Desolation

By Maderlin Bidmead

Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, Autolycus, Eve and the horsies belong to MCA/Universal Pictures. Just the little story is mine

Love/Sex: Two women in love, but nothing graphic.

Angst: Yep

Timeline: This is an alternative to the events following 'Looking Death in the Eye'

Comments: Thanks to all who read my first story. The ending was naff and I am rewriting it! If you enjoy this little piece let me know as I have more installments which I will add if you want me to. E-mail me at: maderlin@yahoo.com


 

The warrior sat broodingly beside the still waters of the lake. She would occasionally toss a rock into the crystal depths just to watch the water churn, reflecting her inner turmoil. Outwardly she looked calm, stoic. Inside her heart was torn, she had two choices both of which would leave her the loser. Her horse whickered in the nearby campsite and she found herself wondering what her lover was thinking. She seemed blissfully unaware of the conflicting thoughts whirling in her lover's mind. The warrior's reverie was broken by the sound of a footfall, so soft that others would not have noticed. The familiar scent of her lover washed over her as the presence stopped at her back.

"Xena..."

"Come back to camp, Gabrielle. Eve’s starting to fret. I guess I just don’t tell bedtime stories as well as some people." Gabrielle could ear the gentle ribbing in her voice. She pictured the dazzling smile pulling at the full lips. In that moment she knew that Xena no longer understood her heart.

"I’ll be right there." She rose, not looking at the woman who would be her partner through eternity.

They made their way slowly back to camp. Each woman deep in their own thoughts. Xena was worried about her lover, she hadn’t been the same since Egypt. Every time they were alone she became increasingly sullen and withdrawn. The only way she could get more than a handful of words out of the Amazon was coax her into telling Eve a story. It wasn’t much of a victory, but Xena was willing to take whatever she could get, she needed to hear her bards voice around camp.

Gabrielle had never shown this degree of reticence before. They had talked about the incident with Mark Anthony, the smaller woman had forgiven her indiscretion - hadn’t she? When Ares froze them in that tomb, she had been able to hear his declaration of love. Had Gabrielle? Xena remembered the argument that they had after Amphipolis when she had ‘felt something’. Maybe the bard thought the Ares stood a chance, now that Xena knew he was sincere. The Warrior Princess shook off that idea, it was ridiculous, Gabrielle knew that Ares was lower than pond scum. It was probably shock, they could have been in the ice for years under different circumstances. Thank the Gods for Octavius. The fast approaching Twilight was also heavy on each of their minds. That combination was sure to affect the younger woman.

They arrived back at camp in time to see Eve rooting around in the bards scroll case. The tenacious infant was focused on her task, she wanted to rip the parchment, she loved the sound. Expecting some sort of negative reaction from Gabrielle, Xena was taken aback by the calm words that escaped the bards lips.

"Why don’t you go take a bath while I try to get her settled. Might be the only chance you get to rest for a while," her voice was soft, distant. It was also the first unprompted thing the bard had said to her in weeks.

"Thanks, hon." Xena bent to kiss her partner on the cheek but the Amazon turned away, picking up another of the scattered scroll.

Once Xena was out of earshot, the young queen picked up the baby and sat with her on her knee. Her back was braced against a fallen log. She began to spin a tale about a mermaid and her love for a man she could never have.

"Once upon a time, there lived a princess. She lived under the ocean and ha fins for feet and scales instead of skin. All of her people were content with their lives, but the princess knew that there had to be more to life. One day she found a dying sailor floating in the water..."

Xena luxuriated in the cool water as it lapped against her skin. The weather had been unseasonably warm and the water felt like a caress on her heated skin. Her raven tresses floated out behind her, fanlike. Soapy water ran between the valley of her breasts, making white clouds in the water. She wished her life could always be this simple.

Heaving herself naked from the water she let the water sluice off of her before pulling her sleeping shift over her damp body. She made her way back to camp, approaching stealthily. Her soft tread was as much a part of her as her steely blue eyes, it had been one of the keys to her survival over the years. She had always loved to surprise Gabrielle. Creeping up on the bard had always helped her discover what was on her partners mind. She often came back from hunting to find the younger woman ranting to herself. The warrior sometimes wondered whether her lover did this on purpose, knowing that she would hear. Even if this was the case, Xena had always been grateful for the opportunity to understand what her wife needed.

Today, wearing only her slip, she was as silent as she could possibly be. Since their resurrection Gabrielle’s skills as a warrior had come to rival her own, getting as close as she used to was now an impossibility. She located a patch of shrubs, just close enough for her to overhear the bards words. She was fortunate that the brush allowed her an unobstructed view of the woman and child.

"...Thinking that she had won the heart of the Prince, the voiceless Princess was devastated to one day find him in the arms of her rival. He loved the enigmatic girl, but she was not the one for him. Her silence made him melancholic, her rival gave him only joy. In total desolation the Princess threw herself from the balcony into the heaving waves. The sea reclaimed its lost daughter, turning her into the ripples and eddies that caressed the shore." Looking down she could see that the baby was sound asleep in her arms. Eve’s dark head was resting on a convenient breast, a tiny fist clutching at her guardians top. She couldn’t tell when the child had succumbed to Morpheus, she had been so wrapped up in her sorrowful tale. She leaned close to the babies ear, knowing that Xena was close by and not wanting her to hear her next words. "Never let them take anything away from you Eve. Never let the one you love rip out your heart and think they’ve made it better by saying ‘sorry’ or ‘you know that’s just who I am’." She stood then, carrying the little bundle to her nest of blankets.

Outside the clearing Xena felt numb. She hadn’t heard the whispered words, assuming that they were just endearments to calm Evie. Rather, she was left shocked by the climax of the story. Is that how Gabriele felt? Like a woman who couldn’t win? She put her head in her hands and tried to fight back tears. Their relationship had changed since her pregnancy but she hadn’t realised just how far they had drifted apart. Now it seemed that she had pushed it further beyond its limits, falling for Mark Anthony before the bards very eyes. The blond woman had always forgiven her indiscretions in the past, but this time that wasn’t going to happen. A last tear trailed down her cheek before she regained her composure.

She strode back into the clearing like nothing had happened. Gabrielle looked up from tending the fire, brushing a stray strand of blond hair behind her ear as she did. Xena used to brush that hair aside. How many times had she made the gesture of affection since India? The warrior stood and walked towards her. Xena smiled hopefully, hoping that the once chatty bard wanted to talk.

"I’m going to catch dinner. I won’t be long." Her voice held no malice, no sadness, it had become an empty monotone. Then she was gone, leaving Xena to brood alone.

True to her words, she returned minutes later with two rabbits which she dropped to the ground and proceeded to skin and gut. She methodically performed the tasks which had once been part of Xena’s campsite routine. Xena had let her take over these chores when her morning sickness (which happened just as often at night) had made cleaning the food impossible for her. Gabrielle had been her provider and protector through it all, yet the change in their roles had given birth to a distance between them. It seemed that they were nurturing it to adulthood.

They ate a delicious meal in silence. The taste turned to ashes in both of their mouths. The blond passed her empty bowl to her companion, their fingers briefly touching. It was a connection that both still craved and they let it linger for a long time. Xena broke the moment by taking the dishes to the lake. She hurried but by the time she returned to camp Gabrielle was gone, probably checking the perimeter.

Xena settled down close to Eve. The intense heat remained long into the night, making the raven haired woman sleep without a blanket. She snuggled against the baby and was soon in a deep sleep. Gabrielle chose that moment to return to camp. She looked longingly at the picture that mother and daughter made. Once she had been a part of that, but tonight it would be wrong to join them. She walked over to the pair and spread a thin blanket over them, the weather was changing a a faint chill had crept into the air. She leaned down, placing a kiss on the babies forehead before tentatively doing the same to infants mother. She gathered her own blankets and threw herself down on the other side of the fire. Sleep was slow to claim her and when it did it was filled with nightmares. She tossed and turned restlessly.

Candle marks later Xena was woken up by a strangled sound. At first she thought it was Eve waking for a feed. It took her foggy brain a moment to remember that Eve now slept through the night. She reached for Gabrielle across the baby. She wasn’t there.

Xena sat up quickly, careful not to jostle her daughter. She scanned the clearing, her eye’s finally falling on the still form of her soulmate. She seemed so far away on the other side of the fire. The fading embers sent shadows dancing across the planes of the blonds face. For what felt like the first time Xena studied the face of her young lover - who didn’t look so young anymore. She had realised that the short hair made her look older, but now she could see other things. The angles of her face were now more pronounced, lines of fatigue etched around her eyes and mouth. Peace no longer covered the sleeping face. The innocence of sleep lost. Now her face looked troubled, eye’s dancing under closed lids like flames.

Xena’s eyes travelled down the exposed body of the Amazon. She couldn’t help the predatory glint that flashed in her eyes as she took in the sight revealed to her. Gabrielle’s muscles had become more solid and defined, matching her own. Not a single piece of excess fat marred her physique. As she looked closely at the ripples of muscle in one bent arm she could see her shivering in the cool night air. It wasn’t cold, but a blanket was necessary to ward off the chill. She pulled her own blanket closer, suddenly letting it fall back down. Xena realised that Gabrielle had carefully covered up mother and child, but neglected to do the same for herself.

Xena found herself with three options; do nothing, which was imply not going to happen. Cover the other woman up and return to her own pallet. Or, she could pick up Eve and her blanket, walk over there and wrap it and herself around that beautiful body - option three was clearly the winner. A twinkle sparkled in her eye as she began to move.

Carefully placing Eve close to Gabrielle’s head, away from the fire but within reach, she returned for her blanket. She laid down behind the smaller body, carefully draping the blanket over them both. She let her arm linger over the muscled abdomen, and when she didn’t feel the other woman pull away she moulded her body to her lovers. Spooned up to the almost naked back she could feel her nipples hardening. The warm body beside her and the smell of the leathers that the Amazon had not removed along with the natural scent of her skin made the warrior very aroused. She squeezed her eyes shut, this was not the way to convince Gabrielle of her love or sincerity. Resting her forehead on the other woman’s shoulder blade she was soon sleeping.

Gabrielle had woken as soon as the warrior had put the baby close to her. She had been stunned by the warrior's next move and inwardly pleased. This could be a first step for them. The arm around her felt reassuring and the warm body behind her was as familiar as her own. Then she felt Xena’s growing arousal as stiff nipples pressed into her back. The Queen knew that she should be pleased that her lover still wanted her. Irrationally she just felt used. Xena only wanted her as a sex object. A willing diversion until the next ‘bad-boy’ came along. In the three years since she had committed herself to Xena she had not even looked at another. She had been pursued, Najara had wanted her desperately but she had never felt desire for the blond warrior. Yet continually Xena strayed. At first she had been able to deal with it, even encouraged it. She wanted Xena to choose her over those men. Yet now, after so long, Gabrielle just felt used. A black cloud hung over her as she fell back under Morpheus spell.

********

Morning came with a bang. Crash. Wallop. Joxer stumbled into their camp with his usual lack of finesse and collided with an agitated Autolycus. Xena and Gabrielle were both up and ready for action when the two men arrived. Xena was feeding Eve while Gabrielle took care of feeding them. The pair looked at the entangled men laying on the ground and then at each other. Exasperation was etched on both faces. Meanwhile Autolycus righted himself and stood quietly while Joxer tried to look anywhere but at Xena. He was clearly embarrassed, not wanting to stare at the nursing mother.

"Xena." Both men began, then stopped and glared at each other.

So it begins, Gabrielle thought to herself. For so many years she had been the side-kick, the tag-along. Even now that she was a warrior they still spoke only to Xena when a problem arose. Her ideas were always viewed with an air of contempt by the King of Thieves.

"Auto, you start. Joxer, take a break." Xena instantly took charge. Even with the baby at her breast she was a dominating presence.

"Roman nobles are planning to move on Octavius and take the thrown. They wish Rome to be ruled as though Caesar were still emperor. It’s going to be a bloodbath. Many generals and soldiers fight for the cause, Octavius needs your help."

"Why do you care about Rome?" Gabrielle asked.

"It’s lucrative. You know, ‘so much to steel, so little time to steel it’." A raised eyebrow from the blond made him continue. "Your getting real good at that. Fine, I met Octavius’ sister Octavia. I like her, so you could say I have a vested interest."

"We can give them the guidance they need to fight back. We’ll help you, old friend." Xena cast her eyes towards Joxer as she placed the infant down and retied her leathers. "What’s the panic, Joxer?"

"Aphrodite appeared to me. She gave me a message for you. She said you should start the Twilight now." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Something about planets and them not being at full strength. She said once you were among the Gods you’d know what to do." He was visibly wracking his brains for more.

"Why would a Goddess tell us when to make a move?" Xena pondered.

"She knew you’d ask that. She isn’t going to fight. She knows that the Gods time is over. She’ll just be a powerless immortal when all this is over. She said to tell you that she loves you both, and Eve. She couldn’t come to you herself, because she has to hide from the other Gods. If they know her plan she will try to kill her."

"What about Rome?" The thief looked stricken.

"Xena, we obviously can’t be in two places at once. The prophecy about the Twilight doesn’t talk about me. Just you and Eve." She paused, taking a deep breath. "I’ll go to Rome. I am more than capable of leading the army. You stay and go to Olympus." Grim determination was etched into the lines of her face.

"Your right. We should head out. We both need to get kitted out and you two need to get chartered on a ship." The crease had appeared on her forehead. the dark warrior was in planning mode.

"No." Softly spoken, but so unexpected that all eyes instantly turned to her. "We head in different directions. Autolycus and I go to Rome. You and Joxer head for Olympus. It’s faster this way and our enemies will have less chance of stopping us." The Amazon Queen rose and began stowing her gear on the chestnut stallion.

Xena quietly did the same with Argo, silent confirmation that she agreed with the ex-bards plan. The last bundle to be packed was Eve. Xena walked over to Gabrielle who was speaking with Autolycus. She motioned the dark haired man away and nodded minutely as he walked away.

"Hey, Gabrielle. Evie and I just wanted to say good bye." She smiled adoringly at the squirming baby in her arms and then back up at the blond.

Gabrielle smiled a warm, genuine smile that reached her eyes as she leaned forward and kissed the little girls downy head. "You take care of your mummy for me, gorgeous." Her eyes rose to meet her partners. "You be careful, Gods are more dangerous than armies."

"I’ll promise as long as you do." The slight eyebrow arch lent weight to this statement.

"Nothing is going to happen to me." She turned and began to mount her horse when a soft hand on her shoulder stopped her.

"Don’t I even get a good bye kiss?" The crystal blue eyes, so like the lake, held only uncertainty.

She knew she shouldn’t. Knew it would simply perpetuate the lie that had become their relationship. But she could not resist a chance to taste those lips, perhaps for the last time. She leaned forward, across Eve and placed a chaste kiss on the older woman’s slightly parted lips. No need to lie too hard.

As she mounted her stallion she called out to the thief. "Autolycus, you got a horse somewhere?"

"No, but I can get one, after all I am the..."

"King of Thieves, yeah I know. Well get your kingly butt over here and on this horse. We’ve got to get moving. We can make the next town by nightfall. You can buy a horse there."

Autolycus easily swung his leg over the large stallions back and settled himself behind the scantily clad warrior. Now he was faced with a dilemma. Where do you put your hands when the woman in front of you is half-naked? He could see from the new muscle tone that the blond was in almost as good shape as the Warrior Princess. He’d heard stories about her new prowess in battle and didn’t want to be on her bad side all the way to Rome. He gingerly rested his hands on the leather covered hips.

"I won't break Autolycus and you might want to hold on a little tighter. My boy has as much free will a Argo." Gabrielle threw over her shoulder as she started the horse trotting. Both of them waved to retreating forms of the warrior and the fool.

"I wasn’t afraid of that," he muttered darkly.

"Auto, I know your not trying to feel me up so please hold on and get comfortable or this is going to be a long journey. The bard sounded more like her old self and the thief began to relax and enjoy the ride.

THE END?

Should I carry on?


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