The warrior awoke at sun up to find the bard curled in her arms. Left to their own devices their bodies had naturally intertwined, Gabrielles head resting comfortably on the warrior's chest. An incredible sense of peace settled over her and she felt herself giving into it. She closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
The morning sun streamed into the room. The bard slowly opened her eyes. She was surprised to find Xena still in bed and delighted to feel herself curled in the warriors embrace. The dark-haired woman was tightly fitted against her back. Her right arm encircled Gabrielles broad belly, her hand opened protectively over the center as if guarding its precious contents. The young woman sighed happily. She waited long moments before slowly extricating herself.
Gabrielle headed out to look for regent. She found her in the dining hall and immediately began to inform her about the flea situation. The queen was stunned when Ephiny merely shrugged at Xenas problem.
"What do you mean, 'you dont know what else to do'?" The bards agitation was obvious.
"Weve put two different mattresses in there already."
"Well, something else needs to be done."
"Isnt your current arrangement working?"
"Well, yes... its just..." Ephiny smiled as Gabrielle hedged.
"You dont like sharing your bed with the warrior?"
"Its not that "
"Are you afraid Xena is going to take advantage of you?"
"Of course not. Its..." Gabrielle looked up to find the regents eyes sparkling with mischief. Suddenly a light dawned.
"What do you know about this? Has anyone else had a problem with fleas?"
"If they have, no one has mentioned anything to me." Ephiny answered innocently.
Before the bard could question her further, Eponin joined them. "Morning."
She sat down next to Gabrielle. "Wheres Xena?"
"Sleeping in. She hasnt gotten much rest lately." Eponin guiltily hid her hands in her lap, but not before the young queen noticed the bites.
Gabrielle turned to the regent. "Whats going on?"
The two women looked at each other and spoke simultaneously. "What do you mean?"
Gabrielle picked up Eponin's hand. "If Xena finds out shell kill you both."
"Finds out what?" Ephiny asked in a last ditch attempt to play innocent. Gabrielle flashed her a stern look. The charade was up.
"Okay, okay..." She conceded. "But, hows she going to find out?"
"One look at the flea bites on Eponins hands and shell figure it out just like I did."
The Amazon looked a little panicked. "You arent going to tell her, are you?"
"Well... Ive never kept anything from her before."
Ephiny spoke up. "If you tell her, shell move back into her own hut. Is that what you want?"
"You know she will..." The regent warned. "Right after she dumps Eponin in the lake." The Amazon shifted nervously.
"I dont want Xena to be angry with either of you. Why would you do such a thing? She has really been miserable."
Eponin started to speak but Ephiny interrupted her. "It was my idea."
Gabrielle looked at the regent in disbelief. "Why?"
"I thought you both needed a push in the right direction." The bard stared, open mouthed. "You said you wanted to be closer to Xena, didnt you?"
The bard shook her head. "I...I... yes, but I wanted it to be her idea... or... mine."
"Well in a way it was."
Gabrielle glared. "This has to stop, immediately. Put a new mattress in Xenas hut."
"Are you sure thats what you really want?" Ephiny paused. "My mother taught me never to look a gift horse in the mouth."
Both women winked at her. "At least think it over." The regent suggested.
Gabrielle got up and left the dining hall, angry with herself for not insisting that they replace the mattress immediately. The temptation to have Xena stay with her was too great. She enjoyed their nights together too much to have them come to an end. And then there was her dream... Unable to face the warrior she went for a long walk.
Xena felt fully rested for the first time in weeks. She grabbed a quick breakfast and glanced around for the bard. After speaking with some Amazons in the dining hall, she discovered Gabrielle had eaten with Eponin. She headed out to find them.
Nearly a candlemark later she still hadnt located the Amazon and there was no sign of her companion. She decided to check out the lake.
Eponin stood on shore fishing. She was alone.
"Hi." Xena said. The Amazon turned in surprise. She hadnt heard the warrior's approach.
"Hey Xena." Eponin nervously held the fishing pole, wishing she could cover her hands without being obvious about it.
"Im looking for Gabrielle. Have you seen her?"
"Not since breakfast. Maybe Ephiny knows where is."
"No, I asked. She hadn't seen her." The warrior cast her a worried glance. "Did she seem okay this morning?"
"I... I think so Really, Im sure everythings fine."
"You're probably right. Its only been a few candlemarks."
"Yeah, she probably went for a walk or something."
Xena shrugged. "Hows the fishing?"
"Not having much luck I'm afraid."
The warrior walked over to her. Eponin pulled her line in.
"What kind of bait you using? Maybe thats the problem. Let me see."
Xena reached for the pole and caught a glimpse of the Amazon's hands. Her face hardened. Eponin took a step backward. The warrior glared at her. "It... its not what it seems." The Amazon stammered.
Her eyes narrowed. "And what is it exactly?"
Eponin stepped around a large rock, putting some space between them. "I... I was just trying to help you out... I..."
"Help me?" Xenas voice was menacing. "Do you know how many miserable nights I had?" She began to make her way toward the rock.
"Ah... yeah I know, but..." Eponin continued to back away.
"Well... I... I... thought you might like staying with Gabrielle."
The warrior stopped dead in her tracks. "You what?"
"I... well... that is... Havent you enjoyed staying with Gabrielle?"
Xena didnt bother to reply as she moved toward the Amazon.
Gabrielle knocked on Ephinys door. The regent cheerfully invited her in.
"Hi, Im glad you stopped by."
"I wanted to apologize for storming off earlier. Its just... well you never should have done that to Xena."
Ephiny shrugged. "Maybe youre right. But we were trying to help you."
"I know." Gabrielle said shyly.
"So have you decided what you want us to do?"
"No, Ive been walking around all morning. I... I dont know what to do." She sat on the bed and looked up at her friend. "Ephiny, I dont want her to leave. Im in love with her."
Although this was hardly news to the regent, she could see that it was a difficult admission for the young woman.
The bard blushed. "What would you do?"
The regent shrugged. "I think if I were you, Id have her belongings moved in. See how things play out."
"But I feel like Im deceiving her."
"For what its worth I think Xena loves you too. Shes put up walls, but I think youre breaking through. Why dont you wait and see how things go?"
"There is a big difference between the love of a friend and the love of ... well you know."
"In this case, maybe not as big as you think." Ephiny smiled. "Give her a chance to get used to the closeness."
Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Ill try it. Have someone move her things in."
"It would be my pleasure." The regent placed a hand on her shoulder in support of her decision. "Oh, I almost forgot. Ive got something for you." She pulled the medallion out of the drawer beside her bed.
"You got it!" The bard hugged her. "Thank you!"
"So when are you going to give it to her?"
"Not for a while." Gabrielle looked up anxiously. Her expression suddenly serious. She took a small piece of parchment from her pouch and wrapped it around the necklace.
"Ephiny, I have another favor to ask. Will you keep the medallion and this note for me? I want to give them to Xena after the baby's born."
"Sure Is everything okay?"
"Yeah," She met the regent's eyes. "I think so."
Xena entered the queen's hut, still agitated from her interaction with Eponin. "Gabrielle, do you know where my belongings are? Someone took them out of my hut."
The bard pointed meekly to the corner of the room. "I... I had them moved in... I... youve been spending so much time here I... I thought it would be easier..." She felt her face heat. "Ill have them moved back if you want."
Her friends thoughtfulness melted her heart along with her anger. The warrior wasn't fooling anyone, including herself. She wanted to stay. "No... It was a good idea. Thanks."
"Really, Im sorry. I should have asked first I..."
"You know " the warrior teased. "This means that youll have to clear out a drawer for me."
Gabrielle took a relieved breath. "I already have." She went to the dresser and pulled open the top drawer.
Xena smiled. "I guess Ill get unpacked then."
"Can I help?"
"Sure, there are a few things in the saddlebags over there." The bard began unpacking her friend's scant belongings. She folded the garments neatly and placed them lovingly in the drawer. As she reached into the bottom of the second saddlebag, her fingers brushed an oddly shaped object.
When she pulled it out she was stunned to find a pudgy little stuffed version of Argo. Every detail was precise, right down to the hooves. It was incredibly soft, probably filled with down. She smiled and turned to face Xena.
The warrior froze when she saw what Gabrielle was holding. "I... I made it... for the baby... I"
Before she could finish, the bard was embracing her in an energetic hug. Xena awkwardly excepted the bubbly affection. "The baby will love it. Thanks."
The warrior nodded shyly and quickly changed the subject. "Hey, you want to get some lunch? Its been a while since you ate."
The young woman walked across the room and placed the stuffed horse prominently on her bedside table. Food was the last thing on her mind.
The bard tossed and turned. Finding a comfortable position to sleep in was becoming more and more difficult in the final stages of her pregnancy.
"Gabrielle, are you okay?"
"Im sorry. Did I wake you?"
"No, but I can see you're uncomfortable. Turn on you side and Ill rub your back." She turned as directed. The warriors gentle fingers massaged the tight muscles in her back, releasing the tension. Gabrielle groaned in relief.
"Mmm, you do that so well. Whered you learn that?"
"I dont know. When youve been injured as many times as I have you get to know what makes things feel better."
She turned to Xena, her expression serious. "Youve taken such good care of me... I wish I could be there for you sometimes too."
Xena touched her cheek lightly. "You are and always have been." Their eyes met for one moment in understanding before she looked away.
"Why dont you try leaning back against me?" Gabrielle carefully repositioned herself and settled in. The warrior felt soft and warm against her back. Their bodies fit perfectly as if the spot was made for her.
"Mmm, much better."
"Okay, lets try to get some sleep."
In no time they both drifted off. Xenas right arm wrapped protectively around the bard, her hand across her swollen abdomen. Gabrielles own hand held it in place. In the middle of the night, a sudden movement startled the warrior out of her sound sleep. It took a few moments before she realized that it was the baby kicking that woke her up. There it was again...another kick. Xena let her hand gently rub over the bard's middle, soothing both mother and child. She snuggled closer, burying her nose into the soft golden hair.
It was the last night either of them had trouble sleeping.
The bard spent the afternoon watching Xena train an eager group of young Amazons. Afterward they went back to their hut.
"It never ceases to amaze me that these women literally wait in line to take a pounding from you. I swear half the Amazons in this village are in love with you."
Xena laughed. "Gabrielle, theres a difference between love and lust."
The warrior rolled her eyes, ignoring her question.
"Seriously, I want to know what you think the difference is?"
"Youre the bard, the one who writes all the romantic stories. You know more about those things than I do."
"But Im curious what you think."
Xena sat on the edge of the bed and picked up the stuffed horse, nervously toying with it. "Lust is physical and love is... well... love is emotional." She shifted anxiously.
So the Amazons are attracted to you physically but not emotionally?"
"Yeah. They dont know me. Its not love. Theres no caring, no commitment, no sacrifice."
"Then, lust is not as fulfilling as love?"
"Well... no, but lust can be very nice too." Xena smiled. The mischievous look in the warriors eyes made the young womans heart beat faster.
"I guess youve done your share of lusting, huh?" Gabrielle asked shyly.
"I guess so," Xena admitted. "Havent you?"
"Ummm... sure." Gabrielle blushed, unable to hide her embarrassment.
"So who have you lusted after, my friend?" She teased, knowing that there were few...if any...that her companion had lusted after.
The heat rose to the young womans cheeks, coloring them bright red. "Errr... No one you know."
It wasn't the answer she was expecting. She looked at the bard puzzled. "What about Perdicus?..."
"No. I.. It wasnt really like that. I cared about him but..." She quickly changed the subject. " Xena, have you ever felt both lust and love for someone?"
The warrior clutched at the stuffed horse and tried to think of a humorous reply to cover her growing anxiety. None came to her. Suddenly, she felt terribly uncomfortable.
The bard looked at her curiously. "You have, havent you?"
Xena choose to ignore her question. "Gabrielle, arent you hungry? I could get you something from the kitchen and bring it back."
"Was it Marcus?"
"No... Look, I really dont want to discuss this." The warrior snapped.
"I... I didnt mean to pry." The bard looked away to disguise her hurt. Xena was immediately sorry.
"Gabrielle, its just hard for me to talk about. I didnt mean to be harsh. I... Im sorry." She reached out and took her friends hand. Instantly she realized it was a mistake. Her flesh burned from the contact. Their eyes met and the warrior felt a jolt to her core. She pulled her hand back.
In one extended glance the warrior had revealed her heart. Gabrielle looked at her companion, understanding at last, what neither had been able to admit.
Xena got up from the bed in an effort to put some distance between them, but it was too late, the truth had been revealed. Gabrielles eyes followed her with a new awareness. Slowly she slid her legs over the side of the bed. The warrior backed away nervously as the bard stood.
There was something in the young womans eyes, a look of complete confidence that made Xenas pulse quicken. Her legs felt weak as she slowly backed away. After several steps, the wall of the hut stopped her progress. She leaned gratefully against it for support.
The bards eyes remained fixed on her. The look of utter wonder in them held Xena firmly in place. She couldnt move.
Gabrielle slowly closed the distance between them, stopping only a few feet away. The truth was plain as day, reflected in the warriors eyes. Why had it taken her so long to see it? She took a breath and gathered her nerve.
"Its been me, all along. Hasnt it?"
Xenas glance dropped helplessly to the floor. She lifted her hand to the warriors face. The heat of the bard's touch sent a charge through her. She looked helplessly at her young friend.
Gabrielle peered into the depths of her companions blue eyes as she spoke.
"Im the one you love. Im the one you want."
The sensation of Gabrielles hand on her skin was dizzying. Her love for the young woman was the only constant in her life. How could she deny it? She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her heart raced as she summoned her courage and slowly opened her eyes. Gabrielle gazed at her with complete adoration.
"Xena, forgive me. Ive been so stupid. I was confused." She moved closer, so close that the warrior imagined she could feel the warmth radiating from her skin.
"Ive always known what was in my heart. I was just afraid to face it, so I ran. I... Im not afraid anymore. I know exactly what I want, exactly who I want, who Ive always wanted." The young woman tilted her face up. Her lips were only a hair's breadth away. Adrenaline pumped through the warrior. The moment was electric.
"Its you. It's always been you." Gabrielle whispered. "Im through running."
A wave of desire enveloped her as the bard stretched to kiss her. The soft pressure of Gabrielles lips was exquisite. Xena had never known such pleasure. The tight knot in her chest gave way as the bards warmth spread through her, flooding her body with sensation.
There was nothing to do but surrender.
Gabrielle moaned in ecstasy. The sublime sound echoed in Xenas mind. She went weak, her legs faltering. The union of their bodies sent shocks of pleasure through her. It was shear bliss. She dug her fingers into the wall behind her, clinging desperately for support, afraid she would fall if she let go.
Gabrielle felt no fear, only need. Her hands moved hungrily up the warrior's sides. Her fingers exploring each and every contour, setting them to memory.
The warriors heart pounded furiously as the bards fingers caressed the sloping curves of her breasts. Xena gasped, her erotic trance broken. Her trembling hands released the wall and settled tentatively on the young womans hips. She pulled her forward with a gentle but insistent pressure, regaining control. Gabrielle melted in her grasp, falling softly into her.
"Oh Xena..." She murmured breathless with desire. "Yes..."
Her teeth lightly nipped at the warriors lips, silently entreating them to part and they did, willingly. Xena moaned as the bard slid her tongue inside, tasting her for the first time. She grasped Gabrielles lower back with both hands as the bards innocent exploration became increasingly passionate. In that moment Xena knew Elyssia.
It was an embrace neither could retreat from. Xena let the soft caresses of her tongue speak her heart and the bard silently answered back, rocking against her, thrilling at the contact. Her fingers pressed into the warriors muscled shoulders as she leaned against her, holding her fast, desperate to communicate her urgency.
Xena capitulated to the tender assault. Her body succumbing to the glorious invasion, leaving no doubt that she was Gabrielles completely and utterly.
The bards swollen belly pressed insistently against the warriors lower abdomen. Incredible sensations pulsed wildly through Xenas center, forcing a guttural moan. It was sheer ecstasy. Gabrielles fingers tangled in her hair and she pressed firmly into the kiss, swallowing the warriors cry. Xena moaned over and over, her pleasure incomparable.
Suddenly Gabrielle pushed away hard, breaking the contact. The dark-haired woman was dizzy, awash with desire. The quick separation left her aching. The look of confusion in the bards eyes frightened her. Xenas heart hammered as she struggled to speak.
"Gabrielle?" Her voice was hoarse with passion.
The young woman looked down at the floor, her face still flush with desire. The warriors eyes followed hers to a small puddle between them. Warm fluid streamed down the inside of Gabrielles leg.
"My... my water broke."
Xenas mind was slow to register the meaning of the young womans words, her fevered body still in control. The bard gently stroked her cheek. The tender caress brought her back to her senses.
"Great timing, huh?" She said, laughing lightly. The shy smile on her face eased the warriors concern.
Xena scooped her up and carried her to the bed. The bard responded by nuzzling her face into the warriors neck, moving her lips over the soft skin, leaving a fiery trail. She laid her down with great care and kissed her lightly on the forehead.
"Are you okay?" She handed the young woman a towel from the bedside table and took several deep breaths to calm her racing heart.
"Ive never been better." Gabrielle said sincerely. "I never felt anything so wonderful." Xena lightly stroked her hair.
"Please lay beside me. I need to feel you close."
The warrior slipped onto the bed, facing her and lightly rested her hand on the young womans cheek. The bard spoke, her voice husky with desire.
"I have dreamt of that for such a long time: you kissing me, carrying me off to bed." Xena smiled softly and traced Gabrielles lips with her finger. The bard caressed the tip with her tongue.
"I want to you to kiss me again." Without a pause she slide her hands behind the warriors neck and pulled her in, capturing her lips. The bards kiss was searing in its intensity. Xena was overcome with passion. Her body throbbed with excitement. She moaned and broke the kiss.
"Gabrielle, I... Im... I cant think. We need to stop."
"Pleeease." The bard purred.
"I... I cant... I need to watch for signs. Make sure youre all right."
Gabrielle smiled mischievously. Loving the effect she had on the warrior.
"What is it?" Xena asked.
"Its just that in all my fantasies you were always so forceful, so in control. I never imagined you would be so incredibly gentle."
And then it happened, something She had yet to see; Xena blushed.
"I... I dont want to hurt you. I..." Her voice quavered slightly.
The love the bard felt for the warrior at that moment was immeasurable. She took the powerful hands in her own, running her thumbs lightly over Xenas palms. "You wont, I promise." She looked at her lovingly.
"Please... one more kiss." Gabrielles voice was soft and coaxing. Xena couldnt say no, she was lost in the depths of the bards eyes. She kissed her tenderly, restraining her passion.
The bard was less successful controlling her need. She had wanted her for so long that she could think of nothing but Xena, feel nothing but Xena. Her hand slid down the warriors thigh mindlessly caressing the taut muscle.
Suddenly Gabrielle stiffened, breaking the kiss. She clenched her teeth as the first contraction rolled through her. Xena eased her gently onto her back.
"Its okay. This wont last long. Easy now, ride it out."
Just as quickly as it came, it was gone. "Phew" Gabrielle exclaimed, exhaling deeply. "I... I think the baby wants out."
"So it seems. Have the contractions stopped?"
"Yeah." Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Where were we?"
Xena shook her head. She couldnt help smiling at the young womans determination. "Later."
"You have my word." She bent to kiss her forehead. "After the babys born and you're feeling better. But until then youll have to behave. I need to keep track of your contractions."
Gabrielle laughed. "It was never like this in my fantasies."
"Nor mine." Xena replied.
"You fantasized about me?" The bard asked surprised.
"How? Tell me."
"You first." The warrior dodged.
"I already told you, remember, sweeping me off my feet and taking me to bed... kissing me passionately."
"Just kissing?" Xena teased.
"No, there was a lot more." The bard blushed. "But you were always in control."
"Is that what you want?" She asked rather surprised.
The bard swallowed and shyly met her eyes. "Yes."
The warrior smiled and gently pushed back a strand of blonde hair. "Ill keep that in mind..."
Gabrielle looked at her hesitantly. "Theres something I need to talk to you about before this goes any farther."
"What is it?" Xena couldnt mask the concern in her voice.
"Well I... I havent been exactly truthful."
The warrior looked at her seriously. "What do you mean?"
"I... I dont want any deceptions between us." Xena held her breath in anticipation. "Its about the fleas..."
The warrior exhaled in relief. "I know all about the fleas."
"Xena, I... I didnt know about it right away. When I found out, I should have told you but I... I liked sharing my bed with you... I"
The warrior laughed. "Gabrielle, I liked it too."
"You arent angry?"
"No, although Eponin had a nice swim when I found out." She grinned.
"Yeah, I heard. Poor Eponin, we probably should thank her."
The warrior leaned back against the headboard. "Not now. Come here." Gently she eased Gabrielle back against her. The young woman sighed and melted into the protective embrace of her arms.
Her labor progressed smoothly. Perhaps a little faster than had been the warriors experience with other first-time pregnancies. But otherwise, it seemed fairly typical. The only thing out of the ordinary was Xenas behavior. She was as antsy as a cat. When she wasnt holding Gabrielles hand, she paced back and forth beside the bed. Gabrielle had never seen her this excited.
She smiled at her friend. "Youre going to wear yourself out."
Xena sat down on the bed and adjusted the pillow under the bards legs. "Are you comfortable? Want me to rub your back?"
She looked at her companion warmly. "No Im fine, just a little nervous."
To keep the bards thoughts off the painful contractions, Xena shared some experiences from her childhood. It warmed Gabrielles heart to hear about the early part of the warriors life. She understood what an effort it was for Xena to open up and it meant a great deal to her. There was no doubt in the young womans mind how much both she and her child meant to the warrior. Her friend proved it day in and day out by lovingly seeing to her every need.
Gabrielle closed her eyes tightly as another contraction seized her. She tried her best to be strong for the warrior, but after enduring many candlemarks of cramping muscles, she was beginning to tire. In this final stage of labor, her contractions were quite close, leaving her little time in between to rest. Xena left her just long enough to ask a passing Amazon to get the midwives, then immediately returned to her side.
The young woman grimaced as her pain increased in both strength and duration. She squeezed Xenas hand until it subsided then relaxed, slowly catching her breath. The warrior dabbed her forehead with a cool cloth.
"You're doing great."
She smiled. "Im so glad you're here." Her expression turned serious. "Xena, if anything goes wrong... if something happens... I need you to know how much I..."
"Everything is going to be fine." The warrior promised.
The next contraction followed closely on the heels of the last and Gabrielle clutched Xenas hand tightly. When at last it let up, she looked at the warrior lovingly. "I wish I had your strength, your courage."
"Gabrielle, youre the bravest person I know." It took all of Xenas self control to hold back a wave of emotions that threatened to break through. She would have done anything to make it easier for her, to take the pain from her friend. As the torturous contractions gripped the young woman, Xena winced. Seeing the bard suffer distressed her, especially when there was little she could do to help. With every cry she felt the bards pain as surely as if she were the one delivering the baby.
Despite the physical strain, Gabrielles hands seemed to gain strength. She repeatedly crushed Xenas fingers as each contraction seized her. The warrior ignored her own discomfort and whispered gentle words of encouragement and love.
At last, the midwife called from the end of the bed. "I can see the head. I want you to push now." Xena held Gabrielle in her arms, giving the young woman something to bear down on. The bard clenched her teeth and pushed with all her strength. Gradually she felt the babys head slide past her opening. Xenas attention never left her.
She felt the warrior gently wipe her brow. "Youre almost there Gabrielle. Just a little bit more."
The young woman was drained. The pain in her abdomen was searing, but she gave it all she had. With every contraction it worsened. The voices around her sounded as though they were coming from the bottom of a well. She heard Xena telling her 'just one more push, you can do it.' but it seemed too much to bear.
"I can't," she cried, her head falling back against Xena's chest. "Im so tired."
"Yes you can," the warrior urged. "Just one more push, Gabrielle. Soon this will be over and you can rest but right now you need to push, please?" Drawing strength from the strong arms holding her, the bard gritted her teeth and poured all her strength into one last push. Suddenly the shoulders where through and the midwife slowly guided the infant out.
"Its a girl!" The midwife exclaimed.
"A girl... " Gabrielle spoke breathlessly. "Is she okay?"
Xena broke into a full smile and kissed her weary partner lightly on the cheek.
A second midwife busily cleaned the child who let out a hearty cry. Gabrielle laughed, tears of joy streamed down her cheeks. The midwife brought the baby to her mothers side.
"Oh look, shes beautiful isnt she?" The warriors eyes moistened as she glanced from Gabrielle to the child.
"The most beautiful baby Ive ever seen," the warrior said proudly.
The young woman focused on her companion. Her eyes brimming with love. "Xena, Ive found my soulmate... you."
"Gabrielle, I..." She looked tenderly into the young womans eyes, intending to open her heart, reveal her very soul. But the lack of color in the bards cheeks distracted her. She seemed exceedingly pale. The warrior examined her carefully, then turned to the midwife whose expression reflected her concern.
"I feel so cold."
"Its okay, rest now." She squeezed her friends hand reassuringly and approached the midwife. The healer motioned to the afterbirth. A stream of bright red blood oozed from her opening. Gabrielle had torn deep inside.
The midwife looked desperately at Xena. "I... I cant stop it. The packing isnt working."
The warrior washed her hands. Pushing the midwife aside, she went to work. Nothing she did helped. There was so much blood. Gabrielle was slipping from her.
"Xena..." The young womans voice was barely audible.
"Im here Gabrielle. Im right here. I need you to fight. Hang on, dont let go." The bard struggled to keep her eyes open. She was so tired. Xenas voice became more and more distant until she had to strain to hear the faintest trace. She tried to open her eyes, but it proved to be too much of an effort. Finally the warrior's voice drifted off, impossible to focus on.
Xena watched in horror as the young womans eyes drifted shut and her breathing became more and more shallow, finally stopping. In a panic she pressed her lips to the bards, forcing in air over and over again. "Gabrielle! Come on, breathe!... Breathe!" Xena continued exhaling into her lungs. Time lost all meaning. There was nothing but Gabrielle, breathing for Gabrielle.
It was nearly a candlemark later when she felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Ephiny. The midwives had gone for her, hoping she could console the warrior. Tears streamed down the regents face.
"Xena, its time to stop. You have to let her go. Shes... "
The warrior shook her head violently. "No!... Shes fighting! We have to keep trying!" She renewed her efforts. "Gabrielle, please..."
Ephiny grabbed her arm gently. "Xena, shes gone. Im sorry..."
The warrior laid her head on Gabrielles shoulder, wrapping her arms around her protectively. She whispered quietly into her ear. "Dont go... please..." The bard laid motionless, unresponsive.
Xena stayed with her into the night and through the next day, never leaving her side. She prayed to the gods of Olympus over and over again, begging for their help.
On the third day Ephiny came to her, fearing for the warriors life. Xena had not eaten in days. She looked drawn, haunted. The regent knelt beside her and gently pushed the tangle of damp hair from her face. The warriors vacant expression was frightening. She spoke in a soothing tone in an effort to console her.
"Let me take care of her. Its time to let her pass on. She starred ahead blankly, as if she couldnt understand the regents words. Ephiny reached for her hands to pull her to her feet and abruptly stopped. When Xena looked down, she saw why. Her hands were striped in dried blood, Gabrielles blood.
The warrior fled.
She raced into the woods, tearing through the thick foliage. Her feet pounded savagely in the soft earth. She ran from the pain of her loss and the horror of her reality. Weak and dehydrated, she pushed herself beyond human endurance. Afraid to stop. Terrified to let it all catch up with her.
Finally, her body, pushed past its limits, failed her. Her foot caught in a tangle of roots, bringing her to her knees.
All at once the pain in her heart let loose. Her sorrow tore from her throat in a savage cry.
"NOOOO!!!" She fell forward, pressing her face to the cool earth.
As she raised her face, she once again saw the blood on her hands. She began trembling uncontrollably, wiping them through the thick grass until the sharp edges sliced at her skin, drawing fresh blood to cover the old.
Blood. Over and over throughout her life, it came back to the blood, the death. She was responsible for so many lost lives and now one more. The one she would never be able to live without.
She pulled out her breast dagger and rose to her feet. Inhaling deeply, she rolled the hilt in her hands almost lovingly. The decision was made. Her arms extended, positioning the blade over her heart. She looked to the sky and prepared to thrust the dagger into her chest. Her voice barely a whisper. "Gabrielle, forgive me."
A strong blow hit her from the side knocking her to the ground, momentarily stunning her. The dagger flew from her hand and landed several feet away. Ephiny was astride her. With a powerful thrust, Xena threw her off.
The regent got quickly to her feet, and placed herself between the warrior and the dagger. "Xena, stop! Think about what youre doing! This is the last thing Gabrielle would want."
The weight of Xenas sorrow was staggering. Without her companion, her life had lost all meaning. Her pain surged, demanding release. Ephiny stood between her and the one thing that would end her misery: her dagger.
The warrior felt a rush of anger. It was cleansing to let her pain transform into rage, consuming her. With all of her strength, she lashed out at the only target available. Like a panther, she lunged at the regent, knocking her down.
Ephiny hit the ground hard, the air leaving her lungs in a sudden rush. Yet, she continued to struggle, barely able to fend off the powerful blows. Xena was out of her mind. The regent knew she didnt stand a chance against her. The warrior was invigorated by Ephinys resistance. It fueled her rage.
In a last desperate effort the regent stopped fighting and went completely limp.
She groaned as Xenas fist landed solidly on her jaw. The warrior raised her fist once again, then suddenly stopped. Blood leaked from Ephiny's lips. The regent watched Xenas face change almost instantly from rage to horror. She rolled off of the Amazon and sat with her face buried in her hands.
"Im sorry ... I..."
Ephiny slowly approached her. "Im sorry too. I know how much you loved her." The depth of anguish mirrored in Xenas face was alarming. The regent suddenly doubted that the warrior would survive without her companion.
Xena looked past her. Her eyes fixed on the sharp blade of her dagger. Ephiny quickly pulled out the parchment the bard had left in her care and placed it in the warriors hand.
"Gabrielle wanted you to have this." The regent slowly turned, giving her space. There was nothing more she could do.
Xena raised the cloth to her lips. The smell of the parchment was achingly reminiscent of her bard. Her fingers lovingly grazed the surface as she carefully unfolded it. Lyceus medallion lay in the center. She clutched it in disbelief as her eyes fell to the familiar script.
I couldnt let you give up Lyceus medallion. I know how much it meant to you. That you would sell it for me... I dont have words. My heart is filled with such love for you.
I am so sorry for the way I handled things. It was a terrible mistake marrying Perdicus. I was afraid. My feelings for you were so strong. I thought putting distance between us would lessen them.
It was futile. As I stood in the temple, watching you walk out of my life, I understood that there was nowhere for me to hide, no place I could go to forget you, no refuge in all the world from my love for you.
When you were gone my heart was broken. I would have given anything to have you back.
You see, I loved you from the start, from the moment I first laid eyes on you, I knew you were the one. Imposing and fearless, you were... and will always be larger than life to me, more breathtaking than any goddess. I will hold that image of you forever.
That first day, my heart was irrevocably lost. Im only sorry it took me so long to find my way. Please know that it was always you... you I loved, you I wanted.
Please dont blame yourself for my death. You were always there for me, doing everything in your power to keep me safe. Nothing could have prevented this. Not even you. It is my destiny.
Xena, I need to know that you will go on. You have a strength, an inner courage that will see you through. Trust in yourself the way you always did in me. What an incredible life I had, enveloped in your light. The brightness in your soul out shown every star. No matter how bad things got, I could always look to you and pull from your strength. Use it now to see you through.
In my premonition my daughter survived me. It gives me such joy to know that she will live on. The night she was conceived my thoughts were of you... I felt you: around me, inside me, a presence I could never mistake. Even as she grew inside of me I knew...we were both blessed by you.
Please take care of her as I dreamed we would do together. She is the key. You are stronger together than apart.
I am not afraid of death for I know that someday, somehow you will find me and we will be together. Until then Ill be waiting, dreaming of you. Keep me in your heart and hold on.
Forever yours, Gabrielle
Xenas eyes burned from the heat of her tears. She buried her head in her hands. The cloth parchment clutched in her grasp.
Something snapped deep inside as the weight of her grief overcame her. She fell to her knees and wept with such force that she thought she might die from the shear intensity of it.
Her loss washed over her in agonizing waves: a pain more cruel than death for her memories remained intact, reminding her of her loss, tormenting her very soul. Gone was the only person she had ever loved, the only one to love her for who... and what she truly was. The one who had embraced her for her strengths and her weaknesses. The one who had glimpsed the heart of the darkness within her and somehow seen a glimmer of light.
The world was once again a cold and lonely place. She longed for the dreamless sleep of death. But as desperately as she wanted to give up, she could not. She would go on to watch over the only thing of importance left in her world, Gabrielles daughter.
Midwives surrounded the youngest Amazon, enchanted by the beauty of the small child. Soft dark hair framed her angelic face. The young apprentice turned to the elder midwife. "She has incredible eyes. Ive never seen a newborn with eyes like hers."
The elder nodded. "Yes, its amazing. She has eyes like... like Gabrielles." The women were so intent on the child that no one saw Xena standing in the doorway. A hush fell over the room when she entered. Gently she took the child from the midwife. As they looked upon the warrior and child, there was no question in any of their minds that Xena was now the parent to this special child.
She held the small bundle in her arms and gazed into her perfect little face. The infants green eyes werent like Gabrielles. They were Gabrielles. She pressed her lips gently to the childs forehead and handed her carefully back to the midwife. Without a word she left the room.
Xena laid her sword and chakram on the dais of Artemis temple in offering. In a soundless whisper she spoke the goddess name. A shimmering light wavered in front of her as Artemis appeared.
The warriors grief was clearly evident. She made no effort to mask the depth of her pain and desperation.
"Xena, I am truly sorry for your loss."
"Help me. Revive her."
"There must be something... send me back in time. I... I can do things differently. Ill send her back to Poteidaia. I wont let her follow me. Please. If you help me, I can make things right. Ill find a way to save her."
"Im sorry. I cant change what has passed."
Xena closed her eyes, her heart full of despair. "I will do anything you ask." Xena dropped to her knees, bowing her head. Artemis lay a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"Take me in her place."
"Your life is not finished. You have much to do."
"She is my life!"
"Gabrielle is not lost to you. Her spirit remains." Xena eyes widened in understanding.
"Yes. Her soul is bound to the child and will pass through time, through many generations. Gabrielles essence lives in her."
"Then there is a way."
"Tell me how?"
"I can create a tear in time that will allow you to pass through to the point in the future that I feel her essence is strongest. From there, you would have to locate her."
"Get me through and Ill find her."
"There are risks you must consider. Once you pass through I can not insure your safety. The future is far removed from the world you know, a very dangerous place. And nothing from this time period can accompany you, not even your weapons."
"It doesnt matter. I want to go."
"Theres more. Even if you are able to find her, she may not want to return with you. She may not remember any of your life together."
"Shell remember. Im sure of it."
"I can only hold the tear open until the next full moon. If you stay beyond, you will be trapped in the future with no way of returning."
"Im willing to take that chance."
"The risk is not yours alone. The destinys of Gabrielle and her child are entwined with your own."
"I dont understand."
"The childs chance of survival is greater with you protecting her. If she should perish before she matures to raise her own family, Gabrielle will be lost to you. She will no longer exist, not even in the future."
Xena remained silent, understanding the profound impact her decision could have on the lives of two she valued above all others. Her mind was swimming. The events of the last few days had left her emotionally and physically drained.
Artemis could see the warrior's inner turmoil. "Wait a while before you make a decision. Spend time with the child. You can learn a lot from her. Ill return in a fortnight."
In a flash she was gone.
Xena wasted no time finding Ephiny. Energized with newfound hope, she explained in detail everything Artemis had told her. Ephiny listened carefully.
"Youre going to do it, arent you?"
Xena met her eyes unflinchingly. "Shes waiting for me waiting for me to find her. If there is a chance that I can bring her back, I have to take it."
"She may not even recognize you. What if you cant get her to come back?"
"If she doesnt remember, then Ill return alone. But I have to try."
The regent shook her head sadly.
"Ephiny It's a chance A chance to see her again. I would fight my way through Tartarus for that."
"What about Gabrielles daughter?"
"Im no good to anyone like this. Im broken inside, half a person. She left a hole I cant fill with anything. To see her alive, to make sure shes happy I can't not go."
She met the regent's gaze. "I promise that with or without Gabrielle by my side, nothing short of death will keep me from returning to protect her child." Xenas resolute expression made Ephiny doubt that even death could stop her.
"What can I do to help?"
"I need you to watch over the baby. If something goes wrong and I cant get back..."
"I will protect her with my life."
"You have been a good friend to Gabrielle... and to me. I wont forget that."
"Xena, there are those in this village who would question your worthiness to be our queens life mate. I.. Im not among them. You will always have a home here."
"I owe you my life."
"You owe your life to Gabrielle. Just find her. Bring her back. You belong together."
"I will. I..."
She was interrupted by the desperate cries of an infant. Xena turned abruptly and rushed out of the hut toward the distressed sound. She pushed open the door to Gabrielles quarters to find the midwife trying to soothe the screaming child. Xena reached instinctively to take her. The infant immediately calmed, content and secure in the warriors arms.
The harried midwife took in the unlikely sight. The powerful warrior held the baby protectively, gently rocking her. She hummed softly, the baby utterly content in her presence. It was clear there was a strong connection between them.
"It seems you have everything under control."
Xena nodded but her attention remained on the child, whose tiny face was focused solely on the warrior. The midwife exited quietly, not wanting to intrude on the tender moment.
She was entranced by the infant. To Xena, she was a miracle, given life by her beloved bard. The resemblance was undeniable. The best of Gabrielle's qualities had been passed on to the child. Her features were hauntingly familiar. The infants eyes, the slope of her small nose, the swell of her lips were definitely her mother's.
There was an undeniable bond between the warrior and child. Though keenly interested in the sights and sounds around her, Xena remained the ultimate focus of the baby's attention. Similarly, the raven-haired woman rarely let the child out of her sight, and then it was only into the arms of Ephiny or one of the midwives. Even the regent, who had witnessed the warriors vulnerable side, was amazed by the tenderness she showered on the child. It was a side of Xena no one knew existed, including the warrior herself.
As the days passed, the elders urged her to bestow a name on the child and initiate her into the Amazon tribe as was her birth right. She was hesitant, as if naming her meant accepting Gabrielle's death, something the warrior couldn't bring herself to do.
Even through the depths of her sorrow, the infant proved to be a comfort to the warrior, a distraction from her loss. The majority of her waking hours were spent taking care of the baby. The hungry child gave Xena something to focus on. Small waterskins with leather nipples were used to house breast milk donated by a woman who had given birth recently. Xena heated the skins in water and carefully tested the milk against her inner wrist. When the milk was warmed to just the right temperature, she settled into a rocking chair and loving fed the infant. It was a ritual she looked forward to.
Her most difficult times were when the baby slept and her thoughts turned to Gabrielle. Her memories tormented her, bringing almost unbearable pain. Late in the evening, she tired herself with rigorous sword drills until exhaustion claimed her.
The nights were her solace. In Gabrielle's bed, with the baby tucked up against her, Xena dreamed. In her dreams Gabrielle lived. In the fragile sanctuary of her imagination, they were together. She was complete.
Dawn was her enemy. Each day with the coming of the morning light, she relived her loss. Every morning began with the pain of remembering Gabrielle was gone. She would lay in bed curled in a ball, paralyzed with grief, until the baby awoke, giving her a reason to live another day.
At last, the time to meet Artemis arrived. Xena and Ephiny went to her temple. The warrior waited, holding the infant who had become such a important part of her life. Something about the child continually tugged at her, demanding to be acknowledged, a secret longing to be revealed.
In the glow of a soft light, the goddess appeared.
Ephiny stepped back silently as Xena approached the goddess.
Without pause she asked the question her heart had already answered. "The child is mine. Isnt she? That night touching Gabrielle the trance..."
"It seems that more than one goddess favors you two. Your love for one another attracted Aphrodite's attention too. She watched with great interest as your feelings for each other blossomed. And although it deeply saddened her, she had no choice but to accept your decision to leave Gabrielle. But she too knew the purity of your love for my chosen. That night she gave you solace in the only way she could... she transferred a fragment of your essence into the queen.
What she didn't know was that at the same time I was listening to Gabrielle's plea to be united with you. To ease her sorrow I filled her mind with visions of her warrior, causing her very soul to open to you."
Artemis paused thoughtfully. "Aphrodite intended for that part of you that Gabrielle held within herself to remain dormant and comfort you both. We couldn't foresee that once inside you would seek out the soul of my young queen and merge with her, that your love for one another would result in the most sacred of unions. The formation of your child within Gabrielles womb came as a most pleasant surprise to us all."
"Our child." The words escaped the warriors lips like a prayer. She lovingly stroked the babys cheek.
"Xena, the decision is yours alone to make. Do you still want to go?"
"The baby needs her. I... I need her. I have to try."
"Then I will help in whatever way I can." She laid her hand on Xenas forehead and a wave of sensation passed through the warriors body. When Xena opened her eyes they reflected her determination.
"I will find Gabrielle and if shes willing, nothing will stop me from bringing her back."
The goddess smiled knowingly. "I doubt all the gods of Olympus could keep you from her."
Artemis looked upon the infant. "She is truly a beautiful child."
"Like Gabrielle." Xena said, her voice filled with pride. She touched her lips to the babys forehead savoring the contact. "I will return to you, my daughter," With visible reluctance, she handed her to the regent.
Ephiny rocked her gently and smiled.
Xena squeezed the regent's shoulder, wordlessly communicating her gratitude.
"Ill keep her safe." Ephiny promised.
Artemis turned to Xena. "Are you ready?"
The goddess stretched her arms toward the clearing in front of them. Balls of energy streamed from her fingertips and formed a shimmering circle of light.
Xena stripped off her shift and walked to the opening. Before passing through she turned to face the goddess. "Thank you for this."
"Gabrielle was right to trust you to find a way. Bring my Amazon Queen back safely." Artemis was suddenly struck by how vulnerable the woman before her looked, naked and weaponless. She whispered her blessing.
Xena nodded and stepped through the portal.
The brightness blinded her. She was falling, spiraling out of control. A clap of thunder sounded with a deafening crack. The muscles of her legs strained as her feet made hard contact with a solid surface. The stench of rotting food assaulted her senses. The air felt thick, unclean. In the distance, she could hear loud noises and rushing sounds. At first she was certain she had stepped into a war zone, but then the blaring horns died down, leaving only a general din that made the warrior feel very uneasy.
As her eyes adjusted, she saw a smooth stone corridor lined with large metal bins. They appeared to be overflowing with garbage. Slowly she made her way toward the light at the opposite end. Suddenly she froze. A rustling sound caught her attention and she spun, ready to defend herself.
An elderly woman stepped around the corner of one of the bins. Xena looked at her cautiously.
The old woman was startled to see a naked woman standing in her alley. Her expression immediately changed from surprise to suspicion. She sized Xena up and spoke sternly.
"This is my alley."
Her language was unusual but the warrior instinctively understood her words. She silently thanked Artemis, certain the goddess was responsible. Xena started to reply but was interrupted by a loud noise blaring at the end of the alley. She jumped protectively to the old womans side as a large metal machine rushed past the entrance.
Concerned by her over-reaction to the traffic, the old woman eyed her warily. "You one of those psycho-killers?" She asked, backing up nervously.
Realizing that the old woman wasn't a threat, Xena relaxed and slumped against the cool metal container, her body still worn out from coming through the tear. "No, I..." Xena stopped, not certain how to continue.
The shift in the strangers body language put the old woman at ease. She looked curiously at the naked woman before her. "You arent going to hurt old Gert?"
Xena shook her head. This simple reassurance seemed to satisfy the woman.
"Where are your clothes girl? Theyre sure to lock you up, wandering around that way."
Gert rummaged around in her cart and tossed out a tattered sweater. The soiled material was fuzzy and smelled sour but Xena slipped it on gratefully. Gert pulled out an old pair of mens work pants and handed them to her.
They were a little long, but fit well enough when she rolled up the cuffs. Xena buttoned the top and looked puzzled at the large opening below it.
Gert continued to look her over. "Whats your name?"
"Xena? Thats an odd one. Youre not from around here are you?"
The warrior smiled. "No."
"You best zip your fly."
"Yeah, pull up your zipper."
The old woman frowned quickly, losing patience. "Yeah zipper, the metal thing that closes your pants." Gert saw the confusion on the strangers face and her expression softened. She looked at the dark-haired woman sympathetically, sure her mind was addled.
Xena looked down to the opening of her pants. "Pull up on that metal tab there." She pulled it up and down several times, studying it with great interest.
Gert couldnt help grinning. "There, you should fit right in now. Pants are a little baggy but hell, thats the way they all wear 'um."
"You're welcome honey. Where you headed?"
"Im not sure. Im looking for a friend... a young blonde woman."
"Unless she lives on the streets I wouldnt know her. Whats her name?"
"Nope I dont know any Gabrielle's. But I can ask around."
Gert looked down sadly at Xenas bare feet. "Its pretty cold to go without shoes." She gave her cart one more go through and looked up frowning. "Nope. Lets check out the dumpsters; maybe well get lucky."
She motioned to the dumpsters across the way. "You look through the ones on the end." Xena followed her instructions and began searching though the bins.
Gert smiled as she pulled a pink high top sneaker from the trash. She laid it on top of her cart and quickly rummaged for its mate. In moments she had located the other shoe and was about to call out when three dark figures appeared. She looked fearfully in Xenas direction.
A short stalky man stepped out of the shadows and glared at her evilly. "We told you to stop stinking up our alley old woman. You have a hearing problem?" He took a step toward her and smiled at his two friends as she cowered. Gert glanced nervously toward the end of the alley.
"If you dont leave, well take care of you the way we do the rest of the garbage." He held up a lighter and flicked it menacingly.
Gert grabbed her cart and tried to run, but the tallest of the men yanked it from her grasp, dumping some of the contents. She let out a horrified cry. Instantly Xena was beside her.
"Hey, look what we have here." The leader hooked his fingers in his belt, leering at her.
Xena carefully sized them up. They looked fairly ordinary. Although she was confident she could handle them, she didnt want any trouble. Her goal was to find Gabrielle.
Gert cast Xena a worried glance. She knew first hand what these men were capable of.
The leader took a step toward the dark-haired woman. "Youre not bad looking for a bum."
Gert took Xenas hand protectively. "Please... Well leave." She tugged at her arm. The warrior stood fast, never taking her eyes from him.
"Ah, not so fast old woman. I kinda like this one." He smiled and reach out to touch Xenas face.
The coldness in her eyes sent a chill through him. He had seen enough of street life to recognize trouble when he saw it. He let his hand drop and sneered.
"You still smell like a bum though." He laughed with his buddies. "Leave this junk and get out of here before we torch you both."
Gert was shaking. "I... I cant leave my things."
"They worth your miserable lives?" He said in a threatening tone. Xena watched as he slowly pulled an unusual object from his jacket. A blade sprang from the handle, glimmering ominously in the faint light. He grinned.
In a flash, the warrior grabbed his wrist and brought it down hard on her raised knee. The knife clattered to the ground. He cried out in pain as she twisted his arm behind him and shoved him forward into his friend. The third man turned to her, pointing a short silver object in her direction.
There was a deafening noise. Xena felt a searing pain tear through her side as the force of the shot pushed her back, throwing her off balance. She heard Gert scream before her head struck the pavement with a loud crack. Everything went black.
Blinding light shone above her. She assumed immediately that she had died and wondered if the eerie illumination was from the fires of Tartarus. Her limbs felt numb. She tried to move but couldnt. Her arms were bound and she briefly wondered if she was on a cross before realizing that her arms were by her sides. She blinked several times and struggled to get her bearings. Her eyes were slow to focus. The flames blurred confusingly into a diffuse light that spread out around her, robbing the warrior of all sense of direction and balance.
Xena felt drained, her limbs weighted down, heavy. She was certain she had been drugged. A relentless drowsiness tugged at her. The temptation to let it take her was strong. It would be so easy to drift into unconsciousness.
Disoriented and confused, one thought remained constant: Gabrielle. She had to make it back to Gabrielle.
Her wrists burned as she struggled desperately to raise her arms. She fought the weariness by focusing on the painful tearing of her skin. A cool sensation trailed down her fingers that she knew was her own blood.
Suddenly, something snapped, freeing an arm. Loud voices cried out around her and strong hands tried to pin her down. Confused by the drugs, Xena swung wildly trying to fend off her attackers and felt the crunch of bone as her fist made contact. There were people everywhere clutching at her, pulling her down. Disoriented by the strange light and the drugs, she was unable to keep her attackers at bay. Something sharp bit into her skin, robbing her of what little strength she had. Her eyes fluttered shut, the darkness behind closed lids beckoned to her as the voices around her echoed in her ears.
"Jesus Christ! Is she out? Get her secured!"
A man was screaming in the background. "Ahhhh, my arm!"
"Get him next door, stat!"
"Is she under?" Something touched her skin and she weakly tried to fight it off.
"Damn, shes still struggling! Up the dosage." Another prick of the skin, another burning sensation. Her body went limp.
"Get that arm in restraints, now!"
Xenas last thought was of Gabrielle as a numbing coldness spread throughout her body.
The young blonde got off the elevator at the surgical ward and turned the corner to the nurses' station. A curly-haired nurse looked down at her watch and shook her head in disapproval. "Late again. I swear youre gonna to be late for your own funeral."
"Sorry, I got held up with a patient."
"Youll never change. When are you going to learn to say no?"
The young woman smiled. "Im working on it, Ellie."
"Hmmm, well see." The nurse looked at her skeptically. "Im hungry. Lets get some lunch and you can..." An alarm over the intercom interrupted her. It was a security breech on her wing.
"Code C, Room 311." Ellie motioned down the hall and took off running. The young doctor followed close behind.
A tall dark-haired woman turned the corner in front of them holding a metal bed rail in one hand, her wrist still attached to it with a restraint. She swung it wildly as if clearing the path in front of her.
She teetered precariously, bumping into walls as she made her way down the hall. A broken IV line hung from her arm. The left side of her hospital gown was soaked with blood. Her hair hung wildly about her face and her eyes darted about frantically, giving her an almost feral appearance.
She took a swing toward the figures looming before her. The rail struck the nurse in the hip. She cried out in pain and fell to the floor. The blonde doctor rushed to place herself between the crazed patient and her injured friend. She held her hands out protectively and shouted.
"Stop! Shes hurt."
The dark-haired woman froze in place. Eyes still unfocused, her head snapped in the direction of the voice. All strength leaving her, she released the rail. It clattered to the floor and hung limply at her side. She stared in the blondes direction. Her breathing was labored and raspy. She struggled to catch her breath.
Gabrielle noticed her pupils were fully dilated, a sign that she was heavily drugged. The woman staggered, barely managing to stay on her feet. She tried to take a step forward and lost her balance, dropping to her knees. Her hands reached out desperately, the rail scraping the floor beside her.
The young doctors attention was fully focused on her. She was the most beautiful woman Gabrielle had ever seen. The haunted look on her face was mesmerizing, her features striking.
Three security guards slowly closed in, but Xena sensed their approach and spun to face them. The warrior snarled like a trapped animal, holding the rail in front of her as weapon. She had heard the voice of her beloved and no one was going to keep her from her.
The doctor silently motioned them back and spoke softly to the woman. "Easy, its going to be okay."
Immediately, Xena turned to face her, arms outstretched. It felt like the ground beneath her was rolling. Her vision was blurry. She tried to focus on the familiar voice, inch her way toward it, but her hand clutched at empty air. A frustrated groan tore from her lungs.
The blonde reached out and lightly grasped the outstretched hand in her own. A soft moan escaped the womans lips and she tightened her hold, trembling at the contact. Her blue eyes filled with tears. She pulled the doctors hand to her. Pressing the warm flesh to her lips, she inhaled her scent and nearly swooned, falling forward against the young blonde. On contact, the tension drained from her body and she melted into the smaller woman. Safe at last, her body went limp.
The doctor instinctively wrapped her arms around the woman, comforting her. One hand traced slow circles over her back, rubbing gently. "Its going to be okay."
Xena lifted her head and brushed her lips against the smaller womans neck The young doctor felt a rush of heat as the womans breath caressed her skin. A shiver passed through her as the woman whispered into her ear.
The sound of the womans voice speaking her name was hypnotic. It stirred something deep inside. Confused, the doctor pulled back, and tried to concentrate on the situation at hand. She examined the womans injuries. With alarm, she noticed the stain at her side had grown.
"You're hurt. I have to get you to bed."
Gabrielle reached down and untied the rail from the dark-haired woman's arm, letting it slide to the floor. Her fingers trailed lightly over the bruised and torn wrist assessing the damage. She put her hands under the womans arms and helped her up. Xena leaned against her, breathing more easily.
She was unsteady on her feet but the doctors firm arm at her waist kept her upright. She pressed gratefully into the warm body beside her.
"Thats right. Lean on me."
Gabrielle walked her to the closest room and maneuvered her onto the bed. Gingerly sitting her down, she shifted the patient back and smoothed the damp bangs out of her eyes.
"There, now just relax."
Xena clung to her hand as if it were her only connection to life. She was exhausted. It was becoming more and more difficult to keep her eyes open. She tried to speak but her words came out in a whisper.
Gabrielle bent in closer to hear. The only word she was able to make out before the woman drifted off was you.
The dark-haired woman maintained her hold for some time before the muscles relaxed enough for the doctor to slide her hand free. Gabrielle called for the chart and sat in a chair by the bed examining it.
Ellie walked over, clutching her hip.
"Are you okay?" Gabrielle asked with concern. She began to stand but the nurse laid a gentle hand on her shoulder."
"Im fine, but Im going to have one hell of a bruise tomorrow." She grimaced in sympathy.
Gabrielle called to a second nurse. "Can you bring me a suture tray? Shes torn some stitches." The young doctor immediately set to work cleaning the wound and expertly re-stitching the incision.
She looked up at Ellie. "What do you know about this patient?"
"They brought her in last night with a gunshot wound. She came awake in the OR and went berserk. Broke Dr. Mercers arm and injured a number of staff. It took seven people to restrain her. After surgery they brought her up here and put her in restraints with orders to keep her heavily sedated. Somehow she came out of it and you saw the rest. Can you believe it? She tore the rail right off the bed."
"Was she high on something?"
"Nothing the blood work showed. The sedation alone should have kept her out. Makes you wonder what demons she's fighting." She shook her head in astonishment.
"Mmm," the doctor mumbled, her eyes taking in what little information the chart had to tell her.
"It was amazing how she responded to you, Gab. Do you know her?"
"If I met her, I cant remember. She said my name but maybe she heard someone else use it." What puzzled the young doctor was how easily her name flowed from the drugged woman's lips, as if it had been said a thousand times before.
Gabrielle glanced again at the chart. Theres no name listed here."
"No. She came in without ID. Looks like an indigent."
Dr. Coleson rounded the corner. He greeted Gabrielle and looked sternly at the nurses. "This patient should be in restraints."
"That was my call." Gabrielle interceded. "Shes resting comfortably now."
"Do you know how many people shes injured since she got here?"
He turned to the guard. "I want her in restraints. Now!" The guard quickly complied.
He motioned to Ellie. "Get her set up on a new IV and start the sedation as ordered."
Gabrielle took his arm. "Dennis, can I see you outside for a moment?" He nodded and walked with her into the hallway.
"Whats this about Gab, I thought you were on vacation?"
She smiled. "Todays my last day. A few weeks to prepare for the wedding, then were off to Tortola."
"For once take my advice. The last thing you want to do is get yourself involved in this. The womans trouble."
"Look, I dont mean to intrude on your case but she responded well to me. Id like to help."
"You always were a sucker for the hard cases." He shook his head in frustration. "Do what you want. Hell, Id just as soon have her off my hands. Just be careful. I dont want Peter coming after me if she puts you in traction before the wedding."
Gabrielle laughed. "Shes not going to hurt me." It never even occurred to her to question why she believed that to be true. She just knew it.
"Right, famous last words. Just ask Dr. Mercer. She broke his arm last night."
"I heard." Gabrielle winced.
"She's a violent one."
"Dennis, I think shes having a bad reaction to the sedative. I want to ease her off. Id like to have her conscious, see what she can tell us."
Doctor Coleson hesitated for a minute, then shook his head, certain he would regret his decision. "Your instincts are good. Ill take your lead on this one. But keep the restraints, huh?"
"Okay. Thanks Dennis."
"Sure." He gave her a worried glance. She hadnt been herself the past few weeks. Maybe it was the stress of planning the wedding. He missed her energy and bubbly enthusiasm. He laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Gab, try to spend some of your vacation having fun. Dont let this patient take up all your time. You need a break."
"Yeah, hopefully things will quiet down after the wedding. Are you going to be able to make it?"
"Are you kidding? We wouldnt miss it." He smiled and headed down the corridor. She watched him go, lost in her thoughts, then returned to the womans bedside.
Ellies curiosity got the best of her. "Whats up?"
"Put me on her chart as the doctor on record."
Ellie rolled her eyes. "I suppose it wont do me any good to argue with you."
Gabrielle smiled. "No, Im afraid not."
"I figured as much. So whats the game plan, Doc?"
"Im going to ease her off the sedatives. Then well see." She glanced at the woman bound helplessly to the bed. Even asleep there was an edge to her. Gabrielle watched her hands twitch beneath the restraints.
Unconsciously the doctors fingers grazed the bronzed skin of the womans arm. It felt cool to the touch. She pulled the covers up and tucked them lightly under her. The womans eyes moved beneath the lids. She was in deep REM sleep and would be out for awhile.
"Im going to finish my rounds, then bring some case files back here to work on. If theres any change, beep me." Ellie nodded.
"Hey, sorry about lunch. I promise well get together before Peter and I leave. Maybe you and Sonja could come over for dinner."
"Are you sure Peter wont mind?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "Of course not."
"Its just... you know Sonja, she doesnt pull any punches about being a lesbian. Hes okay with that?"
"Yes, why wouldnt he be?"
"Whatever you say kiddo," the nurse replied, not as confident in Peter's open-mindedness as Gabrielle. "Hey, try to catch a bite to eat when you can. You skip too many meals."
"Yeah, but when I do eat I more than make up for it." She smiled. "Get some ice on that side. I gotta run."
The sparkle in her green eyes was hypnotic. She couldnt look away, she had no desire to. They were close enough that the warrior could see her chest rise and fall with each breath. Relief washed over her.
Her hands timid at first, settled on the blondes waist. With increasing confidence her fingers gripped more firmly, urging her forward. Their lips met in a rush of heat, bodies pressed tightly together. She felt Gabrielles heart beat strong and rhythmic against her.
Xena moaned and her hands came alive, stroking the smooth flesh beneath them. She needed more, needed to be inside. Her fingers sought the source of the younger womans heat, parting her delicate folds.
Their hearts were racing now, increasing in tempo. Her fingers melted into the liquid fire and with a single thrust she was in. It was all she had dreamed, silky, soft and wet. So wet. The moisture poured over her fingers like a river, hot, thick and sticky. She was nearly delirious with pleasure
A thrill coursed through her as she slowly rocked her hand back and forth. She felt her lover respond, the young womans excitement matching her own. It was ecstasy. She was so lost in the incredible sensations that it took her a moment to realize her lover had stilled, her breathing suddenly lethargic. Very slowly, she pulled out and looked in horror at the blood that covered her fingers. She tried to cry out but her words caught, strangled off in her throat.
Panic rose in her as she realized the bards heart had stopped, her beautiful green eyes stared ahead, unmoving.
A scream tore from her throat. "NOOOOO!!!" She tried to move her arms but found them held by some unseen force.
Ellie paged Gabrielle, while another nurse alerted security. Xena was struggling wildly, her eyes still closed. The bed shook from her efforts. Just when the nurse thought the patient had exhausted herself, another strong tug caused the right restraint to give way with an ominous rip.
Her hand stretched out desperately, trying in vain to reach the one person she couldn't. The burly orderly lifted weights as a hobby but found himself hard pressed to keep the woman's arm still. It took the help of two security guards to apply a new restraint.
Hearing the alarm sound, Dr. Coleson rounded the corner at a run.
Xena continued to writhe against her bonds. An animalistic growl emanating from deep in her chest, so intimidating that the guards backed off.
The phone rang in response to Ellies page.
"Its Gabrielle. Whats up?"
"She's gone crazy again!"
"Im on my way." The young doctor dropped the phone in the receiver and raced to the stairs. She burst through the third floor door and rushed down the hall.
As Gabrielle approached she could see the woman twisting in bed like a creature possessed. Standing next to the bed, Dr. Coleson was preparing a sedative.
"She went berserk. Busted through the restraints again. I need to sedate her." He checked the dosage and reached for into the IV tubing.
"Wait. Dennis, dont do that." She pushed him aside. "Please, move out of my way."
Gabrielle checked her pupils, then looked at Ellie with concern. "What triggered this?"
"I Im not sure. It looked like she might be having a nightmare."
The young doctor nodded. "Dont give her any more sedation. I think she's having some kind of hallucination."
Gabrielle ran her hand over the womans sweaty brow. She was burning up, yet it wasn't from a fever.
"Easy... easy. Its just a dream." The woman stilled at the soothing voice, instinctively turning toward the sound.
"Get me a cool compress." She turned her head to look at Dr. Coleson. "Ill take over from here." She looked back at the tortured soul laying on the bed. "Easy now...it's all right." Ellie returned with the compress just as Security and the orderly left. Gabrielle took the cloth and continued to speak softly to the woman as she held the cool cloth to her forehead.
"Everything's going to be okay." The young doctor could hear her mumbling but couldnt make out most the words. Xena moaned, her grief devastating.
Blood, there was blood everywhere. Her hands were covered. She looked at them in horror and tried to wipe the stains away. "Ares, please... Ill do anything. Help her!"
His deep sultry voice taunted her. "What good is a warrior whos afraid of a little blood?"
Xena looked down helplessly at the still form of the bard, motionless in death. "Please...!!"
"Why? Because you want it?" He smirked. "What would I gain? Youre no good to me now. A broken warrior is a useless thing."
She groaned and clumsily lunged at him. He easily stepped aside, laughing.
Xena fell to her knees beside her friend. "Gabrielle... please dont leave me." She couldnt move her arms, couldnt hold her beloved and cried out in desperation, consumed with grief.
As if in answer to her prayers, she felt her bards soothing touch upon her skin.
The blonde doctor laid her cool hands on the womans straining arms, lightly stroking them. She knew her touch and voice were giving comfort. Every time she stopped the patient began struggling again, begging her not to leave. "Im here. I wont leave you. Its going to be okay."
After more than a half hour of reassuring touches and gentle words, the dark-haired woman finally quieted and fell into a restless slumber. Gabrielle sat in the chair next to the bed, emotionally exhausted.
Ellie walked over and handed her a cup of coffee. The young woman smiled weakly. "Thanks."
The nurse nodded. "You did it again. Managed to calm the storm."
"I think you were right. I think she was in some kind of trance, maybe hallucinations." Gabrielle shook her head. "Imagine a nightmare you couldnt wake up from."
"Yeah. But her vitals look good." Ellie said in amazement. "She has a strong constitution, Ill say that for her." A discreet beep alerted the nurse that her attentions were needed elsewhere. "I'll come back and check on you later." The doctor nodded in appreciation.
Gabrielle opened the first case file. A low, pitiful moan drew her attention back to her patient. The bound arms began to jerk lightly. She slid her chair over and took her hand, softly rubbing the palm with her thumb.
As the woman slept Gabrielle read through her files, occasionally making notes in the margins. Every few minutes she'd look up and gaze at the sleeping woman. The young doctors heart went out to her. The patients deep emotional pain was obvious. Her eyes flitted about restlessly under closed lids and her lips moved in an unintelligible mumble.
Gabrielle felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up. "Im going off shift. Is there anything I can get you before I leave?"
"No, thanks Ellie. Im fine."
"You going home soon?"
"I think Im going to hang around awhile."
The nurse nodded in understanding. "Well, try to get some rest. Theres a cot in the nursing office."
Gabrielle yawned and smiled weakly. "Okay. Have a nice night."
Mid-way through the night, Xena stirred, her lids so heavy she couldn't open her eyes. Panic began to rise within her until she felt a familiar warmth against her skin. Memories of Gabrielle sleeping against her filled the warrior's mind, giving her a brief respite from her demons. She gave into the weariness and fell back into a drugged sleep.
Exhausted the young doctor had finally drifted off, her head resting against the womans arm.
Continued..Part 3 of 4
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