See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
Marina emerged from the shelter, refreshed and ready for a full day of fun. She ran over to her mother who was sitting quietly, like a silent sentinel, looking out to sea. "Hello, mama!" She threw herself into waiting arms, surprised when Xena didn't answer. "Mama?"
"Nothing's wrong, sweetie. Why do you ask?"
"Where's Gabby?" Just as she spoke she saw Gabrielle emerge from the surf a short distance down the beach. She had no clothes on!
"Mama, what is Gabby doing? Where are her clothes?" Xena looked in the direction of her partner, who was shaking water off herself like a damp dog.
"Gabrielle is having a bath honey. You don't bathe with all your clothes on, do you?"
"But, mama, you're not supposed to look!" Marina grabbed her mama's face and turned her away.
"Why aren't I supposed to look?"
"Because it's not right!"
Xena tried very hard not to laugh at the indignant look on Marina's face. Her sense of decency was making a stand at this display of nudity. Gabrielle laid out a blanket on the warm sand, laying down to receive the sun's attention like some sun worshipper.
"What is she doing now?"
Xena glanced over to where her partner was lying. "Well, she can't very well put her clothes back on while she is all wet. She's just waiting for the sun to dry her skin before getting dressed again." Marina accepted that explanation.
Xena stood up and offered a hand to her daughter. "Why don't we go get some breakfast?"
"What about Gabby?"
"She'll come a little later. Let's go." Xena took the child's hand and they sauntered up the beach to find food, leaving Gabrielle to finish her bath.
After breakfast, Xena came down to find Gabrielle quietly soaking up the sun's rays. "Just what do you think you are doing?" Xena's voice had dropped an octave and she could hear the want in it.
"Just having a bath. Why?"
"You are shocking poor Marina. Never mind what you are doing to me."
"Well, what was I supposed to do? I stank like a horse and I needed a bath. I can't very well bathe with my clothes on."
"You're doing this on purpose, aren't you? Getting me back for yesterday?"
"Why would I do that? Xena, where am I supposed to go?"
"Further down the beach."
"How far is further down the beach?"
"About a league that way." Xena waved her hand frantically in the direction of the distant shore. Gabrielle couldn't help but smile at the older woman's flustered state.
"Xena, I'm far enough away as it is. You know very well that if something happens I don't know how to defend myself. The safest place at the moment is here."
Xena took a deep breath. "Yeah, yeah I know, but Marina is not used to seeing this and you're making it very hard for me to appear disinterested in front of her. You're not helping matters here, Gabrielle. You're dry now, so please get your clothes on. I'm barely hanging on by a thread." She practically threw the linen shift over her partner's body. Xena towered over the woman lying casually on the blanket, and her eyes couldn't help but scan down the perfectly sculptured body that had been on display moments before. She closed her eyes, trying to calm her raging emotions, and walked away, slowing retreating up the sand to find her daughter.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After breakfast Gabrielle found Xena seated under a tree bordering the beach. The woman seemed deep in thought while idly fashioning a reed doll for her daughter. She patiently waited for Xena's eyes to track to her, but finally gave up in defeat. Even clearing her throat didn't distract the older woman.
"Xena? Are you alright?"
"Hmmm? Oh, Gabrielle."
"You were deep in thought there."
"Just thinking, that's all."
"That must have been some pretty heavy thinking there." When Xena didn't answer, she continued. "I'm sorry about this morning. I should have had my bath earlier, while Marina was still asleep, but it was too cold. I suppose the last year and a half in slavery took away a lot of my inhibitions. I should have been more sensitive to your daughter."
"No, Gabrielle, you are right. She needs to learn that the human body is not something to be feared. We should take this opportunity to teach her about life before my family, friends and total strangers all try to change her." She took a steadying breath, trying to say what needed to be said. "As hard as it is, we have to control ourselves. She's too young to see this sort of thing."
"I know that only too well, but you make it very hard for me to control myself. The way you look at me just makes me want to be bad, you know what I mean?" She could see the tight lines around Xena's mouth. "I'll try, Xena. I'll try very hard. OK?" She offered a small smile to the pensive woman.
Xena said nothing. She needed to mend some bridges, and murmured, "I just can't believe a woman as beautiful as you could ever be interested in me." She saw blue eyes rise up to look into her own. "You are a miracle in my life Xena. You not only saved my life, you saved my soul." Fingertips lightly traced her cheeks, the rough skin catching on the fine hairs of her face.
"So when I see you staring at me like... like you want to devour me, well I just can't help but tease you a bit. It drives me crazy to drive you crazy."
Xena sighed deeply. How could she be angry with her? She felt exactly the same way. Placing the doll on the grass, she grabbed Gabrielle's smaller hands in her own. "Do you know what I said to Antillia that first day I saw you on the auctioneer's block?" Blond hair swayed from side to side. "I said nothing. I was struck speechless. Antillia thought I had gone nuts. I was waving my hands around like a mad woman."
"From the first moment I saw you, Gabrielle, I was lost. So utterly lost. It scared the Hades out of me."
I know only too well myself. Why do you think I fought it? Gabrielle could sympathize with her partner. It may have taken her a little longer than Xena to accept, but she eventually came to the same conclusion.
"So, I know how you feel. I thank the gods every day for bringing you into my life. The last ten years had all been worth it. For if I wasn't in Rome, I would never have met you."
This gave some insight into Xena she hadn't seen before. The last ten years of her life had been a living hell and for her to claim it was worth it, well it was certainly saying something that was for sure.
"And you are the beautiful one, Gabrielle. You take my breath away constantly. But if you want to tease me, please make sure that I can take advantage of it O.K.? It's hard to be left hanging all the time."
"Understood, but now you know how I felt yesterday when you came out of the water like some sea nymph. I was so wound up I could barely walk." A smile passed between them. "So, what's happening today?"
"I was thinking that we go for a walk up the beach that way." She waved her finger towards the long stretch of beach. "When I was out at the wreck yesterday, I thought I saw movement at the end."
"That's good, isn't it?"
There was silence. "Isn't it?"
"I don't know. The little voice inside me is telling me to beware. It's never been wrong before. You two are coming with me. I'm not going to separate us, just in case."
Gabrielle started to make a move to rise. "Before you go, I wanted to discuss something with you..." Oh Hades! "I want to teach you to use a weapon."
Gabrielle's head was shaking from side to side even before she voiced her concerns. "Oh no, no, no. That's your job, my warrior."
"At least tell me why."
"I, I just can't."
"What is it that scares you?"
"Nothing... nothing." She spoke too quickly, giving Xena a clue that there was something definitely stopping her.
"C'mon, tell me what's wrong. It's nothing to be afraid of Gabrielle."
"I just don't want to, alright?" Gabrielle started fidgeting, pulling away from her partner.
"I'm not asking you to kill anybody. I just want you to be able to fend off an attack that's all."
"I'm not going to use a sword, Xena."
"I didn't say anything about a sword. I was thinking of a staff. With your compact body and quick movement, you would be good at it. Would you at least try for me? Please? I'm worried about leaving you two alone without at least some form of protection."
Gabrielle stood, visibly agitated, and paced back and forth. Xena reached out, grabbed her hand and pulled her down to the ground. "Now, listen! Talk to me!"
How could she explain to her partner this unreasoning fear? "From very early on I was... taught that rebellion was not tolerated. Even as a child I was expected to tow the line."
Xena could see her struggling to express herself. This was something that Gabrielle had lived with for a long, long time. Something that was ingrained from childhood.
"Do you know what it's like not to fit in? That what you wanted to do was looked down upon? To be humiliated and intimidated into being what you just couldn't be? This... what you want me to do would have meant swift punishment, Xena. I don't know if I can do this."
How do I help her through this? She had always been encouraged to express herself and her spirit soared under the freely-given freedom. While she had been gently guided into adolescence, she had learnt from her own mistakes, not from what others had instructed her to do. This is what she needed to give her partner – gentle guidance and freely-given freedom. But there was little time and this was necessary. Maybe later...
"There will be no retribution here, Gabrielle. I can understand your dilemma, I really do, but you need to learn this. I'm so sorry."
"Because if we get separated for any reason, you are on your own. Just you. You need to be prepared for anything, Gabrielle. You have to do this - for you and for Marina. Look, we'll take it slow and steady. A little bit at a time, alright?"
Sighing deeply, Gabrielle knew that Xena was right. Every time she went off to hunt or fish or... whatever... it left them at a disadvantage. She could see the logic of it, but still, she found it hard to see herself able to attack someone.
"Let me think about it."
"Good enough." Xena stood and extended her hand down to the small woman and helped her up.
"Let's go get ready for this little jaunt."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The walk was postponed until lunch when Xena decided to hide their supplies, just in case. The uneasy feeling she had at breakfast had not gone away. While Gabrielle and Marina covered over a part of their supplies in plain sight, Xena moved the bulk of the goods into the forest. Some she buried and a second cache was placed on the wooden raft and hoisted into the canopy overhead. She didn't want to come back to find all of their supplies gone. Hopefully, the small pile of equipment left near the shelter would appease whoever might want to rob them.
They enjoyed lunch in companionable silence. Xena ate lunch pensively while mulling over in her mind what to say to her daughter. After last night, things could get embarrassing for all concerned unless she had a mother-to-daughter talk real soon. There was no time like the present.
"Marina, sweetheart, come here and sit down." The child settled at her mother's side and looked up with keen, intelligent eyes. Here goes nothing...
"I think we need to have a little talk about... Gabrielle and I." Blue eyes glanced over to green and Gabrielle sat back against a tree, mildly amused at Xena's discomfort.
"You know that I love you, right? And you love me." Marina nodded enthusiastically and threw her arms around her mother. Xena glanced over the child's shoulder in exasperation at her partner. Marina was puzzled but let her mama speak. Is this about love and stuff?
"I love you but I also love Gabrielle. And she loves me." Xena sighed. This was harder than she thought. She looked up at Gabrielle. Help me out here...
Gabrielle just shook her head in the negative. She was having too much fun seeing Xena squirm under the regard of one small child.
"Well, the love between you and I is different from the love between Gabrielle and I." Where am I going with this? Round in circles by the sounds of it. Let's try a different tact.
"Do you know about love between grown-ups? How they touch each other? Hug and kiss?"
Marina slowly nodded. So it was love... Could Gabby be her parent also? That thought appealed to her – both mama and Gabby could look after her.
"Well, sometimes they hug and kiss and... stuff." Xena could feel the blush creep up from chest. She heard the chuckles coming from a very amused Gabrielle, who was not intimidated in the least by the blazing blue eyes staring at her. She finally took pity.
"Marina. How do you feel about your mama and me?"
"Do you and mama like hugging and kissing?"
It was now Gabrielle's turn to blush. She heard the quiet chuckle next to her. "Yes I do honey. It's nice and warm and comforting. It's how I tell her I love her."
"Then why don't you just tell her?"
"That's one way, Marina, but sometimes grown-ups need to express it in lots of ways. By a simple touch, or a kiss, or a hug, or by simply saying 'I love you'. So if you see me give your mama a hug or a kiss, I'm just saying 'I love you' to her."
You think it's that easy Gabrielle? Just wait until she catches us. If her daughter had one-tenth the curiosity she had at that age she will be getting an education earlier than expected. Hope you're not worried about getting caught. What a sight that will be! She only hoped she didn't hit the child into next week if she thought they were wrestling and decided to join in.
Xena's libido struggled under the yoke of abstinence and she knew that if she didn't do something soon to solve this problem, there was going to be trouble. Perhaps in a day or so she could go looking inland for a spot for a more permanent structure with two bedrooms and a very thick wall.
What Gabby said, Marina understood. Why didn't mama just say that in the first place? Before she could stop herself, Marina blurted out, "Are you both my parents now?"
Oh boy. "Do you want me to be?"
The unruly mop of black hair bounced up and down.
"Can I ask you why?"
"Isn't that what people in love do? Have kids and look after them?"
"Yes they do, Marina. What would you like to call me?" Gabrielle could see the child was struggling for an answer.
"How about just call me Gabby for now. Maybe later we can come up with a better name. Is that alright mama?" Gabrielle thought she better ask the person most affected by this turn of events before she agreed. A larger unruly mop of midnight black hair bobbed up and down.
Marina jumped up and gave them a hug, each in turn, then sat down. A frown creased the child's brow and Xena immediately became anxious. "What's wrong, honey?"
She was pensive for a moment then answered. "My other parents were never happy like you two, and they didn't love me like you do. I never saw any of that love stuff. And that other man who used to come and get me. I didn't like him at all. He was angry all the time."
Xena's blood began to boil. "Did he do anything to you?" Gabrielle looked over in concern as she heard the steely edge in Xena's voice.
"No. He did nothing. He just came and got me to take me to you."
Xena couldn't help herself, but she wanted to know how much her daughter knew. "Did you know who he was?"
Marina nodded slowly and a lone tear trickled down the child's face, melting the hearts of both parents.
"Did he tell you?"
She shook her head. Marina could not seem to find the voice to speak. She paused for a moment and tried again. "I heard them talking. What did I do to make him hate me, mama?"
Xena held her daughter in silent comfort while she battled with what to tell her; the truth or something that would appease her young mind?
"I don't think it had anything to do with you, sweetheart. It had more to do with me. He knew that I loved you and he used you to hurt me." It broke her heart to tear down the child's father, but she didn't want her thinking that it was anything she did either.
"Do you understand? He never really got to know what a special child you are. He didn't want to know. But I love you with all my heart and I'm sure that Gabrielle does too." She looked up to find shining emerald eyes watching the two of them. "And we will do our best to love you and protect you."
Gabrielle studied her partner as she spoke and caught the quiet glow of love residing in those blue pools. While she felt the same commitment as Xena did, she silently wondered if this promise could stand the pressure of the outside world when they got home.
The three of them sat quietly for a while absorbing the conversation they just had. For the moment, things would be fine.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The sun had just passed its mid-point in the sky when they set off down the beach. Each carried a backpack, loaded with supplies in case the afternoon walk became an overnight camp. Xena had found each of them a 'walking stick' as she called it, but Gabrielle knew it was a staff. She was trying to get her used to the idea of carrying it.
Marina stopped and started all the way down the beach, picking up shells and rocks and running back to show the two women, who walked side by side. Xena felt she should have brought another bag as Marina's stash of shells and rocks steadily grew. She had to resort to surreptitiously dropping the occasional shell when her daughter wasn't looking.
They reached the spot that Xena estimated had been where she had seen the movement. Gabrielle asked Marina to show her the shells she had collected while Xena studied the area. Someone had been here but the fire pit was cold to the touch. It hadn't been used for at least a day. She looked back down the beach to where their shelter was and realized they were in plain sight of whoever was here. There was no way he could have missed them. Why all this hiding?
Her search area expanded and she found footprints heading down a well-defined path towards the centre of the island. Further exploration down that path was necessary, she knew that. What if there was a whole village down there? What if they weren't really shipwrecked at all? Xena felt a bit sheepish at the thought that she could have possibly got it all wrong. While one part of her wanted to go off after the mysterious stranger, another part pleaded caution. After all, there was no hurry. The path was fairly easy to find and they could come back when they were more prepared.
"Let's go back." Xena herded her little brood in the direction of their shelter.
"Didn't find what you were looking for?"
"Yep. Found a path."
"Then why aren't we following it?"
"Because, Gabrielle, we are not prepared for it or whatever danger there is in there." She cast a glance to Marina, making sure Gabrielle saw her. The younger woman remained silent for the time being. But knowing Xena, she doubted that she would be content to sit back at their shelter and do nothing.
Continued in Chapter 4
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