Somewhere in Time
Part 1 of 4
Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
LOVE/SEX WARNING DISCLAIMER:
For some, Xena and Gabrielles relationship has transcended sex. Frankly, if I began subscribing to that notion, my partner would check me for a pulse;-) For better or worse, my fantasies have not evolved beyond a base romantic level, so youre in for a good amount of explicit sex between two consenting women. If youre under 18, live someplace where this is illegal or its not your thing, please look elsewhere. There is a lot of wonderful fan fiction of every variety out there to choose from.
This story doesnt fit anywhere neatly, think romance. Its semi-hurt/comfort and semi-uberxena.
Some may find this a bit of a rocky road. Hang in there. I promise Ill bring you home safely;-)
THANKS TO: (They really deserve it.)
Many, many thanks to my three incredible proof readers/moral supporters: B L Miller, Lunacy and my partner, Pam. This story simply would not have happened without them. Their input made an incredible difference.
This is dedicated to my mother and father. I hope with all my heart we will meet again... somewhere in time.
I welcome comments or constructive criticism. mailto:email@example.com
Gabrielle looked anxiously across the fire at Xena. The last several moons had been difficult. For the first time in their travels together, the young woman felt distanced from her friend. The warrior was unusually quiet and aloof , keeping to herself for the most part. She blamed herself. Staring into the flames of their small fire, she thought back to the rash decision responsible for the wedge between them.
It began nearly three moons ago as they lay on their backs gazing up at the stars. She had casually turned to face Xena and in that instant everything changed. For what she saw, was not a fearsome warlord, nor a brave warrior, nor even her loyal friend, but merely a flesh and blood woman. Xena was, in that perfect moment, attainable. With that realization, came a startling discovery.
It began with a warm tingling that slowly spread throughout her body. Suddenly each of her senses seemed acutely amplified, making her keenly aware of the beautiful woman that lay beside her. She longed to run her hands over Xenas heated flesh and feel the gentle slope of each and every sensual curve. Her scent hung in the air like an exotic aphrodisiac. The urge to bury her face in Xenas dark silky hair, to breathe in her essence was nearly overpowering. She longed to kiss her lips and taste what lay beyond. Desire surged in her blood like a powerful drug, stripping her of doubts and inhibitions. The woman beside her was utterly compelling.
Without thought, she reached out. Her fingers lightly brushing the delicate hairs on Xenas arm.
Completely unaware of the change her friend had undergone, the warrior turned to Gabrielle and smiled. Her unsuspecting eyes shone with trust and caring. The bard instantly snapped out of her erotic haze. As her mind cleared, it was once again her friend and companion she saw. Her hand fell silently to the space between them, the moment lost.
Gabrielle barely slept that night. Her fevered mind raced to sort out her intense emotions. Emotions, that had lain dormant until that moment, that starry night. Up until then, love and romance had only existed for her in stories. Sex had been an abstract idea. Now everything was different.
After experiencing the heat of her own desire, she could think of little else. That singular glimpse of the woman in Xena had changed her life. Now, for the first time, she understood what she had been missing. Her body had awakened and the depth of her passion for the warrior knew no bounds.
This newfound hunger gave birth to endless sexual fantasies. Gabrielle found herself spending long stretches of time wondering what Xena would be like as a lover and how her vast experience would come into play. Even the most innocent physical interactions with the warrior were unbearable. Her pulse raced when she was near. A brief glance from her companion heated her very blood. A casual touch radiated wondrous sensations throughout her entire body. She had glimpsed Elyssia and her desire to experience it with Xena was impossible to ignore. Her body craved fulfillment.
One night after the warrior had fallen asleep, she let her fantasies run rampant, allowing erotic images of the dark haired-woman to fill her mind while she pleasured her own body. Her fingers were tentative. She hardly dared to breathe as she slipped them beneath her breeches. At first, her eyes remained anxiously fixed on Xena, afraid she would awaken. But, as her fingers slid over her heated sex, her fears only served to fuel the fantasy. Her eyes closed and in the deep recesses of her mind she envisioned the warrior catching her in the act. What Xena would do?...
The warriors sensitive hearing detected the quickening of her companions breath. She opened her eyes and saw the rhythmic movements of the young womans hand under the blanket. Xena smiled and cleared her throat, fixing her gaze on the impassioned bard. Gabrielle blushed, her hand freezing in place. She started to look away, but the warriors eyes drew her back.
"Dont stop." Xena whispered.
Gabrielle swallowed hard as the tall woman rose from her bedroll and approached. Her body began trembling.
"I want to watch you."
The bard collected her courage and once again began moving her fingers through the slippery wetness of her own sex. Xena smiled in approval and knelt at her feet. Gabrielle could barely breathe as she watched the warrior grasp the bottom edge of the blanket and pull it down, slowly uncovering her. The bards heart hammered in her chest.
"Yes... thats right. I want to see... everything."
Xenas fingers gently tugged at her breeches, intent on removing the last barrier to her view. Gabrielles heart pounded furiously as the warrior languidly slid the underwear down her legs and tossed them aside. The young womans face flushed and she turned her head, embarrassed by the intensity of her own desire.
"Look at me." The warriors voice was sensual and commanding.
Gabrielle could not deny her. She peered into her eyes. Xenas passion was raw and undisguised, so erotic that the bard nearly missed her next command.
"Bend your knees. Open for me."
Gabrielle moaned as she obeyed, her fingers moving in a steady rhythm against her sex. Her orgasm was rapidly approaching. She was nearly there. One more stroke...
Suddenly, Xenas fingers closed around her wrist, preventing her release. The bard looked at her desperately.
The warrior smiled teasingly and shook her head. "That is for me... only me."
Gabrielle released a shuddering breath as she felt Xenas free hand slide up her thigh toward its goal. She trembled as the warriors insistent fingers parted her delicate folds. Her touch was electric. Gabrielle climaxed on contact, crying out Xenas name into the night...
The warrior awoke, jumping out of her bedroll the instant Gabrielle called out. She stood beside her friend protectively, weapon in hand. The bard blushed as she nervously made up a story about a bad dream, then feigned sleepiness. Her fantasy had been achingly real. It was the last time she dared to masturbate in the warrior's presence. Instead she quietly endured.
The intensity of the bard's feelings confused and frightened her. Every moment with her friend became a torment. She knew what she needed to be complete and could not have it. Yet as compelling as her need was, she could not imagine expressing it to the warrior. There was no way to go back and no way to press forward. The fear of rejection held her captive.
Her secrecy offered no solace. In masking her feelings from Xena, she became even more isolated. The friend she had been so completely at ease with, now made her painfully uncomfortable. As hard as she tried she could not deny the truth that dwelled deep within her own heart. She had fallen desperately in love with the warrior. She was miserable.
At the height of this dilemma, Perdicus came back into her life, pledging his love. Marrying him seemed the only solution, a way to push back her feelings and distance herself from their source. And in fact, the whirlwind of wedding preparations had temporarily taken her mind off the warrior. But, her plan was doomed from the start . Gabrielle had ignored two basic truths: first, that in the end there was no place to hide from her true feelings and secondly, that no one could ever make her forget Xena.
After the wedding, as she watched the warrior walk from the temple and out of her life, she felt her heart break. Barely a candlemark passed before she longed for the erotic torment she had run from. In addition, there was something much worse to contend with, something she had not foreseen. She had lost her best friend. For the first time in many seasons they were apart. Gabrielle missed her more than she could ever have imagined.
Desperately unhappy, trapped in a nightmare of her own making, she silently wished that Xena would return and take her away. Sadly, there was no way to make things right.
If her devastation at her friend's departure left any doubt about her true feelings, her wedding night confirmed them. As Perdicus made love to her, it was Xena she longed for, Xena she desired. When she closed her eyes, it was Xenas face she saw. Xenas hands she felt. And at that critical moment, it had been images of Xena that consumed her. The vision was so real, that when Gabrielle opened her eyes, she was stunned and disappointed to find herself in the arms of a stranger.
After he had fallen asleep, she crept outside and looked up at the sky she so loved. Now, the same wondrous stars she spent so many nights gazing at with her friend were a painful reminder of what she left behind. She had walked away from the most precious thing in her world. Never in her life had she felt so alone. She prayed to the gods to reunite her with the warrior.
For better or worse, her prayers had been answered. Once again, she was traveling with Xena. But her mistake was costly, scarring their friendship and leading Perdicus to an early grave. She blamed herself for his death at Callistos hands. Her guilt was compounded by the relief she felt, relief that she was back once again with Xena.
Their friendship had not been the same since. The warrior was distant. The unshakable trust the bard had once enjoyed was lost, the special connection they shared missing. Whatever the reason, the warrior was guarded and Gabrielle was cautious, afraid to cause further damage.
So many unspoken words lay between them, so many unresolved feelings. The bard sensed her friends inner turmoil. Xena had taken responsibility for Perdicus death, even though she had done everything in her power to save him. Gabrielle wanted desperately to relieve her of that burden but could not bring herself to discuss his death. The murder was still too vivid in her memory, her guilt too overpowering. Instead she prayed that time would heal their wounds.
But for her, time had run out. Something unexpected was about to make their lives even more complicated. Gabrielle had missed her cycle. At first she prayed that she was mistaken, that is was stress. But as the days went on, there was no denying the inevitable.
She agonized about telling Xena, fearing the warrior would see her to safety and leave. There was nothing but their tattered friendship to hold Xena to her. She had no right to ask or expect the warrior to give up her life, her quest for redemption. Unable to face the prospect of losing her companion once and for all, Gabrielle had kept her condition secret.
Now, she was forced to end her silence. They were far from the Amazon village where she had decided she would give birth to her child. She had to begin the journey soon. There was no time for delays. The moment of truth had arrived. Xena had to be told.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. She walked around the fire and sat next to Xena. The warrior continued repairing her leathers, never looking up. The bards voice strained as she forced the words out.
"I need to talk to you."
Xena glanced up. Noting the serious look in the bard's eyes and the tension in her body, she put down her mending. "What is it, Gabrielle?"
The young woman wrung her hands in her lap nervously. She had practiced this conversation in her mind a thousand times. There was no easy way to say it. She took a shaky breath. "I... Im pregnant."
The statement caught Xena completely off guard. It was the last thing she had anticipated. She sat momentarily stunned by the news. Her first thought was that Gabrielle would leave her. She felt her chest tighten at the prospect and quickly fought to regain her composure.
"Im happy for you... I"
The emotionless tone of her voice betrayed the sentiment. She tried to say more but the words would not come. In a desperate attempt to mask her pain, she fixed her eyes on the ground at her feet. A muffled sob brought her attention back to her friend.
Gabrielle could not contain her emotions. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks. "I... Im sorry to be so much trouble. I..."
Without hesitation Xena wrapped her arms around the distraught bard, encircling her in a protective embrace.
"Shhhh, its going to be okay."
The warrior bit back her own pain and searched for words to comfort her friend. "I know how much you loved him, how much you must miss him, but part of Perdicus will go on through your child."
The soothing sensation of Xenas hand stroking her hair, the smell of her skin, the sound of the warriors heartbeat were heavenly. In Xenas arms she felt complete. She had missed this closeness. The idea of losing it again, of no longer having Xena by her side caused her to cling desperately to her friend. She held tight, afraid to let go. Both women remained silent for a long while.
The warrior was the first to pull back. As always, her reason took over in a crisis. "I... I need to get you home where youll be safe."
With a few sensible words, Xena confirmed the young womans worst fears. In spite of her sadness, Gabrielle struggled to steady her voice. She knew only a logical argument could dissuade the warrior from taking her home.
"I want my child to be born on Amazon land."
Xena frowned slightly. Her first concern was for Gabrielles welfare. She wouldnt take chances with the bard's life. "We are closer to Poteidaia. It would be safer to have the child there and then make the trip when you are both stronger."
Gabrielle shook her head firmly in dissent. She had thought of little else since she had missed her first period. There were a multitude of reasons behind her decision. Foremost, she wanted what was best for her child. The only downside was the distance they needed to travel, but that didnt worry her. She was confident Xena would get her there safely.
"I... I want my child to grow up where she will be nurtured, encouraged to be strong and independent."
Of course, there were other reasons too. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she clung to the fragile hope that Xena might visit the Amazons occasionally, that the connection between them would not be completely severed.
"And if its a boy?" Xena questioned.
"The Amazon midwives are best able to help me through the pregnancy. If I have a son, I will find another home for us. One where we can be happy. I only know thats not Poteidaia. I dont belong there anymore. I... Im not sure I ever did."
She glanced up at the warrior to see if her words had persuaded her. "Will you take me?"
The bards face was set with a resolved determination that Xena had never seen before. Instinctively she knew that arguing would be futile.
"If thats what you want, Ill get you there." The unspoken understanding that once Gabrielle was safe in the care of her people, Xena would leave, hung like a ghost between them.
"Thanks." The bards shoulders sagged with weariness. Weeks of worry had taken their toll.
Xena nodded, avoiding her friends eyes and tried not to think of their inevitable separation.
"Maybe you should get some rest."
Gabrielle stood and looked off into the darkness. Even the brightest stars were not able to penetrate the murky blackness of the night sky. Sorrow tugged at her heart as she turned to face her friend. Xena sat quietly, lost in her thoughts, mending forgotten.
The bards tremulous voice broke the silence. "You must wish that you never met me... I "
The anguish on her friends face pierced Xenas heart. She went to the bards side and lightly brushed her cheek, drawing the young womans timid glance.
"Gabrielle, my happiest memories are of you...of our travels together. Sometimes I dont know if I could have gone on without them. Remembering those times keeps my demons at bay..." She allowed her voice to trail off but her eyes never wavered. The sincerity reflected in the vivid blue was unmistakable. The genuine affection in her words left no doubt.
Xenas admission surprised and moved the bard. For the first time, Gabrielle realized that she was not the only one to benefit from their association. Their friendship had meant more to the warrior than she realized.
Xena continued. "I know weve been through some hard times along with the good, but I wouldnt trade them for anything... not for anything."
"I wouldnt either. I..." The bards voice quavered with conviction. It was as if Xena had pulled a dagger from her chest. The warriors admission healed her bruised heart. Their friendship had endured. All was not lost. She allowed the joy and relief she felt to wash over her.
Xena swallowed hard. Gabrielles reassuring words filled her with emotion. "When you married Perdicus, I thought you would move on... forget..." The sound of her own voice startled the warrior. She had not meant to speak her feelings.
Tears filled the young womans eyes as she glimpsed a vulnerability in her friend she hadnt been aware of.
"I could never..." She squeezed her hand, encouraging Xena to meet her gaze. "Nothing could take those memories from me. I could never forget you."
For an instant the warrior searched the young womans face. Then abruptly, she stepped back, reining in her emotions. "We should get some sleep. I want to get an early start tomorrow."
Gabrielle smiled and nodded. As she settled in her bedroll at the other side of the fire, she felt at peace. She knew that whatever trials the future might bring, she would be all right. Her memories of their time together, would see her through. Their friendship was strong.
As the firelight danced across the warriors face, softening her features, the bard felt familiar stirrings and allowed her heart to fill with hope.
"Sleep well, Gabrielle."
The bard let her body relax. She rested soundly for the first time in a long while.
For the warrior, there was no rest. She sat by the fire and watched over her companion. The past two moons she had been consumed with guilt over her own selfishness. As Gabrielle painfully mourned the death of her husband, Xena felt only relief at his passing.
From the moment he had come into their lives, she had resented him. Resented that he was able to provide her friend with things she could not: stability, a home and children. The thought of Gabrielle in his arms, the thought of him touching her, made the warrior angry and jealous. The horrible truth was that she was glad he was gone.
Xena had been struggling with her deepening feelings for the bard for some time. Against her better judgment she had fallen hopelessly in love with the young woman. As she watched Gabrielle marry, her heart shattered. In those few moments, her dreams of a lifetime together were destroyed.
Although she truly wanted what was best for her friend, in a dark corner of her heart she had felt betrayed, utterly devastated. Xena allowed her thoughts to drift back to the evening of Gabrielles wedding.
She had ridden hard into the night, going deep into the forest before making camp. Never in all her years had she felt so alone. The bard was gone. She had not thought such pain possible with the absence of physical wounds. The warrior was desolate. The only thing she wanted in all the world would never be hers.
Images of Gabrielle with Perdicus flooded her thoughts, tormenting her until she feared she would lose her sanity. She went to her saddle bags and retrieved a small pouch. It had been years since she had used the potent drug. Xena hesitated only a moment before wetting her finger with her tongue and dipping it into the fine orange powder. Her flesh tingled as she felt the drug attempt to penetrate her body. Even on the surface of her skin she could feel its powerful effects.
It promised release from her anguish and she hadn't the will to resist. The warrior opened her mouth and took her finger inside, spreading the powder over her tongue. Given entry, the drug quickly invaded her senses. Xena fell back, letting it numb her pain. She rose far above her body into darkness, escaping the world below. The black cocoon effectively shielding her. She felt nothing.
In the distance, she saw a light, like that of a firefly, flickering in the distance. As it moved closer, it grew more luminescent, enveloping her in light until it seemed she was looking into the face of the sun. It was overpowering. Xena closed her eyes tightly, shielding them with her hands, afraid to give in to it. But the light was everywhere. It beckoned to her, drawing her out of herself . She had no choice but to face it head on. The warrior opened her eyes and stared into the core of it.
She gasped. Its beauty took her breath away. Golden ribbons of light wavered in the distance. Xena walked toward them, struggling to focus. As she got closer she could see the outline of a figure. It was her bard. Gabrielle's naked form was bathed in a luminous white light. The breeze ruffled her golden hair. Her voice washed over the warrior like a caress.
"I am for you only you." The bard held out her arms in offering.
She reached for the apparition and moaned as her fingers made contact with the softness of the young woman's skin. Gabrielle was hers. Xena's fingers slid to the back of her neck and pulled her in, kissing her tenderly. It was ecstasy.
The bard immediately responded, pressing her lips to Xena's. The young woman's mouth opened in a moan and Xena was inside her at once, flowing through her, seeking out the very heart of her. They merged in a burst of heat and light.
Xena awoke from the fevered trance alone. Her need to be close to Gabrielle was stronger than ever, as if the bard held a piece of her soul.
The very next day, through Callistos murderous act, the fates brought them together again. But their reunion felt strained, both women still reeling from the devastating events.
And now there was the pregnancy.
It was as if Perdicus was reaching from the grave to take the bard from her once again. There would be no place for her in Gabrielles life when the baby was born. What could she offer a child? The thought of helping her friend raise an infant seemed ridiculous. Her world was filled with danger: no life for a mother and child.
Xena could no longer afford to delude herself about her importance in the bards life. She had offered her an escape from a boring village, a few seasons of adventure. They were friends, nothing more. Gabrielle would never think of her as a mate, a lover. That place in her heart was reserved for Perdicus.
She looked again at the beautiful woman sleeping across the fire from her. There was nothing she wouldnt do for Gabrielle, including letting her go.
The warrior felt a sudden chill in the air. She watched a light breeze ruffle a few loose strands of Gabrielles hair and went to her bedroll. Picking it up, she walked quietly to the sleeping woman and tucked her blanket around her. In a moment of weakness, she let her fingers lightly caress the bards cheek, then took a seat back across the fire.
When Gabrielle awoke Xena was gone. Her bedroll missing. Fear gripped her heart and she sat bolt up right. Behind her, Argo snorted, easing her anxiety. The warrior had to be nearby.
She stretched her stiff limbs and prepared to get up. It was then Gabrielle noticed that she was covered with Xenas blanket. The bard warmed at the act of kindness and pressed the thick material to her face, taking in the warriors scent.
She looked up as her friend broke through the brush, fresh fish in hand and smiled at the familiar sight.
"Morning. Thanks for letting me sleep."
Xena nodded. "You needed the rest." She held out the fish, already cleaned and filleted. "Ive got breakfast."
Gabrielle brightened. "Mmm, Im hungry!"
She pulled their frying pan out of the saddlebag and began seasoning the fish. Suddenly a wave of nausea washed over her and she ran for the bushes.
Xena looked on sympathetically. She selected an assortment of herbs from her pack and warmed them in water. When Gabrielle returned, she handed her the mug of special tea.
"Have you been suffering with this long?"
Gabrielle looked away shyly. Ashamed to have kept her secret for so long. "No... Not very."
It wounded Xena that her friend hadnt felt able to confide in her. "The herbs should settle your stomach. We need to make sure you eat frequently. It will lessen the queasiness."
"Thanks." Gabrielle slowly sipped the tea and gradually the nausea subsided. In very little time, she was eating as usual, quickly clearing her plate.
The warrior motioned to the remainder of her portion. "I cant finish the rest of mine. Do you want it?" She nodded and happily ate while Xena broke down camp.
"I want to go into the next village. We need to pick up a few things."
Gabrielle took out their coin purse. "Okay, but we are low on dinars. You better let me do the bartering."
The warrior turned and flashed her a genuine smile. "Thats a given."
It was early afternoon by the time they arrived in town. Xena noticed that her companion was weary from the long walk and immediately headed toward the inn.
"Lets get a room for the night."
"We cant afford it." The bard replied, then quickly softened her comment. "Looks like the weather will hold. It should be beautiful outside tonight."
It was so like her young friend, always making the best of a bad situation, never complaining. The idea of Gabrielle sacrificing because they didnt have enough money weighed heavy on Xenas heart. For this, their last journey together, the warrior was determined that she be as comfortable as possible.
"We have enough. Ive got a few dinars set aside."
Gabrielle looked up and smiled. "Been holding out on me, huh?" Xena playfully lifted her brow in response and headed toward the tavern.
She pushed open the door and glanced around the room for signs of trouble. It looked quiet. "Why dont you see what kind of deal you can get on the room while I get Argo settled."
"Okay, Ill catch up with you afterward."
Xenas eyes followed her companion as she stepped up to speak with the owner. She smiled as she watched the bards demeanor change. There was an air of authority in her body language. She meant business. Gone were the all traces of the naive farm girl. She was completely confident and professional.
Gabrielle had refined her bartering skills to a fine art. It was fortunate, because Xena lacked good judgment when it came to money. In her warlord days she had spent lavishly, rarely giving it a thought. Now reformed, she found it repugnant to deal with and had a tendency to spend twice what her friend would have paid just to avoid haggling. Much to her relief Gabrielle had come to understand this early on and shouldered the responsibility of their finances.
That was pretty much the way their relationship worked, the bard instinctively took up the slack in areas the warrior was weak or unwilling and vice versa. They complimented each other perfectly.
Xena heard Gabrielle enter the stable and quickly tucked an object into the cleavage of her leathers.
"I got the room and arranged to tell some stories. We should be able to pick up a few extra dinars."
She noted the lack of enthusiasm in the young womans voice. Usually just the thought of performing made the bard giddy with excitement. This change concerned the warrior. It was so unlike her friend.
"You look tired. Why dont you lay down for awhile?"
Gabrielle looked at her sadly. She disliked being a burden to Xena but felt truly exhausted.
"It would be nice to take a short nap. Would you mind?"
"Of course not, you need the sleep. Your body is going through changes."
"Are you going to hang around, check out the town?" The young woman tried to mask her anxiety. She tended to worry when they were apart, when she didnt know where Xena was.
Noting her tense expression, the warrior tried to lighten her mood.
"Sure, someone has to give the merchants fair warning. They wont know what hit them once you start wheeling and dealing." Gabrielle smiled, recognizing her companions attempt to cheer her.
The warrior was happy to see the bard's spirits rise. "Ill come wake you in a while to go shopping."
"Okay. Dont get into any trouble."
"Me?" Xena said innocently. She considered teasing her friend and decided against it. "You get some rest." She smiled. "I promise Ill be good."
A pang of affection coursed through the bard. She loved the rare
glimpses of Xenas playful side. It was a part of the warrior Xena reserved solely
for her. She reluctantly turned toward the inn.
Xena watched Gabrielle walk away. Once she was safely through the door, she headed toward the marketplace.
She chose the most lucrative shop to make the exchange. They dealt in jewelry as well as general goods.
Before entering, she pulled the medallion from her leathers and lovingly ran her fingers over it. Other than her weapons, it was the only possession she valued.
The medallion had been Lyceus most prized possession. It had belonged to their father. While it had held no sentimental value for she or Toris, it had meant the world to her younger brother. He had taken great pride in wearing it. The medallion was his singular link to a father he had never really known.
After Lyceus death, the keepsake had taken on new importance to Xena. It was her one physical connection to the brother she loved dearly.
She stepped through the door and handed it to the merchant. "How much will you give me for this?"
He carefully appraised the medallion, then her, quickly deciding it was in his best interest to deal with her honestly. "This is a nice piece. Im sure I can get a good price for it at the festival in the fall, but Im afraid I cant give you what its worth in cash, at least not now."
"How much can you give me?"
"500 dinars." She looked at him doubtfully. "Its worth at least twice that much."
"I agree, but I wont be able to sell this to just anyone. Ill have to wait for the festival. Cant short myself on cash."
Xena didnt take long to reach her decision. Her options were limited. "Okay, 500 dinars and Ill need to borrow a mule for a few moons. The rest Ill take in goods."
The merchant thought about dickering her down, but decided not to risk it. He knew he had a good deal. "All right, that sounds fair." He went in the back room and returned with a bag of dinars.
She handed him the medallion. "A friend will be in to pick out the supplies." The warrior let her eyes meet his. The coldness there forced him back a step.
"I trust you will treat her fairly."
"Of course." He stammered.
"Id rather you didnt mention anything about our exchange."
He nodded and slipped the medallion over his head. Lifting the neck of his tunic, he dropped it inside, patting it gently. "Our secret."
She stiffened at the thought of her brother's medallion around the strangers neck. Pushing the image to the back of her mind, she left.
After quickly surveying the town, Xena went back to the inn and quietly entered their room. Gabrielle was sound asleep. She sat in a chair next to the bed and quietly watched her young companion.
There was a purity, an innocence to Gabrielle that beckoned to her. She was everything Xena was not. The bard had taken the hardened warrior into her heart and given her something no one else could: her unconditional faith and loyalty. With Gabrielle, her slate was clean.
Whether or not she deserved it, her friend believed in her. It gave her hope. Hope that she could rise above her past. The faith Gabrielle had shown in her gave her the strength to go on. Xena trusted her, loved her like no other. The bond she felt for the young woman was unbreakable.
Early on in their friendship, Xena had tried to convince herself that her desire to be near Gabrielle stemmed from a need to protect her, keep her safe. But in her heart she had known the truth. She would lay down her life in a heartbeat to protect the bard. Her feelings ran deeper than friendship, much deeper, and had for a long time. She wanted Gabrielle, in every sense of the word. No other person in her life instilled such longing.
On many occasions in the quiet of the night, she fantasized about Gabrielle making love to her. The tenderness Xena imagined the bard bringing to her love making incited her passion beyond reason.
There was a subtle sensuality to the young woman that simmered just below the surface. Xena could not help wondering what it would be like to release the bards passion, to feel the heat of her desire. She squeezed her eyes shut to dispel the image. If only things had turned out differently. When Perdicus had first arrived, she had fleetingly considered seducing Gabrielle away from him. But it had only been a fantasy. In the end, she had done what she thought was best for her friend; she let her go.
Now, Xena wondered if it had been for the best. Could she somehow have saved Gabrielle from the pain she suffered? She would never know. Soon their travels together would be coming to an end. She would lose her. The very thought filled the warrior with a dread that even the worst of her enemies couldnt instill.
Xena knelt beside the bed and lightly smoothed a wisp of hair from the bards forehead. She bit back her sorrow and looked down at her slumbering friend. There was no evidence of the trials of the past few moons, no tension in her face. Gabrielle was completely relaxed, no trace of worry or care the kind of sleep reserved for only the truly innocent. She watched her chest rise and fall in rhythmic waves.
The bard stirred slightly, responding to a dream perhaps. An almost inaudible sigh escaped her lips, causing them to part slightly.
The sight took the warriors breath away. Xena longed to feel the softness of her lips, to brush them lightly with her own. What harm could it do one kiss? It might be her only chance. She bent forward, within reach of what she desired above all else. Her heart raced as temptation flooded through her. She squeezed her eyes shut.
She couldnt do it. Gabrielles heart belonged to another. The warrior stood, backing up so quickly that she crashed into the chair next to the bed. She was thrown off balance and fell to her knees. The chair clattered to the floor.
Gabrielles eyes fluttered open. She looked anxiously around the room. "Xena?"
The dark-haired woman answered nervously. "Im sorry... I... I tripped... the chair fell... I..."
The bard sat up and wiped the sleep from her eyes. "You tripped?" She looked at the warrior in disbelief. "Are you hurt? Is everything okay?"
"Im fine." Xena said, quickly righting the chair.
"Are you sure?"
"Have you been drinking?"
"No, I tripped, thats all." She repeated, agitation evident in her voice.
The young woman raised her hands to acquiesce. "Okay, its just... I didnt think you ever lost your footing."
"Im flesh and blood just like you, Gabrielle." No truer words were ever spoken. She felt her heated blood coursing though her veins as she spoke.
"I... I make mistakes too." She shivered as she thought how close she had come.
"Come sit on the bed." The bard patted the space next to her.
Xena took a step backward. Gabrielle looked at her curiously, then pointed to the warriors leg. "You skinned your knee. I just want to take a look at it."
Xena glanced down at her scuffed knee. "Its nothing. Im fine."
Gabrielle took a cloth and moistened it with water from a bowl on the table. She smiled playfully at her companion. "I know its not the most serious injury youve ever had, but humor me. Come here."
The warrior shrugged and sat down on the bed. Her friend carefully dabbed blood from the abrasion. "Gabrielle, this is silly." She replied, feeling embarrassed.
"I like taking care of you. Indulge me." Xena looked up shyly. The bards expression was soft, full of tenderness. She hadnt the will to decline. Secretly, she loved it when the young woman pampered her.
"Look, theres a sliver." Gabrielle glanced at the warrior, her expression grave.
"This is more serious than I thought." She fought to keep a smile from her face. "It has to come out. Ill have to borrow your breast dagger."
Xena rolled her eyes and began to stand. The young woman grabbed her arm and pulled her back.
"Okay, no knife, but youll have to be very brave. This could be quite painful." A mischievous smile spread across her face.
"Now brace yourself." Carefully, she caught the tip between two blunt fingernails and gently removed it.
"There. That wasnt so bad, was it?"
The warrior glared at her, making Gabrielle laugh. "How did you manage to trip over the chair, anyway?"
Xena shook her head in frustration. "It was just an accident. Enough about the tripping."
"Okay, okay. So did you get a chance to check out the town while I was asleep?"
"Yes as a matter of fact." Her mood brightened, grateful for the change of subject. "One of the merchants here owes me money. Hes going to trade us for the goods we need."
"Thats great! How much?"
"Enough." She didnt want to arouse the young womans irrepressible curiosity.
"How much is enough?" Gabrielle questioned.
"500 dinars, wow!"
"If your bartering skills are up to snuff, there should be more than enough to purchase what we need."
An excited smile lit the young womans face. "This is going to be fun."
"Yeah, well hurry up and get your boots on so we can go."
"We? Youre going shopping with me?" Normally the warrior hated to shop but Gabrielle was accustomed to being frugal and she wanted to make sure her friend purchased enough supplies to make the journey comfortable.
Xena shrugged. "Why should you have all the fun?"
The young woman beamed and quickly tugged her boots on. "Come on, lets go."
As they entered the large shop, the merchant came over to greet them. He smiled at Xena. "Hello again."
The warrior nodded to him and motioned to her companion. "Shell be selecting the supplies we need."
Gabrielle spoke up. "Xena, arent you going to introduce me to your friend?"
The warrior looked blankly at the merchant, who fortunately, didnt miss a beat. He offered his hand to the young woman. "Herodites. And you are?"
The bard smiled warmly and took his hand. "Gabrielle."
"Ah, Gabrielle. Xena mentioned you earlier." He winked at the warrior, who turned away and pretended to browse.
Soon the bard was in full form, gathering all the supplies she thought they would need for the long journey. Xena added numerous frivolous items to her stack. Surprised by her friends extravagance, the young woman glanced at her questioningly. The warrior merely shrugged. Spotting a small pillow on the shelf, she tossed it on the pile.
Xena spoke directly to the merchant. "Were going to need more vegetables, and dried fruit too." He nodded and went to get them.
The growing pile made Gabrielle uneasy. She started to speak but Xena interrupted her.
"Pick out an extra warm blanket and a few loose fitting tunics." She carefully evaluated the young woman. Her eyes appraising the bard. "How are your boots, any holes?"
"Theyre fine." She shifted uncomfortably. "I know you like to travel light. I dont need all of these things. I can get by with what I have."
"Its a long trip and youll be..." Xena gave up trying to explain, knowing Gabrielle would have little concern for her own comfort. "These things are important."
"How is Argo going to carry everything?"
"She wont have to carry it all. Were going to borrow Herodites mule. Besides, it wont hurt Argo to carry a little extra this one time. Ill be walking."
She turned toward the door ending further discussion. "Ill be back soon. I need to see the blacksmith." The door closed noisily behind her.
Herodites looked at Gabrielle and shrugged. "Not very social is she?"
The bard smiled. "Where did you and Xena meet?"
"Right here in my store."
Gabrielle gave him a puzzled glance. "How long have you known each other?"
The merchant hedged, not knowing how to answer. "Hmm, its hard to remember." The young woman let his remark pass as she busily sorted through the stacks of tunics. He took a relieved breath.
"Are these all the tunics you have?"
"No, there are more on the bottom shelf over here." He bent to retrieve them, setting the pile on the table for her to go through.
Gabrielle was about to reach for one when something shiny caught her eye. She stared in disbelief at the medallion hanging from his neck.
She pointed accusingly. "Where did you get that?"
The merchant faltered in his reply. "This... its... well its been in my family for a long time."
It was a pathetic lie. Gabrielle knew immediately that it belonged to Xenas brother. "She gave it to you for these supplies, didnt she?"
"Look, she didnt want you to know. Instructed me not to say anything."
Gabrielle leaned against the table. It was as if someone had knocked the wind out of her. "I cant believe she did this." Her voice choked with emotion, came out in a hoarse whisper.
"You arent going to tell her that I told, are you?"
She ignored his question. "Listen, I cant accept these things. Youll have to give the medallion back."
"Bbbbut, shell know I told you. I... I gave her a fair price for it, really. Please, wont you reconsider? Shes not the type of person I want angry at me."
The store door rattled as Xena entered. The merchant quickly dropped the medallion back in his shirt. Gabrielle took a deep breath and turned to face her friend.
The warrior quickly sorted through the items the young woman had selected and gently squeezed her arm. "Great job. Have you picked out new tunics yet?"
The bard could barely find her voice. "No, I..."
"Hmmm, lets see." The dark-haired woman ruffled through the pile of clothing on the table. She draped a dark green shift over her friends shoulder. "This is nice. Its a good color for you. She held up a rust colored tunic in the same fashion. "This one too. What do you think?"
"Xena, Its good of you to get these for me but I..."
The warrior features softened as she spoke. "Gabrielle, I like taking care of you too." The affection in her voice sent a wave of warmth through the bard. Xenas smile was so genuine that the young woman knew the sentiment came from her heart.
The warrior pressed her. "So what do you think?"
There was no graceful way to refuse her friends generosity. She would have to make it right later. The bard struggled to hold back the powerful emotions swelling within her and returned her friends fond glance.
"Theyre beautiful... Xena... this really means a lot to..." The warrior interrupted her, hesitant to allow the moment to become more than she could handle.
"Then, I think were set. Lets get some dinner."
As the pregnancy progressed, they spent less and less time on the road, stopping for longer periods of time. Gabrielle was beginning to change physically. Her breasts appeared fuller and her belly was visibly swollen.
Xena was alarmed to find that these changes made Gabrielle even more alluring to her. There was a sensual glow about the young woman that she found utterly distracting.
Although she tried to keep herself occupied. The warriors attention was continually drawn to her companion. It was the subtle changes that fascinated her most, small things really. Gabrielles hair had a high sheen to it. Her cheeks were rosier. She moved differently. Everyday Xena found her more beautiful than the day before.
Gabrielle was going through emotional changes too, occasionally experiencing mood swings. One moment she would be almost giddy with happiness then later Xena would find her crying tearfully over a wilted flower she saw along the road.
None of it bothered Xena. It was really only an amplification of the bards personality not exactly a change. She humored her friend the best she could until the situation passed and that usually worked. But not always.
Gabrielle returned to the road after yet another trip to the bushes. It was a very hot day and Xena could see the heat was taking its toll on the bard. The warrior took note of the sweat on her brow. "The suns pretty hot today. You better drink some more water."
The young woman turned and gave her a dangerous look. "Im not drinking any more water. I can hardly make it a candlemark without having to pee as it is. Ive had enough."
"Its important to replace the fluids youre losing." Xena reasoned.
"Forget it!" The bard snapped. "I dont see you drinking water..." Her jaw tightened as she spoke. "Ive gone three or four times already today and you havent been once. You drink the water!"
The outburst startled the warrior. She searched for the right words to soothe her. "Im sorry Gabrielle, I know youre uncomfortable..."
"Uncomfortable is not the word. Try miserable. Im hot and tired and achy and fat... and I swear if I have to make another stop to pee, Im not getting up again."
Xenas lips pursed in an attempt to hold back a smile. Even irritated, the bard was adorable. "Maybe we should stop here and make camp then."
The bard released a heavy sigh and looked sheepishly at her friend. "Xena Im sorry. I dont know whats wrong with me. Youve been so patient. I can go a little farther if you want."
"Nah, youre right. Its too hot today and this is a good place to stop. I think theres a stream just through the trees over there."
Gabrielles face lit up. "Really?"
"Yeah, wait here while I check."
The young woman sat on a stump by the road and rested.
A few minutes later Xena appeared. "Theres a nice cool stream just across the way." She stood newly invigorated. The warrior surprised her by sweeping her up in her arms.
"Im going to carry you."
"You dont have to. I can walk." The bard stammered.
"I know, but there are a lot of downed limbs and I dont want you to trip." She slowly made her way to the stream with her precious bundle. The young woman relaxed and laid her head on the warriors shoulder. She could feel the muscles flex beneath her cheek as Xena lifted and turned her effortlessly to make her way through the trees.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and let her mind wander. She could smell Xenas leathers. Their scent seemed amplified by the heat of her body. It was rugged and alluring, like the warrior. Before she knew it she was lost in a fantasy...
The warrior had swept her off her feet and was carrying her to their room. With each step Xenas sensual whisper spoke of what she planned to do to her. The warriors voice was like a caress. Gabrielles abdomen fluttered as her excitement grew.
"Do you know how long I can keep you on the edge of release?" The young woman swallowed hard and shook her head.
Xenas eyes sparkled with mischief. "As long as I want."
She smiled and held the bard close. Her lips lightly grazing her cheek. Gabrielle could feel the warriors breath hot against her ear as she added... "As long as you want."
Xena stopped at the top of the stairs. Her gaze scorched the bard with its intensity. "You have such a sexy voice. I want to hear you moan with pleasure..."
"Yeees." The bard whispered still in her erotic haze.
"Gabrielle?" The young woman opened her eyes, slowly emerging from her fantasy.
"You kinda dozed there." Xena said, afraid the heat had gotten to her companion.
The bard felt a flush rise to the surface of her skin. "Err yeah, I guess so."
The warrior set her down beside the stream. She looked around in awe.
"Its beautiful here."
"Yeah, not bad. We got lucky and the water looks deep enough for a bath."
"This is great!" The young woman was nearly ecstatic. Xena smiled, relieved to have done something to make her friend happy.
"Go ahead." She nodded. "Ill set up camp while you wash up." The bard flashed her an exuberant grin before hurrying toward the stream. She undressed quickly and waded carefully into the water. It was marvelously refreshing. A groan of pleasure escaped her lips as she lowered herself in.
She busied herself brushing Argo, occasionally risking a glance at Gabrielle. The young woman was positively radiant. This was the first time the warrior had seen her naked since she became pregnant. Her breasts were larger, the nipples darker than she remembered and even from where Xena stood she could see they were erect.
Gabrielle saw the warrior look her way and called to her. "Can you wash my back?"
The dark-haired woman swallowed hard, unable to think of an excuse to refuse. She undressed quickly and waded into the water, settling behind her friend. She slowly twirled the soap in her hands, working up a lather.
Xena felt her own body temperature rise regardless of the cool water surrounding it. The erect tips of her nipples were only inches from the soft skin of Gabrielles back. The heat of the young womans skin was dizzying as she ran her hands over the surface, lathering with the soap as she went.
A pleasant tingling sensation radiated through her abdomen. She forgot herself and let her hands run sensually down the bards sides. The bard gasped and Xena pulled back quickly.
She opened her mouth to apologize but the excitement in Gabrielles voice stopped her.
"The baby... I... I felt it... it moved." Without a thought she reached for her friends hand and placed it on her stomach. The baby kicked again. Xena felt it press against her fingers. She was speechless.
Gabrielle turned to face her. The look of complete wonder on the warriors face surprised her. She smiled. "Isnt it incredible?"
Xena nodded unable to form words to describe what she was feeling. The pregnancy until now had seemed abstract. Suddenly, it was very real and nothing short of miraculous. Gabrielle had a life growing inside her.
The young woman continued to hold Xenas hand to her belly.
"Im going to be a mother." Tears of joy filled her eyes. The moment was emotionally charged.
"Oh, Gabrielle." The warrior was flooded with emotion and pulled her friend into a warm embrace. The bard laughed lightly. She had never felt so alive.
Xena kissed her softly on the cheek. "Come on, wed better get you out of this water before you catch a chill." She picked her up with the greatest care and set her down a blanket. Xena used a linen to dry the bard's hair, trying hard not to think about the fact that they were both naked. Her blue eyes settled on a drop of water as it made its way from Gabrielle's collarbone down to rest against an erect nipple. Without thought she licked her lips.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior nervously. "Xena... do you think Im attractive?"
The question caught her off guard. "I.. ah..." Her eyes darted about, looking everywhere except at her friend. She was certain her desire was clearly written on her face.
The bard interrupted. "Its just... I... I was wondering about.... well... how the baby would look... I mean Perdicus was the only man that really showed an interest in me... and..."
"You have nothing to worry about," Her companion said sincerely.
The young woman smiled and curled up next to the fire. "I just want this baby to get the best of what I have to give."
Xena hesitated, then spoke. "For what its worth... I think you're beautiful. This baby is very lucky to have you for a mother." A brief twinge of jealously coupled with sadness passed through the warrior. The baby would be able to stay with Gabrielle while she would have to go. "Very lucky..." she added in a quiet voice.
The young woman felt a warmth flush her cheeks that had nothing to do with the fire. "Thanks Xena."
"Yeah, now try to get in a nap. Ill going to make one last sweep of the perimeter before we settle in for the night."
The movement of the baby was a turning point for Gabrielle. She began to look at her situation in a more positive light, convinced only good could come from her pregnancy. The young mother to be was sure of one thing: she was willing to endure anything and everything to bring her baby into the world.
Although the bard never complained about being uncomfortable, Xena usually sensed when she had done enough traveling for the day. This time the warrior had misjudged the bards stamina. Gabrielle had a dizzy spell, nearly stumbling. Xena was beside herself with concern and insisted they call it a day. She quickly found a place off the road for them to camp.
The young woman settled on a rock while the warrior retrieved their water bag. As she took a long swallow, Xena looked her over anxiously. She bent down and unlaced Gabrielle's boots. The bard moaned as the warrior slid them off her feet. Her ankles were very swollen.
"Oh, Gabrielle." Xena was unable to hide her pained expression. "I'm sorry. We should have stopped a candlemark ago. Youve been on your feet too long."
"It's okay really." The young woman spoke softly, trying to reassure her friend.
Xena quickly laid out her bedroll. "Here, lets get you more comfortable." She eased her friend down onto the blanket.
"Lay on your side. That should help." The bard turned and Xena propped up her feet with a pillow.
"You look a little pale. Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine, just a little headache is all."
Xena got up to retrieve a few items from Argo's saddlebags. She dampened a cloth with cool water. Opening a small vial, she poured some of the sweet smelling liquid onto the cloth.
The warrior knelt beside the bard and placed the cool compress on her forehead. "Just close your eyes and try to relax."
"Mmmm, that smells nice. What is it?"
"Oil of lavender. It should help your headache." She pulled Gabrielle's feet onto her lap and gently massaged them.
The bard groaned as the tension faded. "Xena, you don't have to "
The warrior interrupted her with a soft whisper. "Shhh, try to rest."
In no time the young woman drifted to sleep. Xena continued rubbing her feet and calves. Gabrielle's skin was smooth as silk, incredibly soft. Her hands tingled as she kneaded the tender flesh. These were the moments she cherished. Times she could gaze upon the bard without having to worry about reveling her true feelings. It was wonderful to let down her guard and look openly at her young friend. The warrior's heart filled with love at the mere sight of her. Everyday Gabrielle seemed more beautiful than the last. It was with great reluctance that she tore herself away to prepare dinner.
It was the smell of stew that finally urged the bard from sleep. When she opened her eyes, she saw Xena stirring a large pot. The warrior, unaware of her audience, sampled it with a thoughtful frown and carefully added some herbs. The uncharacteristic sight warmed the bard's heart. Cooking was not one of her companion's many skills.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the young woman stretch and glanced up. The bard was smiling cheerfully. "It smells wonderful."
Xena brought a bowl of the hearty stew over to her. "Im afraid it doesnt compare to yours."
Gabrielle tasted a large spoonful. "Mmm, its very good." The warrior looked at her doubtfully.
"Really." Her friend insisted. "Havent you ever noticed that food almost always tastes better when someone else does the cooking?"
"Well, in my case, thats almost always true."
The bard grinned. "Ah come on, youre not that bad. In fact, is there any left?"
Xena smiled and took her bowl, filling it with the remainder of the stew.
After dinner Gabrielle made a trip to the bushes. The warrior busied herself cleaning the dishes and let her mind flash to images of the beautiful bard. She was so lost in her thoughts that she lost track of how long her friend had been gone.
She looked up when the bushes rustled. Two lone bandits broke through the brush. One had his arm wrapped around the bards neck. The second man stood at his side armed with a dagger.
Xena drew her sword and twirled it menacingly. "Let her go or Ill kill you both."
The armed bandit pressed his dagger against the Gabrielles belly. Xena went white. "I think Im willing to take that chance." He grinned back at her. "Seems that were holding all the cards here." He slowly ran the dagger the length of the bards stomach. "Now, toss that sword over here, before I lose my patience."
She tossed her sword beside him without hesitation. Gabrielle looked at her in surprise. There was an emotion in the warriors eyes she had never seen before, fear.
"Thats a good girl. Now toss those saddlebags this way so I can have a look." Xena did as he asked, her eyes never leaving the dagger in his hand. As he leaned with his free hand to pick them up, Gabrielle saw her opportunity. Her right arm swung upward pushing the dagger away from her body. At the same time her left elbow came back hard into the stomach of the man holding her. He bent over in pain.
Xena sprang into action, hurling her breast dagger into the chest of the armed man. It killed him instantly. Without hesitation, she rushed the remaining bandit. In one swift motion, she wrapped her arm around his throat and snapped his neck. He dropped silently to the ground.
Her hands were trembling violently as her eyes scanned the bard for signs of injury. She was unharmed. The bard took a tentative step toward her. Xena turned and ran into the woods.
Under cover of the thick foliage the warrior vomited. She sat back on her heels, her entire body shaking.
Gabrielle and her child could easily have been killed. Because she had frozen, two pathetic bandits had endangered what she held most dear. She had lost her edge. The threat to her companions life had clouded her judgment. If Gabrielle had not taken action... Her stomach lurched once again at the thought. The warrior felt truly vulnerable for the first time in her life.
Xena took deep breaths trying to regain her composure. She heard the bard approach from behind and turned to face her. Gabrielle laid a calming hand on the warriors shoulder, her eyes full of concern.
"Are you all right?" She lowered herself to her knees beside Xena.
The warrior nodded. "Im sorry. I dont know what happened. I... froze." The bard had never seen her companion so shaken.
"Xena, I knew youd come through. All you needed was an opening." The warrior looked at her helplessly, needing to believe her words.
Gabrielle continued. "It doesnt all have to fall on your shoulders. You can count on me for help sometimes." She smiled, trying to reassure her companion. "We make a pretty good team, dont you think?"
Xena nodded. It was one truth she couldnt deny.
As they got closer to Amazon territory, the warrior noticed Gabrielle had become uncharacteristically quiet. She was friendly and responded when Xena engaged her in conversation but rarely spoke unless spoken to.
Perdicus death had been hard on her. If only Gabrielle could write again, the warrior felt sure the young woman would find happiness. She was a natural storyteller. The warrior just needed to draw her out.
After they had finished dinner, Gabrielle sat in silence, staring into the flames. Xena got up and sat beside her.
The bard looked up and smiled. "Im fine."
"Ive noticed that youve been kind of quiet lately. I wondered if maybe you needed... I mean... I wondered if you wanted to talk. Youve been through a lot lately."
Gabrielle looked at her fondly. "Thanks. I just havent had much to say." She flashed a gentle smile. "I thought you would be relieved. I know you get tired of hearing me go on and on."
"Thats only teasing." Xena said seriously. "I miss... I enjoy hearing your stories."
"You do?" The bard didnt hide her surprise.
"Yeah, Youve gotten very good, you know."
The warrior nodded. "Best storyteller Ive heard."
Gabrielle blushed. Her heart swelled with love for her companion. Afraid Xena would notice, she covered her reaction with humor. "I often wondered why you let me tag along. I always thought it was my cooking." She winked.
"Well, of course there is that too." Xena raised her brow playfully.
She tossed a stick into the fire and her expression became thoughtful. "Why have you stopped writing?"
Gabrielle looked deep into the fire. How could she explain to Xena that the majority of her stories had been inspired by her love for the warrior, feelings she now kept tight reigns on.
"I guess Ive had a lot on my mind lately."
"Of course, Im sorry I..."
"No, its okay. I... Im sorry I havent been very much fun to be around lately." The bards expression saddened. She felt terrible for all she had put Xena through.
"Gabrielle, I havent traveled with you all these seasons because you were a good cook and storyteller. Talkative or not, youre good company. I... I enjoy being with you."
"You do?" The young womans heart began to beat faster.
"Yes, I do." She smiled and ruffled her friends sun-bleached hair. The affectionate act made Gabrielle's scalp tingle. Suddenly she felt warm all over.
"Xena , I've been thinking a lot about my life lately. There are so many things I screwed up. Ive made such of mess of things. I... I want to explain about leaving you when Perdicus came... I"
The dark-haired woman interrupted her. "Dont worry about it. I understood that you had to get on with your life. I... I always knew you needed more... a home, family. You deserved better than you had with me. I should be the one apologizing... I ruined it for you. If my life hadnt gotten tangled up in yours, Perdicus would still be alive."
"No, youre wrong. Its not your fault. None of it." Her eyes met the warriors. She spoke with conviction. "I should have told you so, a long time ago. Its you who deserved more. Im the reason Perdicus is dead. I... I never should have..."
A wave of emotion choked her words. She wanted so very much to tell Xena the truth.
The warrior wrapped her arms around her, holding her close. The bard clung to her desperately.
"Its not your fault Gabrielle. No bad can ever come from loving."
"I wish that were true."
"It is. Believe me."
Gabrielle tried to blink her tears away. "Gods, I cant seem to stop crying these days."
Xena rocked her gently, talking to her softly. "Its all right... tears are good for the soul."
Gabrielle wasnt sure about the tears but the warmth of the warriors body against her own felt wonderful. The bard wanted time to stop and for a while it seemed it nearly did. She closed her eyes and gave in to the sweet sensations. Before long she had fallen into a dreamless sleep, safe in her companions arms.
Xena held her tight. She loved Gabrielle with everything in her. The pain of the impending separation made her heart hurt worse than anything since the death of Lyceus. The knowledge that dawn would bring an end to their time together filled her with a profound sadness. She stroked her sleeping friends hair. The young woman nuzzled against her. The persistent rhythm of the bards chest rising and falling against her made it impossible to let her go. Each breath was like a gentle caress against Xena's skin.
There would be no sleep for the warrior. Xena could not trust what her body might do if left to it's own devices. Yet she did not have the will to disentangle herself and move to the other side of the fire. There was so little time left before she put Gabrielle into the care of the Amazons and moved on, alone. She could not deny herself these last few candlemarks of closeness. Xena reached for the blanket at her side and pulled it over them both. Without disturbing Gabrielle she eased back, holding her in a tender embrace.
By mid-afternoon the next day they arrived at the Amazon village. Xena went to see Ephiny while the bard got settled.
The regent greeted her with a warm smile. "I understand congratulations are in order."
Xena nodded and looked away uncomfortably. It was hard to feign happiness when the person who mattered most in her life would soon be gone from it.
"Gabrielle will make a wonderful mother." Ephiny offered.
"Yes, she will." The regent detected an edge in the warriors voice.
"It will be nice having you both around."
The dark-haired woman looked away nervously. "I... Im not staying. Ill be leaving in the morning."
"You know you're welcome."
"Thanks, but its better this way."
"Does Gabrielle know?" The warrior glanced out the window, avoiding the regent's eyes.
"Yes, Shell be fine. Shes in good hands here."
Xena interrupted, shifting her weight anxiously. "I want to give you something for Gabrielle and the baby." She handed Ephiny the bag of dinars from the sale of the medallion. "Its not much, but maybe it will help."
Ephiny was puzzled by the warriors apprehension. "Im sure it will. Can I ask why you dont give it to her yourself?"
She took a deep breath before answering. "Im not sure she would feel comfortable accepting it." Xenas reply was only partially true. She couldnt bear the idea of discussing her departure with the bard. Talking about their separation was too painful.
"All right, Ill see she gets it." The sad expression on the normally stoic face moved the regent. "I wish you would reconsider. Stay just a little longer."
"I cant." She walked toward the door and turned. "Ephiny, thank you... for taking care of them."
In an unguarded moment, their eyes met and the regent glimpsed the sadness Xena tried not to show. Her heart went out to the warrior.
"Gabrielle is our queen. She will always have a home here... as will you."
The warrior nodded and turned to leave, closing the door quietly behind her.
Xena wasnt looking forward to saying good-bye in the morning. She tossed and turned in bed for candlemarks. Finally, unable to sleep, she stepped outside her hut, hoping the night sounds would soothe her anxiety. She walked aimlessly around the village, trying to think what she would say to the young woman who had come to mean so much to her. If there were something that could be done to make this easier, she couldnt think of it.
After a while, the warrior realized she had been walking in circles around the area surrounding Gabrielles hut, like a lioness protecting her den. As she passed the queens room for the fourth time that night she heard an anguished cry and burst through the door. Gabrielle sat upright in bed. She was very pale, obviously frightened by a nightmare. Xena was at her side instantly, holding her in her arms.
"You're safe. Im here." She gently rubbed her friends back, in an attempt to calm her.
"It was so real. I... I..." Gabrielle spoke breathlessly. The warrior could feel her trembling and pulled her closer.
"It was only a dream." She soothed.
But even as Xena said it, Gabrielle knew it hadnt been like a dream at all. It was more like some terrible premonition.
"It might help to talk about it."
The bard hesitated, not wanting to worry her friend. "I cant remember all the details. Youre right, its not real." She slowly pulled away, trying to disguise how frightened she truly was.
Xena was uncomfortable leaving her friend in such a distressed state, but she stood not knowing what else to do. "I... I guess I should go. Let you get some rest." An awkward silence hung between them as they both thought of the warriors departure in the morning. Finally, Xena moved toward the door.
It was now or never. Gabrielle couldnt stand by and watch her friend walk out of her life, especially now.
"I know its a lot to ask... but, would you consider staying... just until the babys born?" Her body filled with tension as she waited for the warrior to reply. Xena walked back to her side and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Is there something you're not telling me about your dream?"
"Im just frightened. This is all so new to me." Gabrielle glanced down shyly. "Im know Im being silly... if you cant stay, I understand. She gently lifted the bards chin and looked directly into her eyes.
"If you want me to, Ill stay."
"I... I need you." Gabrielles voice was choked with emotion. "Please..."
The young woman's words wound around the warriors heart. She held out her arms and her companion fell into them, hugging her close. In that moment Xena knew the bard had tamed her in a way she never thought possible. The idea of life without her friend was unimaginable.
Gabrielles eyes sparkled with moisture. Her smile was so breathtaking that the warrior would have traveled to Tartarus and back to see it.
"Ill make arrangements with Ephiny in the morning. But now you should get some rest." Xena glanced down at the bards trembling hands and wondered what nightmare would so completely unnerve her. She was reluctant to leave her frightened and alone.
"Ill stay with you until you fall asleep. Now, lay back." She sat on the bed beside her.
Gabrielle snuggled into the fluffy pillow and looked up with eyes full of love. The warrior's heart melted. She reached out and brushed the bard's hand with her fingertips. Gabrielle sighed as her eyes drifted shut. Without thought, she gently closed her hand around Xena's. Her body visibly relaxed, the tension slowly fading.
The warrior never left her room until dawn.
Xena watched Gabrielle finish up the remains of a lunch that would have fed several hungry men. Her appetite was nothing short of phenomenal. She glanced up as Ephiny approached. The regent took a seat next to the bard.
"Im glad you decided to stay with us for a while." Ephiny commented. "What made you change your mind?"
The warrior saw her friend stiffen, embarrassed by her fear. She turned to Ephiny and shrugged. "Well, I figured you could use another hunter. With Gabrielle, eating for two takes on a whole new meaning."
The bard laughed and looked at her friend gratefully.
The chemistry between the two women was not lost on the regent. She was as puzzled as anyone when the young queen showed up in her current condition. Like most of the Amazons, she assumed the two women would wind up together. They complimented each other so well that they seemed destined for each other. She was anxious to have some time alone with the queen to hear her story.
Xena stood. "Im on my way to meet Solari. Were going hunting." She nodded to Ephiny and gently squeezed Gabrielles shoulder. "Ill see you both later."
The bards eyes followed the warrior until she disappeared from the room. The regent couldnt help smiling as she watched.
"Alone at last." Ephiny joked. "Lets go to my hut so we wont be interrupted. We have a lot to catch up on."
Gabrielle walked in awkward silence to the regents hut, her mind searching for words to explain everything that had happened.
Finally, Ephiny spoke up. "Congratulations. When are you due?"
"In about two moons. Xena thinks a little less because of the way Im carrying the baby." She looked away shyly, not knowing how to proceed.
"If youd rather not talk about it, I understand."
Gabrielle glanced at her sheepishly. "No, its okay. Everything has happened so fast. I dont know where to begin."
She paused for a moment before nervously continuing. "Eight moons ago I married a man Id grown up with from my village."
Ephiny looked puzzled. "I dont remember you mentioning anyone from your village before."
The young queen looked down at her boots. "Well, it was rather sudden."
"Thats how love is sometimes." The regent noted her anxiety. "Where is he now?"
Gabrielle took a deep breath. "The day after the wedding... on the way to Poteidaia, we met an enemy, Callisto. She... she killed him."
Ephiny was immediately sorry for pressing her. "Gabrielle... I..."
The bard looked up sadly. "He never had a chance."
"Im truly sorry. You must have loved him very much."
The bard avoided Ephinys eyes, playing absently with the edge of the blanket. "No... I..." She lowered her head and went suddenly pale.
The regent moved to her side and wrapped a protective arm around her shoulder. "Gabrielle, what is it?"
The bard slowly turned to face her. "I married him for the wrong reasons. I never loved him and now hes dead because of my selfishness."
"Youre the least selfish person I know. Things happen for a reason. Maybe Perdicus was meant for Elyssia and you were meant to bring a new life into the world."
"Im responsible for his death and theres more, so much you dont know."
Ephiny squeezed her shoulder gently. "Why did you marry him if you didnt love him?"
"I was running... I thought I could lose myself in a normal life. I thought I could make him happy. I hoped I could be happy. It was foolish."
"We all make mistakes."
"Ive caused Xena so much trouble. I have no idea why she has stayed with me this long."
"I haven't heard her complaining."
"No, she never would. She's been so good to me. She... she even sold her brother's medallion to buy the supplies we needed to travel here."
"Your welfare is very important to her. That much is obvious."
The bard looked even more stricken. "I dont know what Im going to do, but somehow Ive got to come up with the money to buy it back for her. I can sell my scrolls, but that wont be nearly enough. I have to find a way to make it right with her."
The regent walked to the dresser and opened the top drawer. "Maybe this will help." She handed Gabrielle the bag of dinars the warrior had given her.
"Ephiny, I couldnt I..."
"Its not mine. Xena left instructions for me to give you this after she left. She wanted you and the baby to have it. I suspect its the money she received from the sale of the medallion."
Suddenly the bards legs went weak. She sunk heavily onto the bed. Her eyes filled with tears.
"I think she cares about you very much."
"Ephiny... Im losing her."
The regents eyes looked questioningly into Gabrielles. "Why do you think Xena really delayed her departure?"
"I... I asked her. I "
"Maybe all she needs is for you to give her a reason to stay."
"If only you were right."
"The baby isnt due for a while. Things have a way of working out. Youll see."
"At least I have time to try to get her medallion back. With this and the money from my scrolls I should have enough to do it."
"In the morning, Ill send two scouts out to take care of it." The bard hugged her gratefully.
On the way back to her hut, Gabrielle wondered if the regent was right. Could she convince Xena to stay indefinitely? Was it fair to ask her?
Ephiny sat puzzling about the bard and warrior for some time before she summoned Eponin. When the Amazon arrived she quickly appraised her of the situation.
"So, you want me to send scouts out to sell Gabrielles scrolls and get the medallion back?"
"Gabrielles scrolls are a part of her. I cant be a party to their sale. Ill figure out a way to cover the difference."
Eponin smiled and shook her head. "Id be glad to help too."
"Getting soft in your old age?"
"Nah, Ive always been this way. Youre just too busy to notice." Eponin tentatively watched for her reaction. The regent glanced away.
"So Xena has decided to stay then?"
Ephiny shrugged. "At least for the time being."
"She seems to be settling right in. I have to say Im surprised. I always thought Xena had the heart of a nomad. "
"Hmm, Id say her heart was otherwise engaged." The regent smiled, raising her eyebrows.
"Yeah, what is it with those two anyway?"
"Its a long story but whoever said love was blind wasnt kidding."
"Deaf and dumb too." Eponin added, her sarcasm lost on the regent.
"I think maybe its time someone intervened."
The Amazon looked at her curiously. "Do you have something in mind?"
"I might. You in?"
"Are you kidding? I wouldnt miss it."
Remembering the warriors acute hearing she cupped her hands around her mouth and leaned into Eponin's ear. When she finished, the Amazon laughed out loud.
"I think Im going to enjoy this."
Ephiny smiled. "I thought you might."
"When should I start?"
"Xenas on first shift guard duty tonight. Its as good a time as any."
Gabrielle was surprised how quickly the warrior adapted to the pace of village life. Her worries that Xena would get restless seemed unfounded. During the day she kept busy helping with a variety of chores, but her free time, for the most part, was spent with the bard. Before long they had easily fallen into a comfortable routine.
Each morning when Xena came to wake her, Gabrielle would be curled on her side, sound asleep, one arm outside the blanket as if she were reaching for something. In what had become her morning ritual, Xena gently touched the back of her hand, coaxing it open. When her fingers stretched, responding to the contact, the warrior lightly massaged her palm. Gradually, the young woman's eyes would flutter open and as her world came into focus she would smile, happy to find Xena kneeling beside her.
After breakfast they took long walks, discussing their plans for the day. The afternoons were filled with village responsibilities, Gabrielles more administrative and Xenas activity oriented. At days end their time was once again their own. The warrior would bring the bard a snack from the kitchen, which they shared as they talked about the time they had spent apart.
Tonight she brought one of her friends favorites, nutbread.
Gabrielle smiled at the thoughtful gesture and took a big bite. "This is great! You have to try it."
The warrior sat at the table beside her and scratched her leg. "Nah, I had a late dinner after guard duty."
"Come on. You know you want it." She lifted the remaining bite to Xenas mouth and slowly fed her. The tip of her index finger lightly grazing the warriors parted lips as she guided the last morsel between them. Her eyes remained fixed on the dark-haired woman and a shiver passed through her as she watched Xenas tongue collect the crumbs from her moist lips.
The warrior hadnt noticed the longing in the bards glance. She was lost in her companions eyes. The candle light dimmed in comparison. She nervously dropped her gaze as Gabrielle innocently licked the crumbs from her fingers. Xena swallowed hard and slapped her leg more to break her trance than to soothe the annoying itch.
The action took Gabrielle by surprise and she looked down quizzically at her friends leg. "What are those red spots?" Without thinking she ran her fingers over them. The warrior froze at her touch.
"I... ah... theyre flea bites. I think my bed is infested with them."
"No, I havent sleep well the last fortnight."
"Thats terrible. You should have told me. Ill have someone take care of it tomorrow."
"Thanks, I really need to catch up on my rest. I thought Id sleep outside tonight." As if on cue thunder sounded and Xena rolled her eyes.
"I dont think thats a good idea." Gabrielle laughed. "You could sleep with me." She blushed when she realized how eagerly she had spoken . "I... my bed is very comfortable. No fleas here." She patted the firm mattress. "First thing tomorrow, Ill see that your hut is cleaned."
The offer was too alluring to turn down. Xena quickly consented. "Thanks."
She lay wearily on the bed and within a few minutes she was sound asleep. Gabrielle changed quietly and slid in on the opposite side taking great care not to disturb her. She tried to curl up close to the warrior's back but her swollen belly made it impossible. Finally she rolled over. To her surprise, the sleeping woman rolled over as well and pressed gently against her. Gabrielle sighed and slipped into a contented sleep.
The drizzling rain continued through the next day.
After a soggy evening on guard duty Xena returned to her own room anxious to get caught up on her rest. True to her word, Gabrielle had the warriors hut cleaned and her mattress replaced. She fell gratefully into bed and inhaled the fresh scent of clean linens. Within minutes, she drifted asleep.
In the middle of the night an insistent knock awoke the bard. Xena stood dripping wet in the doorway, looking cold and very tired. Gabrielle pulled her inside. She handed her a towel and took a dry shift from the drawer.
"Change into this. Ill put some tea on." She went over to the fireplace and hung the kettle over the flames.
The warrior put on the dry clothes and took a seat at the table. "The new mattress has fleas too."
"What?" Gabrielle said in disbelief. Xena held out her arms revealing fresh bites.
The queen shook her head in frustration. "I dont understand."
"It must be where theyre storing the mattresses." There was an edge to her voice.
"Ill make sure you get a new one in the morning." Her friend promised.
"No, just have it removed. Im going to use my own bedroll." Xena sipped her tea slowly, enjoying its penetrating warmth.
Gabrielle toweled the warriors hair dry and ran a brush through the dark tangle of hair. It felt incredibly soft against her skin. The scent was intoxicating. Reluctantly, she stepped back to escape the sweet aroma and gazed at the warrior.
"You look tired. Maybe you should try to get some sleep."
"Im too edgy to sleep. This flee thing is driving me crazy." The bard gazed at her sympathetically.
"Maybe a good story would take my mind off this, help me relax "
Gabrielle looked at her hesitantly then relented. "Ah... okay. Which one?"
"How about the one about the pig. That always makes me laugh."
The bard smiled softly and started the story. It was a shaky beginning, but in no time she found her pace, really getting into the tale.
The warrior watched her friends sweeping gestures as she mimicked the two sisters frantically trying to hide their pet pig so their father would not butcher it. The comedy of errors soon had Xena laughing just as hard as the first time she heard the tale. She loved the way the story seemed to change a little with each telling.
The bard wrapped up the tale. "I wasnt able to sit-down for nearly a week. But Lila had the worst of it. She had to pull most of the prickers out of my " Xena chuckled at the bard's sudden modesty.
"Thanks Gabrielle, I really enjoyed that."
The bards eyes were brimming with excitement as she looked happily at her friend. "That really felt good... I mean its been a long time. I kinda thought I lost the knack."
Xena looked at her seriously. "Youre a natural born storyteller. Its a part of you."
"Yeah, maybe you're right. Did I ever tell you about the time..." Xena smiled to herself as Gabrielle launched into another tale. It was good to have the bard back.
The two friends talked late into the night until the warrior was warm and dry. Finally, Xena yawned, unable to hide her exhaustion.
"Mind sharing your bed again?" She asked.
"Of course not."
Xena fell asleep quickly. But the bard remained awake. Thanks to her friend, she felt truly happy for the first time in months. She gazed lovingly at the warrior, amazed at how quickly she drifted off. Many sleepless nights had taken their toll. The young queen pulled the blanket over the exhausted woman's shoulder. Gabrielle planned to investigate the flea infestation first thing in the morning. She was determined to solve Xena's problem.
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