Disclaimer: Characters from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess are not owned by me, to my regret. This is written purely for enjoyment with no thought to monetary gain. There are women in love and if that is illegal for you or where you live, move on or simply move.
My thanks to all who have reviewed and written; your comments have helped make this story better. Please keep writing your favourite authors, it makes a difference.
Mail is always answered and appreciated at Kamouraskan@yahoo.com
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Thanks for corrections and encouragement to the members of the Bardic Circle and Tavern Wall, especially Extra, Jaden, Dawn, JLynn, Jordon Falconer, and Sue. More thanks to Claudia, Morgane, and for rereading this countless times, Abardreader. And my thanks as always, to the great Mary Morgan.
When In Rome
Far too soon, Gabrielle stirred within her warrior’s arms, allowing herself the freedom to revel in the sensations, without any thought of what lay ahead. She knew Xena would be hesitant to break the precious mood, so she knew it would fall to her to get down to business. There were a few last, treasured kisses first and she savoured the taste before pulling back to lean her forehead against her lover’s. Though her voice showed regret, she pushed herself to ask, “So I guess… we need to think about plans?”
She felt Xena stiffen in her embrace, but she stoically responded, “I usually start with assets and options. Then work from there.”
“Right.” And the bard was wordless for a moment, but her hand absently slipped along the warrior’s back. “We have to talk about what Aphrodite saw.”
Xena pursed her lips. “Our worst nightmares of death.”
“Yeah, that would probably be what I meant,” Gabrielle whispered.
“Well, He has to know what we’re both afraid of.”
“You know what my fear is.” The absent caress progressively changed to a fixed grip upon the warrior’s arm. “It was being left alone. It’s always been that, Xena.” She ducked her head into the crook of Xena’s shoulder. “And it happened. I thought it had happened again yesterday.”
Xena gently lifted her chin and when their eyes had caught, she declared quietly but firmly, “That will not happen today.”
There was no resistance on Gabrielle’s part as Xena took her into her arms again, and silently they clutched each other for a short, poignant moment. There was another long kiss before they broke apart. This time it was Xena who thought out loud. “We just have to keep him busy. That’ll give us a chance to keep our deal with Aphrodite. That much we can do.”
“Just being together, to the end, will that be enough for them?”
Still clasping her warrior, Gabrielle heard Aphrodite’s warning in her mind. “When that last temptation is made, the answer has to be for Love. The big ‘L’ one. If not, well, all bets are off.”
“I think you have to keep your promise,” she said, out loud.
But what else had Dite said? “To give the person you love… the chance to have the peace they never had with you, it’s a big deal. Hard to refuse, ya know?”
Unaware of her partner’s ruminations, Xena stated confidently, “Gabrielle, when you are breathing your last, you will be in my arms. Nothing. Nothing will stop me from being there.”
Gabrielle drew in a breath and said softly, “Goes both ways, you know.”
“So our assets are that he doesn’t know what’s really going to happen at noon. And another asset, He’s overconfident. Because He knows me. He knows what would hurt the most. He knew… that I was waiting for you all these centuries. To rescue me.”
Hearing the pain in the warrior’s voice, she whispered into her partner’s chest, “Xena, you don’t have to…”
“As lame as it was, that last trick might have worked. I was so desperate, missing you so much with each time… Even though I knew you had to be kept out of it, He knew I’d accept even a false Gabrielle, just to have you… be with me. Again.”
“I’m here now.” And she raised her head to kiss her warrior lightly on her cheek. “See?”
Gabrielle waited until Xena had recovered from the memory, before asking in a businesslike tone, “So how is that an asset?”
“I said, He may know me…”
“But He doesn’t know me? Sure He does.”
Xena shook her head. “Nope. At best he’s always seen you as the brightest kid in the class. Don’t be insulted, because he’d take you as his Chosen in a bee’s wing flap, but he always underestimates you. That, is a definite asset.”
“And what about after?”
“Thing is, Love…that’s another problem.” Despite only the dim light, Gabrielle could see that the blue eyes were shining. “Even if we beat Him, I don’t think we’re going to the same place.”
Infuriated, Gabrielle pulled away. “How can you still believe that?”
“Gabrielle, there are things I’ve done…”
Resisting the urge to strike her partner, she spat out, “And what about me? There are things I’ve… even the things you know about…”
“You still believe that Hope…?”
“I murdered a child, Xena.”
“No! It was…”
“I know, a great evil. But will we ever know for sure? We both have so much blood on our hands, Xena.”
“Gabrielle, you are… so much more than you see yourself to be. And I will be there to show you. Tomorrow, or the next day, if I can.”
“Just remember, you promised me, together, remember that, no matter what else.”
One last kiss sealed the bargain.
Despite the seriousness of the impending circumstances, even when they had parted, there was a comfort from the past hours that lingered. Though habit drove them to dress quickly and efficiently, there were a few light touches and smiles that reached their eyes and beyond, that completely belied their situation.
Xena shifted the toga on her body by bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet and Gabrielle smirked at the familiar movement. The warrior caught the grin and pointed at her in mock accusation, saying, “I can’t believe you saved a legion of Romans!”
Whatever she had been expecting Xena to say, that wasn’t it. “What…? What are you talking about?”
Xena smirked. “I figured it out. What you did at the Fates with the Loom. You saved the Thundering Legion.”
Gabrielle laughed. “Why would you think that?”
“The miracle of the Thundering Legion! Your friend, Marcus whatever, admitted that the one thing that had made him consider our proposal at all, was when he was with the Thundering Legion. When they were saved by Christians praying for rain. That came at exactly the right time, in exactly the right place, to prevent their massacre. He said it, what was it? That he wondered if belief could create its own response.”
“Great deduction, oh Brain of Greece. Too bad it’s…. wrong!” Gabrielle giggled at the expression on Xena’s face. “Yes, it happens. Do you think that creating a miracle comes under the cover of ‘a small thing’?”
“You’ll figure it out?”
“Not until we’re out of here, I hope.”
“You heard me.”
Their wait was ended as a young man entered, in robes that indicated he was a high servant of the house. “I am ordered to bring you to the gardens.”
There was an exchange of mutual shrugs and they followed him outside through another courtyard shrine and further into the rear gardens high above and overlooking the Circus Maximus. It was long after dawn, but the wealthy had no need to rise early and even their slaves were not about. There was certainly no sign of their host from the night before. The servant seeing their confusion, explained, “The Emperor has made his decision, and he has left to implement it.”
“The Emperor? That was the Emperor?” The warrior turned to look at Gabrielle, comprehension dawning. “That was the little thing you did at the Fates, wasn’t it?”
Gabrielle nodded. “It was the smallest change I could see that might make a difference. He missed a transport home. So I changed it so that he didn’t miss it this time. It meant he arrived here a week early. I figured that the mission was bound to fail if we only dealt with someone who couldn’t really make the decisions.”
“And you didn’t tell me, because you knew….”
“We would have to trust him. Put our lives in the hands of a Roman Emperor. I didn’t think you…”
Xena nodded her understanding.
Gabrielle asked the servant, “Okay. So we’re here. Now what?”
He cleared his throat, nervously. “I do what I was ordered to do.”
He looked to the skies and in a loud voice called out, “Lord God, Mars! Lord God, God of War. Mars! They are here!”
Xena and Gabrielle froze, both wanting to bolt, but instead their hands found each other’s and they watched in dread fascination as the War God evanesced in front of them. He was dressed as a young boy as portrayed in the Roman sculptures, but there was no hiding the familiar lazy grin as he took them both in. “Guess what. It’s not noon yet, and… You… Lose.”
The servant stood frozen, his mouth falling open in astonishment at the sight of a living God.
“Run!” Gabrielle urged.
“Yes, run!” Ares agreed. “Run as fast as your little legs can carry you.”
A familiar fireball appeared in Ares’ hand as the messenger managed to break out of his stunned immobility. The ball flew from the God’s hands and without time for even a shriek of pain, the lackey disappeared in a blaze of flame.
Ares shrugged. “Yeah, I figured about that far.”
Ares turned to smile lazily at Gabrielle and Xena. “Gosh. I guess he was supposed to run back to the Emperor and tell him that a God that couldn’t possibly exist actually appeared. Don’t think so.”
His grin widened even further as he looked at the partners. “And now… One game ends, and an even better one begins.”
To be continued...
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