THE OIL OF LANIUS
Copyright Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, Iolaus, Joxer and other characters mentioned in this story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction and no profit is sought from this. The same goes for any song lyrics I have borrowed. It’s just for fun!
Violence Disclaimer: There is little violence in this chapter but there are references towards the violence contained in Chapter 2. Please do not read if you feel that would distress you.
Subtext disclaimer: Gabrielle and Xena are lovers. There is no graphic sex in this Fiction. If this bothers you (the lovers’ part rather than the lack of graphic action, but I am guessing that will bother some!) or is illegal for you to read in your neck of the woods, please do not continue.
Hurt/Comfort Disclaimer: Definitely fits into this genre. If you feel it would distress you, please do not continue.
Angst Disclaimer: This Chapter is full of it!
Author’s note (1) Thank you to the kind people who have sent me e-mails. I do appreciate them greatly. Comments, tips, hints and constructive criticisms will be most welcome. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will reply.
Author’s note (2) This fan fiction is set after season 3, but it disregards season 4. Gabrielle and Xena have been reunited but there is no Alti, India or vision.
Summer turned to winter
And the snow it turned to rain
And the rain turned into tears upon your face
I hardly recognized the girl you are today
And god I hope it's not too late
It's not too late
'Cause you are not alone
I'm always there with you
And we'll get lost together
Till the light comes pouring through
'Cause when you feel like you're done
And the darkness has won
Babe, you're not lost
When your worlds crashing down
And you can't bear to fall
I said, babe, you're not lost
“How was your day?” Xena walked into their hut to see Gabrielle staring out of the window lost in thought. Xena put down her weapons and walked over and crouched next to her. Gabrielle jumped slightly as if surprised.
“The usual,” she said quietly and shrugged.
Xena swallowed. Getting Gabrielle to talk was becoming more difficult. Xena’s relief that Gabrielle would start to open up regarding her attack was short lived. She had closed herself off from everyone, and had become cold and insular. They had been in the village for over two months and the most visible reminder of Gabrielle’s ordeal was a splint on her left arm and hand. She wore a long tunic that covered up the whip marks, although the majority had healed well. All her bruises had faded, and she was able to walk around without a limp.
Their relationship had slowly disintegrated. Xena could have understood it more if there had been a flashpoint, if the bard had got angry or blamed her for the attacks. It was the indifference and apathy that Xena detested. So unlike Gabrielle. She was polite, but cool to Xena and the caring, sharing playful sides of their relationship had vanished. The warrior was beside herself with fear that Gabrielle would leave her but also frustrated that the bard didn’t share any of her emotions. Xena knew how destructive that could be. And as she got more irritated she got angrier at the bard which in turn made the bard even more withdrawn, and Xena more frustrated. She had shied away from any physical contact from Xena for the last month. The only exception was during the night when the nightmares came. Xena found a kiss and a hug settled her down and Gabrielle wouldn’t let go bringing a smile to the warrior’s lips. However that was only while the bard was half asleep, Xena made sure she released her hold and moved to the edge of the bed before the bard awoke fully.
That was the only physical contact they had, all of the caring little touches, caresses and kisses were gone. Xena was shocked how much she missed them. She had been so used to having her own private space; in fact she welcomed it, until the bard came along. Gradually a hug, a kiss, a soothing hand became the norm and Xena found she was aching for them. The warrior princess felt like she was living with a stranger-who was becoming more distant every day. Gabrielle appeared to have little interest in anything-Xena, her scrolls, food, even her Amazons. Xena knew how worried Ephiny, Piri and their friends were about her; even their gentle probings were met with resistance and unresponsiveness by the bard.
“Now what do you want for dinner?” A further sign of her isolation was that Gabrielle had been taking her meals in her hut away from the throng in the dinning hall. Xena had been fetching dinner for them both.
“You choose, anything is good,” said Gabrielle with no enthusiasm.
“I think cook has made nut bread again,” Xena said with a forced grin. “She must be trying to get in your good scrolls. I’ll see what else there is, be back in a moment.” She headed out of the hut and across the village to the dining room. Within minutes she returned laden with two plates full of stew and a loaf of nut bread, but on entering the hut she heard a gentle snore and found the bard asleep on the bed. She cursed, put the food down and covered the bard up without waking her. This had happened too many times before. Xena lost count of how many times she had eaten alone. She sighed and was about to settle down for another solitary meal, when she shook her head. She jumped up and grabbed her weapons and stormed out of the hut.
She marched to Epinon and Solari’s hut. She banged on the door with her fist. Epinon came to the door. “Xena, what can I do for you?”
“Ten of your best fighters, Pony. The practice field. Now.” Xena stood there breathing hard, her eyes blazing with anger, her body taunt as a coiled spring, containing as much tension. Epinon took one look at her and nodded.
Xena turned on her heels and left before Epinon could say anything.
Solari joined Epinon at the door and watched Xena walk to the practice field, totally oblivious to everything that went on around her. “Get ten you can trust,” said Epinon. She didn’t want any of the Valasca supporters witnessing Xena like this if she could help it. “And Eph; She’ll want to know.”
There was a small crowd that gathered on the field. The news had spread quickly within the village. Epinon stepped forward towards the impassive Xena. She threw her a practice staff. Xena gave it a cursory examination, looked up and then nodded at Epinon. Within seconds they had begun, and their intricate but deadly dance started.
Xena welcomed the physical activity. At least this was something she could control. She could push the horrors of the past months, the feeling of helplessness that at times overwhelmed her, her fear that the precious bond between her and Gabrielle would be irrevocably shattered. Xena felt energised as she always did when fighting. She was enjoying the freedom, the movement, and the challenge.
Epinon was dispatched with a blow to the ribs, and another Amazon took her place. All were fine fighters, but no match for Xena in this mood. Walia got a blow to the side of her face, but apart from that she was untouched until Aella. Aella was the last fighter, and Xena was tiring slightly. Despite calls for her to stop, she continued, and continued to fight with panache but she was caught across the shoulder and then the ribs. Momentarily stunned, she shook her head, and then rushed at Aella. She didn’t reach her destination because Epinon blocked her path and Ephiny strode up and wrestled the staff from her hands.
“That’s enough Xena.”
Xena looked at Epinon, dumbly.
“Xena, look around. You’re through everyone.” Epinon pointed to the assortment of amazons holding various parts of their anatomy in discomfort.
Xena looked momentarily shocked and then bowed her head.
“Piri’s got more than enough work.” Ephiny grinned and put her arm around the warrior who suddenly appeared vulnerable and nervous. “OK people, “she shouted. “Show’s over. Any injuries see Piri or Clonie.” She watched as the crowd started to drift away.
“Come for a drink Xena.”
Xena nodded, shook off Ephiny’s arm and started to walk towards Ephiny’s hut.
Xena sat down at a table. Epinon and Solari exchanged looks, while Ephiny poured wine into four cups. No one had said a word on the way back. Ephiny handed the cups around and Epinon gave Xena a wet cloth to wipe her face. She took her time wiping the sweat and dirt from her face, and when she finished and looked up she could see three pairs of eyes boring into her.
“Xena?” said Ephiny, simply.
Xena grasped her cup and finished the wine in one gulp.
“What happened?” asked Ephiny again. She knew that it was concern over Gabrielle that caused Xena to react like this but she wanted Xena to admit it. Epinon had refilled Xena’s cup and again Xena again finished it in one gulp.
“Nothing,” said Xena eventually. “Nothing happened, just as nothing’s happened in last couple of months.” She shook her cup at Epinon who exchanged a questioning glance with Solari and Ephiny before refilling the cup.
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help her.” Xena looked away, not wanting her friends to see the depth of her vulnerability. They now exchanged knowing glances.
“Tomorrow, Piri can examine her fully. You too.” Said Ephiny.
“What good will that do?” said Xena irritably. “It’s up here.” Xena tapped her head. “Yes she’s looking a little pale, but she’s been through Hades.”
“Maybe it’s something obvious,” began Solari, “something that has been overlooked.” She could feel herself wilting under the intense glare of the warrior princess, who had downed her third cup of wine. “Head injuries or fevers can change people’s personalities,” she said quietly and quickly and looked away.
“I’ve been with her every day. I would know.” Xena spoke frostily.
“Look it’s been a long day,” Ephiny looked from one to another, and sensing that an emotional and increasingly intoxicated warrior might not be ready to have an in depth conversation regarding Gabrielle. “Xena tomorrow, Piri can check you both over. I’ll invoke the code if I have to. We can’t go on like this. This is not Gabrielle, and we need to help her. And you.” She added as an after thought.
“Thanks.” Xena nodded brusquely and gathering up the wineskin left the hut.
Why did I ever drink all that wine thought Xena as she opened her eyes and then shut them quickly? She managed to open them slightly and peer through the slits around the room. Good it’s not spinning. Just my stomach then. She raised herself gingerly into a sitting position and looked across the bed. Gabrielle was gone. She put her hand over her eyes for a few seconds and then heard, “Not like you to sleep in.” As was usual recently the voice was devoid of emotion. Xena put her hand on the bed and saw a fully dressed Gabrielle looking at her.
“Late night,” said Xena and looked at the wineskin she had left on the table. Gabrielle said nothing but stared at the bruises that had formed on Xena’s face and arm. “Drilling. Don’t worry you should see the other guy.” Xena’s weak smile faded as Gabrielle didn’t respond to the old joke. “Piri’s going to look at them today.” She took a deep breath, she knew the bard wouldn’t be impressed at what she was about to say, “And you. Ephiny thinks it would be a good idea to make sure all your injuries are fully healed. And so do I. No arguments Gabrielle, Piri will invoke the Healer’s code. She’ll have you removed if you don’t allow her to examine you.”
Xena watched as for a heartbeat there was a look of panic on Gabrielle’s face, but then the bard turned from her. Her eyes followed Gabrielle as she moved around the hut, still with her back to Xena, and when she eventually turned around she was carrying a cup of water. She sat on the edge of the bed and placed the cup on table by the side of the bed. Xena could hardly breathe as she watched Gabrielle’s right hand slowly move towards her face. The sensation of the soft fingers gently stroking the discoloured cheek was so welcome, so yearned for; Xena could sense or feel nothing but them. She swallowed and shut her eyes, revelling in the touch that she had craved for so long. She knew she couldn’t say anything or touch Gabrielle; her instincts told her then this magical moment would be lost. She opened her eyes and stared into green eyes full of pain. For a moment their eyes locked and then Gabrielle looked down and spoke so quietly that despite their proximity, Xena strained to hear her. “Hurt again because of me. It’s not fair on you.” Gabrielle removed her fingers and Xena felt the ache of their loss instantly. “I can’t let you be hurt again.” Gabrielle appeared to be speaking to herself but then she looked up and spoke clearly, “Always know I love you Xena,” she said and gently moved her head closer and gave Xena a delicate kiss on her lips.
She abruptly stood up and turned and walked away from Xena. Xena was momentarily speechless, but when she recovered her wits called out, “Where are you going?”
The Gabrielle that turned around was again devoid of emotion. “I’ve a bit of work to do. I’ve got to see Ephiny.”
“OK, I’ll see you later,” said Xena.
“Good bye Xena,” said Gabrielle and left the hut.
Xena sat for several moments totally bewildered by the sudden change of personalities. She had seen her Gabrielle again for a brief moment but the hardened shell of a woman had returned so quickly. She didn’t know whether to feel hope that Gabrielle still obviously cared for her, or concern about her rapid change of mood. Conscious of her churning stomach she got up slowly, downed the cup of water and started to dress. She peered outside. The black clouds were gathering over the village. Must be a metaphor for my mood she thought, with irony. Be able to get a ride in before it rains she thought, and after grabbing two apples; one for her and one for the palomino she headed out of the hut.
Xena threw the hut door open and ran in. She had returned from her ride before the rain had started but as she was wiping Argo down the rain started and despite the short distance between the stables and the hut she was soaking.
“Gabrielle?” she called as she entered the hut. A glance around the hut showed her that Gabrielle had not returned since their chat. Xena quickly took her wet leathers off and after towelling herself down she put on a long tunic and trousers. Peering out the window she saw that everyone had taken cover, the village was deserted. The rain continued to hammer down. During her ride she had thought of nothing else other than this morning’s conversation, and Gabrielle’s peculiar behaviour. The more she thought about it, the more concern she felt, with a little kernel of fear starting in her stomach. She went to the closet and selected her winter cloak and hurried out the hut.
“You’re absolutely soaked, Xena. What are you doing out?” Ephiny got up from her table and helped Xena take the now sodden cloak off and hang it in front of the fire.
“Looking for Gabrielle. Is she here?” Xena kept her voice light, betraying the concern she felt.
“No she’s not,” said Ephiny. “She popped in earlier and said she had some work to do. I assumed she meant in your hut.”
“She’s not been back since this morning.” Xena’s tone no longer masked her concern.
Ephiny sensed this, “OK, maybe there’s an explanation. Perhaps she’s seen Piri or been called into sort out a problem.” Ephiny tried to think and talk calmly she could see the worry emanating from the blue eyes. “Aella,” she called.
Aella entered the room. “Can you ask Sol and Pony if they’ve seen Gabrielle? And Piri. Thanks.” Aella looked into the caramel eyes of her friend and read the unspoken plea. Find Gabrielle.
The only sound was of Xena’s footsteps as she walked back and forth as they waited for news. Ephiny knew it was senseless to talk to her while she was in this state. When the door opened, Xena ran to it, and couldn’t hide her disappointment when it was Solari, Epinon and Piri.
“Well?” said the warrior princess irritably.
“I’ve got people asking around and checking in every dry spot in the village, and beyond. Maybe she went for a walk and got caught out by the weather,” said Solari.
“So no one’s seen her then?” said Xena quickly.
“No, it would appear not,” said Solari quietly.
“I’ve got to find her,” said Xena heading out the door.
“Warrior wait! Let’s get as much information as we can before you rush out half cocked.” Piri approached Xena who was rubbing her hand through her hair. She stopped and glared at the healer.
“Gabrielle has disappeared that’s all the information we need at present,” retorted Xena, coolly.
“And she might be sheltering in someone’s hut,” replied Ephiny trying to keep calm. The tension was rising with every passing second. “She won’t be happy if you go charging around.”
“Like she’d care at the moment,” said Xena in an exasperated tone and she sunk onto a chair.
“What happened today Xena?” Piri asked.
Xena took a deep breath in. “For a few moments she was Gabrielle. She touched me, she showed emotion. Then bang, it was gone and she said she had work to do, and she said goodbye.”
There was silence. “What did you talk about?” asked Ephiny meekly.
“I told her that Piri wanted to examine her. That she would force her if necessary. She then said I’d been hurt because of her.” Xena fingered her bruises on the side of her face.
Piri nodded. “This ends now. We need to help her whether she likes it or not, “said Piri. Everyone nodded in agreement. “I want everyone to list their concerns or thoughts, no matter how bizarre or petty. There must be something we are missing.”
“How will that help find Gabrielle?” said Xena still angry.
“It might not, but it may help Gabrielle in the long term. Warrior, you are not the only person concerned about her.”
“I know,” whispered Xena.
“She’s so quiet,” said Ephiny sadly. “There’s no banter no laughter. She insists she does all the paperwork so she avoids talking to anyone. Me included.” She looked away blinking rapidly. Xena knew just how much that would be hurt the regent; their closeness was something that she had envied. “I ask her how she is and she says, “Fine” and that’s the end of conversation. She has no interest in anything.”
“We’ve noticed it too,” said Solari. “There’s no sparkle to her eyes, no warmth in her smile. It’s like we are dealing with someone else, not Gabrielle.”
Xena got up quickly. “Don’t you think I know that? Don’t you think every time I look at her I wonder what’s happened, whether she has finally grown tired of me, whether she blames me? Don’t you think I regret she followed me that I allowed her to see and do things that weren’t meant for her?” She screamed the words. “I don’t know what to do?” She cried and turned to face the wall. “I don’t know how to help her,” she whispered, an admission she didn’t ever want to make vocalised. Helplessness was not usually a feeling the warrior princess endured and the few number of times she felt it she didn’t enjoy it at all. The small fear she held was growing and frustration and anger were increasingly coming to the surface, despite her best attempts. She felt she was slowly unravelling, trying to keep an emotional lid on the past months events, was now impossible. The damn had burst and the emotions she had bottled up were threatening to overwhelm her. She was struggling to control them.
Piri got up and walked to her. She turned her around and held her. “Let us help you,” she said. “We’re your friends, please lets us help you help the queen. Let’s see if we can pinpoint a reason, anything that might help.” Xena nodded and slumped into a chair.
“But wouldn’t being viciously tortured and raped pretty much have caused this reaction,” asked Solari nervously? “We know what some of the women who come to us are like.”
“If she was like that from the beginning, maybe. But it wasn’t always like that? In the beginning you were as close as usual, weren’t you?” Said Piri. “She was recovering, she was talking about it. Something’s changed.”
“Does she talk about what happened now?” asked Epinon.
Xena shook her head.
“Did anything occur? A fight, any incident?” asked Piri thoughtfully.
“No,” said Xena in a crushed tone. “That would have made it easier if I could have pinpointed an event, but she just became quieter and more withdrawn. I don’t know what to say to her anymore without upsetting her. It’s like walking on eggshells all the time.” Xena got up and walked to the wall of the room and put one hand on it. “If I wasn’t such a coward I would leave her. Maybe she’d be better without me.”
Epinon walked to her and silently put her hand on her shoulder.
“I don’t think it is you, warrior because she’s the same with everyone.” said Piri thoughtfully. “Anything, people, anything at all.”
There was a pause and then Ephiny spoke up. “She rarely eats when she is with me. We always used to stop for a mid morning break, lunch, mid afternoon break, slightly later break, you get the idea.” Ephiny grinned. “I do ask her, she usually says she isn’t hungry or she’ll get something, but-“Ephiny’s voice drifted off as she became lost in thought.
“Regent?” Asked Piri.
“I thought I heard her retching. Come to think of it more than once. She said she was fine, as usual, and ended the conversation.”
Xena and Piri exchanged a glance. “She complained once or twice of nausea to me, but that’s it,” said Xena. “We put it down to the pain medicine. She rarely eats in my presence anyway. She seems to have completely lost her appetite and as she wears shapeless tunics and I haven’t seen her naked for a while, I can’t tell how much weight she has lost. “
“What?” said Piri sharply? “Didn’t you use the cream I gave her for the lash marks? She told me you did?”
“She told me you did?” echoed Xena. They looked at each other confused.
“She won’t let me touch her at all. It’s as if she’s frightened of me.” Xena fell silent and was thoughtful but then spun around with a look of realisation on her face.
“What?” asked Epinon.
“Eph have you seen her faint or pass out at all?” Xena looked straight at the regent.
“No, although a couple of times she rose quickly and had to steady herself.”
“It all fits. Oh Gods, oh Gods, “said Xena. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them her eyes were full of tears. She swallowed. “I think I know what part of the problem is. It’s what you said yesterday Sol, about being obvious. It is so obvious now, and we did overlook it. Oh Gods I missed it.” There were now tears rolling down her face.
“What Xena?” Asked Ephiny her voice full of concern.
“Gabrielle’s pregnant.” There were gasps after Xena delivered those words.
“Pregnant?” said Piri. “By Artemis, but, how, I never?” The healer appeared flustered. “She told me that she was cycling fine and you had sorted out her usual pain reliever.”
“That’s what she said to me; you treated her,” said Xena. “The not eating, the introspection, the tiredness and listlessness. It’s that. And that’s why it wasn’t immediate. She must have realised when she didn’t cycle. Shapeless tunics masking any body changes, the paleness. It is so obvious now.”
There was silence as they digested the news.
“How does that help us?” Asked Solari. “Why has it affected her so badly?”
“Her last pregnancy wasn’t planned either was it,” said Ephiny quietly. “And it must bring back memories.” She glanced at Xena who was looking stony faced.
“She must have panicked thinking Piri would find out as she was going to be examined,” Xena whispered.
“She’s run away,” said Epinon, and looked at Solari. “In her state she could have gone anywhere. We’ll check to see how the search is going and then we’ll organise a wider one.”
“Solari, Epinon,” began Piri.
“We won’t tell a soul.” With that Epinon and Solari left.
“I must go after her too,” said Xena. Piri put her arm on her shoulder.
“You need to figure out what you are feeling. This affects you too.” Xena looked at the healer and at Ephiny, Gabrielle’s closest friend. This revelation would hurt them too. “I don’t think she’s just run away. I think she might-hurt herself. I think she was saying goodbye this morning.”
Xena’s face crumbled for a moment.
“Go then, warrior, bring her back safely. But you need to sort out your feelings. Don’t promise anything that you can’t deliver, or you’ll be finished together. Good luck.” The healer gave Xena a stiff hug and left the room.
“I’m coming too,” said Ephiny quietly and Xena nodded and they hurriedly left and headed for the stables.
Xena automatically saddled Argo and mounted her. She had no idea how long Ephiny had been calling her name, but when it suddenly registered she saw the Amazon was holding a winter cloak. Xena grunt her thanks and took the garment. She tried to order her thoughts that were in turmoil. Her overriding concern was over Gabrielle’s safety. Even if she had not gone to harm herself, she was alone and at best soaked through, at worst; well Xena didn’t want to think of that. Her next instinct was of fury towards Lindos. She felt an urge to ride off and find Lindos and torture him in payment for the anguish that Gabrielle had gone through; that they were both going through now. But the thoughts of the baby kept entering her head unbidden. Piri was right; she had to sort out her feelings towards it.
Xena closed her eyes and the tears ran down her face and mixed with the rain. Gabrielle’s daughter killed her son, there was no denying that. Yet Gabrielle had abandoned her daughter and twice killed her. And sacrificed herself once in the process. For Xena. Only Hope wasn’t a child merely a vessel for her father. And despite the fact Hope was identical to her mother there was nothing of Gabrielle in her. That had disappointed Gabrielle and Xena knew that the bard would never forgive herself for what she thought was her own failings. Oh Gabrielle, how wrong you were she thought with a pang, but I never told you, never comforted you about your loss because it reminded me so much of my own.
Could she stay with Gabrielle and watch her belly grow large with another child? Watch her lavish love and affection on something that had nothing to do with her? Accept that their life would change so dramatically, that she would no longer be the number one priority in the Bard’s life? Could she accept the child despite its brutal conception?
She glanced across to Ephiny. Her face was emotionless but Xena knew how worried she was. If she chose not to stay with Gabrielle she knew that there was always a place for Gabrielle with the Amazons. Gabrielle and her child would be well cared for, revered even, within the bosom of her tribe. How would she feel if Gabrielle and Ephiny brought this child up together? She knew the depth of love the Regent had for Gabrielle. Xena shuddered. If she couldn’t face staying with Gabrielle and the child it was something she may have to. But could she leave her? Travel though Greece without Gabrielle. Live some sort of life without her soulmate?
She thought how happy Solon was when he thought he was to be travelling with them. She remembered fondly how well Solon and Gabrielle bonded. Her son worshipped the bard as she regaled him with stories, shown interest in his lessons and had shown him several moves with her staff. Gabrielle had loved her child unconditionally just as she loved his mother. There were plenty of choices she could make, but there was really only she wanted to. She took two deep breaths in and turned to look at Ephiny who was watching her intently.
“Let’s find her, Eph,” she said shakily.
The regent nodded and they peered through the rain into the gloomy forest.
Ephiny whistled a bird call and turned to look back at Xena. The shake of her head was redundant as Xena could tell from her expression there was no news. Xena slumped forward before straightening out. She gave Argo’s wet neck a pat. The rain was still falling steadily. Even though they had changed their cloaks they were soaked through.
“Which way?” asked Ephiny?
Argo raised her head and started to trot. Xena shrugged her shoulders.
“Good enough,” said Ephiny. And she swung her horse behind.
Argo picked up speed. Xena merely held the reins loosely and gave her horse its head. All of the sudden the palomino came to a halt. Xena looked intently all around, squinting in the murkiness; the rain and dark clouds robbing the usual afternoon sun. She closed her eyes in relief. She saw Gabrielle in a small clearing sitting on the ground.
She dismounted, gave Argo a pat, and was joined by Ephiny who took hold of Argo’s reins. “Go to her Xena. I’ll wait here.” Xena grasped the Amazon’s upper arm, gave it a squeeze then let go and walked towards where Gabrielle was sitting. She could see Gabrielle’s back to her and so decided to change direction so she would approach her from the front. She didn’t want to startle her so she moved with more noise than was usual. The bird call told her that Ephiny was beginning to relay their news to the other searchers.
Gabrielle looked up when Xena was ten yards from her. Her eyes were swollen and bloodshot and Xena was struck by how gaunt she looked. But what worried her more was that the bard held a knife in her hand.
“Gabrielle, please, put the knife down. I’m here for you.” Xena inched her way forward.
Gabrielle shook her head.
“Please Bri, this is not the way. I love you. I need you.”
“I don’t want to hurt you Xena, any more. You don’t deserve that.” Gabrielle looked down and Xena moved even closer. When Gabrielle looked up and saw how close Xena had moved to, she held the knife so close to her wrist it drew blood. Xena watched the rivulets of blood mixing with the rain and dropping onto the ground.
“What do you think it will do to me if you kill yourself? I can’t live without you. Don’t you know that? Gabrielle you’re my life.” She took a deep breath in. “And I know about the baby. It makes no difference to me, Gabrielle. I love you.”
Gabrielle looked at Xena with astonishment and in her shock, dropped the knife. In an instant Xena was there, first throwing the knife into a nearby tree and then falling to her knees she wrapped her arms around Gabrielle. The bard shuddered and sobbed and Xena said nothing and held tight.
Xena wasn’t sure how long they sat there. Her hands moved all over the bard’s back and arms. She wasn’t sure if she was trying to warm the frozen bard up or after so long being denied contact she wanted to touch as much of Gabrielle as she could. The rain had eased slightly but they were both saturated and looking up she could see an anxious looking Ephiny joined by Aella.
“Gabrielle, we need to get back to the dry.” Xena spoke quietly. She ripped some cloth from her cloak and bound it around the small cut on Gabrielle’s wrist. Repositioning her hands she lifted Gabrielle up and started to walk towards the amazons and the horses. Argo knelt down as she approached and Xena raised an inquiring eyebrow at her horse. Aella covered Gabrielle with a dry blanket and Argo rose up and they walked back to the village in silence.
As they entered the village they were met by Piri, Epinon and Solari. Xena could see many amazons returning from the search watching in silence. Piri approached them and said, “Your hut is prepared. There is a fire, blankets and some broth.” She tipped her head towards Gabrielle and Xena mouthed, “She’s ok.” She looked up and caught the concerned faces of Solari and Epinon. “Thank you,” she said sincerely.
Argo sunk to the ground and Xena swung her legs around and stood up. “I could get used to this Argo.” The horse neighed and brushed her head gently past Gabrielle’s head. The bard moved slightly and gave a little smile towards the palomino. Xena tightened her grip on her. Up until then the bard had remained motionless in her arms, her head buried on her shoulder.
“Come on Bri, let’s get dry and warm.”
Xena pushed the door and entered their hut. She gently laid Gabrielle on the bed and walked back to the door and closed it. As she walked towards the bed she started to shed her clothes, and grabbed one of the blankets that were piled high by the fire. She wrapped it around herself and then walked to the bed with several in her hand. Gabrielle was staring at the ceiling, looking terrified.
“Let’s get you out of these clothes,” said Xena gently. Gabrielle turned to look at her and she nodded. Xena gave her a reassuring smile and they eased her out of the soaking clothes.
It gave Xena a chance to see Gabrielle’s body for the first time in weeks. It was obvious that despite the gentle swell of her previous flat stomach and the slight increase in her breast size, caused by the pregnancy, Gabrielle had lost a considerable amount of weight. Gabrielle saw Xena stare at her stomach and looked away. Xena cupped her face with her hand and turned it towards her. She smiled and then moved her hand down to Gabrielle’s stomach and laid it flat on it. Gabrielle placed her right hand over it, and they both shared a shy smile.
“Let’s get you dry,” said Xena and she used the blanket to towel the bard dry. When she had finished she helped the bard on with a dry shift and piled several blankets on her. She could feel the coolness of the bard’s skin and prayed that they would be spared a return of the fever.
“Thank you,” said Gabrielle shakily. She was blinking rapidly and looked pale and weary.
“Let me bandage that cut and then try some broth then sleep. We can talk tomorrow,” said Xena.
She saw the relief on Gabrielle’s face. “I’m not sure I can eat anything,” began Gabrielle.
“No, you have to. For you both.” Gabrielle shook her head.
Xena sat on the bed and took Gabrielle’s hand and started to bandage it. “Why aren’t you eating? Is it nausea or something else?” Xena mumbled the words and looked away. The thought that the bard may have been trying to starve herself to death had occurred to her and was shattering to the warrior princess.
“I just lost interest in food,” said Gabrielle understanding what Xena was asking. “I just can’t face it any more, it turns my stomach.”
“OK, well I’ve got some herbs to try, plus ginger is very good and there’s the pressure point. Also lets try little and often. I’ve been guilty of filling up your plate, no wonder you’ve felt ill.” Xena looked despondent.
“You were doing your best Xena, thank you.” Gabrielle patted her hand and sat up propped up by the pillows.
“Let’s see what Piri has left,” Xena went to the table and sniffed at a couple of bottles. She poured the contents of one into a mug and added some broth. “That should help, just let it cool and it’ll settle your stomach.” She put the mug on the table beside the bed. Gabrielle looked at her. She gave her another shy smile. It was like a soothing balm on an injured sore. Xena drank it in. She handed Gabrielle the mug and she sipped it.
After many glares from Xena, Gabrielle finally finished the broth. She eased herself gingerly down the bed. Xena was still perched on the edge of the bed and she gently ran her hand through Gabrielle’s hair. She revelled in the soft feeling of her hair, being able to touch the bard after so long was bliss.
“Stay please,” said Gabrielle sleepily.
“Forever.” Replied Xena simply.
Gabrielle lightly patted the side of her and after rolling her eyes dramatically Xena eased herself into the bed. She was even more delighted when Gabrielle timidly moved towards her and put her head on Xena’s shoulder. Xena gave a smile as she wrapped her arm around her and within minutes they both were asleep.
When she awoke in the morning the first thing Gabrielle felt was Xena’s arms around her. She snuggled in tighter and as she opened her eyes she saw that Xena’s blue ones were already open and staring at her.
“Good morning,” Gabrielle said. “Have you been awake long?”
“Long enough,” said Xena and gently kissed the bar’s lips. “I’ve been enjoying the view.”
They both smiled and Xena hugged her even tighter. “I missed you,” the warrior said shakily. “I missed touching you, you touching me. I was grateful for those nightmares,” she said quietly. “Sorry.” Gabrielle looked confused and then she realised why.
“I let you comfort me. Oh Xena, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shut you out.”
“Don’t. No blame. No guilt, OK?”
Gabrielle nodded, and screwed her face up and started to sob. “I’m so sorry Xena. I was scared of losing you. How could you stay with me knowing I was carrying that man’s child,” she blinked the tears from her eyes. Xena rubbed circles on her back and bit her lip. Gabrielle continued,” I felt so ashamed and that I let you down.”
“You didn’t let me down, Gabrielle. Don’t ever think that.”
“I was scared,” said Gabrielle between sobs. “You’d leave me.” Xena’s heart broke at that admission. She knew that today would be painful for both of them but it would help them heal. She was sure the bard would open up now her secret was known. “I...Was” sob, “worried you… won’t be able to face… my child,” sob, “or love it.” Xena said nothing but carried on rubbing Gabrielle’s back.
“I’m scared of my own baby, what if I won’t love it?” Gabrielle’s voice was stuttering and faltering.
“Of course you’ll love it, we both will. I love you Bri, and I will love this baby because it’s yours.”
“Xena what if my child-“ she tried to pull away from Xena but the warrior kept a tight grip on her, “is like Hope?” She whispered the last three words.
“Hope was all Dahok; there was nothing of you in her. She was inhuman. Lindos is a brute but he’s a mere mortal. And he’ll have nothing to do with this child.”
Gabrielle sobbed even harder. Xena said nothing until Gabrielle’s sobs quietened down.
“OK?” she said sincerely. Gabrielle nodded.
“Breakfast time. You my bard are staying in bed for the day. You’ve no fever, but I’m not taking any chances.”
“Xena I’m pregnant not ill. You ran an army when you were carrying.”
“And you’ve got the amazons to look after. So enjoy the rest.”
“Will you stay with me?” The bard sounded so vulnerable that Xena couldn’t help but smile. After so much apathy it wonderful to feel wanted and loved.
“I think I can arrange that.” She kissed Gabrielle’s forehead and moved to the fire and started to bank it.
“Well?” Xena had barely enough time to cross the threshold before being accosted by Piri and Ephiny. Both looked as if they had a sleepless night.
“Breakfast.” Said the warrior and took a few steps towards the dining hut.
You know what we mean!” said Ephiny angrily.
Xena smirked and turned to face them. “We’re getting there. She knows I know about the baby. And she’s admitted she was scared.” Xena glanced back at their hut. “There’s a lot more to come, but it’s a start.”
Piri nodded. “And how are you?” Xena was about to open her mouth but Piri interrupted. “This must bring back painful memories.”
Xena thought for a moment. “She loved Solon, no questions asked. There’s a lot we both feel guilty about with Hope. This is the least I can do for her.”
“Slightly different Xena “said Ephiny. She swallowed and turned to face Xena. “Are you doing this out of obligation Xena? Because that is a sure route to failure.” Ephiny looked stony faced.
Xena gave her a look of ferocity back. Then she broke into a smile because she knew the answer was in her heart and would satisfy Ephiny.
“It’s a second chance for us both. We can raise this baby together. I love her. It’s not an obligation. And Ephiny-“
The regent showed a flash of fear.
“Don’t ever change. You’re as much her champion as I am.”
The three of them broke into wide smiles.
“Any fever?” asked Piri becoming businesslike again.
“No. And the herbs seemed to work. She finished a cup of broth.”
“I’ll be in later to examine her. Much later,” the healer added.
“Come on Xena, before the Queen wonders what is keeping you.”
“You realise that you may have to warn the hunters that Gabrielle is eating for two,” said Xena mischievously.
“Don’t say it too loudly, we may have mass resignations. And that’s from the deer and rabbits.” Ephiny smiled back and they headed into the dining hut.
Xena caught sight of the red swollen eyes and tear stained face before it turned away. She quickly put the tray down on the table and walked to the side of the bed. She knelt on the floor beside it and grasped Gabrielle’s hand.
“Bri, tell me.”
“I treated you so badly. I ignored your feelings.”
“Like I did to you when we first met.” Xena gave a little smile, but Gabrielle looked away. The warrior gently cupped her face with her hand and brought it around.
“It doesn’t matter. We’re fine now.” Xena looked into the green eyes that reflected so much emotion. She could see the fear in them. “You were scared. Tell me about it.”
“My daughter killed your son and I was pregnant. How could I expect you to accept it, or me? I became confused, my feelings were running all over the place. Anger, hate, guilt, it changed from one minute to the next.”
Gabrielle’s mouth quivered and she gave Xena a shy smile. Xena gave her a reassuring smile back and kissed the top of the bards head.
“I didn’t know what to think or feel so it was easier to withdraw. From you, the Amazons. I kept thinking of what happened in Britannia.” Gabrielle lowered her eyes, but Xena cupped her face and brought her head upwards.
“Everything became confused and I was convinced you’d want my baby dead. I wasn’t sure how I felt, I was so bewildered,” the bard’s words came tumbling out, “and I didn’t know who to talk to. I couldn’t rationalise it so how could I explain it to anyone else. I was scared of having the baby but of losing it too. And I was scared of losing you. I didn’t want to have to choose between my child and my soulmate again.” Xena looked embarrassed, but Gabrielle gave her a weak smile. “I couldn’t think of anything, Xena, apart from telling you and I was convinced that you’d leave me for good when you knew. That’s why I couldn’t bare for you to touch me; I was convinced you could sense I was pregnant if you hugged me. Oh Xe, I was so crazy, so stupid. I was losing you anyway because of my indifference.” She started to sob. Xena cradled her and kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry, I should have trusted you.”
“You should have,” said Xena quietly. “But I understand why you didn’t. Hormones, Gabrielle, they are racing around during pregnancy making your feelings seem magnified. There was so much going on, so much for you to get your head around. You’ve just been brutally attacked; raped, watched one of your best friend critically injured and saw loved ones act like you were dirt. You find out you are pregnant-in circumstances that are far from ideal and remind you of your previous pregnancy. By the gods Bri, no wonder you were so bewildered. I just wish you’d let me share the burden.” Gabrielle nodded wordlessly and lent into Xena’s shoulder. They stayed like that for several minutes until Xena pulled away. “Breakfast for bards. It’ll make you feel better.”
“This makes me feel better,” said Gabrielle with a shy smile.
Xena grinned; the healing process was starting and this time she was convinced they would complete it.
“Hey,” said Xena to a slightly disorientated Gabrielle.
“How long did I sleep?” She rubbed her eyes and pushed herself up.
“Long enough to miss Ephiny. She said she’d come back.”
Gabrielle looked away with tears in her eyes. “I treated her so badly. All of you.”
Xena moved across and sat next to her on the bed. “They’re your friends. They understand.”
“I don’t.” Gabrielle bowed her head. “When I think how I was.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry.”
Xena wrapped an arm around her.
“It’s understandable. It’s a shock, but we’ll get through this together.”
Gabrielle looked away, her expression unreadable.
“Talk to me, Bri. Don’t bottle it up.”
“Do you mean what you said about the baby? You don’t have to stay with me, you know? I do understand.” Gabrielle’s voice became a whisper.
“Do I ever say anything I don’t mean? This baby will be ours, mine and yours.”
Gabrielle turned to look into the blue eyes. The eyes she could read so well. She could only see love and devotion in them. No hint of disquiet or alarm. “Are you sure?”
“Thank you,” her voice cracked with emotion and the bard laid her head on Xena’s shoulder.
They sat like that for several minutes. “There’s more recovering to do, Bri. You need to talk about it. We need to work through things. But not now. There’s no rush.”
Gabrielle gave her a weak smile.
“But now it’s tea time!” Xena jumped up and went to the table and started to make tea. Gabrielle watched, joy and happiness flooding her heart. The situation was far from ideal. It was taking them down a path they hadn’t planned. But they were doing it together. She hadn’t dared to hope that Xena would be so supportive but she knew she shouldn’t have underestimated her. Her overwhelming fear that Xena would leave her; or be repulsed by her was receding. For the first time in months, she felt they had a future. Most importantly together.
When Xena finished making the tea she brought the two mugs and a plate of biscuits. She put the mugs down by the side of the bed. “These have got ginger in; it’s very good for nausea.” The bard smiled and took a couple and started to nibble on one of them. Xena watched anxiously her face etched with concern. Gabrielle giggled spluttering crumbs everywhere.
“What?” said the confused warrior?
“You Xena worrier mother hen,” the bard smiled. “Thanks,” she added warmly.
“I’ll get you bard,” Xena said laughing and she looked down at the smiling face.
“You already have,” said Gabrielle tenderly, “you already have.”
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