Violence: What's an interview without a little violence? I mean,
Love/Sex: Hmmm ... if two women engaging in such things bothers you, then don't read this. Though I don't expect to get explicit.
Language: What's an interview without a little cursing? I mean, really?
TimeLine: It really doesn't matter which season you set this in, but let's just say... ummmm ... BGSB Gabrielle. Pre-rift. Cool?
The Press: I in no way intend to imply that all reporters are like the ones protrayed in this story. Yes, the reporters here aren't good people. Yes, I know that real reporters probably ARE good people. Thank you.
Xena grinned as the last of the warlord's men half-ran and half-hobbled away from her. A resounding cheer echoed across the village, and a quiet sense of satisfaction settled over the warrior. There was still much work to do; the warlord's men had managed to set several houses on fire and to tear down private and public property alike, but still, no villagers had been killed, so it was a good day.
Gabrielle's voice cut through the cheers of the crowd, and Xena's head immediately whipped around, her eyes narrowing as she looked for the danger. Seeing the smaller woman's form breaking into a run, Xena followed, her eyes guessing Gabrielle's path and seeing what had caused her such alarm.
A small girl, huddled in the corner of a building, jerked against the grip of a large, dirty hand clasped around the front of her dress.
"You're coming with me, girl," he snarled, pulling her upright.
Letting out a resounding battle cry, Xena passed Gabrielle like she was standing still, pulling the man roughly from the girl and backhanding him across the face.
Growling, he retaliated, sending his hand wrapped around a dagger towards her throat. Smiling, Xena moved her left hand with inhuman speed to rest below his wrist as she brought her other hand around, striking the back of his hand sharply, causing his hold to break. The dagger clattered to the cobbled ground.
"What the - " he gasped out, his eyes widening with fear and his feat carrying him away from the warrior woman.
"Name's Xena," Xena purred, treating him to a cold and dangerous stare.
"X-X-Xena," he choked out, before turning and running for his life.
For just an instant, Xena wanted to chase after him; she wanted to chase him down and pull his head right off his shoulders for attacking a child, but then a soft hand touched her arm, and the violence receded.
"Xena, she has a few scrapes, but I think she's all right. Scared, mostly," Gabrielle said from her spot on the ground next to the girl. "What's your name?" Gabrielle asked gently, turning her attention back to the small girl before her.
"L-laria," she stuttered softly, her gaze fixed on the ground.
Gabrielle smiled at the child, her soft golden hair and angelic features slipping into her heart. "That's a very pretty name, Laria," she said. "How old are you?"
"The B-b-bard," Laria interrupted, her gaze raising to meet Gabrielle's. The shy, sweet smile on the girl's face caused a similar one to appear on Gabrielle's.
"That's right," she said. "How did you know?"
"Stories of you and Xena."
Xena knelt beside the blonde pair, smiling softly at the little girl. "Then I guess you know who I am," she said dryly.
"The W-warrior P-p-princess," Laria said, turning her smile on the larger woman.
"Well, my friends call me Xena," she responded.
"Where are you parents, Laria?" Gabrielle asked, looking around and noting the the villagers had started to put out the fires and repair the damages under the direction of the town's mayor.
Laria's smile slipped away, and her soft blue eyes fell to the ground again. "Dead," she said simply, her huddled form closing in further around itself.
Gabrielle's heart lurched for the pain that fairly dripped from that one word. "Then who takes care of you?" she asked softly.
"The v-village. They take turns."
"Come on, then," Xena said, picking the child up and cradling her in her arms. "You'll stay with us until some of this clears out, okay? Would you like that?" she asked the girl.
Two blonde heads turned towards her, smiling their gratitude, the young girl nodding shyly before snuggling into Xena's shoulder and wrapping her small arms around her neck. Xena winked at Gabrielle, who beamed at her in return, the smile crinkling her nose. Their gazes locked, and they stood there in the middle of the chaos, regarding each other in comfortable silence.
"Excuse me, Xena!" came a strident voice from across the village. Xena broke her gaze away from Gabrielle's, looking across the way with no small amount of annoyance at the intrusion.
Xena groaned when she spotted who was coming towards them.
Gabrielle looked up as well at Xena's groan, then cursed under her breath, her features taking on a disgusted look.
A tall, painfully thin woman with sharp features and hair that seemed to have an enchantment on it to keep it still approached them, a scroll and quill in each of her hands. She was followed by a short, fat man with slicked back, oily hair and too many rings on his pudgy fingers who had some sort of box hanging from around his neck. "Nosia, isn't this a pleasant surprise?" Gabrielle asked, poking Xena in the ribs before she could say anything.
"Should you really be surprised, Darling?" Nosia trilled, her too-wide lips splitting her face in a smile, her overly-large white teeth glittering in the sun. "I have a nose for news," she said, beaming at the pair.
"What do you want, Nosia?" Xena asked stiffly, cutting to the chase.
"I want an interview," Nosia said flatly. "You two keep avoiding me, but the public has a right to know! And I'll be writing about you anyway, so don't you want the chance to tell YOUR side of the story?"
"No interviews," Xena snarled, striding away from the woman, Laria in her arms and Gabrielle following.
"That's a lovely child. Is she yours?" Nosia asked, scuttling after the warrior princess.
Nosia was met with a stony silence as Xena and Gabrielle continued to walk away from her.
"Of course, the child looks more like Gabrielle. A child of sin, perhaps?"
Xena and Gabrielle stopped short, turning to gape at the woman, just as a brilliant flash of light erupted in their field of vision.
"What the - " Xena yelled, pulling her sword from the sheath on her back, her other arm tightening around the child. Her vision cleared, and she saw the fat man lowering the strange box.
"What the hell was that?" Gabrielle demanded, her volatile temper getting the better of her as she strode towards Nosia and her friend.
"It takes instant portraits," the man said smugly. "It's a magic box."
"I'll show you a magic box," Gabrielle yelled, raising her fists.
"Oh, no no no, you won't," Xena said, shaking her head and quickly sheathing her sword, grabbing the back of Gabrielle's top, pulling her away.
"Dammit, Xena! Let me go!" she said, still yelling and attempting to take swings at the man, who stayed just out of arms reach. Then the double-meaning of her words hit her, and a blush crawled up her neck, her embarrasment only fueling her anger as she struggled harder to reach the nasty little man.
Nosia stood behind the man, resting her scroll on her back and scribbling furiously. "Obvious violent tendencies ... unstable ... " she muttered as she finished her sentence. "Ratzy, can you take another picture?" she asked sweetly, her smile predatory.
"Time to go, Gabrielle," Xena said, shifting her grip and wrapping an arm completely around the bard's waist. Lifting the woman, Xena carried the two blondes and hurriedly made her way to the inn, slipping in the door before any more damage could be done.
"W-w-who - ?" Laria asked, lifting her head from Xena's shoulder and easing her death-grip around her neck.
"Just a VERY bad woman," Xena said, putting the bard down and leaning back against the door.
"Xena, that woman has followed us around the last five towns! And I'm sick of it!" Gabrielle yelled, trying to angle past the warrior and get to the door.
"Gabrielle, she WANTS us to go after her, so stop it," Xena said calmly, pushing the fuming bard further into the inn and handing over Laria. Having the sweet child in her arms calmed the bard, and shaking her head ruefully, she smiled at Xena.
"I really lost it there, didn't I?" she asked quietly as they went to a table and sat down.
"Yeah, you did," Xena agreed, waving over a waitress and ordering food and drink for the three of them, then looking down and idly tracing the grain of wood in the table with one long, tan finger, forcing her body to relax.
The door began to creak open, and a pointed nose began to peak through, only to stop short as the chakram slammed into the door frame a hairs breadth from the intruder. With a startled squeak, the figured jump, then retreated, slamming the door.
"I lost it?" Gabrielle asked, doing a fair imitation of Xena's raised-eyebrow look.
With a sheepish shrug, Xena stood and moved to the door, pulling the chakram free and replacing it at her waist.
"So what are we going to do about her?" Gabrielle asked, placing a cup of water and a bowl of stew in front of Laria when the food had arrived.
"Can't I just kill her?" Xena asked plaintively.
Gabrielle covered Laria's ears with her hands and glared at the warrior. "No, you may not. If I couldn't clobber Nasty, or whatever that guys name is, you can't kill Nosia."
"Fine," Xena said, turning her attention to her food. "You're the talker. Why don't you just talk to her?"
"Talk to that viper?" Gabrielle asked, her tone incredulous. "The woman made Hercules sound like some kind of misogynistic animal-abusing egomaniac with a thing for Iolaus!"
"A-Ha!" came a triumphant voice from outside the door. "So he does have a thing for Iolaus!" the voice crowed, as Xena stepped to the door and yanked it open.
Nosia and Ratzy stumbled through the doorway, each with a ceramic cup pressed to their ear.
"You've come to your senses, I see," Nosia said, smirking up at the fuming warrior. "We can have the interview right now, if you'd like," she said.
"We are not having the interview now. We are not having the interview later. We are not having an interview," Xena said, her voice intense and rising in volume with each word.
"Xena, Xena, Xena," Nosia chided, as if instructed a very slow young child. "If you don't have an interview with me, you'll eventually have to have an interview with someone. You can't escape this forever."
"I can, and I will," Xena said firmly, stepping closer to the woman, who backed up a space, pressing into Ratzy, who stood behind her in the doorway. "I would rather give an interview with Hades right now than to ever grant you one," she said succinctly.
"She has a death wish," Nosia whispered, turning to Ratzy. "Write that down," she instructed, and he immediately scrawled out the words.
Xena growled low in her throat.
"For the Gods' sake!" Gabrielle said, standing and walking towards the threesome. "If we gave someone an interview, would you leave us alone?" she asked.
"Where would you find someone?" Nosia jeered. "I'm the only reporter intrepid enough to leave Athens."
"Then we'll bloody well go to Athens!" Xena roared.
Nosia's face lost all color, and Xena smirked, proud of her intimidation tactics.
"But you can't do that!" Nosia cried. "You can't take my scoop away from me!"
Xena frowned at the woman, the reason for her suddenly pale face clear. And it wasn't because of Xena's intimidation skills. Well, damn.
"I've worked so hard for this interview," Nosia went on, her sharp face scrunching up. "You can't just wander into Athens and take all that away from me."
"Well, what if we had an interview here?" Gabrielle asked.
"You're granting me an interview?" Nosia asked, perking up, her face immediately smoothing out.
"NO!" Xena and Gabrielle yelled at the same time. Xena let out a sigh of relief, having feared that Gabrielle had lost her mind.
"If you can find someone to interview you in this backwater little village, I'll leave you alone," Nosia scoffed. "But it can't be just letting some farmer ask you a few questions. It has to go to print."
"It's a deal," Xena said, turning on her heel and walking away before she did something drastic like pluck the woman's plastic hair right off her head.
"You'll never find anything like that in this town, Xena. And even if you did, it would be some young hotshot who wants to make a name for themselves, and they'll rake you through the coals."
"Better that than a washed-up old bag like you raking us through the coals," Gabrielle shot back, walking away and joining Xena at the table, sitting next to a wide-eyed Laria.
"I'll be back when you've failed," Nosia said, grabbing Ratzy and heading out the door.
"Well, that went well," Xena observed, making a face as she took a bite of her now-cold stew.
"Sorry about that, Laria. Usually it isn't nice to talk to people like that. You should always try to treat people with respect. But reporters like Nosia are different. It's best not to talk to them at all," Gabrielle explained, sighing heavily.
"At least we'll have peace for a whole meal," Xena said.
"Well, she'll leave us alone completely if we just grant an interview somewhere," Gabrielle pointed out.
"She's right, Gabrielle. All the reporters are in Athens. That's where all the news is. Only Nosia is crazy enough to wander around the countryside chasing after some crazed ex-warlord."
"Hey! I wander around the countryside chasing after you!" Gabrielle pointed out.
Xena reached out, gently taking her hand. "And I thank the Gods every day that you do," she said quietly after checking that Laria was occupied with her meal.
Gabrielle cleared her throat, glancing at Laria, then spoke in a loud voice, "I still think we could find an interviewer if we try hard enough. Maybe we could advertise for someone? Anything would be better than Nosia."
"Gabrielle," Xena said sternly, releasing her hand and sitting back. "If we advertised, we'd have Jericus Springerius, Geraldico, and Rickus Lakus crawling all over this poor village."
"I could do it," came a soft, childish voice.
"What, sweetie?" Gabrielle asked, smoothing the soft golden hair from the young girls face.
"I could interv-v-view you," she said a little louder, looking up at the women.
"That's very kind of you, Laria," Gabrielle said gently. "But it needs to be something that gets in print to make Nosia go away."
"It w-would be p-printed," Laria insisted.
"Mind explaining that?" Xena asked, her brows furrowed as she leaned against the table.
"School p-project. W-we're supposed to interv-v-view our p-parents f-for the school p-paper. I don't have any. The b-best interv-view is sent to Athens w-w-with a p-picture. They always p-print it."
"Would you like to interview us for you school project?" Xena asked gently. Laria's eyes lit up and she nodded eagerly, then her face fell.
"I stutter. It's a timed interv-v-view and they w-won't p-print it if it's t-too short."
"Laria," Gabrielle said gently. "We'd love to help you with your project, even if it doesn't help us with Nosia. Right, Xena?"
"Oh, absolutely," the warrior agreed, nodding her head, and smiling at the girl, whose eyes sparkled as a sweet grin spread across her face.
"Really?" she asked.
"Really," Gabrielle confirmed.
"I have to tell the others!" Laria said, her face flushing with excitement as she jumped up and ran out of the inn.
"Thank you, Xena," Gabrielle said simply, laying her hand on the warrior's arm and smiling across the table at her.
"For what?" Xena murmured.
"For helping Laria. For being you," Gabrielle responded.
"I just wanted to make you smile at me," Xena said softly, looking down at her food and pushing it around in the bowl with her spoon.
"Oh, no, warrior," Gabrielle laughed. "You'd have helped that girl anyway. I know it."
"If it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't have noticed her there."
"You would have. You would have saved her, and made sure she got something to eat, and you would have helped her with her project. I know you, Xena."
Xena said nothing, a small flush rising up her neck.
"What is it?" Ratzy asked groggily, startled from his slumber. He straightened from his slouched position over a crate in the back of the inn, where his camera was propped up and ready to snap a picture of Xena or Gabrielle should they attempt to leave in the middle of the night.
"This!" she said, shoving the very early morning edition of Hermes' own newspaper right in front of his nose.
"Warrior Princess and Bard to give interview," he said, his slow laborious reading causing Nosia's teeth to grind together.
"Yes, you cretin! They must have found some way to grant an interview here. We have to stop them!"
"First off, I'm not from Crete. And 'B' ... I just take the pictures."
Nosia made a noise like a cat in heat wearing a collar that is too tight being dropped into an icy cold water trough. With a great deal of visible effort, she pulled herself together. "If we don't get the scoop, we don't make any dinars," she finally said.
Ratzy just nodded, continuing to read the articleabout the interview to himself, moving his lips along with the words.
"Are you listening to me?" Nosia demanded.
"Hang on," Ratzy said absently, losing his place. After a moment, he found it again, making a small grunt of discovery and continuing his reading.
Nosia tapped her foot, glaring at the man and silently cursing his parentage, their parentage, his homeland, his children, and everyone he had ever met, even in passing.
"Did you read all of this?" he finally asked, looking up at the woman, then recoiling slightly at the very unattractive flared-nose expression on her face.
"Why would I want to read anything but the headlines?" she asked, silently counting to ten.
"Because this 'interview' is for a school project. And the whole village is invited to attend. So if we show up, we can take notes."
"A school project?" Nosia asked, her eyes narrowing. "But is it going to print?"
"Yeah. It's getting printed for another school project, and the best interview is being printed by the Athens Philosopher"
"Hrmph. Snooty paper," Nosia said, frowning at the mention of the one newspaper that refused to print her article on Hercules. It was a great honor to be printed in the Athens Philosophers and Nosia wanted it so bad she could taste it.
"So a child is giving this interview?" she asked slowly, the wheels in her mind starting to grind together.
"Yeah. Some kid named Laria."
"Hmmm...I wonder if she'd like some advice on what sort of questions to ask from an actual professional?" she said, a wicked grin pulling her narrow lips across her face.
"What made you decide to grant an interview?"
"Are you finally going to tell the truth about your relationship?"
"Gabrielle! Over Here! How did you decide to follow Xena?"
"Is the chakram a gift of the Gods? Which God?"
Xena and Gabrielle stood in the doorway of the inn, stock still, watching with stunned expressions as a horde of bodies moved about, each pushing the others out of the way, waving quills and magic boxes, and edging towards the front.
Without a word, Xena stepped back, pulling the bard with her, and slammed the door.
"What in Hades is that about?" Xena asked, leaning against the door, as the rabid reporters attempted to bust it in.
"It's like a whole herd of Nosia's," Gabrielle said, the expression on her face and the tone of her voice half awe and half horror.
"Oh, Gods," Xena groaned, sliding down the door and resting her head in her hands. "Can'tthey just leave us alone?"
"Once we give the interview to Laria, we'll be old news," Gabrielle said. "I hope."
"Xena? Xena! Open up!" came a familiar voice, and a pounding on the door.
Xena's head raised. "Salmoneus?" she asked, standing up, and turning towards the door, placing her open palms against it and pressing her ear to it.
"Yes. Now get me in there before his mob kills me," he said, his voice desparate and pleading.
Without another word, Xena opened up the door, lifting her arm to shield her eyes against the expected flashes and pulled Salmoneous' hefty frame through the door. She slammed it, kicking feet and arms and other various body parts out of the way, then slid the wooden bar intoplace, keeping the door firmly shut.
"Why were they after you?" Gabrielle asked, pulling the short berobed man into the room and seating him at a table.
"Thank you, dear," he said, bestowing a fond smile on the bard. "Once I told them I was your PR Manager, they started - "
"You told them what?" Xena asked, narrowing her eyes at the opportunist.
"Well, Xena, you need a PR Manager to handle that mob. And I know the press. Why, merchants and the press are after the same things, really. Only they dig up information to spread around the known world, and we merchants use it to find angles in our marketing. See?" he said, spreading his hands.
"If you're so good at handling the press, how come you had to cry for help knocking at our door?" Xena drawled out.
"Well, I wasn't prepared - "
"Salmoneous," Xena said, cutting him off. "I do not want or need a PR Manager. You are not answering questions, you are not setting up interviews, and you are NOT selling Xena Action Figures with miniature chakrams! Got me?"
"Awww, but Xena!" Salmoneous whined. "The kids love 'em!" he finished, pulling out a small wooden figurine of the warrior princess, a piece of twine connecting the chakram to her hand. "And see, the chakram comes back!" he crowed, demonstrating how the chakram could be flung a few inches, then brought back to rest in Xena the Action Figure's hand.
"Ooohhhh! That's so cute!" Gabrielle explained, taking the figure and trying it out. As the chakram snapped back, Gabrielle missed catching it in Xena the Action Figure's hand, and she gasped as the toy decapitated the figurine of her friend.
"It, ahhh... needs a little work?" Salmoneous offered, grinning weakly.
"She's over there," he said, pointing into a large group of children.
"Which one is she?" Nosia asked, her smile getting more forced by the second, her loathing of children warring with her need for the story.
"She's telling everyone about meeting Xena and Gabrielle," he said, indicating the small blond in the middle of the group.
"Ahhhh," Nosia said, pulling Ratzy with her as she walked towards the group. "It's Gabrielle's love child," she whispered conspiratorially. "That must be why they granted the interview. And aren't they supposed to interview their parents?" she asked.
Ratzy only nodded as they reached the children, who immediately stopped speaking when the strange adults loomed over them.
"Good Morning, children," Nosia said, her tight smile, stiff manner, and immovable hair making the smallest child cry. "Oh, hush," Nosia tried to say in a soothing voice, making the child cry all the harder. At a loss, Nosia ignored the snot-nosed little brat and turned her attention to Laria. "Laria, I'm Nosia, and I'm a real reporter. Can I speak with you for a minute?"
"B-b-ut you're a b-bad w-woman," Laria said, backing away.
"Oh, no, sweetie," Nosia crooned as she wrinkled her nose in what she thought was an endearing manner, but actually made her look like a slightly manic rabid weasel.
Laria shook her head 'no' emphatically, then looked around with a slightly lost expression as the other children took this opportunity to run away from the scary lady.
"There, now," Nosia said. "I'm not going to hurt you. I just wanted to know if you wanted any help? I just want to help you." "Help me?" Laria asked, her trusting eyes wide.
"Yes. You're interviewing two of the most famous people alive today. You know that, right?" she asked. Laria nodded. "Well, you don't want to ask the wrong questions, do you?" Laria shook her head.
"So we're going to help you ask the right questions," Ratzy said, setting up his magic box on a series of folded up sticks attached by rope.
"You'd help me w-with the interv-view?" Laria asked. She had been incredibly nervous and excited at the same time about interviewing her new friends, and now a real reporter was going to help her! "Sure thing," Nosia said, turning her head to watch Ratzy and to hide the evil little grin she just couldn't stop from Laria.
"W-what should I ask?"
"Well, I have a list of questions for you," Nosia said, handing over a bag brimming with scrolls to the little girl. "Read those over, and they'll give you a good idea of what you should ask. And if its okay, we'll just take a quick picture of you," she finished, the flash from the magic box capturing Laria's slightly startled image before Nosia had finished her sentence.
"There, that should do it," Ratzy said with an oily grin. "Now, we just need the names of your parents, so we can make sure this picture is okay."
"Oh," Laria said, her face falling. "I don't have any p-parents. Does this mean I can't use your questions for the interv-view?"
"Laria, baby," Nosia said, using her 'sympathetic and compassionate' voice. "I'm so sorry to hear that. Of course you can use the questions. Why don't you just run along and look them over, and Ratzy and I will take care of everything, all right?"
"Sure!" Laria said, brightening as she made her way back into the center of the village.
"Oh, this is perfect!" Nosia crowed, doing an awkward little jig. "The Athens Philosopher will adore this story. Gabrielle's wayward youth, and the poor love child she abandoned in a backwater village to go galivanting across the countryside with a crazed ex-warlord. Is the picture ready?" she demanded.
"Almost," Ratzy said, fiddling with the magic box. "Here you go," he finally said, proudly presenting the picture to the ecstatic reporter.
"Oh, we'll have to send this in right away. Use the messengers from the Olympic Herald. They're the best in the business," she said, handing over her hastily scrawled story and the picture of Laria.
Ratzy nodded, scurrying off to meet the messenger that had dropped off their early morning edition.
"The Athens Philosopher can't ignore this story!"
"You get up in front of crowds all the time, Gabrielle," Xena pointed out.
"Yeah, but I'm always talking about you. Laria's going to ask me about me."
"Well, we probably should have thought of that before we agreed to this," Xena said idly, watching the crowd for any sign of trouble.
"And do you enjoy your job?" the young boy asked his father, getting towards the end of the interview. Laria was up next, and the crowd was not-so-patiently awaiting her turn.
"Why, yes, yes I do. There's nothing quite like digging graves," the man was saying.
"Ewww, Xena. That's really morbid," Gabrielle said, wrinkling her nose in an endearing fashion and turning away from the man.
"Ahhh, Xena," Salmoneous said, sidling up to the warrior princess. "You, my good woman, owe me. In fact, you owe me big."
"What?" Xena asked, turning her attention away from the crowd.
"You. Owe. Me." Salmoneous handed a scroll over to Gabrielle and smiles smugly.
"I heard you. Just - exactly - what makes you think I owe you?" she asked menacingly.
A sputtering noise issued forth from the bard as a blush crawled up her neck.
"What is this?" she gasped out, quickly shutting the scroll and handing it to Xena.
"That, my good woman, is the list of questions Laria was going to ask you."
"Laria was going to ask that?" Gabrielle gasped.
Xena frowned, opening the scroll, then shutting it sharply after just a peek. "I didn't know seven-year-olds knew those words," she muttered.
"They don't. Your sweet little interviewer asked me how to pronounce cunn-"
Gabrielle slapped a hand over Salmoneus' mouth. "Don't say it," she pleaded, only releasing him when she felt him nod.
"Anyway, I asked her where she had found a word like that, and as it turns out, she had a visit from your friend Nosia, so I got rid of Nosia's questions and gave her some more appropriate ones to ask."
"More appropriate?" Xena asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
"And now ... Xena and Gabrielle!" came the announcer's voice. Laria was already seated on the makeshift stage, looking small and uncomfortable. Xena gave Salmoneous one last glare, before allowing herself to be dragged onto the stage by the bard.
They seated themselves across from the visibly nervous little girl, and Gabrielle smiled reassuringly at her. Taking a deep breath, Laria began.
"W-where did you two meet?" Laria asked softly.
"Speak up!" came a voice from the crowd.
"Yeah, we can't hear!" came another voice.
Then, the reporters in the audience were clamoring to get closer to hear the interview. Xena stood, glaring at the crowd, causing several flashes of light to go off all around her.
"Xena, is it true you ripped a man's arm off and beat him to death with it?"
"Gabrielle, what does your family think of your choice to be with Xena?"
"Enough!" roared a voice that easily carried out over the crowd. An older gentleman in a pin-striped toga and an odd round brimmed had strode onto the stage, and immediately the reporters stopped shouting their questions.
"Who are you?" Gabrielle asked, scooting closer to Laria.
"I am Editorius. I run the Athens Philosopher. I heard this fine young woman was going to be interviewing the two of you, and I wanted to witness it for myself." Then, in a softer voice, he added, "and I wanted to make sure this lot behaved." He gestured surreptitiously towards the gathered reporters.
"Thank you," Gabrielle said quietly, suddenly liking the man.
"But before we start, where's Nosia?" he asked, scanning the crowd with narrowed eyes.
Gabrielle glared at Editorius, instantly reversing her opinion as he called forth the woman who had started this whole mess.
Nosia rushed to the front of the crowd. "Editorius," she gushed, beaming at him and making her way up onto the stage.
"Nosia," he said, grinning at the woman. "Guards!" he called, and immediately, two large men came and grabbed Nosia and Ratzy, dragging them away. "I'm afraid Nosia can't stay for the interview. There's a law against sending pictures and stories to a newspaper regarding someone underage without the permission of the next of kin. And now," he said, turning to Laria with a strange look in his eyes. "If you would continue, dear girl." Bowing, he stepped off to the side of the stage, never taking his eyes off of Laria.
Gabrielle watched him, a strange feeling of familiarity settling into her stomach. Something about the eyes caught her attention and held it for a moment, but then Laria continued with the interview.
"W-where did you two meet?" Laria asked again, her voice stronger, the presence of the older gentleman somehow lending her strength. Maybe it was the kindness she sensed from him, but she had the strangest feeling that as long as he was there, everything would be all right.
"Just outside Potedeia," Xena said, with her usual verbosity.
"How?" Laria asked simply, keeping her questions short to avoid her stuttering.
"Well, it happened like this," Gabrielle said, smiling a little at the memory. "There I was, with the other women from my village. We were peacefully doing our chores, when a rustling in the bushes grabbed our attention. Ten large, dirty men, with scowling faces and sharp swords stood around us. They were slavers!"
Laria gasped, her eyes wide. "W-were you scared?"
"Of course I was," Gabrielle laughed. "I've never been so scared in my life."
"Then w-what happened?"
"Xena happened," Gabrielle grinned. "There she was, weaponless, half-naked, and glaring. I thought I was going to k- ummm ... I mean," Gabrielle stammered, blushing lightly as she remembered her audience. "I thought I was going to be taken away by slavers, but Xena stood up to them and fought them all barehanded."
"W-were you killed?" Laria asked urgently, turning to look at Xena.
"No, I wasn't killed," Xena said, smiling at the young girls enthusiasm and at Gabrielle's near slip.
"Do you have a home?" Laria asked suddenly, putting down the scroll with Salmoneus' questions on it. Most of those questions were really about Salmoneous anyway, and Laria didn't want to know about him.
"We live on the road," Gabrielle said simply, turning her mind away from the place she had grown up. Potedeia had ceased to be a home for her a long time ago.
"We travel so much, it doesn't make sense to have a home," Xena added.
"I don't have a home either," Laria said quietly, looking down and missing the single tear tracking down Editorius' face. "Don't you get lonely m-moving all the time?"
"Not really, no," Gabrielle said gently. "I have Xena, and she's everything I need. She is my home."
"And Gabrielle is mine," Xena said simply, shifting in her chair uncharacteristically, uncomfortable with the emotions Gabrielle's words had evoked.
"You love each other," Laria said, with the simple wisdom and insight of a child, her tone wistful.
"That's right, Laria. We do," Gabrielle said, reaching out and taking the child's hand.
In a voice soft enough to be just for Laria's ears, Xena added, "sometimes we have to make our own homes. You'll find yours."
"Thanks," Laria said, smiling at her two heroes. "How do you m-make a family?"
"Well, when two people really love each other," Xena drawled, a wicked glint in her eye, only to have her sentence interrupted by a blushing bard. "They learn to love. And since they can love, they can find other people that they love and trust, you see?" Gabrielle rambled. "Like Salmoneous! Salmoneous is part of the family!" Gabrielle said, as her eyes fell on the portly merchant. She let out a breath, casting her mind around to find more examples before Xena started talking again. "And then there's Hercules and Iolaus, and Autolycus."
"I don't have a family, either," Laria said, tears welling up in her eyes.
The eyes Gabrielle thought, turning to look at an openly weeping Editorius. Gathering himself, he strode across the stage, pulling the sad little girl into his arms and rocking her slowly.
"You do have a family," he said fiercely, though his arms remained gentle. He pulled back and wiped the tears from the confused eyes that were so like his own.
"B-but my p-parents are - " she said.
"Yes, sweetie, they are. And I can't fix that. But was your mother's name Meera?" he asked softly. Laria just nodded. Editorius' tears fell again, as he pulled the little girl close. "She was my daughter. That makes you my granddaughter," he said simply.
Laria stood very still in the kind man's arms, enjoying the feeling of security she had there. "You're my granp-pa?" she asked softly, tears running down her face. "W-why didn't you w-want me?" she asked, her heart aching.
"I did want you. I do want you," he said. "I didn't know about you, sweetheart. I didn't know I had a granddaughter. But now that I do, I want you to come live with me. Would that be all right? Would you like that?" he asked, pulling away to look into her sweet face.
Smiling shyly, she nodded, and he reached out and dried the rest of her tears. "Do you want to finish your interview?" he asked gently.
"Yeah," she said softly. "They helped me find you."
Standing with a lightness he hadn't felt in years, he set Laria back on her chair and walked off the stage, keeping himself in her line of sight.
"You sure you want to keep going?" Gabrielle asked, her own tears of happiness for this child welling up in her eyes.
Laria nodded, beaming at Gabrielle and Xena in turn, before looking to her grandfather, who gave a proud nod.
"So, what else do you want to know?" Xena asked, shaking off the emotion and finding a smile for the girl.
Laria's face scrunched up in concentration, then she began to speak. "How do you pronounce C-U-N-"
Gabrielle covered her mouth. "Let's talk about something other than spelling, okay?"
"Right," Xena agreed, backing up the bard.
"Thank you, Grandfather," she said, smiling shyly at the man.
Nosia's article had been thrown in the trash where it belonged, but the picture Ratzy had taken had captured his attention. The small orphaned girl with the angelic face was the very picture of her mother, the daughter Editorius had lost so many years before when she had run off with a farmer in the name of love. In a fit of anger he would regret until his dying day, he had railed at his daughter, telling her that the farm-boy was beneath her, and she should never return.
He had lost his daughter then, but had held out hope one day that she would return. The seasons passed, and his hope dwindled to nothing. His heart had broken again, when he had learned of his daughter's death, but at the same time, he had found his granddaughter, and vowed he would not make the same mistakes.
"Would you care to read it to me?" he said, passing the Athens Philosopher over to Laria. Her stuttering had all but disappeared, and he took every opportunity to help her with her speaking.
"Xena and Gabrielle are best friends," she read, her soft childish voice music to Editorius' ears. "They help p-people. They fix problems and fight bad raiders so that people will b-be safe. They are a family. They love each other very much. Xena and Gabrielle met when Xena saved Gabrielle from slavers. Xena is very nice. That was a nice thing to do. I like Xena and Gabrielle. They are part of my family. They helped me find my grandfather, so I could have a family like they do."
"And you do, Laria. You do."
"Well, all is well that ends well, right?" Gabrielle asked, walking down the road, side by side with Xena, her staff punctuating her footsteps.
"Yeah, yeah," Xena said, a frown on her face.
"Hold up," Gabrielle said, pulling on Xena's leathers, her request more than her actions stopping Xena up short. "What's the matter? We got rid of Nosia, we got some good press, and Laria found her grandfather. It all ended perfectly."
"Yeah, but did she have to say I was NICE?"
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