by JS Stephens
Copyright © 1998, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved
. Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The usual disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle & crew belong to Renaissance Pictures and whomever else. I lay sole claim to any characters outside the TV Xenaverse. What they do is purely the product of my vivid imagination. If you don't like love stories involving any permutation of genders, then why in Hades are you here?
Diana swore colorfully and authoritatively as she encountered evidence that once again, she was not pregnant. Although Diana and Joxer had one rambunctious seven year old daughter, Rebecka Diedra, both longed to have a second child, Diana because she did not have any brothers or sisters growing up, and Joxer because he truly loved children. It wasn't from lack of trying, Diana smirked to herself as she walked back to the house.
As Diana stomped in, Joxer wisely avoided asking the question.It was obvious to him that his beloved wife was "sharing the tides of the moon" as she had once poetically put it. He thought quickly, trying to come up with something to distract her from her usual grumbling fit when she discovered that she was not carrying his child. Ah, Corinth!" Diana, I need to go to Corinth to check on my suppliers, probably next week. Would you like to join me and make it a vacation? We could leave Rebecka with Xena and Gabrielle."
Diana stopped stomping and cursing to mull over the idea. Finally, she answered, "Sure, why not? As long as the tides go out, so to speak, before we take off. Wonder how Gabrielle and Xena coped all those years on the road?"
Joxer laughed as he reached for his wife, pulling her near. "My dear Diana, I have no idea. As stupid and naive as I was, I never asked that type of personal question.Xena would have been amused, but Gabrielle would have knocked my head off with her little stick."
Diana grinned, imagining their friend the bard knocking Joxer into the next town over such a question."Dear Joxer, you are sometimes a wise man." She kissed the top of his head, then continued, "as much time as little Rebecka spends with them, I don't think it would be a problem for them to take care of her for a few weeks." Joxer agreed with her, saying that they might take her with them when she got older.
A week later, Rebecka was dropped off at the inn to stay with Gabrielle and Xena. Cyrene was off in Athens visiting Solon and Julia, but Xena said that her mother should be back any day now. Diana was amused at Rebecka's awe-struck look when they told her that she would get to stay with her hero for at least a month. Diana smiled, thinking, I bet I looked the same way at Xena when I was Rebecka's age. "You will behave for your godmothers, won't you?" she asked her daughter.
"Oh, yes, Mom, I sure will. Xena has already promised to take me fishing." Rebecka replied. She glanced at Gabrielle, saying, "But I don't think Gabrielle will go."
Gabrielle laughed, saying, "I had enough fishing for a lifetime when we were wandering around. Don't worry, we'll take good care of her for you guys. Go, have a good time."
Diana and Joxer thanked the two women, then after many hugs and kisses, finally left for Corinth.
Diana and Joxer arrived in Corinth late one evening, checking into a large hotel. After a relaxing bath and dinner, Diana led Joxer to the patio off their room to watch the sun set. "Isn't it beautiful?" she asked her husband. "Did you ever watch any sunsets as a child?"
Joxer tightened his arms around his wife, kissing her neck before answering. "No, I never did have much fun as a child, Diana. My father was a believer in beatings and my mother died when I was young. My twin, Jett, also beat me regularly. I just thank the gods that at least Jett changed, but it was too late for my childhood. No, I never noticed how beautiful sunsets were until I was hanging around with Gabrielle and Xena."
He swallowed, watching the sun dipping below the horizon, throwing out its last golden beams on the city below them. "Gabrielle told me the story of Apollo racing his chariot across the sky one night when I had dropped in on their camp.This was before Perdicas, before so much happened to Gabrielle.Anyway, for a brief moment I saw the sunset as she did, taking in the full beauty, not just thankful that the setting sun meant bedtime and an end to the beatings."
Diana turned to look at Joxer. "I didn't know," she said softly, "I knew you had a hard childhood. It's really remarkable that you are as good with Rebecka as you are, then."
Joxer's face softened at the mention of their child. "Diana, I always wanted to know that I could be a good father, and I promised myself that I would never beat a child like my father did. I fell in love with our Rebecka when she was born. Rebecka is becoming the spitting image of you, my dear. What's not to love?"
Diana smiled at the compliment, then turned to walk inside, pulling Joxer by the hand. "Shall we go to be, my husband?" she asked. He nodded, so they went inside, where she suddenly pushed him on the bed, sitting on his chest. "Now, Joxer, we can have all the time in the world without little Miss Rebecka coming in at an inopportune time..." She trailed her fingers down his chest to his belly, watching him quiver with delight. She laughed softly as she slowly leaned over, barely gazing his lips with hers...
The next morning, Joxer and Diana set out to see Simon, one of their suppliers. When they arrived at his shop, they found a woman cleaning and packing everything. "Good morning," Joxer said as they stepped inside. "Could you tell me where Simon is?"
The woman stopped her packing long enough to answer. "You didn't hear? Simon died a couple of weeks ago, so I'm cleaning out the shop. I'm his daughter-in-law, and since my husband manages a vineyard, we have no use for a shop. You should try Marcus the Hebrew down the road a bit, he has a banner of striped cloth hanging over the doorway. Good day." With that, she turned back to the task at hand.
Realizing that they had been dismissed, Joxer and Diana left the shop to walk down to the other shop. They walked in, finding a man and woman both waiting on other customers. When the man was free, he motioned for them to come forward. "Good morning, how may I help you?" he asked.
"Well," Joxer started, "I used to buy from Simon down the road, but it seems that he has died."
"Yes, God bless his soul," the man said.
"So, his daughter-in-law pointed us in your direction. I run an import business and need to find a new supplier for our store. Are you interested, sir?"
The man rubbed his clean-shaven chin for a moment, sizing up the couple. He then smiled and answered, "I think I can. Why don't you both come back for supper with us, so we can discuss what arrangements you would like to make? Our house is two blocks over, the only one with a fountain in the front. Oh, by the way, my name is Marcus and the lovely woman over there is my dear wife, Lila." Hearing her name, Lila looked over for a moment and waved, then went back to her customer.
"I'm Joxer and this is my wife, Diana. Diana runs a grocery and catering business back home. We'd be glad to accept your invitation," Joxer said to Marcus. The three chatted for a few more minutes, then left the store. As they stepped into the bright sunlight, Joxer started wondering how Xena and Gabrielle were faring with Rebecka.
"Xena, do you love me?" asked Rebecka seriously. Xena stopped brushing Argo, Jr.'s coat and turned to her seven-year-old goddaughter. She put down the curry comb and brush, then took Rebecka over to the bench and sat down, setting the child in her lap.
"Why do you ask?" Xena queried.
Rebecka snuggled closely to Xena, feeling the warmth of her godmother's body. She finally answered, "Well, Cyrene said that you will soon be a grandmother and you should go see Solon and Julia when the child is born. Does that mean you won't have time for me anymore?"
Xena smiled gently at the serious young child. She brushed Rebecka's hair out of her eyes, replying, "Rebecka, I will always love you. I will make time for you, I take being your godmother very seriously. Yes, I will go see my grandchild when he or she is born, but that doesn't mean that I won't still love you."
Satisfied, Rebecka sighed contently, burying her face against Xena's shoulder. She stayed like that for several minutes, then jumped out of Xena's lap and asked, "Will Gabrielle also be a grandmother, then?"
Xena thought for a long moment before answering, "I suppose, I never really gave it much thought. She is my wife, but I hadn't met her yet when Solon was born, so I guess she will be a step-grandmother. Why don't you go ask Gabrielle her opinion?"
"Okay!" Rebecka shouted as she ran for the door. She stopped, ran back to hug and kiss Xena, then ran off again, exclaiming, "I love you, Xena!" Xena chuckled as she watched Rebecka bounding across the yard, running into the inn to corner Gabrielle. "Let's see just how good of a bard you are," she murmured to herself.
Diana and Joxer arrived at Marcus and Lila's house as the sun was starting to set. A servant answered the door and ushered them into the dining room, where Marcus, Lila, two children, and an older woman sat. Marcus struggled to his feet motioning for them to come to the table. "We saved a few seats for you," he said as they sat down. "Joxer, Diana, I'd like to introduce you to my family. This lovely woman is my wife, Lila, and this other lovely woman is my Aunt Ruth. The boy is Benjamin and the girl is Sarah. They will be leaving as soon as they finish their supper."
The servant came and started bringing out courses of delicious smelling food. Joxer and Marcus started talking generally about business while Ruth started asking Diana about her grocery and catering business. "My dear, how did you get started? Not many women have businesses, although I took over the weaving business from my husband, and I passed it to dear Marcus here."
Diana sipped her wine before answering. "I inherited my business as well. My mothers, Diedra and Rebecka, ran the grocery store the whole time I was growing up. Actually Mama Rebecka started it, having run away from her family, may the gods rest her soul. Mom passed it to me completely a few years back after she was satisfied that I was not going to run it into the ground or run off to stay with the Amazons forever. I started the catering business, and often sell to the inn nearby. Mama and Mom had always sold produce to Cyrene, who originally owned the inn, but I started hiring women to cook for special occasions. Now the inn is owned by Xena and Gabrielle while Cyrene and Mom go vacationing across Greece."
Lila's head perked up. "Begging your pardon, Diana, but did you say Xena and Gabrielle? Surely you don't mean the Warrior Princess, do you?"
Diana answered proudly, "Yes, the one and the same. I grew up with Xena as my best friend. She was very kind to me, even though I was six years younger than she was. I don't deny that she did go through a time where she lost her way, but between Hercules and Gabrielle, Xena turned her life around. Xena and Gabrielle traveled for about twelve years before Cyrene called them back home to take over the into, and when they got married, Gabrielle gave up the title of Amazon Queen just to be able to travel with Xena."
Lila looked at Diana carefully for a long moment, then asked, "Didn't I hear your husband say that you have a child? Wait a moment, let me take my children to bed." She rose and ushered the two children out, then came back several minutes later. Lila sat across from Diana, heedless of the curious stare from her husband's aunt. "Now, Diana, do you trust Xena around your child?"
Diana answered a little sharply, "Gods, yes, she saved little Rebecka's life last year! She and Gabrielle had come home, as I said, and this warlord kidnapped Rebecka. Of course, Xena took off to find her and Gabrielle and I tore off to the Amazon village to round up more help. Joxer was beside himself with worry, but everything turned out okay. Rebecka is like me in some respects, she worships Xena as a hero. Xena is incredibly patient with her, and in fact, she and Gabrielle are babysitting until we get back."
"I guess I never really heard anything good about Xena," Lila said slowly. "This Gabrielle, is she the bard?"
"Yes, and quite a good bard and excellent innkeeper at that. She really runs the show and tells Xena what to do. I think those two would go to the ends of the earth for each other. Why do you ask?" Diana asked, being as polite as she could be.
Lila took a deep breath, then said softly, "Because Gabrielle is my sister. Or was before I kicked her out of the family."
Diana stared dumbstruck at Lila. She had not noticed before, but there was a family resemblance, especially in the eyes. "I'm sorry to hear that. You should really come to Amphipolis sometime, I'm sure Gabrielle would love to see you."
Lila shook her head sadly."I'm afraid it's too late, after all these years, she probably won't forgive me." Lila abruptly stood up and said, "Good night," then walked out of the room. Marcus raised an eyebrow, then chatted with Joxer a moment longer before excusing himself to check on Lila.
Ruth, who had been quiet through much of supper, asked softly, "Diana, you mentioned your mother Rebecka. Could you describe her?"
Diana thought for a moment, then answered, "Yes, she had dark hair and eyes, was about your height and coloring, and came from Israel originally. I don't know much more, she rarely said anything about her life before she came to Greece. The only time we really talked about it was night before Xena went crazy. Then, just before she died, years later, she called out to Sarah. No one knew who Sarah was, but Mom suspected it was Mama's first lover."
Ruth's eyes lit up. "Diana, I think it was Sarah, my cousin. She was in love with a woman named Rebecka, who was dark. Tell me, did your mama have a small thin scar on the inside of her left arm?"
Diana nodded. "Yes."
Ruth sighed. "It was my cousin's lover, then. Rebecka got that scar as a child, waving her arms around and scratching it on a sliver in the door frame. How interesting. But, it is getting late, and I should take myself to bed."
Joxer immediately stood up. "Yes, we should be leaving. Thank you for dinner, Marcus, I'm sorry we made Lila so uncomfortable."
Marcus took Joxer's arm as he hobbled to the door with them. "Don't worry about it, Joxer, Diana. I'll talk to her tonight, but I think part of it is that she never really forgave herself for what she did to Gabrielle. Will you come back tomorrow to the store so we can draw up a contract?"
"Sure, we can do that. Good night." Joxer and Diana walked slowly back to the hotel, not talking much. Dinner, though excellent, had tired them out and they went to sleep as soon as they got back to their room.
Gabrielle watched as Xena and Rebecka worked on a new bed frame to replace one that had finally cracked over the years. Rebecka took her task as tool master very seriously, making sure that she had the right tools at the right time when Xena called for them. Gabrielle swung gently in the hanging swing that Xena had made last year for the back porch. It was starting to get dark, but she could still feel the heat of the day lingering in the air. She noticed that Xena finally straightened up and started stretching, a sure sign that she was ready to quit for the day. Rebecka noticed as well and gathered up the tools very neatly as Xena picked up the heavy pieces of the frame. Several minutes later, the yard was cleared and Xena had picked Rebecka up to carry her back to the inn
Gabrielle smiled at the picture of the former warlord carrying the small dark child. If Rebecka didn't look so much like both of her parents, Gabrielle mused, she could have been Xena's child. Continuing the thought, Gabrielle wondered what it would have been like if Xena had been a man and she could have borne their child. She played with her pendant for a few minutes, thinking about how surprised she was when Xena came up with the new silver chains and the earrings for their tenth anniversary last year.
"Gabrielle, what's for supper?" Rebecka called out as she wiggled out of Xena's arms to run over to Gabrielle. "Can we have sliced apples again? Please?"
Gabrielle laughed. "You and Argo, always wanting apples. No, we're having bread with olive oil, cheese, fruit and lamb. Go get cleaned up, we'll be there shortly." She watched as the little girl ran inside, then turned to her beloved partner. "So, Xena, worn out yet?"
Xena plopped down beside Gabrielle and took her hand. "Yes, I think I am. How in the world do Joxer and Diana keep up with her? Gods, she wears me out!" Xena kissed Gabrielle's hand, then continued, "To think that I was always helping take care of my brothers and Diana when I was younger!"
"I thought Tobias was older. Why did you have to take care of him?" Gabrielle asked, curious. Xena rarely mentioned her older brother, so Gabrielle was interested in hearing this answer.
"Because he wasn't smart enough to not get into trouble. Lyceus and I were always having to get him out of hot water." Xena laughed softly at the memories. "Gods, I hope that Solon and Julia don't have any children like that. Which reminds me, Julia should be due within a few weeks or so. Mother said she would send a runner when it was near time." Xena leaned over and kissed Gabrielle, then pulled back. "Well, time to wash up and go into dinner. Ready, love?"
"Ready." Gabrielle stood up and held out her hands to pull Xena up. She pretended that she was having trouble getting Xena to budge, so Xena bounced up suddenly, nearly knocking Gabrielle over in the process. They heard the door open and a young voice say, "Quit playing, I'm hungry!" Laughing, they straightened up and went to join Rebecka for dinner.
Several hours later, Xena flopped in their bed, groaning, "I don't have the energy for this, Gabrielle! How could I possibly nearly be a grandmother if I don't have the energy for one small child?"
Gabrielle sat beside her, stroking the mostly black hair. There were more silver streaks now, she noticed as she stroked Xena's hair. At least she wasn't going gray yet. "Well, I'm sure that you will find the energy when Julia has her child. You still put in a long day here, don't forget."
Xena rolled over into Gabrielle's lap and stared into her beautiful green eyes. "Gabrielle," she said seriously, "what do you think about me being a grandmother? It feels so strange, since I didn't raise Solon, and just saw him a very few times before they married. How can I be a grandmother if I was never a mother?"
Gabrielle stroked Xena's face for a long time while she marshaled her thoughts. She finally answered, "Xena, you can't undo the past. You did what you thought was for the best, and in retrospect, you did the best for Solon. He is a fine young man and admires you greatly. Just be sure that you visit often so their child will know her grandmother."
"You are so wise, my dear," Xena mumbled.
"Besides, between you, me, Diana and Joxer, Rebecka has four parents, so you are getting in your mothering," Gabrielle pointed out.
Xena groaned. "I thought she kept me busy when her parents were in town! I'm wiped, I really am." Xena rolled over to her side of the bed, pulling Gabrielle with her. "I love you," she whispered.
Gabrielle smiled, snuggling in Xena's arms. "I love you too, Xena."
Lila sat on the roof, staring at the stars. How many times had she climbed to the roof, looking to the stars for either comfort or answers? Did Gabrielle look at the same stars? She turned as she heard Marcus limping across the roof. "Hello husband," she called out softly. "Are the children in bed?"
Marcus plopped down in his chair after kissing Lila." Yes, all down for the count," he said." I told them stories, then Aunt Ruth tucked them in for the night. So, my dear, what are you questioning the stars about tonight?"
Lila smiled at her husband. "You know me so well, Marcus. I was just sitting here, wondering if Gabrielle could see the same stars that I see. I was also wondering about how my sister is doing, and how wrong I was to condemn Xena without getting to know her. Joxer and Diana seem quite attached to Xena."
"Lila, I'm sure that Gabrielle understands. But, have you thought about trying to contact her? This would be the perfect opportunity to send a letter with her friends." Marcus reached over and touched Lila's cheek with his fingertips, marveling at how soft her face was, how beautiful she was in the moonlight. "Remember, half of forgiveness is forgiving yourself and I don't think you've ever really forgiven yourself for how you treated Gabrielle and Xena."
Lila signed, leaning her face into Marcus' hand. "You have suffered from associating with me, Marcus. How do you cope?"
"Dearest, if loving you meant going to hell, I would still do it. Love is a very powerful emotion. I would much rather have your love than to have the conditional love of my fellow Hebrews. Besides, you have given me two beautiful children and have accepted me as I am without reservation."
She smiled at him, then kissed the palm of his hand. "You know, I never noticed until today that Sarah looks like Gabrielle did at her age. I thought she looked like you with her blonde hair and light eyes, but she has a dusting of freckles just like my sister. Benjamin is really my child, with my dark hair." She suddenly laughed, saying, "I thought other women were bad, saying 'he looks just like his father' and so forth. I never thought I'd be doing that."
Marcus smiled back at her, then slowly stood up. "I'm about ready for bed, my dear. Care to join me?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm going to watch the stars a bit longer. I'll be there soon." After he limped down the stairs, Lila pulled out her writing box and opened it to retrieve quill, ink and paper. She turned to the little table by her chair and laid the paper down. Dipping the quill into the ink, she started writing, "Dearest Gabrielle..."
"It looks like we got a terrific contract!" Joxer crowed several weeks later. "I can't believe that it took so long to tie down the last details, but here it is!"
Diana laughed at her husband, who was prancing around the hotel room waving the contract with Marcus. "Put it in safekeeping and get your skinny little butt over here!" she commanded.
"Yes, ma'am!" he shouted, saluting. He stashed the contract in their lockbox, then grabbed Diana for an impromptu dance around the floor. "This will be a very lucrative contract, Diana, better quality that what old Simon sold us. You'll see, we'll be rich!"
"Filthy rich, I'm sure. Hey, I wonder how Xena and Gabrielle are doing with our little darling?" Diana asked.
"Fine, I'm sure," Joxer said, still gloating over his new contract.
Diana kissed Joxer lightly, saying in a husky voice, "Perhaps we should take advantage of not having a little girl running in our room at night."
"We should, my dearest," Joxer growled. He was always delighted at how aggressive his wife was in the bedroom. His thoughts were soon completely, blissfully, incoherent.
Xena and Gabrielle kissed fiercely, passion building as the stars were fading. A rare morning without Rebecka bouncing in the room without knocking was a treat indeed and they were determined to take advantage of it. Fatigue combined with an energetic child had banked the fires of passion and they would not be denied now. Gabrielle broke the kiss to claim a nipple in her mouth, eliciting a moan of pleasure from Xena, who wrapped her powerful legs around Gabrielle. "Gods, yes, it feels so wonderful," she whispered hoarsely as the bard switched to the other nipple. She couldn't help it, she had to rub her aching mound against Gabrielle's legs, seeking release to the volcano building inside.
Just as Xena was strangling back a scream of climax, the door opened. "Not now!" the women said together. "Oops!" they heard as the door clicked shut. Gabrielle started laughing as she rolled off Xena, saying, "You got yours, you owe me big time now!"
Before Xena could respond, they heard a very plaintive, "Can I come in?" Gabrielle groaned as she pushed Xena off of her. "You still owe me," she grumbled as she reached for her clothes.
Lila was waiting in the hotel lobby as Joxer and Diana came down to check out. She rose to greet them, telling them that Marcus was busy this morning, but that they wanted to wish them well on their journey. Joxer went to pay their bill, sensing that Lila wanted to talk to Diana alone for a moment. Diana sat down beside Lila and asked gently, "What is the real reason you've come?"
"Diana, I've decided that it is ridiculous to not have any contact with my only sister for so many years. I'd like you to take this letter to Gabrielle, please." She handed over a scroll, tightly sealed. She studied her fingernails for a long moment, then looked into Diana's eyes. "Tell me, what has my sister been doing?"
Diana smiled, thinking about her friend. "I wish I had more time, but Gabrielle has done quite a bit, Lila. She's been an Amazon queen, a bard, a warrior, and now an innkeeper. She is a wonderful friend, is kind to my child, and loves Xena unreservedly. I knew Xena quite well when we were children, then when the warlord Cortese ripped through town, one of his men killed Lyceus, Xena's brother. Xena killed the man, and I think that is what set her off, Lila, avenging her brother's death. But thank the gods for your sister, who gave Xena a reason to live."
Lila said wistfully, "If we ever get the time, I should visit."
Diana reached over and hugged the other woman, saying, "Even if you don't have the time, you should visit." She pulled back, saying, "I'm sure that Gabrielle loves you very much. You need to see that for yourself." As Joxer approached, she added, "I'd like to see you again, too."
"What was that all about?" Joxer asked as they loaded up their wagon.
"Oh, just girl talk. Drive on, mister, or I'll have your uniform!" Diana replied playfully.
As I write this letter, I can see your face, full of sunshine and laughter, like it was when we were children. I think of you often, but have never had the courage to write to you, begging your forgiveness. You see, after I kicked you out of the family, I had to leave Poteau as well. To make a very long story short, I became pregnant by Palios, who promptly left town after claiming he would marry me. I lost the baby in our healer's house, and she sent me here to Corinth. met a wonderful man named Marcus, whom I eventually married. We have two children, Benjamin, nine, and Sarah, seven. For years I thought that Sarah looked like Marcus, for he has blonde hair like yours, but I now must face the fact that Sarah looks very much like you, down to the freckles on her nose. Benjamin is serious like his father, and interested in the business of selling fabric, but Sarah is a dreamer, spinning more stories than thread or fabric.
I should close this letter before I start crying. Can you ever forgive me?
Gabrielle read the letter several times before looking up at Diana, who had brought the letter to her. "So, what prompted this?" she asked Diana. "Why, after all these years, did she decide to ask my forgiveness?"
"I'm not sure, Gabrielle. Joxer and I went to sign a contract with Marcus and he invited us to dinner. We met Lila and their children, Benjamin and Sarah, and his aunt, Ruth. We were telling stories about you and Xena, the Lila excused herself and went to bed. But, just before we left several weeks later, Lila met us and gave me the scroll to give to you."
Gabrielle re-read the letter, then turned back to Diana. "Should I? Should I forgive her?"
Diana answered, "That is entirely up to you, but if you could see her, Gabrielle, you would see not just a woman who weaves fabric in Corinth, but she a kind and gentle soul. A loving mother, a partner with her husband, an intelligent lady. Did you know that Marcus gave up his religion to marry Lila?"
"What?"Gabrielle asked, surprised.
Diana settled down in the chair in Gabrielle's office, wishing her back didn't ache so much. She absently reached for the unleavened bread, breaking off bits to eat. Gabrielle raised her eyebrows, asking, "When did you start eating my snacks?" Diana stopped eating for a moment, then answered, "I don't know, I was just craving something like that. Anyway, Lila is more mature than you described her to me. I think she really wants to seek your forgiveness, Gabrielle. Will you give her a chance?"
"You say that he gave up his religion?" Gabrielle asked again.
Diana nodded as she took a piece of fruit and ate it. "Yes, just like Rebecka, my mom, had to give up everything after her lover was killed. She taught me about her people, Gabrielle, and about her god. She never did worship him any more, but I loved to hear the stories she told. She had to make a big sacrifice, as Marcus made so he could marry Lila. Maybe you should think this over: why would a man who could have become a priest give up his religion and his people for a woman?" Diana stood up to leave, rubbing her back. "She must have been worth it, you know."
Gabrielle stood up to hug Diana, then watched her leave. She thought about her childhood, how she and Lila would play together, work together, and fight each other. She tried to imagine Lila married with children, the children she would never have. She remembered Lila striking out at her, accusing her to stealing her boyfriend, feeling sorrow that she could not have helped Lila in her time of trouble. Maybe it was time to forgive and forget, she had counseled Xena so many times.
Xena paused in her work as the courier galloped up, handing her a scroll. She carefully broke the seal and read the message, dated the day before:
Julia is going into labor even as I write this. She is early by several weeks, but the healer is pretty sure that she and the baby will be fine. Please come as soon as you can. Grandmother is doing fine; we have enjoyed hearing about your childhood. Diedra says to give her love to Diana, Joxer & Rebecka's will go back to Amphipolis after the birth of my child.
Xena read and re-read the scroll, then realized that the courier was still standing there. She felt in her pouch, pulled out a dinar and tossed it at him, then dropped her hammer and went in search of Gabrielle. She found Gabrielle in her office, writing a letter. Flopping down in a chair, Xena tossed her scroll to Gabrielle saying, "Read it." Gabrielle read it, then asked, "When are you leaving?"
"As soon as I can pack," Xena replied. Then, she sheepishly added, "I suppose I'd better clean up my mess outside, first, then pack and leave. Gods, Gabrielle, we're going to be grandmothers!" Gabrielle had to smile at Xena's including her as a grandmother.
"Well, I hardly think I'm old enough to be a grandmother, Xena," she chided gently, "but I suppose I can wear the title. If you have time, would you mind taking this letter to Lila in Corinth?"
Xena stopped smiling. "Why, can't you take it yourself?"
"But the inn--"
"Can keep for a few weeks without us, my love."
"I'll wait, then, until you get back," Gabrielle said evasively.
"Coward," Xena charged.
"No, just nervous," Gabrielle admitted. "You'd better get started, love, or you won't get on the road until dark."
Xena smiled again and leaned over to kiss her beloved. "I'll be back soon," she promised as she floated out of the office.
Gabrielle watched Xena riding down the road on Argo, Jr., speeding toward Athens to see her first grandchild. Joxer and Diana were back, so keeping Rebecka wasn't holding Gabrielle back. Should she really go to Corinth to see her sister? Xena was right, the inn would survive a few days without her. Lycurgus had taken over before when she and Xena had left for brief vacations, and he did a fine job running the show. While she was pondering these matters, Rebecka wandered into her office and asked, "Gabrielle, why do you look so sad?"
Gabrielle motioned for the girl to come over and settled Rebecka in her lap. "I'm not sad, Rebecka. What makes you ask that?"
"You just look sad. Is it because Xena left for a few days?" Rebecka persisted.
Gabrielle smiled at her. "No, child, we've been separated before. Xena is going to see her first grandchild."
Rebecka absorbed the information and sighed heavily. She reached out and touched Gabrielle's pendant, then looked up at her godmother. "Will Xena still love me after her grandchild comes?"
Gabrielle looked at the serious expression on Rebecka's face for a long moment before answering. "Rebecka, Xena has more than enough love in her heart for you and her grandchild. Love is not like dinars, you see, the more love you give, the more love you receive. Have you ever wondered how your parents can love each other so much but still love you so much? Or how Xena can love me as her wife, yet love your mother as her best friend?"
The child snuggled against Gabrielle as she thought about this. Finally, she asked, "What about you? I know that you love Xena, I know that you love me, but what about Xena's grandchild? Will you love him or her?"
"Yes," Gabrielle asked, wondering where this was going.
Rebecka asked, "Will you be the baby's grandmother too?"
Gabrielle started to catch on. "You sure ask a lot of questions, little one. I guess I'll be the step-grandmother. It seems strange, doesn't it? I'm not old enough to have a grandchild."
"How old are you, Gabrielle?" Rebecka asked.
Gabrielle scratched her nose for a bit of time. "It's not polite to ask how old adults are, Rebecka."
"Xena is 41, she told me so. Wait, you are ten years younger, so you're 31.I'm seven, so you would even be old enough to be my mother."
"Rebecka, this conversation is getting a bit personal. What is the point?" Gabrielle asked, feeling uncomfortable by now.
Rebecka looked up at Gabrielle with questioning eyes. "How old is your sister? Mom and Dad say that Lila has two children. Do you love them?"
Gabrielle shifted uncomfortably, saying, "You're getting heavy, could you hop down?" Rebecka slid out of her lap, but stood there, waiting for an answer. "Okay, I suppose I should love my nephew and niece, but I've never seen them."
"Gods, child, you ask too many questions." Gabrielle glanced at the letter from Lila, still on her desk. Why not, indeed? "Maybe it is time to go see my sister," she said under her breath. "You see, my sister wrote me a letter, and I'd like to surprise her with a visit."
Rebecka reached up and hugged Gabrielle, the pulled back." I'll miss you, but I don't mind. Mom and Dad are home now. I love you, Gabrielle."
"I love you too, honey." Gabrielle kissed Rebecka on the forehead, then watched as the child ran out of her office. She stood up and walked over to her window, looking out for a long time. Finally, she turned back and left her office, looking for Lycurgus.
Xena practically ran from the inn after stabling Argo, Jr. to Solon and Julia's house. She arrived out of breath, knocking on the door, waiting impatiently for someone to let her in. Cyrene answered the door, saying, "Xena, you got here just in time. Julia is in the last hours of labor. Come in, come in." Xena walked in, hugged her mother briefly, then went straight back to the bedroom. Julia looked okay, but Solon looked pale and scared.
Xena pulled her son aside, saying quietly, "Solon, would you go round up some towels and some hot water? I'd appreciate it." He nodded once then took off. Xena dropped on the bed beside Julia, checking her pulse and temperature. The younger woman grabbed her hand, squeezing hard, whispering, "Thank you for coming, Mother." Xena barely restrained an eyebrow at the honorific, instead chose to squeeze back.
The birth was uneventful, mercifully. Xena cleaned up the baby, cut the cord, then presented the baby to Julia. "Julia, you and Solon have a healthy girl."
Julia smiled weakly as she cuddled the baby. Solon came back in the room, asking, "Well?"
"A girl, son, a very healthy girl," Xena announced.
Solon smiled with relief, saying, "Julia, we'll name her Telesilla after your grandmother, like we discussed. May I hold her?" Julia held out their daughter to Solon, who took her in his arms, smiling and crooning, whisking her around the room, saying, "My, what a beautiful daughter you are! I am your daddy, Solon." Xena took the opportunity to slip out to the kitchen for a bite to eat.
Diana's directions were excellent, Gabrielle mused as she stood in front of the door. She had checked into town earlier in the day and now stood at the house of her sister and brother-in-law. Nervously, she wiped her palms on her skirt, trying to decide what to say. Finally, she decided just to knock on the door and get it over with. The door opened, revealing a young boy." May I help you?" he inquired politely.
Gabrielle asked, "Um, is this the house of Marcus and Lila?"
"Yes, may I say who is calling?" he asked.
She took a deep breath, then answered, "Tell Lila that Gabrielle is here." They boy nodded and closed the door again. She probably hates my guts, Gabrielle thought, and send the letter in a moment of weakness. The door opened again, this time revealing a man who seemed to be her age. "Gabrielle, do come in," he said, "I am Marcus, Lila's husband. Lila will be along shortly."
Marcus ushered her in to the living area, richly decorated with rugs, wall hangings, and plush couches. Gabrielle looked around the room, admiring the surroundings. Maybe she should buy some rugs for her room, Xena was complaining lately that the floor was too cold in the winter. "So, you have met my husband and son, do you want to see me?" Gabrielle whirled around to face Lila for the first time in twelve years and just stood, unable to speak or move. Lila laughed softly, saying, "I do believe this is the first time I've ever seen you speechless, Gabrielle. It is nearly time to eat, won't you join my family for the evening meal?"
Gabrielle swallowed hard and finally stammered, "I-I-I, uh, yes, I'd be honored."
Lila walked across the floor and tucked her sister's arm in hers, steering her toward the dining room, saying, "Our meal is simple, but filling. It is mostly Greek style, but we try to follow some of the Hebrew commandments, so no pork or shellfish, I'm afraid. I'm sure that you will find enough to eat, I seem to remember you eating anything that didn't eat you first, dear sister."
Gabrielle loosened up a bit, chuckling at Lila's comment as they walked into the dining room. "Xena says the same thing, Lila. Diana and Joxer tell me that it is a good thing that Xena and I inherited the inn rather than their grocery store, or I'd eat up all the stock."
Several hours later, Gabrielle was finishing up another story when Marcus announced that it was time for Benjamin and Sarah to go to bed. Both children came up and hugged Gabrielle before leaving for their rooms, then Lila asked Gabrielle if she would mind going up to the roof with her, explaining that she liked to watch the stars at night. Gabrielle agreed and followed her sister up to the roof top.
The view was marvelous. The night sky was shimmering with stars, freshly washed from a brief rain earlier in the evening. Gabrielle took in a deep breath, thinking fancifully that she could nearly drink in the starlight, it seemed so abundant. "Lila, do you remember when we were children, and used to sneak out at night to watch the stars?"
Lila nodded as she sat down in one of the chairs. "Yes, I do, Gabrielle. Please, have a seat, we won't be disturbed tonight." She waited for her sister to sit down in the chair next to hers, then continued. "I take it you received my note." Nod. "Let me tell you a story, then." She took a deep breath, then started. "Twelve years ago, I was very angry with you for what I perceived as trying to steal Palios from me. I did not realize that you were trying to protect me from Palios. I did not want to believe that he would try to bed Xena, then try to bed you."
She looked up into the heavens, trying to still her racing heart. After all these years, it still hurt to remember what happened so long ago, but Gabrielle had a right to know. Lila sighed, then took the tale up again. "Soon after I threw you out of the family, our parents also renounced you, believing Palios, and believing that Xena was an evil influence on you. A short time later, Mom and Dad went on a trip and left me alone, thinking that they could trust me. I'm sorry to say that I let Palios lead me astray, then he showed his true colors. To make a long story short, he made pregnant, then deserted me the morning of our wedding. I miscarried, fortunately, then the old healer sent me here to work for Ruth, Marcus's aunt. Marcus and I fell in love and got married, and our children came soon after."
Gabrielle listened, absorbed. "So, you had a pretty tough time, I'm sorry I wasn't around to help you."
Lila said, "Gabrielle, there's more to this tale. You see, Marcus broke any number of customs to marry me. I was not pure, I was not Hebrew, and I refused to worship his god. His so-called friends broke into the house one night and tried to forcibly either convert me or break the engagement up. Marcus stood up to them, told them that he would renounce his religion rather than not marry me. In the end, we were forced to move to the Greek part of the city and be married by a priest of Apollo." Lila paused, then added, "Marcus forgave me of any faults, forgave me of my past, saying that his god is one of love and forgiveness, how could he hold anything against me? I've read some of his scripture, I'm still not convinced that his god is so loving, but he still believes it firmly, although he has not set foot in the temple since before we married."
"Lila, it sounds like you have been through quite a bit, then," Gabrielle said, her heart aching for her sister.
"Yes, I have. Gabrielle, I must admit that I still hated you for a while, but with the love of Marcus and Aunt Ruth, I finally found it in my heart to forgive you, but I could never find the courage to ask your forgiveness. I was ashamed of your marriage to Xena until Aunt Ruth told me of the story of her cousin Sarah, who was killed for loving Rebecka's finally realized that I could never really hate you, even though sometimes I envied you in your footloose ways, traveling, seeing new people and new cultures, but I have kept up with you and Xena over the years. Then, when Diana and Joxer came and we talked to them, I realized how much I missed you, how much I still love you. Sister, can you ever forgive me?" Lila knelt in front of Gabrielle's chair, waiting for an answer.
Gabrielle reached out and gently stroked her sister's hair for the first time in many years. Sniffing back tears, she answered softly, "Yes, I forgive you, dear Lila. I had no idea how rough your life had been, nor was I brave enough to find out. I haven't been home since I came to tell everyone about Perdicas and you threw me out." Lila looked up into Gabrielle's eyes, then pulled her sister up from the chair into a long hug. Gabrielle held Lila tightly, not wanting to let go, realizing how much she had missed her sister over the years, also realizing that her sister was very much a woman, not the pesky little sister of years gone by.
Lila finally pulled back and sat down again. She gathered her courage, then asked the question that had bothered her for many years. "Gabrielle, what really happened that night?"
"Lila, I swear to you, I just went to use the outhouse, then when I came out, Palios trapped me, trying to seduce me. I told him that I had seen him trying to kiss Xena and accused him of being unfaithful to you, but he merely laughed and said that he'd like to try a threesome." Gabrielle shuddered as she remembered the incident. "Then he grabbed me and started kissing me, then the next thing I knew, he whirled me around and managed to convince you that I was coming on to him. Xena had said that he had been her lover when she was a warlord. Gods, Lila, I just wanted to shake you and convince you that he was not right for you!"
"I believe you now, Gabrielle," Lila said quietly." But thank the gods that he did run out on me, or I would have never met and married Marcus, nor would I have had such beautiful children. Can you stay for a while? I'd like my children to get to know their aunt."
Gabrielle was touched. Taking Lila's hand in hers, she answered softly, "Yes, I'll stay for a short while, but then I must get back to Amphipolis. Xena has gone to Athens, where her son and daughter-in-law are having a baby."
"I didn't know that Xena had a child! When did this happen?" Lila asked.
Gabrielle settled back into her chair and entered her bard mode." It all started with an affair with the warrior, Borias. Borias was barbarian combined with gentleman, you see, and had his change of heart before Xena had hers..."
"Mother, there you are! Care to join me for a bite to eat?" Solon asked Xena.
Xena turned from the window, where she had been looking up at the night sky. She looked at her son for a long moment, then nodded her head. Solon tucked her arm in his to escort her to the dining room, where the table was set for two. Puzzled, she asked, "Solon, where is my mother?"
"Oh, she is with Julia and Telesilla, making sure that Julia had something to eat, reassuring her that the milk will flow soon. Please, sit," he coaxed as servants started bringing in the food and wine. As soon as the servants left, Solon poured wine for them both, then raised his goblet. "A toast to my beautiful family; wife, daughter, mother, and grandmother. May we all live well." They both drank, then Solon started filling his plate. "Mother, thank you for coming," he started as he reached for her plate and started filling it, "Julia and I appreciate your support. Grandmother has told us so much about your childhood, I'm glad that we've gotten to know her. You were a stubborn youngster, weren't you?"
Xena had to smile at the description. "Yes, Solon, I was pretty stubborn, that is true. This is really good, I sure wish that Gabrielle was here to taste it."
Solon smiled at his mother as he dug in to his own meal. Silence fell for several minutes as the two ate, then Solon broke in again. Wistfully, he said, "I sometimes used to dream that my mother would come back from the dead and sing to me, even though the Centaurs provided me with a good home and lots of love. I was told that my mother was beautiful, which you are, but I never imagined when I first met you that you were my mother." He ate a bite of bread, then quietly asked what had been on his mind for years. "Mother, why did you leave me?"
Xena laid her fork down and stared at her son. Solon's blonde hair was darkening now, but for the first time, he reminder her of Borias, with his gentle looks. She remembered a flash of his father, begging her to change her heart and to turn from evil. She remembered him sorrowfully saying, "Xena, you should have listened to Lao Ma, you should turn from hatred, please, if not for your sake, then for my sake." She remembered him dying in the Centaur wars not long after that, then realizing that she carried his child.
She reached for her wine, then slowly answered, "Solon, I did what I thought was best at the time. I was very young, your father was dead, and the Centaurs were the only army that I could not defeat. I admired them for that reason and realized that if I tried to keep you, that someone would try to kidnap you or otherwise use you against me. In a rare moment of sanity, I decided that I could not be selfish and had to think of not only my welfare, but also of your welfare." She sipped her wine, then set the goblet back down. "I wish Gabrielle were here, she is much better at talking that I am," Xena grumbled.
"No, Mother, you are doing fine," Solon said gently. He thought back to seeing her when he was nine, thinking that she was just another warrior, but a pretty neat one at that. "Did you ever regret leaving me?" he asked softly.
She shook her head, answering slowly, "I regretted it every day. Your father, Borias, was an intelligent man who was starting to turn his life around. I loved him, but could not have stayed with him, our affair was one of animal passion, not of soul connection. I admit to many men and women warming my bed, you are lucky that you found your true love so young. I did love one man, Marcus, but it was not to be. I never made that total connection until I met Gabrielle. Funny, I thought that she was such a naive fool, but she had a source of wisdom in her, even in those early days." Xena broke off, smiling dreamily as she thought of her mate. "Solon, sometimes I really wish I could take credit for how well you turned out, but to tell you the truth, I would have been a terrible mother. Gods know that I am a difficult wife, but Gabrielle puts up with me and still loves me after all these years."
Solon pushed away his plate and moved his chair closer to Xena. "Tell me, Mother, tell me what you did when I was growing up. I want to know you, even though I know you were evil."
Xena looked at the fine young man, then gently reached up and stroked his hair. "Where do I begin? I guess it really starts when Cortese invaded my home town and my brother Lyceus and I went to defend the town. Lyceus was cut down in battle and I killed his killer. After that, I ran wild, determined to do anything to defend Amphipolis..."
Weeks later, Xena and Gabrielle left their respective families and came home. Gabrielle thought that Xena looked more relaxed than she had in several years and Xena thought that Gabrielle finally looked like she had found peace. The first night they were back, Joxer and Diana invited them to dinner at their house. At dinner, Gabrielle told about her sister, Lila, and their finally getting the chance to forgive each other after all these years. Xena haltingly told of how beautiful her granddaughter was, and how she still could not get over the fact that she was a grandmother. Finally, it occurred to Gabrielle and Xena that Diana and Joxer seemed to be listening politely, but distractedly. Xena asked, "So, what have you two been doing while we were gone?"
Joxer and Diana looked at each other, then looked at the other couple. Joxer proudly announced, "My dear friends, the gods and goddesses have finally heard our prayers."
"What?" asked Gabrielle.
Joxer grinned ever bigger as he announced, "We're pregnant!"
Later that night, Gabrielle snuggled up to Xena in bed, still laughing about Joxer's way of announcing Diana's pregnancy. "I'm sure that Diana would love to share being pregnant with Joxer, if it were possible," she chuckled.
Xena grinned in the darkness, holding her wife close. "Yep, it sure was funny." She kissed Gabrielle's face gently, then asked, "So, how does it feel to be an aunt? As surprising as it was for me to be a grandmother?"
"It feels strange," Gabrielle said slowly, searching for the words. "I had never forgotten Lila, but I never was sure if I would forgive her, either. I was starting to wonder if I ever wanted a child of my own, but now I know that I don't have to have my own child to have children of my blood kin. It's all very complicated, I love Rebecka dearly, she is a wonderful child, and I am sure I will love Diana and Joxer's next child, as I will love Telesilla, your granddaughter. I guess I never thought I would get to see Lila again, to ask her forgiveness."
"Why ask her forgiveness? She tossed you out, you know," Xena pointed out.
"Yes, but I always felt that I should have tried to explain what really happened, to protect her from Palios. But, she has forgiven me, and says she will never turn me or you away again. She and Marcus and their children may even come to visit us next summer, she said." Gabrielle pondered a moment longer, then said, "But of all my family, Xena, you are the most important member. I love you dearly, you are my other half."
"I'm touched," Xena replied softly. "I love you too, Gabrielle." Suddenly a smile flashed. "Hmm, Grandmother Gabrielle. Oof, quit hitting me with that pillow!"
A full fledged pillow fight broke out, soon to be tossed aside for a different activity as the stars twinkled their delight...
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