CROSSING THE FIRE
Story Originally Submitted for the Second ex-Guard's Bards Challenge, October 23, 2000
Disclaimers: This story was not written for profit and the characters are owned by RenPics. It does contain explicit sexual situations involving two adult women. Also, there are many spoilers from season five. Heavy angst warning. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note to Followers of the Series: This story has nothing to do with my regular series. It was written for the ex-Guards Fall challenge contest. The challenge was to write a story in which it's been a long time since Xena and Gabrielle, well ... you know ... things are moving along nicely when all of sudden baby Eve makes her presence known. Funny thing about these challenges. They keep forcing me to write about things I swore I would never write about. Last time it was the Conqueror. This time it was Eve. Eve doesn't exist in my Xenaverse, and I never had the desire to write about her. But the muse gave me a story. It won first place, BTW. <grin> Also, I am very very close to finishing "Divinity," the next story in the series. It was supposed to be a PWP, but somewhere along the way it grew to well over fifty pages, and developed a plot.
A bed of shimmering coals was all that remained of the fire over which they had cooked their dinner. They had washed the few dishes and tidied up the campsite, and now warrior and bard sat beside the fire in companionable silence. Well, it was almost silent, save the scratching sounds of Gabrielle's quill against the surface of a rough piece of parchment, and the delighted gurgling of a very happy and excited Eve. The warrior was playing "horsie" with the chubby-cheeked baby, who was dangling across Xena's knee, emitting sporadic squeals of joy.
"Oh, you like that, do you Evie?" The warrior laughed merrily, a warm melodic sound that washed over the bard, who sat several feet away from her partner. The baby squeaked loudly as Xena suddenly popped the little bundle up in the air and then settled her back down on the other leg. "Giddyup, giddyup, giddyup, whoa!"
Gabrielle surreptitiously studied her partner, glad to see her companion and best friend truly happy for the first time in ages. The bard smiled for a moment, and then grew solemn, as she returned to her writing. After all we've been through, it took a baby to ground her and give her some true meaning beyond the nomadic existence we've been living in for the past five years.
She sighed. There was a time when I brought a smile to her face. It wasn't that she was jealous of Eve, exactly. How could she blame an innocent child just because she had been born? Born of questionable conception, right after the most tragic moment of their lives. Gabrielle didn't want to make Eve the scapegoat for problems that she and Xena had probably created all by themselves.
Before the crucifixion, we were closer than we'd ever been. The morning that Amarice found them to inform them of Ephiny's death had been one of the best mornings. The love-making the night before had been especially sweet, as Xena expressed not merely with her actions, but also with words, just how much she loved Gabrielle. They had talked well into the night, re-affirming their commitment to each other as lovers, friends, and partners in life.
That morning had been filled with playful banter, as the bard demonstrated her new method of humane fishing to the warrior. The playfulness and the good mood that had settled over them was an extension of the previous night's activities, and was due to a new level of equality and understanding they had reached in their relationship. India had been good for them, in so many ways. Little did they know that everything was about to change, and after that, nothing would ever be the same again.
Are we still lovers? After India, she would have sworn there would never be any question again of them breaking up, or going their separate ways. They shared the eternal bond of soulmates, a closeness that seemed impenetrable. The physical expression of that bond had been exquisite, a joining not only of their bodies, but of their souls. It was an affirmation that the love they shared was forever, not in this life alone, but also in many lives to come. If only I had known.
Gabrielle continued to write, but her thoughts kept straying away from her scroll. They had just left the Amazon village this morning, after resolving possibly the biggest argument they had had in two years. She almost left me. The bard had wanted to stay and become acting queen of her Amazon tribe, but the warrior, after much contemplation, had decided that staying in one place was not for her. They had angrily decided on a trial separation. She would rather have gone fishing than stay with me. And what about all this 'our daughter' talk? She was going to just take Eve with her, no mention of visiting or anything. Gabrielle had fumed.
Only by chance, did Xena happen to read Gabrielle's scrolls, and had changed her mind. The warrior had been ready to support her and settle down in the village, but Gabrielle suddenly realized that she did not want to stay with the Amazons. What she had really wanted all along was some assurance that Xena still wanted to be with her, that she still came first.
Well, I got that, didn't I? She was ready to be with me, no matter what. That's something. I just wish ... She wondered if they could ever get back the level of intimacy they had shared prior to their deaths. They had so many things working against them right now. Eve required constant care. And the gods were always trying to track them down. We're always on the run. Always fighting. I'm always fighting, with her and with people who try to hurt us. The bard was tired, among other things.
Gabrielle felt a lump form in her throat, and gazed steadily at her scroll until she was able to push the emotion down. I've been putting my feelings aside for over a year now. Little Eve was four moons old. The bard wanted to believe that the distance that had grown between she and Xena went back to the pregnancy. That was a huge fight. Probably the biggest one until this last one in the village.
It had taken a major effort on the part of the warrior to convince Gabrielle that she hadn't slept with any men. The bard knew rationally that it was virtually impossible. The only men they had spent any extensive time with since they came back to life had been Joxer and Eli. Gabrielle knew that it was absolutely out of the question for Xena to have been physically intimate with either one of them. It was just so hard to believe that the warrior had no idea how she had gotten pregnant.
For a while, Gabrielle had suspected Ares. After all, she had walked in on her partner and the god of war, finding them in a rather compromising position in the bathing room. They were about to kiss, and Xena was completely naked. And Xena didn't have her memory of her hatred of Ares at the time. The warrior had been so vulnerable. But after she regained her memories, she told the bard that she could remember all the details since the crucifixion, and she knew she had not slept with Ares. Gabrielle believed her. There was no reason not to.
It had been so strange to come back from the dead. That, in and of itself, was enough to make someone crazy, if they were to think about it hard enough. The warrior's pregnancy had only heaped more confusion on top of two psyches that were already fragile. Once they knew Xena was with child, it had been up to Gabrielle, much of the time, to protect them. All three of them. Who had time to reflect on the recent past, when they were about to have an immediate family thrust upon them in the not-to-distant future?
And for a while, it seemed like they were never going to shake Amarice and Joxer off their tails. We're never alone anymore. Amarice was with the northern Amazons now, and Joxer had gone off with that young Amazon he had befriended, to explore the possibility of a future together. And we're still not alone. She watched as Xena tossed a wriggling Eve up into the air. I wonder if we ever will be?
If she was honest with herself, she knew that their problems had begun prior to their knowledge of Xena's pregnancy. There had been a palpable distance between them ever since they came back from the dead. They had talked little of their experiences in both Heaven and Hell. It was too difficult. And too painful. Both had been ready to betray the other. They hadn't even discussed the agony of the crucifixion itself, and the horrible memories they shared of watching each other suffer and die.
The nights since they had come back had been hard. With Joxer and Amarice constantly traveling with them, they had laid their bedrolls out at a platonic distance from each other. Gabrielle's heart had ached on those long lonely nights. She wanted so badly to curl up with Xena and let the long arms that had once been a source of comfort to her work their magic. And she missed the quiet conversations between just the two of them. Before they died, they had become so comfortable with each other. She missed talking with her best friend.
They had only made love once since Eli had raised them. After the whole mess with Alti and the northern Amazons, when Gabrielle had died briefly in the spiritual realm, trying to rescue Eve's soul from the evil shamaness. They had left Amarice behind, and that night, found themselves alone for the first time since they had led the Amazons in a war against Brutus and Pompey.
By habit, they had laid their bedrolls out several feet apart. They were so used to keeping a polite distance from one another, that it had become second nature. But the warrior had come to her that night, overwhelmed with desire. Xena had made love to her as if her life depended on it, her kisses and touches almost savage in their intensity. Gabrielle had never expected it, especially since the warrior was already pregnant at the time, although she was barely showing. It was a level of need that they had never shared before.
Afterward, it was Gabrielle who cradled the warrior, as Xena wept and relived the nightmare of those few moments when she thought her lover was dead again. "I sent you to fight Alti. I almost lost you. I'm so sorry. So so sorry."
They had talked for a long time that night, and the bard had hoped things would be back to normal between them. But so many important things had gone unsaid, and the next morning, the magic had faded. Xena was once again in her stoic mode, and her sole focus was on protection of her unborn child. Gabrielle's empty arms continued to ache at night, as she felt them slipping further and further apart.
And then Ares killed Eli and Xena had blamed the bard for not putting up a fight. Gabrielle still wasn't sure how they had overcome that wedge in their relationship. "Even if Eli had wanted me to, how could you expect me to fight Ares and win? How could you? He's the god of war for crying out loud. Since when do you expect me to fight the gods? You used to try to protect me from them!" The bard had screamed at Xena shortly after they left Eli's people.
Her words had the effect of a hard slap to the warrior's face. Xena had apologized profusely, again, in private. But then they had immediately begun to argue about Callisto. The shock of finding out that Callisto, of all people, was going to be re-incarnated as Xena's baby, had only compounded their problems.
Those brief hugs when they were first re-united after their fight over Eli had been short-lived. Gods. That was the fight from Hades. Gabrielle had extremely mixed emotions about helping Xena, in essence, raise Callisto. Callisto, who had murdered Perdicus and ultimately gotten them crucified. That Xena could just accept the whole thing, and think it was a fair way for her and Callisto to both find restitution for their past actions, was mind-boggling. Fair to who?
Callisto had been partly responsible for Hope's death. She leads my child to kill Solan, forcing me to murder her, and then she turns around and gives Xena a child? Gabrielle had boiled with rage as she thought about that, and also about Xena giving her light to Callisto when they were in Hell. She thought so little of us that she was willing to spend an eternity apart from me so that our greatest enemy could live in Paradise. Hurt had compounded upon hurt that time around.
But like so many of their disagreements since the crucifixion, they were too pre-occupied with the difficult task of living to really talk it out, never resolving anything for long. They made up just enough to be civil with each other again, and then they moved on. There was too much else to focus on as they set about doing what they always did, protecting Eve, both before and after she was born. It had been that way ever since Xena became pregnant.
"Hey." The low alto voice stirred her from her morose thoughts. "You okay? You're looking pretty serious there."
"Yeah." Gabrielle managed to smile. "Just tired. I think I'll turn in."
"I'll be joining you in a bit. Evie's about tuckered out, finally. I don't know where she gets her energy from." The warrior looked genuinely puzzled, as she studied her child's big bright eyes.
"I can't imagine." The bard chuckled sarcastically. Even in her last season of pregnancy, the warrior had been able to do flips and wield her sword with the best of them. At the end of a long day it had been Gabrielle who was often exhausted, while the warrior looked as if she could go a few more rounds at whatever they had done that day.
It was a beautiful night, with a full moon that bathed the small clearing in ethereal light. A soft gentle breeze stirred the leaves in the trees overhead, and the night sounds of crickets and nocturnal birds provided music. I don't think I could ask for a more romantic setting. The bard unfolded her bedroll, arranging it next to the fire, leaving enough distance between her and the dying embers for a second set of furs. Just in case. She laid down on her back and rested her hands behind her head, looking up at the stars. Waiting. Hoping.
Her wishes were quickly squelched, as she felt a puff of air. Xena had built the fire back up and was laying out her own sleeping furs on the other side. Just like every other night. Gabrielle sighed and rolled over, turning her back to the flames and the warrior. Don't know why I thought tonight would be different from any other one. They hadn't even shared a bed in the Amazon village, in the privacy of the queen's hut. She obviously doesn't want me anymore. Why can't I just accept that we're back to being platonic friends? It's not like that's such a horrible thing.
She had hoped that their decision to stay together meant that they would be together in every sense of the word. Alone in the darkness, she finally allowed the pent-up emotions to surface. The tears spilled out of her eyes, running down her cheeks, dampening the bag she was using for a pillow. I can't accept it because I'm still in love with her. She managed to cry in silence. The last thing she wanted was to be held out of pity.
The warrior flopped down onto the bedroll, laying Eve gently beside her in her own small furry nest. The tired baby was subdued but still awake, her droopy eyes blinking in a valiant effort to ward off sleep. "Shhh. Go to sleep now, Evie. Tomorrow we hit the trail again. I promised Gabrielle a trip down the Nile. But first we have to take you to stay with your Grandma in Amphipolis. Yeah, we do. You love your Grandma, don't you?"
Xena laughed and made little cooing noises, playfully tickling the baby under her chin and tucking a little blanket around her. The bard continued to weep in secret silence, as the warrior began to sing a low lullaby:
Hush now my little one,
Please don't you cry,
Lay your head down on my shoulder and sigh.
Sun's gone away,
Mama will stay,
Silence will keep all the while you're asleep.*
Xena got the baby settled and then shifted to her other side, studying the bard's back. Asleep or awake? "Gabrielle?" The warrior whispered softly, and got no response. She let out a disappointed breath and flipped over onto her back, staring up at the milky star-filled sky. She missed picking out star patterns with her partner.
She missed a lot of things. Gabrielle never told her stories anymore. It had been so long since they had talked. Really talked about anything beside Eve. Gods, we barely even touch each other anymore. Not even to hug. The warrior blamed herself. I've screwed this up, just like I screwed up every other good thing I ever had. Why would she want me ... like that ... anymore, anyway?
Xena vividly remembered the time spent in Heaven. And Hell. I was going to take her from Paradise and force her to spend eternity in Hell. How much more selfish can I be? I'm surprised after Eli brought us back that she didn't run screaming into the night never to be heard from again. Especially after I got pregnant.
The warrior quietly pounded a fist into the thick furs. She didn't ask to get pregnant. Not that she didn't love Eve. But they had both sacrificed a lot of things because of the baby, both before and after her birth. I think the biggest thing we gave up was us.
We almost got it back after that trip to see the northern Amazons. But not too long afterward, the warrior's condition began to be obvious. And whether it was hormones or simply strain leftover from unresolved issues, they began to argue with each other much of the time.
Her pregnancy was something they had both accepted, as best they could, but Xena never got over the awkwardness she felt. Both due to the changes in her body, and just the fact that it had taken so long for Gabrielle to believe that the baby had not been conceived in the conventional way. Her partner's lack of trust had stung to the core.
Once she began to show, her burgeoning belly was a constant reminder that someone, for a long time an anonymous someone, had given Xena the one thing she and Gabrielle were incapable of giving each other. And the biggest thing they had ever taken from each other, their children. Callisto's involvement had only served to complicate things further. It might have been easier for her to accept me cheating on her with a man than for Callisto to give me a child.
I felt so unattractive too. The warrior absently patted her abdomen, which due to their constant activity, was almost as flat as it had been prior to the crucifixion. Before their death, when Gabrielle touched her, the bard had practically worshiped Xena's body, spending candle marks exploring the firm muscles and contours that comprised the warrior's long frame. The warrior had felt completely desirable in her lover's eyes.
Having her stomach sticking out a foot in front of her had quickly changed that. She was loathe to get naked in front of her partner, and usually excused herself to the privacy of the bushes to change clothes. Bathing had become a painful activity, as she was reduced to shedding her clothing at the edge of whatever pond they were camping beside, and quickly plunging into the water until she was covered.
Well ... I'm in shape now. So what's holding me back? She knew that it was her own fear. Fear of approaching her lover with what she needed and wanted most, and being rejected. As long as she didn't try, she could hold onto her little fantasy that they were still lovers. Xena didn't want to face the very real possibility that Gabrielle was no longer in love with her. Because I still love her so much it hurts.
During the day it was easy to pretend that everything was okay. The cavernous silences that descended on them each evening spoke volumes, however, as they went about their activities in ritual-like fashion. She knew there was something she could do about it, if only she could find the courage. But if Gabrielle rejected her ... she couldn't take anymore heartbreak. Too much had happened.
We were friends for a couple of years before we ever took things any further. If we are back to being just friends again, I can live with that. I wouldn't choose for it to be that way, but I can live with it
She remembered a kiss in a dream scape, when she was in Autolycus' body. When she had finally gotten her own body back, they had shyly explored that kiss again. And it had led to something further. They discovered that the very deep friendship they shared had somehow become a very deep love. It had been the most unexpected surprise. And the most pleasant one. A rare blessing to be cherished like the gift it was.
And despite everything we went through after that, the love survived. I can't believe we just let it slip away. She realized that they hadn't even fought to hold onto it. And it had been the most precious thing between them. A treasure that had been stolen away by the thief of time and circumstance, right out from under their very noses.
A tiny sniffling noise broke through her thoughts, and the warrior rolled over toward Gabrielle, whom she was now certain was crying. Damn. "Gabrielle?"
Another muffled sniff answered, and then the bard quickly pulled the covers up to her shoulders and grew quiet, pretending to be asleep.
"Gabrielle." Before she had time to think about it, Xena had rounded the fire and was kneeling next to her partner's bedroll. "I know you're awake. Come on now. What's wrong?"
The bard slowly opened her tear-filled eyes and blinked, sending another scattering of the salty drops across her cheeks. "It's nothing. Go back to bed, Xena."
Xena hadn't seen her partner cry since Eli was killed. "Doesn't look like 'nothing' to me." The warrior hesitantly reached out and brushed the moisture from her partner's face.
The simple gesture was all it took, ands the dam burst, as Gabrielle began to openly weep. "Oh gods." She couldn't remember the last time Xena had touched her, other than in the form of a friendly clap on the shoulder. She grasped the warm hand and pressed it firmly against her cheek. "It's been so long."
A sad smile played at the warrior's lips, as long fingers trailed across the soft skin, quickly changing from a comforting motion to a caress. "Yeah. It has."
Slowly, almost as if in a dream, Gabrielle felt herself lifted from the furs and wrapped in a warm embrace. She held onto the warrior with all her strength, never wanting to let go. She felt Xena's lips brush across the top of her head several times, and then tentatively across her forehead, and then her nose, and finally the warrior pecked her lips once. Twice.
The warrior drew back and lowered her eyes. She was afraid to look at the face she loved, unsure if the bard had wanted anything more than a hug. She held onto Gabrielle's hands, which were resting in her own lap. She lifted one of the sturdy hands and kissed the inside of a wrist, before dropping it back down, still holding on.
"Xena?" The voice was so small and forlorn, it broke the warrior's heart.
Slowly, she looked up and found herself captured by two intense green eyes that desperately wanted something. She just wasn't sure exactly what. "I ..." She reached up with one hand and touched her partner's face again. No more stalling, warrior. You need to know. You both need to know. She chided herself. "... I've missed you, Gabrielle. I ... I'll understand if you don't want me anymore. I certainly wouldn't blame you. I ..."
She never finished her sentence, as the bard closed the distance and Gabrielle tenderly explored Xena's lips, first with her own lips, and then with the tip of her tongue, tracing them slowly in warm wet circles that awakened something in Xena she had thought long dead. The warrior sighed and opened her mouth, encouraging the bard to go further.
Xena felt her lover's tongue begin to dance inside her mouth, and her hands took on a life of their own, one pulling the blonde head more tightly to her, while the other began to work at the laces on the bard's sleep shirt. "Gods ..." Her hands finally found warm flesh, greedily moving everywhere all at once underneath the linen shirt. I haven't touched her like this in forever. So soft.
Gabrielle didn't know when she was lowered down to the furs, or how her shirt got open, or when Xena managed to lay down on her side next to her. All she knew was her lover's touch, the long fingers playing on her sensitized skin while the warrior kissed her very slowly, making her intentions quite evident. The lips left her mouth and made an agonizing journey south, as Xena took her time, kissing and nipping at Gabrielle's neck and shoulders, and finally down into the bard's cleavage.
"Mmmm." The warrior's breath tickled the swell of a breast, as Xena gently pushed the bard's shirt aside and off one shoulder, to give herself better access to her lover. "How .." She circled the bard's nipple with her tongue. "... did I ever ..." The tongue slowly dragged across the hardened flesh. "... go so long without this?" She closed her lips around the nipple and began to suckle it slowly, drawing more and more of the surrounding flesh into her mouth in the process.
"Xena." Gabrielle's hands tangled in the dark tresses that spilled across her chest, encouraging the warrior to stay right where she was. "So nice." The suction on her breast was sending lightening bolts directly to her groin, and she pulled the warrior closer, wrapping her legs around the long body. Overwhelming emotions welled up inside, as the bard finally felt her lover in her arms. I'm not letting go this time. "Feels so good, Xena. Your body feels so good on top of mine."
"You feel so good." The warrior parroted her lover's words, as she switched from one breast to the other. "Gods." Xena felt Gabrielle begin to move against her stomach, knowing that if her leathers were off, she would feel wetness on her skin. She continued to sample the tasty nipple in her mouth, while she moved one hand between their bodies, reaching down between the bard's legs. Xena groaned as her fingers felt the damp cloth that confirmed her suspicions.
A tiny whimper reached her ears, and she paused for a moment. She had heard the little noises Gabrielle made when she touched her, but this was a new one. She smiled and bit down gently on her lover's breast, while she slid her hand inside the bard's underclothing, stroking the silky warm wetness she found there, and hoping to duplicate the sound. The bard moaned in response, and whimpered at the same time. How did she do that?
As her fingers continued to play upon the sensitive skin, the warrior lifted her head and watched her lover's face, which was awash with pleasure. So damned beautiful. The bard's eyes were closed, and her cheeks were quite flushed. Xena frowned as the whimper made itself heard again, this time louder. That didn't come from Gabrielle. Eve. No no no no.
Maybe if I ignore it, she'll go back to sleep. Xena lowered herself again, and began to push Gabrielle's shirt up, nipping her way slowly up the bard's torso, pausing to explore a belly button, and finally reaching the undersides of two firm breasts. "I want to touch you deeply, Gabrielle. Wanna be inside you. Wanna feel you. I love you so much."
Green eyes opened and the bard guided Xena's lips up to her mouth. They met again in a long passionate kiss, while Gabrielle reached around and began to unlace her partner's leathers. "Xena." The bard urged her lover up long enough to push one leather shoulder strap down, revealing a bare creamy shoulder, along with a breast that was much more rounded than she remembered. Gabrielle pulled the shoulder toward her mouth, eagerly kissing her way across the smooth skin, intent on moving lower.
Suddenly a shriek pierced the darkness, as Eve made sure she would no longer be ignored.
"I think Eve's awake." The bard broke off on a ragged breath.
"Shhh." Xena smiled and raised up, her weight resting on her forearms on either side of Gabrielle's head. "Maybe she'll settle back down." She ran her fingers through the short hair and lowered herself for another kiss.
The shriek turned into a steady wail, and the warrior shot up from the bedroll with a rumbling frustrated growl. "I think she's hungry. It's been a little while since she ate."
Steady cries now punctuated the night air, and Gabrielle sat up along with her partner. She kissed the bare shoulder one more time. "Xena. Go to her. It's okay."
The warrior leaned in for one more quick kiss, as Eve continued to cry, her sounds becoming more demanding. As they separated, the bard smiled, and slowly reached across to her lover's breast, which was still exposed, the moonlight painting the full rounded flesh in soft light. She gently removed a single drop of milk from a hardened nipple and studied it on the end of her fingertip.
"Sorry." Xena blushed dark crimson. "It's a reaction a mother has when she hears a baby cry. I can't help it. I guess it's kind of gross for you to ..."
"I think it's beautiful." Gabrielle placed the finger in her mouth and sucked on it, her eyes never leaving Xena's in the process. "You're beautiful." The bard leaned in briefly, oblivious to Eve's continued cries, and tenderly kissed the nipple. "Go to her Xena. Your daughter needs you."
The warrior traced full lips with her thumb, and then reluctantly stood up. "Our daughter." She crossed to the other side of the fire and picked up the crying Eve, who immediately latched contentedly onto her mother's breast, making little gurgling suckling noises that melted Xena's heart each time she heard them. After all the death and destruction at my hands, I can finally give life to someone.
Her body was still keyed up, and the baby's nursing activities were confusing her libido, which still keenly felt the effect of Gabrielle's recent contact. She looked over at her partner, who had laid back down on her side and was still watching her with passion and adoration. Xena cocked her head and smiled, and moved back across the fire ring to Gabrielle's bedroll.
She carefully sat down, and then lay down, cradling the nursing Eve in the crook of her arm. "Come here." She pulled the bard up against her unoccupied side, sighing as the blonde head came to rest on her shoulder. "Sorry. I ... gods ... I really wanted to make love to you."
"Xena." Gabrielle made slow circles across her lover's stomach with the flat of her hand. "It's okay. We know now. I mean ... we still have it, if we want it. That's enough for now."
"I never stopped wanting you, Gabrielle." The warrior turned her head and blue eyes regarded green in the flickering firelight. "Things just got complicated. And after a while, I thought you didn't want me ... like that ... anymore. I treated you so badly while we were dead. And then when I was pregnant I was so dependent upon you. Who would want a big fat cow like that anyway? Between my size, my guilt, and my hurt pride, I was feeling like a slug most of the time."
Oh gods. The bard was suddenly profoundly sad. "Xena. First of all, I don't blame you for what happened while we were dead, at least not anymore. You became a demon doing what you always do, giving of yourself to help someone else. Once you became a demon, you didn't have any control over that. I came very close to becoming one myself, remember? If you hadn't convinced Michael to let you come rescue me ..." Gabrielle shuddered. "Please don't feel guilty about that. It's over. As for the other ..." The bard's hand moved higher, cupping the leather-covered breast that Eve wasn't dining on. "I never stopped wanting you either."
"You didn't?" A black brow arched in surprise. "How could you? I mean ... there I was pregnant with a mystery baby, big as the side of a barn, and placing you in the difficult position of defending us much of the time. I was so selfish. I know that we never stopped and took time to do anything you might want to do. I thought I shouldn't expect anything more from you after all of that."
"And I thought that maybe if you didn't need me to protect you, that you wouldn't have wanted me around at all anymore." The bard closed her eyes at the sense of pain and loss that engulfed her heart.
"Gabrielle. From the day we came back from Illusia, there hasn't been a single minute of a single day that I ever didn't want you with me." How many times can my heart break in one night?
"But Xena, before the crucifixion, you almost left me, so many times. I couldn't help but wonder, after Eli brought us back, if you didn't wish you had." Gabrielle's hand reached down, intertwining her fingers with her partner's.
"Not because I didn't want you around. Because I thought it was for your own good." She squeezed the hand and then lifted it to her lips, softly brushing the knuckles.
The bard gasped. All those times that she had been so hurt and confused, wondering why the warrior no longer wanted her around. "Each of those times, I thought you'd finally grown tired of me."
"Never." The blue eyes softened, reflecting the glow from the red-hot flames next to them. "I meant what I said in that Amazon village, right before you crossed over to fight Alti. I will never let go of you. I think we've both cheated ourselves out of something very rare and special." Xena's voice was hoarse and low, her chest suddenly tight with sorrow.
"I want us back, Xena." Gabrielle snuggled up closer, feeling a strong arm anchor her in place.
"Me too." The warrior kissed first the top of her partner's head, and then the smaller one that was still greedily feeding at her breast.
After a long period of silence, Xena realized that both Gabrielle and Eve were fast asleep. She sighed, but this time it was not due to a heavy heart, but to contentment. She had her baby safely with her, and she had her lover back in her arms where she belonged. Her little family was complete.
She carefully pried Eve away from her breast and laid the soundly-sleeping infant down next to her. Her other arm finally free, she wrapped it around her partner, joining her in the most peaceful sleep they had shared since before the crucifixion.
Several feet away, the goddess of love watched with relief. Aphrodite had never bought into the concept of the twilight of the gods. Even if the legend were true, she had secretly hoped that she would be spared. It's not like I go around hurting people. As she watched the reunited couple, she nodded a little to herself, a decision made. They need to know.
Eve's delighted coos woke the warrior, who turned toward her baby with a big smile on her face. The smile quickly disappeared and Xena reached for her sword. "Get away from my child." She growled menacingly.
"Whoa. Chill out warrior babe." Aphrodite backed away from the spot where she had been kneeling over the baby. "I was just admiring the little rug rat. She's really a cutie-pie."
"And you're a god." Xena's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "All the other gods want to kill my child. Why should you be any different?"
"Look, tall dark and deadly." Aphrodite propped herself on a log, crossing her legs and swinging a pink-sandaled foot. "I'm the goddess of love. Duh. I don't kill people. But I do try to mend broken hearts. Dig me?"
Gabrielle was roused by the dialogue and moved to Eve's other side, her sais in hand. "If you didn't come here to kill Eve, then what do you want? The last time we saw you, Xena ended up in the body of a seven-year-old."
"Ouch. Gabrielle, that hurts. Don't you know by now that I'm your friend? And like, that whole body switcheroo was an honest mistake, okay?" The goddess pouted. "You two are in such deep funks, I'd swear your stockings were twisted, except you aren't wearing any. Maybe you're both just extremely frustrated, know what I mean?
Identical blushes graced both Xena's and Gabrielle's cheeks, as each suddenly studied the ground.
"Listen up girlfriends." Aphrodite grew serious. "I'm about to tell you something that Ares, my dear brother, failed to mention to you, and I think Callisto assumed you knew. Callisto did not put the baby bun in your oven, Xena."
"What do you mean?" The warrior bristled. "Of course she did. She touched me right after we were raised from the dead. A little while afterward I found out I was pregnant."
"She was just giving you back your light then, babe." The goddess smiled. "And she overdid it. That's why you lost your sense of evil."
"Huh?" Warrior and bard both stared at each other.
"Well she did touch me again after Eli was killed." Xena frowned. "But I was already pregnant then."
"You're getting warmer." Aphrodite giggled. "And the reason she touched you then was to transfer her spirit to the child you were already carrying."
"Well then how ...?" The warrior looked at her baby in confusion. Eve had fallen back asleep, quite oblivious to the conversation regarding her origins.
"Remember when Ares merged you and Gabrielle into the same body so you could fight Mavican?" The goddess gently nudged.
"Sure. That was a damned strange experience." A tapping on her shoulder made her turn her head to find the bard hyperventilating. "What in Hades is wrong with you?"
"Xe ... I think ..." Gabrielle stammered and looked at the goddess, afraid to ask the question that was about to make her explode. "Aphrodite, do you mean what I think you mean?"
"Scrambled eggs." Aphrodite grinned from ear to ear.
"Wait a minute ..." Comprehension snuck up on the warrior and smacked her on the head. "Are you telling me that Gabrielle is Eve's father?"
"No silly." The goddess giggled. "I'm telling you that the bardly one is Evie-poo's other mother. In every sense of the word."
"So when Ares mixed us together, a few other things got mixed together too?" Xena unconsciously rubbed her stomach.
"Bingo." Aphrodite tapped the end of her own wrinkled nose. "Could just as easily have been our bard, but you were the last one to morph, so you ended up carrying the baby."
"I ... I don't know what to say." Xena looked anxiously at her partner, who had the most amazed expression of wonder on her face.
"Don't say anything, girlfriend. Do something." Aphrodite waved her hand over Eve.
"What did you just do to her?" The sword and sais came back up again as warrior and bard spoke in unison.
"Chill. You two are wound up tighter than Ulysses' bow. I just made sure she'd sleep soundly for a few more candle marks. She's fine and she's still in her own body. How you choose to use those few extra candle marks is entirely up to you. But the night is still young, and in the hope that you will use it wisely, I'm going to leave you two alone now, so you can have some privacy." With a wave of her hand, the goddess of love disappeared in a cloud of pink sparkling dust.
Xena looked down and kicked at the dirt, before she turned and slowly met her partner's startled eyes. "Gabrielle, I ... I think we have a lot to talk about."
"Yeah, we do." The bard knelt down and gently ran her fingers across Eve's small face. The baby reached up in her sleep, and reflexively wrapped her small hand around Gabrielle's index finger, holding on tightly with the surprising grip common to all babies. Gabrielle remembered Xena's painful labor and delivery, accomplished on the run, which shouldn't have been any surprise given how the pregnancy had gone.
And she remembered helping the warrior give birth, as the tiny baby first appeared in the world, landing in the bard's arms. My daughter. I was the first one to see your face. The first one to hold you and know that you were a little girl. And you're my daughter. The bard's mind and heart were making a valiant effort to grasp the knowledge.
She felt a long arm fall across her shoulders, as Xena settled in next to her, and they both studied the small life that had suddenly become even more meaningful to them than she already was. "I don't know when I've ever loved two people more than I love you and Eve at this moment." The warrior's voice caught in her throat, as she shed some tears of her own. "My family ..."
"Xena ..." Gabrielle carefully pried her finger out of Eve's tiny hand. "... do you really want to talk right now?"
"No." Xena sat back onto the sleeping furs, and crossed her legs. She watched as the bard dropped down across from her, so that their knees were touching. "I was kind of hoping we could put off talking until tomorrow. I have a feeling when we get started, it's going to go on for several candle marks. I'd like to be well-rested for that. Gabrielle ..." The warrior reached across and cupped her partner's face with one hand. "... I know we've both done and said a lot of things this past year that really hurt each other."
"And we've had a ton of misunderstandings." The bard added, covering Xena's hand with her own.
"Yeah. We just didn't take the time to work through things when they happened, and we let them all build up. I don't ever want to let things get that bad again between us." The warrior caressed a soft cheek, and the bard's eyes closed at the welcome sensation. "I hope that for tonight, if I tell you that I love you, and that I still want to spend the rest of my life with you, and raise our daughter together, that that will be enough until morning."
"Our daughter." The words took on new meaning, and Gabrielle glanced over at the soundly-sleeping baby. She turned her head and kissed her partner's palm. "We still need to talk, but that ... what you just said ... would be enough for a lifetime. So ..." The bard scooted forward, pushing Xena's legs apart until she was sitting between them. "... what do you want to do right now, Xena?"
The warrior wrapped her arms around her partner, and kissed her soundly, not coming up for air until she felt the muscular body relax, melting into her, and Gabrielle's hands were anxiously pushing her leathers off her shoulders. She pulled back enough to look directly into the dark green eyes, and smiled.
"Right now ..." She slowly pulled the bard's sleep shirt off and urged her back onto the bedroll. Xena quickly removed her own clothes and then lowered herself until she was hovering over her partner, her weight braced on one forearm, as she pushed blonde bangs out of Gabrielle's eyes. "... right now, I want to make love to the mother of my child."
The warrior laid the rest of the way down, sighing as muscular legs parted, making room for her. She slowly settled her weight on top of her partner, and ducked her head, capturing the bard's lips in a kiss that rapidly heated to match the dancing fire next to them. Her hands eagerly explored Gabrielle's body, enjoying the tiny shivers and flutters, as her fingers found all the places that drove the bard crazy with passion.
She meant to take her time, really, but her own desire was rising so fast, she feared she wouldn't outlast her partner. The constant satisfied whimpers coming from the bard's throat, and Gabrielle's own hungry caresses against her skin didn't help matters.
Finally, she could hold back no longer, and Xena lifted up slightly, sliding her hand seductively down the bard's washboard stomach, combing through damp blonde curls, and then dipping down to part soft heated flesh. "Oh gods, baby." Her fingers played in the silky warmth. "You're so wet."
"Xena." Gabrielle's hand reached down, urging more solid contact. "Touch me, Xena. I need you so much. Inside me." The bard shuddered, as the warrior did her bidding, and she felt herself entered deeply, as long fingers stroked her, promising to bring her up to a place she wanted to go more than anywhere else in the world. "Make me come, Xena."
A low growl rose up from the warrior's chest, and her lips found the sensitive skin below Gabrielle's ear. "I've wanted this for so long, love. So very long." She shifted, feeling the bard's hips pushing up against her, and used her own hips to drive herself deeper inside. Muscular legs wrapped around the warrior's waist, adding fuel to Xena's fire. "Gods I love it when you wrap yourself around me."
The bard whimpered, as Xena gently nipped at the side of her neck with tiny bites, alternating with slow kisses. She tilted her head to one side, to give her lover better access. As the warrior's fingers began to move more fervently, Gabrielle reached around, pulling Xena tightly against her with both hands. The warrior groaned, when inner muscles began to contract around her fingers. She felt fire on her shoulder blades, as the bard dug in with her finger nails, slowly dragging them down her back.
"That's it, baby. I love being in you when you come. So damned hot. Wanna feel you come again." The warrior drew out her partner's pleasure, quickly bringing her lover up two more times in succession. "I love you Gabrielle, so very much." Finally, she gently withdrew her fingers, watching green eyes that grew wide and then closed, as several after shocks washed over the bard's body. "Come here." Xena rolled over onto her back and pulled Gabrielle against her.
The bard was beyond speech, as happy tears spilled onto her lover's chest. She felt Xena's fingers running idly through her hair, and she rolled over on top of the warrior, to study the pale blue eyes. "Xena. Wow. That was ... intense."
"Yeah." The warrior smiled, and reached up, continuing to stroke her lover's head. "I ... wanted to devour you. It's like I couldn't get enough. Been so long." She paused and pulled her lover down for a quick kiss. "You were pretty heated up yourself, sweetheart. I can't remember the last time I had scratches on my back. Well ..." She grinned mischievously. "... those kinds of scratches, anyway."
"Oh." Gabrielle blushed. "Sorry. I didn't even realize I did that."
"Don't be sorry." Xena raised her knees to get more comfortable, and gently lifted her lover by the hips, re-settling the bard on top of her. "I loved every minute of it. Especially feeling your nails on my skin. Gods, that almost sent me over the edge with you."
"Xena, 'almost' isn't good enough." Gabrielle bent over and kissed her lover's throat. "I want to touch you too, Xena, only this time, real slow." She moved to the warrior's ear. "My turn now."
Xena merely shook her head in eager agreement, and relaxed into her lover's embrace. Gabrielle did indeed take her time, carefully re-memorizing every line and curve on the warrior's body. She raised up briefly and smiled at the fire burning in the twin blue eyes. The bard gently traced the contours of a full breast and softly kissed the nipple, watching it harden and pucker. "Xena, even when you were nine moons pregnant, I thought you were the most beautiful person on earth. I'd look over at you sometimes, and I wanted you so badly."
"Oh gods." The warrior groaned deeply, as her lover's lips closed around the nipple, and the bard first kissed, and then gently suckled, drawing at the same sustenance that Eve so greedily sought each day.
"I hope Eve doesn't mind sharing these with me." Gabrielle smiled, before moving to the other breast. "I've gotten kind of addicted to them."
"Gabrielle, please." The warrior felt a raging fire between her legs. "Could you please move your lovely lips a little bit lower?" She closed her eyes and simply surrendered, as Gabrielle slid down her body, nudging her knees further apart with her shoulders, and then nipped teasingly at the sensitive skin of her inner thighs. "Please, baby. I need you right ... oh gods ... there." Warm breath tickled her center, and then she felt her lover's lips and tongue make the most intimate contact of all.
Words became useless, and Gabrielle laid one arm across Xena's lower body, holding her hips in place, as she inhaled deeply of her partner's exotic musky scent. She got lost in that, along with the taste of her lover, and the sounds the warrior made as she gradually took her closer and closer to the edge. "Mmmm. Xena. I think I'm addicted to this part of your body, too."
The warrior groaned, trying to focus. "It's pretty addicted to what you're doing to it right now." She was silenced again, as the waves of pleasure claimed her, and her lover rode them out with her, using her talented mouth and fingers to drive her higher. "Coming for you, Gabrielle. Oh gods ... always for you."
Xena's head slammed back against the sleeping furs, and she closed her eyes again, as the bard tenderly kissed her between her legs, sending delicious shivers up her spine, and murmuring soft nonsense words, telling her how much she loved to touch her, loved to be with her. Gabrielle slowly crawled back up into the warrior's arms, and sighed blissfully as they circled her body.
The warrior looked over to where Eve still slept soundly, not knowing that something profound had just transpired between her two mothers. The two women who had cared for her so diligently, from before she was born, had just re-claimed the love they shared. Eve would know what it was to have two parents who were deeply in love with each other. Xena said a silent prayer of gratitude to Aphrodite, and then kissed her partner's blonde head, before pulling the furs up over their tangled bodies.
"I love you Xena." Gabrielle pressed her lips against a bare collar bone.
"Best thing in my life." The warrior closed her eyes, tightening her hold. "Gabrielle." Xena mumbled sleepily.
"If we ever get merged into the same body again, can we work it out so that you're the last one to morph back? I don't think I'd survive another pregnancy."
"Deal." The bard giggled, and Xena quickly joined her, as their voices blended in easy shared laughter.
The fire was burning low again, dwindling back down to simmering embers that provided a comforting warmth against the late-night chill. There would be time to talk in the morning, where confessions would be made, and there were many things to work through. But they were no longer afraid to face the more difficult issues. Now they knew that the love they shared was strong enough to sustain their family, which was finally sleeping together on the same side of the fire.
*Lyrics to Xena's lullaby are presumed to be by Joseph Lo Duca.
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