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Now More Than Ever
Two figures rode side by side, astride a golden mare and a chestnut steed. All around were sounds and signs of life, but between the two riders, not a single word was spoken. The warrior and the bard were both deep in thought. Finally, the silence was broken.
Gabrielle looked up, startled. "Yes?"
"What are you thinking?" Xena bit her lip, she was going out on a limb here.
"This and that," was the vague answer she received.
"Oh," Xena murmured. So much for that.
Silence fell with only the clattering of hooves and songs of the birds in the trees.
"Yes?" she answered quickly, too quickly. Now she sounded desperate.
"I think the horses need a rest."
Xena grinned in spite of herself. Poor Gabrielle. What she really meant was that SHE needed a rest. "There's a small stream off the road pretty soon. We'll stop there."
The pair stopped a few minutes later. Gabrielle led her horse, dubbed 'Handsome' to the edge of the stream and whispered words of love and praise to him while he drank.
Xena watched Gabrielle covertly. "See, I told you she would freak." The golden mare whinnied in response and turned her head to glance at her rider. "Don't look at me that way," Xena said, grimacing. "I know it's a shock, but she's happy for me girl...at least I think she is," Xena eyed the bard apprehensively. Gabrielle had dropped her incessant questioning of whom the father might be, but that's only because they had to help Talia fight off Dracon's men. Even so, the bard had seemed in good spirits about the pregnancy, unexpected as it was. Xena paused thoughtfully. They were going to have to talk soon. Knowing Gabrielle, the sooner they talked about the baby, the less opportunity it gave for Gabrielle to withdraw more.
Her bard's voice broke through her thoughts and she looked up to see emerald eyes studying her. "Yes?"
"Maybe we ought to think about setting up camp soon. You do need your rest." Gabrielle gestured uncomfortably, unsure of what to say next.
"Sure," Xena smiled weakly.
Gabrielle nodded and led Handsome back to the main road. So many thoughts weighed upon her mind. The first thought being Xena and her pregnancy. She'd been thrown for a loop, a big one. 'But,' Gabrielle thought, 'I recovered pretty well.' There was also Joxer and his irritating behavior. The bard silently groaned. She was seriously thinking it was better when she didn't know how Joxer felt, better and safer too.
Her thoughts strayed back to Xena and their new family. A family. 'That's what they were right?', she asked herself. She and Xena had always found a way to stay together. "Through life and death," she mumbled wryly. Would this change anything? Her first answer was to say no, but this issue of who fathered Xena's child was driving her to distraction. What was worse was Xena's answers of "I don't know" or "Ya got me". Gabrielle needed something solid, like a name, so she would know whom to hunt down and beat the daylights out of.
Her last thought caused her to stop dead in her tracks. Handsome snorted his displeasure at being yanked so suddenly. Gabrielle mumbled an apology and kept walking. Jealous, she was jealous of whoever had gotten Xena pregnant. The bard shook her head. It was childish and petty. She knew in her heart that Xena would never cheat on her, but the seed of doubt had been planted and now Gabrielle wondered.
They had never made their commitment to each other official or public for that matter. They had an understanding. 'Almost like a marriage,' the bard thought wistfully. Images of them raising the baby together raced through her mind. As quickly as they'd come, Gabrielle dismissed them. Xena would want to go home to Amphipolis, without her. A stab of fear pierced Gabrielle's heart. Xena would want to settle down and have a stable life. She had a child to think of now.
"No," Gabrielle told herself firmly. "Xena loves me and she wants to be with me, and only me." It was then that she heard Xena calling her name.
"Gabrielle!" Xena called for the fifth time.
"Huh? What?" Gabrielle looked up startled. She looked for Xena beside her and when she finally realized the warrior was not next to her, she looked behind her. There was Xena, not twenty paces away.
"Let's make camp ok?" Xena looked at Gabrielle. "You ok?" she asked, concerned.
"Oh yeah, fine," Gabrielle waved her off and kept walking.
"What?!" Gabrielle whirled around, annoyed.
"Where are you going?" Xena asked, exasperated.
Gabrielle abruptly straightened and looked around. "Oh." Crimson flushed her cheeks. "Sorry." A sheepish look crossed her face as she led Handsome the 40 paces back to their campsite.
Xena shook her head and set about starting a fire. She really was going to have to talk to Gabrielle and soon. It was obvious her love had something weighing on her mind. A part of her recoiled at forcing the bard to voice her feelings so soon. She knew that when Gabrielle was ready, she would hear about it. Still, it needed to be brought up. "Hungry?" she asked, smiling as Gabrielle entered the little camp. One sure way to get Gabrielle going was to feed her.
"Hmm? Oh no Xena, I ate before we left Spamona. Are you hungry?" Gabrielle asked solicitously.
"Actually, no," Xena laughed. Moments later though, she yawned loudly.
Gabrielle smiled. "Tired?"
Xena nodded and stretched out their bed rolls. She was going to bend down to straighten out the blankets when a sharp voice stopped her. "What?" she asked innocently.
"You shouldn't be bending down," Gabrielle chided, reaching down and smoothing the covers herself.
Xena sighed. "I'm fine Gabrielle. I'm pregnant, not incapacitated."
"All I'm saying is that you should take it easy Xena."
The warrior got a stubborn look on her face, but the look was quickly gone when Gabrielle put her hand on her arm and whispered, "Please?"
Her stubbornness melted away at the look on Gabrielle's eyes. "Have I ever been able to tell you no when you look at me like that?" Xena asked wryly.
Gabrielle shook her head, grinning. "Nope."
Xena laughed and opened her arms wide. Without a moment's hesitation, Gabrielle walked into the safety of her partner's arms. She drew a deep breath, inhaling Xena's scent, and released it, feeling safe and loved. "I love you," she said softly.
"I love you too Brie." Xena tightened her hold on the smaller woman and let Gabrielle's declaration of love fill and warm her. Closing her eyes, she reveled in the closeness and intimacy of their embrace. Xena opened her eyes and sighed, might as well get this over with. "Gabrielle?"
"Hmm?" Gabrielle felt the change in Xena. She was bracing herself for trouble or pain. 'Uh oh,' Gabrielle thought, 'she wants to talk about something.'
"I want to talk to you about something."
Gabrielle allowed herself a small smile. She knew her companion so well. "What?" She had a sinking feeling as to what the subject of the conversation might be.
"I know I can't give you the answer you want," Xena said helplessly.
Gabrielle sighed deeply and stepped out of the protective embrace of her lover. "It's been a long day Xena, let's just get some rest." She turned away and added more wood to the fire.
Xena watched her bard. This was bad. Gabrielle never shied away from a discussion, no matter how painful or sensitive the matter might be. "Brie please, we need to talk about this."
"As far as I'm concerned, the subject is closed." Gabrielle exhaled and stared at the fire a moment before continuing. "There's nothing more to say, so let's just get some rest." With that, she turned and stretched out on her blanket, facing the fire.
Xena instantly noticed the few inches of space between their bedrolls. Her heart ached. It seemed as if Gabrielle was turning her back and withdrawing her love because of this baby. She felt the sting of tears as she walked to her blanket and slowly lowered herself down. Gabrielle had turned away and Xena ached with the loss. Now more than ever, she needed the bard's love and support. It was obvious now how she took those gifts for granted.
Gabrielle pretended to sleep but soon gave up the charade. She knew that Xena knew she wasn't asleep. It would be so easy to roll over and comfort Xena, and be comforted in return. Her pride screamed at her to remain where she was, while her heart begged for the solace of Xena's arms. A lone tear slipped and rolled down her face. 'If her heart was hurting, how must Xena feel?' a small inner voice whispered.
Abruptly, the bard stiffened. At no time during this ordeal had she thought of Xena or what she might be feeling. Her selfishness disgusted her. Xena needed her now. 'But,' another inner voice countered, 'what is she doesn't want your help?' The seed of fear in Gabrielle's heart surged a bit. Her insecurity stopped her. What if she was wrong and Xena didn't want her comfort?
Slowly, Gabrielle turned over to see Xena watching her. One look at her partner told Gabrielle that yes, Xena needed her love. Gabrielle shifted her body over to Xena's blanket. Her eyes never left those of her beloved. She was watching for a sign of rejection but none came. There was only a look of pain and loneliness.
Xena watched as Gabrielle carefully laid her body next to hers. They weren't touching and for long moments, just gazed at each other. Both were hesitant to bridge the gap between them.
The silence continued and the tension began to build. Just as Gabrielle was about to turn back over, Xena reached up and lightly, gently caressed her face. With a small sob, Gabrielle threw herself into Xena's embrace, just as the warrior opened her arms. Tears flowed freely as neither could speak. The pair were overwhelmed by emotion. Gabrielle recovered first and reversed their positions so that Xena's head rested on her shoulder. Gabrielle whispered soothing words of love and comfort as Xena continued to sob.
Eventually, silence reigned as Xena's tears were spent. Now the warrior lie still, listening to the steady rhythm of Gabrielle's heart. She was hesitant to bring up the subject of her pregnancy again. "Brie, I..."
"Shh," Gabrielle laid her finger, gently silencing her lover. "I know Xena. Tomorrow, I promise. For now, let's just get some rest."
Despite her best efforts, Xena couldn't control the jaw popping yawn. Crying always made her sleepy. Drowsiness was winning the war of consciousness, but before she succumbed, Xena managed to murmur, "I love you Gabrielle." She did not hear the reply from her partner as her world soon became black.
Morning found Gabrielle watching Xena sleep. The dark warrior looked so innocent and peaceful while she slept. This was one of the few times she ever really relaxed. The bard loved to watch her lover in repose.
Apprehension began to fill her as Xena stirred. They were going to lay it all on the line. The bard decided to be honest with Xena and tell her of all her fears as well. Her musing ended as Xena yawned and stretched and looked up at her.
"Hi," Xena whispered, unsure of how Gabrielle was going to respond.
Deciding to start the day off right, the bard grinned. "Hi yourself sleepyhead."
Xena laughed and sat up. "Hey, enjoy this moment."
Gabrielle grinned again. "Oh believe me, I am."
The warrior got up and made a trip to the woods. When she returned, Gabrielle had already put water to boil for some tea. Xena sighed gratefully when the bard gave her the steaming brew. Mornings were not going to be good for her as she felt her stomach churn and tumble. With a groan she turned and ran back into the woods, emptying yesterday's meal.
Groaning miserably, Xena started to get up when the nausea caught her again. She was totally unaware that Gabrielle was standing behind her, holding her hair back. 'I must love this woman,' Gabrielle thought with dry humor, 'if I hold her hair back while she throws up.' "Better?" she asked solicitously.
Xena nodded and the bard helped her get to her feet. "Guess this means no good morning kiss huh?" Gabrielle asked. The look she received made her laugh. "Come on, some tea will help."
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. The pair talked about everything except the most important. Gabrielle found herself still nervous, but no longer dreading their talk. She resolved to bring up the subject of the baby very soon.
Xena beat her to it. They were sitting together, holding hands, when the warrior turned to face the bard. The look on her face told Gabrielle that Xena was ready to talk. The bard figured she should initiate. "So, how are you feeling?" Gods, that sounded lame.
Xena smiled, Gabrielle was always thinking of her. How could she put into words everything that needed to be said? She looked deep into Gabrielle's eyes and said, "My body is fine. The baby is fine...but my heart hurts."
Gabrielle swallowed and nodded, "Mine too."
"Talk to me," Xena pleaded, "tell me how you feel."
Gabrielle took a deep breath. "I..." she searched for words. "I'm happy and yet I'm angry." She shook her head. "I want this baby. I love this baby as if it were my own because it's part of you." The bard paused. "I'm happy the baby's here. I'm not happy about the way it came about." She gestured, frustrated. "I know we've never said anything out loud in front of anyone but...but I thought you wanted me."
A horrified look crossed Xena's face. "You think I cheated on you?" she asked incredulously.
"I can't give you a child Xena," Gabrielle looked away. "You went to someone else," she finished in a broken voice.
"No, Brie look at me," Xena begged softly. She waited until emerald eyes focused on her. "I would never, ever let someone else come between us. You're it for me. I honestly don't know how this happened. I haven't been with anyone but you. I haven't slept with a man in gods know how long. You've got to believe me," Xena implored.
Gabrielle reached out to caress the warrior's face. "I do believe you Xena. It's my own fears and insecurities that are coming into play. I know you've been faithful. I was jealous because I thought some one else had given you the one thing that I can't."
"No," Xena interrupted, "You give me everything I need Gabrielle. I don't want anyone else ever. But I do need you, now more than ever. I don't want to do this without you. We're a family right?" Xena asked, needing to hear Gabrielle say the words.
The bard moved closer. "We are a family," she reiterated. "I was afraid you might want to go home to Amphipolis...without me. I just want to be with you Xena."
"You are my home Brie. I never want to be without you."
Gabrielle closed the distance between them. "I love you," she whispered, wrapping her arms around the warrior.
Xena sighed in relief. "Love you too," she said, returning the embrace.
The pair held each other, quietly exchanging promises of love and loyalty. Gabrielle's fear had been allayed, and Xena was secure in the knowledge that she had Gabrielle's love and support when she needed it the most.. Their love was strong and they were going to have a baby. Together they would see it through.