by JS Stephens
Copyright © 1997, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Comments to: email@example.com
Usual tedious disclaimer:
MCA/Universal owns the rights to the characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Joxer, Ephiny & Cyrene. Any other characters are my creation and merely interact with MCA/Universal's characters. There will be relationships between two consenting women and/or a consenting woman and a consenting man. You've been warned.
"For the last time Gabrielle, we do not have enough money to stay in the inn. We can stay out here and save our dinars for additional supplies. Can't you understand that?" Xena growled, frustrated at her wife's complaints.
Gabrielle frowned as she walked beside Argo, angry at Xena for spending so many of their dinars on a new throwing knife. "Xena, we would have had the money if you hadn't bought that new throwing knife. Don't we have enough weapons between us? And didn't we agree to consult each other on major purchases? You spent fifteen dinars on that knife! We could have stayed in a room tonight and I could have bought a new cloak for winter-but no, you had to be selfish and buy you those knives. Now it may rain before we find shelter and you are calling me selfish?!" Gabrielle finished, green eyes flashing with anger.
Xena glared down at her wife. "I needed a better throwing knife, and it was excellent quality, better balanced than my old one. Maybe you can sell some more stories in the next town or something so we can get you a new cloak. I thought the knife was a good price."
Gabrielle stopped walking and looked up at Xena. "If you had cared to consult with me, I could have bargained for it, perhaps getting it for as little as twelve dinars, and I would have at least had my winter cloak! All summer I nagged you about this, so I expected you to remember when we went to market today."
Gabrielle pointedly stopped talking and started walking again, not caring if Xena followed her. It seemed that lately they were getting into more arguments and fights, usually over little stuff. It hardly seemed possible that they had been married nearly four years, it seemed more like twenty or more. Sometimes she wished that they could just settle down in one spot and work like ordinary people, not trying to save the world and to continue to atone for Xena's past.
She walked steadily, steadfastly ignoring her wife until Xena finally said, "That looks like a good spot to camp, over by the stream. It is protected from the elements and looks pretty dry. Should we stop?"
Gabrielle bit back an ugly reply and merely nodded yes. She stayed silent as they set up camp, each doing her own chores with the efficiency born of long years. Xena walked down to the stream to catch their dinner as Gabrielle built the fire. While she waited for Xena to come back with the fish, Gabrielle sat down on her bedroll and wondered if Ares was to blame for their bickering. No, she decided, he would have done something bigger and grander than just causing these little spats.
After dinner, Gabrielle stalked off to sit on a big rock overlooking the stream. Xena quietly cleaned up the dishes, trying to decide whether or not to go after her lover and apologize. True, she should have consulted Gabrielle before making a large purchase and she did know that Gabrielle needed a new cloak, but at the time it seemed too good to pass up. She was still trying to decide as she brushed and fed Argo, who softly nickered as she leaned her head against Xena.
"What should I do, Argo?" she asked the mare quietly. "Should I go after her and apologize? Do I just let her stay out there until she decides to come back? I still don't know what to do after all these years." She finished brushing the horse and started cleaning the brushes as she mulled over what to do. She sure didn't want Gabrielle to still be mad at her at bedtime. Xena was not going to sleep alone; she and Gabrielle had not slept apart since they had married. She finally decided to go out to the other woman and try to apologize.
Gabrielle was still thinking about how mad she was with Xena. This spending their money without consulting her was just the tip of the problems they had lately. After years of being treated as an equal partner and an adult, Xena had recently started making decisions for them both again and trying to prevent Gabrielle from joining in any battles. Gabrielle knew that she was perfectly capable of handling herself, didn't she do drills with Xena every morning? So why did Xena not trust her lately? She was musing this over when she heard soft footfalls approaching. Without looking up, she asked, "What do you want, Xena?"
The tall warrior settled gracefully beside the small bard, saying, "I'm sorry, Gabrielle, I should have consulted you. I wasn't patient enough nor did I consider that you are the bargainer in this family. Can you forgive me?"
Gabrielle turned her head to look at her warrior princess. She took in the long dark hair, bright blue eyes, tan skin, beautiful athletic body and worried expression. She deliberately let the silence hang for a long moment, then said, "I suppose I can forgive you. I just want to know one thing, Xena, why have you been treating me like a child lately? You don't ask my opinions, you don't give me a chance to make decisions, you protect me in fights like you did when we first met and you generally make me feel like I am a fragile child, not a woman. Why?"
Xena looked at the smaller woman, longing just to pull her in her arms and bury her face and hands in the long golden hair, to stare deeply into the pale green eyes, to feel her hard body under her hands. She mastered her emotions with an effort and simply replied, "I'm not sure, but I will do better." The bard looked skeptical, so the warrior plunged on. "Gabrielle, I will never be as good with words as you are, but be assured that I do love you and just want what's best for you. Maybe sometimes I fear losing you and just want to protect you. Is that so wrong?"
Gabrielle sighed and muttered, "I guess not. It's getting late, we should go to bed." She stood up and held out her hand to help Xena up. Xena took her hand and let the bard pull her to her feet. Things still didn't feel right, but at least Gabrielle was talking to her, which was the most important aspect of Xena's life.
Xena still felt residual guilt about Gabrielle giving up her title as Amazon Queen to Ephiny, wondering if she were truly worth the sacrifice that Gabrielle had made. At least Gabrielle was selling copies of her best tales to the Academy in Athens, so they did have a better income than they had before. They crawled into their bedrolls, with Xena pulling Gabrielle into her arms, holding on tightly.
The next morning, Xena woke up early as usual and packed up as much as she could before fixing breakfast. While Xena was not a good cook, she could do a decent job with breakfast. When she finished, she went to wake up Gabrielle, who grumbled as usual that it was far too early. "Can't I sleep a little longer?" the younger woman grumbled. Xena just kissed her partner, then went back to the fire and started eating her own breakfast. Gabrielle joined her in a few minutes, silently eating her share of the meal.
After they finished eating, Gabrielle cleaned the skillet and dishes, repacking them in Argo's saddlebags. As Xena put out the fire, Gabrielle surveyed the camp again to make sure that they had everything before leaving. Satisfied, she found Xena and announced, "I'm ready to go."
Xena smiled tentatively, then said, "Okay, let's head out." She was rewarded by an answering half-smile from her wife.
They hadn't traveled very far when they were greeted by one of Joxer's couriers. "Thank the gods I have found you," he panted, "or Joxer and Diana would have my head for sure."
Gabrielle passed over a water skin and a piece of bread while asking, "Why did they send you to find us?"
The man sipped the water and took a bite of bread before replying. "Diana is due anytime and wants you both to attend her in childbirth. Joxer said that if I could not find you and bring you back, that my job was in jeopardy."
"Of course we'll go," the two women chorused. Xena hesitated, then asked Gabrielle, "Will you ride on Argo with me? It will cut down the travel time significantly."
Gabrielle didn't say anything to Xena, but grasped the proffered hand and swung up behind the other woman. The courier waved them on, saying, "I still need to pick up a message from the next village, so you two don't worry about me." They nodded and took off at a fast canter.
Xena and Gabrielle arrived shortly before sunset. They checked into the inn first, where Cyrene informed them that Diana was already in labor. Xena asked her mother a few questions, then started to tell Gabrielle to stay at the inn, but remembered their fight of the day before. "Gabrielle, I will go ahead, but I need for you to bring over clean towels and my bag of medical supplies. Can you do that, please?"
"Sure Xena, I'll be along in a few minutes," Gabrielle replied. Xena took off for Diana and Joxer's house, leaving Gabrielle with her mother.
Gabrielle pulled together the supplies, then started to leave when she was stopped by Cyrene. "Gabrielle, have you and Xena had a fight or something?" asked Xena's mother.
Gabrielle paused, then said, "A little tiff yesterday, no big deal. Why do you ask?"
Cyrene touched her daughter-in-law on the arm, answering, "Because Xena looked worried. Not worried as in whether or not the child will be born healthy, but worried as in that you would be mad at her for something."
Gabrielle hugged the older woman briefly, then drew back and said, "Mother, don't worry about us, it's nothing serious. I need to get over to help her with Diana." She kissed Cyrene on the cheek, then left. Cyrene watched her leave, wondering what was left unspoken.
Meanwhile, Xena was examining Diana, trying to estimate how far along she was in labor. Joxer stood by silently, face paler than normal but determined to lend any assistance necessary. "It won't be long now, Diana," Xena announced. "The head should start crowning any moment now." She turned to the silent father. "Joxer, could you check to see if Gabrielle has arrived yet?" He nodded and bolted from the room. Xena turned to Diana and said, "I could tell he was about to faint."
Diana smiled weakly, gearing up for the next push. Xena frowned, looking at her friend and saying, "Diana, I don't want to alarm you, but this is going to be a difficult birth for you. Something is not quite right, I should be seeing the head by now." Diana looked up and reached for Xena's hand. Xena squeezed the other woman's hand, the let go to start washing up.
Gabrielle came into the room with the medical supplies and extra towels as Xena washed the road dust off. She knew that Xena, unlike most healers of the day, had decided that washing thoroughly prevented infection. She laid out the supplies, then took the basin of dirty water out to replace it with fresh water. She rinsed out the basin, then poured hot water from the pot on the fireplace.
Joxer came up and took the basin from her, saying, "I should help you with that, it's my wife in there."
Gabrielle gratefully allowed him to help her with the basin. "Thank you, Joxer. How are you holding up?" He seemed to be too pale, with dark circles under his eyes.
"Tired," he admitted, "Diana has been in labor for over a day, and I was scared that you and Xena would not get here in time. The village healer had gone to visit family out of town, plus Diana just wanted her best friend here." He smiled faintly as they entered the room.
As they entered, Xena started snapping out commands. "Gabrielle, Joxer, wash up. Gabrielle, bring my knife over here. Joxer, bring some more hot water. Move it, this baby has the cord wrapped around it's neck." Gabrielle grabbed the soap and started washing, motioning for Joxer to do the same.
As he then took the basin back out, Gabrielle found the knife and cleaned it thoroughly with soap and hot water, then took it over to Xena. "Gabrielle, get behind Diana and support her, I can see the head crowning." Xena positioned herself, ready to catch the baby as it slipped down the birth canal. "Gods be damned, the baby is coming too fast!" Xena shouted as she reached for the baby, "the cord is wrapped around her neck!"
Joxer came back into the room at that moment, turning even paler as he saw his baby's blue face. Xena snapped, "Joxer, change places with Gabrielle. Gabrielle, hand me the knife then hold the baby. Diana, keep pushing, I haven't seen the afterbirth yet."
Gabrielle and Joxer followed orders as Xena tried to unwrap the cord. Gabrielle reached out and took the baby, freeing Xena's hands. Xena finished unwrapping the cord and hurriedly cut it, not taking the time to bind it off as usual, but the baby was still blue and not breathing.
She wracked her brains for the solution as Gabrielle cleaned the baby then remembered the time that Gabrielle was died in the temple. She motioned for Gabrielle to lay the baby on the bed, then carefully blew air into the baby's lungs. She kept repeating this until the baby started breathing on her own and cried. Diana started contracting again, delivering the afterbirth. Joxer looked up and whispered, "Our baby?"
Gabrielle scooped up the baby and announced, "Your daughter, Diana and Joxer. She looks fine now." As she spoke, she wrapped the baby in a towel and laid her at Diana's breast.
Joxer looked at his daughter and fell in love instantly. "May I hold her?" he asked his wife. Diana nodded, holding up their crying daughter. Joxer cradled the baby in his arms, laying his cheek against her head, then kissing her tenderly before handing her back to his wife.
Xena was silently cleaning up while the other three cooed over the baby. Assisting in childbirth always tired her out, especially when things started going wrong like they had today. But, she guessed that the cord had not been wrapped around the baby's neck very long, so she would mostly likely be okay. It also sometimes brought back memories of delivering Solon alone in the woods with no one to help. Luckily, she had given birth quickly and easily. Sometimes, she still missed him, and still mourned his passing.
As was the custom, Joxer and Diana were hosting a birth feast for the baby, which Cyrene volunteered to have at the inn. The feast was where the couple would announce their daughter's name to the community in a short ceremony, and the local priest would ask the blessings of the gods on their daughter. Gabrielle immediately offered to help plan the feast.
Gabrielle had noticed that Xena was depressed following the birth, avoiding people, spending all of her time making repairs around the inn. The day before the feast, Gabrielle took a break from planning and went looking for her lover. She found Xena in the stables, directing the stable hands on how to replace the railings between stalls. "Xena, we need to talk," Gabrielle said quietly to the warrior.
Xena simply looked down at her, then answered, "I don't have time right now. Can't you see that I'm busy?" She turned back to work, shutting the bard out. Gabrielle waited for a moment longer, then walked back to the inn, more worried than ever. Maybe Cyrene could shed some light on the situation, she thought.
Cyrene stopped her work as Gabrielle asked if she had noticed Xena's depression. "Maybe she's reacting from nearly losing Diana's baby. Xena and Diana were very close growing up, you know." Gabrielle nodded, this might be possible. It was now three days before the feast and she was hoping to pull Xena out of her funk before the feast. She picked her quill back up, but twirled it between her fingers instead of continuing to write the invitation list.
"It does sound possible, Cyrene, but I'm not sure that is all." Gabrielle hesitated, not sure if she should tell Xena's mother about their recent fights. She laid down her quill and took a sip of cider before continuing. "Xena and I have been arguing a lot lately, mostly over little things. I think that her mood may be due to that as well."
"Serious fights?" Cyrene asked.
"Usually not, but lately Xena has been both pushing me away and holding me close. It started about a month ago when someone snuck up on me in a marketplace and nearly managed to kill me. I did fight him off, I think he was after our money, but since then Xena won't let me fight or be near fights. Its almost like she is afraid for me to be in any situation where I might be hurt, but doesn't want me around to she won't have to be reminded that she couldn't protect me. She was busy at the time, and blames herself for not being there to protect me. She's suddenly started decisions without consulting me, which culminated in a bad fight before we came here. We blew up and each other and haven't really resolved things yet. Now she is using the old 'Mother needs me to do repairs' line to keep me away."
Cyrene thought about this for a long moment. Finally, she asked, "Gabrielle, do you want me to talk to her?"
"No. She'd just get mad," Gabrielle said.
Cyrene smiled. "That's for sure. Just thought I would offer, though."
Gabrielle shook her head. "Nope, I have to figure this one out myself. Thanks for listening." She bent back to the list. "What else do we need for the feast?"
That night, Cyrene decided to try to talk to her daughter anyway. She found Xena after supper and asked if she would join her in her office. Xena agreed somewhat unwillingly, pretty sure that her mother would be asking why she wasn't getting along with Gabrielle these days. Sure enough the first thing her mother asked was, "Xena, what's wrong? You and Gabrielle seem to be at odds these days. Have you two quarreled?"
Xena looked at her mother across the desk, contemplating what to say. The problem was partly that she didn't want to involve anyone else in hers and Gabrielle's affairs, but also partly that Xena wasn't even sure what was going on between them. She couldn't rely on "the look" to keep her mother from asking questions since her mother did "the look" even better than she did herself. Finally, she said, "Mother, all relationships go through rough times. We're just hitting a rough spot lately. It will be resolved."
"Humph," Cyrene huffed, crossing her arms.
"No, really, Mother, its not that bad. We just argued over me spending some money without consulting Gabrielle. I've apologized and promised not to make major purchases without telling her in the future. That's all. May I go now?" Xena asked sharply.
Cyrene looked up at her daughter, seeing uncertainty behind those cool blue eyes. It occurred to Cyrene that Xena was actually afraid that she might lose Gabrielle, which could account for the pulling and pushing. "Well, you did promise to be partners, my daughter, not to have an unequal relationship. Even though you didn't have good role models at home for what a marriage should be, you had an excellent example in Diedra and Rebecka, may they rest in peace. Diedra told me once that being married was the hardest battle she ever fought, but that having Rebecka by her side was the best battle she ever fought. Sometimes they fought like cats and dogs, but they never went to bed without resolving their differences."
Xena stared at her mother for a long time, then started to stand up. Cyrene grabbed Xena's wrist and said urgently, "You must resolve your differences. I'm not about to lose Gabrielle as my daughter due to your stubbornness." She then let go of Xena's wrist. Xena turned at walked out of the office without another word. Cyrene sighed, the picked up the accounts scroll. She'd like to say that Xena was stubborn just like her father, but to be honest, she had to admit that Xena took after her as well.
Gabrielle was finishing copying a story when Xena stomped into their room. "How could you talk to Mother about our problems?" Xena stormed as she slammed the door shut. "She made me sit in her office just like I was young again, like I was in trouble. She then proceeded to compare our marriage to Diedra and Rebecka's! Just what in Hades had you told her?"
Xena flung herself on the bed, avoiding Gabrielle's quizzical look. Gabrielle decided that two could play at this game. While Xena ranted and undressed, she carefully poured fine sand on her parchment to blot the ink. She then tipped over the sheet, brushing the sand into a neat pile, scooped it up and tossed it into the fire. As Xena finished ranting, Gabrielle rolled up the parchment with several others, tying them with a small ribbon.
Gabrielle finally turned to the glowering warrior and asked, "Did it ever occur to you that you mother cares about what happens to us? That she is the only mother I have since my family booted me out? That sometimes a woman needs to talk to another woman about her problems? Gods know that you haven't been talking to me much lately. You've been too busy both protecting me and shoving me away to listen to anything I have to say other than 'dinner's ready' or 'I see a good place to camp.' Even then you don't really acknowledge me, you just act on it."
Xena stared at the bard for a long time, trying to decide what to say. Before she could formulate a reply, Gabrielle walked over to the bed and continued. "Xena, I hate being shut out. I realize that a lot has happened, and that you are just trying to protect me, especially after that incident in the marketplace. Xena, we've both made those kinds of mistakes before and you never went ballistic. Why now?"
Gabrielle waited patiently for an answer. She had an idea that Cyrene had basically told her daughter to resolve their issues now, not later. As she waited, she also started getting ready for bed.
Xena finally broke her silence and said quietly, "I don't know, Gabrielle. I love you very much, I do know that. Why we are at each other's throats is another matter. But you are right, it did start when last month. I blame myself for that. Then having to blow breath back into Diana and Joxer's daughter...it reminded me too much of the time you came back to the temple and died in my arms. I can't afford to lose you again. Maybe we should quit the road, settle down somewhere."
Gabrielle's heart leapt, then she realized that settling down would wear down the warrior's great spirit. She wanted to settle down sometime, but for now, she was perfectly content to stay on the road with Xena, gathering tales to spin.
"Xena, if I wanted to settle down, I would not have given Ephiny the crown. I would have remained Queen of the Amazons. I gave the title up so I could wander with you. You are my family. I don't want to lose you either." Gabrielle tentatively put her arms around the warrior's strong shoulders. "Besides, try to imagine not having me complain about my aching feet everyday."
Xena smiled slightly, then leaned back against the wall, pulling the petite woman with her. She kissed Gabrielle's forehead, then looked deep into the green eyes she knew so well. "Gabrielle, you are right, I guess I have been too protective lately. Its hard to think that I could lose you, that I can't protect you, forgetting the years of practice that you have in protecting yourself. Ironic, eh? I force you to practice with your staff every morning, then tell you that you can't use it." She stroked her wife's hair for a moment, then said, "My dear Amazon princess, will you forgive me for being such a stubborn old woman?"
Gabrielle kissed her love, then smiled, saying, "Of course I will forgive you. Now, blow out that candle and let's get some sleep."
The next few days went by quickly. Xena checked in on Diana several times to make sure that she was recovering from giving birth. Gabrielle arranged to have her latest set of tales shipped to the Academy by one of Joxer's couriers. Gabrielle also helped Cyrene put the finishing touches on the arrangements for the birth feast.
Xena had gone to check on Diana and Joxer, noting that he glowed with visible pride now that he was a father. As she handed over another shipment of scrolls, she asked, "Joxer, are you happy with a daughter? Most men want a son first."
Joxer laughed and replied, "Xena, the best, bravest and brightest people I know are women. Why should I want a son?" As he spoke, he heard his daughter crying, and motioned for Xena to fallow him to the bedroom, calling out, "I have her," as he picked up his baby. "Someone is wet," he said, checking her diaper. "Xena, hand me another from the stack, please," he said as he laid the baby out on the changing table. She handed him a diaper, watching as he deftly cleaned and changed his daughter, then took her over to Diana.
"So, Xena, how is the little patient?" queried Diana as she took her daughter from Joxer's arms.
Xena smiled. "Healthy as can be. She shows no signs of damage from the cord having been wrapped around her neck. You look pretty good too. I've told Joxer that you can get up and work now, but I'm not sure that he believed me."
"Hey, I'm just making sure you get your rest, Diana, you went through a pretty difficult time," he protested.
Diana laughed as she put the suddenly demanding infant to her breast. "Don't worry, Joxer, if Xena says I can get up, then I can. It is a good thing that she came in time, though, with our village healer being gone to see her family. Then again, maybe I'll just lay her and enjoy Joxer waiting on me hand and foot. Did you know that I have not changed diapers once? Joxer is afraid that I'll drop our child. Oh, how are the preparations for the feast? Will everything be ready tomorrow?"
"Under control. With Mother and Gabrielle in charge, what could go wrong?" Xena smiled at the couple, then said, "I'd better be moving along. I'll see you tomorrow night at the feast. But call me if you need anything before then."
Joxer escorted Xena to the front door, telling his wife that he would be back in a moment. Before opening the door, he pressed a small bag in Xena's hand, saying, "Our thanks, Xena."
Xena felt the heft of the bag, then tried to give it back to Joxer. "I don't take money for helping friends," she said.
Joxer drew up to his full height. "Xena, you will take the money or I will give it to Gabrielle. If she won't take it, I will take it to the nearest temple devoted to Ares."
Xena threw up her hands in surrender. "Okay, Joxer, anything but giving it to the God of War!" She tucked the bag in her belt, then brightened. "I can buy Gabrielle that cloak now."
Joxer looked puzzled, but let the remark slide. He leaned forward and kissed Xena on both cheeks, then said seriously, "Thank you for helping us, Xena. I don't think I could have survived if our daughter had not lived."
Xena smiled, hugging Joxer and saying, "She is beautiful. Remember to raise her to be independent, yet know when to accept help." She swallowed, then abruptly pulled open the door and left.
The day of the birth feast dawned bright and clear, with a touch of autumn in the air. Cyrene had Xena and Gabrielle running errands all morning as she directed her staff in preparing the food and laying out the many borrowed tables and chairs on the patio. Xena finished her errands and started stringing up the many lamps that would be needed as Gabrielle decorated with strands of flowers and cut flowers in bowls at each table. Whole animals were roasting above open pits, perfuming the air with their scent. Temporary bread ovens were baking hundreds of loaves and sweets. Xena and Gabrielle managed to sneak off to their room in the late afternoon to bathe and dress before the big event.
As night fell, villagers and Amazons started gathering for the feast and ceremony. The air was buzzing with happy voices and the smell of food and flowers. Joxer and Diana passed around their baby to the village women, agreeing with the general assessment that she would grow up to be a beauty. After the main course was finished, Cyrene stood up on the small stage and called out, "May I have your attention please? It is time for the ceremony to begin. Dorcas, the priestess of the Amazons, will lead the ceremony."
Dorcas, the Amazon priestess, ascended the stage and motioned for Diana and Joxer to approach her with the baby. She took the tiny girl in her arms and lifted her to show her to the audience. She then settled the girl back in her arms and asked, "Diana, daughter of Diedra and Rebecka and Joxer, foster-son of Cyrene, what name do you give this child?"
Diana spoke. "We call her Rebecka Diedra, in memory of my mothers." An approving murmur went through the crowd.
The priestess smiled, then asked, "Do you promise to bring her up to be strong and true, in the way of the Amazons?"
Diana and Joxer had talked long hours about this very question. Diana gave the answer they agreed on. "Priestess, she has Amazon blood. We will teach her Amazon ways, but let her make her own decision."
Dorcas was not surprised, but was pleased at the compromise. "Then bring me the oil." A young acolyte brought forth a small bowl of oil, bowing before the priestess and the parents. She straightened and held out the bowl to the priestess. The priestess dipped her finger in the oil and drew a sign on the baby's forehead, then announced, "May the gods and goddesses protect Rebecka Diedra all of the days of her life. May she walk with the gods and goddesses, and may she always help protect the weak and innocent from those who would prey on them. May she bring joy and honor into your house. Now, who is to be the godmother of this child?"
Joxer spoke up. "We would ask that Xena and Gabrielle be the godmothers of Rebecka." A murmur arose; it was unusual to name two godmothers. The priestess motioned for the women to join them on stage. "Xena and Gabrielle, do you solemnly swear to help look after the interests of this child, and to take her and raise her should something happen to her parents?"
Gabrielle's voice rang out true and clear as she said, "As to my part, I solemnly swear it." She waited for Xena to follow up. She glanced up at her partner, who was having trouble speaking. Finally, Xena croaked, "I too swear to this pledge."
The priestess motioned for all four to kneel before her. She painted a sign with oil on all of their foreheads, then said, "By this sign, you are marked as responsible for this child, Rebecka Diedra. May you teach her to walk straight and true, and may you always surround her with love. Arise and take the baby." She handed the baby back to Diana, then reached for her wine goblet. "A toast to the new parents, the godparents, and to the child!"
Hours later, an exhausted Gabrielle tumbled into bed, followed by an equally exhausted Xena. "Beautiful ceremony, wasn't it? Xena, did you have any idea that we would be asked to be the godmothers of Rebecka?"
Xena answered, "Nope, no idea at all. Leave it to those two to not only choose an unconventional godmother, but two unconventional godmothers. I had no idea that Mother had adopted Joxer. Did you?"
Gabrielle snuggled against Xena, yawning. "None at all. I wonder when it happened?" Before Xena could offer any speculation, she noticed that Gabrielle had already fallen asleep. She pulled the bard closer to her, then drifted off to sleep herself.
Gabrielle woke up several hours later, shivering. She stretched out an arm to find Xena but only found empty bed. She sat up and looked around, then saw Xena sitting by the fireplace, shoulders shaking. She got out of bed and went to sit by her partner. "Xena, what's wrong?" she asked the sobbing warrior.
Xena didn't answer immediately. She dropped her head on the bard's shoulder and sobbed as if purging herself of years of sorrow. Gabrielle pulled the other woman closer, frightened by the intensity of the sobbing. Xena rarely cried and never this openly. She stroked the raven hair, waiting for the storm to pass. Finally, the tears slowed and Xena drew a long, trembling breath. She pulled away from Gabrielle's embrace, but waited until the tears stopped completely before lifting her head. Still, she did not speak.
Gabrielle finally asked, "What happened? Did you have a nightmare?" Xena nodded slowly. "Was the nightmare connected to tonight?" Another slow nod. Gabrielle wracked her brains, then it dawned on her. "Does this have anything to do with Solon?" A quick nod; another tear slid down the warrior's beautiful face. "Oh, Xena, you feel guilty again, don't you?" Another tear slid down Xena's cheek, which she quickly and savagely wiped off.
Xena took another trembling breath, then said hoarsely, "My baby never had a naming ceremony. I never stood for him, promising to take care of him. I know that I did the best for him, but I don't feel like I deserve the honor of being Rebecka's godmother since I couldn't even stand for my own son."
Everything started falling into place. Gabrielle put a hand under Xena's chin and made her look at her. "Xena, you've know that Diana was going to be giving birth within the month when I was attacked in the marketplace. You must have known that they would send for you when Diana was about to give birth. You started feeling like you couldn't protect anyone close to you. Then, the baby nearly died, which set off more guilt. You tried to drive me away so you wouldn't have to deal with the guilt. To top things off, Diana and Joxer nominated you for the honor and responsibility of being their daughter's godmother. This triggered the nightmares of your giving birth alone, then giving up Solon. You still feel guilty about giving him up, don't you?"
Xena nodded, answering, "Yes. I am not worthy of the honor. I am not worthy of your love either."
Gabrielle stared into the deep blue eyes, so wracked with pain and sorrow, then announced bluntly, "Xena, you are such an ass. True, you feel great pain over giving up your only child, and probably great shame over never admitting that you have a son. I still love you and I will never desert you. Can't you get that through that thick skull of yours?" She punctuated the last words by lightly rapping on Xena's head with her knuckles. "You can't always protect everyone, Xena. You do a damned good job, but sometimes you just have to take your losses in stride."
Xena sighed. "Do you ever wish for a child?"
Gabrielle was taken off guard by the question. She loved playing with babies, but had never considered having one of her own since Perdicas' death so many years ago. She realized that this, too, was nagging at Xena, not being sure whether or not she kept Gabrielle from being a mother. Gabrielle sat back and thought for a short time, then slowly answered, "Xena, I honestly haven't given it much thought. I guess in the back of my mind I gave up all thoughts of ever having a child when I pledged to travel with you and renounced my title as queen. I could have adopted a baby as queen, but the road is no place for children." She stroked Xena's face, lovingly following the curve of her cheeks and jaw line. "But my dear love, I don't need a child to feel that our marriage is complete. We do have a child now, we have Rebecka. We just have to make it a point to come home more often."
Xena reached for the bard, pulling her closer. She finally let go, then said, "So you really don't mind? I guess it has bothered me lately, especially since I am getting nearer the age where I can't bear children. You still could, if we found the right man..." She let the thought trail off, shuddering at the thought of anyone else making love to her beloved wife. "Are you sure?"
Gabrielle stood up, pulling the dark haired woman with her. "I am positive. Can you see me trying to breast feed and write at the same time?" Xena finally smiled, shaking her head no. "Good, let's try to get some sleep. I'm worn out, Xena."
Xena suddenly got a gleam in her eyes as she swooped the bard into her arms. "How worn out?" she queried as she deposited the woman onto their bed. She silenced any reply by falling on top of Gabrielle and kissing her soundly, running her hands through the bard's hair. She raised up a little, then started kissing Gabrielle's neck.
"Leaving so soon?" Cyrene asked several weeks later. Xena and Gabrielle stood before her, having announced their intent to get back on the road. Xena put her arm around Gabrielle and answered, "Yes, Mother, I promised to take Gabrielle to the Bard's Festival in Athens. We have to leave today if we are going to make it. I made a promise that I intend to keep."
"Well, I can't keep you then. Will you come back for Solstice?" Cyrene asked.
"Yes, Mother, we will." Gabrielle answered for them. She pulled away from Xena to hug and kiss Cyrene. Xena followed suit, then said, "Gabrielle, we should go say goodbye to our goddaughter now. Mother, we'll be back before Solstice. Thanks for hosting the feast. Thanks for everything." She looked down at her mother, hugging her close again and whispering into the older woman's ear, "I love you, Mother."
"Likewise, daughter. I love you too." Cyrene whispered back. She stepped back. "Go on, you two." Xena squeezed her mother again, then grabbed her bag and led Gabrielle out of the inn.
Gabrielle shivered as they walked out into the cool air. Xena seemed not to notice as she tied their bag to Argo's saddle. Then she took Gabrielle's hand and led her into the marketplace. "Where are we going?" Gabrielle asked.
"You'll see" was the cryptic reply. They went first to Joxer and Diana's to say their good-byes, then went further along the marketplace. Gabrielle was mystified until they turned into a clothing shop. Xena went to the counter and spoke to the owner, who brought out a beautiful, deep green cloak and draped it around Gabrielle's shoulders. "Like it?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle was speechless. Xena remembered! But... "Where did you get the money?"
Xena smiled as the shopkeeper put a deep blue cloak around Xena's shoulders. She thanked him and handed over the proper number of dinars, then led her partner by the hand back to the stables. As they swung up on Argo's back, she finally answered, "Joxer. He insisted on paying me for delivering Rebecka. I tried to refuse, but he threatened to give the money to the temple of Ares."
"Oh." Comprehension dawned on Gabrielle's face as Xena wheeled Argo out of town. She snuggled closer to Xena's back. "I see." She smiled to herself. Sometimes, Xena could still surprise her. "I love you, Xena."
"I love you too, my bard. Argo, let's go!" They galloped off into the sunrise, on toward Athens.
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