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DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. are ©copyright MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I don't own them, I just play with them for a while and, like the good girl I am, I put them back when I'm done...okay, they get a little worn, but hey...I play hard! Absolutely no Copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fiction. It's intended as flattery toward the creators and actors of the characters. All other characters that appear are ©copyright firstname.lastname@example.org This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way (unless, of course, Lucy, Renee, Rob, et al want to make my dream come true and hire me, hah!). Copies may be made for private use only and I'd appreciate if you included all copyright notices and this disclaimer.
VIOLENCE WARNING: There is some violence (come on it's the Warrior Princess) and the after-effects of a sexual assault in this story. It's mostly a hurt/comfort/longing type thing, but if you're sensitive to this kind of stuff, move on to something a little tamer.
SEX: Yup, it's here! I mean it is Xena and Gabrielle, after all. It's not gratuitous, but it is explicit when it gets going. This story shows consensual love/sex between two adult females. Consider yourself warned if you find that kind of thing offensive. If you're a hopeless romantic...this be the place!
UNDERAGE WARNING: Hey, the Supreme Court said in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997) that laws against making available, online, certain "indecent" materials for those under 18 was unconstitutional...look it up! Besides, this is perfectly "decent." J
I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think about it...homophobes need not apply, however. I'm at: Devlin@xenafan.com
To Become A Queen
By LJ Maas
The warrior eased up the reins of the golden mare, slowing her gait. Xena was near enough to the campsite she'd left Gabrielle at to relax a bit. Xena was returning from a village where the warrior had found the need to convince a few local thugs that it was in their best interest to move on. It hadn't taken much to convince them. You don't attack this village and I won't have to kill every last one of you.
Why had she been in such a hurry to return? Once again she pondered the question, Argo's rhythmic hoof beats drawing her mind into an introspective mode.
She had to leave Gabrielle behind on this trip, something that made for quite an unhappy bard. Of course, unhappy was an understatement. It took half the day for Xena to convince her the small village that requested help was a hard days ride to the south. With both of them on Argo it would take twice as long and they would be too late to be of any help to the villagers. Once Gabrielle saw the truth in this, she was disappointed, but understanding.
Gabrielle stood quietly by as Xena saddled Argo, turning away before Xena could see her wipe silent tears away.
If only she knew how I feel leaving her behind, Xena thought as she grabbed Argo's reins. Of course, never one to be forthright with her feelings, she slid her warrior mask on and proceeded to give instructions to the bard.
"Remember, don't let yourself get caught too close to the stream if it rains...you should have plenty of firewood...you have enough food, don't you...don't sleep so sound you forget where you are...Gabrielle...are you listening to me?"
"Xena," Gabrielle said as she placed her hands on the taller woman's arms, "I've done this before, remember?"
Xena smiled at her own overprotective behavior where Gabrielle was concerned. "I know, Gabrielle...I'm sorry, but wouldn't you rather stay at the inn in Pelios till I get back? I'd feel a lot more comfortable with you there instead of out here leagues from nowhere."
Gabrielle did her best imitation of a Warrior Princess eyebrow arch. "Right...I'd be much better off in town at an inn full of soldiers and drunks...no thanks! I feel safer out here."
Again she asked herself the silent question. Why had she been in such a hurry to return? She knew the answer, but her heart and her head pulled her in two different directions of late. The answer was simple. Gabrielle...
When did you change, Gabrielle? When did the little farm girl from Poteidaia become a woman? Not just a woman, the warrior mused to herself, but a very desirable one. It wasn't just the physical changes in Gabrielle that softened the warrior's gaze. Somewhere in the last few years Gabrielle had gone from a shy and naïve child to a beautiful, intelligent and compassionate woman. How did I miss it? When did you change, Gabrielle? More importantly...when did you change, warrior?
Xena was fully capable of inspecting her own motives and fears even as she was able to level that intense scrutiny at others. She may not have always liked what she saw in herself, but she never hid from herself either. One thing she was incapable of doing was lie to herself. Now, as she sat astride her horse, deep in thought, she was able to answer her own question, but that answer did little to ease her mind. Gabrielle was what spurred her toward the campsite she had left the young woman at three days ago.
"Gaia, this can't be happening to me!" she hissed between clenched teeth. How could I be in love with my best friend? There... she had voiced the thought that had been tormenting her days and nights for so many moons now. She seemed to make up endless excuses to touch Gabrielle lately. A hand gently placed on the elbow, fingers brushed against the other's when walking. Innocent physical contact that had her stomach doing major acrobatics. Lately her days had been filled with stolen glances at the beautiful young bard...her bard, while her nights were being consumed by a stronger passion. Her dreams were filled with visions of penetrating green eyes filled with desire. Moreover, in her dreams, the bard's passions were only quenched by her warrior.
With each night that she succumbed to Morpheus' realm, the dreams became more vivid. The scene was never the same, but the intensity always was. One night their lovemaking would be slow and passionate, the next night they would throw themselves at one another with lustful abandon. It always started the same. Xena holding back her passions to the point of physical exhaustion, never wanting Gabrielle to discover that she wanted something more than friendship, desperately afraid her young friend would be repulsed by the warrior's affections, worse than that, leave her if she did know. Then came the moment when Xena could no longer control her emotions and an innocent kiss lasted moments longer than her good sense dictated. It was always Xena who tore her lips away in horror at her own actions, searching the green depths of Gabrielle's eyes for forgiveness.
And, always Gabrielle who whispered, "Please, Xena...don't...don't stop."
Xena shook her head as if to dispel the image of those green eyes before her. Oh, Gabrielle...will there ever come a day when I'll be able to tell you? "No," she muttered silently. Her friendship means too much to me now...I can't lose that. She's what keeps the Light going inside of me. Besides, even though she's Queen of the Amazons, I don't think Gabrielle even realizes women can love each other that way. Just keep it to yourself warrior. At least this way I can have her close, even if it isn't all that I'd like it to be. Living in a realm of unrequited passions for her bard would have to suffice.
Argo left the path before Xena even had to pull on her reins. "You know she's close too, don't you girl?" Xena dismounted and pulled the reins over the horse's head, leading the mare toward the campsite. Xena slowed her pace as she neared the camp. It seemed quiet, but since it was midmorning she assumed Gabrielle had only recently climbed out of her bedroll. The warrior allowed herself a smile, remembering the imaginative ways she had come up with to wake a sleepy bard. She's probably down by the stream she thought to herself as she entered the camp.
Xena stopped and remained still as the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Gabrielle's pack lay torn open, her scrolls strewn about the camp, the charred remains of a fish hung on a spit that leaned over the now cold firepit. "Gab-ri-elle...?" Xena slowly drawled as she knelt by what was left of the fire and felt the cold stones. Her eyes searched the camp and a tinge of fear swept through her body. "Gabrielle!" She shouted as she stood, reaching over her shoulder and drawing her sword, her body swirling around to scan the woods. Her eyes caught a glimpse of the bard's staff lying on the ground, one end covered in dried blood. Fear was quickly replaced with an emotion that was new to the warrior; terror. She circled the camp again and headed toward the stream, her long strides eating up the distance in between. No Gabrielle.
Argo whinnied and pawed the ground nervously from a rise just beyond the campsite, the mare's movements drew Xena to the spot, but as she topped the rise she was unprepared for the site that awaited her. With a throat-tearing cry she fell to her knees as incomprehension hit her and anger flowed through every corner of her being. She swiftly brought her fingers to the side of the unconscious bard's neck and felt her own body tremble until she palpated the faint trace of a pulse. Gabrielle's face was a mass of bruises and her right arm was bent at an odd angle. Xena knew before she placed a hand on the limb that is was broken. Her top had been cut at the laces and her short amazon skirt was hiked above her waist, dried blood smeared on the inside of her thighs.
"Oh, Gabrielle," Xena moaned. There were no words that could take the pain from this moment, no tender embrace to make it allright again, no potion that could possibly stop the remembering. Xena's tears fell unheeded as she examined Gabrielle, checking for injuries. She splinted the broken arm immediately and gently lifted the bard into her arms. After settling Gabrielle on her bedroll at the camp, Xena hurried to the stream for water. Argo stood patiently by, but the warrior barely saw her. She grabbed bandages and some herbs from a saddlebag and set about getting a fire lit before hearing a soft moan.
Kneeling beside the prone figure she stroked her hair and whispered her name. "Gabrielle?"
There was no response from the bard and Xena willed herself not to fall apart now. Once she had heated the water that had been fetched from the stream, she began to clean and dress the young woman's other injuries. She mixed together a paste from one of the powders gathered from a leather pouch and placed the poultice on a particularly nasty bruise on the young woman's ribs. She wrapped a binding strip around Gabrielle's ribs, the action causing a small moan from the unconscious bard. She gently removed the remnants of Gabrielle's torn clothing, washing away the blood and the dirt from the small frame. She fought desperately to control her anger as she parted the bard's thighs, using a tender touch to examine and clean the damage the monsters had done. She placed Gabrielle in a clean shift and wrapped her still body in blankets, moving her closer to the warmth of the fire.
Xena stood, stretching her muscles that had become tight with anger and exhaustion. "I'll make it better, Gabrielle...if it's the last thing I do before heading to the pits of Tartaurus...I'll make it better." Then Xena did something she had never done before. Falling to her knees, her arms tightly wrapped around her own torso, she openly sobbed and let her tears fall until even the Gods on Olympus felt the anguish of her heart breaking. She wept for an Amazon Queen and the gift that Queen had ripped from her, unable to give to her warrior.
Argo's muzzle pressed into Xena's back as the warrior realized darkness had descended on them. She managed to rise, feeling the pain of cramped muscles, and quietly removed Argo's saddle. The mare walked away, glad to be free of her burden for a while, knowing there would be no special attention from her mistress.
Xena's eyes held a vacant sort of pain as she returned to kneel at Gabrielle's side. She stroked a flushed cheek, feeling the warmth of a fever. She would have to get her to a healer and Amazonia was 2 days ride to the north. Having decided what to do, Xena stretched her body out beside the sleeping form, wrapping her arms protectively around the bard, and for a short while slept soundly, connected by touch.
"Noooo," Gabrielle screamed, clawing her way from Xena's sleeping embrace. Even with a broken arm, the bard's strength surprised the warrior, shaking off the vestiges of her slumber while trying to calm the terrified woman.
"Gabrielle!" Xena shouted to be heard over the young woman's screams, pinning the bard's one good arm to her side. "Gabrielle...it's me..."
"Get your hands off me!" Gabrielle spat out vehemently.
Xena reacted like she'd been slapped, jerking her hands off the bard's body, falling back on her heels. The only sound was Gabrielle drawing in deep gulps of air as if she were drowning. "Gabrielle?" Xena questioned anxiously.
"Xena?" Gabrielle's eyes began to lose their demented gaze and focused on the warrior in front of her. She squinted and shook her head as if fighting off the remnants of a nightmare, looking down at her splinted arm. Then the memories assaulted her body with a jerk, looking into Xena's eyes, she cried out, "Oh, Xenaaaa."
The young woman's sobs convulsed her small body, her lungs taking in ragged breaths. Xena was instantly at her side, crushing the bard's body to her own. Gabrielle froze and her whole body tensed at the contact. "Please..." Gabrielle pushed away from the warrior, "Please, Xena...just...don't touch me."
Gabrielle crawled toward the end of the bedroll, wrapping her own arms around herself for comfort. She looked up into Xena's face, unable or unwilling to understand the hurt she saw in the warrior's eyes.
"I'm sorry...I...I..." she mumbled so softly only the warrior's keen hearing picked up the words.
"Gabrielle...Gabrielle?" she repeated, until the bard's eyes met hers. "It's allright, I do understand... Gabrielle, tell me, what can I do for you?"
The bard's weeping continued as she shook her head back and forth. "Nothing," she cried, "there's nothing to be done."
Xena knelt by the fire for a long time, listening to Gabrielle's tortured sobs. Her own body shook with rage, her mind exacting revenge over and over on the monsters responsible for the young woman's grief. Xena simply knelt there, unable to console her bard, unable to offer her the least bit of comfort. She was a warrior, a woman of actions, not of words. Words never came easy for her, emotions lay locked deep inside without being able to penetrate to the surface. She could never tell Gabrielle she loved her, that she was the only thing that held her together in this unforgiving world. Xena's embrace had always done that. She could never comfort by explaining that her past sometimes spilled into her present, an innocent bard all too often bearing the brunt of the warrior's guilt and shame. Those would be the times when Xena would stroke the bard's hair and pray to any God who would listen not to let Gabrielle leave her. Now, her caress, the only connection she had with the woman she so desperately loved had been torn into pieces. Gabrielle was repulsed by her touch.
Xena moved toward the fire, willing her body into action, though she felt as if she were simply going through the motions. Listening to Gabrielle's muffled sobs, she prepared a mug of tea, adding a pain killer and a sleeping draught to the warm liquid.
Fearing her presence would only terrify the bard further, she placed the steaming mug in front of the young woman and moved back near the fire.
"Please, Gabrielle...try to drink a little," Xena coaxed.
Gabrielle drank the offered beverage and cried herself to sleep, her body curled up onto one of the blankets in a fetal position. Xena willed herself to move and lifted the sleeping bard, returning her to the bedroll and wrapping a blanket around her. Gabrielle twitched uneasily in her sleep, from nightmares or the fever Xena couldn't tell. There were a few more candlemarks till dawn and Xena pulled her bedroll so Gabrielle could see her lying across the fire from her if she should wake again. She lay there staring into the night, waiting for Morpheus to claim her.
"Gabrielle...you need to drink this," Xena said, placing a bowl of warm broth to the young woman's lips. Xena kneeled behind the bard, her body supporting the smaller figure. Gabrielle was barely conscious, yet still she flinched at the touch as Xena wrapped one arm around her to hold her up, the other holding the wooden bowl. She could only add a small amount of painkiller to the liquid for fear of having Gabrielle slip further into the fevered sleep that now held her. No amount of prodding could wake the young bard beyond a few mumbled phrases. Her sleep was still plagued by nightmares, her small body trembled and jerked violently, tortured cries escaping her throat.
All the while Xena did her best to watch over the bard. Gabrielle's unresponsiveness allowed the warrior to hold the young woman, something the bard avoided in her cognizant moments. Xena redressed her wounds and reapplied poultices, looking through eyes filled with hurt and emptiness. She knew that some women never got over the emotions associated with an attack like this. Thinking of Gabrielle, the young woman whose loving nature and smile could melt her heart, a woman who exemplified the meaning of goodness, thinking that she might turn into a bitter and fearful individual tore at Xena's very core.
By midday, Gabrielle's worsened condition warranted the risk of traveling to the Amazon village. Xena could no longer control the fever that raged inside of the younger woman. Even when she carried her limp body down to the stream and immersed her into the cold, shallow waters, until her own body became numb with the cold. She feared what might happen to her bard without the help of a healer. So, after wrapping an oblivious Gabrielle carefully in blankets, her arm in a protective sling held tight to her body, Xena climbed aboard Argo. With Gabrielle cautiously tucked sidesaddle in front of the warrior, her arms wrapped securely around the smaller woman, Xena urged Argo into a swift pace.
The mare seemed to understand the urgency of the situation as she sped along the well-beaten trail. Sweat glistened on the broad chest of the golden mare as her hooves thundered along, her breath coming in loud bellows. The proud war-horse felt something she couldn't quite place emanating from the mistress who held her reins. Something that flowed off of the warrior like waves in the water. It felt a lot like...fear.
Apollo had just begun his ascent into the sky, Xena finally slowing their pace as they entered Amazon territory, Argo's muscles twitching with exhaustion. The mare's nostrils flared as she blew out deep gusts of air. Xena silently cursed herself for having to push Argo to such an extreme, but the strong horse had turned a two-day journey into one.
"We're here, Gabrielle," she whispered to the unconscious bard.
Hearing a shrill birdcall from the trees, Xena stopped. Drawing her sword from the leather scabbard strapped to her back, in one fluid motion she flung the blade, embedding it in the soft earth at Argo's feet. Five Amazon warriors jumped down from the trees above them. One of them pulled her mask off, concern already showing on her face.
"Xena?" the Amazon questioned, staring at the still figure in Xena's arms.
"Eponin," Xena acknowledged the dark-haired warrior, "It's Gabrielle...I need to get her to a healer, quickly!"
"Sartori is in the village," Eponin abruptly answered. She grabbed the hilt of the sword, in the ground at her feet, and tossed it up to Xena. "Go!" she shouted as she slapped the mare's rump to get her started. Xena galloped off with her precious bundle wrapped securely in her arms.
Eponin hurriedly barked orders to her comrades behind her and left three of the Amazons to guard the area as she and the younger, Tarazon quickly headed toward the village. Thinking of her Queen, Eponin's heart broke at the thought of her sick or injured. She, as well as most of the women in the village had shamelessly flirted with the young Queen during her visits, but it didn't take an idiot to see that Gabrielle only had eyes for Xena.
"If only I could trade places with you for a day, you big dumb warrior," she muttered to herself.
Sartori helped Xena lower Gabrielle to a cot in the healer's hut. Pulling the blankets away, a small gasp could be heard from Ephiny, who had just entered the small room. The Queen Regent had never seen her small friend so ill and the site of it took her breath away.
Sartori pulled the hood of her cloak from away from her face and Xena noticed the long jagged scar that ran from the woman's temple, across her cheek, and along her jaw line. She began to carefully examine the prone figure, occasionally interrupting the movement of her hands to question Xena. "How long has she had the fever?...Has she been drinking?...Does she respond to pain?...Have you medicated her?...Which herbs?"
Xena did her best to focus on the older woman's interrogation, though days of no sleep and the arduous ride were beginning to make themselves felt by her fatigued body. By now, Eponin joined Ephiny in the room and a number of Amazons anxiously waited outside of the hut for news of their Queen.
A loud moan escaped Gabrielle's lips as Sartori pressed the flat of her hand against the bard's abdomen, just below her navel. Turning back toward Xena, the healer saw a pained expression on the warrior's face and received an answer to her silent query. Pulling a bedcloth over Gabrielle, the healer stood and addressed the crowd on concerned faces.
"I can't work with all of you here!" She said, motioning with her arms to the door. "Out! All of you...now."
Ephiny placed a gentle hand on Xena's arm trying to pull the warrior outside. She wanted to hear what had happened to her young friend, but she also saw the pain in the warrior's eyes. She trusted Sartori's skills and knew Gabrielle was in good hands. She also knew the tall, raven-haired warrior looked like she could use a friend. Urging Xena to follow her, she was stopped by Sartori's voice.
"Xena," the healer's voice that was so hard a moment before, now as soft as a caress, "May I have a moment with you...alone?" she added this last as Ephiny had turned also.
"I'll wait outside," Ephiny said. Catching the silent nod from Sartori, the Regent noiselessly pulled the door to the hut closed behind her.
"Xena," the older woman began, "How did Gabrielle receive these injuries?"
Xena looked as if she hadn't heard the healer as she struggled with the answer. Silently, she moved to the side of the cot and knelt on the floor, reaching out shaking fingers she swept a golden lock of hair off the bard's forehead. A silent tear rolled down the warrior's cheek and splashed softly on the bard's bare shoulder.
"I need to know..." the healer placed a hand on the kneeling warrior's back. "I believe she's been hurt...inside."
Xena continued to lovingly stroke Gabrielle's face and almost so quiet it was less that a whisper, she said, "she was...she was raped."
Outside of the healer's hut, set slightly apart from the rest of the village, came the sound of a woman softly singing. It was not a happy song, nor the sound of mourning, but there was a haunted sadness about it. A few more women joined in and a drum began beating...slowly, like the beating of a heart.
Xena knelt that way by Gabrielle's side, not hearing as Sartori moved around the hut, making preparations to treat her patient. Or should she say patients. Sartori watched Xena from the corner of her eye and couldn't help but notice the tender caresses the warrior placed on the young Queen, even though the warrior looked as if she might collapse from exhaustion at any moment herself.
"Xena, lie down over here," the healer guided the warrior reluctantly from the Queen's bedside to a cot in the dark shadows of the room.
"Drink this," she said, wrapping Xena's fingers around a mug of steaming liquid.
Xena caught the unmistakable scent rising from the tea and raised her weary eyes to the healer. "I need to be with Gabrielle...I don't need to sleep"
"Yes, warrior...you do need to sleep." Sartori said forcefully. "Frankly, you look like Tartaurus and if you're going to be of any use to that young woman over there," she nodded her head toward Gabrielle, "then you're going to have to get some rest."
"What if she wakes up, I want..." Xena started.
"Xena," Sartori interrupted her, sitting on the bed next to the warrior. "I need to examine Gabrielle...inside. I believe she might have suffered a deep laceration that has become infected. That would explain her fever. If this is true, I'll need to lance the abscess and then I'll keep Gabrielle sedated for a day or two. Her body will need the rest after she's fought this fever for so long, and it will make the pain easier to bear."
Pushing Xena back onto the cot, Sartori continued, "I'll let you know if there's any change at all."
Sartori helped the warrior remove her armor as she sipped the warm tea. Xena eased her body back into the cushions of the cot, turning her face so she could see Gabrielle. She did something she rarely did, she relaxed her mind, releasing it from its constant vigil. By the time Sartori had collected everything she needed and placed it all on an undersized table near Gabrielle's cot, Xena's eyes had become heavy-lidded. Sartori plucked the empty mug from the warrior's grasp just as she began to lose her grip. She pulled a blanket around the already sleeping warrior and crossed the room, opening the door of the hut.
"Ephiny," she said to the Regent who had been waiting on a bench in front of the entrance to the healer's hut.
Ephiny took in the sleeping form of Xena on a cot in the corner as Sartori closed the door.
"I gave her something to sleep," the healer answered the Regent's silent question. "Between you and me, I'm amazed she was able to stand."
"You don't know Xena very well," Ephiny smiled, "especially where Gabrielle is concerned."
"I'm beginning to get that feeling," Sartori allowed herself a small smile too. Something she seldom did these days.
"What happened, Sartori?" Ephiny questioned, motioning toward Gabrielle. The Regent was barely able to control her rage as she leaned over her young friend, investigating the mass of bruises that covered her face. "Who could have done this?" She said through clenched teeth.
"Perhaps you should speak to Xena when she wakes," Sartori started to explain.
Confused by the healer's words, Ephiny turned her body toward the Sartori, "If Xena had something to do with this..." She hissed.
Sartori raised her hand, abruptly stopping the Regent. "Xena feels our Queen's pain as if it were her own. I only mean that the Queen should be allowed her privacy." Sartori struggled not to lie to the Regent, but the young Queen would have enough of a battle just dealing with her own emotions, without having the entire village know of her humiliation.
Ephiny clenched her fists with frustration and anger. She didn't have to talk to Xena to know that Gabrielle had been attacked. She had seen the bruises on the young woman's thighs and abdomen during the healer's examination. Turning again toward Gabrielle's still form, "Will she be allright, Sartori?"
"Time will be the deciding factor...I think she may have an internal injury. I need to work quickly...so, if you don't mind, Regent..." Sartori motioned toward the door.
Turning back to face the healer before she strode through the open door, Ephiny asked, "Is there anything I can do, Sartori?"
The healer stopped in the middle of the room, her back facing Ephiny. "Go to Artemis' temple. Perhaps an offering for the Goddess' Chosen might be in order."
Xena pulled Gabrielle on top of her and undid the laces of the smaller woman's green top. Sliding her hands under the loosened garment, she moaned into Gabrielle's mouth, her hands brushing across the wonderfully smooth flesh and the already stiff nipples.
Gabrielle returned the moan as she directed her kisses along the warrior's jawbone taking an earlobe into her mouth and teasing the flesh with the tip of her tongue.
"Gods, Gabrielle!" Xena groaned, throwing her head back when Gabrielle rolled a hardened nipple between her thumb and forefinger.
The bard removed her lips from Xena's earlobe, but not before she took the sensitive flesh between her teeth and gently bit down. Xena groaned and began to writhe under the bard's electric touch. Her skin burning like fire wherever the bard's tongue stroked her.
Gabrielle's tongue began to caress it's way down Xena's neck, stopping to cover the warrior's jugular with her mouth, sucking hard until a deep red mark appeared against the warrior's bronze skin. She continued the journey downward with her tongue, stopping occasionally to nip at the soft flesh.
Her tongue traced imaginary patterns across Xena's breasts, never touching the nipple, but allowing her warm breath to kiss the hardened nub.
"Please, Gabrielle!" Xena whimpered, entwining her hands in Gabrielle's hair and pulling the bard toward her.
Gabrielle smiled and slowly licked the nipple, Xena arching her body toward the source of the delicious pleasure. Gabrielle began to lick the nipple faster and faster until Xena's body felt a charged jolt directly from her swollen nipple to her center, as Gabrielle covered the entire nipple with her hot, wet mouth.
"Ohhhh, Gods, yesss..." Xena moaned. "Gabrielle...Oh, Gabrielle..."
Sartori finished re-packing the herb soaked moss and pulled the sheet up to cover Gabrielle. The young woman's fever was down and she no longer held the flushed, coloring in her cheeks. The healer's strong hands held the young woman up and Gabrielle unconsciously drank the water, laced with sedative, which was placed to her lips.
She had only had to change the moss once today and even then it was covered in the clear fluid that indicated healing. She scrubbed her hands in a large bowl on the table and turned an eye toward the soft moans coming from the corner of the room. It had been two days and still the warrior slept, just as much from tension and fear, as from physical exhaustion.
She placed a hand on Xena's forehead, and covered her once again with the sheet the warrior was determined to kick off in her sleep.
"Gabrielle...Oh, Gabrielle" Xena moaned in her sleep.
A wry smile found it's way to Sartori's face as she looked from the raven-haired woman to her Queen. "I'll warrant she doesn't know you meet her in Morpheus' realm, does she, warrior?" She said, pulling up her cloak and walking from the hut to stretch her legs.
"Oh, Gabrielle," Xena moaned at the contact as she slid her mound along Gabrielle's thigh, her juices leaving a slick trail.
Xena smiled wickedly as Gabrielle's body shuddered with unspoken desire at the feel of the liquid fire between the warrior's legs. Struggling in vain, her hands securely held in the warrior's iron grip.
"Xena, please...it doesn't have to be this way," the bard pleaded. How could she make the dark-haired warrior understand? Didn't she know the bard had spent so many moons praying that Xena would finally look at her with something more than friendship? Couldn't she see that Gabrielle longed for Xena's touch...her caress...her kiss.
Gabrielle looked up into the eyes that once were a hypnotic blue, those eyes that had captivated her so many times, only to see the icy eyes of a stranger looking back at her. "Xena, ...please...no..."
"Don't pretend, Gabrielle," Xena purred, "Isn't this what you wanted?" The warrior held the bard's hands tightly above her head in one of her own, the other pulling at the laces and ripping the green top from her body.
Xena pinched the bard's nipple and Gabrielle tried to stifle a gasp. Xena's mouth hungrily covered the hardened nub, her teeth pulling at it painfully as she drew her lips away.
Gabrielle began to thrash from side to side striving to escape from the warrior pinning her from above. The warrior's muscular frame held her down securely, her futile attempts only serving to excite Xena more.
Xena's free hand ripped away the bard's skirt and she forced the young woman's legs apart with her knees. She drew her fingers to slide across the bard's wetness.
"Your lips say no, but your body says yes," Xena growled.
"Xena... please, no...Noooo!" Gabrielle screamed.
"No!" Gabrielle hissed behind clenched teeth. Her eyes opened wide as she woke suddenly, trying to focus in the dim light of the hut.
"Sshhh...It's allright." A dark form moved toward the sleepy bard.
"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered quietly.
"No, my Queen. My name is Sartori." The healer answered as she moved into the light and pulled back her cloak. She searched Gabrielle's eyes for signs of fear or loathing, something that had become habit since she sported the jagged scar down the side of her face. In Gabrielle's green eyes, she saw none and was genuinely surprised.
"Where am I?" Gabrielle said, trying to adjust her eyes to the dim light inside the hut.
"You are in the Amazon Village, and I am your healer, my Queen." Sartori watched as Gabrielle's eyes slowly came awake and became accustomed to the absence of light within the room. She motioned toward the cot in the corner of the hut and Gabrielle saw the sleeping figure of Xena. Relief and dread filled her in the same instant. Sartori watched as a cloud of torment passed in front of the young woman's eyes.
"The warrior's presence relieves you and troubles you at the same time, my Queen." It was not a question nor an accusation, merely an observation by the healer.
"Is she allright?" Gabrielle stared at Xena's sleeping form. Memories were beginning to return. Xena holding her and dressing her wounds, Xena feeding her, Xena suffering the icy water of the stream to keep the bard's fever in check, Xena, hurling curses toward the Gods, sobbing in anger and frustration at Gabrielle's attack. Disjointed scenes raced passed her eyes, as if she had been viewing them from outside herself.
"I think..." Gabrielle said hoarsely, "I think I treated her badly."
Sartori poured a mug of spring water from a pitcher on the table and stood before Gabrielle. "Some water?" She questioned.
Gabrielle nodded silently and the Healer helped ease her into a sitting position, placing some pillows behind her and elevating her splinted arm. She took the offered cup in her good hand wincing with the effort and let the cool liquid slide down her parched throat. When she had drunk her fill she placed the cup into Sartori's waiting hands.
"Why do you feel as though you've treated your friend badly, your highness?" Sartori questioned.
"Please, Sartori...call me Gabrielle," the young Queen requested. Gabrielle had still never become comfortable with the formality surrounding someone addressing her. She continued to stare at Xena's sleeping form. The warrior lay on her side, her face toward the wall.
"The things she's done for me...if you only knew the lengths she goes to in order to keep me safe...the things she's willing to do for me." Tears welled in the young Queen's eyes and spilled onto her cheeks as she squeezed her eyes shut and thought about the love she would never be able to share with her warrior. Now, the one place she had, her dreams, where her fantasies of a raven-haired warrior making love to her, had been destroyed. Every time Gabrielle closed her eyes to dream, Xena became her attacker. How cruel of the Gods, Gabrielle thought to herself.
"Her heart is filled with love for you," Sartori whispered.
"How could she love me now?" Gabrielle said in a small voice, "after...after what happened. I can't even give her the gift of myself anymore."
"Gabrielle, aren't you forgetting that you were the victim of this attack?" Sartori asked the young woman knowingly. After all, the healer thought to herself, wasn't she able to understand the Queen's pain better than most? There would be time enough to explain to the young woman all about the eyes of love, but now was not the time for rationalization. She understood the feelings of shame and worthlessness that now plagued Gabrielle. Later, when the young woman was stronger, she would show her the proof of the healer's words.
"I can't seem to control these...these images in my mind..." Gabrielle swiped away the tears that continued to fall. "When Xena touches me, I mean...I just can't be touched by her." She finished, not able to admit to the Healer what her dreams held.
Sartori nodded. This, too, she understood more than the young woman knew. Reaching a gentle hand under the bard's chin until their eyes met, "Gabrielle, do you know why it is that they call a woman's innocence a gift?"
A small sob escaped Gabrielle's lips as she shook her head back and forth, a fresh stream of tears blurring her vision.
The healer never broke eye contact with her young Queen saying, "It's because it is something that can never be taken away...only given."
These unexpected words of hope and compassion released the last vestiges of Gabrielle's heartache and she wept cradled in the arms of the Healer who was not many seasons older than herself, but whom the Goddess Artemis selected to aid in her chosen's time of grief.
The sounds of Gabrielle's weeping caused the Healer and the young Queen to be oblivious to any other sounds in the room and Xena was grateful. She stared silently at the wall as her own hot tears soaked the fur under her head. Could she have loved me? Would she have accepted me loving her in that way? What difference does it make now...she doesn't want me to touch her...ever.
Gabrielle's words had left the warrior with an empty ache that nothing in life could ease.
Dawn had barely begun streaking the sky with yellow and pinks swirls when Xena awakened again. She listened for the sound of Gabrielle's steady breathing, something she had grown accustomed to doing. Assured the young woman was still fast asleep, the warrior forced her stiff limbs up from the pallet. She found her saddlebags and her weapons at the foot of the cot and quietly picked them up, making her way out of the hut.
Xena found her way to the warm spring baths. Steam curled throughout the expansive room. In the center of the large cavern was one large, deep pool. Further back, smaller pools were elevated on stair-stepped levels. At the far end, water from a hot spring cascaded down a small waterfall, draining into the Queen's pool. The morning sun had not yet risen to the point where it would be visible through the numerous round holes carved into the cavern's ceiling. Xena lit a few of the thick candles housed on the cavern ledges and their light bathed the room in eerie shadows that flickered and jumped on the walls and the surface of the water.
Stripping her leathers from her body, she walked down the stone steps to the water. She took a breath and dove into the center of the deep pool, her body cut into the water with barely a ripple, surfacing on the other side. The warmth of the water penetrated her muscles, releasing the anger and tension in them. Xena lay against the side of the pool, floating atop the water's surface, her heart an empty void. She remained that way for some time neither awake nor asleep.
Finally pulling herself from the water, she rummaged through her saddlebag for a clean shift to put on. She picked up the soiled leather tunic and began the task of cleaning the garment. This errand was another one of the many chores the warrior usually used at the end of a day to put her into a near meditative state. It freed her mind to roam and examine the day's activities. By the time the last grommet was being polished she had found the peace she had been searching for. If not peace then at least a truce in her mind's eye.
Here I am feeling sorry for myself...miserable over what I'll never have. When all this time it's Gabrielle that's suffered the most. What did Sartori say to her? "Gabrielle, aren't you forgetting that you were the victim of this attack?" My bard is filled with pain and nothing but shame and I'm just thinking of myself...how miserable my life will be! How can I even profess to love her?!? By the Gods, I've been so selfish!
I'm going to be there for you, Gabrielle. I'm going to help you get passed this. Even if it means that I'll never know your love that way...I will get you through this!
Two shimmers of light illuminated the walls of the cave as Xena strode resolutely toward the Healer's hut.
"Nice thing, ya did for the warrior babe, " said the figure draped in diaphanous veils.
"Whatever do you mean, Aphrodite?" The Goddess Artemis said with a smirk as she gently touched her index finger to the pool of water to remove the enchantment she had placed there.
"Right...and you were just here to, like, clean the pool, huh?"
"I didn't interfere...I simply helped the warrior to look at things with a different perspective." Artemis hedged. "Have you seen Ares?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.
"Nope, he seems to have made himself scarce during this whole bummer of a scene." Aphrodite answered her hands on her hips. "Ya know, I was this close with those two...poor, Gabrielle."
"If I find out leather-boy had anything to do with the attack on my chosen...I'll cut off his tiny balls and let Gabrielle hang them from her staff!"
The sounds of approaching women quickly cut off the conversation between the two Goddesses and the only witness to their presence were the thin multicolored sparkles left in the wake of their transportation.
Xena opened the door to the Healer's hut and found Gabrielle still resting quietly. Sartori was gone and the warrior deposited her weapons and bags on the floor by the door. Standing over Gabrielle, she knelt to one knee, glancing down at the young woman's sleeping face. Some of the bruises were already beginning to fade in the few days they had been in the Amazon village. Xena tried to push down the feelings of guilt, hanging her head at her own shame. If only I'd been there, Gabrielle...
"Hi," the sleepy voice said.
Xena looked up, momentarily startled. She found herself looking into the most beautiful sight in the known world. "Hi, there, yourself, sleepyhead!" She couldn't suppress the large, toothy grin from her face.
"Wait a minute...I remember waking up yesterday and a certain warrior princess was snoring."
"I do not snore," Xena replied, raising an eyebrow in mock anger. She enjoyed the bard's good-natured teasing, now more than any other time. It seemed to be a start.
Gabrielle started to sit up, awkwardly with one arm wrapped and splinted. Xena didn't know whether to help or not, knowing the young woman's reaction to her touch.
"Do you need some help?" Xena asked shyly.
"No, I guess I better get used to flying on one wing," Gabrielle answered quickly, looking up in time to catch the look of pain that crossed the warrior's face. "Could I have some water, though?"
The warrior's face brightened at the request and moved toward the table in the center of the room. Xena, anxious to help in some way, quickly brought the requested water and resumed her kneeling position next to Gabrielle.
"Can I do anything else, Gabrielle...are you hungry? I could--" Without thinking Xena rested her fingers on Gabrielle's thigh. Even through the blanket the warrior felt the muscles of Gabrielle's leg clench and she snapped her hand away, looking down at her fingers as if they were burned. I know you don't mean to, Gabrielle, but you have every right to hate me for not being able to protect you.
Gabrielle couldn't stop the involuntary reaction Xena's touch caused. She knew it was only because of the vivid images in her dreams. She also knew she had to get herself and her emotions under control.
"I--I'm just having a hard time being...being touched right now." Gabrielle whispered. The bard's heart broke at the expression on Xena's face and tears welled in her own eyes.
"Xena..." Gabrielle reached over and placed her hand over the warrior's own. Xena saw the muscles twitch in the young woman's hand, but it remained over the warrior's fingers.
"You're still my best friend...right?" Gabrielle said softly, trying to make eye contact with the warrior.
"Absolutely," Xena said without hesitation, giving the bard a lop-sided grin. I know you're trying, Gabrielle.
"Could I ask you a huge favor then?"
"Anything, Gabrielle...you know that," Xena answered seriously.
"I really want a nice warm bath...and, well...I...it's kind of embarrassing, but I don't think I can do it alone."
Xena just stared blankly at the young woman for a moment until Gabrielle raised her broken arm slightly.
"Oh!" Xena exclaimed, the realization of the request hitting her. "Of course!"
Xena stood but wasn't sure where to begin. This was going to be difficult enough, but it would be even harder if she couldn't touch the young woman. Seeing you naked, Gabrielle...Gods, this is going to be rough!
"It's okay, Xena...I'm not going to go to pieces if you touch me." Gabrielle tried to assure the warrior. This was beginning to feel like the hardest thing the young bard had ever done, but she needed to show Xena their friendship was still there. That she still needed her around, which was quite true. Her mind told her she still loved this woman with all her being. It was her body that reacted violently to the warrior's touch, and Gabrielle's heart that felt unworthy of such love right now. Having you undress me, warrior...Gods, this is going to be rough!
"Why don't we start by sitting on the edge of the bed, Gabrielle."
A wave of dizziness washed over the bard as she planted her feet on the floor, her right hand squeezing Xena's forearm until it passed.
"And, just what do you two think you are doing?" Sartori's voice sounded none to pleased. She had walked in so silently even Xena hadn't heard.
Gabrielle looked the Healer straight in the eye and said, "I am going to take a bath...and she--," Gabrielle jerked her thumb in Xena's direction, "--is with me."
Xena looked at Sartori with a "whatever Gabrielle wants, Gabrielle gets" grin. The young Queen didn't leave much room for argument, however, and the young Healer instantly backed down.
"At least let me get a couple of guards to--"
"No," Gabrielle answered quickly. "Xena's going to help me." She finished, smiling ever so slightly at the warrior.
The feelings in Xena's heart for this young bard literally radiated from her features. The warrior's face was one of love and pride, as she looked at Sartori a little smugly.
Sartori caught the exchange between the two women and still wondered in her heart why Gabrielle had never seen the obvious. To be loved that much, the Healer thought to herself.
"Then I will not argue, my Queen," Sartori said with a slight bow.
Sartori provided a simple wrap around tunic for Gabrielle to wear and once Xena had collected the necessary bath items, she and the bard walked toward the baths. It was slow going for Gabrielle. Not only was her body one large bruise, she'd also been bedridden for nearly a week.
"Gabrielle, do you want to rest for a minute?" Xena asked. Her right arm was wrapped around the young woman's waist so there was no chance the bard would fall, but Xena could see the light sheen of perspiration on the bards upper lip and the heavy breaths she was taking.
"Yea...sounds...good," she answered, panting slightly. Truth be known, Gabrielle's muscles were twitching over more than just exertion. Part of her was breathless, as always, over Xena's touch the other part of her cringed at the constant, violent images that were assaulting her brain. It was as if the Furies were waging a war within her mind, her exhausted body wavering between pain and desire.
Ephiny saw the two slowly making their way toward the baths as she crossed the center of the village and silently thanked Artemis for Gabrielle's return to health. She had done as Sartori asked, staying away from the Healer's hut until Gabrielle and Xena both had a few days to mend. The Regent noticed it would be a while before the bruises disappeared, but the sight of her young friend up and about lightened her heart quite a bit.
"Gabrielle, you look wonderful!" Ephiny said smiling at the two women, "Oh, yea...Xena, you look okay too," she finished with a dismissing wave toward the dark-haired warrior.
"Yea, right!" Gabrielle answered while Xena just raised her eyebrow and smirked at the Regent. "Eph, if I look anything like I feel, it must be pretty bad."
"How do you feel...really?" Ephiny asked with concern.
"Like I was just run over by an oxcart...then they backed up and ran over me again, and then once more just for good measure." Gabrielle said cheerlessly.
Ephiny laughed and said something about some queens doing anything for a little R&R and she left the two women with a promise to see them at lunch. The Regent caught up with Eponin and asked the warrior to see to it that their Queen had a little privacy in her bath.
"And, Ep...be tactful, okay? I mean, just make it a suggestion."
"Hey, I'm a warrior...I only know how to do things one way," Eponin said, winking.
Gabrielle and Xena continued their slow progress to the baths and the warrior couldn't shake the way Gabrielle acted when she had talked to Ephiny. The young bard barely made eye contact with the Regent, her glance constantly shifting toward the ground. Gabrielle talked like her old self, but her countenance was flaccid and lifeless, as if she were simply going through the motions. Xena kept trying to steal a look in the bard's eye while she spoke to Ephiny, finally she saw the truth. There was simply no light in the young woman's gaze, no sparkle to the usual mischievous green eyes.
Bathing without touching turned out to be a harrowing experience for the two women. They attempted to get Gabrielle's shift removed a number of times, one of them always turning the wrong way at the last moment. The final straw came when Gabrielle's splinted arm swung around and cracked Xena in the jaw.
The warrior rubbed her sore jaw as the bard looked up at the taller woman in horror. Their eyes met and they began to smile at one another, then the smiles turned into laughter. It was the first relaxing moment Gabrielle had experienced since she had stepped into this nightmare.
"I don't suppose you let me do that on purpose," Gabrielle said, trying to cover her smile at their old joke.
"Uh, uh" the warrior answered, failing in her attempt at being indignant.
"Gabrielle...would you feel more comfortable...if someone else did this?" the warrior said soberly.
"I don't know...It might look bad if I used one of my subject's head as a battering ram."
Xena smiled and appreciated Gabrielle's attempt to make light of the situation.
"Gabrielle...how attached are you to that shift?" She said as she pulled her breast dagger from it's hiding place, an evil gleam in her eye.
"I had a feeling that would be our only choice...okay," Gabrielle assented.
Both women survived the trauma of cutting the shift off the young bard and getting her into the warm pool of water. Xena judiciously left her shift on as she stepped into the water to steady Gabrielle. The young bard ran through a gauntlet of emotions as Xena assisted her in scrubbing her back, washing her hair, and keeping her right arm as dry as possible.
Once the quiet had descended between the two women, Gabrielle leaned her head against the stone edge of the small pool and soaked in the warmth of the water. Xena sat atop the pool's smooth edge and slid her dagger against a small whetstone in tiny circular motions. The warrior continually glanced down at Gabrielle, breathing deeply when the bard's beauty nearly made the breath catch in her throat.
"Gabrielle," Xena said breaking the silence.
"Mmmm," the bard responded without opening her eyes.
"Do you want to talk about... it?" Xena questioned.
"No." The bard returned quickly, sitting straight up. They both knew what they were talking about without really saying.
"I just thought--" Xena started.
"No, Xena. I just...I just feel like I'll lose it and I'm not quite ready to go there yet."
The meditative mood of both women had been lost and Xena cursed herself for bringing the subject up. She had only meant to help Gabrielle, to get her to open up and talk about the attack, hoping it would bring the bard some measure of healing. Instead, they now sat in an awkward silence, the moments of peaceful companionship gone.
"I think I'm turning into a prune." Gabrielle stated, her way of getting the ball rolling again and changing the subject.
Xena had been dreading this moment for what seemed like an eternity. Cutting off Gabrielle's shift and getting her in the water hadn't been nearly as bad as helping a naked bard out of the water, drying her off, and aiding her in dressing. Xena placed a gentle arm around Gabrielle's waist, supporting her as the young woman pulled herself from the pool. The water cascaded in thin rivulets down the bard's body, falling from firm breasts, down her muscled abdomen, and into the reddish-blonde patch of hair between her legs. Xena, in the meantime, was desperately trying to keep her hands and eyes everywhere but where they actually wanted to be. What Gods have I offended today to deserve this torture?
Gabrielle was having problems of her own. She was still wet from the bath, but she felt herself starting to sweat. Xena's hands felt like silk against her skin. The warrior's shift was soaked through in places where Gabrielle had leaned against her, the cloth clinging to her well-muscled frame. One moment she envisioned Xena caressing her entire body, the next, a more violent vision of the warrior filled her senses...more pain melded with desire. Artemis, how have I offended you today to deserve such torture?
"Feel better?" Xena asked as they now made their way out of the baths.
"I feel cleaner, anyway," Gabrielle said wryly. "Xena, I don't want to go back to Sartori's hut. I want to stay in my own hut."
The Queen's hut was closer to the center of the village and by now the entire Amazon village was up and at their daily tasks. Gabrielle was a well loved Queen and it seemed to Xena that everyone from here to the Centaur village stopped the two to inquire as to how the young Queen was getting along. Xena could see Gabrielle was beginning to tire, her knees looked a bit wobbly, besides, having people in her "space" was beginning to irritate the warrior. She bent down and placed her free arm under Gabrielle's knees and scooped her up into her arms.
"She needs some rest," was all Xena said to a few gaping inquiries, as she turned towards the hut with Gabrielle in her arms.
"Xena, I can walk," Gabrielle said, unconvincingly.
Xena never stopped walking as she raised one eyebrow at the bard, "I've seen new-born colts that were steadier on their feet."
Truth be know, Gabrielle had secretly loved the gesture. The young woman pushed down the feelings and images that had begun to plague her every moment and rested her head against the warrior's shoulder. Closing her eyes, Gabrielle breathed in the scent that was distinctly the warrior's; jasmine and leather. She was fast asleep by the time the warrior tenderly placed her on the bed in her own quarters.
Several candlemarks passed before Gabrielle was thrown into the same nightmare that she seemed to have whether she was awake or asleep. She felt herself being pulled from the Warlord Xena's dreamscape embrace. A delicate touch was pulling at the bard's shoulder and she slowly opened her eyes. Feeling as though she had slipped from one ordeal into another, Gabrielle jerked her body away from the blue penetrating gaze.
"Gabrielle, it's me...Xena." The dark-haired warrior said, trying not to let Gabrielle's reaction bother her.
"Xena...I'm sorry. I was having a nightmare and, uh...I must not have been quite awake yet," Gabrielle lied.
"Are you sure you're allright now?"
"Yea, thanks," Gabrielle answered running her fingers through her hair.
"Well, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I better go find Eponin and see if she minds having a roommate for a while," Xena stood and stretched her back.
Gabrielle watched Xena stretch her muscles and wondered how long the warrior had been kneeling by her bed, watching her. She had listened to Xena's words, but hadn't really heard them yet. When the realization hit her she didn't know exactly how to react.
"Eponin? But...well, I guess I just thought..." Gabrielle stammered.
"Thought...what?" Xena asked.
While Gabrielle slept, Xena had decided that the young woman probably didn't want the warrior sleeping in the same hut. It seemed as if Xena's very presence was particularly hard on the bard. The warrior attributed it to her failure to protect Gabrielle, as if the bard couldn't help but blame her for not being there. The warrior certainly couldn't condemn Gabrielle for such feelings.
Gabrielle, in the meantime, was trying hard to control tears that lay just under the surface. Of course, Xena wouldn't want to be here with her, not now. She was damaged goods, now, wasn't she. I guess it must get pretty old having to save me all the time.
Gabrielle's self worth lowered with each heartbeat that passed. Her bardic imagination began to turn the simplest of statements into mountains of self-loathing. Xena watched as Gabrielle's inner struggle continued. The warrior was getting mixed signals from the young woman and was no longer sure about her course of action.
"Gabrielle, I just thought...that maybe... you'd like a little privacy is all..." Xena began to find something on the floor captivating, unable to meet Gabrielle's eyes. Her heart couldn't take it if the young woman looked gladdened about her leaving. Xena finally stole a glance at her bard. What she saw surprised her, and a warrior princess isn't often surprised. Gabrielle was staring at the floor, silent tears beginning to spill from her eyes.
"Gabrielle, what is it?" Xena moved quickly to kneel in front of the young bard, concern written across her features.
"It's nothing...I shouldn't be crying...if you want to leave--" Gabrielle began to say through her tears.
"But, I thought you wanted me to leave." Xena said, stunned by her own honest admission.
"No," the bard exclaimed, a little more forcefully than she intended. "I don't want to be here alone...and I don't want to be here without you," she finished with a whisper.
"I'd give you a hug, but I have a feeling that would only make it worse, huh?" Xena said tenderly, the corners of her mouth curling upward.
Gabrielle paused and took in a few deep breaths, wiping her tears away with the palm of her hand. "I'm sorry, Xena...I know it's no picnic being around someone who can't seem to stop crying half the time and doesn't want anyone to touch her the other half. I just need to get myself under control...then I'll be better--"
"Gabrielle," Xena placed her hands on the bed on each side of the bard, as the warrior continued to kneel in front of the woman. "Maybe that's just what you need to let go of right about now...some of that control. Look, I'm an expert at burying the past, thinking if I keep it locked up inside it won't hurt me. But it still does...when you least expect it, it'll hit you and knock you flat...unless you deal with it."
"I just don't know if I can right now."
"Every moment you wait makes it that much harder. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about here. Scream, cry, curse the Gods...hit me if you want someone to punch, but don't hold this in, Gabrielle."
Then Gabrielle did something Xena was also an expert at, but that she had never known her bard to be capable of. Gabrielle slid a warrior's mask in place. Her face became impassive and she took a slow, even breath to steady herself.
"I just can't, Xena...not yet. Please, understand." Gabrielle pleaded.
The warrior looked at the young bard with all of the love and compassion in her heart. "Just know that I'll be there for you when you need me, allright? Now, how about I go to Sartori's hut and see if we can borrow that extra cot she had?"
Gabrielle gave a weak smile, but a pounding at the door cut her answer short. Xena rose and pulled open the door to find Ephiny struggling with a tray piled with food and a pitcher in her arms, and a wineskin thrown over one shoulder.
"I figured you two were taking it easy," she entered the room with difficulty and deposited her gifts on the table, "...and, when I didn't see you in the food tent, I thought I'd make a little delivery." She finished with a smile.
The Regent's entrance and beaming satisfaction earned a grin from both the women. The food did smell delicious, Gabrielle's stomach had decided, and chose that moment to make itself known.
"Timing is everything, Eph," Xena said, pulling out a chair and motioning Gabrielle into it. "You had better feed that monster." She said to the bard with a smile.
"I have a couple of errands to do, you two enjoy yourselves," Xena said as she snatched a couple olives from the tray and popped them into her mouth.
"Xena, I didn't mean for you to leave--" Ephiny began, looking from Gabrielle to the tall warrior.
"I need to check on Argo, anyway...she's probably got an attitude going considering the way I left her when we rode in here."
Xena picked up her weapons and attached her chakram to her belt, moving to stand beside Gabrielle. "Will you be allright?" the warrior asked, lowering her voice so that Ephiny barely heard it.
Gabrielle nodded and Xena turned toward the door. "Hey, warrior," Gabrielle called out. Using her left hand she awkwardly threw an apple toward Xena, the taller woman catching the fruit before she had barely turned around to look. "Make sure you tell Argo it's from me." She smiled.
Xena threw the red orb into the air and caught it again without looking. "She'll know...you always did say she'd follow the first pretty face with an apple!" Xena threw the apple in the air once more and walked out the door.
"Well, a couple days sleep seems to have done a lot for the Warrior Princess' attitude." Ephiny stated as she sat across from the young Queen. "You should have seen her when she brought you in."
"I guess we must have made quite a sight," Gabrielle said quietly. "I suppose the whole village saw me--"
"Gabrielle...as far as the Amazon village is concerned, you and Xena ran into some rough characters on the road. Besides Sartori, Eponin and I are the only ones who know...well, who know about what happened."
Gabrielle just stared at the table, an uncomfortable silence hanging between the two friends. Of course, the young Queen's stomach rumbled noisily, eliciting a grin from the two women.
"Eat first..." Ephiny smiled, pouring a glass of cider for the Queen, "...talk later."
The Regent kept Gabrielle's mind busy for two solid candlemarks filling her in on the latest village news and gossip, while they ate. Clearing the tray away, Ephiny filled two cups of wine from the skin she had brought and she leaned back into her chair.
"So, now we talk," the Regent said.
"I thought that's what you've been doing!" Gabrielle laughed.
"That's right...now it's your turn." Ephiny said seriously.
Gabrielle's features took on a panicked look, "Xena and I just went though this, Eph...I'm just not ready to go into it yet. Please, I just can't...not yet."
"You mean, you haven't talked with Xena about this either? I would think there wouldn't be anything you couldn't talk to your lover--"
"We're not lovers." Gabrielle stated flatly.
"Oh. I mean...well, I guess I just...assumed..." Ephiny let the statement drift off. I don't believe it! Not the way Xena looks at her.
"Most people do." Gabrielle interjected. The young Queen couldn't stop the tears that welled up in her emerald eyes.
"Remind me to play cards with you some time." Ephiny smirked.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Gabrielle questioned.
"That means, my dear friend, that either you are a hideous liar...or you wear your heart on your sleeve." The Regent finished, gently taking Gabrielle's hand in her own and reaching over to brush a few errant tears away from the young woman's cheeks. "You're in love with her, though, aren't you?"
"What difference does it make now...after what's happened," Gabrielle said harshly as she pulled herself to her feet. She slowly moved to the window and took a deep breath of fresh air.
"What in Tartaurus is that supposed to mean? Gabrielle..." The Regent crossed the room to stand in front of the Queen. "If Xena were in love with you, do you actually think what's happened to you would affect the way she feels about you?"
Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders, not meeting Ephiny's gaze.
"And if the roles were reversed? If this had happened to Xena...would it change the love you have for her?"
"Of course not!" Gabrielle demanded.
"Yet, you have so little regard for her integrity...the woman you profess to love, that you would throw away an opportunity at happiness for the both of you, without even giving her a chance?"
Ephiny's words hit the wall Gabrielle had so carefully constructed around her psyche and she felt her control begin to slip.
"There's more you're not telling me, isn't there?" Ephiny said, placing gentle fingers under the young Queen's chin, and forcing their eyes to meet.
Gabrielle nodded as tears slid down her bruised face. Ephiny pulled her friend into her arms and directed her toward the bed where they could both sit. Gabrielle hadn't meant to reveal her nightmares of the Warlord Xena, the terrifying apprehension at Xena's touch or the images that now tormented her waking moments as well as when she slept, but the comforting embrace of her friend had the words tumbling out of the bard's mouth. Ephiny held the young woman until she had no more tears to shed.
"Xena was right...I do feel a little better after a good cry." Gabrielle admitted.
"She cares a lot about you, Gabrielle...you should at least give her a chance to love you."
"That's only a dream, Eph. Honestly, what could the great Warrior Princess possibly see in me?"
Ephiny grinned and began using her fingers to count. "Let's see...you're beautiful, intelligent, caring, beautiful, compassionate, funny, talented, and did I mention beautiful?"
Gabrielle smiled sadly and reached her fingers up toward her face. "Yea, right...I know I look like a raccoon, even if Xena won't tell me!" She said, referring to the dark bruises under her eyes.
"Yes, but raccoons are very cute. Besides I bet Xena sees you through loves eyes."
"You're the second person that mentioned that phrase to me. I think Sartori said something about loves eyes the other day." Gabrielle had slept so much since then she couldn't quite remember the specifics.
"I think you should get to know Sartori when you have the time. You might find the two of you have a great deal in common."
Gabrielle saw the flicker of what she thought was the knowing of a secret in the Regent's eye, but dismissed the thought. Gabrielle stifled a yawn and grinned sheepishly. "It's not the company, Eph, I swear."
"I've stayed too long already and you need some rest. Will you be allright?" Ephiny asked, rising to leave.
"Seems I get asked that a lot lately...yea, I'll be fine. How much worse can things get, right? I mean, I'm hopelessly in love with a woman that the whole Amazon nation wants to sleep with and where do we go...Amazonia."
Ephiny laughed out loud, and leaned toward her friend conspiratorially. "Not the whole Amazon Nation, Gabrielle...only half. The other half wants to bed you!" Enjoying the blush that began to creep up the Queen's neck, the Regent winked before closing the door behind her.
Days turned into weeks as Xena and Gabrielle took part in the daily routine of the village. Xena occupied her days taking her turn at patrol and hunting. Every morning she went to the practice field to go through her own drills, taking time to spar with students anxious to learn from the warrior. Evenings were usually spent alone with Gabrielle, listening to the bard make up new stories.
Gabrielle spent most of her day acting in her official capacity as Queen. Ephiny was always at her side and Gabrielle thanked Artemis for such a Regent. The days were filled with council meetings, treaty negotiations, and generally ruling on every aspect of Amazon life. The Queen had gotten in the habit of rising early to watch Xena on the practice field, something that surprised the dark-haired woman. The bard never tired of watching the warrior run through her drills. The days were the only time Xena left Gabrielle alone, although the bard didn't realize that fact. Wherever the young Queen went, Xena silently followed, determined never to leave Gabrielle unprotected again. Xena knew that the Royal Guard never left their Queen unattended until she was safely within Xena's sights again in the evening.
Gabrielle learned that she could keep the horrific images of her nightmares at bay by keeping her mind busy. She had started out by telling Xena a story to pass the time and soon realized that she hadn't shuddered at Xena's touch once during the whole tale. So, it became a habit to retire to their hut early, Gabrielle weaving one tale after another until sleep claimed the two women.
Gabrielle still had the nightmares, however. Every night a little different, but always Xena as her attacker. After one full moon had passed, Sartori removed the splint on Gabrielle's right arm. By this time the young Queen had managed to train her body against waking up screaming from the nightmares. When she woke in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, she would head outside under the stars. Once her splint had been taken off, Gabrielle took this time to practice the strengthening exercises Xena had shown her. Eponin had told her to start drilling with her staff to build her arm up and increase the mobility in her wrist. So, each night, sometimes two and three times in one night, Gabrielle awoke and headed outside to drill. Sometimes she would go to the stable and visit with Argo, receiving a friendly nicker of welcome. Usually it was less than a candlemark or so, but Xena always knew she was gone. The warrior would quietly follow the young woman, just to keep her out of harms way. So after two full moons of this late night activity, both the Queen and the warrior began to develop dark circles under their eyes from interrupted sleep.
Gabrielle had taken Ephiny's advice and begun to get to know Sartori. The young Healer had a dry wit that Gabrielle could appreciate. Gabrielle learned that the Healer had a bondmate, but that she was in the northern territories and wouldn't be back for some time yet. She was also a Healer, but all Sartori would say was that Adia, her mate, healed "differently" than she did. Gabrielle could see the love between the two in Sartori's eyes when she talked of Adia. The Queen wondered if her face used to look that way when she spoke of Xena.
The young Queen had become a different woman than she had been. Where she had been open and honest with a quick smile, now she had become a great deal like her warrior...burying certain emotions, keeping them held down by sheer force of will. Of course, there was a price. Gabrielle didn't smile quite as often, nor did she chatter on endlessly about nothing. Now care had to be taken before she spoke or thought. Prudence had to be exercised so as not to reveal too much of herself, lest she lose her hard fought control.
Gabrielle had found a place to go when everything seemed to press in on her. It was a beautiful little pond where dragonflies with iridescent wings buzzed just atop the water. There was a small outcrop of rock that hung over the water's edge. Gabrielle would lay on her belly and watch the fish swim by and then roll over and try to imagine shapes in the clouds until she had pushed the demons of shame and self loathing down far enough to control.
Gabrielle was still plagued by feelings she wouldn't even admit to Ephiny or Sartori, especially not Xena. The young woman felt that she had somehow provoked her own attack. She berated herself for her provocative choice of clothing, for not going to a village to stay...a thousand things she went over and over about that day. If she had bothered to tell anyone about these feelings, they could have told her how very wrong she was, and perhaps they could have even made her understand. But, Gabrielle felt too ashamed and guilty to reveal these thoughts to anyone, so she came down to this pond when the feelings started to drag her into the abyss. Even though it seemed as if she was by herself, she was the Queen, after all. There were always at least one or two of the Royal Guard hidden amongst the branches ready to protect their Queen if needed.
"I thought I might find you here," Sartori said, sitting cross-legged next to Gabrielle on the rocks.
"Caught playing hooky." Gabrielle rolled over on her back and folded her hands under her head.
Sartori watched dark shadows pass across Gabrielle's eyes, the young woman closing them and breathing deeply. Perhaps 2 heartbeats passed before the she saw Gabrielle open her eyes again and the Healer was met with the familiar sparkling green. Gods, she's getting good at that, pushing all her feelings away. Sartori silently prayed to Artemis that she was about to do the right thing...after all, she couldn't heal this part of the body like Adia could.
"Eponin is fond of saying that it's rough at the top, My Queen. If that's true, I suppose you deserve to play hooky once in a while."
Gabrielle smiled, not at the statement, but of Sartori's use of her title. No matter how many times she asked her new friend to call her Gabrielle, she was still address with formality by the Healer. The Queen had finally quit asking, but it still made her smile. Kind of like a game they played, for what reason she didn't know.
"Today's the day," Sartori said with a smile. "Adia returns home today...she should be here by mid-morning."
"Oh, Sartori, that's wonderful." Gabrielle sat up and tucked one leg underneath her. "I know how much you must have missed her."
"I feel as if my heart has been placed on a shelf just waiting for her return." Sartori mused as she pulled her legs up to her chin, wrapping her arms around them. "Even now I wonder what she possibly sees in me...it's evidently something I'm not aware of."
"Ah, loves eyes." Gabrielle said, remembering. "You said that to me once, remember?"
"It's an enigma that I can only explain with that phrase." Sartori rested her chin on the top of her knees and pulled the hood of her cloak back. Gabrielle watched as the young Healer absently stroked the angry scar that ran the length of her face.
"I understand what you've gone through more than you realize, My Queen. I came to the Amazon Village when I was 11 seasons. My own village had been burned and raided, my family slaughtered like sheep in the field. I was raped by 3 soldiers."
Tears had begun to slowly creep down Sartori's cheeks, but her eyes held a distant look as if she were reliving the nightmare of that day. Gabrielle ached to do or say something for one whose pain was so familiar to her own, but she sat silent and let the Healer continue.
"The last soldier, who took me, gave me this," she again fingered the long scar. "I remember his words as if it were just yesterday. He told me that no one would want me now that I had been used, then right before he cut me he said that this would guarantee I could never be loved."
Gabrielle hung her head and let her own tears fall. For her new friend's torment as well as her own. She knew what that fear felt like...knowing you would never know love.
The two women sat that way for a long time, the only sound between them were their quiet sounds of weeping.
Sartori broke the silence first. "I don't even remember how I came to be here. Ramti, the village healer, took me in. That's how I developed my healing skills. Even Amazon children can be cruel, though. I took to wearing a cloak and hood so I wouldn't stand out so much."
"Did Adia already live in the village?" Gabrielle couldn't help interjecting.
"No," Sartori smiled now at this part of the story. "She came from a tribe far to the North for an Inter-Tribal festival one summer. As when any group of stranger's get together, the warriors seemed to gather with other warriors, royalty with royalty. Well, that's how Adia and I met. I was seventeen that summer. I had spent 6 seasons building walls around myself so I couldn't be hurt. I think the biggest hurt came from convincing myself that what that soldier had told me was true. That because of the way I looked, that I had been raped, I could never be attractive enough to be loved. Adia was the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on. I couldn't understand why she followed me around, it seemed as if she just kept "accidentally" running into me. I guess I was pretty naïve." She grinned sheepishly at Gabrielle.
"One afternoon I was meditating in the woods and, of course, Adia said she just happened to be going for a walk. I think even she realized how lame that sounded, she started laughing and she sat down and started telling me how incredible she thought I was. I think my heart was ready to pound out of my chest. Then she pulled my hood down. She did it do softly, her eyes were so captivating that I barely knew she had done it until it was off. I think I panicked for a moment and tried to push her away, but she just held me there, staring into my eyes. I felt, as if she could see into my very soul, but I knew once she saw what was there, she would be repulsed. Then do you know what this woman said to me?"
"Tori, you have the most beautiful gray eyes I've ever seen."
Sartori unconsciously reached up to touch her scar, but Adia's fingers pushed them aside and tenderly caressed the length of her jaw, moving her face closer until Sartori could feel the other woman's breath on her lips.
"You'll have to tell me about that sometime...when you're ready," Then their lips met in a kiss that promised a lifetime more to come.
"I'd never been kissed before, My Queen, but if I had been kissed a thousand times I would have still said that, until that kiss, I had never been kissed before. She held me in her arms and we stayed that way all day, she never stopped telling me how in love with me she was. Then, she kissed my forehead and told me to sleep. I didn't tell her that I hardly ever slept because I was afraid, I still had the nightmares of that day. But, lying there in her arms I did sleep, and I had the nightmare as always. This time Adia was there, in my dream. She saved me...I was never raped...I never received this," she said motioning to the scar on her face.
"It was the most amazing emotion I had ever experienced, waking up from that dream, such a feeling of peace. I knew, in my head, that my past hadn't changed, but my heart felt that the experience never happened. I tried to tell Adia and she smiled and kissed me and said she knew. That's when she told me about her gift. She was a dreamscape healer. She told me that she usually just created an environment where someone you love could enter your dream and help you heal yourself. This time, she wanted to be the one."
"Adia told me I was beautiful and I felt she believed it. She saw me, not as others do, but through love's eyes. When I looked into her eyes I saw my own reflection, and there, in her gaze, I was once again innocent and clean...in her eyes I was beautiful."
Gabrielle looked up and saw this young Healer as her lover saw her. "Sartori...you are beautiful."
The Healer looked at her Queen for the first time since she'd started relating her tale and smiled brightly. "You looked right past my scars, the first time we met...perhaps that is your gift."
"Love's eyes..." Gabrielle mused aloud. "I wonder if it's always that easy?"
"Nothing in life worth having is ever easy, My Queen. It took a huge leap of faith for me to believe in what I saw reflected in Adia's eyes. Believing she could love me was the hardest test I ever took."
"Sartori...could Adia heal my dreams?" Gabrielle whispered, not allowing her heart to hope.
"I believe she would try, your highness." Sartori breathed a silent sigh of relief. She saw behind Gabrielle's features, watching the silent struggle waged from within. She asked Artemis for strength for her Queen's warrior. She felt Xena would need it to fight the demons that tormented the Queen.
Sartori's head snapped around at the sound of her name. Gabrielle knew immediately who the tall stranger behind them was by the look on the Healer's face. Sartori's countenance lightened, her smile reaching her eyes quickly. She jumped off the rock and into the tall stranger's arms in one leap.
Sartori hadn't lied. Adia was truly one of the most beautiful women Gabrielle had ever seen. Dressed in trousers and tunic with knee high riding boots she looked more like a warrior than a healer. Her hair was the color of Xena's, her straight locks falling to just below her ears, slightly wind blown from riding. Ironically she was also every bit as tall as Gabrielle's warrior. Her eyes were a deep green flecked with gold.
Adia came to where Gabrielle still sat and came down to one knee, placing her hand over her heart. "My Queen, forgive the intrusion. I am Adia, bondmate to Sartori..." She said, rising and placing an arm around Sartori's waist. "... I haven't seen this beautiful creature for five moons...and I couldn't wait another moment."
"Please, Adia...call me Gabrielle. Five moons is a long time to be away from the one you love," Gabrielle agreed.
"It feels as if it's been half my life." Adia answered, staring at Sartori.
Gabrielle watched the tall Healer and the gentle touches she placed on Sartori's face. She began to feel like a third wheel and rose to leave.
"Well, I need to get back to work...it was a pleasure meeting you, Adia."
"My-I mean, Gabrielle...please don't leave on my account." Adia apologized.
"No, I've been away far too long already, it has nothing to do with you. Besides if I don't get back to the village I'm sure Ephiny will hear about it from the Guard." Gabrielle said, pointing into the trees. "I'm not supposed to know they're there." She whispered, winking.
The two women promised not to reveal the Queen's secret as she left them. Turning back to look at the pair, Gabrielle saw Adia wrap Sartori in powerful arms and the two shared a soul-searing kiss. The Queen quickly turned away and continued walking, feeling as if she were intruding on a private moment. Witnessing the proof of love's eyes, Gabrielle thought of Xena and walked back to the village with a feeling like apprehension in her heart. She had given up the concept of hope, but in one morning, the smallest spark was lit within her battered heart.
And so the first barrier fell.
Gabrielle had just finished one of her funnier tales. It was a comedy of errors and it always made Xena laugh, this time was no exception.
"I guess I should scribe that one so you can pull it out and read it whenever you need a good laugh," Gabrielle said as she poured the both of them a cup of wine.
"It wouldn't be the same without you telling it," the warrior looked up, smiling. She had been repairing a buckle on her leg armor and sat cross-legged on her cot.
Gabrielle smiled back and crossed the room, handing Xena a cup of the wine.
"Thanks," Xena said, placing the armor to one side and leaning up against the wall.
Gabrielle had no idea how to begin this conversation, but just wade in came to mind. "Xena," Gabrielle began, "...do you think I'm pretty?"
Xena nearly spit the mouthful of wine back out. Gaia, where did that come from?
"Gabrielle...you've had plenty of people tell you that, I'd think you'd know it by now." Xena tried to make light of the question, wondering where in the world the bard was going with this.
Gabrielle leaned down to sit in front of the cot where Xena relaxed. Sitting with both legs tucked under her, she rested her arms on the cot in front of her.
"But...am I still pretty," she said barely above a whisper, forcing herself to keep eye contact with the warrior.
Xena knew what the bard meant. Even after she had been raped...would someone still want her? Oh, someone does, Gabrielle. The warrior wanted nothing more than to hold the bard in her arms, kiss her for all she was worth, and tell her exactly how pretty she thought she was. She couldn't find the courage, not until the warrior could touch Gabrielle without causing her to flinch or pull back in fright. No matter how much Xena wanted it. No, she would enjoy what her bard was able to offer, and settle for that.
Xena furrowed her brow and stared long and hard at Gabrielle, the azure eyes attempting to convey to the young woman what her voice could not.
"Gabrielle...you're more than just pretty...you're beautiful."
"I guess I just--"
"I know." Xena answered understandingly. "Gabrielle, nothing has happened in the past...or ever will happen, that could possible make you look anything but beautiful in my eyes."
Xena's eyes never left the bard's. Gabrielle found herself caught up in the blue depths, swirling around her like a whirlpool. Desperate to see her reflection there and know the truth. Are they love's eyes, Xena?
Gabrielle placed a hand on Xena's knee, "Thank you," was all the bard could say.
Gabrielle sat bolt upright in bed, shivering as sweat poured from her lithe, muscular frame. She quickly glanced at Xena, lying on a cot across the room. Once the bard had stilled the pounding of her heart, she listened for the steady even breaths that would indicate the warrior still slept. Gabrielle rose and pulled her boots on, pausing to splash some water on her face. She grabbed her staff and slipped through the door without a sound.
It had become a sixth sense for Xena, being able to keep track of her bard. She knew the moment the nightmare started. Gabrielle's nightmares had become so much a part of their nights, she could tell exactly when they would start. She heard the bard's sharp intake of breath, pointing out the fact that she had released her self from her dreamscape. Gods, she's gotten good at that...barely a sound. Xena forced her breathing to slow, not moving a muscle till she heard Gabrielle slip outside.
Xena slid among the shadows as Gabrielle walked towards the stable. Slipping inside, the bard moved to the center of the building and began some stretching exercises before she began to twirl her staff in a set of complicated drills. Effortlessly Xena worked her way into the loft to watch. The young woman and the patterns she wove through the air with her staff mesmerized the warrior. Xena had never even seen some of those moves before. Gabrielle's muscles rippled and flowed throughout her limbs as she moved without stopping for nearly a full candlemark.
Finally the young woman stopped and stood motionless in the middle of the stable. Her chest heaved from the exertion, muscles quivering, and streams of sweat soaking her shift. Gabrielle just stood there, head thrown back, attempting to catch her breath.
Xena simply stared at the young women as if caught in a spell. By the Gods! The warrior was thankful for the bard's loud gasps, as they covered up the fact that she was literally panting. The tightness in her loins was followed by the trickle of wetness that began to run down her thigh. Xena rolled over onto her back simply to take her eyes off of Gabrielle. She brought her breathing under control, pushing down the carnal images that ran through her mind.
Gabrielle was soaked to the skin, but satiated in some odd way. She walked to the back of the stable and entered Argo's stall, the mare whinnied at her arrival.
"Sorry, no apple tonight, my friend," she patted the horses neck, reaching in to hug the golden beast.
The bard grabbed a brush and gently smoothed the mare's coat. If Xena had only known that the bard came to talk with Argo every night, to tell the silent animal her secrets, the warrior would have learned of Gabrielle's fears moons ago. As was the young woman's habit she told Argo what she felt she could tell no other, and tonight was no exception.
"Even if it was love's eyes, it wouldn't matter, would it, Argo?" Gabrielle brushed the mare and whispered to her so softly it was only because of Xena's unnatural hearing, she was able to listen to the bard. "What would they say if they knew it was my fault? Ephiny...my people...Xena? Would they be able to forgive me...would she? Oh, Argo I should have never been there! If I'd done what Xena told me...go stay at the inn. Why didn't I? That top, that skirt...how many drunks has Xena fought off because of how I look? I should have just started fighting right away..."
The young woman had stopped her brushing and began to cry softly into the golden mare's neck. Xena fought with her own tears as she listened to her bard. The twinge in her chest turned into an agonizing ache, as she listened to Gabrielle's confession. She thinks she deserved it...that it was her fault!?
Xena had managed to hop through the window of the hut and slip under the covers moments before Gabrielle entered the room. The bard moved noiselessly through the room, but Xena cracked one eye, watching as the young woman stripped the soaked shift from her body. Moonlight fell across the front of the bard's torso and Xena could feel the wetness begin to flow between her legs again. She closed her eyes tight against the vision until she heard the familiar sleep pattern of Gabrielle breathing.
Xena knew she wouldn't be able to sleep until she released the tension building between her legs. Glancing once more in the bard's direction, she checked to make sure she was asleep, all the while moving her hand under the covers. She reached up under her shift, fingers slipping between slick folds. Images of Gabrielle, her sweat soaked limbs guiding her Amazon staff, muscles rippling under her shift. Immersing herself completely within this fantasy image, Xena placed two fingers against her opening, her thumb vibrating strongly against her swollen nub. The fingers of her free hand reached up to pinch swollen nipples through the cotton shift, causing an increased flood of liquid between her legs. Her thighs began to tremble as she plunged the two fingers deep inside herself. Three more strokes and she could feel her body tighten and contract around her fingers. Oh, Gods...Gabrielle. Her hips arched into her orgasm, the only sound, a ragged exhale from the warrior.
Once the tremors had stopped completely, Xena was able to think clearly. She had been able to go so long, but seeing Gabrielle tonight had caused her to lose all control. She lay back on the cot, listening to the sounds of her bard's breathing, replaying in her mind the words Gabrielle had whispered in the stable. Xena knew what she had to do now, but there was only one flaw, as she saw it, in her plan...
...Gabrielle would probably never forgive her.
Xena found Gabrielle in the food hut that morning. The warrior had been gone already when Gabrielle awoke, which wasn't unusual. The Queen had her breakfast and was just enjoying a cup of tea with Eponin and her new recruit, Tarazon, before heading to the training field to watch Xena spar.
"I'm glad I caught up with you," Xena said with a hint of mischief before sitting next to Gabrielle. "What do you say to helping me train some of your recruits with the staff today? I figured since your almost better than I am with that thing you might want to help me put on a sparring display."
Gabrielle wasn't sure Xena was talking to her with the request until the warrior stood and said, "So, how about it, Gabrielle? Meet me on the field in, say, two candlemarks?"
"Yea," Gabrielle said nodding her head, "Yea, I think I'd enjoy kicking your butt in front of my subjects." Gabrielle teased.
Xena walked away still laughing out loud. Forgive me, Gabrielle.
Once word got around that The Queen was going to conduct a sparring match with the Warrior Princess, it was no longer just the trainees on the practice field, practically the whole village turned out to watch. Ephiny's words were true, half of the nation drooled after the dark-haired warrior, but the other half lusted after their young Queen.
Both women had warmed up and stood facing one another within the sparring circle. Xena in her usual leathers and armor, while Gabrielle wore her Amazon leathers. It was a tiny bit unnerving for Xena to see Gabrielle in bracers and shoulder armor, her biceps showing the results of her nightly drills. The two women stepped to the center of the circle and lightly touched staffs. They both backed off into a fighting stance and the show had begun.
Xena decided to play aggressor, predictably attacking towards the Queens right side, knowing that had been her broken arm. Of course, the warrior knew what the rest of the village didn't...that Gabrielle's broken bones were probably twice as strong now as they ever were. Xena quickly realized the truth in her earlier words; Gabrielle was almost better than she was. The Queen followed Xena's lead through a complex series of hand over hand moves and suddenly the Queen was the aggressor. The warrior found herself moving backward, beginning to actually tire, as she had to leap over Gabrielle's numerous leg sweeps. Gods, Gabrielle's good!
Just when Gabrielle's confidence was building, Xena's battle cry rang out as she sprung into the air, somersaulting over the young woman's head. Most foes were surprised by this maneuver, however Gabrielle had fought in hundred of battles, large and small, with the warrior. As Xena was in mid-air, Gabrielle grabbed the end of her staff and spun around. Just when the warrior was at her most vulnerable, as she was landing, Gabrielle's staff knocked the warrior's feet out from under her. The Queen watched, however, that as soon as Xena's back hit the ground, she used the momentum to flip right back onto her feet. Gods, Xena's good!
Of course this spin had left Gabrielle open and the warrior took the opportunity to tell her so.
"I could have had you there, My Queen...is that what you did to lose in the woods outside Pelios?"
It was only reflex that kept Gabrielle's movements going, when her mind froze. She couldn't have possible said that.
Xena continued her jabs, but she lightened the force, knowing that Gabrielle was still trying to register what the warrior had said. " Is that outfit meant to distract me, or just tease me?"
Gabrielle swung wildly with that statement and pulled herself off balance. She nearly stopped, but Xena slowed with her, enough to keep her fighting.
"Xena, what are you trying to do?" Gabrielle pleaded.
"Win, My Queen...or don't you believe we all get what we deserve?" Xena momentarily felt as if she had overplayed her hand. Some Amazons at the perimeter of the circle eyed one another at the warrior's words, while the Royal Guard shifted nervously, not knowing if this was a part of the planned battle or not.
"Come on, Gabrielle...you're not going to try to tell me it wasn't your fault, are you? You're a tease and you know it." Xena purred.
Gabrielle stopped completely at that, her knuckles white as she tightly gripped her staff, struggling with her emotions.
"You must have done something..." Xena heard the sound of all six of the Royal Guards swords being freed from their scabbards. They knew there was something wrong now.
Ephiny could hear the exchange, but didn't immediately realize the truth of the matter. Once it dawned on her what Xena was doing, she recognized that the warrior was playing a very dangerous game. With a wave of her hand, Ephiny held back the Guard, and with one whispered sentence, she had Solari start to disperse the onlookers.
Gabrielle realized none of this, however. She was only cognizant of two things. The first was the anger that in seconds would no longer be able to be pushed down. The second was that Xena was the cause of that anger.
"Come on, Gabrielle...you and I both know it's true...you must have done something."
"Noooo!" Gabrielle screamed.
So quick that Xena barely had time for the block, Gabrielle's staff came at her midsection. Left, right, left in rapid succession. She anticipated the next right to her ribs, but she committed herself too soon and Gabrielle went for the kill shot. The right that Xena had planned to block at her ribs swung high instead and connected with a sickening crack to the side of Xena's face. The warrior's head snapped back, and while the force of the blow would have broken a man's jaw, Xena dropped to one knee, the staff falling from her hands. The ground spun up at her and she thought she was about to lose the contents of her stomach. Her eyes closed, fighting down the nausea, she heard Gabrielle.
"It wasn't my fault! I didn't do anything wrong!" The young Queen screamed hysterically, raising her staff to finish the warrior.
Xena swallowed hard and pulled her eyes up to meet Gabrielle's. The warrior tried to muster all the love that was in her heart for her bard in that one look.
"That's right, Gabrielle...you didn't do anything wrong." She said softly.
It took a moment for Gabrielle to grasp the affirmation spoken, but when she did, Xena's words from long ago came back to her.
...When you least expect it, it'll hit you and knock you flat...unless you deal with it.
And so it had.
"I didn't do anything wrong..." Gabrielle whispered, more a statement than a question. She stared at the upraised staff in her grasp, letting it fall from her grip, sinking to her knees.
"No, Gabrielle...you most certainly did not."
The cries and sobs that were torn from the young Queen's throat sounded inhuman. Xena pulled the bard to her as Gabrielle clutched her friend as if to keep from falling into the pits of Tartaurus. Quite some time later, there were only two figures left on the practice field.
"Gabrielle," Xena whispered, stroking the young woman's hair.
Gabrielle looked up at the warrior through red, tear filled eyes.
Xena gave the bard a lopsided grin. "Would you stop hitting me in the head...it's starting to hurt."
And so the second barrier fell.
By the next morning the skin around Xena's right jaw was streaked blue and purple, from her ear to her chin. Gabrielle cringed when she looked at the warrior, realizing she was responsible for the nasty looking bruise. She had never felt so completely and utterly out of control as she had out on that field. She had "lost" it, but Xena kept telling her that was a good thing. She had to admit, she felt lighter somehow. It didn't stop the nightmares, though.
Xena noticed a change in Gabrielle immediately. The young woman had actually begun to look people in the eye. It didn't stop her nightmares, though. Secretly, Xena had hoped the nightmares and sleeplessness would stop instantly; she was wrong. Remembering the previous evening, Xena had felt Gabrielle's nightmare before she heard it. Following Gabrielle had been more of a challenge, since waves of dizziness assaulted Xena with every step. She was able to keep up, however, and soon they both slept the dreamless sleep of the truly exhausted.
"Xena, I'm not sure I can do this," Gabrielle hesitated just beyond the entrance to the food hut. This was going to be the first time she had seen any of the villagers since the incident the day before.
"You are Queen of the Amazon Nation, Gabrielle...you've done nothing to hang your head about. Besides..." the warrior continued, straightening her leathers and putting on a regal air, "...if I have to walk in there after I got my butt kicked by a short, blonde bard, the least you could do is back me up!"
Gabrielle laughed and looked at the warrior with affection borne of admiration and respect.
Xena held out her arm and whispered, "you don't have to touch me if it bothers you too much."
Disregarding the warrior's fear, the young Queen placed her hand over the warrior's bracer. "Onward, my Champion," she smiled nervously.
The hut was very nearly filled and, as the two women made their way through the large building, conversations started to dwindle and die. The room was almost completely silent by the time The Queen and her Champion had procured hot mugs of tea and taken a seat at the Queen's table. Ephiny jumped up from the Queen's seat as soon as she had seen Gabrielle walk into the building, moving to the other end of the table. Once Gabrielle was seated, Xena moved to the Queen's left and stood silently behind Eponin, claiming this first seat on the left as the Queen's Champion. Eponin silently moved down, unable to meet the warrior's gaze.
It seemed the village waited to see what would go on at the Queen's table before continuing with their own conversations. Ephiny, Eponin, Solari, Sartori, and Adia all sat motionless at the small table. It was Adia that broke the stall. Whether the Healer decided to throw caution to the wind and take her life into her hands or if she was just that naïve regarding the Warrior Princess no one ever knew.
"Warrior..." Adia leaned toward Xena, but her voice could easily be heard throughout the hut. She gazed at Xena with a mixture of sympathy and total innocence.
"Perhaps, you should learn to duck." She said very seriously.
Xena just sat there with a look of stunned amazement on her face. In fact the whole building held their breaths as the Warrior Princess icily stared down the stranger.
"Are you suicidal?" Xena hissed.
Then it started. Gabrielle tried to pretend she was clearing her throat, but her quiet laughter was unmistakable to Xena's ears. The warrior slowly turned her head to try an intimidating stare on her companion, but it was lost on the young woman. Gabrielle's eyes met Xena's and the Queen quickly moved her hand up to cover her smile. Eponin was next, snorting into her drink. Solari soon followed. Ephiny tried her best, but even biting her lip couldn't stifle her laughter. Sartori simply covered her hands with her face. All the while Adia kept the innocent, deadpan look trained on Xena. By this time even Gabrielle was laughing out loud.
"Who, in Tartaurus, are you?" Xena asked through clenched teeth, unable to think of a graceful way out of the situation.
It was at this point that Eponin started laughing so hard she rolled off her stool, which sent the rest of the table into peals of uncontrollable laughter. It was nervous laughter, to be sure, but Xena had only to take one long look at Gabrielle to realize she would let the world laugh at her if only to see that light in her bard's eyes. For Gabrielle, Xena would play the game.
"Don't laugh, Ep..." Xena said without looking down at the warrior, "tomorrow, you fight her!"
Eponin's laughter abruptly stopped. Xena took a drink from her mug, turned and winked at her bard, and a new round of laughter broke out at the uneasy look on the Amazon warrior's face.
The people in the hut didn't exactly know what happened at the Queen's table, or even what had happened on the practice field the day before, but they knew, or they felt, they were a close knit community once again.
"So...have you talked to Xena yet?" Eponin questioned.
"We talk all the time." Gabrielle answered. Continuing to shuffle through parchments set on the table before her.
"Yes, but do either of you ever listen?" frustration rang in the warrior's voice.
"Ep, what difference does it make anyway?" Gabrielle tossed a scroll down in frustration. "Even if Adia could heal my dreamscape, Xena just doesn't think of me that way!"
"Tell me you're not that thick! Xena is so in love with you, her body practically screams it every time she's near you."
"Yes, she loves me, but not the way you think. I'm like something she feels she has to protect and care for now." Gabrielle threw back.
"Because that's how a warrior treats the woman she loves!"
"I just don't see it." Gabrielle continued. "Frankly, I'm getting to the point where I'm not even sure she likes women. I mean, as many times as we've been here, with all these Amazons literally throwing themselves at her feet, have you ever seen Xena even look twice at any of them...ever?"
"Arrrggggghhh!" Eponin groaned, her hands covering her face. "Okay...here's a stretch. Have you ever thought that it might be because she's in--love--with--you?"
"You are making me crazy with this! Why are you and Ephiny so obsessed with my love life...or lack of?" Gabrielle began to pace across the floor of the Queen's hut.
"Because it's meant to be. Allright...let's look at this logically, then. Gabrielle, have you ever been propositioned by any of the Amazons here. You know, offered a cozy place to spend the evening...the afternoon, whatever?"
"Yes," Gabrielle answered slowly, not exactly sure where her friend was going with this.
"And???" Eponin looked at her expectantly.
"And, nothing... I never have."
"Why?" the warrior shot back.
"Because I'm in love--, Oh no...I see where this is going, now!"
Eponin stopped Gabrielle from walking away from her by dropping to her knees in front of the exasperated Queen.
"Do I have to get down on my knees and beg you to open your eyes?"
Gabrielle couldn't help laughing as the Amazon warrior grabbed her hand, pulling it to her chest, and pleaded again.
"Gabrielle, I'm begging you!"
It was at that moment that the door swung open and Xena walked into the hut. The warrior froze at the sight of Eponin on her knees, Gabrielle's hand in hers. Frankly, the only one who looked truly innocent was Gabrielle. Eponin knew how Xena felt about the Queen so she got a sort of "deer caught in your bow sights" look. Gabrielle wasn't quite sure, later, exactly how to describe the look Xena had on her face. It was a combination of fear, anger, and the distinct look someone gets just before they throw up all over your boots.
For some reason Gabrielle began to think this whole situation didn't look too good. She had to tug twice to pull her hand out of Eponin's solid grasp, the warrior still on her knees, swallowing hard at the sight of six feet of Warrior Princess. Eponin would swear later that Xena looks much larger when you're on your knees.
Gabrielle suddenly had the overwhelming urge to explain the situation to Xena.
"This isn't really what it looks like," she said, punching at Eponin's shoulder to get her to come to her senses and stand up.
"It looks like Eponin is in your hut on her knees," Xena commented dryly.
"Well, I guess it's exactly what it looks like then." Gabrielle laughed nervously, continuing to punch the Amazon warrior.
Eponin did try. She sent a very distinct message to her brain to tell her legs to move, but all she could do was stare up at Gabrielle and say weakly, "I don't think I can move."
"Oh, then let me help you," Xena hissed with a feral grin. She crossed the room, one hand grabbing the neck of the warrior's tunic and literally dragging Eponin out the door. With one arm she vaulted the stunned warrior over the porch rail to the ground below.
"Xena!" Gabrielle shouted.
"Gabrielle, don't let her kill me..." A stunned Eponin begged, lying on the ground.
Gabrielle rushed between the two warriors, her hands on Xena's upper arms. Eponin, by this time, had finally gotten to her feet, backing away.
"Gabrielle, move out of my way," Xena tried to move around the bard, but the young woman kept putting herself between Xena and Eponin.
"Ep, there's only one thing to do in a situation like this...run!" Gabrielle shouted as her arms slipped from Xena's.
Ephiny was one of the onlookers of the little show and had no idea what they were up to now.
"Gabrielle...is that Xena chasing Eponin?"
"Yea," the Queen said walking back toward her hut, shaking her head. "Don't ask...it's a long story."
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