already dead? It didn't matter, Gabrielle would have to surrender to this vile man on the mere possibility that she could keep Eileen alive.
Closing her eyes, she tried to block out the grubby hands that grabbed her breasts. She wouldn't let her self cry out as the man violated her body. When he took his invasion to the ultimate level of defilement, Gabrielle clenched her teeth at the pain and finally screamed out loud. "XEEEEEEEENNNNNNNAAAAAAAA!"
A powerful wave of pain hit Xena. She knew she was close. Then a voice broke the still air, a familiar voice yelling. "XEEEEEENNNNNAAAAAA!" The warrior began to run at break neck speed toward the direction the scream had come from.
"You fucking bitch!" The man yelled at Gabrielle, pulling away from her and kicking her as he pulled his pants up. A few of the blows found purchase on Gabrielle's face and she tried to turn from them. One painfully made contact with her ear. A buzzing noise filled her hearing.
Suddenly, a figure bolted through the camp, tackling the man from the side. The two figures rolled a few feet away, before they stopped. Only one person got up. Gabrielle couldn't tell who it was that was coming toward her, only able to see and hear someone coming.
"Oh gods, Gabrielle." Xena sat on her knees by the young woman, unsure how much damage had been done to her young lover's body, afraid to hurt her any more. The darkness hindered her from assessing where Gabrielle was hurt.
"My hands tied " Gabrielle was shaking uncontrollably. She knew that Xena could see in the darkness better than she could, but her mind tried to be rational, thinking that the warrior could use the help in direction.
With trembling hand Xena reached for her boot dagger. She pulled it out and swiftly cut the bonds on Gabrielle's hands. Immediately, two arms were around Xena's neck pulling her close. Responding to the young woman's need, Xena wrapped long arms around her and held her tightly for a moment before loosening her hold so not to hurt Gabrielle.
The warrior always caused many reactions inside
of Gabrielle, but one of the strongest was the sense of safety. Xena's strong arms were
around her now and she knew that her lover wouldn't let anything happen to her. Like a
soft blanket, the security that was Xena covered Gabrielle as she buried her head in the
warrior's shoulder. "I
I'm sorry Xena
" she whimpered before sobs
shook her body. Finally she could let herself go, let the emotions drain her and leave her
wasted, knowing that Xena would catch her as she fell.
"Shhh don't be sorry. There's nothing to be sorry for. Shhh it's not your fault." She whispered over and over again, rocking the woman who had somehow gotten into her arms. Xena felt her heart wrenching. "Do you think you can travel back to the village okay?" She asked as Gabrielle's sobs slowed and her body relaxed.
"Eileen " Gabrielle remembered the other Amazon. "She's hurt "
"Carina?" Xena called out, the darkness obscuring the area around them.
With a sudden brightness, the campfire was revived, throwing light over the two women. Glancing over, Xena saw Carina stoking the fire. Their eyes met, and a moment of respect passed between them.
"I'm looking after Eileen," Carina answered Xena's yet to be asked question.
Nodding, Xena looked back to her lover, her breath catching in her throat as she finally got to see the extent of the damage done to the bard. Gabrielle's face was streaked with dirt, her tears that were freely falling smearing the dirt even more, creating a ghastly image. Blood was trickling from her left ear, where mug was caked in the shape of a boot print. Her clothes were ripped, her top hanging off one shoulder, her skirt almost ripped into two pieces, only the very top had kept the skirt on the woman's hips. A dark bruise had started to form around her mouth in the shape of a hand, and other inflamed red areas were starting to turn purple where she'd been punched. All over were other marks of the brutal hands that had done the damage.
A savage anger rose within Xena, a reaction that was almost primitive. Someone had hurt someone she loved. It was as natural, defensive response to want to hurt back. To want to take the person that had caused the pain out of the equation. Her eyes gleaming in the firelight, Gabrielle reached up and put her hand to Xena's cheek. Slowly, the warrior's angry eyes focused on the woman in her lap. Two tear filled green eyes starred back at her, forcing the anger out of her in an instant. No, the anger wasn't gone, merely stifled by the love between the two women. Gabrielle needs me now
Closing her eyes, Xena took a deep breath before opening them again. She had to take care of Gabrielle before she'd be able to do anything else. "I need to determine how badly you've been hurt before I try to move you, Brie." Her voice was controlled and full of assurance, despite the fact that inside she felt like her whole world was quaking.
Nodding, Gabrielle didn't move away when Xena's strong hands began moving over body, gently pressing in various spots as she checked for damage. When two warm hands pressed carefully over her ribs, a sharp pain reminded Gabrielle of the man's large boot. "He he kicked me a few times. Hit me too. And he he " Her voice took on a far way sound, like she was distancing herself from what had happened.
Come on Xena, be strong. She needs you to be strong! Taking a deep breath, she voiced the question that scared her the most. "Did did he rape you?"
The woman in her arms stiffened, as her lips trembled. "Yes." She whispered in a tiny voice, the tears flowing from her eyes in silent reminder of what she'd been through.
A murderous rage welled in Xena as she looked at the man whom she'd knocked unconscious earlier. He was going to pay for that, and he was going to pay whatever she wanted him to. "I'll be right back," she slid the bard off her lap.
"NO! Don't leave me here." Gabrielle tried to get to her feet, the pain in her lower abdomen causing her to buckle. A strong arm reached out and grabbed her under the elbow. With Xena's help, she stood, her legs shaking as they took on her weight.
Gabrielle's hand shook as she took a hold of Xena's forearm. She desperately needed to feel Xena, the strength of the dark haired woman soothing her fear.
Despite her desire to twist the unconscious man's neck until it snapped in her hands, Xena stayed with Gabrielle, her eyes never leaving the woman's trembling form.
"Xena?" Carina's voice broke into her murderous thoughts. "Others are here."
Others? Xena turned again and saw a dozen Amazon warriors surrounding them, some of the carrying various supplies. "I don't know how you got here, or why you're here, and at the moment I don't care." She saw their horses behind them, litters attached to the horses' harnesses. "We need to get these two to the healer now."
Quickly the Amazons worked to prepare two litters, each with blankets and furs to make the two women as comfortable as possible. Xena took one of the blankets and covered Gabrielle. Sweeping her into her arms, Xena carried her to one of the litters. Laying her down gently, she carefully smoothed the hair off Gabrielle's forehead. "You're safe now. You need to see the healer." Receiving a nod in response, she started to turn away.
"Please don't leave me Xena," the soft voice made the warrior turn back around. Looking into the eyes of her lover she saw the fear there. Gabrielle needed her. "Come with me." The final request made Xena's decision for her.
Kneeling down, she took Gabrielle's hand in her own. "I'll be right back and then I'll go with you, okay?" Before she got an answer, Xena turned and called out. "Solari! Come here."
The tall Amazon immediately went to Xena's side. "Stay with Gabrielle for a minute, okay?"
"Absolutely." Solari crouched next to the liter, assuming a protective demeanor.
Finding Schlappa, Xena quietly approached her. "You need to take care of that bastard over there. We need to know what his motives are. As soon as you have that information, make sure that he pays for what he's done. I don't know if there were any others, but I know he hurt Gabrielle." Her fierce tone belied her anger as much as the savage expression on her face.
"I'll see to him," a second voice spoke up before Schlappa could agree. The voice was just as murderous as Xena's, startling the two women. Turning, Xena once again found herself facing Carina. "I'll make sure he's taken care of," she snarled, looking at the still form on the ground.
Hesitating, Xena realized that this woman probably understood her anger better than any of the others. Although it was tormenting Xena that she wouldn't be able to take out her vengeance on the son of a bitch, she knew that he needed to be dealt with outside of the village. If he were brought back and put on trial, Gabrielle would have to relive her pain over and over again. Damning Amazon law, Xena wasn't about to let that happen to her lover. She looked at Carina and knew instinctively the woman understood that as well. Giving the woman a curt nod, Xena walked back to the litter and didn't look back.
The litter was big enough that Xena could climb on next to Gabrielle without jarring the woman. Solari climbed onto the horse it was attached to and looked back. "Ready?"
"Go," Xena replied.
The horse took off, his pace swift and steady. As they made their way home, Gabrielle turned and laid her head against the warrior's chest. A strong arm went around her and she let her body relax.
"Xena, can't we just go back to our hut? You can take care of me," Gabrielle's weary voice floated to Xena's ear. They were almost to the village and so far they'd both been silent, the air broken only by the sound of the horses hooves on the ground and his breath in the air.
The sun was peeking out into the eastern sky, blushing the dark night with a gentle purple hue.
Lying in Xena's arms, Gabrielle could almost
forget that anything had happened. But then her thoughts would recall the sound of the man
grunting over her, his harsh words about how he'd kill Eileen if she didn't stay quiet.
When she finally screamed out Xena's name, it had been a desperate measure to let her
lover know where she was. She had felt Xena's presence near them, out in the woods, and
she'd sensed the frantic warrior was looking for her.
While her body hurt from the abuse it had endured, Gabrielle's heart hurt even more. She was ashamed of what had happened, despite the fact that she kept telling herself over and over that it wasn't her fault. It had still happened to her, she'd been violated, and she still felt the shame from that. At first she'd been afraid to look at Xena, afraid of the anger she thought for a split second she might see there. But, her lover had looked at her with nothing but love and compassion.
Kissing the top of Gabrielle's head, Xena made smoothing noises. "We need to take you to the healer, Brie. I want to make sure that I don't miss anything that could put you in danger."
Sighing, Gabrielle shook her head. "I don't want to see anyone, please Xena?"
"Brie, I don't want to lose you because I miss something, and I don't trust myself right now to be as attentive to the wounds as I normally am. Please let me take you to the healer?" She tried the one tactic that she thought would work the best. "For me?"
Snuggling closer to the larger woman's body, Gabrielle silently nodded.
When they finally reached the village, there were Amazons everywhere, waiting for their return. The horses pulling the litters stopped in front of the healer's hut. Xena rose immediately and carefully carried Gabrielle into the large, spacious hut. Tristian, the healer elder was ready for them, a dozen or so of her best women all ready to do the older woman's bidding. Steering Xena to another room off the main one, Tristian started calling out orders based on merely the sight of Gabrielle.
What made Tristian capable of the position of healer elder was the way she handled her team of healers. She directed them in a quiet voice, which you had to listen very carefully to hear. Every command was really a request that she made, and no one wanted to deny her anything. Her long robe covered her from head to foot and gave her a quiet dignity, which, combined with her irresistible charisma, made her an excellent leader as well as caregiver.
Stepping up to the side of the bed where Xena had laid Gabrielle, Tristian took the bard's hand in her own. "I'm more used to healing this one," she used a quick movement of her chin to indicate Xena, who was standing on the other side of the bed. "I have a feeling you'll be a much better patient than she is."
As she spoke to the bard, her hands began to travel up arms and legs, prodding her ribs gently with a warm hand. Xena's eyes watched as the healer never let her voice stop its gentle cadence, which seemed to calm the bard.
"Well, hon, nothing seems to be broken, although I think you're ribs especially are badly bruised. Your ear will need to be looked after, but I don't think that there's anything that rest and care won't heal. I do need to ask you some personal questions though." The healer's light brown eyes met Xena's, conveying exactly what kind of questions she was going to ask.
Taking the bard's other hand, Xena looked into the woman's tired eyes. "Do you want me to stay? I could go away for a little bit if you want?" While she didn't ever want to leave the woman's side again, she needed to give the offer of privacy. Gabrielle needed to know that she had a choice. The possibility did exist that Gabrielle's choices could alter both their lives forever.
Squeezing the long hand, Gabrielle looked at the woman she loved. "Please stay." As ashamed as she was, she knew that Xena didn't blame her and that Xena still loved her. Her two biggest worries were put to ease by the warrior's reassurance. Recognizing that readjusting to life, living with what had happened wasn't going to be easy, she knew that she needed Xena with her every step of the way.
Looking at the two women, Tristian gave the sight a gentle smile. While she often saw love and what it could accomplish, she'd never seen anything this powerful in her life span. It could be felt, like heat, radiating off the two women in waves, affecting anyone who got close to them.
"Please, go ahead Tristian," Gabrielle whispered, her eyes never leaving Xena's. The amazing confidence grew in her as she fed off Xena's own strength.
"I'm going to get right to the point," the older woman said briskly, but with a great deal of warmth. It was unpleasant, and all three women knew that. "Were you raped?"
"Yes," came Gabrielle's soft reply, her hand tightening around Xena's hand.
"I need to look, hon. I'll try to be swift about it." Receiving a nod, she proceeded to use a small knife to cut away what was left of Gabrielle's skirt. With careful precision, she made her examination. Finishing, she pulled a blanket up, covering the bard.
"Well?" Gabrielle looked at her, and the look the healer got from Xena echoed the question.
"There's extensive bruising that will take a few moons to heal. Cold compresses will help with that, although you'll be uncomfortable for awhile. How long ago was your last bleeding?"
"Uh, three-quarters of a moon. I was expecting it again soon." Gabrielle looked fearful as she realized what that could mean.
Nodding, Tristian looked a little sad as she acknowledged that they were going to have to watch for signs of pregnancy. "We'll bind your ribs for a week or so, letting them heal. Also, the bruising around your breasts and neck will take some time. Again, cold compresses will help with that." Patting Gabrielle's hand lightly, she smiled. "Mostly what you need right now, hon, is rest and lots of it." She looked at the imposing form of Gabrielle's lover and winked. "I think that this one can take care of you rather well, so I will let you go with her today. However, I want you to report into me on a regular basis, Xena. We need to keep an eye on things."
Nodding solemnly, Xena was grateful that she could take Gabrielle back to their hut today. It would be easier for Gabrielle to rest in their own bed.
"What about Eileen?" Voicing her concern, she looked the healer in the eyes for the first time since her arrival.
"Take this," she held out a cup of warm herbs. "Stay here for a minute and I'll go check on her right now. I assigned three healers to her. She had extensive bruising and more than a few broken bones. Let me go check and see if I can tell you something more specific." The healer closed the door behind her, leaving the two lovers along.
Their eyes met. Both of them had so much they wanted to say. Gabrielle was having trouble keeping her eyes open, the herbal mixture Tristian had given her making her sleepy. The pain of her body was slowly backing off, diffused by the medication, which would temporarily keep the pain from being an issue. It would take many more doses of the herbal tea before Gabrielle could do without. But for now, it was working its magic. The only pain that it couldn't help with was the pain inside her. The pain caused by the shock, disgust, and shame of the event. The pain at the compromise of her safety, the knowledge that she'd been unable to protect herself. It was all whirling through her head, troubling her thoughts without effort.
"I love you," Xena said steadily. The words had worked once to soothe, but she didn't know if love would be a big enough safety net for this new problem.
The three words touched Gabrielle, warming the cockles of her soul. While she hadn't followed Xena to find love, love had found her, sweeping her off her feet. For a long time, she had loved Xena secretly, dreaming of what it would be like if the warrior returned her love. But the dream didn't come close to the array of emotion and warmth that came with the mere knowledge that Xena did love her. Not to mention the awe-inspiring sensation she felt when they were together now. Like some invisible line had been crossed, and not that it had, new melange of emotions were open to them.
Xena watched as Gabrielle seemed to be deep in thought, grinning inwardly as a warm smile slowly grew on her lover's face. It lit Xena's world with a dazzling light.
"I love you too," Gabrielle said, her eyes slowly sliding shut.
The door opened quietly and Tristian entered. Both of the room's occupants looked up, the same question written on both their faces.
"Well, she has several broke ribs. Her shoulder was dislocated and a few fingers were broken. From the prints on them, I'd say they were either kicked or stepped on. It could have been that they were broken while she tried to block a blow. Apparently, she woke up for a bit but was unconscious again by the time I saw her. She's in a lot of pain and has a nasty concussion from being hit in the head repeatedly." She looked at Gabrielle with a soft smile. "And, of course, she sports a number of bruises over her ribs, face, and arms like this one here." Sighing, Tristian sat down heavily in a corner chair. "It's one thing to heal the fighters after a battle, but this kind of individual abuse is just disconcerting." Shaking her head as if to rid herself of thoughts that she didn't want, the healer looked at Xena. "You should probably get her a warm bath before she lays down. Make sure everything is cleaned well, then put her to bed for a while."
Both women looked at the bard who had started to lightly snore. "What did you give her?" Xena asked curiously.
Chuckling, the healer got up and gave Xena's shoulder a pat. "Something very strong. She needs sleep and I wanted to make sure that her own thoughts or dreams weren't going to keep that from happening." The soft day light that filtered through the window emphasized Gabrielle's bruised features. "Take good care of her, Xena. The next moon or so will not be easy for her."
"I know," the warrior replied quietly.
"Be patient with her." With that, the
Looking at her snoring lover, Xena soothed back the hair that had fallen onto Gabrielle's forehead. "Little One, it's not going to be easy. I hope you remember that I love you and that I'm not letting you go." Bending down, she kissed the dirty forehead and then lifted the woman up, cradling her body against her. Stepping outside, she saw that it was mid-afternoon already. Two choices were available. Making a quick decision, Xena headed toward the outskirts of the village
Hands were on her body, touching her, Gabrielle realized as her mind began to wake up. A sick feeling invaded her gut, and with a terrific yell, she attempted to jump up and away from the hands in question.
"Shhhh it's okay Brie, it's just me. We need to get you cleaned up." A familiar voice spoke to her gently, the low sound calming Gabrielle's mind.
"Xena?" Her body ridged, ready to try to get away, Gabrielle wanted to make sure this wasn't a trick of some kind.
"Yeah, Im right here baby. Tristian
said to get you cleaned up before you went to bed." They were standing in the hot
springs at the edge of the Amazon village. Xena held Gabrielle's naked body in her arms
lightly as she used a soap and cloth to wash the dirt and grime off her lover.
"Tristian gave you something to sleep, and you wouldn't open your eyes when I tried
to wake you up."
Gabrielle's eyes were open now, peering at her lover. "Sorry, I guess I'm just jumpy." She felt strange, her reaction so unlike her. Memories came flooding back and she felt the aches and pains of her body.
"Do you want me to wash your hair?" Xena let go of Gabrielle, allowing her to stand on her own, not wanting the bard to feel trapped.
Flashes of the man grabbing her hair and then slamming her head against the ground invaded her mind. She felt like her abdomen was going to collapse as she fought for breath, the painful memories hitting her in rapid secession. As she stumbled, a familiar voice called to her, a hand went around her waist, but Gabrielle quickly twisted away. "No," she whispered harshly before whirling around and losing what was in her stomach.
Tears welled in Xena's eyes as she watched her lover retch over the edge of the water. Waves and waves of pain hit her and it took her a minute to realize that she was receiving them from Gabrielle. Not my sweet Gabrielle Xena's heart ached as she thought about the woman that was so dear to her going through all of this. The pain, the memories, it would change anyone, and even though Gabrielle was strong, this would either push her to the edge, or make her stronger.
"Xena?" A tired voice called out the warrior who was deep in her own thoughts. Gabrielle had sat on the natural rock ledge found in the water and was curled up in a ball.
Slowly, Xena approached the woman, not wanting to scare her. "You okay?"
Tears started to fall in large drops from Gabrielle's eyes. "Im so sorry, I didn't mean "
Stopping in front of the woman, Xena knelt down so that she was face to face with her. A shaking hand reached to feel the soft contours of Gabrielle's face. "I know. It's okay. We'll get through this, I promise."
A heavy sight fell from Gabrielle's lips as she let her head drop and rest on Xena's shoulder.
"Can I hold you?" The warrior asked uncertainly.
"Hold me forever, Xena." The muffled voice came from her shoulder. Not hesitating, Xena reached around and pulled Gabrielle's body to her gently, wrapping her arms around the woman and holding her securely against her.
"I promise," the warrior whispered.
After they had finished in the springs, Xena
carried Gabrielle back to their hut. Protesting at first about being carried, Gabrielle
was nonetheless very glad for Xena's physical presence. She thought that maybe that alone
would keep the demons of the past day from creeping into her life.
Settling the bard in the huge bed, Xena began to prepare a spot on the floor for herself.
"What are you doing?" Gabrielle's sleep laden voice floated to Xena's ears like the wind was actually speaking to her.
"Uh, I thought I'd sleep on the floor for awhile." She didn't want to push Gabrielle in anyway, not wanting to make her feel uncomfortable. Quite the opposite, she was going to devote herself to making the woman very comfortable. Truthfully though, she desperately wanted to enfold the smaller woman in her arms and protect her with her body alone, if need be. She'd willing give herself up to any torture thinkable if it meant keeping the bard safe.
"Do you not want to sleep with me anymore?" A tiny voice came from the bed, tearing at Xena's heart with its sadness.
Sitting carefully on the edge of the bed, Xena quickly tried to reassure her bard. "No, it's not that, Brie. I just don't want to make you uncomfortable or do anything that could hurt you." She shrugged. "I just figured you'd be better off without me jostling you through the night."
"I don't care if you end up laying on top of me." Gabrielle's voice was stronger now that she realized that Xena wasn't trying to distance herself. "I .I need you to be close, Xena." And Gabrielle was willing to beg if that meant that the warrior would share her bed.
Giving the other woman a tiny grin as she slid beneath the covers, Xena replied, "I don't think you have to worry about me rolling on top of you."
Turning onto her side so that her back was to Xena, she had one more request as her eyes started to close. "Could you hold me, please?"
Since there was nothing she wanted more, Xena spooned her body around Gabrielle's, her breasts against the other woman's back, her arm over Gabrielle's waist. The body in front of her scooted back so that there was no room between the two women. Soon, Gabrielle's body once again submitted to the effect of Tristian's medicine, falling into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Xena, as tired as she was, couldn't fall to sleep
right away. Her mind was on the woman she held, the precious love that they shared, and
what their future would be. As much as Xena wanted to just let her mind shut down so that
she could rest, she couldn't. Too much was at stake here. Her heart was too invested.
The fact that Gabrielle had not yet seemed to realize the full extent of what had happened the night before wasn't usual. But Xena was afraid of the moment that Gabrielle realized what had happened. She would need to be there for that, and it could take place at anytime. That meant not letting Gabrielle out of her sight until it happened, and then being there while Gabrielle went through the emotions that were bound to come -- first the shame, followed by anger, and then sadness. Xena knew the emotions well, having experienced them more than once during the first year after she'd picked up the sword.
But why did Gabrielle have to experience that? Gabrielle, who was so much more pure, so much more innocent than Xena had ever been. Why should a woman like that have to be put through such a painful experience?
Xena felt her own anger begin to build. The bard must have sensed it on some level because she pushed her back against Xena's chest and whimpered slightly. The sight of her adorable, vulnerable lover in her arms washed away the anger, leaving her feeling grateful that she could still have this woman in her life, in her arms, and that she hadn't been taken from her.
You are completely gone for this woman, Xena. She silently chastised herself. Looking at the woman in question, Xena studied the smooth contours of her skin, the way her cheekbones shaped her face, and the chin that could be pointed in such stubbornness that it made Xena want to throw her over her shoulder and ride off with her. How did she ever get past the careful defenses Xena put up? I don't know, but I don't know what I'd do without her.
Xena had learned long ago that loving and being loved could hurt you worse than any wound you ever got from carrying a sword. Rather than carrying her heart open, she carried her sword open and her heart blocked by anger and fury. Now, she found her heart laid out for this woman, completely open to her.
Love still hurts, Xena realized. It was completely painful to see the object of her love hurting, almost like the pain was her own. It is mine, she thought, knowing that as long as the bard was her life, anything that happened to Gabrielle happened to her too.
Realizing that went both ways, Xena finally closed her eyes, letting the warmth of the woman she held invade her until she had no choice but to succumb completely to the need to sleep and restore her body before dealing with what the next day would bring.
As her mind slowly lifted from the drug induced haze, Gabrielle jolted awake when her mind conjured up the image of a heavy man standing over her. For a brief moment she fought to get to her feet, before she realized she was in her hut in the Amazon village. As the relief washed over her, she began to feel an immense amount of pain from all over her body. Moaning, she turned onto her side, only to find a warm body right next to her.
Xena was lying on her back, one arm thrown over her head. Her face was smooth with sleep and soft snores came from her mouth. It was a relief to find that the warrior had not left her during the night. Moving closer to the sleeping woman, Gabrielle put her head on the closest shoulder and nestled in. The pain in her body was intense, but it was also a reminder of the fact that she was alive and well. Alive is good I think. Over all she felt very washed out. Like someone had washed her in extreme emotions and feelings and then rinsed her off. The residue of those emotions clung to her, but she was mentally and physically too tired to deal with them.
As her thoughts continued she didn't catch the flutter of delicate eyelashes, or the smooth eyelids that blinked open to reveal two sleepy, but brilliant blue eyes.
"Hey," a warm voice broke into Gabrielle's thoughts. The bard jumped away from the voice, and away from the warm body she had been nestled against. Her body tensed, ready to fly off the bed in a sudden fearful reaction.
"Gods, Xena " She laid her head back down resting close to, but not on Xena. Her voice trailed off as her gaze took a distant look. How long was she going to be afraid? "I'm sorry," she finished, turning her head away from the intense stare she was receiving from the other woman.
"It's okay," the warrior replied quietly, meaning it completely. Time Xena, it'll take time. She turned and looked out the window, noting from the amount of day light she saw that it was still early morning. "How'd you sleep?"
Bringing a hand up and turning it side to side, Gabrielle frowned. "Okay, I guess." Truthfully, she'd slept through the night, but didn't feel like it had done her exhausted body any good.
Sitting up, Xena lifted her arms over her head, clasping them together, and stretched her back and shoulders. Out of habit, Gabrielle watched the long woman's muscles ripple as she stretched them. She felt an ache in side of her which seemed to almost be a longing for something she'd lost. But I haven't lost her, right? She couldn't understand the feeling that was pervading her with a sense of despair. Tears filled her eyes. She desperately wanted to appear brave to the warrior, not wanting Xena to see her as weak. Again she turned away, not wanting her lover to see her tears.
But she didn't manage to escape the older woman's sharp eyes. Inwardly, Xena sighed. It hurt her heart to see the internal fight Gabrielle was going through. Her arms twitched, wanting to grab the woman up and encircle her in her arms and love so that nothing could ever hurt her again. Instead, she cleared her throat and made an effort to move the day forward. "Do you want something to eat? I'll go get breakfast?"
"I'm not really hungry," the bard murmured.
"Brie, you've got to eat. Please?" She caught the bard's green eyes with her own, pleading silently for the woman not to fight her on this.
Looking at her hands which were resting on her chest, Gabrielle nodded, picking at the blanket which covered her.
"That's my bard," Xena gave her a smile as she got up. Wiggling into her leathers, she left, barefooted, to get their food.
The moment Xena's physical presence was gone, a sudden sensation of fear permeated Gabrielle. She sat up trying to bury the fear, knowing that she was actually safe and had nothing to fear. You thought you were safe two days ago. A voice inside of her whispered. And look what happened. Was there really such a thing as being totally safe?
A knock on the outside of the hut slammed Gabrielle out of her thoughts. She gave a small shriek when familiar head poked inside.
"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," Ephiny said softly. "Can I come in?"
Automatically, Gabrielle relied on the manners she'd been brought up on. "Sure," she pulled the covers off her legs and then swung her legs around so that they were dangling off the side of the bed. She started to try to stand.
"Hey, don't get up, you're supposed to take it easy," Ephiny came in slowly. As she approached the bed, she kept her eyes on Gabrielle's green eyes, rather than taking in the darkening bruises that covered the woman's skin. "I didn't come by the healer's hut last night," apologizing, Ephiny gave her a little smile. "I figured you didn't need me getting all worried over you. Xena probably had that department covered." She watched for a reaction from Gabrielle, but didn't get one. "Tristian came out and told those of us milling around that you would be okay and that we should all go home cause we sure as Zeus weren't going to see you then!" She gave a soft chuckle. "After you and Xena left, I went and spent some time with Eileen. I just didn't want you to think I didn't care since I didn't come by." She shrugged. "I just didn't want to get in the way. I know how Xena reacts when you get hurt."
Gabrielle looked at her friend, taking in the soft words and the underlying concern that Ephiny was showing by letting her have her space. "Thanks." Once again the never ending tears formed in her eyes. "Oh Ephiny," she cried as the sobs overtook her.
Quickly sitting on the bed next to Gabrielle, the acting Amazon Queen put an arm around the sobbing woman's shoulders, drawing her close. With the other hand she smoothed the woman's hair. "It's okay Gabrielle, let it out. Just let it all out."
At those words, a flood gate was opened as the
tears blurred her eyes. She couldn't stop the bitter crying and the loud moans that came
from her as she thought about what had happened to her. Bile rose in her throat as she
thought about everything that man had taken away from her. "It's not fair!" She
cried out through the body racking sobs. "Why me?" The pain in her heart seemed
to explode, travelling through her body, a soaring ache that filled her completely,
leaving her finger tips numb as her mind grasped for a way to accept what she'd gone
Xena came back with a tray in her strong arms. She stopped at the door as she heard Gabrielle's crying and the soft sound of someone comforting her. A wave of jealously went through her. She knew it was irrational, but she felt upset that Gabrielle was crying to someone else, when she wouldn't even let Xena see her cry. She should be the one Gabrielle cries to, the one Gabrielle talks to, not someone else. Taking a deep breath, she rationalized. More than likely, it was Ephiny in there with her since the acting Queen had stopped Xena on her way to get food, asking about Gabrielle. And she knew that Ephiny and Gabrielle were very good friends. I wonder if they were ever Stop it Xena! Her thoughts were totally inappropriate. She shouldn't be jealous and she shouldn't be worried about losing Gabrielle to someone else. You're the one who failed to protect her. It's your fault she was hurt, it's your fault she was raped by that pig fucking bastard.
Anger at herself filled the warrior. The small voice inside of her was right. It was her fault that Gabrielle had gotten hurt. She should have been there, but she wasn't. She had failed her lover and her friend who relied on her to keep her safe.
Taking another deep breath, Xena slowly pushed aside the curtain that hung in the doorway of the hut. The sight of her lover, completely submitting to the pain she was feeling, ripped through Xena. She gasped slightly, causing the other two women to turn in surprise.
Quickly, Gabrielle sat up and wiped her tears away, trying to rid herself of any sign of distress. Ephiny silently watched as the bard did this, an uneasy feeling coming over her. She didn't understand why Gabrielle was hiding it from Xena, or what her purpose was. Something to figure out, that's for damn sure. Ephiny thought to herself. Pretending that she hadn't observed Gabrielle's strange actions, she turned to where Xena was standing in the doorway.
The warrior's tan face had an ashen tinge to it. Her mouth was set into a firm line, seeming to be a sign of anger, but Ephiny was unsure where the anger was aimed. "Hi Xena," she said brightly, trying to diffuse the tension that had instantly found its way into the room.
Slowly, two cerulean eyes focused on Ephiny. "Hey Eph," she said, her voice low and tight. Putting down the tray, Xena glanced at Gabrielle and then looked away from a moment. "Everyone from the cooking tent said to say hi. They gave me a fresh loaf of nutbread they baked for you, extra honey in it." She lifted the lid off the tray, trying to put her anger and her hurt behind her.
"Well, I'm going to get going." Ephiny stood up from her position on the bed. "If you two need anything, you know how to get me. I'll be back tomorrow at the latest to gossip with you, Gabrielle," she winked at the bard, getting a faint smile in return. "Xena, can I see you outside for a moment?" She said in a soft voice.
Shrugging, Xena left the food and the tray where it was and followed the other woman out of the hut. When Ephiny stopped, Xena did too, waiting as the Amazon faced her, a sympathetic look on her face. "You love her, right Xena?"
"What kind of stupid question is that?" Xena's eyes narrowed as she felt her anger boil near the surface.
"It's a yes or a no question." She replied firmly, not willing to back down just because Xena had anger she needed to expend.
"Yes, I love her, Ephiny, you know that! Along with half this village!" She raised her hand in a jerky gesture to show the surrounding village.
Ephiny regarded her friend quietly. "What are you so angry at, Xena?"
"What makes you think I'm angry?" She shouted loudly, causing a few Amazons nearby to stop their activities and stare at the warrior. Xena's rage wouldn't allow her to see that though.
"Your anger won't help Gabrielle. So, maybe you should think about which means more to you, keeping your rage burning, or loving Gabrielle!" Ephiny quickly moved till she was chest to chest with Xena, her face looking up into the slightly taller woman's face. "Because let me tell you, there are plenty of us here who would gladly give up anything to get the chance of loving her!"
Narrowing her eyes at the Regent, Xena spoke in a snarled voice. "Then what's stopping you?"
"Dammit, she can't love us back! That's what!" She thumped the warrior on the chest. "She loves you so much that she doesn't have room to even think about loving us like that. She is so consumed with you that she only gives us a glance. Can't you see that?"
The anger drained from Xena's body instantaneously. Her face dropped as the anger left it, her shoulders slumping in defeat. "What do I do, Ephiny? How can I help her when I can't get over my own feelings?" A lone tear left Xena's eye, traveling down her cheek until it reached her chin where it hung for a brief moment.
"Do you love her enough Xena?" This time Ephiny asked it gently, aware that she'd finally gotten through to the other woman.
"Yes," Xena whispered. "I love her
so much it hurts, Ephiny. I feel her, constantly, in here," she tapped against her
"Then you need to let go of the anger, and you need to be there in whatever capacity she needs you." She stepped forward and wrapped both arms around the warrior. "She loves you so much, you know that don't you? She has so much love for you in her heart, that this is killing her. The fear, the knowledge that you might leave her behind and go on with you life because she can't face her own fears. She's scared, Xena."
"I am too," the warrior sniffed for a
moment before straightening up. "I love her Ephiny, don't doubt that, please."
"I don't, old woman. I just wanted you to
see it yourself." Ephiny gave her a tight squeeze before letting her go. "You'd
better get back in there. I'm sure she heard every word we just said." She grinned.
"Not to mention the rest of the village."
Rolling her eyes, Xena sighed. "Like I could forget how things travel with your tribe, Eph. One little bellow and the next thing you know, I've tried to take your life."
Laughing, Ephiny looked at the curious women who were pretending to be busy while they kept an eye on the two women. Clearing her throat, she said in a loud voice "Xena DID NOT try to kill me!!! We are good friends. All is okay!" The echoes of her voice rang back to them. She looked back at Xena who's mouth was pursed, her eyebrow lifted in a perfect arch. Cracking a smile at the taller woman, she watched as Xena's face relaxed and she reflected Ephiny's smile with one of her own. "That should keep the rumors down for a little while," she said with a shrug.
"Thanks Ephiny." Xena said quietly.
"That's what friends are for, Xena." The Regent patted Xena's shoulder before turning and heading away.
Taking a deep breath, Xena turned toward the entrance of the hut she shared with Gabrielle. As she walked through the hut's entrance, her eyes immediately focused on her lover. The bard was curled into a ball on the bed, completely still except for the rise and fall of her side as she breathed. Maybe she's asleep, Xena thought, hoping that she hadn't heard what had been said outside.
"I'm sorry Xena," a small voice came from the bed.
Crossing over, Xena sat gingerly on the bed. "What are you sorry for?" She asked gently.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Never mind," she whispered.
"No Gabrielle, I want you to tell me what you're sorry for. I want to help you, but I don't know how if you won't tell me what you're feeling." Xena keep her voice soft, and without realizing it, tender emotion seeped from her measured tone.
Raising her head from its position on the bed, Gabrielle's tear filled eyes focused on the form of her lover.
"Why can't you cry in front of me?" Heartbreak was heard this time, as Xena spoke. It hurt her badly that Gabrielle wouldn't let her help.
"I I just can't," Gabrielle's voice quaked. "Xena I'm afraid."
Without hesitating, Xena gathered the smaller woman in her arms, holding her close, rocking her as she tried to qualm both of their fears.
"Gabrielle, I need to tell you something," Xena spoke after they'd sat together for some time. Neither one saying anything, both finding strength in the other woman's close proximity. "I am so angry."
Fear struck at Gabrielle's heart, searing through her chest. "Xena, I "
"Shh, let me finish. I have so much anger directed at that man who dared touch you. But, more than that, I'm angry with myself." Pausing, Xena studied the face of the woman in her arms. Tears had left streaks on her skin, a salty path leading from her eyes off her face. The usually clear green eyes were red from the crying and the lack of sleep. Large, dark circles formed around her eyes, giving her a haunted look. "But, as Ephiny so kindly reminded me, I need to get over that anger. You need me more. I can deal with that anger later." She took one of Gabrielle's hands in her own, kissing the palm gently. "I love you."
Once again tears seemed to fall from Gabrielle's eyes. "I love you too," was all she said as she burrowed her head in Xena's warm leathers, letting the comforting smell of her lover surround her.
"Hey, don't fall asleep before you've gotten some food in your stomach," Xena chided gently. Thanks to her long arms, she was able to reach the food tray without disrupting the precious woman in her lap. Grabbing the nut bread, she broke off a piece and offered it to Gabrielle, then took a piece for herself. They munched in silence, only broken when Xena reached for the waterskin on the tray.
Before long, with Xena's gently coaxing, the bread was gone. Her eyes heavy with sleep, Gabrielle couldn't keep them open anymore. Finally, she submitted to her body's demands and fell into a restless sleep.
Realizing that Gabrielle was sleeping, Xena
carefully shifted so that she could gently lower the woman onto the bed. When her arms
slid from underneath the bard, Gabrielle made soft mewing noises, and then snuggled into
Straightening, Xena decided she'd take the tray back to the food tent and then come back and stay with the bard.
Outside of the hut were two guards, who hadn't been there before.
"Why are you two here?" The warrior asked, her eyes narrowing. Does someone thing my incapable of defending Gabrielle? She thought to herself.
Aware of Xena's anger and reputation, the guard on the right lowered her eyes. "Ephiny told us to stay here. She said she wanted Gabrielle to know that she's completely safe."
"Even if you're not here." The guard on the left piped up. She wasn't afraid of Xena, although she did respect the warrior. Ever the cheeky one, she grinned at the tall warrior, surprised when she received a dazzling grin in return. Xena did wonder if there was another reason for the guards, but decided she'd ask Ephiny herself rather than grilling the guards.
"I'm going to go take this back," Xena lifted the empty tray into the air. "Then I need to find Ephiny. I should return after that. If Gabrielle needs anything at all, find me." Eyeing both guards seriously, she waited as they nodded in agreement before turning to go.
Dropping the food tray off at the food tent, Xena went find the acting queen. After searching a few places, Xena found the woman at the training ground. She approached quietly, waiting for the woman to notice her. When she did, she trotted over to where Xena was standing.
"Why the guards?" Xena asked quietly, without anger. She wasn't angry, but she needed to know if there was any reason to expect further threats to Gabrielle.
"I thought she'd feel better to know that there were armed guards out there, in case you needed to leave for any reason." Ephiny tilted her head toward Xena. "Like you are now."
Nodding, Xena took a deep breath hearing that Ephiny had repeated what the guards had already told her. Trusting that the Amazon Queen would tell her if there were any other reason, she let herself relax a bit. It was a good idea, after all. "Why did you send those Amazons after us that night?"
Ephiny's eyebrows came together as she tried to sort out why she had done that. "I'm not sure. I just didn't have a good feeling about it." She shrugged.
"Whatever the reason, I was never so glad to see an Amazon as I was then. Thank you." She clapped Ephiny on her shoulder. "Did Carina come back?"
"She came back that morning and went straight to the healer's hut to ask about Gabrielle."
Again Xena felt that irrepressible wave of jealousy wash over her. "But you'd already taken her away, so she stayed with Eileen until she woke up." Her eyes twinkling, the Regent gave Xena a smile. "She hasn't left Eileen's bedside since."
"She wouldn't tell me what happened to the man that hurt Gabrielle though. She said he wouldn't be hurting anyone ever again." Ephiny was silent for a minute. They both realized that Carina's defiance to tell her acting Queen what she had done was something she could be punished for, if Ephiny decided to pursue the matter. "I let it go. I don't really care what she did to him, so long as it's been taken care of."
Taking a deep breath, she continued. "Amazon law states that the man should have been given a trial before death, but I think in the end this was best. If that man had come into this village, there would have been more than one Amazon and one warrior who would have wanted his blood then and there. I support what Carina has done, and if anyone sees fit to bring it to the council's attention, I will support her there as well."
Nodding slowly, Xena realized what her friend was saying, but she still wished she had been the one to spill his blood. After what he had done to Gabrielle .she took a deep breath. "He deserved anything he got," Xena said harshly. "Im going to go talk to Carina. Where can I find her."
"Eileen's still at the healer's hut, so I'd try there."
"Thanks," Xena said, walking away. Ephiny turned back to her sparring partner and resumed their practice.
It was dark. She couldn't move her arms, and her legs hurt desperately. Since she couldn't see, she tried to focus on her other senses. Calming her breath and heartbeat, she was able to discern someone else was close to her. Breathing could be heard that contrasted with her own. Silent movement all around her led her to believe that the other person was not still and seemed to be moving in circles around her. She tried to call out, but her mouth wouldn't open. Fear invaded every sense as the indication of danger hit her in full waves. Her mind cried out for Xena, her heart pounding hard in her chest. Struggling against her bonds, she tried to get away, tried to run from the danger that she perceived was looking for her.
Finally, she let out a long, loud, piercing scream. When she woke up she was still screaming, the sound echoing all around her.
As Ephiny had said, Carina was in the healer's tent, sitting in a chair next to Eileen's bed. The two women were talking quietly, Eileen's responses slowed because of the swelling in her face. Xena watched for a moment, noticing that neither woman seemed aware of what was happening around them totally absorbed in their conversation.
Approaching, Xena cleared her throat. Two sets of eyes immediately focused on her. Carina stood up, extending her hand. Grasping the woman's forearm with her hand, Xena shook the offered hand, a sign that they had reached an understanding.
"I wanted to ask you about what happened after I left." Xena got to the point, not wanting to be away from Gabrielle for too long.
"I did what you would have done." The warrior shrugged, her eyes focused on Xena's face. "I killed him and left him as a warning to anyone else who comes across him with the same ideas. I found the body of another man not far from the camp, a knife sticking out of his chest. My conclusion was that the man we saw killed this other man, then went and hurt Gabrielle." She choked over the last words, finding it hard to even think about it, much less talk of it.
Nodding, Xena was satisfied with that answer. Her fury wanted details of how she killed him, but she knew that wouldn't help calm her restless anger.
"How's Gabrielle?" A soft voice came from the bed. Eileen looked at Xena, her green eyes bright, despite the discoloring of her face. Concern laced her voice, which was horse, but discernable.
"She's doing well," Xena's normally strong cadence was softer than normal.
Eileen's eyes narrowed, a troubled look coming over her face. "I I tried to warn her that man he was crazed, Xena, crazy with anger. I tried, but I couldn't do anything, I couldn't protect her!" Gentle sobs came over the woman as she remembered the way her Queen valiantly tried to escape her bonds so that she could prevent the man from hurting her more. Eileen had always wanted to be a part of the Queen's royal guard, ever since she was little and saw them first at the crowning of Melosa. It was a honor that she hadn't yet achieved. When she had realized that her Queen had been kidnapped too, she desperately wanted to protect her, to serve her Queen and keep her from all harm. But, she had failed.
Tears filled Xena's eyes briefly as she heard the young Amazon say all the things that were on her own heart. That was how Xena felt, miserable that she hadn't been able to protect Gabrielle. Kneeling by the bed, she carefully took one of Eileen's bandaged hand in her own. "It was not your fault, Eileen. You did everything you could, I'm sure. You can't let guilt from this keep you down. If anything now, we all need for you to be strong. Gabrielle would want you to know that she doesn't blame you at all."
Those final words stopped Eileen's soft sobs stopped. Lifting her head, she turned her eyes onto Xena's. "I will be strong for Gabrielle." She said softly. Then her eyes turned to Carina, and Xena saw the love that sparked in those eyes. "And for those I love," she finished quietly.
Letting go of Eileen's hand, Xena stepped back and turned once again to Carina. But, the Amazon had her attention completely on the woman lying in the bed. At least she found someone, Xena thought to herself.
She was about to ask Carina one last question when a guard came running into the hut. Spotting Xena inside, she ran to Xena, her breath coming in short gasps.
"Xena, Gabrielle ." The guard hadn't finished before Xena had taken off.
Running toward their hut, Xena didn't even feel her feet hit the ground. When she reached the hut, she flew through the entrance, sword drawn. Gabrielle was huddled on the bed, looking wide eyed at Xena's amazing entrance.
"What's going on?" Xena asked in a carefully controlled voice as her eyes roamed around the hut, looking for any signs of danger.
"Um, nightmare. I screamed in my sleep, and I guess " she gestured to where the guards were standing outside the door.
Putting her sword down, Xena looked at Gabrielle carefully. "Ahhh " she nodded in understanding. Kneeling by the edge of the bed, she looked into the other woman's eyes. "You okay?"
It was like a twig inside of Gabrielle was snapped in two, releasing some sort of demon anger. "Why do you keep asking me that? Of course I'm not okay!"
Xena was taken aback by the anger in Gabrielle's voice. Whoa, her mind said. Yet another stage reached. Anger.
"I can't be okay Xena! Don't you see that? Nothing will ever be the same!" She began to cry, hot angry tears.
Simply sitting there, Xena watched her, waiting till she had finished this bout of anger before giving any kind of response.
Gabrielle's breaths were coming in gasps as the anger and resentment rose in her causing her chest to tighten, and something seemed to be sucking her breath away from her. Her head got light, and she felt dizzy. "Dammit Xena! Take it all away! I don't want it anymore! I can't stand this pain! It hurts too much!" She screamed this last part, her whole body going stiff at the effort it took. Collapsing on the bed, sobs rocked her body. Xena tried to reach out to her, but Gabrielle shoved her touch away.
Hurt, Xena rose and looked at Gabrielle once last time before turning and leaving the hut. She stopped at the guards outside of the hut. "I'll be back in a bit. Anything happens here, get Ephiny right away. You understand?" The guards nodded in response and watched as Xena strode away.
Where she had gotten the energy for that outburst, Gabrielle didn't know. She instantly regretted it afterwards, and when Xena tried to touch her, she pushed her way more out of anger at herself. That anger wouldn't allow her to let the warrior console her. For the last day she had been doing everything possible not to appear weak in front of Xena, and then this happened. Where had the anger come from? She didn't know, but the anger hurt almost as much as the sorrow. And she'd taken it out on Xena who had been nothing but kind and patient with her. She hadn't expected the warrior to actually leave. Maybe she's tired of me, Gabrielle thought bitterly, causing more tears to fall. "I don't blame her," she said out loud in a whisper. "I'm getting tired of myself."
The Amazon priestesses were very quiet women. They lived to serve first their god and then their sisters. Because of that, they were usually in the shadows of Amazon life until ceremony called for their presence.
When Xena, the Warrior Princess, threw open the door of the temple, the priestesses stared at her, stunned that she had come into the temple. Casting a magnificent image to the holy women, Xena strode in, her shoulders back and her head held high. She knew what she needed to do, but she wasn't going to do it begging and groveling. The priestesses backed away as Xena strode to the altar in the center of the main room. Various offerings that had been left to the goddess by the altar, waiting judgement on whether or not the goddess would accept the offering.
Xena realized that she had two options, two ways of getting the goddess's attention. She could yell and scream till the goddess stood before her, or she could try praying for the woman to appear.
Looking at the priestesses who were scurrying around, she decided that it might make a greater impact if she screamed and yelled.
"ARTEMIS!" Xena's voice boomed through the temple, reaching every single nook and cranny of the edifice. "I NEED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT GABRIELLE!!!" Okay, so she didn't yell and scream, just yelled. But angering the goddess of the Amazons right now might not be in her best interest.
A bright light appeared before Xena, coalescing into the form of a woman. Her brownish-red hair was held back by a leather band, her tall form muscular and well built, like that of her brother, the god of war. A quiver of arrows hung over one shoulder, the bow hanging from the quiver.
The goddess was quiet as she studied Xena. They had met before, under much different circumstances. She'd been attracted to the warrior, wanting her for her own tribe. But, Xena belonged to her brother at the time and she had no right to the woman.
Her eyes grew wide as the warrior princess suddenly bowed before the goddess. "My, my Xena, I have never seen you so compliant to a god before." She circled around the bowed figure. "I am assuming that you want something, otherwise you would have not called my name."
"Yes Artemis." Xena murmured, fighting the urge to take the smirk off the goddess's face with her chakram.
Giving a low chuckle that very much resembled her brother's, Artemis put an hand under Xena's elbow. Pulling her up she said," Please Xena, I know this isn't how you would ask. I'm assuming you're not asking for yourself."
Looking the warrior goddess in the eyes, she answered truthfully. "No, it's for your chosen one, Gabrielle."
A sad look swept across Artemis's face. "My poor Gabrielle." She shook her head and sat down on the base of the altar. "She didn't deserve that."
"Why didnt you stop it?" Xena's eyes narrowed.
"I can't interfere unless asked. You of all people should know that Xena. I can suggest and I can cajole, but I can't interfere without someone, somewhere asking."
"I'm asking now."
"Oh Xena, I can't undo this! I wish I could, it will destroy a lot of work that quite a few gods have put into Gabrielle's future. But, I can't."
"I'm not asking you to reverse time, I'm asking you to give me her pain. Take it away from her and give it to me." Xena hissed through her teeth, tired of being told what she could and couldn't do.
Silent a minute, Artemis looked off into the distance. "That might work " She fell again into thought.
Although Xena wasn't a patient person, she stood still while the goddess thought through everything that would result from granting Xena's wish. Unlike many of her brothers and sisters, Artemis thought thing through before she did them. As she was thinking, another bright light formed and this time the goddess of love was left in its wake.
"Arty, sweetie, I've got it!" Aphrodite gave Xena a veiled look of interest.
Raising an eyebrow, Xena turned to look at Artemis in question. Shrugging, Artemis blushed. "I don't want to get caught in some kind of loophole that would end up backfiring on me." She turned to Aphrodite. "What's the idea?" The voluptuous blonde gestured for Artemis to come closer and the two goddesses began to whisper back and forth.
Finally, they both approached Xena. "Do you love her Xena? With your entire heart?" The goddess of love looked at her skeptically.
"Yes, you should know that, of all people." Narrowing her eyes at the goddess of love, she couldn't help but be suspicious.
Smiling, Aphrodite nodded. "Yeah, I know, I was just making sure that YOU knew that. I'm with Arty on the whole backfire thing. When Zeus rides the wave of vengeance, watch out hound doggy!"
"Can we get back to me now?" Xena asked as sweetly as possible.
"Oh, right sorry. Well, since you've declared your love for Gabrielle, yadda yadda yadda, we'll be able to let you have her memories of the rape and stuff. But, she will still remember it happened, she just won't feel anything." The goddess of love said her voice bubbling over with excitement of her own accomplishment.
"No emotions, nothing. And she'll know that you've taken it all on, so you can't try to hide that from her or anything." Artemis chimed in, her own excitement rising in her voice. "You get them all." She sobered. "Are you sure it's what you want, Xena?"
Not needing to think about it, Xena replied. "Yes, I'm sure."
"Then go back to her now Xena. The moment you kiss her after leaving the temple, you will received all of her memories, all of her emotions, and all of the physical reminders."
Nodding grimly, Xena turned and left.
Aphrodite and Artemis looked at each other and sighed. "She a pretty brave woman, for a mortal," Aphrodite speculated.
"Love changes us all," Artemis stared off lost in her own thoughts. "She is so very lucky."
"Which one?" Aphrodite looked at her sister.
"Exactly," was all the Amazon goddess would say before she faded into a shimmering light.
Walking unhurriedly back to the hut, Xena's mind wandered. She didn't have any doubts about this. Her love for Gabrielle wouldn't let her do anything else. Xena had been through it before, more times then she cared to remember, and she could handle it again. But Gabrielle had too much to offer the world, to give to those around her. The bard was letting her fear hold her back and Xena couldn't let that happen.
Finally reaching the hut, she looked at the two guards. "You might hear me yell out a bit, but I don't want you coming in for any reason. Is that clear?"
"Yes Xena," they replied in unison.
"Thank you," she said as she walked into the hut.
More time had passed while she was with the goddesses than she had imagined. The sky was dark when she left. Now as she stood in the hut, she realized that no one had lit the candles. The entire hut was in darkness.
"Gabrielle?" The warrior called out, suddenly desperate to make sure that Gabrielle was still there.
"Yeah?" A weary voice came from the bed area.
"I'm sorry I was gone so long, I didn't realize that much time had passed." Xena moved toward the bed, her hand reaching out to find the bard. Feeling soft hair under her hand, she ran her fingers down Gabrielle's check. "I'm so sorry," She murmured.
"Xena, hold me please?" Gabrielle's voice was barely a whisper, but it spoke directly to Xena's heart.
Sliding into the bed beside Gabrielle, she laid down on her back and pulled the bard on top of her. She wrapped her longs arms around the other woman, holding her tightly.
Gabrielle closed her eyes when her ear was rested against Xena's chest, and she could hear the woman's heartbeat. A soft sigh of contentment escaped her lips. There was no doubt in her mind that this would always be her favorite place, laying on top of her strong warrior.
"I love you Gabrielle," Xena whispered, and then bent her head and kissed Gabrielle's forehead.
The instant her lips touched Gabrielle's warm
forehead, a flash of bright light came between the two women, blinding Xena instantly. If
she had been able to see what was occurring she would have seen the print of her lips on
Gabrielle's forehead for a split second before the light faded. Bewildered, Gabrielle
called out to the warrior. "What's going on Xena, what's happening?"
Xena's body was assaulted with sudden pain, as though the assault was occurring again, this time to her and in fast motion. Then the fear, and the shame, followed by the anger, and more fear. All of this crashed over her, through her, into her, battering her body over and over again, breaking her emotional barrier repetitively. Until finally she was left with just the residue pain, the emotions that resulted after the act was complete. "Gabrielle," she moaned as her body reflexively curled against itself, protecting herself.
"I'm here Xena, I'm here." Small hands rubbed over Xena, trying to sooth the pain. "Why did you do it? Why?"
"Love you," Xena whispered as unconsciousness overcame her. The vicious, quick assault on her body taking its toll, giving her no choice but to allow her body to fall into the darkening mist of her mind.
Absently stroking Xena's face, Gabrielle studied her lover. When Xena's lips had touched her forehead, it was like something had sucked her pain away. She could remember everything that happened to her just days earlier, but she couldn't remember how any of it felt. Almost like she was watching it happen to someone else. She could image the hurt, and she could mourn for the lost innocence, but she couldn't feel it herself. Dark bruises had appeared on the warrior's beautiful face, the same bruises that had adorned Gabrielle's face. The bard was sure that if she looked, her own bruises would be gone and matching ones would be found on Xena's body. The physical pain no longer hindered her simply because it wasn't there.
It was impossible for Gabrielle to estimate how long she sat there, Xena's arms still around her, before the warrior regained consciousness. A soft moan came from Xena as she started to come around.
"Gabrielle?" A dry whisper came next.
"I'm here Xena, right here," Gabrielle put her hand over Xena's larger one, squeezing it softly.
All of Gabrielle's fears came full force at Xena as the warrior began to understand how the rape had affected the bard. It was like all her fears were intensified, brought to the surface like exposed lesions which festered in the open air.
Gabrielle pulled away from the warrior's embrace. Looking at the other woman, her concern clearly written on her face, she covered Xena's body with the bed's blanket. "Should should I get the healer?" She was at a loss, not knowing what her friend needed, not realizing that Xena needed her above all else.
"No!" The warrior vehemently protested. "Please, stay here with me?" The desperate need to keep her lover by her side was overwhelming. It was greater than any need she'd ever had before, any desire, any want. It wasn't fear that caused this, simply the fact that when she was without the bard she felt incomplete and right now she couldn't handle that emptiness.
"Anything you want, love. Anything at all." Gabrielle's voice was soothing, combining with her weariness, and soon putting the battered woman to sleep.
Wonder filled Gabrielle as she realized just what Xena had done for her. That this amazing woman could love her so much permeated her soul with so much power that she thought her body would break apart. She'd never doubted Xena's love for her, but seeing it and feeling it was completely overwhelming. Her heart filled with love, Gabrielle fell asleep, her head resting on her lover's familiar chest.
She was running, her whole body working to take her further and farther. Dread and fear filled her entire body, her soul aching within her, causing her incredible pain. "GABRIELLE!!!"
A camp was suddenly within her line of vision. A familiar form was sprawled on the ground, naked from the waist down. "NO!" She was too late -- again.
"NO!!!" The cry fell from her lips as the dream left her, forcing her awake. "No, no, no!"
Groggy, Gabrielle's mind slowly came to the forefront as she perceived through the fog Xena's dream state torment.
Xena's dark head moved from side to side as she whispered, "Gabrielle, no ," the only outward signs of her distress.
"Xena? It's okay, Xena." Gabrielle instantly used her body to calm the warrior, embracing her firmly.
"No, no!" Xena's voice grew louder as she woke. Sky blue eyes opened fully and she sat straight up in the bed, bringing a clinging Gabrielle with her.
Xena felt the bard before her mind even registered the woman was there. Long fingers reached for Gabrielle, brushing over the blonde's face, needing to reassure herself of the difference between her dream and reality. Her face was filled with pain as she understood her dream. "I I couldn't do anything, I couldn't get to you in time," her voice shook with uncharacteristic fear. Pulling the bard to her in a crushing, needy embrace she couldn't stop the tears that formed in her eyes.
"I know, Xena, I know " While she no longer felt the emotions that had resulted from her rape, she still remembered. The memories of her fears ran through her, only this time she was strangely detached. And she did remember the pulling fear that went through her like a knife, slicing into her heart, her soul, her stomach. The way the fear flowed through the rest of her body had been similar to the blood that gushed from a wound, filling her completely.
"You do, don't you?" Xena whispered into the soft hair that held the familiar scent of her lover.
Nodding, Gabrielle slowly extracted herself from the warrior's embrace. Reaching toward the small, wooden stand by the bed, she picked up the pitcher she kept there, making sure it was full before she poured its contents into a cup. Handing it to her quaking lover, she watched as Xena gulped down the water. The warrior hadn't realized how dry her mouth was until her eyes saw the clear water flow from the pitcher into the cup. She emptied it of every drop before putting it down.
The water, plus the moment's reflection, helped clear her head a bit. "I didn't get all the details of this deal," she gave Gabrielle a small smile.
Looking at her gorgeous lover thoughtfully, Gabrielle brought her fingers up and traced the puffy bruises that had appeared there. "It's like you got all the physical reminders of what happened, but when it came to my thoughts and fears " she faded off, unsure how to express what she wanted to say.
"But, rather than getting your fears, my own fears took over and were made stronger." Xena tried to put it into words for them. "MY biggest fears all were realized that night and so that's what I feel." She looked at Gabrielle, her skin still revealing the touch of the other woman's fingers. "Gabrielle, what's your biggest fear? What were you afraid of?"
Letting her hand fall away from the other woman's face, Gabrielle dropped her eyes as she felt a warm blush spread across her face. "I uh..." she really didn't want to put her fears, which she knew were irrational, into words. Her stomach began a gymnastics routine as it painfully flipped and contracted with in her.
Just when she thought she'd get sick, she felt gentle fingers run over her cheekbone, sliding down and tracing her lips before moving underneath her chin. A tender, but persistent pressure urged her to lift her chin. Unable to resist the woman behind the pressure, Gabrielle allowed her head to lift.
Instantly she was looking into two eyes so filled with love and compassion that she felt her heart leap into her chest.
"I'm afraid you'll leave me," she said the words softly, aware of the pain even she heard behind them. A warm smile from the warrior convinced her to continue. "After what happened, I was afraid that if you saw how weak I am that you'd try to leave me here."
A strong arm wound around Gabrielle, pulling her to Xena's body. As she was enfolded in her lover's warmth, Gabrielle wrapped both arms around the familiar body.
Stroking the bard's strong back, Xena whispered in a strong voice. "Gabrielle, you are the strongest person I know. Probably stronger than you realize. You have an inner strength that I both envy and admire."
Giving a self-depreciating laugh, Gabrielle loosed her hold slight. "Thank you," she said softly as she stared into Xena's eyes.
Such a precious woman, Xena startled herself with the thought. While she feared it, she gladly accepted the honor of sharing Gabrielle's soul.
"Come here," Xena leaned back so that her back was against the bed's headboard. Patting the spot next to her, she motioned for her lover to sit next to her. Not hesitating, Gabrielle moved to the place the warrior had indicated and gave a small sigh of content as Xena put an arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer.
"Are you okay?" The bard's brow
wrinkled, her concern showing clearly on her face. "I don't want to hurt
"Not something you need to worry about," Xena's throaty voice stopped Gabrielle's words. The bard started to protest, but Xena continued before she could say anything. "I know, you'll worry anyway." They shared a small smile. "And I appreciate that. It feels good to have someone worry about me."
"I can remember I was in a lot of pain. Are you?" Once again Gabrielle's anxiety showed in her face. Her hand moved to Xena's muscular thigh and her fingers gently traced an invisible pattern.
Xena gave Gabrielle a wary look. "Um, well, it's not a comfortable feeling, but it's not one I haven't felt before. The worst seems to be the way it's playing with my emotions." Her nose wrinkled with distaste. So many things I though I'd never feel again, all surfacing at once to attack me. Shrugging, Xena tightened her hold on Gabrielle.
The bard looked at Xena with an open expression of sympathy and empathy. "I didn't didn't know you'd been through that." While she wasn't exactly surprised, it wasn't something she'd ever really thought about. Maybe I should have realized An image of a young Xena, trying to learn how to fight, encountering men like the one who'd kidnapped her, came unbidden into Gabrielle's mind. She felt her anger grow, wishing that she could have been there to save that young girl, to keep her from the hard lessons she'd been forced to learn. It wasn't right
"Yeah, uh " she looked down at the hand of her lover which was resting on her thigh. "It was before Lyceus was killed."
"Before " Gabrielle was puzzled. "But, you were in Amphipolis, right?" This idea didn't fit into what her mind had conjured.
"It really shouldn't have surprised me," the older woman said softly. "But, I guess I felt safe. I was surrounded by my brothers and my mother, I was in the village I'd grown up in." She bitterly remembered how stupid she'd felt afterwards. I should have known that there was no such thing as safe, she thought to herself. Then she looked at her younger lover, at the face that held so much love for her. Well, maybe there's one place that's safe. She looked down again at her lap, feeling the anger that was always in her start to rise. Why can't we all be safe?
"Hey," the voice that spoke to her heart on a regular basis called Xena out of her dark thoughts. She looked up and saw clear green eyes looking back at her. "Do you want to tell me about it?" Another facet of Xena's past had been revealed to the bard and while she didn't want to press the issue, she had a desire to see into what had made Xena into the woman she knew now, the woman who held her heart in such a crushing embracing.
"You know I worked at mother's tavern?" Waiting till she felt Gabrielle nod, she continued, her eyes taking on a far away look as she saw the innocent girl she once was in her mind's eye. "We always had travelers coming through, often various soldiers and mercenaries. They normally left us alone, simply wanting a place to get food and to rest." She saw herself, fifteen summers old, working under her mother's watchful eye, counting till the moment she could get away. Lyceus was working as well, the tow-headed boy grinning easily at his older sister's restlessness.
"That day, a particularly strange looking man came in, dressed as a warrior despite his soft appearance and a quiet manner." The image of the man came into her mind, surprising her that she could still remember what he looked like. He had dark wavy hair which hung limply in his long thin face. His brown eyes shone with a unique kindness and warmth. Unlike most men who came into the tavern, he was polite, and had refined manners. "He he let me and Lyceus play with his sword after we'd finished our lunch chores."
The man, she'd never learned his name, had been kind to the two of them, telling them how to hold the sword and showing them different moves. He had a gentle smile which he often turned on Xena. "He was nice to us, treating us like adults rather than children. And that night he took from me my childhood more than any warlord ever did after that."
Lyceus had left to do something or another for their mother. The man told her that he had another sword, which he'd give to her if she wanted it. She had thought it would be a good present for her brother, who seemed enamoured with fighting and swordplay. Agreeing, the man explained that it was with his belongings in the stable. Xena willingly followed him into the stable.
It wasn't until they were in the stall with his
horse that his demeanor changed. His kind face altered, taking on a possessed look as his
previously gentle eyes roved over her body. She knew she was in trouble when his than hand
grasped her arm in a powerful hold which sent pain up her arm. He didn't bother to undress
her, ripping her clothing off.
As he took her, Xena's mind wandered, displacing her from her body. Not once did she scream, despite the intense pain he was causing her. Her mind seemed to numb, not letting anything that was happening pervade her thoughts. Instead she pictured her and Lyceus running through the field behind her mother's tavern, the sun playing on their skin, lightening her brother's already golden hair, giving it a reddish hue. They were running, smiling, chasing each other. Someone was calling her name, but she didn't want to leave the safety of her daydreaming. It had been her brother calling her name. He'd come in while Xena was being assaulted. Grabbing the man's own sword, he had slashed and cut until the man ran away. When Xena finally came back to the present, she saw her brother standing over her, tears in his eyes. He had wanted to tell their mother, but Xena refused, not wanting her mother to get worried.
"If I hadn't had Lyceus after that, I don't know that I would have healed. It was so hard when I was afraid of my own shadow. He was there to kick me in the ass when I let myself get depressed, and he was there to listen when I was ready to talk." She silently ruminated for a moment, remembering her younger brother. "You and he were a lot a like. He was mature beyond his years and often had an understanding of the way people worked that was better than my own."
Tears had welled in Gabrielle's eyes as she envisioned the young girl who had once believed in all things good. The rape Xena went through combined with the death of the one person that understood her was like a landslide effect. One small rock starts rolling and soon the entire mountain side would follow, ending in a horrible conglomeration of rocks, plants and trees, dirt, and sometimes people and animals. One event in Xena's life started her downward fall, spiraling until she hit the ground at full force, taking everything and anything she could with her. But Xena didn't need her consolation for the loss of her girlhood right now. Gabrielle knew it wouldn't do the warrior any good to let Xena see her own anger or animosity, rather she needed to let Xena know that she understood that nothing Gabrielle could do now would make up for what had already happened. They had to live their lives today, not in what had already happened.
"Is that what you were going to do with me?" The bard asked lightly.
A confused look shaped Xena's face, her eyes especially conveying her puzzlement. "Do what with you?"
"Kick me in the ass?" She gave a small giggle at Xena's blank look. Then the warrior realized what Gabrielle was referring to and gave a small laugh herself.
"Yeah, if you needed it!" Xena's laugh grew louder as they allowed the humor to penetrate the sadness that had prevailed them earlier.
As the sun rose and set each day, Xena's physical injuries healed. As usual, she seemed to heal unnaturally fast, reminding Gabrielle of their confrontation with the Furies that one time. She had her own thoughts and ideas on Xena's parentage, but she kept them to herself, knowing the warrior probably wouldn't appreciate it.
When Ephiny first saw Xena carrying horrific bruises on her face and Gabrielle's own face clear of any of the marks she'd been sporting after her kidnapping, she stood in amazement.
"Does anyone want to tell me what's going on here?" She asked after she managed to get her jaw closed.
"Nope," Xena answered with a tight smile and walked past the Amazon.
Coming up behind Ephiny, Gabrielle took her friend's arm and guided her after Xena. "Eph, it's a long story."
Studying the bard, Ephiny noticed that her usual healthy glow was back and that her spirits in general felt much lighter than they had before. "You're the bard, tell. Now!" She was completely bewildered by this new event.
Laughing, Gabrielle told Ephiny what had happened, what Xena had done, and what the results were.
"You mean to tell me that THAT warrior right there," she pointed at the woman who was still walking in front of them, "asked Artemis for help?" She couldn't believe it. Not the woman who had taken over the temple in Thessaly.
"Yup, that's her," Gabrielle said, her voice full of love and admiration.
"Wait a minute, I'm not sure I understand this. Lemme try again." Ephiny had a completely confused look on her face. Artemis gave Xena all your pain? How in Hades' name does that work!"
"Don't forget Aphrodite too," Xena said over her shoulder at them. She had known that they'd have to tell the story over and over until the whole village had heard, but she'd be damned if she was going to be the one telling it!
"Of course not," Ephiny replied to the warrior absently, her eyes intent on Gabrielle.
"Apparently, because Xena's love for me was so great, Aphrodite and Artemis decided that they could give her my pain." Giving a little blissful sigh, Gabrielle watched the familiar figure in front of her. "So, POOF!" She snapped her fingers. "The pain was gone, the bruises gone, all given to Xena, who took it willing."
Shaking her head, Ephiny's eyes were wide. "I must be turning into a sap in my old age, cause that was about the sweetest thing I've ever heard!"
The warrior in front turned to glare at her.
Mumbling under her breath, she just stared back at Xena. "I just can't believe that Xena, warrior princess asked for help and it was granted, I mean how often does that happen, not very if you ask me and then ." She continued her muttering for a bit before the noise stopped.
Gabrielle looked over at the Amazon. "Eph, you'd better stop moving your mouth like that, you look like a fish and Xena loves to go fishing."
"Did someone say fishing? Hmmm...Gabrielle, do you want to go fishing later on?" She gave the acting Amazon Queen a dirty look.
Her body was almost better, but her emotions still seemed to constantly be fluctuating. Nightmares permeated her dreams, and every time she woke up she needed to look around the bed to make sure that the bard was still there, that nothing had happened to the woman. Her dreams were so realistic that Xena's heart would be pounding and she'd be sweating when she woke up. On more than one occasion, Xena awoke from a nightmare, feeling physically sick, having to get up quickly to empty her stomach. Lately it seemed that the stress and strain from her dreams was eating at her stomach, leaving her feeling queasy a lot of the time.
One night, after a particularly bad dream that
had forced even Gabrielle awake, the two women laid in their bed, Xena holding Gabrielle
"Xena, you never told me what you were afraid of?" Gabrielle thought she knew, but she also thought that if Xena talked about them, it might help. Problems that don't go away on their own need to be addressed.
Leaning over to kiss the top of Gabrielle's head,
Xena was silent. The bard tilted her head so that she could look into her lover's eyes. A
troubled shadow seemed to be hovering over the woman's head, casting its darkness over
Xena's eyes. They sat there, staring at one another, until Xena leaned over and pressed
her lips to Gabrielle's. Since the attack, they'd been close physically, but never had
taken it to more than the occasional kiss. Just having their bodies close was comforting
to both women. They didn't doubt that they would have plenty of chances to take advantage
of each other's bodies, but right now it wasn't time for that. Right now they needed to
just be together.
The warrior's warm, soft lips probed against Gabrielle's until the bard opened her lips to allow Xena's tongue to slid in, possessing her mouth completely. A few quick movements and Xena withdrew her tongue. The heated kiss slowed, the passion turning to sweet loving touches of their lips, until finally they parted. Both felt the slow boil of their passion, both needing to ignore it for right now, neither ready to act on it.
"That wasn't an answer," Gabrielle's breath was coming slightly harder than usual as she tried to recover from the kiss.
"It wasn't?" Her innocent reply,
complete with the slight batting of her eyes, made the bard give her a mock snarl.
Laughing, Xena gave her a toothy smile. "Okay, okay. Don't want the wrath of
Gabrielle on my hands here." She grew serious as she thought about her answer to the
other woman's question. "My biggest fear is and has been for a long time that I would
lose you because I was unable to get to you in time when you needed me. It's happened
before, when I just can't be there right at the moment I should be, and you get hurt. I'm
afraid one day I'll get there too late and find you dead." She finished quietly.
Wanting to tell Xena that it wasn't her worry, that Gabrielle made her own choices, the bard knew that it would be repetitive. They'd had that conversation before, but of course, that wouldn't stop Xena from being afraid of that happening. "I understand," she said simply. And she did. Her own greatest fear was unsubstantiated, and yet it still scared her. She did understand that just because you didn't actually think something would happen, didn't mean you didn't fear it. "So, how do we just move on from our fears? How do we overcome them?" She asked aloud, not really expecting answers from Xena.
"You can't let them rule your life, or your decisions. You have to move on," Xena said absently as she stared at something far away in her mind's eye.
A moon went by as Gabrielle and Xena spent time in the Amazon village. Almost nightly they talked about fears and self discoveries. It was a healing time for both of them, letting their hearts and souls open to each other, becoming more than just lovers or friends. They became soulmates as they listened and talked.
The only thing that didn't seem to calm down was the way Xena's nerves were affecting her stomach. On a regular basis Xena was getting sick, worrying Gabrielle constantly. Once she'd emptied her stomach, she seemed to feel better, but the bard still worried. Trying to relieve Gabrielle of her worries, Xena took every herb she could think of that would help settle her stomach. Even the warrior was surprised when none of them worked. Finally, desperate, Gabrielle asked her to go see the healers.
"Gabrielle, Im okay, really." Xena protested. Truthfully, while she had a lot of respect for healers, she didn't like going to see them herself. She hated having people examine her, prodding and poking.
Widening her eyes and putting her hands together, Gabrielle used the warrior's own devices. "Please Xena? For me?"
Sighing loudly, and giving a small growl, Xena agreed.
They entered the healer's tent, not surprised to see Tristian on duty. She never seemed to leave, always being there when one of her sisters was hurt.
Someone who'd been spreading the gossip around the village had informed Tristian of what Xena had done for Gabrielle change in conditions. Everyone marveled at how wonderful and dreamy it was that Xena had willing taken on Gabrielle's pain. As a matter of fact, the younger Amazons had started a Xena hero club. They met once a day and talked about nothing but the warrior, writing poems and odes to her, and talking excitedly about who spotted her where and what she was doing. They envied Gabrielle, having such a romantic, powerful, beautiful, strong lover. The older Amazons weren't far from having their own group for the warrior princess admirers, although they laughed at the younger girls' club, they all did pretty much the same thing each day. Gossiping about Xena and Gabrielle's day, what they did, where they went, who they talked to.
Tristian was tending to a young Amazon who had a nasty cut on her forearm when the two women entered. Both the girl and the healer looked up.
"What do we have here?" Gabrielle asked as she approached them. She peered at the young girl, placing her name right away. "Well, Trina, how'd you do that?"
Blushing furiously, the girl looked shyly at Xena who had come to stand behind her lover. Realizing that she was being address by her Queen, she mumbled something incoherent to everyone in the tent.
"Huh?" Xena asked puzzled.
The deep blush grew even redder as the girl tried not to stare at the warrior. "Uh some of us were pretending to be in a fight, and I accidentally tripped, falling on my knife."
Bewildered, Gabrielle looked at the healer in question, who only smirked back. "Well, be more careful next time, huh Trina?"
Patting the girl on the shoulder, Tristian looked at the stitches she'd had used to close the deep cut. "Looks like you're done here. Keep it clean and don't get it wet, okay?" The girl nodded and hoped off the table. As she ran out of the room, Tristian called out one more thing. "Don't forget to tell your mother!"
"What was that all about?" Xena asked as she moved in to put her arms around her lover's waist from behind.
Giving a deep laugh, the healer winked at Xena. "She tripped and fell because she was looking at you, not where she was walking!" Gabrielle hooted as it was Xena's turn to blush.
Giving one more hearty laugh, Tristian took a few deep breaths to recover. "Phew well," she looked from one woman to the other. "What is it that I can do for you today?"
Gabrielle looked at her lover, who was pretending to be fascinated with something to her left. Using a well placed elbow, Gabrielle got her attention. "I..ah well, my stomach's been upset lately. I think it's because of the nightmares I've been having since well, you know." The healer nodded her head and Xena continued. "But, it's worrying Gabrielle, so I promised to come see you."
Nodding, Tristian eyed both women carefully. "Xena, when was your last bleeding?"
Surprised, Xena's eyebrows came together as she thought. "I ah don't know before we came here, I guess, I hadn't thought about it. You don't mean " her words faded off as Tristian nodded in response.
"I'm afraid it's a possibility, hon."
Unable to understand, Gabrielle looked from one woman to the other. "What are you two talking about?" The she realized bleeding "No, no, Xena can't be pregnant, can she? I mean, she only took my pain right?" Shaking her head in denial, Gabrielle looked at Xena for answers.
"She gave it ALL to me, which means that I might might be with child," Xena choked out. She'd already experienced the joys of pregnancy once, but she wasn't sure that it was something she wanted to deal with right now. She and Gabrielle finally could start a life together, they would be able to explore their love, as well as continuing their efforts to fight evil. Where did a child fit into all this? Or a pregnant ex-warlord, for that matter.
Tristian, watched the two women as colored drained from both their faces. "Why don't the two of you go into that room there?" She directed them to the same room they'd been in when Xena had brought Gabrielle.
The examination was quick. As Xena sat up and put her leathers back on, she could tell by Tristian's face that the news wasn't going to be what she wanted to hear.
"You are with child, my dear." Normally she was elated when she could give news of pregnancy. But in this case, she knew that the news wasn't welcome and she couldn't blame them.
Turning to look at her lover, Xena saw realization creep into Gabrielle's face. "You mean I would have been too?" She whispered quietly. Ever since Hope, Gabrielle had held on to the optimism that one day she would have another child. And she would have, but now Xena's having it.
"Yes Gabrielle," Xena answered for the
healer who wasn't sure what the limitations of the goddesses' switch.
The sadness combined with warming anger filled Gabrielle slowly. She wasn't angry at Xena, or Tristian, or anyone for that matter. Just at the way this had played out. She could have had another baby. Would I have hated it? She thought of the circumstances in which the child would have been given to her.
"Thank you Tristian," Xena shook the healer's hand.
"Xena, if you want I do have the herbs " Tristian had never had to use the herbs before, but they would end the pregnancy if Xena wanted to.
Shaking her head, Xena looked at the bowed head of her lover. "Gabrielle and I need to talk about this before I make any decisions like that." She moved and put an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders, leading her out of the room and then out of the hut. "Hey, tell me what you're thinking?"
Looking up, she realized that she'd faded out. She didn't remember going outside or leaving the healer's tent or any of that. "Uh, just thinking, I guess." She shrugged, trying to convince the warrior that she was okay.
"Babies, or lack there of."
"Figured. We need to decide whether or not we want to keep this baby." Xena spoke gently, wanting to let Gabrielle know that her opinion counted and that it was a decision they would both have to agree on.
With a sudden flash, Gabrielle's head whipped up
to look at Xena. "Please Xena, have the baby. Don't just get rid of it."
Startled at the power of Gabrielle's voice as she made the request, Xena stopped walking. Looking around she spotted a big tree off the road a bit. Grabbing Gabrielle's hand, she led her over. Sitting on the ground, she pulled the smaller woman into her lap. "If we let it be born, then what? Do we take it with us while we travel? Do we settle down somewhere?" She almost choked on the last question. Settling down was definitely not something she wanted. But, if Gabrielle wanted to try well, she'd try as well.
I don't know," Gabrielle began
to cry. The disappointment that welled in her with the knowledge that it could have been
her baby overwhelmed her completely. Jumping out of Xena's embrace, Gabrielle ran away
from where they sat.
She knew exactly where she was headed even though her tears blurred her sight. When she saw the outside of the temple looming before her, she ran through the main doors. The temple priestess were used to seeing their Queen in the temple, but something about the woman today made them all keep their distance. Her eyes were wild as she ran to the altar. "ARTEMIS! I DEMAND YOU SHOW YOURSELF!!!!"
Some of the priestesses looked at the bard with shock. There she was DEMANDING that Artemis show herself. That was just unheard of.
Waiting a moment without getting a response, Gabrielle began to knock things off the altar. As the priestesses watched they remembered Xena's visit. Gabrielle's destruction of the altar was something they would have expected from Xena. And Xena's quiet approach had been worthy of Gabrielle.
Suddenly, one of the priestesses walked forward,
toward Gabrielle. As the others watched, they realized that they didn't recognize this
woman. As she got closer, she lifted her hood and slid if off her head, revealing the
familiar visage of Artemis. Laying a hand on Gabrielle, whose back was to her, she quietly
asked the bard to stop.
Spinning around, ready to flatten who ever dared to tell her that, Gabrielle realized who had made the request and stopped her violent reaction.
"Why are you here, Gabrielle, demanding my presence and wrecking my temple?" Artemis' voice was reproachful, but kind.
"You took my baby away from me!" Her anger still very much present, Gabrielle let it all turn on the goddess.
"The baby, yes." She began to walk away. Noticing that Gabrielle wasn't following her, she gestured for the woman to go with her. "Come, we need to talk." Her eyes squinted as she stopped walking suddenly. "XENA!"
A tall figure came out of the shadows, her face grim. Xena had followed behind her lover, but had decided to let Gabrielle do what she needed to do.
Motioning for the warrior to go with them, Artemis sighed. "You might as long come with us as well. It's something you need to understand." She led them to a small table that had been placed behind the altar. It was a rough wooden table, a few chairs placed haphazardly around it. "Sit, both of you." They did as they were told and the goddess waited till they were settled before sitting herself.
"Now, before either of you speak, I need to explain something to you." She waited until both women acknowledged her words. "The child was a special concern to both me and Aphrodite when we made the switch between the two of you. Gabrielle," she turned to the bard. "That vile man's seed was placed inside of you. But, because of damage done to you before, you would not have been able to have that child." She sighed and put her head in her hands. "You would have carried the baby for nine moons and then when it came time for it to be brought into the world, both you and the child would have died from the effort. That was part of the reason we decided to grant Xena's request. Your role in the Amazon nation's future is great and I am not willing to lose you if I can help it." She grew quiet, giving both women a chance to talk.
Reaching for Xena's hand without conscious thought, Gabrielle grasped the longer hand in hers. "Because of what Dahak did, I won't be able to have children?" The sadness was now complete, filling her more than it ever had before. She had always thought that one day she'd have a house full of children. Of course, traveling with Xena had changed the hope slightly. She envisioned a string of children all following the bard and the warrior, their own little band of warriors and bards. And while she saw how unrealistic it was to dream about that, she still kept it in her heart as a way to keep going.
"Yes Gabrielle." The goddess sounded sad. "This baby is always going to be a reminder to you both of what happened, your own fears will be lived again and again through this baby's life." She saw the startled looks the two women gave each other. "Yes, I know about your fears. That was the other reason Aphrodite and I decided to go ahead with this. You both held fears that you were afraid to share with each other. Being the love goddess that she is, Aphrodite didn't like the thought of you two being in pain simply because your love couldn't grow if you couldn't share with each other. So, you see," she gave a small smile, "we both had our reasons."
"I'm I'm sorry about the way I came storming in here," Gabrielle apologized.
Giving a little laugh, Artemis stood up. "It's good to keep those priestesses on their toes." She carefully looked at the two women. "Try to remember what you've learned from all of this. And always cherish each other. Your kind of love is rare, so treasure it." With that, Artemis vanished.
It seemed like they'd been away from traveling for too long. Finally deciding to leave the Amazon village, Gabrielle felt herself longing for the freedom of being on the road. Not to mention all the private meadows that she and the warrior needed to explore!
After a few days of being on the road, they heard
the familiar sound of rustling brush, and then a whinny.
Joxer came bounding out, Argo in tow.
"I found her! You'll never believe where "
Cutting him off, Xena took the reins and started talking to her horse in a quiet voice. She'd missed her friend, sorry that she had to leave her on her own for so long.
Both women ignored Joxer, and soon he got bored. "Well, I should get going. Meg sent word that she wanted to see me. So, I guess I'll see you both later." His face fell at the lack of welcome he'd received.
Looking up from brushing Argo, Xena gave him a genuine smile. "Thanks Joxer, appreciate it." And then she returned to talking to the animal.
A huge grin lit his face as he nodded and left, making enough noise to be heard back at the Amazon village.
Almost a perfect day, Gabrielle thought to herself. She and Xena were lying on the furs they'd laid down for their bed. A leisurely day of travel followed by an early camp, and a delicious dinner of what they'd brought from the Amazon village. All of that was finished by an evening of exploring each other's bodies, pushing each other over the edge of pleasure over and over again, sometimes with slow, agonizing eroticism, other times with the fast, heated urge that left them both screaming.
Now Xena was asleep in Gabrielle's arms, soft snores coming from the woman. Not knowing if she'd ever seen anything that completely perfect and sweet, Gabrielle smiled at her sleeping lover. Complete contentment engulfed her, leaving her with a wonderful warmth in her body.
"What are you smiling for?" Xena muttered from her spot on Gabrielle's shoulder.
"You. You're so sweet to watch, did you know that?" It was true, she saw Xena as being completely sweet and innocent when she slept.
"Am not!" Xena protested weakly. They were both silent as they listened to the sounds around them.
"I've been thinking Xena."
"Should I be scared?" The warrior teased.
Ignoring the jibe sent her way, Gabrielle continued her thought. "I want to see what you think, because, I mean, the decision is really yours, but-"
"Spit it out, Gabrielle." Xena interrupted, knowing that her lover could go on and on without actually getting to the point.
"Well, what do you think about giving Meg the baby after it's born?" Gabrielle took a deep breath. While she didn't think she could do it, she had seriously thought about what kind of life theirs would offer a child. Not much of a life, no safety, no place to call home.
Looking up at her lover, Xena smiled softly at her. The warrior had actually been thinking the same thing, wondering how this baby would fit into their life now, and realizing that it wouldn't. They would have to change their life to accommodate the baby and the growing child's need. "I think that's a wonderful idea, Gabrielle. It would solve a lot of our dilemmas. You're brilliant," the warrior praise as she lifted herself up from where she'd been resting. Lowering her head, she brought her lips to Gabrielle's, taking a moment to savor the feeling of the bard's delicious lips on her own. "I love you," she whispered as she deepened her kiss. Feeling the bard's small hands starting to roam her skin, leaving a prickling sensation of warmth up and down her body, Xena laid her body onto of Gabrielle's.
The stars were the only witnesses to the passion that the two women shared, showing their own approval as they twinkled in the night sky. Not that either woman noticed. They were too involved with each other to even think about things like stars or the sky. And that's exactly how it should have been. Total and utter allegiance to one another as their passion drove them out of their individual bodies to form one perfectly complete soul.
Thank yous .first, thanks to my beta readers: Xenaslaves, E.M. Hamilton, Grace, and Wolfie. Thanks girls for all your help and the encouragement which kept me writing. Also, I would like to thank my editor for all of her help and her endless efforts which kept me from pulling my hair out by finding my comma and spelling mistakes! I devote this story to all of them for their help and friendship. Thank you everyone!
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