See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
Xena slowly came back to her senses a long time later. A small hand was patting her cheek and a tiny voice was calling to her. "Mama! Mama! Wake up, mama! Gab ... Gab ... Gab ... lilelle says I gotta ask you if I can play. Please mama, wake up! I wanna go play!" Blue eyes slowly opened to find a young face inches from her own. Smacking her dry lips, Xena nodded her head slowly and the child ran off in search of adventure.
"Don't go too far!" Xena tried yelling but it came out no more that a harsh croak.
"I won't!" The child's voice carried back to her on the warm breeze.
What time is it? She looked up at the sun to find it nearly at its zenith. Great MotherHera! A good eighteen candlemarks had passed. She knew she had been tired yesterday, but she had never slept that long in her life.
"Well, hello there." Gabrielle's voice was a welcome balm to her tired and aching body. "I think I should be thanking you for saving our lives." Xena's gaze softened as she looked on her heart's desire.
"No need to thank me, Gabrielle. It was only self-preservation on my part."
Xena could see the quizzical look on her partner's face. "If I hadn't rescued you then my life would not have been worth living."
Who knew Xena was such a romantic? Gabrielle reached out her hand and brushed away her lover's errant dark locks.
"So what have you two been up to while I had a nice sleep?" They both knew she was changing the subject and decided it was probably for the best at the moment.
"Well, your daughter has been itching to go and play. I kept her busy as long as I could. As you can see, we've found some dry wood for a fire at least. I was waiting for you to tell me what to do next." Gabrielle looked over to her partner and as Xena contemplated the question, a slow, sexy smile crossed her lips.
"What I'd like to do next involves a bed, but that would need some explaining, and I'm not quite up to that yet. I'm sorry it's been so hard for you Gabrielle, but with Marina around it's been a bit awkward." She saw the look of sympathy in those pale green eyes. "I'll talk to her in the next day or so since it looks like we'll be here for a while at least. I'm not going that long without touching you!" She added a waggle of her well-defined eyebrows to illustrate her point.
Gabrielle let out a laugh at Xena's antics. Things may not be so bad after all. She moved her body into a seated position, preparing herself for whatever Xena was about to tell her. "So, what is our situation here?"
Xena thought for a moment. "Well, stating the obvious, we're shipwrecked."
Gabrielle gave her a look of astonishment. "No!" She pursed her lips before continuing. "Even I figured that out!"
Xena chuckled and looked out to the reef. The ship had broken in two but the two halves still seemed intact. "First impression is that we've been blown off course to an island that I didn't know existed."
Gabrielle's gaze dropped to the ground, then lifted to where Marina was playing. "So, it's hopeless then."
"Not hopeless, no. I don't have all the facts yet. I managed to salvage some of the goods off the ship yesterday when I found you. I'll swim out again this afternoon if you two are alright to manage by yourselves for a while. I want to get as much off the ship before the sea takes her."
Gabrielle nodded in agreement. Time was of the essence.
"Can you stay with Marina while I scavenge? I don't want her wandering off."
"Not a problem."
A large hand moved over to grab her much smaller one. Gabrielle looked up into vibrant blue eyes that shimmered in the noonday sun. "Don't worry, we'll be fine. I'll get a shelter up when I get back and there are plenty of fish out in the water. We won't starve."
"What can we do while you're out at the ship?" Her partner seemed to be bearing the brunt of the workload and she wanted to contribute her share.
"Well, a little more firewood would help if you can find it. Some branches or fronds that we could use for covering our shelter would be good too. And keep an eye out for any type of fruit or tubers that we could eat."
Gabrielle made a mental checklist, ensuring that the jobs would keep her little helper close at hand and busy.
She's asking. That can't be good... "Yeah?"
"Can you cook?"
"Er, yeah. A little. Why?"
"That's good, because I can't."
Well, here's my contribution to this little adventure. "You may change your mind though. I haven't had a lot of practice lately."
"Honey, as long as it isn't incinerated, I'm there."
"In that case, while you're out there, see if you can find a pot or two to cook in."
"I'll try. In the meantime, how about I see if I can catch a fish or two for lunch?"
"Sounds good. Can you help me with the fire before you go?"
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Marina watched her mother with her new friend, Gablilelle. She turned her young mind to the problem, trying to figure out what was going on. She absently patted the wet sand into a pile, adding more and more until it was up to her chest. They had kissed. What did that mean? It wasn't like when she and mama kissed. She compared it to all the events of her life, trying to find that elusive jigsaw puzzle piece that would make the picture whole.
The two adults sat together, heads bowed in quiet conversation. Her mama reached for Gablilelle's hand and kissed it. She knew that mama really liked her but how much? She had a faint memory of seeing a young couple back in Rome who acted this way. What was it her teacher had said? They were in love. She didn't fully understand what that meant, but they acted like how other mamas and papas acted towards each other. She studied the two women closely, noting their nearness to each other and the easy conversation between them.
Do they love each other like other mamas and papas? They seemed happier together than the mama and papa she had when she was growing up, who acted as strangers both to her and to each other. She knew they didn't want her but they had to look after her. The only thing that had made it worthwhile was the time she had with her real mother - those little spots of sunshine in an otherwise drab life. So, could she accept these two women in front of her as her new parents? I think so.
Her mind put the piece into the puzzle and to her it was complete. She would consider Gablilelle as part of her family. As to what that entailed she had no idea yet but now that her mind had given it a name, she was content with the way things were for the moment.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Now you two behave while I'm gone." Xena couldn't help but smile at her small family. Despite their dire situation, she was very happy to have the chance to spend time with them without the intrusion of civilization. "Here, take this." Xena handed over a dagger to Gabrielle. She could read the question on her face before Gabrielle even asked it. "Just in case." Her eyes flickered down to Marina. "You could use it to cut down fruit and dig up anything worthwhile."
"C'mon Gab .. Gab .. li . lelle." A small hand grasped her own and tried to drag her away.
Gabrielle lowered herself down onto one knee. She could see the child was having trouble getting her mouth around the Greek name, having only spoken Latin all her life. "Marina, come here. How about you call me Gabby?" She looked up to the benevolent eyes of her partner. "Only you though. I know your mama can say my name." Please, oh please keep saying my name.
"Gabrieeelllleeee". That low alto voice pierced through her to her core, setting off a wave of tremors through her body. She looked up to piercing blue eyes that shone with mischief. And you know it too, you wench.
One final glance and a 'be careful' look and Xena sprinted off down the sand to the water. She grabbed the two rafts and began her half-league swim out to the reef. Gabrielle grabbed the child's hand and they disappeared into the brush in search of firewood and food.
"So, honey, you gonna help me with some chores? Your mama is relying on us to help her. You think we can do that?"
The young face nodded enthusiastically. "Look, there's some wood over there Gabby!" The child practically dragged her to the spot, Gabrielle having to lift her feet quickly on a couple of occasions to avoid tripping. She is so much like her mother.
She had a momentary pang of her own. What would it be like to have life growing inside me? To have the child grow up to look like me? Her thoughts stopped when she thought of her current situation. If she stayed with Xena, and she knew that was pretty certain to happen, then the odds of her ever having a child were poor. She would only want to have Xena's child but the impossibility of that left her with only one other choice. If she really wanted one she thought Xena wouldn't object, but would she end up killing anyone who came near her? She put herself in Xena's position and hoped she could be magnanimous enough to let it happen. Who am I kidding? I'd kill them all.
She put the thought away for another day and helped Marina, who was struggling with a tree branch that was nearly as big as she was. They began dragging dead wood towards the beach.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The waterline in the wreck was now up to her knees and she was wading through rooms that, up till yesterday, had been mostly dry. As requested, she found the galley and managed to find a pot or two, a skillet and some utensils. She carefully searched the stores for any food that could be salvaged. Sealed pots were carefully checked and some valuable herbs and spices were a pleasant discovery. She found a couple of canvas sacks and began filling them with small items that had been missed on her first search yesterday.
A couple of short swords had been found tucked away in the Captain's cabin and she took them. Since the rescue yesterday, the safety of the three of them weighed heavily on her mind. While her own fighting skills were more than adequate to protect them from danger, she knew logically that she couldn't protect them twenty-four candlemarks a day. That would mean that Gabrielle was going to have to learn to defend herself.
She looked down at the sword in her hand. Could she ask Gabrielle to kill someone? Despite her life, she knew Gabrielle was still an innocent inside. So what could she teach her? She had an answer, but would Gabrielle agree to it?
Xena searched both halves of the wreck for another couple of candlemarks, pain-stakingly going through each cupboard and box for anything they could use. She had managed to fill up the two rafts again, and felt that they could be quite comfortable with what she had found.
In one last final sweep of the entire ship, she found a piece of parchment that had fallen to the floor and ended up under the Captain's bunk. She tucked it away in the canvas bag for later perusal.
Standing on the broken deck in the afternoon sun, Xena closed her eyes and let the warm breeze flow over her damp skin. She could almost feel the floor beneath her sway. It was a feeling she had never gotten tired of. Her eyes turned towards the beach and saw two small figures moving around. Scanning up and down the beach, she thought she saw movement up the far end. Had someone survived? That was possible.
Tomorrow she was going to have to go looking for other survivors. Today, she would make her family comfortable. She spent a moment longer absorbing the feel of the sea before diving into the water and steering her precious cargo back to dry land.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Gabrielle felt that their search had been quite successful. A pile of dead wood sat in the middle of the sand near their fire. An even smaller pile of food sat next to it, a handful of figs and a few tubers being the most exciting discoveries from a full candlemark of looking.
Marina was getting restless, so Gabrielle had her help put everything out to dry on the warm sand. There was nothing worse than trying to sleep with a wet blanket. This gave her the chance to look through what Xena had found on the ship the day before. There was some dried and salted food that could be added to the stores, plus any fish that Xena could catch. As she had said, they wouldn't starve.
Gabrielle joined Marina at the shoreline and helped her build a castle out of wet sand as Xena slowly made her way towards the beach. Marina's skin was getting a little pink and she felt her own skin prickle with sunburn.
She was about to move back towards the shade of the nearby trees when she looked up and saw Xena emerge from the sea. "Sweet Aphrodite..." The woman stood up in the water, cascading droplets in all directions as her flimsy cotton shift clung to her, outlining every muscle and sinew in sensuous detail.
Gabrielle had never felt a hunger so deep as she did looking at this woman who strode out of the sea like a nymph. A siren more likely - her attraction reaching so deep inside that she thought she would die from want. Those blue eyes, that outshone the sea from which she had just emerged, looked deep into her own and held an answering glow. If the child had not been there, she would have taken her there and there on the sand.
Xena watched in amusement as Gabrielle quietly panted. I must have been a picturecoming out of the water, if that look is anything to go by. She couldn't help but react to Gabrielle's sensitised state. I can't wait much longer.
"So, what have you two been up to?" Is my voice lower than usual? She thought Gabrielle was about to dissolve into a puddle. Must be...
Marina watched the exchange with some confusion. It's this love stuff again... "Come on, mama. You said you would build a shelter. Can I help?"
"You sure can, sweetie. First, let me get this stuff off the rafts and then we'll start." She turned to a bewildered Gabrielle. "How about you build up the fire while shortie and me here start on a shelter?"
"Huh?" She was having enough trouble trying to collect her scattered wits, let alone trying to get anything comprehensible out of her mouth. Nothing ... nothing had affected her like this. It was all she could do to stop herself walking over to the woman. C'mon, stop this! There's nothing you can do about it at the present.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The shelter went up without incident and the three of them sat around the fire eating dinner in the dying light. "So how was today, Marina?" Xena suspected that her daughter saw this as one big adventure.
"Mama, it was fun. Gabby and me found lots of wood. Can we go back for more tomorrow?"
"We sure can. In fact, we'll go for a little walk tomorrow. You like that idea?"
"Can we? You and me and Gabby?"
"Sure can, little one. It's been a long day and it promises to be an even longer one tomorrow. How about you get some sleep?"
Marina came up and gave Xena a big hug and a sloppy kiss. She threw herself into Gabrielle's waiting arms and did the same. "Goodnight, mama, Gabby."
The two women joined in unison, "Good night."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Xena looked across the fire to a pensive Gabrielle. Dark emerald eyes caught her attention and smouldered with unfulfilled desire. Oh by the Gods! The poor girl looked like she was going to explode. Both sat in silence, impatiently waiting for Marina to fall asleep.
Xena stood and looked inside the shelter at her sleeping daughter. Without a word, she extended her hand to the seated woman. Pulling her to her feet, Xena steered Gabrielle into the forest behind them. When they were at a suitable distance, Xena turned her around and pushed her up against a tree. Passions overrode any hint of propriety. They were both too far gone to worry about where they were and time was short.
It had been way too long and the simmering tension that had been present since the afternoon sent them both into a frenzy. Love was shuffled to the side as lust, passion and want drove their desires to a frantic pinnacle, ending in them both sated and panting.
Xena's ears listened for any sign that the child had woken. She pressed her forehead to the smaller woman plastered against the tree in front of her. "Sorry."
"Please, don't be sorry about this."
"Never. I'm just sorry that I had to resort to a tree instead of a bed, my love. You deserve better than this." As an afterthought, "I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"Don't be silly. Did you hear me complaining? Gods, Xena, that was amazing."
A sexy smile crossed Xena's face. "I aim to please."
Gabrielle swatted her shoulder. "Very funny." Under the light of a full moon, she looked into the cooling azure eyes, still seeing desire swirling around in their depths. She pulled the dark head in and lovingly kissed her, searching out and finding her lover's tongue in a slow, sensual dance of seduction.
Gabrielle flipped them over so Xena was leaning against the tree. "My turn," she whispered, and then slowly and deliberately showed her lover how much she had come to mean to her.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Back at camp later, "I'm going to have to talk to Marina, aren't I?"
"You don't have to Xena. If we can keep control of this and be careful, she doesn't have to know." Gabrielle knew logically the smart thing to do would be to protect the child from sexual matters. Wasn't life hard enough to cope with at the moment without throwing in sex on top of it? She felt a pang of hurt that maybe Xena didn't want to acknowledge their relationship to the child.
"No. She has to know. After all, next to her, you are the most important person in my life. She should know that." She looked down to find her large hand captured by two smaller ones.
"I'll find a way." The thought terrified Xena.
"WE'LL find a way," Gabrielle reassured her.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Chapter 3
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