Xena, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the series Xena: Warrior Princess, are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are my property. Please do not use my characters without my consent. NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author.
VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER (if there is any)
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER: (if there is any)
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
Synopsis: A what if story. What would have happened if that one night with Perdicus resulted in a child? Starts off after "Ten Little Warlords." Obviously a lot of things don't happen after that.
The Pieces Left: Pieces Series 1
"Xena….I don't feel so good." My stomach wakes me out of a sound sleep.
"Go throw up by the bushes." Xena waves her arm at me without turning. I scramble to my feet, running towards the bushes at the edge of camp. I barely make it when my stomach decides to empty, muscles spasming painfully, making my eyes water and my knees weak.
Collapsing to the ground, I wait for the nausea to pass. The sky above me begins to lighten slowly as dawn approaches. I look up to see Xena standing above me, a mixture of concern and humor in her eyes.
"You ok?" She crouches down, feeling my forehead. "You don't have a fever."
"No, I just wasn't happy with dinner last night." I attempt to smile as she pulls me up to my feet.
"Go clean yourself up; I'll take care of the camp." She gives me a soft smile as she urges me towards the stream. I'm sure I look like Tartarus, because I feel like it.
Taking my time, I wipe my body down with a wet cloth. Slowly I begin to feel better, the nausea slipping away. Now I just feel hungry, which is not surprising because my stomach is completely empty. I'm not going to make any attempt to eat right now though; a repeat performance of this morning's events is not something I’d like to have happen.
"Maybe you just need a break." Xena says as I walk back into camp. I shrug my shoulders. Things have been intense lately, not that they aren’t always that way.
"No." I sigh. "Too much stress, that's all." I've been throwing up on and off for a couple of weeks now, but nothing seems to actually be wrong with me.
"Are you sure?" Her fingers caress my cheek. I try to smile back.
"I'm sure." She seems to mull this over a minute before finally dropping her hand.
"Walk or ride?"
"I think I can manage walking." Xena walks beside me, arm brushing occasionally against mine. Even with such little contact, the feeling is comforting and warm. Leaves swirl around us as the wind picks up strength, a storm on the horizon.
"How about we stop at an Inn for a few days." Xena looks at me brightly, but I can tell she's gauging my reaction.
"As long as there are no people to save or God’s to fight on the way. I’m not sure throwing up on them would be helpful." I give her a grin, nudging her a little with my elbow.
"Well I can't promise anything." She grins back at me. Everywhere I go with her I nearly die, but still I'm not afraid, I always feel safe by her side. "A lot’s happened." She muses quietly. As Xena is not one to talk much, I know she's stewing about something.
"Yeah." I don't really want to reflect on it much. I stare at the ground, watching as my staff moves across the dirt.
"Did you really love him?" Xena asks out of nowhere.
"Perdicus?" She just nods. I sigh, taking a moment to process my own thoughts. "Yes. I"ve known him most of my life, and he's really the only person who ever seemed to love me."
"Come on, that's not true." She scoffs.
"He didn't really want too much from me, and he was so accepting of you." I laugh to myself. "He even said we could name our first child after you." She gives me a slightly surprised look, but I ignore it. "That's what we talked about that night, you." I go over the memory in my head. "Sounds weird when I think about it now, but you were all I could think about." I shake my head, pushing the thoughts away. "Well I guess there won't be another Xena running around." I grin, hoping to ease the tension I feel coming from her.
"I'm sorry." She's said this many times already, but I can tell each time she means it.
"Wasn't meant to be? Fate? I don't know but there’s nothing to be done about it now. I just have to learn to cope." I shrug my shoulders. The pain isn’t as bad as it was, but it's still there. My stomach growls, breaking me out of the past and back into the present. Xena is laughing, her hand coming to my stomach to pat it affectionately.
"Just a little." I can't help but laugh too. Xena stops suddenly, her hand still on my stomach. Her face looks worried and pensive. "What?" She's staring at her hand on my stomach. "What?" Her eyes finally drift up, meeting mine. She swallows heavily, an act which causes me to panic.
"Gabrielle. How is it you've gained weight when you can barely keep anything down?" At first i'm completely insulted that she's calling me fat.
"What?!" I slap her hand away. "Xena, there"s no need to be mean. If you think I need to lose…"
"No." She cuts me off, her face still very pensive. "That's not what I mean." She averts her eyes, struggling to speak.
"Xena, whatever it is, tell me." I soften my voice, trying to encourage her.
"Gabrielle." Xena turns back to me. "Do you think you could be pregnant?" I begin to choke on my own spittle, sending me into a coughing fit.
"Can't be. Not after one time. Can I?" She shakes her head slowly in affirmation. "You're kidding right?" Her mouth opens and closes a few times. Suddenly I'm captivated by my own abdomen. I stare down at it as if I’ve never seen it before and it's some new wonder to me. I become weak, dropping to my knees I sit on my heels, numb. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to feel right now. Happy or sad?
Tears fall from my eyes just from the pure shock. Xena is saying something; crouching down in front of me, her hands grabbing my face. I see her, but I don't. I feel detached from my body, from everything. I’m lost in some sort of endless limbo of torture.
"Xena, don't leave me." The only words I can seem to vocalize. I'm afraid that now she'll leave me behind, just when I’ve got her back.
"I would never leave you." Xena pulls me into a hug. "Never." Her breathless whisper in my ear is meant to reassure me, I'm not so sure though. How can she travel around with a defenseless pregnant woman? And for a second I was foolish to believe that we had finally put all this in the past.
"I'm sorry." I begin to stammer, repeating the sentence over and over.
"Gabrielle stop." Xena pulls away, her hands grasping my shoulders as she looks deep into my eyes. "There’s nothing to be sorry for. You're going to be a mother." She smiles reassuringly. But I don't know if I'm ready for this right now.
"I don't know if I can do it." I feel myself slipping into panic and I can't stop. "Xena?" I don't know why I'm pleading with her, or what I'm pleading for. Xena pulls me back into her embrace.
"I'll help you. We can get through this together." She whispers in my ear. Gently, Xena urges me back to my feet, though she never lets go of me. "Do you want to go home?"
"No!" I'm lucky that this is because of Perdicus and not a random man, but I do not want to face my parents and their pitying looks right now.
"Ok, ok." She pulls away from me finally as my tears begin to ease. "How about Amphipolis?" I shake my head yes. I can't think past this minute, I don't know where I want to go or what I want to do.
"Let's ride." Without waiting she pulls me up on Argo and sets off at a fast trot.
As we ride into Amphipolis, I am no less shocked than I was a few days ago. Xena has been forcing me to move, eat, breathe, to basically be human. I’m lost in my own brain, and the worst part is that I know it's stupid. I have a life within me, Perdicus' child.
I thought maybe my life could go on as it had before. I'll travel with Xena, help her defend the weak, and be with the only person that makes me feel safe. Now I find myself terrified of so many things. With this child will I be able to move on? I'm afraid that I'll look at my baby and think only of Callisto as she killed my husband. I wasn't even married a whole day.
What I'm finding though, is I’'m most afraid of is Xena leaving me. By all rights she should, but I can't seem to let her go, not even in my imagination. I'm vaguely aware of life passing by around me, of Xena taking me to a room at her mother’s Inn. They talk, huddled just at the edge of my vision. I can't bring myself to listen or care about anything they are saying or doing.
I feel lost. My rational side is being beaten down by all the emotions and memories that happened so recently. I watch as they come in and out of the room. Xena and Cyrene taking turns sitting next to me, trying to coax me into some sort of movement. I can see all this, but I'm not compelled to move or react.
I don't think I’ve fallen asleep once. The sun has come up and down, up and down; but the time seems endless to me. At some point I find myself wrapped up in Xena’ss arms as she whispers in my ear. Her voice is pulling me back to a reality I'm not sure I'm ready to face. I begin to fight with myself, fight to stay lost in the darkness. But everything is rushing at me and I can't stop the assault. My tears come thick and relentlessly. Sobs wrack through my body as Xena holds on tight. Eventually I cry till I have no more tears and no more energy, and I finally succumb to sleep.
The bench beneath me is beginning to feel hard and uncomfortable. I'm not sure how long I’ve been sitting here, hours maybe. Behind the tavern, I'm surrounded by Cyrene's herb garden. Delicious smells float on the cool breeze that tugs at my hair.
"Wanna talk about it?" Xena eases down next to me, a small smile tugging at her lips.
"It's all so much."
"No Xena, I'm afraid of so many things, I just don't know what to do?" Xena turns, straddling the bench and facing me.
"Whatever you're afraid of, I'll be here for you, mother too." She reaches up, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
"That's just it."
"Xena, I'm nothing but a burden to you now." She shakes her head at me, nudging my chin to face her.
"You can never be a burden for me, don't even think that."
"But Xena, I can't travel with you anymore, and with a baby….?"
"Is this what's been bothering you?"
"Yes, among other things." I turn away, looking out over the horizon at the setting sun. Colors of orange, pink, and purple splash across the sky like a canvas.
"Gabrielle." Xena finally says after a moment of thinking. "How do I tell you this? I will do everything I can to protect you and your child. And I will not leave your side until the day you want me to. You mean everything to me; I don't want to see you hurting." Such brief moments of genuine love always feel the most intense when expressed by the stoic warrior. I reach up, cupping her face in my hand.
"I could never make you do that. You aren’t meant to be tied down, you're meant to be out roaming the countryside." My thumb wipes away a single tear that slides down her cheek.
"Don't worry about what I should be doing. You have more important things to think about. You're my best friend, I can't just leave you." I give in. Leaning sideways, I rest my head against her chest as her arms wrap around me. "We'll just take one day at a time." She whispers against the top of my head.
"I don't think I can do this without you." I confess, mumbling against her chest.
"You won't have to." We watch as the sun slowly sets, dragging its myriad of colors down the sky as it goes. The air is beginning to turn cool, and I can hear the tavern start to liven up with people. Xena stands, pulling me up with her. "Come on, you need to eat."
We make our way into the tavern, finding a small table out of the way. The room is slowly filling with hungry farmers and traveling merchants. I don't think I can stand too much of a crowd right now though, I'm not sure I want to stay. Xena’s hand covers mine, she tries to give me a reassuring look.
"Would you rather eat somewhere else?"
"No, I'm ok." I smile as Cyrene brings us food and drink.
"You are looking better dear." She smiles at me, clasping my shoulder. "Will you two need anything else?"
"No, thanks mother." Cyrene strides off as patrons demand her attention. The food is always good here, I’ve never been disappointed.
"I’ve got to get your mom to teach me how to cook like this." The beef is practically melting in my mouth, it's so tender.
"Hey, I’ve never complained." Xena scoffs, her eyebrow raising up.
"No but if I could cook like this you'd probably let me sleep in more." I smile, but it fades as I realize I may never cook for her again. Weird thing to be sad about, but I am.
"When are you going to tell your parents?"
"I don't know." I sigh deeply. The thought of it right now, I just can't handle it.
We settle into our normal routine; eating in silence with the occasional conversation peppered throughout. Xena’s not really into talking when she can be eating; she finds it gets in the way of chewing. After dinner I find myself in my room, sitting on the edge of the bed staring at the wall as Xena starts a fire.
"Hey, if you need anything, I'm right next door." She says as she stands, dusting her hands off on her leathers. Xena’s looking at me, trying to decide if she should say something or not. Hesitating a moment, she finally turns towards the door.
"Xena?" I stop her before her hand touches the handle.
"Yeah?" I look down at my hands as I rub them together nervously.
"Would you mind….I mean I don't really want to be alone…..it's just." Xena stops my stuttering ramble by crouching down in front of me.
"Of course." Her fingers begin to work on the laces of my boots, pulling them off one by one. I crawl under the covers, fully dressed as Xena begins to pull her armor off. She strips down to her shift and climbs into the bed next to me. Without hesitation she pulls me into her arms, allowing me to curl into her form.
Her fingers run through my hair as she kisses the top of my head. I feel safe, I always feel safe when I'm in her arms.
"Hey, I told you, you're my best friend. If you need something just tell me."
"Just hold me." She pulls me in closer. When I first met her, I didn't think Xena had much of a soft side. I knew the potential, saw what she could be beyond her reputation; but she made it a point to always appear hard in front of me. Slowly, the tension in my body leeches away, leaving me feeling calmer than I have in days.
"Sleep." Xena whispers. My eyes close as I listen to the rhythm of her heart, and I become lulled into a state of sleep.
I rub my hand over my growing stomach. Right now it just looks like I’ve been eating a bit too much nut bread, but soon I will explode. I'm going to need something different to wear, my current outfit wouldn’t look particularly good on me when I'm months into the pregnancy.
I'm surprised by Xena's reaction to all this. Her face lights up when she sees me, seemingly excited as if this was her child. Still I'm not sure how long this will last before she needs to leave for something exciting. I can't dwell on this right now, I'll just have to deal with it when it comes.
I still can't figure out how to tell my parents without them locking me up in their house. Once they find out I'm carrying their grandchild, they’ll want me to abandon Xena and find a man to settle down with. I’ve got too much to think about to worry about them right now.
"So, do you want to settle somewhere?" Xena asks as we sit in front of the fireplace, basking in its warmth.
"I don't know." I sigh. "I mean can I really continue on the road with you? "
"I'm sure we could figure something out." She offers softly, giving me a small smile. I know the reality is that I still rely on Xena to keep me safe, I can't expect her to worry about a child that isn't"t hers as well.
"No, it would be too big a distraction for you."
"Maybe you should settle with the Amazons."
"And if it's a boy, then what?" She frowns at me. “Plus I just don’t want to.”
"You know, you're usually the optimistic one." Her hand comes to rest lightly on my thigh. I stare at her hand for a moment.
"I think I want to stay here." She looks at me confused.
"Wouldn't you rather be with your family then?"
"Xena if I go back home, I'll only end up being exactly what I was running away from."
"How would it be different here?"
"It just would." I turn away, but she takes my hand and squeezes it gently. When my eyes meet hers again I see nothing but patience and caring. "I could tell stories in your mom’s tavern, help her out around here." I sweep my hand out.
"No other reason?" She asks gently.
"Because you're here right now and it feels like home." I lean over, resting my head on her shoulder.
"So you want to stay in the tavern?"
"No, I' should be on my own." I'm not sure why I feel I need her so badly, why I fear the day she'll leave and never come back, but I want her to stay.
"Not sure that would help you in finding a new husband." She chuckles. I hook my arm through hers, pulling myself closer.
"I'm not interested in that."
"But one day you will." Xena insists.
"No Xena…I just want you." I whisper the last part. Her body stiffens slightly as she contemplates my words.
"You don't need me to survive Gabrielle." I pull away from her, anger is bubbling just under my skin.
"No Xena, you don't need me. I do need you. Not just to protect me, but because you are my best friend and we’ve been through too much together. For you to just disappear on me because you think I need a man…...." I finally breathe as my rant stops. Her eyes have gone wide, shock all over her face.
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying I need you." I lean back against her, hoping to avoid her questioning eyes. After a while she sighs, her muscles ease slightly.
"First thing tomorrow I'll go to the council and see what's available."
"I'm sorry, I just feel alone. You don't need to do that." Her chins comes to rest on the top of my head.
"I told you I won't leave until you tell me to."
"That might be never." I whisper.
"Never is perfect for me." I can't decide if Xena’s trying to pacify me or if she really means what she is saying.
"Do you know why I married Perdicus?" I ask after a while.
"You loved him." She answers simply.
"Because he was safe. Someone my parents wanted, someone I’ve known my whole life so he understands me better than most men. Weird thing is, I didn't feel that kind of love I’ve always dreamed about."
"What kind is that?"
"The head over heels, other half of your soul kind. I mean I loved him, but I guess that other kind is just a story." I feel guilty. If I had turned him down, he would still be alive.
"Well there are all kinds of love Gabrielle. You still have time to find what you're looking for." I'm sure she doesn't believe in the kind of love I dream about, but she's my friend and tells me what I want to hear.
"Don't you want that too?" I ask. Xena lets out a long sigh before answering.
"I don't think it's for me. Besides, I don't deserve it. After everything I’ve done…." Her muscles are tensing again, I can tell she wants to get up; get away from this conversation.
"Of course you do." I pull away, trying to look into her eyes. There's sadness there; I can see it no matter how hard she tries to mask it. There’s no point in arguing with her about it now. While I can persuade other people, Xena is never easily swayed by my arguments. I lean up, giving her a quick peck on the cheek before leaning back against her shoulder.
"One of these days I'll make you believe me." I mumble into her arms.
"Soon, you'll be too busy with a kid to worry about me." She chuckles softly.
"I'll always worry about you." We sit in companionable silence for another hour or so before retreating back to the bed. I don't even have to ask; Xena just crawls in and lets me curl up against her. I don't think I want to sleep by myself ever again.
It's a mess and a far cry from the dream home I used to envision. Of course though, I used to dream of a big house on the coast, and an orchard or maybe a big garden. That was of course before I went off and traveled with Xena. She is looking at the building with such pride though.
"Ummm Xena, this is…nice." I try to look convincing.
"Look, I'm gonna fix it up and it will be perfect by the time your baby comes." She has this big grin on her face.
"Hmmm?" She's wandering around an area that I think was a garden at some point.
"How am I going to take care of this place myself?" I'm beginning to feel a tiny bit overwhelmed. Maybe Lila will help out when the baby comes.
"You won't. I'll help you." She says simply. This is not something I want to get my hopes up for.
"Xena." I sigh. "I know you said you would stay, but I also know that you have a life you are very comfortable in, and playing house does not factor in there." She turns towards me, a hurt look growing in her eyes.
"Why won't you believe me?" Her voice is hushed, and I nearly miss her question.
"It's not that I don't believe you, it's….." I don't know what it is really. "Are you seriously going to be happy going from warrior princess to….farmer?" I wave my arms, gesturing at the ramshackle house in front of us. Xena regards me for a moment, her brow furrowing in frustration.
"I'll be happy because I'm with you." She turns, making her way into the rickety house. I'm trying to figure out where the stoic warrior went, because she is being more open in one statement than she has the entire time I"ve known her.
"Xena?" I call out as I step into what Xena says is my….our new home.
"I'll work on the roof first." She says, analyzing all the holes above her.
"Look, I'm sorry. You know.." I gesture to my stomach. Her head turns slightly, eyes narrowing because she doesn't believe me.
"There are three bedrooms, though two are more suited to storage." Xena continues on, ignoring my apology. "Just enough room for a bed really. But the kitchen is huge." I'm sure the definition of huge in this house isn’t actually very big at all. I reach out, touching her bicep softly.
"Xena, my parents wouldn’t even do this for me." A long sigh passes her lips. "You feel guilty?" I know she does, I see it in her eyes every day. Xena turns, walking back out of the house.
"I do." She finally answers quietly, her back towards me as I stand in the doorway. "But not for the reasons you think." Xena finally turns and I can see she's battling her own emotions, trying to keep her mask up.
"What for then?" What could she possibly feel guilty about?
"I should have told you, I should have stopped it, I was happy when he died." She rambles, eyes dropping to stare at the ground.
"What do you mean happy?" I'm trying to control the anger and pain until she explains. She can't possibly mean that.
"You mean more to me than just a friend." She looks back up, her stoic mask back in place, but she swallows hard. "When you married him, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. The moment you said yes I realized that I can't possibly….." She pauses a moment. "I wasn't happy that he died, no one deserves that. I was happy that it meant I got you back." Her words are becoming strained with each passing moment.
"I'm confused." I'm not sure how to process this confession.
"I never thought something like this could happen." Xena says, seemingly to herself as her hands rub the back of her neck. "I'm weak. I'm weak because of you." Tears sting at my eyes when she says this.
"Xena, I never said you had to stay." She advances forward, her body nearly touching mine.
"Not because you're pregnant. Because you're you. I love you and that is my biggest weakness." Her eyes gaze down at me intently, I think she's waiting for a response but I can't get my mouth to move. "I just needed to tell you this once."
"I love you too." What's new about this? We"ve been saying this more and more.
Xena becomes frustrated. Finally she breaks eye contact and moves away, walking towards Argo. What is she trying to say? She can't possibly mean…...
"Wait. What?" She doesn't stop, doesn't respond either. "Xena?" She's ignoring me now. How can she say these things and then just walk away. I stomp my way up to her, grabbing her arm and forcing her to turn. Her face is stoic and hard as stone.
"I'm sorry, I should've never said anything."
"You love me?" I find it odd that I'm the person she chooses to love. I mean, me? "What"s so great about me?" She looks at me slightly surprised. "Xena, you've been with Gods, warlords, royalty." I'm shaking my head in total confusion. "And you're telling me that you love me?" I point at myself in shock.
"What's so crazy about that?" Her posture changes as she starts to become indignant.
"Have you seriously thought this through? You probably just feel sorry for me, I completely understand..."
"What?!" She cuts me off, the anger in her voice rising. Throwing her hands up in frustration, she growls deep in her throat. "Seriously, this is what you're stuck on?"
"Ummm yeah." It's a legitimate question. Again she throws her arms up and begins to mutter under her breath. Without saying anything more, Xena walks back to Argo and takes the reins. She continues to rant to herself, arms gesturing about wildly. Am I missing something?
I follow behind Xena, she's gone back to her quiet, stoic self but has yet to acknowledge my existence behind her. I'm not sure if saying anything right now would be a good idea or not. After about a mile of this standoff, she finally stops in the middle of the road.
"You know Gabrielle, I can't believe you think so little of me."
"What in Zeus’ name are you talking about? Being pregnant doesn't affect your mind does it? Because I feel like I'm going crazy here."
"You think that I care so little as to run off when you are having a baby?" Well when you put it that way I guess…. "I'm trying to do what you constantly nag me about, talking about my feelings. See if I ever do it again." She grumbles.
"Wait, I don't nag." Her eyes narrow at me. "Ok, I'm sorry." I put my hands up in defense. "I was just confused. You are Xena Warrior Princess and you never talk about your feelings." Xena sighs, the tension in her body lessening.
"When you were… when I brought you here and you didn't move or talk for three days, I got scared. I thought I should reach out to you, explain how I feel. It was a moment of weakness on my part and apparently that was a bad idea."
"Well you can't just say I love you to someone and expect them not to ask questions." Like she's going to turn this around on me, ya right.
"Ok." She nods, composing herself back into her warrior demeanor. "Ask."
"Well ummmm." I should have been prepared for this. "When?"
"When did you figure out you love me?”
"A long time ago." She waves her hand dismissively.
"And why didn't you tell me?" Xena looks at me exasperated.
"Why would I? You're young, you saw me as a hero."
"I don't know, it seems like important information." I can get just as angry as she can.
"To who? You ogled every cute guy we came across.". She turns indignant.
"You did more than ‘ogle’." I mean if we want to compare.
"Why does it matter!?"
"I don't know, it just does!" My bard skills have abandoned me apparently.
"Well that is a stupid argument!"
"It is not!" We are spiraling down a path that is going nowhere but senseless retorts.
"I take it back. How can I love someone as aggravating as you?!" There are actually people passing us on the road who can't help but stare.
"You can't take it back, it's already out there!"
"Too bad, I just did." She gives me a self-satisfied look.
"Yeah well I'm gonna write it down." Ha. Xena snorts.
"So, you're a bard, it's called fiction."
"Hey plenty of people believe my stories." She rolls her eyes at me. We are at a stalemate, standing in the middle of this dirt road with many gawkers. "Just practicing lines for our play." I give everyone a fake smile and wave apologetically. Xena mumbles to herself, walking away. Well, now I have even more things to worry over. How nice.
I can't sleep. No matter how long I lay here in the all-consuming darkness, I can't seem to get my eyes to close. Xena refused to talk to me anymore as soon as we got back to the tavern. Of course I'm not surprised by this, but I am surprised by the fact that I need her to sleep. I feel all alone in this small room, encapsulated by silence. I can't take it anymore. Getting up, I throw my clothes back on and creep out into the darkness of the hall.
Flickering light of a fire greets me as I reach the top of the stairs. Apparently no one doused the flames, or maybe…. Making my way down to the landing, a figure slowly becomes visible. I have no doubt it's Xena, hunched over at a table. The light of the flames flicker across her skin.
"You should be sleeping." Her voice is deep and raspy.
"I couldn't." Making my way over to the table, I sit on the bench directly across from her. Xena’s staring down at the wood grain of the table, unwilling to meet my eyes. She fidgets with a mug clasped between her hands.
"Well you're going to need all the rest you can get." I just nod my head slowly. "When I was carrying Solan I had no time for sleep." She gives a small sad chuckle as she looks up, though not at me, somewhere far away it seems. "Being a warlord doesn't leave much room for having babies, but then again it doesn't leave much room for anything good."
"Xena, I'm sorry about before."
"What's there to be sorry for?" The far away look is slowly disappearing from her eyes. "Don't worry, it’s forgotten." She drinks whatever is left in her mug in one big gulp. "Like I said, you should get some sleep." Xena begins to stand, but I put my hand over hers, stopping her movement.
"Wait." I try to plead with my eyes, begging her to sit back down. Finally she relents, sitting somewhat stiffly. "Can we do this over?" She sighs, eyes narrowing slightly.
"Go ahead." Her eyes avert back to the table. I of course don't really know what to say.
"I feel like there’s a lot of things happening at once and it's a little overwhelming. My life seems to be changing by the second." She remains silent, her face holding its mask of indifference. "Xena, you've been with hundreds of people and I’ve been with one person for one night."
"It's not hundreds!" She shoots me a glare.
"How do I know I wont wake up one morning and you'll be gone without a word?" A slight ripple of guilt passes through Xena"s eyes.
"You don't." She says simply.
"And I'm supposed to be ok with that?" I shift uncomfortably on the bench, we`ve been sitting here too long.
"I never said that." She sighs. "I need to know, how do you feel about me?"
"I love you, of course I love you. Can't we just let things happen on their own accord? Right now I need a friend more than I need a lover."
"You're right, i'm sorry."
"Please don't be. I don't think I could stand you hating me." Her eyes flick quickly towards me.
"I could never hate you." Her voice is firm and adamant. I get up and walk to the other side of the table as Xena stands and we embrace. "Come on." She says pulling away and giving me a small smile. "Enough of this touchy feely stuff; let"s go to bed." So we go, but this time she is back by my side with protective arms wrapped around me. It takes seconds for sleep to consume us.
For a little while, life seems calm and uncomplicated. Within a month before Xena"s services were needed. A part of me is so sad to watch her ride away, knowing I'm going to miss out on the adventure. The other part worries for her.
Xena had gotten to work straight away on the little farm house, fixing the roof till it looked brand new. I'm beginning to grow fond of this place, despite all of its obvious flaws. While Xena is away, I'll most likely spend all my time filling in cracks and holes in the walls. I had to promise her that I wouldn"t do anything too stressful, we argued for about an hour before I finally relented. I think she even conscripted her mother to watch over me.
While I spend my days at the house, I spend my nights in the tavern. Occasionally, if I'm not too tired, I get up and tell stories for a few dinars. Mostly I spend time with Cyrene, she tells me stories of all her children when they were little. Xena of course was the worst of the bunch, not that i'm surprised.
"When are you going to visit your family?" She asks, innocently enough one night.
"I don't know. I can only imagine what they’ll want me to do. Probably wouldn’t let me leave until they can find a man willing to marry a widow." Cyrene pushes a loaf of nut bread in front of me. She's always plying me with treats, insisting I need to fatten up. Not that I mind.
"You should give them a chance." She says softly.
"Maybe. But only if Xena comes with me." I start plopping bits of bread in my mouth and find myself wondering if Xena’s ok.
"I can be dense sometimes, but I have to ask." Cyrene looks at me inquisitively.
"Hmmm?" I can't talk around the food in my mouth.
"What exactly is your relationship with Xena?" I nearly choke on the bread, barely managing to get it down without spitting everywhere. Cyrene is watching me closely, eyes narrowed.
"She's my best friend." I try to avoid eye contact with her as she nods her head.
"But it's more than that, isn"t it?"
"It's ok." She says, trying to give me a reassuring smile.
"Maybe it is, but with everything going on…." I confess all too easily. Her face remains friendly but guarded.
"I won't pretend to understand a relationship." She pauses. "But I do know she is a different person because of you." I try to say something, to tell her that Xena is the one who made herself change; but she won't let me. Her hand comes up, halting any words before they can come out.
"With everything that Xena has done, I’ve got to say this is probably the tamest and the smartest. I love you like a daughter, so I accept your relationship; whatever it may be."
"Thank you." My voice is tight with emotion.
"Did you ever think that maybe now is the perfect time to be more than friends?" She questions.
"I'm afraid." She nods her head slowly.
"No one can promise Xena won't break your heart, not even Xena herself. But you can't worry about something you really have no control over. Just love her." Her eyes shine brightly at me as she pats my hand affectionately. "Now, I think you need to get some sleep." She stands up with a smile and shuffles away to help her staff clean up.
Once again I find myself lying in my bed, unable to sleep because Xena isn’t here. If this little thing affects me so much, how would it be if I truly let myself love her.
Every day Xena is away, is a day I'm worried she won't come back. She is only mortal after all, and she bleeds just like any other warrior out there. It's been a month now since she left; my stomach has grown considerably in that time. I think that's mostly due to Cyrene feeding whenever she sees my face. The food is good, how can I possibly turn it down?
My little house is coming along nicely. I still can't believe I have a home, it feels so surreal sometimes. Cyrene made a few men in the village help me with the more tasking jobs, speeding up the process greatly. As fall descends, the air has gotten cooler, and I would love to be in my home before winter hits. The house itself is situated just outside of town, still within a short walking distance from the tavern but also far enough off the main road to insure privacy.
I’ve found that the people in Amphipolis seem to feel sorry for me. A young widowed soon to be mother all on her own? What's more tragic than that? People have been giving me their old furniture; things they saved for their children who never claimed it. I wanted to give them money, but all insist that a good story is all they need. I'm not sure a story can pay for a whole bed; not a small bed, but a big one that I could have only imagined in my dreams.
For the first time since coming here, I am sitting out on my front porch watching the sun fade into the horizon. As the men left today, they promised they'd be back to start on the barn. I insisted they had already done too much, but not one would listen to me.
I don't feel like the kid I was when I first started out with Xena. Sitting here in my rocking chair, on my porch, with a baby growing in my belly; it's all made me feel old all of a sudden. I even look different. Aside from the fact that I'm with child; I wear loose flowing dresses instead of that green top, I’ve cut my hair short because it was taking too long to wash. I never realized how tiring it is just to have a baby grow.
Closing my eyes and hum quietly as I gently rock in my chair. The sky is growing darker, but I just don't want to go in yet. There’s a sense of peace that I’ve craved for so long. Of course I can't believe I’ve ended up on a farm, with a baby. The very thing I ran from is what I’ve become. Xena, though, is the wild card; the one thing that keeps me grounded and sane. I didn't realize that having this life with her by my side was remotely possible, let alone so amazing.
"I go away for a month and look at you." I nearly fall out of my chair as Xena’s voice seemingly pops out of nowhere. Looking up, I find crystalline blue eyes smiling down at me.
"Xena?" She pulls me up and into her arms, almost strangling me with the fierceness of her hug.
"What did you do to your hair?" She pulls back a little, ruffling my short blonde hair.
"I got tired of it." I shrug, but I can't wipe the smile off my face. Xena pulls back more, looking down at my stomach.
"Wow." She whispers in amazement as she places her hand on my abdomen.
"Where's Argo?" I look around noticing I don't see her horse anywhere.
"Oh, I left her at mom’s." Her eyes are glazed over in wonder, still staring down at my growing belly. "She said the house is almost finished." I take her hand in mine and pull her through the doorway, finally breaking her out of her trance.
"Isn't it pretty?" I gush, so proud of what the home has become.
"Yeah…pretty." Xena grins at me, allowing her eyes to wander over every nook and cranny of the place.
"Are you hungry?"
"Huh?" Her hands trail across the furniture as she walks around the room.
"Are. You. Hungry?" Her head pops up as she finally hears me.
"Oh yeah, hold on." In a few quick strides Xena's back out the door. I'm momentarily confused as I watch her walk back in with a huge grin; a saddle bag across her shoulder and a basket in her hand. She holds up the basket as if it's the greatest prize ever. "Mother insisted I bring some food. She feels you don't eat enough."
"What?! That woman is going to make me fatter than this house." Xena chuckles, but says nothing as she sits the basket down on the table. In the light of the fire, I manage to take inventory of her wounds. She has a couple of long gashes that have been stitched closed, along with various bruises and scrapes. A tear falls down my cheek; the realization of what could have happened suddenly hits me.
"What's wrong?" The smile on Xena’s face is replaced with concern as she comes up to me, cupping my face in her hands.
"Nothing." I sniffle. My fingers trace across the skin on her arm near the wound.
"Hey I'm ok." She stoops a little, trying to look into my eyes. "Don't cry, I'm here."
"You could have died." My voice cracks as I look up sadly.
"But I didn't, I'm still here to bug you." She cracks a little grin. "Hey. I promise no more missions till after this little thing pops out." Xena glances down at my stomach.
"Ok." I try to laugh, but it barely comes out. "So what did your mother pack?"
We sit in the quiet comfort of my new house, enjoying each other's company for the first time in weeks. Xena mostly avoids the topic of her mission except to say that she won and kicked a lot of ass. Like her mother, she continually piles food in front of me, insisting I need to eat more. After a few hours, we're sitting in front of the hearth enjoying the silence.
"Ya?" She takes a sip of her port.
"Since you've been gone, I’ve been thinking."
"About what?" She shifts in her chair to better look at me.
"Well I guess I want to go see my family, but only if you come with me, I might need help escaping." I give her a little grin.
"Of course, I can't let you go wandering around on your own." Xena smirks.
"I've also thought about what you told me." She sighs, turning away again.
"No, let me talk." I cut her off before she can go on. Her eyes stay on the fire flickering before us. "Everyday that I couldn't be by your side, helping you fight…or you know just looking good in the background," I grin at her. "Every day I was worried that I might never see you again." Xena opens her mouth to speak but I raise my hand up, stopping her. "I know I can't live without you, and I know I love you. And I'm not saying that because I’m pregnant or anything." She sits back in her chair, regarding me for a moment.
"So what are you saying?" Her eyebrow cocks up in question.
"I'm saying that…..I love you." I look down at my feet, not wanting to make eye contact.
"I talked to your mother and she gave me great advice." Xena lunges forward in her chair.
"My mother knows?!" I can't help but laugh at the shock on her face.
"She's the one who brought it up actually." This only relaxes Xena a micro fraction.
"What did she say?" Her eyes narrow at me.
"She said I'm good for you. That loving me is probably the sanest thing you've done in life." Xena grunts at that, and I can’t help but smile.
"Probably." She mumbles, finally sitting back in her chair.
"And….. she said not to worry about things I can't control."
"Like what?" Her head cocks to one side as she looks intently at me.
"That one day you’ll leave, you’ll break my heart." I can't bring myself to look at her. Xena goes so silent, I can't even hear her breathe.
"All I can do is my best." She says after a while. "You realize, you're the only person ever in my life that I talk to like this." Xena leans forward, taking my hands in hers. I look up; her eyes sparkle with unshed tears. "I don't know why and I don't know how but I do know this is something I never thought I'd feel let alone have. I can't just let it go." What do I say to that?
"I haven't been able to sleep since you've been gone." I confess
"Me neither." She smiles, squeezing my hands in hers. We sit in silence again, looking into each other's eyes.
"I can heat up some water for a bath if you want?" She nods her head.
"Thanks, but I'll do it." Xena gives me a stern look. "You get some rest." I watch her leave, my heart feeling fuller than it has in a long time.
Morning comes with Xena’s arms wrapped around me as she's curled against my back. I know she's awake but I don't really want to move just yet.
"You sleep ok?" She mumbles against the back of my head.
"Yeah." Looking out the window I can see the sky slowly lighten up. Xena pulls me closer, her hands caressing my stomach. I can't say I want her to stop, it feels so nice. The sudden urge to pee forces me up and out of the bed though. "Gotta pee." I tell Xena as I shuffle myself quickly out the door. I can hear her chuckling as I retreat for the outhouse, making it just in time to avoid an accident. That little disaster averted, I return to the bedroom to find the bed empty. Well what exactly was I expecting? Since i'm alone though, I take the time to wash myself down before putting on a dress. The smell of food pulls me towards the kitchen where I find Xena toiling away over a fire.
"I have an idea." She says, turning around to put some meat on a plate in front of me. There's fresh bread too; I think she was faking at being a bad cook.
"Ok." The meat is delicious and is soon accompanied by a few eggs. Making her own plate, she sits down on the bench.
"When you're ready, I want you to train with me."
"With the staff?" I"ve gotten pretty good I thought.
"Not just that. You need to get better at hand to hand."
"Well, I suppose." I'm confused as to why Xena"s suddenly suggests this.
"You'll be more confident in protecting your baby." Xena smiles sweetly. I wonder if this is because she plans on leaving.
"I'm nervous." I whisper in her ear as the farm comes into view. Xena gives my shoulder a small squeeze.
"Don't let them sense your fear." Despite the serious look she gives me, she still laughs.
"Xena, my family isn’t a pack of wolves." I nudge her with my elbow as I smile. My tension eases for a moment, but rushes back as soon as we reach the door. I somehow manage to knock feebly, part of me wishing that maybe they’ve gone somewhere. I can hear the voices within, laughing and talking animatedly. Taking a deep breath, I knock again. The voices halt before I hear footsteps approaching the front door.
"Yes, who…. Oh my God’s." Lila gasps, her hands coming up to her mouth in shock. "Gabrielle?" Her eyes scan up and down my body, unsure if I could really be her sister. Tentatively she reaches out, touching my arm softly as if to see that I'm real.
"Yes." I nod enthusiastically, tears stinging my eyes.
"Mother! Mother, come quick!" Lila yells back into the house before wrapping me in a big hug.
"Who is it dear?" My mothers eyes go wide with shock, but she's quicker to recover than my sister. "By the God’s, look at you." Lila releases me so now Mother can smother me in a hug. Neither of them seem to give notice to Xena as I get ushered into the house. Looking back at the warrior, she gives me a nod towards the barn, letting me know she's going to be taking care of Argo.
"Gabrielle, are you…?" My mother's voice is filled with both awe and fear.
"Yes. And it's Perdicus." They both visibly relax, i'm sure thinking that my pregnancy was the result of something horrid. But suddenly, a myriad of emotions crossed my mother’s face. She reaches out as if to touch me, but quickly pulls her hand back.
"Do you know how surprised we were to find out that you were married and widowed in the span of a day? Why didn't you come home then? And what did you do to your hair?" She peppers me with questions as she eases into a chair.
"I'm sorry mom, I know I should have told you in person, but I couldn't do it. You deserve better than a scroll, so did his parents." Guilt surges through me, but I try to push it away.
"So have you come home for good?" There's a hopeful eagerness in her voice.
"But surely you can't possibly stay with Xena?" Lila interjects with a little too much force.
"I'm going to stay in Amphipolis…. with Xena." I try to look them both in the eyes with as much confidence as I can muster.
"You're kidding right?" Lila scoffs. Mother sits a hand on my sister’s arm to quiet her.
"But Gabrielle, you should be with your family!" Mother stands again, the shock evident in her face.
"Xena is my family."
"Gabrielle, you should be with your real family. I know she's your friend, but surely she wants the best for you?" Breathing in deep, I manage to control my anger.
"Xena is my family." I try to emphasize one more time, but they just look at me in confusion.
"Mother, Xena is more than just my friend. She's been there for me in ways no one else can." My mother rolls her eyes, making a small snort in disbelief.
"Your father will be home from the fields soon. We can discuss it then." She looks me up and down. "She's not staying here is she?"
"Yes, mother, she is. And she is sleeping in the house, or I am sleeping in the barn with her." I narrow my eyes in defiance. Mother throws her hands in the air, completely put out by this fact.
"Fine. She can have Lila’s bed."
"Wait where am I gonna sleep?" Lila suddenly realized what mother said.
"You can sleep out here."
"No, that's enough." She glares at my sister before retreating to the kitchen. "Help me finish with the food." Lila snarls at me before dutifully following behind.
I find Xena in the barn, brushing Argo down and murmuring in her ear. She often treats that horse like a real person, sometimes worried about Argo more than me. I'm not saying I'm jealous, nope.
"So, are they locking you in your room for the rest of your life?" Xena turns, smirking at me.
"Not yet, but father isn't"t home soo…"
"Well you know, I can always just eat out here. No need to complicate things even more." I rush up to her and grab her by the arms.
"Xena, you may be the only one who will keep me sane. And besides, I already made mother let you sleep in the house." I smile, but shock is all that crosses Xena"s face.
"What? Gabrielle, wouldn’t it be better for everyone if I stayed out here?"
"No, Xena. Either you sleep in the house, or I sleep out here with you." My voice is firm but calm. I don't really want to argue about this. She studies me, but relents for the moment.
"Ok." Xena shrugs before bending down and grabbing the saddle bags. "Let's get this over with." I grin at her; she looks as if she's about to go into battle, automatically turning into the warrior. Her movements become more purposeful, her face a stoic mask of determination, head up and shoulders back.
"You know Xena, we aren’t fighting an army."
"Might as well be." She grumbles. When we walk in, mother and Lila are still in the kitchen, murmuring quietly to each other. We throw the saddlebags down on Lila's bed and I steel myself for my father's arrival. Xena pulls me into her arms for a hug, which I gladly accept.
"Remember, they only want the best for you." I grumble a response into her chest. Sometimes what they want and I want are very different things. "Don't worry, I'll keep the damage to a minimum if it comes to it." We both laugh, but stop abruptly when we hear my father coming through the front door. Xena gives me an extra squeeze before we walk out.
"Hi father." I give him a little wave and a smile. He looks grumpy as can be and can't seem to return the sentiment.
"What's she doing here?" His head flicks towards Xena.
"I have some news for you." It takes a moment before his eyes catch up to his brain. He lets out an audible gasp, his face turning to one of confusion.
"How?" He can't seem to get any more words out.
"Perdicus." I hate having to rehash this every time someone wants to know. He blinks a few times before coming out of his stupor.
"Well I'm sure we can find you a nice young man that won't mind raising another man’s child." He rubs his chin thoughtfully.
"I don't need one." His eyes flare with anger.
"You most certainly do. If you think I'm going to let you go traipsing around the country with my grandchild and ….that woman, you're wrong." Mother and Lila have come out of the kitchen and are standing silently in its doorway.
"Father, I'm staying in Amphipolis." I brace myself for the coming explosion.
"What?!" His eyes jump to Xena who is standing tall behind me. "What kind of spell have you put my daughter under? We are her blood, and here’s where she will stay!"
"No!" He interjects, spittle flying from his mouth. "I’ve had enough of your disrespect. You didn't even have the decency to come home after he died." I cringe and I can feel Xena tensing up behind me.
"I know, I'm sorry…"
"Quiet." He growls. "We’ll talk of this no more. And you.’ He points at Xena. ‘Can leave in the morning." He gives a final glare to her. "Now I'm going to eat, then I am going to bed." He falls into a chair at the table and just sits there waiting for the food to be served to him. Grabbing Xena"s hand, I pull her back into the room, closing the door behind us. The tears I’ve been holding back, finally spill over. Xena wraps her arms around me, rubbing my back softly.
"I'm sorry." She whispers.
"No, I'm sorry. I knew he'd react like that, but it's still hard to take."
"Are you sure I should sleep in here tonight?"
"I'm pretty sure you can stop him if he attempts to kill you in your sleep." I chuckle a little, just wanting all this frustration and pain to go away.
"Really Gabrielle. I don't want to make things worse for you." She whispers in my ear.
"It would be worse if you didn't stay." I give her a small squeeze before pulling away. "I don't want to admit to this, but I really don't want to sit out there with that man."
"And you're hungry?" She grins at me.
"A tiny bit." I wrinkle my nose up, feeling slightly embarrassed.
"I'm sure your mother doesn't want you to starve. I'll go get some food and we can eat it here, ok?" I nod in affirmation. Again, Xena turns from sweet mush, to a strong stoic warrior as she walks out the door. My father's voice begins to boom, yelling at my mother for letting Xena even come into the house. Try as she might, my mother can say nothing to calm her enraged husband. After a few minutes, Xena returns with a tray laden with food. Her eyes sparkle as she smiles at me.
"You're mother had already started to get some food ready." She places the tray on my dresser as I light a few candles. "She doesn't seem quite as upset as your father."
"So she didn't try to poison you?" I smile as we continue to hear my father raging on the other side of the door.
"I get the feeling he doesn't like me." Xena says with a wry grin. "I’d say that we should stay in the barn, but I don't want you getting sick, and your mother insisted."
"She did?" I reach out, grabbing an olive and popping it into my mouth.
"Yes, but I only think so because she knew you would follow me and she's worried about your health." Xena leans down, giving me a kiss on my forehead.
"I'm as strong as a bull." I look at her indignantly. "I'm only this fat because people keep pushing food at me." She chuckles.
"You're not fat.” I look at her, not believing a word she says. “Now, let’s feed you and that baby."
Xena and I quietly leave the farm before the sun rises. I had told my parents the news, and that was all that I cared about. That mission finished, I didn't really want to stay and be subjected to my parents ranting and raving.
"Do you think that once I have my baby, I'll understand my parents more?" We're walking down to the road, just an hour or so away from Amphipolis.
"Yes. They love you and they want their version of what’s best for you. You’ll feel the same when your child grows older. Some things you will be right about, and some things you won't." She shrugs as she stares off down the road.
"Do you think you made the wrong choice with Solan?"
"No. That was the best choice." Xena sighs and I can tell she doesn't want to talk about it anymore.
"I feel like a coward, sneaking out the way we did, but…..I don't think I could take another day of that."
"I'm sure they'll come around. They’ll want to see their grandchild." She flashes a small reassuring smile.
"Yeah, I guess." The rest of the trip I'm caught in the whirlpool of my thoughts.
Night is upon us when we reach home. There's a part of me that gets all warm and tingly when I think of my home. Not the house where I grew up, but the house where I will raise my own child. As Xena takes care of Argo, I set about getting some food together. In the short time we had been gone, the one field I own was tilled. By the light of the moon we can see the ruts that run along the ground, and the piles of rocks that had been pulled from the neglected earth.
I asked once why this place had been left vacant for so long. An old man told me a family was killed in the house and most people believe their spirits haunted its walls. So far I"ve not seen or heard anything to give credence to these stories, but it's always on the back of my mind.
"I think they've adopted you here." Xena says as she sits down at the table in the kitchen. She's changed into a simple shift but still carries some of the dirt from the road on her skin.
"Why’s that?" I pull the rabbit off the fire and put it on a platter in front of her.
"Well it looks like they’ve been working on the barn while we’ve been gone." Xena starts picking meat off the carcass.
"How do you know they don't do it because of you?" She stops a moment, looking at me with her eyebrow cocked. "What, it could happen?" Xena snorts at me.
"No, I'm pretty sure it's you." I grab the other rabbit and sit down across from her, groaning slightly as I do so. With this little extra weight, walking has already become harder. Not that I can't walk, it's just more tiring than it ever used to be.
"Xena, what are you going to do?" I can't seem to find my appetite and just pick at my food.
"Here, in general?" She shrugs her shoulders.
"Work the land, we can just make planting season. Do some odd jobs. I'll figure something out." No matter how many times she tells me, I'm not convinced she will even be remotely happy here for very long. Maybe she's lying to herself, wants to believe it so much that she is ignoring the truth. "Eat." She jerks her head at my plate as she continues to shovel food into her own mouth.
"You realize," Xena says, still not looking at me. "When we met I was going to stop being a warrior. I do have other skills." She says this with some contempt. I feel guilty doubting her sincerity, but fighting has been her life.
When I wake up in the morning Xena is gone. I’ve been sleeping later and later, so of course I'm not going to complain about it. I can hear hammers and saws going away outside my window, no doubt the men are back to work on the barn.
After getting washed and dressed, I decide to make some sweet treats for the workers. They continue to refuse any payment in the form of dinars, but maybe I can at least feed them. I get out a few scrolls of recipes that Cyrene has taught me and get to work straight away. In no time I have enough pastries and baklava to feed an entire army.
The sun is high as I walk outside, the heat forcing many of the men to go shirtless. They all smile as I place the tray of food down, along with a bucket of water. Under the shade of a tree next to the barn, I sit on a tree stump and begin to weave a tale of adventure as the men listen attentively. I always make sure to tell them the most battle filled stories I can think of, they seem to love these the most.
The rest of the day is spent on chores which keep me busy and happy. I get very grumpy if I sit around with nothing to do for too long, so even chores are a welcome reprieve for me. As the sun begins its descent, I put a stew on the fire and sit out on my porch. I haven 't seen Xena all day, but no doubt she's been keeping herself busy.
After a while I hear voices coming down the road. One is definitely Xena’s, the other is a man’s that I don't recognize. I watch as they walk up the path, laughing and hitting each other as if they’ve known each other for years. I give them both a smile, but wait for Xena to speak.
"Gabrielle, this is Justo." She slaps him hard on the back. He reaches out, clasping my forearm.
"Nice to meet you." The man is young, but older than me. He's seen battle and has the scars to prove it. His body is lean and muscular, his hair the color of the earth.
"I'm starting up a Militia." Xena continues. "Justo here is going to help me. I trained him to be the fighter he is today." She says this with such pride. I know that means her warlord years. "Come on, lets eat." She motions him into the house. As they both disappear I realize that I’ve neither spoken nor even moved. As I finally stand and get my legs moving, I'm greeted with two very raucous warriors, already on their second mug of port.
I take the role of waitress and serve them up heaping bowls of stew, before taking my own bowl outside back to my chair. The moon is large and bright, and I can't help but be entranced by its beauty. Xena and Justo relive their days of fighting, and go on to tell stories of new adventures and near death experiences.
Sometimes I just don't understand soldiers and warriors. You hear them tell stories of the atrocities of battle, but when they get together all those stories become things to boast about. Is it just a matter of pride, or do they just have those huge conflicting emotions?
As I go to my bed, they continue to talk way into the night. Neither of them actually noticing that I seemed to exist at all. In the morning as the sun rose, the other side of the bed was empty and had been all night. The first pangs of jealousy begin to surge through my body when I think of the reasons why Xena didn't sleep with me. Of course, she's not obligated to so I shouldn't be upset. But the thing is, I am.
Tears spring to my eyes as I try to contemplate a life without Xena. Or maybe with Xena in it, but only as a friend. I’ve been getting so used to the idea of her loving me, that I never thought anyone else might steal her away. Do I love her? Such a stupid question. Of course I do. I can't live without her, my thoughts are consumed by her, I need her. How can I not love her?
It does no good for me to wallow here, chores to be done and whatnot. I think today I'll visit Cyrene, I haven 't seen her since before we went to Potidea. Once my morning ritual is done, I make the trek to Cyrene"s tavern. It's nearly vacant at this time in the morning as everyone has already left for the fields and businesses.
"Oh Gabrielle." Cyrene greets me with a hug and a smile. "Sit down and let me get you some food." I learned a while ago that I can't tell her I'm not hungry, she'll bring me food anyway. But I haven 't had breakfast this morning and I am rather hungry, so I eagerly dive into the plate of bacon and eggs she sets before me.
"Where"s Xena?" She asks, sitting down next to me.
"I don't know. Probably with Justo." I don't look at her, I don't want her to see the jealousy in my eyes.
"Who’s Justo dear?" She leans forward a little.
"A soldier she trained and fought with." Cyrene nods her head slowly.
"Why would she be with him?"
"She's starting a militia and he's helping. She hasn't been around for days." I hope she doesn't ask any more questions, I don't know any more beyond that.
"Well, if she's not going to be around, maybe you should stay here. I don't want you out there all by yourself." She gives me a look of genuine concern.
"I don't know." I'm inclined to take the offer just because I don't want to be left alone. Is this because I'm pregnant, or something else?
"don't worry about it. I'll send one of the girls to get your things. You can stay in the room next to mine." Her hand is on my back, rubbing it affectionately. I feel like she can read my thoughts.
"That would be great." I smile up at her, grateful to once again feel part of a family.
"How did it go with your parents?" Her face turns solemn, and I can tell she's already guessed.
"Not good, but maybe they'll get over it. I try not to judge them." Shaking my head I try to push the anger away.
"They do love you Gabrielle." She kisses my forehead.
"Not the way you seem to." I smile at her, wrapping my arms around her for a hug. A mothers hug is the most comforting thing in the world.
A few days go by with no sign of Xena whatsoever. I actually forget she's even in Amphipolis until she starts showing up at the tavern with Justo to eat in the evening. But again, I'm not acknowledged nor even asked about. Cyrene has noticed this change as well and now sends me to my room before the dinner rush begins. At least I have Cyrene; that is more than I could ever have hoped for.
But this night I wait and follow them. Back to my house, to my room, to my bed. The incredible pain I feel as I watch them strip each other and fall into my bed; it's as if my heart is tearing from my chest. Numbly, I walk into the house and stand in the bedroom doorway. Watching and memorizing the scene before me, until I can't take anymore.
"Xena." My voice is weak with emotion, and they don't hear me.
"Xena!" Both are startled this time and pull away from each other. "You can keep the house." This is all I can manage to say as I walk away, holding in the tears and the rage till I'm out of site. By the God"s I was so stupid. I was right in the beginning; why would she want to be with me when she could be with a man like that?
I'm nearly back to the tavern when Xena comes running up to me, grasping and pulling at my arms in a desperate attempt to stop me. I offer no resistance though, there is no fight left in me.
"Gabrielle, please listen to me." Her voice is desperate, eyes pleading. I just stare at her numbly, there’s nothing for me to say. She's crying, and the only thing she has covering her is a shift. "I'm sorry, I don't know….." What lame excuse is she going to try and come up with? "Gabrielle, that wasn't me. It was but….." I continue to stare blankly at her. "Please I would never do that to you."
"Xena!" Cyrene comes stomping up to us. "What have you done?" She takes me in her arms, as if to protect me from her own daughter.
"It..it.. wasn't my fault." The tears flow down her cheeks like a river, but I'm not inclined to feel anything towards her. "It was Ares. Please believe me." She holds her hands out, begging and pleading
"She doesn't need this right now. " Cyrene practically growls, shocking Xena. "I'm taking her to bed, and you better be here in the morning." With her arms still around me, she turns, marching us back to the tavern.
At first I was thinking that maybe it was a dream, well a nightmare really. Then I began to think one of the God’s is playing with me. Of course this made me think of Ares and what Xena told me last night. Her story is entirely plausible, but it doesn't hurt any less. What if I can accept her excuse of why things happened, can I then forget everything?
Cyrene forced me to drink something before I went to bed so I fell asleep without much torment. Then she came in this morning and forced me out of the bed and into the kitchen. I'm not sure I"ve spoken a word since last night, and I'm not sure I want to.
When Xena comes in, still in her shift, hair a mess, eyes red and puffy. I'm pretty sure I look better than she does right now. As she sits down across from me, Xena can't seem to bring her eyes from the spot they are staring at on the floor. Cyrene is standing against the counter, arms across her chest monitoring the whole situation.
"Go on, from the beginning." Her mother urges in a stern voice. Xena swallows hard.
"After we got back from Potidea, I got this idea to start a militia here. Amphipolis is always a target, and with a militia for protection we can get more tradesmen to travel here." She shifts nervously. "On my way to the council I ran into Justo. He was in my army and…" She clears her throat again. "We got to talking and he said he was going to be staying for a while, and offered to help me train. We got the approval of the council and went and had a few drinks. I think that's when he drugged me." The tears begin slipping down her cheeks. "And well, you know the rest."
"No I don't." I say with as much conviction as possible. Her head jerks up, eyes questioning me. "Tell me." She takes a deep breath before continuing.
"I began to have these feelings, I was pulled to him. I….I…felt like I had to have him, and nothing else mattered." Her voice cracks. "It wasn't until last night, when you said my name that I realized something was wrong. I gave him the pinch and he told me that Ares put him up to it, though it didn't take very much persuading. " She looks at me, pain and sorrow bleeding from her eyes. "I'm sorry, he meant nothing to me. If it wasn't for the drug…" She drops her head to her hands, unable to control her emotions and no doubt the loss she feels.
"I believe you. But why in my house, in my bed?" She looks up at me, surprised. "I can't forget that." The pain is all too real, my heart is still in a vice. "I know that I love you with everything that I am. Seeing you with that man completely destroyed me." She starts to say something but I stop her. "No, let me finish. I didn't think I could go on without you, but now, maybe I should. I understand it wasn't your fault, but it seemed a little too easy for you to just…… I want you to be happy Xena, whatever that means." I don't know what else to say, so I get up and leave. I don't know when, if ever I can step foot in that house again. It went so quickly from a place of comfort to a place of torment. I hate Ares with every fiber of my being.
I work myself back into a routine at the tavern, though my growing stomach is beginning to make some chores a bit more difficult. Xena comes for every meal to stare at me from across the tavern, her body tense every time.
I am beginning to wonder if this is not somehow all my fault. I'm the reason she settled in the first place, and I saw that she’d changed but I never thought to question it. Cyrene told me that I have too much to worry about, bringing a child into this world and all, I can't worry about Xena all the time. Besides she's the warrior princess and can usually handle herself.
"Gabrielle." Xena’s voice is soft, but nonetheless startles me. I’ve been sitting at the table waiting for lunch for what seems like hours. I'm sure it hasn"t been, i'm just hungry. "Would you follow me?" She holds out her hand, there’s a basket in the other. I say nothing but take her arm and ease myself up.
We walk out of the tavern and a little ways to a small pond where a blanket is already laid out. She motions for me to sit, before doing the same.
"It's pretty." The sun is reflecting off the still waters of the pond, and a cool breeze is flowing through the cattails.
"I never thought you'd talk to me again." She says, with a tentative smile.
"I'm a bard, I have to talk sometime." We grin, but go silent again. Xena begins to lay out the various plates of food that, no doubt, Cyrene has prepared.
"You know, it's not your fault." She says without looking up from her task.
"Been talking to Cyrene?" Xena just nods. "Well if it wasn't for me, so much wouldn’t have happened." Xena looks up at me so sad I almost want to cry for her. "But would we be here? Is that a mistake?" I turn back towards the water, contemplating her words.
"It's not a mistake for me." I finally say, almost in a whisper. "But your mom was right."
"About you breaking my heart." Her face drops, her whole body seems to sag. "It amazes me how easy it was." We fall into silence again. The air around us is filled with uncertainty. "What did Ares expect to accomplish?" I start picking at the olives and cheese, my hunger overriding the tension. She sighs.
"I'm not sure. His usual reason." Xena stares at her sword that sits in front of her.
"He won't stop."
"No. There"s a part of me that hates what I've become." I know this; I can tell by the way she tries to always fight her emotions. She clenches her jaw, the muscles rippling under the skin. "It's uncomfortable to feel this way." Xena looks up at me. "I'm not sure that I'll always be able to tell you how I feel, but I think I can at least show you."
"How many people have you loved?"
"A couple, but never for long and never quite like….." She sits up straighter, taking the wine skin and drinking heavily from it. Xena looks uncomfortable and unsure. The woman who can do anything, can't talk about her feelings. Finally, she stiffens, her face goes stoic for a minute.
"I don't need anything from you." I mean this in a reassuring way, but she takes it as rejection. Her face falls briefly before she puts on a fake act of happiness.
"You need to eat more." Xena pushes some honeyed pistachios towards me.
"Xena. Why has everything become so difficult and confusing?" Ever since I’ve learned about this little human growing in me, life has become impossibly complicated.
"Life would be boring otherwise." She flashes a grin but avoids eye contact. "I…I just can't lose your friendship, and I know I’ve hurt you, but I can't lose that." She clears her throat and starts to toss olives in her mouth. Reaching over I rest my hand on her knee.
"One thing you will never lose is my friendship." I smile, but she doesn't smile back. Pulling my hand away I sigh. "I said it would be hard, not impossible." She looks up at me confused. "Forgetting, rebuilding, starting over. Take your pick." Her tension eases but she tries to mask any and all emotion.
"I've started planting." She veers away from the topic.
"You didn't have too. I'll never be able to do it myself." Xena doesn't respond. Already, I'm preparing myself for the inevitable. Being alone.
I still haven’t been able to go back to the house, and I still sleep by myself. It's been hard but Xena hasn’t said a word and I can't bring myself to ask her. She is often away, fighting one person or another.
At night, when I'm not too tired, I tell my stories to a rapt audience. My stomach is beginning to burgeon out so that I can't even see my feet now. I'm starting to feel so fat that I think I might explode soon. That won't be a pretty site; someone will need to get a lot of dinars to clean that mess.
One night after I finish telling my stories, Xena walks in, back from some excursion, wanting to talk. She takes my hands in hers, a small hesitant smile on her face.
"Do you think you could come home tonight?" Xena speaks as if it's her home. Forbidden images flash across my mind causing me to cringe. "I've fixed things." She quickly informs me. Xena is so different than that night I first met her. She's sitting here, practically begging me, it's so out of character for her.
I'm not sure if I can handle walking back into that room, but I should never have expected anything from Xena. She wasn't mine to love. Love….. it's so much more complicated than I ever realized. But I have a baby to worry about and I need my home back. I need to feel like I belong there. I nod in affirmation, despite my encroaching anxiety. The night is chilly, the stars painted across the dark sky with abandon, a smattering of diamonds thrown out there by the God’s.
"If you get uncomfortable, just tell me." She whispers in my ear as we near the house. I nod, but truthfully my stomach is already twisting into knots. I push past the images that surface, willing my legs to move. The house already seems foreign to me. I just need to remember that Xena was never mine to begin with. As I walk to the bedroom, I can't stop the flood of feelings, my breathing comes in quick shallow gasps. Xena pulls me into her arms, holding me tight as I fight the onslaught. Despite everything, I sink into her familiar safety. My face remains buried in her chest for a long time before I finally begin to calm. Hopefully that was the worst of it, just an initial reaction. I'm better than this. Why am I acting this way?
"Are you ok?" Xena asks, her voice tight with emotion. Again I can only manage to nod as I turn towards the room and finally walk in. She was true to her word, everything down to the washbasin has been changed. Somehow, as I stand here I feel relieved by that fact. Walking over to the bed, I lay my hand down upon its softness, more plush than the last one. Still I see her.
"Goose down." She says, standing in the doorway. Anxiety still races through my blood, but it's slowly receding. Finally Xena moves, sitting on the bed next to me wrapping her arms around my waist and pulling me towards her. Looking into her eyes I see nothing but love looking back at me. I run my hands through her smooth raven hair.
"Do you think you can sleep here?" She asks, chin resting on my shoulder.
"Yes." My initial anxiety has slowly receded and is now becoming a distant memory; well for now anyway. I want to make new memories here, smash those old horrid ones. Funny how a few minutes can remain with you for a lifetime. I pull away, trying to reach for my boots so I can unlace them.
"I'll do it." Kneeling down in front of me, Xena carefully unlaces and removes each boot before helping me stand again. I untie my dress and she helps me pull it up over my head. I'm left in my britches, finding the night too hot to sleep fully clothed lately. She helps me under the covers before undressing herself. I’ve hated this vast chasm between us. Xena is my friend before anything, and I’ve missed the closeness we shared.
"You don't mind?" I ask quietly as she wraps herself against my back.
"Why would I mind?" Her hand finds its way to my stomach, making slow lazy circles as she caresses. Does she realize she's even doing this?
"I have to be disgusting." I admit as much to myself as to her.
"You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen." She kisses my neck.
"I don't believe you, but thanks."
"Well then I should make you believe." She continues to kiss and nibble at my neck. Her hand that had been on my stomach, slowly journeys up until it cups one of my breasts. Now, I'm not sure if it's because this distance is being bridged between us, but everything feels about a thousand times more electric than anything I"ve ever felt. I'm not sure what to do or say; so for the moment I just enjoy the feeling.
Xena growls in annoyance suddenly, and pulls the blanket up under my chin. Casually she gets out of the bed, reaching for her sword.
"Well isn't this just adorable." Ares' voice is heard before his body is present. Xena snarls as the God appears by the bed. "Xena, look at what you've become." His lips curl into a look of disgust. "I"d kill this.." he gestures at me. "This pitiful excuse for a mortal but I know she would only become a martyr to your newfound cause." His eyes keep scanning me up and down in contempt.
"What do you want?" Xena growls through clenched teeth.
"I almost had you. I don't know what she has over you that she can even get your attention when you're drugged." He continues to snarl. "Really Xena, is this what you want?" He walks up to her, pressing his body close and whispering in her ear. "I know you love a good battle just as much as I do. You''ll get tired of playing house soon enough, and when you do, just call my name." Ares snaps his fingers and is gone.
"So does that mean we get a small reprieve?" I ask, knowing it's no use in hoping.
"I doubt it." She puts her sword back down and sits dejectedly on the edge of the bed. "There's only so much I can protect you from." Her voice is quiet. I reach out and gently touch her back.
"Xena, I don't expect you to." With a sigh she gets under the covers and curls up next to me, hand resting on my stomach. I know there are thoughts roiling around in her head that she is refusing to voice. I also know there is nothing I can really do about it right now. We grow silent, hoping that sleep will claim us, but it doesn't.
"Tomorrow you don't have to cook a single meal." Xena whispers in my ear, some delight back in her voice.
"And why not?"
"Don't worry i'm not cooking." We both grin as she gives me a little squeeze. "Mother will take care of that part."
"That's good, I was worried for a second." I sigh in mock relief.
"Keep that up and I will cook."
"Sorry, sorry." I giggle. "What's the occasion?"
"You." She simply says. "I figure after everything, you deserve a day to relax. I know I can't get you to stop the chores, but I can at least take care of feeding you." Her fingers lightly tickle my stomach until I slap her hand away.
"Quit messing around and go to sleep." Xena quickly kisses the back of my neck as she snuggles into me. It's good to know Ares can't ruin everything.
The sun isn't up yet, and neither is Xena. Laying here is reminding me how much I love her, but my bladder is screaming at me and I'm afraid I can't wait any longer. In my own way, I jump out of the bed and scuttle out to the outhouse. The pressure on my bladder makes me have to pee every five seconds. Well maybe not quite five seconds, but a lot. Sighing in relief, I make my way back to the house to find Xena up and bright as the morning sun. Sometimes I can't stand how awake she is as soon as her eyes open. Really, what does she take?
"I got you a bath ready." She smiles brightly, handing me a dress and a towel.
"Wait, how long was I out there?" Xena chuckles.
"Don't worry, not that long." I eye her warily. She grabs my shoulders, turning me around. "Go on, before the water gets cold." She gives my butt a slap causing me to squeal.
"Xena!?" All I can hear is her laughing as she walks away, apparently quite proud of herself.
Once in the tub I nearly fall back asleep. The water is a like a warm cocoon, easing my muscles and every aching inch of my body. When I try to climb out, I find it to be harder than climbing in. After several attempts I give up. I'm not sure how long I'm in here when Xena comes looking to see if I'm still alive.
"I was wondering if you fell asleep." She says, decked out in full warrior gear as usual.
"Xena, are you going to war with the wheat?"
"Yes." She makes her face as serious as possible. I just shake my head at her.
"I'm still here because I can't get out of the tub."
"Well why didn't you yell for me?" She walks over, looming over the tub with her eyebrow raised in amusement.
"The water was warm." I'm sure she doesn't feel this is a good enough reason. She gives me a smirk and reaches down, hooking her arms under my armpits. With Xena doing most of the work, I finally manage to escape the confines of the tub.
"I was starting to get wrinkly." I murmur, looking down at my skin. Xena chuckles, handing me a towel.
"Now if you're done messing around, I have to let Argo out to pasture." She shakes her head at me, walking away. The least she could have done was help me dry off. I can't seem to reach every spot anymore. It takes me about ten times longer than necessary to dry off and get dressed. I'm not sure I want to get pregnant again. Not that it would actually happen again. But still, I definitely do not want to be this big ever again.
As I waddle to the kitchen, I can make out Cyrene's hushed voice coming from within. We smile and embrace as I enter, her eyes taking inventory of my stomach.
"Why didn't you help her get dressed?" She scolds Xena. "I remember how hard it got to even get out of bed." She grins at me and kisses my cheek. Xena's sitting at the table, rolling her eyes. "Sit down, sit down." Cyrene ushers me to the table, helping me to ease into the chair. Then she looks to Xena and starts jerking her head in my direction. I'm beginning to think she has some sort of twitch in her neck when Xena suddenly thrusts flowers at me. She looks uncomfortable, at the same time trying to give off her warrior vibe. Frankly it's too funny but I try not to laugh.
"They're beautiful." Finally she cracks a smile. I have no doubt this was her mother's doing. Cyrene grabs them from Xena's hand and begins to look around for something to put them in.
"I'll have one of the girls bring lunch by." Cyrene gives me a wink as she walks out. I finally have time to notice all the food that's been laid out. A full breakfast with rolls and nut bread, meats and eggs and potatoes.
"Remind me to tell your mom how much I love her." We both grin as Xena starts heaping food on a plate for me.
The rest of the day goes pretty smoothly. Xena goes out to train her militia after breakfast, coming back briefly for lunch. She seems happy to be leading men and preparing them for battle. Of course there may never be a need for the militia but Xena needs to feel useful. As the sun is setting, she returns home laden with food once again from her mother. After a quick bath we settle down to a quiet meal in our comfy home.
"Xena, was this ever something you wanted out of life?" I ask, pushing my food around on my plate. She contemplates for a moment, giving the answer serious thought.
"No, but then again I didn't really expect to live this long either."
"So, what do you want now?" I'm a little afraid of the answer. She slowly puts her fork down and looks at me.
"I honestly can't tell you." Well I guess that's better than running off to a life of adventure. "I still have a lot to atone for." Her face turns somber. "But you are right." She nearly mumbles.
"I don't think I could live a settled life forever." She turns her head away, looking guilty and ashamed.
"Well I'm glad you finally admitted it." I smile but it only seems to make her angry.
"I should be happy with this. I never thought I could have a normal life, that people would love me. But it's been so long since I've lived like that, I don't think I know anything but the road."
"That's fine Xena. I never want you to change who you are, as long as you remain the good person you've become." Xena cracks a half smile.
"Sometimes I just don't understand you. You had such faith in me even when others wanted nothing but my blood. I don't think you'll ever understand what you've done for me." Xena smiles sweetly then goes back to her food. When is this warrior not in a state of turmoil? I wonder if the day will ever come when she can feel the freedom to just live.
After we finish eating, Xena allows me to wander off to bed as she cleans up what's left of the food. I've taken to wearing sandals so I can get them on and off easier, so by the time she comes in I'm under the covers in my shift. Xena pulls her boots and armor off before sitting on the edge of the bed next to me. Her blue eyes are sparkling down into mine, I'm wondering what's going on in that intelligent mind of hers.
"Sit up." She urges. Her hand comes up, caressing my face as her eyes shine nothing but love and adoration. Leaning in, her lips brush softly against mine sending a tingling sensation through my body. I pull back away, her eyes gaze at me, asking permission to continue.
She knows the extent of my experience with Perdicus, after all I had to ask someone. She told me that everyone's first time can be painful and uncomfortable, but that it gets better. I wonder, if given the time, it actually would have? His kiss did not feel like this though.
At the moment, all I can do is stare at her lips; so soft and inviting that my thoughts don't move past that.
"Xena, will it hurt?" I suddenly find myself asking, though I'm not sure where the words come from. Her lips brush against mine in small inviting pecks before her forehead rests against mine.
"If I do anything you don't want, or don't like, just tell me." I nod as she gets back up and climbs into the bed behind me. I settle between her legs as she pulls me as close as humanly possible. I really don't know what to expect, part of me is ashamed of my naiveté, but part of me is excited about all I will discover.
Her hands slide under my shift as her arms circle around my stomach. Soft lips and moist breath hit my ear as she begins to whisper softly.
"So beautiful." Hands slide up, cupping my breasts.
"So soft." Lips leave a wet trail down my neck then back up. i'm lost in the rapture of her voice and touch. She continues to murmur in my ear as her fingers begin to tease my nipples. I feel like Zeus is hitting me with his lightning bolts leaving my body tingling. My head falls back against her shoulder, lips part as small gasps escape. I can't take it anymore, I need to feel her lips against mine.
Turning my head, my mouth seeks out hers; our lips lock in a fierce battle surging with passion I didn't know I possessed. I don't notice that one of her hands is straying from my breast and making its way down between my legs and the slick wetness that awaits.
We both gasp into the kiss as her fingers slide deliciously slow into me. I feel like I'm on fire and my body can't handle her touch for very long. I begin gasping into the side of her neck as she works a slow pace in and out. Her other hand is still working my breast as her lips travel across my shoulder. In minutes my body is tensing and i'm letting out a deep low groan. I'm left weak and gasping in her arms, somewhat sad that I couldn't last longer.
Suddenly we both gasp out in surprise, reaching for the spot on my stomach where we just felt movement. The baby kicks out again and we can't help but laugh in amazement.
"I think we woke him up." Xena chuckles, nuzzling against my neck.
"Xena." I say after finally finding my voice again. "I know you say you don't deserve happiness and a family but….. you're my happiness and my family." Her fingers lace with each hand as she brings our arms around me in a fierce hug.
"I know I don't deserve you, but I'll do my best to keep you happy." She whispers in my ear, voice cracking slightly as she tries to hold back her emotions. "I love you, you know." Her cheek rests against mine.
"I love you too." We stay curled up like this for a minute.
"Ok, I'm done with the sappiness. Let"s get some sleep." We reposition ourselves onto our sides, Xena molded into my back with an arm draped over me. I grab her hand in mine and pull it under my chin. Before I can think to say anything else, sleep envelops me.
Despite the fact that it's afternoon, rain and darkness permeates outside. I have to admit, the gentle tapping of rain against the house is lulling me to sleep. Trying to finish this swaddling cloth is becoming an uphill battle as I try to stay awake. Pretty soon I'll just give in and let my eyes close for a good hour.
Pounding on the door brings me back from the edge of sleep. I'm not sure who it could be, maybe Cyrene? Again someone pounds against the door.
"I'm coming!" It takes me a second to pull myself up out of the chair and waddle over to the door.
"Yes, who is….." As I open the door, I'm greeted by the smiling face of my sister and a man who stands silently behind her. "Come in, come in." I usher them into the warmth of the house and offer them seats as I close the door behind me. Lila embraces me awkwardly around my stomach before sitting.
"Lila, what are you doing here?" She has yet to introduce the man that sits silently by her side. He is definitely not from Potidea.
"Well," She looks down at the floor shyly. "I got married." She smiles brightly at me, and I'm guessing this man is her husband. She realizes her lack of manners suddenly. "Oh, this is Yacob."
"I didn't know you were going to be married?" I feel slightly hurt that I was left out, but know my parents would not have been happy with me there.
"Oh, well you know, it was sort of last minute." She takes Yacob"s hand in hers. My sister still looks like the innocent little girl I left in Potidea. But she is 17 now, and most girls her age already have a child.
"Well I used to see Yacob in the market selling his wares every few months. One day I got the courage to talk to him, and well…." She shrugs her shoulders with a smile. "Father was ok with it until he found out that Yacob has different beliefs."
"One God?" I ask, suddenly recognizing where this man comes from.
"Yes, how did you know?" She's surprised by my knowledge.
"I've learned a lot since leaving Potedia Lila." I smile and encourage her to continue.
"Yes well Father did not think our God's would sanction such a union but I really gave him no choice. We had a very small ceremony at the temple to satisfy father's fears. He wasn't happy and didn't really give his consent, but he came." She smiles wistfully. "We are going back to Yacob's family to have a ceremony of his people." She squeezes his hand and he gives her a small smile in return. I'm beginning to wonder if this man talks.
"Hey, who's wagon…" Xena comes stomping into the house, stopping mid-sentence when she sees who our visitors are.
"Xena." I struggle up out of the chair once more. "This is Lila's husband Yacob." Xena keeps her face stoic, still unsure if this is a good visit or bad. Yacob stands up and extends his hand and they grasp forearms in greeting. Still he says nothing , and Xena looks at him a moment.
"Come on, I'll help you with the horses." She jerks her head towards the door and both go off into the pouring rain.
"Father actually let you get married?" I finally ask Lila.
"Yeah, he didn't really want to but I think mom made him." She lets out a tiny giggle.
"You are going to stay here the night right?" I can't let my baby sister go back out in this weather.
"Do you have room?"
"Oh yes, there's an extra bedroom. It's very small but I'm sure you two won't mind." I grin as she blushes profusely. She is still so very young and innocent. i'm sure that will change quickly now that she's leaving home.
"Oh, but where will Xena sleep?" I can tell she isn't actually worried, but is curious about our relationship.
"With me." I casually get myself some water, drinking it down as I watch the emotions play out on her face.
"But surely there's somewhere else she can sleep?"
"Does she always sleep with you?" Her eyes narrow as she finally gets to the point.
"Yes." I shrug
"But Gabrielle, surely you don't…?" She can't bring herself to say the words.
Are you two…..?" I can't help but laugh at her discomfort.
"In love? Yes."
"But why?" She seems genuinely puzzled.
"Why did you marry Yacob?"
"Well, because I love him."
"Even though everyone told you not too?" I hope i'm not being too subtle for her.
"Well yes. Just because other people think it's wrong doesn't make me love him any less. He's a good, kind man." Suddenly she seems to connect the dots.
"We are no different than anyone else Lila." I put my hand on her shoulder, giving her a warm smile. She nods, needing time to process this new information.
"Come on, you can help me cook." Lila follows me as I waddle off towards the kitchen.
"How much longer?" She asks, eyeing my belly, finally able to focus on something else.
"A month maybe." I shrug as I pull out vegetables for her to chop. Xena had insisted on being the midwife. At first I was extremely uncomfortable with this, but she acted in such a serious manner every time she examined me, I was actually put at ease. I take any herbs and drinks she prescribes, though many of them taste very nasty.
"Oh I wish we could stay, but I promise we'll come visit every time we pass through." She looks at me with such excitement.
"So, you'll travel with him?"
"Oh yes." She nods enthusiastically. "He insisted. Oh he is the sweetest man." She swoons. Just then Xena steps into the kitchen.
"Hey, your um husband is getting a bath set up." She jerks her head down the small hall. Lila looks up at me as if asking permission. I give her a wink and a nod and she goes scooting out the door. I miss that sort of innocence. Strong arms wrap around me from behind, hands splay on my stomach as Xena rests her chin on my shoulder.
"She doesn't have a problem sleeping here?" Xena asks, lips grazing against my ear.
"No. I think she's too excited and caught up in the newness of her marriage to give it too much thought. But she did ask." I toss the rest of the ingredients in the pot then wrap my arms around Xena"s, leaning back into her warmth.
"What did you say?" She nibbles on my neck making me giggle. I can feel her smile against my skin.
"That we love each other." She grunts in reply and continues to make me giggle in her arms. "Did Yacob happen to talk?" I manage to ask somehow.
"Yes. Thick accent but he speaks pretty good Greek." I turn around in her arms, my stomach in the way of getting too close. Her eyes sparkle at me, and it makes me love her all the more. "I had a surprise for you," She leans in, resting her forehead against mine. "But it can wait till later." Suddenly there's a squeal and the sound of uncontrollable giggles drifting down the hall. We both chuckle.
"Seems everyone in your family is ticklish." Xena smiles devilishly.
"I think we get it from our mother." I give her a quick kiss on the lips. "Now help me finish this."
Not surprisingly, Lila wanted to go to bed soon after our meal. I'm pretty sure she wasn't tired, despite her painful over acting to the contrary. Xena just raised her eyebrow in amusement before pulling me towards the bedroom.
"Xena, what is it?" Her eyes are glowing with excitement but she refuses to say a word. As we enter the room she drops my hand and walks over to an object covered by a sheet.
"I made this myself." Xena announces proudly, ripping the sheet off. A beautifully carved cradle is presented before me; I can't help but gasp in surprise. "You like it?" She asks as she walks up to me and wraps an arm around my shoulder. I start to cry, though I know if I wasn't pregnant I'd be fine right now
"It's beautiful." I manage to gasp between sobs, running my hand over the smooth wood. Xena just stands there, rubbing the small of my back. At first my outbursts of sobbing disconcerted her, but she soon adjusted and now waits out the emotional turbulence. Turning into her arms, I whisper against her neck.
"Xena, I love you." She wraps her arms around me as best she can.
"I love you too." It's actually a treat when she says this. Despite her recent candor with me, she still refuses to succumb to all the things she is feeling. Yes, she loves me; but it is easier for her to show me than to say it. This is not something I'm resentful towards as I know where she is coming from. So any form of expression from her is welcome as long as she continues to let me know.
A few months ago I felt broken; like I had fallen to pieces and would never get put back together. It's amazing how far you can go in so little time. Every day I wake up, wondering if I'm dreaming and everything will turn gray again. But my eyes open, my senses awaken; and Xena's arms are wrapped around me.
I never expected for our relationship to evolve this way. The thought just never occurred to me even though I loved her with all my heart the first moment I saw her. It's so very different than anything I've ever felt, seen, or even heard about. I’ve discovered this whole other level of feelings that constantly swirl inside me. I've tried to document this; but even for a bard, words are just not enough to describe what I feel.
We"ve only been intimate a few times, and always Xena doing the pleasing. I think she does this on purpose as I pass out every time. I still feel shy in front of her; everything still feels so new, like an adventure I"ve only just begun.
"Gabrielle, I think i'll stay here from now on. You could give birth any day." Her face is serious, the stern "I don't want any arguments" face.
"Gabrielle!" I suddenly feel like i'm five.
"Ok, jeesh. I just figured you would be bored." Xena"s face changes, a look of guilt spreading across her face. "What?" I narrow my eyes at her. If she feels guilty, it can't be good.
"Well…I may have sent a messenger to your parents." She winces as if waiting to be hit.
"You actually think they"d come?" I scoff as she lets out a burst of air she had been holding.
"They deserve a chance." She doesn't sound very convincing.
"Well if they do show up, it will probably be to steal my child." I grunt, trying to shift in my chair. She chuckles quietly to herself. "i'm serious!" Not really, but the thought has occurred to me more than once.
"Hey, you're neglecting your duties." Oops. Xena is sitting on the floor between my legs, her back to me so I can rub the knots out of her neck and shoulders.
"you're the one who distracted me."
"Now, i'm undistracting you."
"that's not a word." I start the massage again.
"I"ve heard five people say it."
"Could any of these people read?"
"Never asked." I pinch her arm and she feigns being in pain. "Have you picked a name?"
"No. I think i'll know when the time comes."
"I'm not sure babies have any personality when they're born." She laughs, then groans as I work out a particularly tough knot.
"You just aren't looking close enough." Just as I'm thinking about taking advantage of her position, someone decides to knock on the door. Xena pushes herself up with a sigh, grabbing her sword. You never know who could show up on your doorstep. I lean back in my chair, trying to listen. First thing I hear is Cyrene's voice.
"I take it you know her?" Cyrene is asking Xena. Who?
"Yeah." Her reply is a bit terse.
"Well are you going to invite us in or not." This is obviously not a question, but Cyrene's voice is jovial. My life would be easier if my chair faced the door. As it is, I have to wait for them to walk around in front of me. Cyrene practically comes bounding towards me, hugging me and touching my stomach. Then the face that appears before me is one I was never sure I'd see again.
"Mother?" They both walk at a creep towards the center of the room. Xena looks uncomfortable; maybe she didn't think my mother would actually show up.
"Hi Gabrielle." She says weakly, staring at my stomach.
"Father didn't come with you did he?"
"Oh, no." She shakes her head vehemently. Her eyes are beginning to fill with tears.
"What's wrong? Did something happen to Lila?"
"No, no nothing like that." She wipes at her eyes.
"Xena dear, why don't we go make some tea." Cyrene tries to usher her daughter out of the room. I have to give Xena a nod of approval before she'll move though.
"Your sister got married." My mother slowly sinks into a chair.
"Yes I know. They came by for a night." I smile despite the stricken look on my mothers face.
"Oh, that's good, that's good." She starts gazing around absently.
"Mother, why did you come?"
"I….I had to see you." The tears spring to her eyes again. "I'm so sorry for the way we acted."
"It's ok." I don't really want her to cry. If she doesn't stop I'll probably start blubbering too.
"No, it was wrong. I only have two children and I don't want to lose either of you. Even if I don't understand your actions and your choices….." Her tears finally begin to fall. "The world changes and sometimes it's hard to adapt, especially for people like me and your father." She gets up, kneeling down in front of me and resting her head on my stomach.
"I can't believe we were so stupid. I could have missed this." Her hands grasp either side of my belly as she whispers weakly. I run my hands through her rough grey hair.
"Oh mother." We sit like this, crying and trying to console each other at the same time. After a time we both finally calm the tears. "Mother, I have to tell you something." She lifts her head, looking at me with her tired eyes.
"What is it?" She is obviously afraid of what I might say, and I'm afraid how she may react; despite this new found closeness.
"Mother, Xena and I….." How do I say this? "I love Xena and she loves me." I force the words out but look my mother in the eye. She stands slowly, backing up until her legs hit the back of the chair and she's sitting once again.
"What do you mean?" My mother swallows hard, looking at me with what looks like fear.
"I mean we're…..lovers." If Xena was a man I still would have a hard time saying these words. My mother brings her hand up over mouth as shock settles on her face. Then she drops her head into her hands with an audible gasp.
"Your father will never approve." She sounds like she's in pain. Her reaction is not a surprise, but my heart is beginning to ache. "Why? He could have accepted this." She waves her arm at me and around the room. "But he will never accept Xena."
"That is your choice to make mother." I fully expect her to leave, to abandon the words she had spoken to me moments before this revelation. She sighs, shaking her head and stands and walks towards the door.
"I need to ummm….." She doesn't finish her thought, just walks out the door, leaving it standing open. Well I still have Lila, I think. My tears come again, this time with such a force that I can't breathe. Xena and Cyrene come rushing into the room at the sound of my sobs. Xena gathers me into her arms, whispering soothingly into my ear as Cyrene walks out the door, following the path my mother just took.
"Hey, it'll be ok." She grasps my face between her hands, trying to look into my eyes. I try to wipe the snot and tears away.
"I must look horrible." I laugh in between my fading sobs. Xena smiles, handing me a cloth.
"Sad, but not horrible." She watches as I wipe at my face.
"I'm sorry." I whisper as my head falls forward to her shoulder.
"You have nothing to be sorry for."
"Did you hear what she said?" Xena hesitates a moment before answering.
"Yeah." She kisses the top of my head.
"I can't believe they can be so pig headed."
"Your mother didn't say she couldn't accept us." She says, rubbing my back slowly.
"No." I'm tired of this drama.
"Don't worry, mother will talk some sense into her. You know how she is." We both laugh, finally easing the tension.
"I love you. I don't know what took me so long to realize." I mumble into her chest.
"It's called growing up. Everything can be confusing especially when you're traveling with me." I can hear the smile in her voice.
"Do you still think of me as a kid?"
"No, every day you become more and more of a woman. After everything you've been through, I know how strong and confident you are. You are an amazing woman."
"I bet you say that to all the girls." I tease.
"Yeah it's a good line." We both laugh as I slap her arm playfully.
"I need to pee." Xena helps me up out of the chair.
"Well come on, don't want you having an accident."
Later that night Cyrene calls back around just as we are sitting to eat. She walks in, looking at me with such compassion.
"Shouldn't you be at the tavern?" I ask her as she sits down next to me, giving me a little squeeze.
"It's not that busy, besides I had to see if you were ok." Her eyes narrow in question.
"Yes, it hit me harder than I thought it would. It wasn't anything I didn't already expect."
"Well I had a good long talk with your mother."
"Oh Cyrene, you didn't…" She raises her hand, stopping me mid sentence.
"You don't deserve to be treated like that. You are the kindest, gentlest person I know." Ok I can't start crying again. "I think she'll come around eventually. Sometimes it's just hard for people to see past their own morals and judgments. We don't always give people the chance they deserve." She glances at Xena, trying to make her point. Xena grunts and tries to look as if she's not interested in the conversation, folding her arms across her chest.
"Thank you Cyrene. You are too kind." I kiss her cheek as she smiles sweetly at me.
"Well I'll leave you two girls to eat." She starts to get up to leave.
"Oh, please stay and eat with us." I urge.
"That's ok sweetheart. I think you've had enough visitors today." Cyrene leans down, hugging me before Xena escorts her to the door.
The rest of the night is quiet. Xena insisted on giving me a bath even though I couldn't even get in the tub. She ended up sponging me down; it wasn't as erotic as I thought it'd be. Of course I don't think she intended it to be. But still, a girl can dream. It's at some point in the middle of the night that the pain comes. When I first wake up, I'm confused as the bed is wet beneath me. First I think that maybe my bladder decided it couldn't wait for me to wake up, but then this pain grips my body, making me cry out.
"What is it?" Xena is up and on her feet as soon as the sound leaves my lips.
"I don't know. It hurts." Not very descriptive but I'm a little panicked at the moment. Xena pulls the blanket off me all the way.
"You're going into labor." She smiles at me in awe. "I have to go get my supplies. I'll be right back." Xena kisses my forehead before running out of the room. Well I'm not dying so that's good, but I'm not sure this pain thing is really something I want to experience.
Xena comes in and out of the room a few times, dropping off supplies before running back out. So far I haven't felt any more pain, but my stomach feels uncomfortable. Finally Xena stops running around, climbing onto the bed she positions herself behind me.
"Xena, shouldn't you be there?" I point between my legs. She laughs.
"You could have contractions for hours. I don't think we're at that stage yet." Her hands slide over mine, fingers locking together. Pain hits me again, I feel like I want to curl up and die. Xena is whispering in my ear, trying to calm me.
"Xena, I don't want to do this anymore."
"I think it's too late for that." She chuckles in my ear.
"You never said it would hurt this much." I'm actually becoming angry.
"I think I did." I stop talking, trying to calm my heart that's beating out of control.
"Ok, this won't be so bad; just a little pain. I can handle that." I'm trying to convince myself, but I don't really believe me, and the pain just keeps coming for hours. I'm completely exhausted before I’ve even gotten to the worst part.
"Looks like we're almost there." Xena says, her head between my legs. "You're going to have to start pushing soon, ok?" She looks at me with a smile but I can only glare at her.
"If this doesn't happen soon, I think I am going to die."
"Ok." Xena says, as she feels my body tense. "Push." I try to both deal with the pain and do what she is saying, but it's hard. My body feels like it's on fire; I think a monster is crawling out from between my legs. I barely hear Xena’s instructions every time the pain hits; but somehow I manage to do what she says until I feel a tearing sensation. I scream like I’ve never screamed before. Weakly, I try to lift my head to see the baby, but Xena is bent over it.
"Xena?" My voice trembles. There’s a soft cry from the baby, but not very loud.
"It's a boy." She says, lifting him up in her arms. "But Gabrielle…." She trails off as she stares down at the baby. After a moment she sits him on my chest and goes back to work between my legs. My eyes are blurry with tears as I realize what’s just happened. I can't believe it.
"Gabrielle." Xena looks at me solemnly, but I don't know why. He's alive, what could be wrong. "Look at him."
"Look." She points slowly, and finally I see what she's talking about. This baby is imperfect, most would say the God’s are angry with me and are punishing me. I say, he's a blessing no matter what the reason. His tongue sticks out of his mouth, and He's unusually quiet for a newborn. I"ve seen this before, when I was really young.
"Perdicus had a sister." I run my finger down the soft cheek. "She died when she was only three. She was just like this."
"Are you ok?" Xena asks.
"I understand if you can't deal with this, but I will love this baby no matter what." Xena smiles, coming around to the side of the bed.
"How can I not love something that comes from you?" Her finger plays with the tiny hand. "He's beautiful." Suddenly, I feel complete.
The End TBC
[ Return to AUSXIP - The Bard's Corner]