An Awakening - Part 23
by Hunter Ash
(aka Dana Cooper-Kjarr)
Xena gently shook the bard and began to brush the hair off Gabrielle's forehead.
Xena? the bard whispered, partly opening her eyes.
I'm here, little one, the warrior answered. It's okay, you're safe.
Take me home, Xena, Gabrielle said softly, please.
I don't know if we can make it through the snow, Xena frowned.
Please, I want to go home, the bard reached out and took Xena's hand in her own, causing the warrior to smile. It was the first sign of affection and contact Gabrielle had initiated since the battle with Alti and Bacchus.
The pain in Gabrielle's voice tore at the warrior's heart and she knew she would move the earth to get Gabrielle home if it would make her mate feel better.
We'll go home, Gabrielle, Xena said softly.
Xena thought about the visions Alti had shown her. The vision of Gabrielle lying on a cave floor with a dryad bone sticking out of her chest and Xena lying next to her, bloody and not moving - that had come true. The vision of Gabrielle enjoying the sexual pleasures of the bacchanalia had come true.
Xena was worried about the other two visions and was as anxious as Gabrielle to get back to Greece as well.
It was these visions that seemed to be flooding her mind as she began to drift off into sleep. The visions of Gabrielle screaming in pain and covered in sweat and the sight of Solan looking down at an arrow in his chest before falling.
The next two days for the bard were spent in Xena's arms as the warrior held Gabrielle and comforted her. Trying to soothe away the tears and get Gabrielle to eat something was difficult but the warrior was surprisingly patient and gentle.
With Sasha's help in caring for the injured Amazon Queen, Xena began making plans to leave the North as soon as possible. The snow was deep enough to require a sled to get further than a day's travel from the Siberian Amazon village and Xena was worried. The last time they had tried a trek in the winter they had almost died but Xena knew they had to try; Gabrielle wasn't doing well. The bard wasn't sleeping more than two candle-marks at a time before she would awaken Xena and Sasha screaming from the nightmares. Most nights were spent holding a crying bard and Xena trying to comfort her. Gabrielle wasn't eating either; it seemed everything she ate made her sick.
Xena sat down in the food hall across from Otere, trying to thaw out her hands. It was only a short distance between the huts to the food hall but it was cold enough now to quickly freeze any uncovered body parts.
The Amazon Queen smiled at her Greek friend and handed the warrior a mug of warm tea.
Still plan on trying to get through this? Otere asked.
Yeah, Xena responded. Gabrielle is such a wreck; I need to get her home.
I know, but it's extremely dangerous traveling through this with the first ice storm coming, Otere said gently.
Xena smiled slightly and nodded.
The warrior jumped slightly as a darkened figure entered the hall and moved with unnatural swiftness to a table in the far corner. Otere followed her friend's eyes and nodded slightly.
It's still difficult to adjust to having vampires coming and going in the village, even if they are our sister Amazons, Otere agreed to the warrior's unspoken discomfort.
Yeah, especially after fighting the Bacchae and vampire spirits with Alti and Bacchus in that damned Spirit Realm, Xena growled. She watched as the vampire reached out to hold the hand of one of the human Amazons, probably a mate or relative of the vampire.
How are Gabrielle's wounds? Otere asked.
Healing normally. The back will scar from the lash and Bacchus' claws, Xena's jaw tightened, remembering how helpless she had been while Bacchus ran his claw-like fingernails down the already wounded back of her mate. With everything Gabrielle had already endured, the pain of claws ripping down through open lash wounds was enough to break the bard's spirit. The body was healing but both Otere and Xena knew Gabrielle's spirit hadn't even begun to heal yet.
Her wrists are a mess, I don't know if she'll lose the use of her hands. The nerves may be damaged this time. Even if they aren't, it'll take time to build up the muscles again, Xena continued.
Crucifixion, Otere said thoughtfully. I've never seen one. The Romans and the Chin use it but none of the Northern tribes do.
Tie a person with their arms outstretched to a tree and then drive spikes through their wrists and ankle bones, leave them hanging and watch their bodies slowly drown in their own fluids because they can't breath, Xena said bitterly.
The warrior wasn't surprised when the Amazon Queen went pale.
She's been through that twice? Otere asked softly.
Yes, only a handful of people have even survived once. Fortunately both Bacchus and Caesar left her ankles alone. Driving spikes through the ankle bone is more painful but leaving them tied makes it harder to move on the cross and harder to breath, Xena rambled, remembering watching Gabrielle struggling to lift herself up by her impaled wrists just to breath. The Ides of March hadn't been lucky for Caesar and Xena didn't particularly think she and Gabrielle had been lucky either; Xena had almost lost her mate, again.
Xena shook her head, I'm sorry, Otere. I didn't mean to take it out on you and get so graphic.
Its okay, my friend, Otere simply smiled, dismissing Xena's mood. She looked thoughtful for a moment and Xena waited, wondering what Otere was thinking. She didn't have to wait long.
You haven't been away from Gabrielle's side except to eat and bathe since we got back from the Spirit Realm, have you?
Of course not, Xena said simply.
You haven't let it hit you yet, have you?
Xena felt her jaw tightening. What do you mean? she asked cautiously.
You haven't released that or let anger to let it hit you yet, have you? Otere pushed.
Xena hesitated before answering instead of dismissing Otere's question gruffly. Otere was a good friend and the warrior knew she was right.
No, I haven't, Xena admitted.
Let me send word to clear the practice hall for a candle-mark and let's see if we can work some of that anger and pain out of you, Otere suggested.
Maybe later, Xena said casually and was surprised when Otere grabbed her wrist.
Now, Xena, the Queen insisted.
Slowly the warrior nodded tiredly and got up to follow the Amazon.
Gabrielle winced slightly as Sasha applied the healing salve to her wounded back. Xena was right, it was healing but it still hurt like Tartarus. The bard wasn't used to wounds taking a normal amount of time to heal either. She and Xena had gotten accustomed to having the rapid healing abilities from their inherited parentage.
Healing at a normal human rate hurt, the bard decided.
Sasha noticed the flinch but continued talking to her Gabby mum, trying to distract the woman's focus off the pain. The youngster, wise beyond her years, knew both her moms were hurting more than they ever had before and didn't know how to help.
For once, Sasha's ability to see into the future was cloudy. She knew Gabrielle was blaming herself for giving into the pain and pleasure that Bacchus had put her through and Xena mom was blaming herself for letting Gabrielle crossover in the first place. Both of them had known Gabrielle wasn't up for the challenge of facing Alti and the vampire Arja but they had risked it.
Neither of them had ever considered Bacchus might team up with Alti and put the bard through absolute torture of both pain and pleasure, breaking the bard down into accepting becoming a full Bacchae.
Now both of them were suffering and Sasha was unsure how to help.
Sasha yelped and fell backwards as a flash of light filled the small hut and Gabrielle cried out in agony. Her wrists had suffered seven-inch spikes driven through them and then supporting her body weight for an untold amount of time, so trying to grab the sais had been a bad idea.
Both bard and child looked up at the source of the light as tears streamed down Gabriele's face.
Standing next to the fire was the Greek Goddess of the Hunt and Moon. Gabrielle's quick eyes noticed that the Goddess' bow was across her back and the sword was sheathed. Artemis' relaxed stance and weapons at rest reassured the bard this wasn't an emergency. Probably.
The Goddess smiled and knelt down across from the bard and child.
Yes, Gabrielle, she answered, her blue eyes dancing and soft.
Are the Black Forest Amazons alright? Gabrielle demanded quickly.
Yes, they are doing fine. They have enough supplies to get through the winter and are anxious for Hallvor and Eponin to return, the Goddess responded easily. Her heart soared with pride over her pick of Gabrielle as her Chosen. Despite everything the bard had been through, her first question to her patron Goddess was about her tribe.
Thank you, Gabrielle said simply.
My pleasure, Artemis smiled and then looked over into Sasha's intense blue eyes. Why don't you go find Yakut for a bit, Little One. I need to talk to your Gabby mum for a bit.
What about Mom? Sasha asked.
She's in the practice hall but it's a private session, Artemis answered simply.
Okay, the youngster agreed after a moment and Gabrielle had the feeling the deity and child had communicated something on a level other than vocal. Sasha leaned over and kissed Gabrielle's cheek and grabbed her coat, hat and gloves from beside the door. You'll be okay, Mum?
Sure, Gabrielle said easily, trying to smile for the child. She lost the smile when she turned to face the Goddess after Sasha closed the door. Come to tell me in person I'm no longer your Chosen?
Not at all, Artemis smiled gently and noticed Gabrielle sigh with relief. Quite the opposite, my Chosen. I am proud of you.
Instead of smiling or accepting the praise the bard growled with frustration and glared at her wrists. She wanted nothing more than to throw something across the room or to whack something with her sais.
Artemis noticed her expressions and body language and nodded. That's what Xena is doing right now, whacking the demons out of a wooden post, the Goddess commented.
I can't even do that! Gabrielle snapped. How can you say you're proud of me? she demanded.
Because I am. Gabrielle, what you went through, no one else could have made it through, Artemis tried reasoning with her champion.
Artemis, I was with others sexually! the bard protest. And I enjoyed it! I've betrayed Xena!
Your body enjoyed most of it, Artemis corrected. You were given drugged wine, beaten nearly to death and then given pleasure. Your nerves were on overload, Gabrielle. Some people get addicted to the fine line between pleasure and pain.
I gave in! I accepted Bacchus' blood! the bard shouted, kicking a footstool across the room as she lashed out in anger.
Did you think you wouldn't? Artemis demanded roughly. You already are part Bacchae, I'm amazed you lasted as long as you did! Anyone else would have just given in immediately at his call.
I still gave in! Gabrielle protested.
You also found a stronger inner light, Artemis countered.
Gabrielle's anger melted and she sank back onto the sleeping furs. She looked up at the Goddess with tears filling her eyes.
How can I ever expect Xena to touch me again? she whispered.
Come here, Artemis opened her arms and wasn't surprised when the bard scampered over, tears breaking loose. The Goddess settled in and held her champion close as the girl cried out her grief once again. A look of intense sadness reflected in the blue eyes of the Goddess. It's not over yet, either, she whispered.
Xena growled and whacked the post again and glared at Otere as the Amazon Queen shook her head.
What? the warrior demanded.
Okay, that's good for surface anger, Otere commented.
Otere, Xena growled, the warning clear in her voice.
Come on, Xena, Otere ignored the warning. You want this to come out when you're in bed with Gabrielle? To suddenly have the anger coming between the two of you?
Otere, you don't want me to lose control, Xena growled.
Surprisingly, the little Amazon Queen grinned. Wanna bet?
Otere was on Xena faster than the warrior could have expected and Xena instinctively reacted, sword parrying Otere's strikes. The Amazon continued with the attack and the Greek realized within moments that Otere wasn't holding back.
Xena growled and let her instincts take over, holding back enough to keep from slashing the younger and less experienced warrior until they were both breathing heavily.
Good enough? Xena demanded, her blue eyes dancing angrily.
Nope, the Amazon grinned. Tell me, Xena. You saw inside the cave of Bacchus in the Spirit Realm, how many were there?
Xena's eyes narrowed in anger.
Twenty? Men, maenad servants, and Bacchae? Otere said, pretending to be thoughtful. How many of them were with Gabrielle during that time?
The Amazon casually walked a few feet away from the warrior, ignoring the growl from the Greek's chest.
Did you see Bacchus take her? Or were they done with her by the time you got there? Had they tossed her aside yet?
The Amazon dived behind a wooden post as she said the last word and wasn't surprised when she heard a "thunk" in the wood behind her head. Otere glanced around and saw Xena's famous chakram buried deep in the post.
Queen Otere didn't even take time to look where the warrior was as Xena screamed in rage; the Amazon dived out the door and threw herself against it as Xena's body hit the other side. Two guards ran up and quickly lent their shoulders to the wood. Otere quickly locked the door.
Screams and sounds of things breaking flowed through the door.
My Queen? one the guards questioned cautiously.
Xena is working some things out, leave her in there until she answers you clearly and calmly, she instructed and turned to get to the food hall quickly. She had left her coat inside the practice hall and wasn't about to go back inside to get it any time soon.
Gabrielle sighed as she sank into the warm water of the bathing hut and then winced when the water hit the wounds on her back.
Okay, enough of that! Artemis said irritably and held her hands over the bard's back.
Gabrielle gasped as the pain began easing and then almost disappearing totally from her back. What? she questioned sleepily.
A candle-mark of crying and howling, her grief and frustration had left Gabrielle feeling drained but calmer. She hadn't been surprised when she found herself and Artemis in the bathing hut; she was too tired to be surprised. She hadn't slept a full night through in two weeks.
Quiet, I can't heal your hands but your back will be fine now. Scarred but fine, Artemis explained and began washing the bard's back with a cloth.
Why can't you heal my hands? the bard asked, not even questioning when a very naked Artemis pulled Gabrielle back into her arms to relax in the warm water.
My power is waning quickly here and there's still something I need to do, Artemis said softly.
Xena won't want me after this, the bard repeated her major fear.
Yes she will, Artemis reassured her champion. It won't be easy, you'll both have nightmares to face, both awake and asleep. Especially during sex.
I know, I still have nightmares of the Romans who raped me, Gabrielle said softly, leaning her head back on the shoulder of the Goddess.
Yes, so does Xena. Now you'll both have more images to add to that, unfortunately.
Artemis wasn't surprised when she heard the outer door open and then close and the inner one open immediately after that. The Goddess also wasn't surprised by the stunned expression on Otere's face as she led Xena into the bathing hut.
Who in Hella are you? she demanded and felt Xena raising her head.
The warrior was obviously physically and mentally exhausted, exactly as Otere figured she would be after the berserker rage Otere had enticed in Xena. The Amazon Queen figured time spent in the warm waters of the bathing hut would be good for the warrior.
She hadn't counted on finding a very naked Gabrielle also in those waters and in the arms of a very naked and beautiful woman.
Artemis? Otere heard Xena ask.
Yes, the Goddess answered in Germanic. Don't worry, Otere, I'm not seducing your friend. I'm helping my champion heal.
Artemis is the patron Goddess of the Southern Amazons, Xena said in a tired voice.
Gabrielle had apparently fallen asleep in the arms of her patron Goddess Otere noted.
Get her into the water before she catches a chill, Artemis asked with a playful smile.
Otere blushed profusely. Okay, let me guess. You spent time with Gabrielle while I spent time with Xena, both of them working on getting this out of their systems.
You are a smart and an excellent queen, Artemis smiled as Otere helped Xena into the water. Both noticed the warrior groaning with sore muscles and exhaustion as the water seeped over her body. Artemis also took in the bloody and ragged hands of the warrior. The Goddess wasn't sure she wanted to see the insides of the practice hut. Now we both figured the water would be a nice healing touch. So get in behind her and don't let her drown.
Otere shook her head, being around Xena and Gabrielle certainly made for an interesting life.
Xena was pleased to feel the familiar body of Gabrielle next to her sometime later. The sensation of fur against her skin told the warrior they were in sleeping furs and were naked.
Xena was surprised to open her eyes and find Otere sitting by the fire of their hut.
Hey, Xena called softly and the Amazon turned from the fire and grinned at her friend.
Hey yourself, she responded, also in a soft voice. I'm making tea for you two. I thought one or both of you might be waking up soon.
The warrior frowned, trying to remember. How long have we been asleep? I remember the bathing hut and Artemis.
About nine candle-marks, Otere grinned at Xena's surprised expression. You both needed it. First real sleep either of you have gotten in two weeks since getting here.
With a start Xena realized Gabrielle was lying in her usual position in the warrior's arms, which meant Xena's arm was under and across the bard's back. Xena started to rise up and took in the fact that she didn't feel a large bandage under her arm, just skin.
She looked up and found Otere nodding. Your Goddess healed Gabrielle's back, she answered the question in Xena's eyes.
The warrior looked and found bandages still around her mate's wrists, however and frowned.
She said she couldn't heal those without using too much of her energy, Otere explained.
Where is she?
Artemis said she'd be back once both of you were awake, the Amazon responded, pouring two mugs of tea as Gabrielle began to stir in her lover's arms. I'll be back in a bit.
Otere, Xena's voice stopped the Amazon Queen, Thanks for pushing me.
No problem, Xena, the Amazon grinned. We're going to have to pry your chakram out of that post though.
Otere, Xena's voice was serious. I know you took a risk.
For a friend, it's not a risk, the Amazon answered and grabbed her cloak by the door.
What was that about? a sleepy bard asked in the warrior's arms.
While Artemis was helping you work through some stuff, Otere was helping me work too, Xena answered, gently kissing the bard's lips.
Is that why they have to pry your chakram out of something? the bard asked with a smile and was pleased when the warrior began blushing bright red.
Kinda, Xena admitted. Your back is better.
Yeah, Artemis healed it, Gabrielle mentioned, snuggling closer to her mate.
Otere said Artemis would be back, what does she want? Xena questioned.
I don't know, she healed my back, let me rant, scream and cry, the bard answered, still in her sleepy voice.
I love you, Gabrielle, Xena said softly.
I love you too, I can't get the faces and sensations out of my head, the bard said simply.
I know, it'll take time, Xena tried reassuring her mate.
Instead of letting the couple trek through the snow to the food hall, Otere arranged for food to be brought to the couple's hut. It wasn't long before the couple was sitting around their fire with Otere, Yakut and Sasha.
Even though no one said a word about it, everyone was relieved when Gabrielle actually ate more than a few bites and seemed to be able to keep the food down.
Outside of the bard's hearing, her health had been the center of discussion ever since the return from the Spirit Realm. She was getting far too thin, not sleeping enough, and was mentally and physically exhausted.
Yakut seemed to be lost in thought as she watched the bard lean her head onto Xena's shoulder. Both Otere and Yakut thought that was an excellent sign of recovery for the couple but the Greeks still looked haggard.
Yakut, Xena snapped, throwing a piece of bread at the shaman.
What? the Amazon asked, coming out of her thoughts.
Do you think we can get through the snow if we leave in two days? Xena asked.
I still would advise you staying here for the winter, the shaman responded.
Xena felt Gabrielle stiffen slightly. I know but I think Gabrielle and I need to be home. We're both tired.
I know, I think you can get through with a dog team and sled, Otere answered.
Then we'll leave in two days, Xena said simply.
How about today?
Xena's hand instinctively reached for her chakram, Otere was on her feet with a sword in hand and Yakut had a dagger in hers.
Xena felt Gabrielle relax and saw Otere do the same.
Yakut, meet one of our Gods, Artemis, Xena said simply as Otere sat down. Yakut, catching up with the fact that there wasn't any danger, also sat down as Artemis joined them.
Patron Goddess of the Amazons, forest, and moon, Gabrielle added.
And friend to Xena and Gabrielle, the Goddess added.
What did you mean about today? Xena questioned.
I can take Gabrielle home today, Artemis said simply.
Without Xena? the bard immediately demanded.
I'm growing weak here, Gabrielle, Artemis admitted. Here they don't worship me and my powers are waning. I can get you home safely.
Not without Xena, Gabrielle said firmly.
Little One, Xena began to protest.
No, I spent almost two Springs away from you, Gabrielle snapped, sitting upright, her green eyes flashing.
I want you home and safe, Xena countered.
I'm not leaving you!
I do have a question for you, Artemis, Xena said thoughtfully. Where were you when Gabrielle was in that nightmare with Bacchus?
Gabrielle frowned deeply, considering the question and wondering if she really wanted to know the answer.
I can barely function here right now. Healing Gabrielle tasked me, Artemis admitted. I'm sorry, I owe you both my existence and I want to help but I couldn't break into the Spirit Realm.
I'm not leaving without Xena, I'm still not feeling well and I want to be near her, Gabrielle protested.
Please, I swear it'll be safer than trying the snow, Artemis argued.
Gabrielle? Xena questioned.
No, not without you, please, Gabrielle said, her jaw set in a familiar stubborn line.
She'll be protected and healed when I get her back to Greece, Artemis assured all of them. Both me and Apollo will watch over Gabrielle until you get back.
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed as she saw how thoughtfully Xena had become.
Xena, she growled, the warning evident in her voice.
Otere and Yakut held very still as their Greek friends and a deity argued back and forth.
Gabrielle, if they'll heal you, Xena argued but the bard cut her short.
I'd rather risk the snow and take longer to heal than be away from you again, Gabrielle said firmly.
Gabrielle, Artemis' voice brought the bard's attention back to the Goddess. The healers haven't told you and neither has Xena because of your emotional state, the nerves in your wrists were damaged.
The bard suddenly looked much younger as she glanced down at her bandaged wrists.
My hands? she whispered.
If I don't get you to Greece where Apollo can heal you before the wounds heal over, then you won't have use of your hands, Artemis said bluntly.
Then take her back, Xena said firmly.
Xena, no, Gabrielle said softly.
I'll follow as quick as I can, Xena reached out and pulled Gabrielle into her arms. Don't pass this up, Little One. I love you more than life.
Before Gabrielle could protest again, the warrior nodded her head at the Goddess and everyone blinked at the sudden bright light that filled the hut.
Cyrene dropped a tray of ceramic goblets as a bright light filled the empty main room of the inn. When her eyes cleared she was surprised to see Gabrielle and a tall woman standing several feet from her.
Gabrielle blinked and looked around, apparently also in surprise. The bard spun to glare at the woman in hunting leathers.
Artemis! she shouted. Damnit!
Deities showing up whenever Gabrielle or Xena was around didn't surprise Cyrene any more. My daughter and daughter-in-law seemed to have more to do with the Greek Gods than some priests, she thought.
Sorry, Gabrielle, this is for the best, Artemis shrugged and disappeared.
Xena! the bard shouted, raising her hands in anger.
After a moment she looked over and smiled slightly at Cyrene. Then the inn-keeper got a good look at the bard and was dismayed at what she saw.
The bard quickly sat down in the nearest chair and Cyrene went behind the bar and grabbed two unbroken mugs and a pitcher of cider.
Gabrielle? What's going on? she asked as she sat down with the bard.
Where to begin? A village stricken with poisoned grain, some of my Southern Amazons are alive, and then we dealt with a monster with some Vikings. Next we went to the Northern Amazons and found vampires were attacking them. We had to fight Alti in the Spirit Realm and Bacchus was also there. I got hurt, Artemis promised to bring me back to Greece and heal me. I didn't agree on leaving Xena behind but here I am, Gabrielle explained and shrugged at Cyrene's frustrated look.
That's it in a nutshell, the bard responded.
Is Xena okay?
Yes, some bruises and scratches but okay, Gabrielle finally had a faint smile. Can I talk about this later?
First, how is Sasha and what happened to your hands? Cyrene asked.
Sasha is great and has grown another two inches. My hands, I was crucified in the Spirit Realm by Bacchus, Gabrielle said softly.
Cyrene didn't say a word but pulled the bard into her arms as Gabrielle's anger and resolve broke down.
Cyrene sensed there was more to the bard's injuries and haggard appearance.
Xena resisted letting the tears fall from her eyes as she watched Gabrielle and Artemis disappear. The warrior sat down heavily and Sasha crawled into her arms.
I hate dealing with Gods, the warrior muttered.
Otere and Yakut had no answer for the warrior and quietly left the hut.
Xena tried to smile for Sasha as her daughter hugged her.
Was this a good idea? the warrior asked softly, not sure if she was asking Sasha's opinion or perhaps talking to the air.
It's what the Gods wanted, Sasha said simply, pulling back to look at her mom and wasn't surprised when Xena frowned.
I don't usually care what the Gods want, the warrior commented bitterly. Because of Ares, a God, I almost lost Gabrielle so many times.
You also got me, Sasha grinned.
That's the best thing Ares ever gave me! Xena agreed, hugging her daughter tightly.
After a moment Sasha got up and poured some more tea for her mom and herself. You know mum's going to be mad, she said simply.
That's an understatement, Xena grinned ruefully. They both knew Gabrielle's temper. What say we start getting things together and head home?
Sasha agreed with a grin and a nod.
Xena's eyes saddened as she watched a cheerful Sasha begin gathering their things together. The child was far too young to have lived through and seen everything she had by this early age.
The warrior didn't regret keeping Sasha with her but at times she wished she could have given her daughter a different life. Xena had thought she was doing the best thing for Solan when she left him as an infant with the centaurs. She regretted that decision even though it was the right one; she knew if she had tried to keep him they would both probably have ended up dead.
Xena growled, it seemed like she and Gabrielle never got more than a month or so to rest and try and build a normal life. Now since she knew they were both immortal the warrior wondered if the conflicts and hard times were going to go on forever.
After a bit Cyrene handed the bard her apron to wipe her eyes with and called for Torris to bring food for the bard.
When is Xena coming home? Cyrene began, hoping that she could get a little more detailed information out of the bard.
As soon as she can get through the snow, Gabrielle answered, smiling at the sight of Torris appearing with a tray of food. She was hoping she could finally keep food down.
That could be another two moons or more, Cyrene complained and immediately noticed Gabrielle's pained expression.
I know, the bard muttered.
You've both been gone for seasons, Cyrene commented. I've missed you.
We've missed you and everyone, too, Gabrielle smiled and took a bit of food with some hesitation.
Cyrene's sharp eyes noticed Gabrielle's hesitation and the thinness of the bard.
Having trouble eating? she asked, her voice filled with concern.
Gabrielle began blushing a bright red and immediately felt her stomach turn over. She jumped to her feet so quickly that she knocked over the chair as she dashed outside, her body racked with vomiting again.
Cyrene followed her daughter-in-law outside and handed the bard a wet cloth as Gabrielle tried to stand up on unsteady legs.
Sorry, Gabrielle muttered.
How long as this been going on? Cyrene asked as they sat down on a bench outside the tavern door.
Since we returned from fighting Alti and Bacchus, Gabrielle said reluctantly.
Gabrielle, what is going on? You and Xena can't get sick and yet you are?
The bard's green eyes filled with tears and she wouldn't meet Cyrene's eyes.
The healers and everyone think it's a physical reaction to what happened with Alti and Bacchus, Gabrielle whispered.
Tell me what happened, Cyrene encouraged, leading Gabrielle back inside into the warm inn.
At first Cyrene thought Gabrielle wasn't going to tell her but then the bard broke down once again and slowly the story emerged.
Xena's mother thought she had heard the worst her daughter and daughter-in-law could ever be put through. After Gabrielle had disappeared and it was revealed she had been a Roman slave and gladiator and Cyrene thought it couldn't get much worse than that. Now this torture and sexual abuse was worse and mostly because of Gabrielle's guilt about it.
Cyrene could tell the memory of it was tearing Gabrielle apart inside and out.
Gabrielle, you did nothing wrong, Cyrene said softly, holding the small blonde in her arms. I'm partly to blame for this.
What? Gabrielle sat up, attempting to wipe the tears from her face.
I told Xena when your Bacchae blood started coming to the surface you might be easily called by Bacchus, especially in the Fall or Spring.
I even mentioned that you might not be able to resist a bacchanalia, Cyrene informed her. Maybe I should have warned against Spirit Realm travel.
It's not your fault, Gabrielle smiled slightly. We didn't know Bacchus was there.
Then it's not your fault either, Cyrene countered.
Gabrielle frowned, unable to argue, she realized had fallen into a trap of logic.
Cyrene looked up as Torris walked into the main room and gently hugged the bard.
Want me to send word to Solan and Reija that Gabrielle's back? And where's Xena? he asked.
She'll be a moon or so behind me, Gabrielle continued frowning. I took a short cut home.
Yes, send word to Solan and Reija and have them come here, Cyrene smiled and Torris went off to find one of the kitchen servants.
What about Joxer? He'll want to know I'm back, Gabrielle mentioned.
Cyrene grinned. I've got news for you!
What? Gabrielle demanded as Cyrene helped her out of the heavier leather jacket and over shirt, glad to be left with her woolen trousers and lighter tunic.
Someone that looked just like Xena showed up one day and grabbed Joxer, kissing the daylights out of him, Cyrene laughed.
Meg, Gabrielle joined in the laughter.
So we found out, Cyrene agreed. They left a week later after getting married.
Married? Gabrielle wasn't sure if she was going to keep her balance in the chair or not. Joxer married?
Gabrielle's eyebrows furrowed in thought. She had grown used to having Joxer around after missing him for several years. He had grown into a decent guy and someone she and Xena could always count on him whenever they needed him, even if he was a bumbling Wanna-be warrior.
That evening, dinner was spent telling Solan, Reija, Dex the blacksmith, Torris, Cyrene and Torris' new wife, Despesia, about the recent journeys.
Cyrene and Solan both had the feeling he bard was skipping over a bit when it came to how badly she and Xena had been injured during the battle with Grendel but didn't say anything.
They were right, Gabrielle didn't tell them that she had willingly sacrificed her own healing energy to Xena and had died for five days. She told them they had both almost died, she left out that Xena would have died if Gabrielle hadn't taken her place.
She also didn't tell them the details of the fight with Bacchus and Alti, especially the details of her own torture and pleasures. Cyrene knew some of the details from Gabrielle's earlier breakdown but, again, didn't say anything.
Gabrielle answered questions about Artemis healing her back and bringing her back to Greece and it was evident from the bard's flashing eyes that she hadn't been in total agreement with her mate and patron Goddess.
What was surprising was when one of the tavern maids walked up and told Gabrielle softly that someone at the bar would like to talk to her.
Gabrielle was amused and touched when several hands rested on daggers in a protective gesture of the bard, especially since she didn't have the use of her hands. The bard cursed silently at the sais in her boots that were useless to her.
Everyone glanced over at the figure and frowned when all they saw was a shape in a traveling cloak with the hood pulled up high over the face. Several pairs of eyes noted a male hand stretching for a mug of something on the bar and the gold bracer on his wrist.
Gabrielle smiled slightly. It's okay, I know him, she said simply and went to stand next to the figure.
Apollo, I was wondering where you were, she said simply as he drank from the mug of ale. Artemis said you wanted me home.
The God of the Sun turned and carefully embraced his daughter and then gently ran his hands down her arms until they rested on her bandages.
Gabrielle hissed slightly and felt her eyes close and head go back slightly as energy pulsed through her body.
It was over in a moment and the bard turned quickly, lifting her hands up to stop her alarmed family from rushing over.
Solan and Torris were the last to reluctantly sit down and both kept a close eye on her as she turned back to the stranger.
Thank you, Father, she said softly. Can you bring Xena home?
No, my power is even weaker in the North than Artemis', he answered sadly. They worship a Goddess of the sun, not a God. I'll be around though until she gets back.
Thank you, Gabrielle hugged her deity father again and turned back to the table. A glance back told the bard her father had disappeared.
The bard began removing the bandages from her wrists, knowing that she'd find only angry red scars underneath. Her hands were now hers again.
Xena yipped at the dogs, setting the team into motion and Hallvor set her team to work right behind the Greek. Eponin was frustrated because she felt basically useless in the snows of Siberia, whereas Xena had experience from traveling in the north and Hallvor was a native.
She had grumbled about not knowing how to help with everything until Xena assigned her the cooking duties of the trip since Gabrielle wasn't with them.
Neither Black Forest Amazon was surprised when Xena had put together the dog teams and gotten everything together in the space of a day and they were trekking through the snow at dawn the next morning.
Yakut and Otere had wanted them to stay for the winter but the Greek had been stubborn and the Northern Amazons hadn't fought too hard either. They knew Xena wouldn't be separated from Gabrielle for very long, especially since the bard had been injured and was still suffering emotionally.
Xena wrapped a thin layer of gauze over her eyes to help block the blinding sun as it reflected off the snow and let the dogs take their lead. Sveltana had assured Xena and Hallvor that the teams they had put together were the best and the lead dogs were her own personal selection.
Xena hadn't been happy with letting Artemis just taking Gabrielle without the bard's permission the way she had but she hoped that her mate would be in a forgiving mood by the time the warrior got back to Greece. She wasn't sure though, she knew how stubborn Gabrielle could be, especially when mad.
Even with conservative estimates, it was going to take two months to get back to her mate.
A glance down told the warrior that Sasha was peeking through the fur surrounding her and then the child ducked back into the warmth. Xena grinned a rueful grin; Sasha and Pony would be the ones staying warm on this trip. They were both wrapped in cocoons of fur on top of the supplies. The shape of the sleds helped form the cocoon and the fur ensured warmth. Xena and Hallvor would be freezing along with the dogs outside the sleds.
The warrior had only spent two nights without Gabrielle and she was already lonely.
Cyrene handed the bard a travel pack of food and smiled at her daughter-in-law.
You going to be okay? she asked, sounding very much like the mother she was feeling like right then.
Yes, I'll be fine now that I've got the use of my hands again, Gabrielle grinned.
It did hurt Cyrene to see that Gabrielle was wearing a simple tunic instead of her preferred leather top. It wasn't cold in Greece yet but Cyrene knew that wasn't the reason the bard was now wearing full shirts. It was because of the damned scars across her back.
Those scars were obviously from a whip and animal claws and had gotten the bard in trouble with Roman troops once before. A small patrol passing through Amphipolis had mistaken her for a slave because of those lashes. Now the bard had even more scars added to the original ones, courtesy of Bacchus.
You're still not eating right and I've seen you getting dizzy whenever you stand up too quickly, Cyrene protested.
Gabrielle leaned down from her horse to grasp Cyrene's hand.
The bard quickly grabbed the reins tightly as the horse suddenly spooked and Cyrene reached out to steady herself against the Tavern door.
What? Gabrielle cried out.
Earthquake! Small one! Cyrene said simply. After a moment the tremors stopped and they both looked around the village. People were coming out of the shops and homes and were looking around, comparing notes on possible damage and checking on each other.
Maybe you should stay? Cyrene suggested.
I'll be okay, I'll probably be better after spending some time with Lila and my mom, Gabrielle grinned.
I know, you need your other family right now, Cyrene relented and stepped back from the horse and rider.
I've got a couple of things to do and I want to see Mom and Lila for a couple of days, Gabrielle said simply and was off down the road leading from Xena's village, now her home as well.
Joxer picked up the last of the pieces of broken pottery and threw them in the basket that already held several broken bottles and jugs. Fortunately there hadn't been a lot of damage from the earthquake two days before but this was the first chance he had to clean up the barn.
Joxer pulled his shirt off and wiped his brow with it. The barn, where they kept the supplies for the tavern, was cooler than outside but it was still warm work pulling kegs of ale down onto the small cart.
He looked around, taking a quick inventory of the supplies, like he did every day and was pleased. The wine was holding out and the ale was well stocked. The two milk cows and goats that supplied the inn with milk for butter and cooking were content in their pens outside and several chickens ran around free.
The warrior was pleased with his life as it was turning out. He and Meg had been married two months and were getting along well. The idea of running a tavern had been an easy one, Joxer's parents ran a boarding house after his father's retirement from soldiering and Meg was a natural at handling the patrons.
Joxer reflected that he was pretty happy, overall. Meg knew he still had deep feelings for Gabrielle but he had moved beyond being in love with the bard. Joxer figured that what he and Meg had was more than enough for a good relationship that could last a lifetime, friendship and lust.
It did unnerve him at times that she looked exactly like Xena and found it weird that he could have fallen for a twin of Xena and not a twin of Gabrielle. Not that he had ever met a twin of hers.
Weird, he thought, he knew about the Priestess, Princess Diana and Meg - all twins of the Warrior Princess and yet they had never come across a twin for Gabrielle. Not that he was complaining, mind you, that would get really weird, he decided.
He understood some of Xena's frustration whenever she had to deal with one of her twins, Meg included. Growing up as part of triplets had been a pain in the ass, he thought.
The warrior turned innkeeper hesitated. What? He knew that voice. Joxer turned slowly and tried to take in the fact that it was Gabrielle standing in the door.
Joxer grinned a goofy grin and grabbed the little bard up in his arms in a massive hug.
Gabrielle! he almost shouted.
Easy, Joxer, Gabrielle laughed in his arms.
He reluctantly put her back onto her feet and took a step back to look at his friend. He noted the tunic and traveling clothes and grinned.
Heading to your mom's? he questioned.
Actually, I wanted to see you, Gabrielle said simply.
Really? Gods, it is so good to see you! he grinned. He moved back into the barn to grab his shirt. He was surprised when Gabrielle followed him in. Is Xena with you?
Not receiving an answer, he turned and glanced at his friend. He was very puzzled and instantly concerned when Gabrielle's face showed pain and she turned her eyes away from his.
Xena's still in the north, she answered softly and moved closer to her friend.
Joxer moved even closer when he saw tears welling up in her eyes.
Something's happened, Joxer.
The long-time friend pulled the bard into his arms as she began to cry softly. After a few moments he lifted her chin up to look him in the eyes.
What happened, Gabrielle?
We went into the Spirit Realm to face Alti again, only Bacchus was there too, Gabrielle began.
Joxer uttered a string of curses that he had learned in the east while working as a caravan guard, some of them in Arabic, some in Persian and some in Greek. Gabrielle was impressed with the variety of suggestions that Bacchus could try according to Joxer.
The tavern keeper moved his friend to a hay bale and sat down next to her, wrapping his arm around her.
What happened? he asked softly.
I couldn't fight him for long, he tortured me and then tossed me into a bacchanalia, trying to break me down to drink his blood, Gabrielle continued.
Where was Xena? he demanded.
Fighting Alti, the bard answered.
Go on, he encouraged.
I gave in, Joxer, she cried softly. To the sex, to the torture, to the blood.
How did you get out? Joxer asked.
Xena was badly wounded and brought to Bacchus. She took a chance and let me bite her. It somehow brought me back and we forced Bacchus back to the physical realm in Greece, Gabrielle explained.
So why is Xena in the North and you're here? he asked.
Artemis zapped me back here because of my injuries and feelings, Gabrielle answered.
What do you mean?
I can't face Xena, Joxer, the bard whispered, tears flowing down her face again. I betrayed her and our vows, I know that she can't forgive me for enjoying some of what happened.
Of course she can, you two are soul-mates and are meant to be together, Joxer protested.
Not anymore, Joxer, Gabrielle stated simply. I discovered something while in the Spirit Realm.
The warrior turned tavern-keeper began muttering protests as Gabrielle moved his face around and began kissing him deeply. After a moment he stopped protesting and pulled Gabrielle into his arms.
Joxer suddenly pulled back and held Gabrielle at arm's length.
Gabby! he protested. What are we doing?
Finally giving into our feelings? she suggested.
We're both married! I married Meg and you're married to Xena! he continued to protest. Xena, tall, dark and deadly! Xena, as in she will kill me and chop me into pieces Xena!
Joxer, Gabrielle smiled and placed a hand on the man's chest, attempting to calm him down as his voice rose in tone and volume.
What?! he snapped and then moaned softly as Gabrielle's lips met his again and her hands began roaming up and down his back. Gabby.
Joxer found his desire for the bard quickly returning as Gabrielle's lips left his and moved to his earlobe and she began to nibble lightly.
Gabrielle, we can't do this! he protested, his hands moving under the tunic to her back. Somewhere his mind noted the feeling of scars under his fingers.
Tell me you don't want me anymore, the bard whispered fiercely and bit down on his neck.
Oh Gods! the warrior cried and then whimpered as his hands moved to the front of Gabrielle's tunic and found the breasts he had dreamed about for years. Joxer lost all control as Gabrielle's hands reached for his belt and pulled him down to the hay-covered floor.
Xena sat up in her bedroll, sweating, despite the snow surrounding the small party. The warrior quickly looked around, hand on her chakram. Everyone else was still asleep and undisturbed.
Hallvor and Pony were curled up in one set of furs and on the other side of the fire; Sasha was sleeping comfortably next to her mom.
Xena wasn't sure if the Amazons were lovers yet but at least they weren't growling at each other. It had been a difficult transition for the two women.
Hallvor and Pony had been extremely attracted to each other until Pony found out that Hallvor was a werserker and had a tendency to turn into a vicious wolf-like human creature during battle and during sex.
That had taken some getting around, the warrior admitted to herself. They had finally settled into being friends but not lovers.
The warrior's sharp eyes continued darting around the camp, listening for sounds and watching for anything out of the ordinary. After a moment Xena figured it was a bad dream. Something about Gabrielle, she felt.
Something was off and she couldn't put her finger on it.
Meg stepped out of the tavern's back door, curious as to where Joxer had gotten himself to. He had left more than a candle-mark earlier to get more kegs of ale out of the barn and to clean up the mess out there.
The tavern keeper stumbled backwards as two horses pounded out of the barn door. Meg looked up, surprised to see Gabrielle and Joxer on horses.
Sharp eyes saw love bites on Gabrielle's neck and scratches on Joxer's neck and chest.
Meg's husband began blushing a bright red as he caught sight of Meg.
Meg, he stammered.
Joxer? she snapped.
Meg, I the gentle warrior stammered.
Come on, lover, Gabrielle urged and smacked his horse across the rump with her hand.
Meg screamed in rage as both horses broke into a gallop away from the tavern. The sound of Gabrielle's laughter sounding in her ears.
Xena growled at the snow swirling around them. She finally pulled the dogs to a stop and waited as Hallvor pulled up next to her sled. The Viking Amazon leaned next to Xena's mouth to hear the warrior over the howling wind.
We'd better stop! Xena shouted.
Hallvor nodded and moved quickly to set up an emergency lean-to for the women and child while Xena tipped over the sleds and led the dogs to the semi-shelter. The warrior promised them that she'd look at their paws later for ice damage. Some of them were already wearing little leather wrappings on their feet to protect them. Sasha had giggled for five marks over the dogs wearing booties. The dogs in turn, delighted with a laughing child, had romped around and on top of Sasha, licking her and making her laugh even more.
Xena glanced into the lean-to and the other two women cuddling with Sasha to warm her up. The Greek warrior yelled in anger against the wind and snow fighting them, slowing their progress.
Joxer fell back onto the sleeping furs, exhausted and breathing heavily. Gabrielle collapsed on top of him, her head resting on his shoulder.
Gabrielle, we've been traveling for two days and you haven't told me where we're headed, he mentioned once he finally caught his breath again.
He moaned softly as his bard shifted her weight on top of him and moved down to nibble on his chest.
Does it matter anymore? she asked.
No, I guess not. I figure we can't go home so that leaves the rest of the world, he said thoughtfully.
Except the Amazons, they won't agree with me leaving Xena and taking up with a male, Gabrielle whispered and felt Joxer's attention turning elsewhere and began kissing him again.
After a moment he broke away, trying to breathe again.
Gods, woman! he sputtered. You trying to kill me with sex?
Sounds like a wonderful way to go, she muttered as she moved down his body.
Oh yeah! he agreed.
Xena was in a really bad mood. Weird dreams were disturbing her sleep, the snowstorms were making the going difficult and she was tired of eating cold rations.
Hallvor glanced over at Eponin and shrugged, neither of them knew how to help.
Sasha curled up in her Mom's arms, ignoring Xena's growl of frustration.
It was going to be a long trip.
Joxer leaned over the little bard and kissed the lovely neck. Gabrielle grinned and ruffled his shock of hair as she stirred the stew cooking over the fire.
He smiled and sat down across the fire from her, relishing the opportunity to watch her.
What are you thinking, Joxer? Gabrielle asked softly.
How content I am. I never thought I could feel like this, Joxer admitted. Spending my life with you on the road, having you in my arms at night.
That's the plan, Joxer, the bard grinned and Joxer frowned.
To be content and peaceful, we haven't had that in our lives, Gabrielle replied.
That's true, especially you, Joxer agreed. He moved to sit next to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. You have the most gentle soul, Gabrielle. It's always killed me to think about how much you've been through.
I know, and you've always been there whenever I needed you, the bard said, leaning her head onto his shoulder. Just like now, sometimes predictable can be nice.
Joxer didn't see the sparkle in the bard's green eyes.
Xena smiled at the progress the Black Forest Amazons had made over the seasons since the Roman attack had killed most of them. The village was slowly blending into the forest. Instead of clearing part of the trees out, the Amazons had chosen to build their huts among the trees and not disturb the beauty of the area with clear cutting.
Eponin and Hallvor had discovered that their number had increased with the addition of three more infants that had been abandoned by local villagers and two teenage girls that had fled unpleasant marriage prospects.
Xena was impressed with the training the older Amazons were giving the younger ones. She was also pleased with the obvious pride Eponin had in her new tribe. The evening was spent around the main fire pit, Eponin telling of how she and Hallvor had tracked Gabrielle down and challenged the bard to the right of Queenship over the Amazons.
The description of Gabrielle's condition after eating poisoned grain had been harrowing and Xena felt her heart aching for her bard even more now than ever. Eponin explained to the tribe that the bard and warrior hadn't betrayed the Amazons to the Romans and that Gabrielle was still the same woman they had known before. The survivors of the Roman massacre nodded in relief, they had never wanted to believe that one of their most beloved Queens had betrayed them.
Eponin went on to tell how Gabrielle had recovered and named Eponin Regent of the Amazons and acting Queen. The Amazons were disappointed that the bard Queen wasn't with the travelers but understood after Pony continued her tale of the battle with Grendel and then the fight with Alti. After describing Gabrielle's injuries to her tribe, the Amazons more than understood Xena's agreement to send Gabrielle back to Greece with the Goddess Artemis for healing.
The Amazons then set about welcoming Xena to their village, especially delighting in Sasha, Gabrielle's adopted daughter and accepted Amazon.
Xena finally began to let herself relax a bit. More than a month had been spent traveling in the snow and the warrior was tired and anxious to be home but she also knew that it was important to spend at least a couple of days in the village since Gabrielle couldn't be there. She was somewhat standing in for her mate as Champion and Consort to the Queen.
The Black Forest Amazons were all anxious to prove their worthiness to the legendary warrior and mate to Gabrielle and after awhile Xena grew tired of the youngsters and headed for one of the small huts where Sasha was already asleep.
Artemis, can you hear me? Xena called softly to the darkness.
Xena growled softly when the Goddess didn't respond and reluctantly removed her winter clothing and crawled into the sleeping furs.
"Xena's going to come after us, isn't she?" Joxer asked softly as he rolled up their sleeping furs. He had been with Gabrielle for two weeks and couldn't believe his fortune.
The former soldier had a feeling it wouldn't last and he didn't want to be anywhere on Earth when Xena found out that Gabrielle had left her.
"Probably, I'm hoping she won't," Gabrielle answered easily as she cooked breakfast.
"Is that why you go off to write in your scrolls? Writing down your feelings?" he asked casually. Joxer was actually puzzled by Gabrielle behavior at times.
The bard would beg some time to herself and he would gladly wander off to go fishing or hunting. Gabrielle told him that she wanted to take some time with her scrolls and the request hadn't surprised him but had confused him a bit. Whenever he had traveled with Xena and Gabrielle before, the bard hadn't been shy about writing in the evening around the campfire with both Xena and Joxer there.
Many a time the soldier had caught himself staring at her while her mind was obviously engrossed in whatever she was writing. He had always thought she was so beautiful in the firelight, absently brushing a strand of reddish blond hair out of her eyes as she bent over a scroll.
What really puzzled him was that the last two times she had gone off into the woods by herself, Gabrielle had left her scrolls behind.
"Something like that," she answered vaguely.
Joxer decided to let it go; maybe she was dealing with the grief of leaving Xena. It had to be rough for her, he figured, they had been together for years and had been through death and beyond.
The former soldier ran a hand through his shock of dark hair, now with touches of
grey. How had he ended up with Gabrielle after all she had been through with Xena? He knew they were soul mates, even blood bonded. Nothing on earth or beyond should be able to break that bond.
Then Joxer scolded himself. He had taken vows with Meg and had meant them, every single word but had easily broken them. He was still having problems dealing with himself over that. Joxer the Mighty had run off without even saying he was sorry to his wife.
He angrily brushed away a tear, keeping his back to Gabrielle. He didn't want to add anymore to the guilt she was probably already feeling about the whole affair.
Meg had deserved better than he had given her, he cursed himself. She had changed her life for him and had only asked for whatever love he could give her.
"Maybe we should think of leaving the country for awhile," he suggested. He knew for certain he didn't want to face an angry Meg and no one ever wanted to face an angry Xena. Even his family had probably heard what happened and was cursing his name even now.
He didn't even want to think about how Cyrene or Solan would treat him now. He thought they would probably take out their anger on certain parts of his anatomy that were below the belt.
"That's probably a good idea," the bard agreed, coming up behind Joxer and wrapping her arms around him and nuzzling his neck. "You're worried about Xena and Meg finding us?"
"Yeah, they're both kinda known for their tempers," he tried to smile as he held onto her arms.
"That's true, I was thinking maybe Eire," she said softly, beginning to nibble on his earlobe.
"Why not north? You know the languages now." Joxer asked, his breath quickening as her hand went down the front of his shirt.
"I'm very well known up there as Xena's mate, Vikings aren't keen on divorce," she answered and moved around to sit on his lap, facing him.
Guilty thoughts faded to the back of his mind as the bard's neck was so inviting.
"I do want to take a couple of days and visit my family, if that's okay," she whispered, pulling his tunic off and gasping as his fingers ran over her nipples.
"Sure, we can be there in a couple of days," he muttered, pulling off her tunic as well and replacing his fingers with his lips.
"Oh Gods, Joxer," Gabrielle muttered, running her fingers through his hair, encouraging him. Then she pulled his head back to look down into his eyes. "I need a couple of days alone with them, to explain things."
"Okay, you want me to stay here?"
"Yes," she answered and then kissed him deeply. "And, lover, I want you to continue what we've started."
Joxer grinned and gladly went back to his worship of his bard.
Cyrene was pleased when Gabrielle walked into the tavern two days later. Then she frowned, the bard was still too thin and haggard looking, even after being gone for three weeks. Gabrielle grinned as Cyrene rushed up to hug her tightly and then pulled back. The bard could tell she was being assessed.
"You're not much better than when you left," Cyrene scolded.
"I know, I'm still having trouble eating and feel tired all the time," Gabrielle admitted.
"I'm glad you're back then, where I can keep an eye on you. How's your family?"
"Doing well, Lila is pregnant again. Her son, Patron, is as big as a house and Lila has her hands full keeping up with him," Gabrielle smiled as they sat down at one of the tables. "Mom married her neighbor and it's a love match. His name is Antonious and he's kind."
"Good, I know times were rough with your father," Cyrene smiled.
"Yes, at times," Gabrielle admitted. "He used his fists too often. I think he was beaten as a child and didn't know how to act any different but he did love my mom and us."
"Xena told me how he wanted to change at the end," the mother mentioned softly.
"There is something," Gabrielle hesitated and then grinned as Torris came in and rushed to hug the bard.
"Glad you're back! We haven't had any good entertainment in forever!"
"Thank you, Torris," the bard smiled. "I'm glad to be back and I can't wait to get my life back to normal."
"Normal?" he laughed as he sat down with the two women. "When has things ever been normal with you and my sister?"
Cyrene laughed as her daughter-in-law blushed. It was good to see the two of them teasing each other. There was a time when Torris would have growled whenever he saw Gabrielle.
"That's something I wanted to talk to you both about. I was going to wait until Xena got here but...."
"It's alright, Gabrielle," Cyrene encouraged. "You left a lot out of your description of what happened to you and Xena while you were gone."
Again Gabrielle blushed with the truth.
"Yes, I did," she admitted. "Xena and I learned something while fighting the Northern monster Grendel."
Gabrielle hesitated, gathering her thoughts of where to begin and how much to reveal. She didn't want to go into how it was Xena's fault the monster existed in the first place. Cyrene and Torris didn't need to know more of Xena's horrible past, they had heard enough, the bard decided.
"Grendel was a giant monster that was almost invincible to everything except Xena's chakram. She was also intelligent," Gabrielle continued. Torris got up and brought over a tray of cider and cups for all of them as Gabrielle talked. "Xena had fought Grendel before and the creature held a grudge. She kidnapped Sasha and almost killed Eponin, one of my original Amazons."
"She survived the Roman attack?" Torris asked, trying to keep up with the people in his sister-in-law's life.
"Yes, barely and has been rebuilding the tribe," Gabrielle smiled with pride in her friend and Regent. "To get Sasha back Xena exchanged herself."
"Oh by the Gods," Cyrene whispered. "You described some of what that monster did. It massacred entire settlements?"
"Yes, I saw at least 25 bodies in one hall alone. She did that in one night."
"What happened?" Cyrene choked out.
"Xena was beaten to the point of death," Gabrielle wiped away the first of many tears beginning to form in her eyes again. "That's when we learned some things about our lives."
"Obviously she made it," Torris said, quickly convincing himself that the story had a happy ending.
"Not really," Gabrielle whispered, closing her eyes. "She was so injured, not even her God-given healing ability could keep up."
Cyrene reached out and held the bard's hand.
"I called on Apollo," the bard continued. "I know that Cyrene knows but I haven't talked with you about it Torris, Apollo is my father."
"Apollo? The God of the Sun?" he whispered.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and smiled slightly. "Yup, the same. He confirmed that Xena was dying and no one but me could help."
Cyrene, having some experience with Gods, being the Goddess of Hecate for the area, narrowed her eyes. This did not sound good, she decided.
"How?" Torris finally asked.
"I inherited some of Apollo's healing abilities. I can heal if I expend my own energy. Xena was so far gone that the option was to trade places with her and exchange my life force for hers," Gabrielle whispered.
"No, oh Gabrielle," Cyrene whispered, already knowing the answer Gabrielle had given.
"Yes, Apollo also revealed that since he is my father and I've already died once," Gabrielle hesitated again. "He revealed that I'm immortal and so is Xena."
Gabrielle was surprised to find Cyrene nodding.
"I thought so," Cyrene answered, taking in both Torris' and Gabrielle's surprised looks. "I knew you were when Hecate revealed you died on that cross and Apollo brought you back. I suspected Xena might be because of her parentage."
"Parentage?" Torris questioned, his eyebrows furrowing.
Cyrene began blushing. "Xena's parents are Zeus and Hecate, I carried her and gave birth to her but they conceived her."
"My sister is a God?" he whispered.
"Demi-God," Cyrene corrected. "She died on a shaman journey and became immortal. She might even discover some God abilities down the line."
"Immortal? Both of you?" Torris questioned, still trying to puzzle it out.
"Yes," Gabrielle answered.
"You'll never die?"
"Only if we're killed, we won't grow old and we don't get sick," the bard responded.
"Then why are you sick now?" he demanded. He had also taken a good look at the bard and didn't like what he saw.
"She's not sick physically, not really," Cyrene corrected and turned back to Gabrielle and noticed the bard's thoughtful expression. "You traded places? You died again?" Cyrene continued, wanting to focus the bard on the immortal thing for the moment.
Gabrielle again blushed. "Yes, for five days, they tell me."
"Five days?" Torris felt like his head was spinning. "How did you come back?"
"The Northern Gods let me after Xena defeated the monster. Her reward for dealing with Grendel," Gabrielle said simply.
"What was it like? Where did you go?" Torris asked quickly.
"I really don't want to talk about that," Gabrielle frowned. "My memories about it are fuzzy and my tongue doesn't seem to work when I try and talk about it."
"Okay, there's more though, isn't there?" Cyrene asked.
"Yes, the Northern Gods Odin and Freya told us that Sasha has inherited powers from being the daughter of Xena and Ares. They said those powers are going to go totally out of control when she gets her first blood cycle and they insist on training her."
"For how long?" Torris frowned.
"At least two winters or more," Gabrielle responded, frowning herself.
"Xena would never agree to that!" Cyrene exclaimed.
"She agreed once Sasha did," Gabrielle explained.
"What?" Torris demanded. After making peace with Xena and Gabrielle he had bonded nicely with the children of Xena, both Solan and Sasha.
"Sasha can see things about the future and she has seen things about her future if she doesn't get the training," Gabrielle said simply. "She thinks it's for the best and Xena had to agree."
"When does this happen?" Cyrene asked, still frowning. "Is she coming home first?"
"Yes," Gabrielle smiled. "We have a full turn of the seasons and then we head north again."
"Anything else you want to reveal?" Torris asked, slightly teasing but still serious and so grinned when Gabrielle blushed again.
"Not that I can think of right now," she mumbled.
"Torris," Cyrene turned to her son. "Why don't you go help in the kitchen before the dinner crowd? I've got something to talk over with Gabrielle."
"Sure, Mom," he got up and leaned over the table to kiss Gabrielle's cheek. "Glad you're home."
The bard waited for Cyrene to continue the conversation. The innkeeper looked uncomfortable.
"What is it, Mom?" Gabrielle asked softly.
"I get the feeling you really don't know what's happening with your body, do you?" Cyrene asked.
"Cyrene, what are you talking about?" Gabrielle asked. "I told you some of what happened with Bacchus, every time I think about it I get sick."
Cyrene noted Gabrielle's jaw tightening and her fist clenching the edge of the table.
"Every time I close my eyes I feel the hands, lips and bodies of others. Men and women, Bacchae and human and none of them were Xena!" Gabrielle growled, closing her eyes. "I feel the whip landing on my back; I feel the spikes through my wrists."
Cyrene got up quietly and knelt by Gabrielle's chair. Tears began flowing down the bard's cheeks.
"I hear Bacchus, Mom," she whispered. "I hear Bacchus' voice and someone pulling me to them sexually. I think it was Bacchus."
Cyrene wrapped her arms around Gabrielle as the bard began to cry.
"You didn't tell Xena that, did you?" Cyrene whispered.
"No, I couldn't!" Gabrielle cried softly. "I get sick just thinking about it and I can't sleep."
"And you get sick just thinking about most food?" Cyrene questioned.
"Most food," Gabrielle agreed.
"Anything that you can keep down and can't get enough of?" Cyrene asked. "Besides nut bread?"
"I can't even tolerate nut bread right now," the bard admitted in a small voice and shrugged at Cyrene's astounded expression. "I seem to want goat cheese all the time."
Gabrielle looked puzzled as Cyrene smiled softly and looked the bard in the eyes.
"Okay, just come right out and say it, I guess," Cyrene muttered to herself.
"Cyrene, if you have any idea what is going on with me, please tell me," Gabrielle asked.
"Gabrielle, when was your last blood cycle?"
The bard looked puzzled and then thoughtful. "Before facing Alti, I think. With everything that happened, I figured the throwing up and everything was messing my cycle up."
"Gabrielle, I've been a mom three times now and I've helped almost every girl in this village deliver their children," Cyrene said simply.
Gabrielle's eyes widened in shock. "No," she whispered.
"I think so, you've got all the classic signs," Cyrene said gently.
"No," the bard shook her head firmly. "You need a man for that and there's only been Perdicus, years ago."
"What happens in the Spirit Realm affects the body in this one," Cyrene pointed out, trying to hold back her own tears.
"No!" Gabrielle cried, closing her eyes. Her eyes were slightly frantic when she opened them again. "They were spirits, not living beings!" she protested.
"Bacchus wasn't a spirit," Cyrene said softly, tears beginning to flow down her cheeks as well.
"No!" Gabrielle screamed and jumped up from her chair.
Xena grinned at Pony as the Amazon Regent walked up behind Hallvor and embraced the shorter Viking Amazon.
The warrior was glad to see this new development; Hallvor had been more relaxed since the incident with Grendel and the truce between the Vampires and Amazons. After the battle with Grendel and the spell was broken, Hallvor had gained a measure of control over her wolf-self, at least sexually. She still had a tendency to go berserk in battle, especially when dealing with vampires but now any sexual partners didn't have to worry about having their throats ripped out by a werewolf like creature.
The attraction between Pony and Hallvor must have heated up over the recent days in the Amazon Village.
Xena felt a wave of sadness hit her as Hallvor turned and began kissing Pony passionately. The warrior missed her bard, badly.
Xena grabbed one of the ropes leading to the ground and quickly descend from the small tree hut she had shared with Sasha. As if hearing her thoughts, Sasha was waiting at the base of the tree, her packs already tied on a horse. The warrior grinned and hugged her growing daughter and looked around to see Hallvor and Pony descending from their tree.
The warrior accepted a pack of food from the Amazon cook and tied it on top of the other packs on her horse. A quick round of warrior handshakes, quick hugs for Pony and Hallvor and Xena and Sasha mounted their horses.
It was barely past dawn but Xena was anxious to be on the way home. She hadn't been sleeping well and felt uncomfortable. Xena had the feeling that something was wrong with Gabrielle and none of the deities had answered her calls.
The warrior was a little pissed. She had half expected Artemis to show up once Xena and Sasha had gotten closer to Greece and among the Amazons again, among worshippers of the Goddess. Still the Goddess hadn't appeared. Neither had Apollo.
Xena glanced over and found Sasha watching her as they traveled along the narrow trail.
What? the warrior asked.
You're worried about Mum, Sasha said simply.
Yes, you know what she went through fighting Bacchus, Xena responded. I don't like being away from her.
I saw more than you did, Mom, Sasha reminded Xena.
Instantly the warrior was regretful. Because Sasha had acted as a lifeline for Gabrielle and Xena while they were in the Spirit Realm, she had been connected to them. She also had the gift of psychic sight and had been able to see even more than the shaman Yakut. Even more than Xena, she could see Gabrielle when the bard was in Bacchus' bacchanalia without Xena. The child had seen all the terrors of her adopted mom being tortured and sexual abused.
Xena's imagination and guilt over letting Gabrielle attempt the fight had filled her mind with images of what had probably happened to the bard. The warrior was sickened to think Sasha had actually seen the events.
I'm sorry, Sasha, Xena said softly.
I know, the child responded.
Can you tell how she's doing? Xena asked hopefully.
No, Sasha frowned after a moment. Something is blocking me. I can't see her.
Damn! Xena cursed and urged her horse into a gallop and Sasha pressed her horse to follow.
It had been over a month to travel through the snow and they had spent a polite five days among the Amazons.
It was going to take another two to three weeks to get home.
Cyrene rushed around the table and grabbed the bard by the arms.
"No!" Gabrielle cried out. "It can't be Bacchus!"
"We don't know that for certain!" Cyrene shouted.
"You brought him up! Who else could it be?" Gabrielle demanded. "He was the only living male there!"
Cyrene held tightly as Gabrielle sagged, her knees weakening.
"Oh Gods, I was with Bacchus?" the bard screamed.
Xena's mother looked over her shoulder and saw Torris pushing his wife and kitchen helper back into the kitchen.
Cyrene eased Gabrielle back into her chair as the bard wrapped her arms around her adopted mom and sobbed.
Torris walked up quietly.
"How can I help, Mom?" he asked softly.
"Open the door to the first available room and then help me get her to bed," Cyrene ordered.
"Shouldn't she be at home?"
"We can help Solan and Reija keep an eye on her here until Xena gets home," Cyrene answered, gently stroked the bard's hair.
"Oh Gods," Torris said softly. "It's bad, isn't it?"
"Yes, enough to shatter both of them, I think," Cyrene answered softly. "How much did you hear?"
"Only Gabrielle screaming something about Bacchus," he responded as he reached behind the bar and grabbed the master key to the rooms.
"That's enough for now," Cyrene commented.
"Mom, I want to be able to help," Torris protested.
"I know and I'll explain after we put her to bed and Solan and Reija get here. Can you send for them, please?"
"Already did," he smiled slightly, watching Gabrielle's sobs fading and the bard's body sagging with it.
Solan muttered curses under his breath as his Amazon wife Reija turned pale after Cyrene explained to them and Torris what was happening with Gabrielle.
"When does this end?" Solan snapped, his blue eyes flashing like his mother's.
"Now that they're immortal I'm not sure it ever will," Cyrene said ruefully.
"How do we help?" Reija asked, keeping an eye on her infant son playing under the table.
"I think we need to keep an eye on Gabrielle until Xena gets back," Cyrene said thoughtfully. "This incident in the Spirit Realm had already shattered her spirit, now this!"
Torris frowned at his mother's anger as she clenched her fists. He understood it, he knew they were all feeling helpless and hated it.
"I'm going to look in on her," he said simply and stood up.
"Thank you, Torris," Cyrene said gratefully. It was almost dinnertime and customers were started to wander in already. "Can you sit with her until after dinner? I'll have Reija bring you up a tray."
"Yes, of course," the eldest child of Cyrene agreed with a smile.
As he walked up the stairs he reflected on the change in his relationship with Gabrielle and Xena, much as his mother had done. He had resented Xena's return to Amphipolis, partly because of the legendary trouble she seemed to attract; partly because of the pain she had caused the family in her warlord days, but also because he was jealous.
He had been envious of Xena's relationship with Gabrielle once he knew they were more than only traveling companions. Torris had struggled with that revelation about himself for months. Was he jealous because he wanted Gabrielle for himself? He had finally come to the conclusion that part of his dislike of their relationship was that they were of the same gender and he did take some gruff teasing for that from villagers and other village elders. Another part was that he felt Xena hadn't deserved to be happy, especially with someone as special as Gabrielle.
He had taken his resentment out on both of them. He grinned at himself; it had taken over a month for his jaw to heal where Xena had hit him. Torris had made the mistake of getting angry and confronting his sister over her public display of affection for the bard. Xena had easily blocked his blows but Gabrielle had tried to step between them and he had hit the bard. It had taken a blacksmith's full strength to hold Xena back from killing her brother in a berserk fury and Gabrielle's gentle words to eventually calm her down.
Torris had struggled with his feelings. He began to admire how much Xena had changed and how much of that was due to Gabrielle and his resentment began to fade. His attitude had totally changed when Romans threatened the lives of Gabrielle, Xena and Sasha. In the struggle Joxer and Solan had killed several Roman soldiers, Joxer nearly being killed. Solan had been blinded, Torris smacked over the head with a club and Sasha taken.
After that day a peace had come between his sister, Gabrielle and himself until he now considered them friends. He was no longer teased by any of the Elders about Gabrielle and Xena's relationship either. Of course, a couple of Village Elders had attended the next town meeting with black eyes and Torris with bruised knuckles. Xena's older brother had refused to answer his mother's questions about that.
Now his sister's mate was in trouble again and he cursed the Fates that seemed to be working against them. He couldn't even blame it on Ares this time.
Torris stood looking in the room at the bed. Looking down at an empty bed in an empty room. Torris rushed in and grabbed up the scroll left on the pillow. He quickly scanned through it, trying to read the bard's writing in the moonlight.
Mom! he shouted as he flew down the stairs to the main room, taking the stairs two at a time.
Minutes later the back of the inn was a mass of confusion as everyone tried to talk at once. Cyrene raised her hands to stop the din and took control.
Reija, go to the stable and see if Gabrielle's horse is there, she ordered. If it is, tell the stable master not to let Gabrielle leave if she shows up.
No one could stop Gabrielle if she wants something, Torris complained.
He might be able to slow her down until we can talk to her, Cyrene countered. Solan, if she has left town, you track her. You're the best tracker in the Village.
When Mom isn't here, he said grimly and moved outside to wait for Reija's return from the stables.
Mom, could Gabrielle really be serious about what she says in her note? Torris asked softly as his wife cared for their toddler son.
Yes, I'm afraid she might be. The Gods might not even be able to help this time, Cyrene said softly.
No one noticed the masculine hand reaching for the scroll that had been left on the bar.
Xena looked at the raging river confronting her and Sasha and yelled in anger. They were halfway home and facing another delay. The river was normally smooth and slow flowing at this part of the country but the recent rains that had plagued the Greeks had swollen the river into a dangerous obstacle.
The banks were usually smooth, grassy and peaceful, now the water had stripped away the grass and dug into the ground, leaving sharp embankments that could break a horses' neck.
Sasha pulled her hood back and brushed her dark hair out of her eyes and blinked through the rain to look at her mother.
We'll have to go either up or down to find another crossing, the pre-teen said simply.
I know, I know, Xena mumbled. Do you get the feeling we're being delayed?
Sasha frowned and closed her eyes for a moment. I don't sense anything.
I do, it's that same feeling I used to get whenever Ares was around, Xena complained.
Well, it can't be Ares, Sasha commented, knowing that her father was safely locked away somewhere in a tomb. Placed there by her mother.
I know, it's basically the same feeling and we're making miserable time, Xena complained. Can you see anything about Gabrielle?
Again the child closed her eyes and concentrated. Then Sasha opened her eyes and bright blue eyes met identical ones and Sasha shook her head.
No, it's like looking into a fog, Sasha stated. Can you pick up anything?
No, just that she's alive, Xena growled.
Xena glared at the river again. Either direction would mean another delay and the rain wasn't helping.
Finally the warrior's shoulders shagged. Let's find somewhere to camp, hopefully out of the rain. We'll cross tomorrow.
Sasha knew her mom was frustrated. Ever since leaving the Northern Amazons it seemed that something delayed them. Snow storms, ice flows ripping rivers apart, lame dog teams and then needing to spend time with the Black Forest Amazons.
Now it was rain and another river. Sasha began to wonder if this was something more than possibly ill luck and if her mother was right.
Reija had reported to the family that Gabrielle's horse was already gone. Solan and Torris quickly scouted around the edge of town with a torch until Solan found fresh tracks. Having a direction to go, Solan continued on as Torris rushed back to get horses and let Cyrene know what direction they were heading.
Cyrene sent Reija home with her son, Kiryk and the innkeeper went to her room in the back of the inn and closed the door.
Lighting a single candle, Xena's mom sat down and began concentrating on the candle's flame.
Hecate, Great Mother of Darkness and Wisdom, can you come to me? Hear my plea, my old friend, Cyrene intoned. My family, our daughter is in trouble.
Cyrene felt the air behind her shift but closed her eyes.
I know the trouble, Cyrene, Hecate's familiar voice whispered behind her. Others are moving to help.
Others? Cyrene questioned.
Yes, they have been keeping an eye on both Xena and Gabrielle and are stepping in now, Hecate explained.
Will they succeed? Cyrene questioned, a tear flowing down her cheek.
I can't see the future when it concerns our children, Cyrene, Hecate whispered. No mother can.
Please, do you know what Gabrielle is planning? Cyrene pleaded.
Yes, have faith.
Xena had her chakram in her hand before she even blinked a second time. She could hear Sasha stirring next to her as they both took in the bright light filling the small clearing they were camped in.
Xena was sleeping with her back to Sasha, facing the opening of the pine-bough lean-to she had made for shelter. She noted that it had stopped raining and that it was Apollo standing near the center of the meadow.
Apollo? Xena questioned as she lowered the chakram and Sasha peered over her shoulder.
Get up and get dressed! he said urgently. There's not much time!
What? Xena blinked and sat up.
Move! Apollo shouted. I need you ready to travel! Gabrielle is in trouble!
The warrior was on her feet and in the Gods face in moments. What? What's happened?
The God of the Sun handed the warrior a rolled up scroll. He held up his hand above them, the light from it shining like a bright oil lamp.
Xena unrolled the scroll with a feeling of dread. Gabrielle's handwriting greeted her.
My beloved soul mate and my life.
How can I tell you the reason for this when my own mind screams in rage and denial about what has happened to me?
I never thought that anything could come between or separate us. I always thought that one of us would fall in battle or an accident. I then pictured that one waiting on the other side.
I never dreamed we would end like this. I guess in a way I did fall in battle. That damned battle with Alti and Bacchus. I failed, my love and now I fall.
I can't live with the results of that battle and that loss. To do so could release a potential evil in the world. I'll take that future with me.
Xena, I'm sorry for your mother. I'm leaving it to her to explain the precise reasons for my actions and I'm sorry for that. I can't bear to write it down.
You've told me that I was the best thing in your life; I hope you can forgive me for this. I pray that the Gods forgive me and let me wait for you in one of the paradises.
I am hoping that all the good we've done will balance out against carrying this evil and for taking my own life.
I've chosen poison since my body reacts badly to it ever since our wedding, even with my immortal healing abilities.
There is so much to write you, my love, and now there is no time. I wouldn't change my life with you, Xena. Even the battle with Alti was necessary. We always knew that the odds of living until old age weren't good, I'm so sorry to leave you.
You'll find my body behind the altar where Aphrodite and I took on Ares, in the niche hidden by the bushes. I'm hoping that the shaman concentration skills you have taught me will block Apollo and Artemis from knowing where I am and stopping me.
Xena, I love you more than life its self but I can't carry through.
I love you. Forgive me.
Body? Poison? Xena whispered as Sasha grabbed the scroll from her mother and quickly read while Xena attempted to absorb the words Gabrielle had written her.
Yes! Apollo hissed. Artemis! Appear, damnit!
The Forest and Moon Goddess appeared instantly.
What is going on? You want me to delay the warrior and now you're yelling at me? she demanded.
Where is she? Xena screamed.
What? Artemis snapped back.
Gabrielle plans to kill herself! Apollo shouted.
What? That's not the plan! Artemis yelled.
No kidding! Apollo growled. Where did she and Aphrodite fight Ares?
One of my altars in the old Amazon forest, I don't know which one, I was in Tartarus, Artemis whined.
We don't have time to search them, I already spent two days looking for her, Apollo grumbled while Xena and Sasha got dressed and gathered their gear together. Xena rushed over to the horses and removed their reins and set them loose. Aphrodite!
It was several moments before the Goddess of Love appeared, trying to rearrange her flimsy top, her hair mussed and she looked flustered.
What? I was busy! she snapped.
At which altar did you and Gabrielle fight Ares? Artemis demanded.
Oh that's easy! the Goddess giggled.
Then take us there, Gabrielle's in trouble! Apollo demanded.
No problem, cousin! Aphrodite snapped her fingers and everyone disappeared, leaving two confused horses in the middle of Northern Italia.
Gabrielle didn't dare make any prayers to Artemis, the Goddess might appear and try to stop her. She hoped that the Gods and Xena would forgive her.
The bard angrily wiped away tears and pulled out the vial of poison.
Xena, she whispered as she uncorked the bottle and raised it to her lips.
A moment later, liquid was splashed over the distraught bard and she was holding a cut hand. Her green eyes widened at the sight of Goddesses, a God, Sasha, and Xena.
The warrior was holding the chakram she had just sent flying through the air, which shattered the bottle and cut Gabrielle's hand.
One look into those blue eyes and Gabrielle's strength failed and she fell back against the rock, breaking into tears.
Gabrielle began to wail as Xena's arms wrapped around her and pulled the bard from the niche behind the altar dedicated to Artemis.
Xena, help me!
I'm here, little one, I'm here, Xena whispered, rocking her mate.
Well, guys, Aphrodite looked around at Apollo, Artemis and Sasha who were watching the couple. Someone want to, like, clue me in?
Gabrielle and Xena recently entered the Spirit Realm and fought the Northern shaman Alti, Artemis began. Unfortunately Alti had joined up with Bacchus.
Ewwww! the Goddess of Love exclaimed. Tall, dark, and fanged.
Yes, Apollo grimaced in agreement. Gabrielle was captured by him and went through an endless time of torture and sexual abuse.
Aphrodite's eyes widened, I've been to more than a few Bacchanalia's in my time but everyone was more than happy to be there. Totally uncool and unfair!
Apollo shook his head at his cousins' description. He felt the same way; he probably would have expressed it in a different way, though.
My poor Chosen eventually gave in but was saved by Xena from being a total Bacchae, Artemis continued.
Oh bummer! But can't they work through that? Aphrodite asked.
They probably would if Gabrielle hadn't come to the conclusion that the child she's carrying is the child of Bacchus, Apollo continued the explanation.
Both Xena and Gabrielle looked up in confusion.
Child? Xena whispered.
But Bacchus was the only living being there besides me, Gabrielle protested.
Bacchus? Xena whispered, suddenly understanding Gabrielle's terror. You were with Bacchus and now you're pregnant?
Gabrielle buried her head in Xena's shoulder.
Gabrielle, Xena pulled the bard's head up until Gabrielle looked her in the eyes, both with tears flowing down their cheeks. Gabrielle, I love you. Whatever this means, I don't care. We'll face it together, you and me. I don't care if the child is from Bacchus, it's also your child.
I can't! Gabrielle protested.
You accepted a child of Ares, Sasha said simply.
Gabrielle frowned in thought and Xena smiled gratefully at her daughter.
Besides, Apollo drew their attention. It doesn't matter.
What do you mean? Xena asked, still holding tightly to Gabrielle.
Artemis sighed and knelt down in front of the couple. She gently stroked Gabrielle's hair. Chosen, we gave you time to figure out you were pregnant before Xena could get back to Greece. We never dreamed you would think it was Bacchus and want to end your life.
What in Tartarus am I supposed to think? the bard demanded and Xena was amused, glad to see a flash of emotion other than despair from her mate.
Apollo, Artemis glanced up at the God, We blew it.
I guess, the God of the Sun shrugged. Gabrielle, my child, we wanted to give you time to adjust so you could tell Xena.
Adjust to what? Having a child of Bacchus? Gabrielle demanded.
No, Artemis protested. Bacchus isn't the father!
Gabrielle blinked repeatedly and Xena frowned deeply. Run that by me again, the bard demanded.
Bacchus isn't the father, Artemis repeated and glared at Aphrodite who giggled and clapped her hands at the news.
Then who, one of the men who was at the bacchanalia? Is that supposed to be better?
Artemis, explain already! Aphrodite demanded. I'm like dying of curiosity over here!
The Goddess stood up and the Greek couple watched as she closed her eyes and leaned her head back, letting the moonlight bathe her face.
After a few moments Xena's eyes spotted movement in the trees at the edge of the small clearing and pointed them out to Gabrielle.
Both felt their hearts jump when they realized it was the Forest Spirits from the North. Gabrielle stood up slowly, followed by Xena. The bard slowly walked to the family of forest deities.
Greetings, I am honored by your presence this far from your home, Gabrielle said respectfully.
Artemis rushed over and grabbed Aphrodite, a hand over the Goddess of Love's mouth to stop any comment or question from the goddess. The last thing the Goddess of the Amazons wanted to hear was Aphrodite's comments on the way the Forest Family was dressed, which was mostly in moss, bark and leaves. The Amazon Goddess walked over and stood next to her Chosen after releasing Aphrodite.
Because of what happened to Gabrielle in her battle against Alti and one of our dark Gods, Gabrielle thinks that the dark God is the father of the child she is carrying, Artemis explained.
The oldest male stepped forward and gently placed his hands on the bard's shoulders. His green eyes shifted into different shades as he looked into Gabrielle's eyes.
You are still wearing the necklace we gave you, he commented softly.
The bard touched the necklace of three tooled silver beads and leather and frowned.
Yes, you asked me too when you gave me the wooden sais to fight the vampires, she answered.
Then, child of the shining God, the Forest Spirit wife walked up and joined her husband. The child you carry is no one but of your mate.
Mate? Gabrielle questioned. Xena?
The beads were magic to hold a spirit child from your mate, the male explained.
Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle's waist as the bard's knees gave away.
Xena? Gabrielle whispered.
I'm here, little one, she whispered back, watching the eyes of the Forest Deities. Why?
The little one asked for help to return the balance to the forest of our land, the wife continued. She agreed that our help came at a price.
The price is a child? Gabrielle asked, regaining her feet, a flash of anger in her voice.
Not quite, the father said easily. Your child will grow up with talents, woodland talents. We ask that he or she be trained as a protector to the land, whatever land you live in. We ask for a champion of the land as you have been to the Amazons.
Gabrielle leaned back into Xena's arms and closed her eyes for a moment.
You're not demanding that my child join you at any point? she asked, finally opening her eyes.
No, we ask not for a loss from you but that your light spread through your child, the wife said easily.
What about my darkness? Will my child inherit my blood lust?
We cannot say of that, the father responded, beginning to back away from the group towards the trees.
Xena's sharp eyes noticed that she could no longer see the son and daughter.
Be well, daughter of light and dark, the wife said softly as she and her husband blended into the trees once more.
Gabrielle turned to embrace Xena tightly for a moment and then drew Sasha into the hug, the bard sobbing in relief.
Totally radical! Aphrodite exclaimed.
Xena, I can't take much more, Gabrielle whispered as the warrior sat down behind her and pulled the bard into her arms.
Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite and Sasha sat around the fire with the Greek couple.
I know, little one, Xena nuzzled Gabrielle's neck. Time for some answers.
Apollo and Artemis looked dismayed and Aphrodite looked somewhat amused at their discomfort.
What in Tartarus made either of you two think we could handle this better separated? Xena demanded.
We knew that it would be a shock when Gabrielle discovered that she was pregnant and wouldn't know how she had gotten that way. We wanted to give her a couple of days to figure out how to tell you, Artemis explained.
We never dreamed that she would think it was Bacchus, Apollo chipped in.
What was she supposed to think? Divine intervention? Xena snapped. She could feel the exhaustion radiating from her mate and her heart ached for the mental torture Gabrielle had been through.
Artemis blushed and looked away.
Gabrielle, we never meant to hurt you, Apollo said softly.
Gabrielle shook her head and leaned back into Xena.
Let us fix this as much as we can, Artemis asked.
How? Gabrielle has been through Tartarus, Xena demanded.
Tonight you'll be safe here from patrols and can rest and talk, Artemis said. We'll take Sasha back to your mother and grab Solan and Torris on the way. We'll explain things to your family.
Solan and Torris? Xena asked.
They were trying to track me, Gabrielle answered. I lost them yesterday when I took to the trees.
Xena shook her head, admiring her mate's resourcefulness, even when distraught.
We'll also leave you horses to get back on, Apollo continued. Gabrielle left hers when she lost your son and brother.
Sasha? Xena questioned.
Sasha looked at her two moms and smiled. Gabrielle looked so tired and sick, barely holding her head up. She could feel the pain starting to ease from her mum but it was still going to take time.
I'll be okay, Mom, she said easily. You need time with mum.
Xena nodded to the deities as she felt Gabrielle's head drop forward slightly. The God and Goddesses got up quietly. Each moved forward and touched the bard's head.
She won't be sick anymore with the child, Aphrodite said softly, her blue eyes filling with tears at the sight of one of her favorite couples.
The memory of Bacchus abusing her sexually will remain faded, Apollo whispered softly and Xena nodded gratefully.
Two days sanctuary here, no one will get close, Artemis offered softly. Xena blinked and discovered a full stocked camp, complete with Gabrielle's horse and Argo. Bedrolls waited for them.
Thank you all, Xena said simply and reached up from Gabrielle to hug their daughter. You be good and tell your Grandmother we're okay.
I will, Sasha promised.
In a flash the Gods and demi-God child were gone.
Xena moved a groggy Gabrielle into the bedrolls and quickly got out of her armor and leather tunic. She crawled in behind her bard and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle. The bard whimpered slightly and grabbed Xena's arms.
Gabrielle, Xena whispered, tears flowing down her face. I'm sorry, I should have been there. I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have sent you away.
The thought of Bacchus and the Bacchanalia flashed through the warriors mind and the physical tortures her mate had gone through and she growled softly.
Someday she'd find a way to make Bacchus pay.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and was surprised to find Xena sitting next to the fire cooking breakfast.
Remembering the night before the bard frowned and sat up slowly.
It wasn't a dream? You're here? she asked softly.
Xena smiled softly. I'm here, little one.
It's not Bacchus? Gabrielle asked, still frowning.
No, they say your child is both of ours, Xena grinned and brought a plate of deer and fresh vegetables to her mate.
How is that possible? the bard asked, reaching out and touching Xena's arm, as if to reassure herself the warrior was really there.
I don't know, how does half of what happens to us happen? Xena grinned.
Okay, I'll accept that one, Gabrielle smiled slightly.
Then Xena looked pained. Gabrielle, what you planned, she began.
The bard fought back tears as green eyes looked into blue ones. The warrior put the plates aside and pulled her mate into her arms.
Let's just leave it at me saying 'don't ever do that to me again!' Okay? Xena said softly.
Okay, the bard said gratefully. I haven't been thinking clearly since that damned place.
The bard's eyes narrowed at the sight of Xena's knuckles and the warrior winced when Gabrielle grabbed her hands. Green eyes flashed as Gabrielle inspected the scraped and bruised knuckles.
Xena glanced away, blushing slightly.
With a sigh Gabrielle suddenly realized what had happened.
You went out this morning and punched something, Gabrielle said flatly.
Yes, whacking a tree with my sword didn't seem enough this time, Xena admitted. Gabrielle, I almost lost you, again! The thought of you killing yourself over Bacchus made me crazy.
I'm sorry, Xena, the bard said softly, head downcast. I keep hearing his voice as he reached for me, his laughter as he whipped me and drank the blood from the strands of the whip. His moan of delight as he drank blood from my neck and from the wounds of my back. I couldn't take knowing I was carrying his child.
I know, I had to work some of that out, Xena explained. She was also worried. Apollo said that the memories of Bacchus' abuse would be a faded memory. What Gabrielle remembered was apparently clear. Xena wasn't sure she wanted to know what else Bacchus had put her mate through that Gabrielle wasn't remembering.
I don't remember much about last night, Gabrielle said slowly.
We've got two days without worrying about Roman patrols, Xena explained. They took Sasha home, and, presumably Solan and Torris.
We can rest a couple of days?
Yes, just you and me, the woods and the river, Xena smiled. As exhausted as we both are I suggest a day of swimming and sunning and nothing else.
Gabrielle smiled in agreement.
Joxer was sitting by the campfire and began wondering if Gabrielle was coming back or if his beloved bard had changed her mind after trying to explain to her family that she had left Xena for him.
She had been gone for three days but he was attempting not to worry.
A sound to his left brought the former soldier to his feet with sword in hand.
Joxer? a familiar voice called out.
It's me, he responded and grinned as Gabrielle approached the camp, leading her horse to where his was tied. In a moment she was in his arms and all doubt quickly fled as anxious hands began tearing at his clothing.
Joxer had always suspected that gentle and sweet Gabrielle was probably a wild cat in bed and he had been right, he thought. She was insatiable and he had been more than willing to try and keep up with her.
Joxer was willing to die trying. The warrior couldn't believe how happy he was with Gabrielle.
Later Joxer and Gabrielle lay in the shade of a tree, watching the breeze through the leaves as the bard's hand played across his chest.
How did it go with your family? he finally asked.
Fine, everything is going as planned. Everyone is right where they're supposed to be, she muttered sleepily.
What? Who is where they're supposed to be? Joxer was confused.
Hmmm? We are, lover, Gabrielle mumbled. Xena's family is back in Amphipolis and no longer looking for me, my family is in one place and we lost Meg.
Joxer frowned; he didn't like being reminded of the life they were leaving behind, especially his wife. He had never meant to hurt Meg but he knew he had and it was unforgivable. There was no excuse and no justification. Everyone knew he had always loved Gabrielle but that didn't excuse this, he thought. He thought he had moved past his desire for the bard and had taken vows with Meg.
Joxer loved Meg and he desired her and he had betrayed her but he wasn't strong enough to go back to try and make amends. In Gabrielle's arms nothing else mattered, not even his honor.
It didn't help that he sometimes didn't understand Gabrielle, her moods were erratic and he didn't feel the original connection with her at times. Joxer attributed it to her recent trauma and breakup with Xena and shrugged it off, especially since the sex was precisely as he had always imagined it, wild and untamed. Joxer frowned again, there was something missing though, Gabrielle's gentleness and the soldier found he did miss that, a lot. He tried to shrug that off as well, she had been through a lot recently, he reminded himself. His Gabrielle would come back soon.
Xena glanced over at her mate and noticed Gabrielle's frown and intense look. The warrior finished pouring both of them a cup of tea and sat down across from the bard.
The day had been spent fishing and swimming in the river and then sunning on the rocks. Fortune seemed to be finally showing some mercy on the couple and the day was warm and gentle. Xena had stirred the fire back up when the night began turning cool after dinner.
What is it?
Xena's heart always skipped a beat whenever Gabrielle looked up at her and had yellow eyes instead of her usual green ones. She knew the bard didn't do it intentionally but it almost always startled her.
The warrior found it disturbed her even more now, after going through the Bacchanalia and seeing Gabrielle turn into a full Bacchae. Before facing Bacchus in the Spirit Realm Xena had almost gotten used to Gabrielle's eyes changing as well as catching glimpses of fangs.
Xena had definitely gotten accustomed to the more pleasant side of Gabrielle's Bacchae side, incredible sex that accompanied the blood feeding.
Gabrielle scowled, It's changed, hasn't it?
How you see me now, Gabrielle said bitterly, looking away.
Xena lifted the bard's chin to look her in the eyes, her battle trained senses keeping her heartbeat a steady rhythm when yellow eyes looked at her.
No, Xena insisted. After dealing with vampires for two moons, it simply startled me. I almost lost you again to the Bacchae; I came so close to losing you. I couldn't take that!
Gabrielle sat their cups aside and let Xena pull her into an embrace. She felt Xena doing something the warrior rarely let herself do, cry.
You were gone for those five days and I was so lost, then that damned Bacchae thing and then you almost left again, the warrior cried softly, holding her mate tightly.
I'm sorry, Xena, Gabrielle felt tears streaming down her own face.
After a few moments the warrior pulled back and wiped at her tears and then at Gabrielle's. She tried to smile but then held Gabrielle close again.
The warrior knew neither one of them were emotionally up to a round of Bacchae sex and feeding. She gently turned Gabrielle around to sit between her legs and the bard leaned back into her mate with a sigh of contentment. Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle's ribs and the bard intertwined her fingers with her mate's.
An evening of watching the fire and stars while sipping their tea did much to continue the healing they both needed.
Later Xena took Gabrielle's cup and her own and placed them to the side. The warrior removed her wrist bracer and returned her other arm around Gabrielle's waist.
Its okay, Gabrielle, Xena whispered.
Gabrielle hesitated. It had been an insane time and part of her had been hoping that the Bacchae cravings had been broken when she actually died to save Xena and had been dead for five days.
To her dismay she had discovered the cravings were still there. Then that damned time with Bacchus when she had become a full Bacchae in the Spirit Realm and she was still blaming herself for giving in.
Gabrielle wasn't sure she trusted herself and the blood cravings anymore.
Xena sensed Gabrielle's hesitation.
Gabrielle, our connection brought you back when Bacchus had you, she said softly. He lost and we won. Do you remember the light radiating from you? The power of your true father, Apollo?
Yes, the bard closed her eyes and brought the warrior's wrist to her lips and lightly kissed the skin and the palm of her lover's hand.
I love you, Gabrielle, Xena said simply.
The bard kisses worked their way up the warrior's arm as well as tiny nips on the inside of the arm, causing the warrior's body to jerk in reaction as the Bacchae eroticism began to hit both women.
Xena hand roamed under Gabrielle's tunic, missing the days when the bard wore almost nothing, especially on top. The warrior missed feeling the skin of her bard, even with casual contact. How many times had that driven her crazy before they became lovers?
The warrior felt Gabrielle's quick intake of breath as her hand found the bard's lovely breasts and Xena moaned slightly as she felt Gabrielle's fangs extend and play over her wrist. Xena lowered her head to the bard's neck and bit down firmly, causing Gabrielle's body to arch in response and the bard to cry out.
The bard's head darted downward and Xena hissed as fangs sank into her wrist and her body began to shudder.
Then Xena felt a change in the energy and blinked in confusion, she could sense Gabrielle hesitate. Usually during their Bacchae lovemaking Gabrielle lead the way but the warrior could feel the tenseness in her mate's body and how Gabrielle stopped at her wrist.
Xena understood, with everything that the bard had been through, she needed to be reassured as if it were their first time together.
The warrior used all her skills to hold back the usual passion caused by her bard feeding from her, whether it was at her wrist or neck. Using her other hand, still caressing under the bard's tunic, Xena gently pulled up the edge of the fabric and bent her head to kiss Gabrielle's back. The angry red scars stood out brightly against the thin healed white scars of previous lashings. One set of claw marks showed distinctly against the lash scars and slave brand the bard had endured while a slave, the claw marks given to her from the Northern Amazons upon her initiation into the tribe. The only scars Gabrielle was proud of. New claw marks had been added by Bacchus, causing her shame.
Xena kissed each mark lovingly until she felt Gabrielle start shivering. After kissing all the bard's scars, the warrior started gently kissing Gabrielle's neck and shoulder. She heard the bard moan and the feeding on her wrist eased.
Xena whispered into Gabrielle's ear, "I love you, my bard. Please let me show you how much, how much I want to touch you."
Gabrielle's breathing became heavier and the bard nodded her head slightly. Her body had been stiff but began to loosen as Xena continued to kiss her way up and down Gabrielle's body, removing her clothing as she went. Once they were both naked, Xena eased Gabrielle down onto the sleeping furs, placing small and warm kisses on the bard's chest before coming up to the bard's mouth. She kissed her mate's bottom lip and pulled it gently between her teeth. Then, as like their first time together, their kisses became passionate.
Xena released her mouth and kissed her way down Gabrielle's chest. Reaching the bard's nipples she licked and nipped each one. Gabrielle's hips began a motion against her warrior until they were both wet.
"I'm right here, little one," Xena said softly in between nibbles and heard Gabrielle moan in pleasure, the bard's hands working through Xena's hair and across her shoulders. "Just you and me. I love you."
"Xena, no one but you, please!" Gabrielle whispered, her back arching under her mate.
Knowing that Gabrielle wasn't ready for any rougher sex, Xena softly kissed her way down the bard's body. As she positioned herself between Gabrielle's legs the warrior felt the bard stiffen. "I've got you, my love," Xena said softly as she ran her fingers up the inside of Gabrielle's thighs, staying away from the bard's center yet. "Trust me, little one. I won't hurt you."
Gabrielle sighed and Xena felt her relax, giving over trust to her warrior.
The bard jerked with a flash of memory of other hands and bodies and gripped the sleeping furs under her, she could feel Xena back off and wait patiently until Gabrielle relaxed again and nodded slightly.
"Think of a word to use when one of those hits, Gabrielle," Xena said softly.
"What?" Gabrielle questioned.
"A word to let me know to back off until you're ready and don't pick 'stop," the warrior teased and was delighted when Gabrielle lightly smacked her playfully on the head. The warrior had dealt with survivors before and was one herself, having been both the abuser and abused. She knew flashes would hit Gabrielle for a long time to come, especially during sex and the last thing she wanted to do was cause her mate any pain.
"How in Tartarus am I supposed to think of something when one of those hits?" Gabrielle complained.
"How about a color then?" Xena suggested, continuing to run her fingers over Gabrielle's legs and body, noting that the bard was beginning to react again.
"Gods, your touch is so nice," Gabrielle muttered.
"A color, pick a color," Xena smiled as Gabrielle's hips jerked when the warrior danced her fingers across the reddish blonde hair in front of her.
"Fine, fine! Red, okay?" Gabrielle demanded as Xena went to her lower lips.
"Perfect. You are so beautiful," Xena muttered as the bard's hands reached down to Xena's head and began running her fingers through her hair, holding the warrior's head where it was, to welcome Xena's attention.
Xena felt herself moan at the sound of Gabrielle's whimper as Xena began alternating between gentle licking and pressure with her tongue. Soon the bard was reaching a fevered pitch and the warrior held one arm over the bard's wonderful abdomen to try and keep the bard still enough to enjoy what Xena was doing to her.
Gabrielle screamed Xena's name and dug her fingers into the fur underneath her and felt her body tense. She cried out Xena's name again and collapsed back onto the skins below her.
Xena quickly moved up beside Gabrielle as the bard's body was wracked with tears and spasms. The warrior softly rocked her mate and whispered gentle words of love and support in Gabrielle's ear.
After awhile the tears subsided and Gabrielle looked up with sleepy eyes and a relaxed body. "Gods, I love you, Xena," she whispered. I'm sorry about Bacchus.
Xena wiped away a fresh tear from the bard's face and smiled gently. "It's okay, love, sleep now. I'll hold you tonight."
"As always," Gabrielle muttered, trying to resist falling asleep but her head fell onto Xena's chest.
"Shhh. I love you, my bard."
The warrior kissed the bard's head and sighed in relief when Gabrielle's breath evened out and became rhythmic. Xena breathed a silent hope that the bard wouldn't have nightmares tonight before falling asleep herself.
As Xena returned to the camp she found herself whistling and smiling, remembering the night before. Now that Gabrielle was healed physically, it was time to start healing the emotionally and mental parts. They had snuggled and kissed a little after the battle in the Spirit Realm but Gabrielle and Xena hadn't had time to reconnect before Artemis had taken Gabrielle to Greece, leaving Xena behind in the North. Now the night before had been a wonderful beginning towards healing.
Xena entered the camp area and found Gabrielle gone and the warrior frowned. Xena extended her senses but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. A quick look around camp in the early morning light told the warrior where her mate had gone. Clothing left behind and a towel draped over a tree branch.
Xena smiled. How many years ago had she awakened to find Gabrielle gone but a towel tossed over a tree limb to let her know where to find the bard? The day after they had finally declared their love for each other. The day they would become lovers.
So much had happened in their lives. She had a grandson and now Gabrielle was pregnant. Totally unexpected.
Now Xena felt like she did all those years before when she went to find Gabrielle. She wanted to make love to Gabrielle but she was nervous. Back then because it was their first time, now it was because it felt like it was the first time.
Xena thought it was a good sign that Gabrielle had left the towel for her to find, encouraging the warrior to come and join her. Xena hoped that Gabrielle was remembering that first time as well instead of the recent events with Bacchus.
The warrior removed her armor and grabbed a towel herself and walked the short path through the woods to the river.
As she rounded the trail, Xena caught site of Gabrielle and held her breath.
Xena felt like she had traveled back in time.
The bard was breath taking. Xena couldn't find the words. Gabrielle had already been in the water and was now on a smooth rock, leaning back on her elbows, letting the sun dry her beautiful skin. Xena felt her heart pounding as Gabrielle lay back on the rock, her naked skin shining in the sun.
Xena grinned and stripped out of her leather shift and left that and the towel on the bank as she slowly entered the water, trying not to make any extra noise. She almost yelped at the cold water though but gritted her teeth.
Exactly as she had so many years ago Xena ducked under the water and easily swam the short distance across the current and, with absolute silence, slid out of the water and up onto the rock where Gabrielle was sunning herself. With the grace of a stalking tiger, the warrior moved slowly and carefully up close to her bard and then, with an evil grin, shook her head quickly, sending cold water flying all over the bard.
Xena! the bard shrieked and then laughed as she sprang up into the warrior's waiting arms. Her lips were quickly captured by Xena's and Gabrielle pulled Xena down on top of her, moaning slightly at the feel of the warrior's cool and wet skin against her.
Xena pulled back and leaned on an elbow, looking down into the beautiful green eyes of her mate.
You goof! Gabrielle grinned. I remember, she whispered, reached up with a gentle hand and touched Xena's cheek and trailed her fingers over the warrior's face and lips.
You are just as beautiful as that day, Gabrielle, Xena whispered, gently kissing her bard.
All those years ago their first lovemaking had been with a sense of urgency of passion that had been smoldering for moons, if not years. Their bodies had come together quickly, now it was gentle and slow.
Xena's fingers began moving lightly over Gabrielle's skin, smiling at the beauty of her mate, occasionally frowning at the various scars she found, remembering where some of them had come from. An arrow from the Persian army, a knife wound from some forgotten bandit that had gotten infected and numerous slashes Xena presumed had come from Gabrielle's training and combat as a gladiator.
The bard's pulse quickened as the warrior's fingers danced over her skin. To Gabrielle it also felt very much like the first time for them. The bard had been so afraid that Xena wouldn't want her after what Gabrielle had been through with Bacchus and every time she got near Xena the memories would come flooding back. The events of the night before had done much to reconnect them and Gabrielle was grateful for Xena's gentleness.
The bard knew her reactions were normal after the abuse; she still suffered from nightmares from being attacked when she was a Roman slave.
Xena moved slowly, letting her lips follow her fingers, lightly kissing Gabrielle's skin. She would linger over a spot whenever the bard moaned in pleasure and would back off whenever the bard would stiffen with a flash of memory.
Unconsciously, Gabrielle's hands reached up and pulled Xena close to her, pulling Xena back against her as the warrior explored the bard's body. Her hands were all over Xena's back and lacing through her long raven hair.
Slowly Gabrielle felt her desire slowly returning and pulled Xena's body almost on top of her, her own back arching to meet the warrior's body as Xena's knee went between her legs.
The warrior looked into Gabrielle's eyes, green meeting blue and the warrior was pleased to see the desire darkening the bard's eyes and she felt herself moan.
"Yes!" Gabrielle hissed and Xena began a tormenting slow descent down Gabrielle's body with her hands, tongue and lips until Gabrielle was almost thrashing with desire. Xena groaned again and gently parted the bard's lower lips and was rewarded with Gabrielle growling and tossing her head back. "Xena, please!" she begged.
The warrior noted how wet the bard was for her and knew it wasn't from the swim. With ease she slipped two fingers into her lover and began her exploring with her tongue over and around lips and then slowly encircling the clit, causing Gabrielle to cry out with the intensity of the energy building within her body.
As always Xena was amazed at how her own body reacted to Gabrielle's cries and rising passion with her own energy build up, she usually let herself ride to orgasm with the bard. Today, she held back, focusing all her attention on Gabrielle, carefully watching and judging. Watching for flashes of memories to overcome the bard. When none seemed to crowd her mate, Xena increased her speed with her tongue and Gabrielle's voice hit a higher notch.
"Xena!" she cried out. "Harder, please!"
Xena complied and Gabrielle's hips matched the rhythm the warrior was setting with her fingers and tongue, entering Gabrielle harder and deeper and was rewarded with Gabrielle screaming her name again. Xena felt the bard's muscles begin contracting and she pulled on Gabrielle's clit with her teeth. The bard screamed as waves of her orgasm overcame her, again and again.
When she could breath again, Gabrielle found she was in Xena's arms again, being rocked and the warrior was saying words of love and comfort in her ear.
"Gods, you are always amazing," Gabrielle whispered, feeling like a limp rag at the moment.
The first time they had made love the bard had momentarily lost consciousness and scared her mate, now Xena was a little more accustomed to it happening whenever Gabrielle hit that high. It still unnerved her but also pleased her.
"I love you, Gabrielle," and lightly kissed the bard's lips.
Gabrielle moaned at the softness and the taste of herself on Xena's lips.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"For what?" Xena smiled. "I love you more than life itself, Gabrielle. Nothing will come between that."
"No one can do to me what you do," the bard whispered, beginning to nuzzle the warrior's neck.
"That's because we make love, not just sex," Xena agreed.
"Yes, big difference," Gabrielle agreed, lightly nipping at Xena's earlobe, sending shivers over the warrior's body while her hand began playing with Xena's breast and nipple.
"Gods, your touch is always like fire!" Xena moaned, her back arching.
The bard had pulled back and Xena wasn't surprised to see Gabrielle's eyes had changed from green to yellow. The bard hadn't taken much the night before because of her fears.
"Yes, little one," Xena said fiercely. The warrior sat up on her elbows, letting Gabrielle see the passion in her eyes. "Gabrielle, no more fear. I love you and trust you with my life and soul, even with this. Let it go, little one, and take back your power and control. I can handle whatever you need."
Gabrielle growled deep in her throat and felt her fangs extending as Xena's words sank in and the bard let the desire hit her body.
Xena saw Gabrielle's hands trembling and lay back onto Gabrielle's towel, pulling the bard with her.
"Now!" she hissed, thrusting her leg between Gabrielle's.
The bard growled and lowered her head to Xena's breast and her hand went between them. Xena screamed as Gabrielle's fangs sank into the area around one of her nipples and the bard's fingers entered her quickly, the warrior's body arching under the bard.
Xena clung to Gabrielle's back as their bodies rocked together. "Oh gods, little one!" The warrior thought she would go insane with the heights she was reaching; Gabrielle had never done that before!
The bard released her hold on Xena's breast and traced a trail with her tongue down the warrior's ribs and stomach, a slight reddish trail and Xena groaned at the sight. Gabrielle's eyes were still yellow and Xena whimpered as the bard's tongue danced over her clit, playfully watching Xena.
Xena could feel Gabrielle's fingers working deeper into her and concentrated on trying to relax for her mate as she bit her lip to keep from screaming as the waves began to build up.
"I love you, Xena," Gabrielle said softly. "Anything?" she questioned.
"Gods, anything for you!" Xena cried out, gripping the towel under her as her hips rocked, trying to take more and more of her mate.
Xena felt her voice break as Gabrielle's hand entered her and filled her. Both their bodies stilled for a moment as the warrior trembled with the sensation. Then Gabrielle began moving her hand slightly, expanding her fingers and pulling, causing Xena to whimper and cry out, her back arching again.
The warrior lost all contact with conscious thought and reality as Gabrielle's tongue found her clit and her fangs sank into her at the same time. The bard began feeding on both life juices of her mate as her tongue danced over Xena's sex and her hand filled her mate.
Xena's voice couldn't scream anymore as wave after wave hit her and darkness claimed her.
Xena woke up in Gabrielle's arms, covered by one of their traveling cloaks against the sun and wondered when the bard had gotten that to the other side of the river. She looked at the sleeping bard and smiled, brushing a stray strand of blonde hair from the bard's closed eyes.
"I love you, Gabrielle," Xena whispered, letting the bard hold her for once.
Gabrielle felt better than she had in an entire moon. The two days by the river in the woods had been exactly what they both needed and the bard thanked Artemis silently for ensuring their privacy.
She rode beside Xena and smiled over at her mate. The warrior also looked better than she had in months as well.
Seems like we've been on the run for seasons, Gabrielle said easily.
Seems like most of our lives, my love, Xena smiled. The bard blushed at the gruffness of the warrior's voice. The warrior having strained a couple of vocal chords during the intense sex the day before and then repeated again that night.
Do you think we can rest for awhile? the bard asked hopefully.
I hope so, especially with a little one of your own on the way, the warrior grinned and laughed at Gabrielle's blush. They were still trying to adjust to the realization that Gabrielle was pregnant but it wasn't a bad thing.
Gabrielle instinctively touched her hand over her womb with a frown. How could she have thought of ending her life and the life of a child?
Xena reached out and touched her mate's arm gently.
It's okay, the warrior said softly.
Gabrielle shrugged and attempted to smile.
Do you want a boy or girl? Xena asked, hoping to distract her mate.
Wow! Gabrielle exclaimed. Hadn't thought about it yet. I guess I don't care. Healthy is my choice.
I agree, the warrior smiled and then frowned as she looked up the road.
What is it?
Thought I heard something, Xena said and stopped Argo. Gabrielle stopped her horse and listened as well. Then they both heard the sound of someone shouting from the woods. Both hands were quickly on weapons.
Female, sounds in trouble, Xena said and urged Argo into the brush with Gabrielle following.
Xena jumped off Argo and rushed over to the figure in the trees near the river. The bard followed quickly and was surprised to see Xena trying to unlatch a metal trap from around a female's foot.
Both raised their eyebrows in surprise when the woman turned over and it was Meg.
Xena? Gabrielle? she exclaimed, surprise in her voice as well.
Meg? What happened? Xena asked as she worked at the trap. With a growl of frustration she got it separated and Gabrielle helped pull the leg out. Together Xena and Gabrielle examined the leg and ankle.
I came down here for water and was caught by this damn thing! the tavern owner snapped.
What are you doing in these parts? Gabrielle asked as she went back to the horses for their medical pouch, bringing it back to Xena. She handed Meg a water skin and the women drank gratefully.
Looking for you and Joxer, Meg muttered.
Both Gabrielle and Xena were dazed when Meg suddenly leaped forward and hit Gabrielle with a surprising right cross that landed hard at the bard' eye, sending Gabrielle falling backwards.
Xena jumped into the fray, attempting to pull an enraged Meg off her mate. Gabrielle had curled into a ball, her legs protecting her stomach and arms over her head. Xena managed to pull Meg back but found her physical twin a bundle of furious energy and a mass of struggling muscles.
The warrior saw Gabrielle sitting up with a confused look on her face as Meg screamed, attempting to break away from Xena and attack the bard again.
Xena yelled out in frustration and threw Meg over her shoulder and stormed down to the riverbank and threw Meg into the cold but slow moving water. The warrior then followed Meg in and pulled the sputtering woman out onto the bank.
You try that again and I'll put the pinch on you and it's not pleasant! Xena warned as Meg sat up and brushed her wet hair out of her eyes.
Meg cursed and held her throbbing leg, swearing as Gabrielle walked up slowly and cautiously.
What in Tartarus was that about, damnit! the bard demanded.
Where is Joxer? Meg shouted.
Joxer? What? Gabrielle looked at Xena but the warrior merely shrugged, as confused as her mate.
Where is he? Meg shouted and then burst into tears. Why, Gabrielle? Why after all these years. You could have had him at any time. Why take him now?
Meg, calm down, Xena urged, beginning to bandage Meg's injured ankle after retrieving the medical satchel. Now tell us what is going on?
A moon ago, two days after the first earthquake, Joxer went out to get more kegs of ale from the barn. He was taking forever and I went out to see what daydream had gotten a hold of him. Joxer and Gabrielle came flying out of the barn on horses.
Xena's eyebrow furrowed in confusion and she saw the same expression on Gabrielle's face.
I left your mother's tavern the day of the earthquake. I went to visit my family, I never saw Joxer, Gabrielle explained to Xena.
So you don't know where she's been, either, Meg snapped. They both had love bites on their necks and passion scratches. She smacked his horse and they rode off without explaining a thing! She was laughing at me!
Xena, I didn't go anywhere near Meg' tavern and I haven't seen Joxer, Gabrielle protested.
Same sais, same outfit, same horse, same Gabrielle, Meg countered.
Meg, where did they go? Xena asked.
I don't know. I lost them and I've been looking for them since. I thought she might run to the forest, Meg explained.
Xena, who is with Joxer? Gabrielle asked.
Meg, the warrior looked at her twin, recognizing the pain in the other woman's eyes. Gabrielle didn't take Joxer from you. I don't know who did.
She was wearing a small leather top and has fresh scars. Do you, Gabrielle? Meg demanded.
Gabrielle blushed a bright red. Yes, I do. A recent lashing left fresh healing scars.
Meg, it wasn't Gabrielle! Xena protested.
The bard sat down on the embankment next to Meg, careful to stay out of reach, however.
I swear by Apollo and Artemis that I haven't seen Joxer since we left Amphipolis. My love and vows to Xena are strong. I don't love Joxer like that Meg, Gabrielle said.
Then who has my Joxer? He thinks it's you, Meg demanded.
Gabrielle looked to Xena and the warrior could only shake her head.
Neither of them could answer the question.
Continued in Here Comes Trouble
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