Journey of Love & Life

Part 20

Xena awoke to the feeling of her bard snuggled around her. She smiled in contentment loving the feeling of her lover pressed against her as much as she could. She placed a gentle kiss on the bards forehead and gently removed herself from the bard's soft yet firm hold on her. She held her breath as she felt Gabrielle stir and then sighed in relief when she turned over and her breathing returned to the steady breaths she knew signaled deep sleep.

Getting up as gracefully as she could at a little over 8 moons pregnant Xena walked out of the room to search for the bathroom. She had been awakened by the baby pressing against her bladder and now that she was awake she knew she would begin to get hungry once she'd relieved the most pressing order of business. She was so intent on finding her way to the bathroom that she almost ran into Aphrodite who had appeared out of nowhere.

"Aphrodite! What are you doing here?" Xena asked a little annoyed at having been distracted from her task. The pressing against her bladder was getting insistent now and she knew she wouldn't have much time before it became an even bigger problem.

"I heard you get up and thought you may be looking for the bathroom so I came to help, Hera's castle is so big it would have taken you ages to find it" Aphrodite told Xena smiling as the annoyance that had been on Xena's face softened into a smile.

"Thanks Aphrodite, I'm glad you came to my rescue, now where is this bathroom?" Xena said trying not to cross her legs as the pressure became worse. She felt a small contraction and sighed knowing it was going to be a long day, the tiny contractions she was experiencing were beginning to annoy her because although not painful they were making her uncomfortable.

"Take my hand and I'll get you there in a jiffy" Aphrodite said and linked her hand with Xena's and then transported them to the bathroom. She watched trying not to giggle as Xena waddled hurriedly into the bathroom leaving no doubt as to how urgent her plight was. Although the circumstances weren't the best ones she was glad it had given her more time with the warrior princess and her bard. She was intrigued by the changes taking place in Xena and loved seeing her pregnant, she thought Xena looked absolutely adorable pregnant and hoped Xena would retain some of the softness the pregnancy had brought.

"Aphrodite?" Xena called out uncertainly and Aphrodite rushed into the bathroom to see what was wrong. Her stomach clenched when she reached Xena and saw her holding onto one of the doors a grimace on her face, her other hand clutching her stomach.

"Is it the baby?" Aphrodite asked worriedly, she had hoped Xena would go into labour early but she wasn't sure it was safe enough for her to be in labour this early and her senses had told her they had at least another few days before the baby would make its arrival. She hadn't been wrong on that count in a few thousand years and even though she knew how special this child was she didn't think it had the power to change the day it was supposed to be born.

"I'm not sure, it was a stronger contraction than the other's I've been experiencing and it lasted a little longer" Xena said sighing as the baby began to move probably disturbed by the contraction she'd just experienced. She knew that the "practise contractions" she'd experienced could get worse before actual labour set in but it had been a long time since she'd experienced a labour type contraction and she couldn't be sure this wasn't one.

"How about we get you back to bed, if you start to experience more stronger and longer one's then I guess that will mean your in labour, do you want me to check to see if your dialating at all?" Aphrodite asked knowing that would give them a definite indication of whether Xena was in labour.

"Okay, thank you Aphrodite that would be great, but I think we should wake Gabrielle before you go poking around in my pants" Xena laughed at the look on Aphrodite's face and then smiled as the Goddess of Love took her hand and they were back in the room with the fireplace. She looked down at Gabrielle and smiled seeing her lover was still asleep. She knew that Gabrielle had stayed up to talk to Hera and Eli and wondered what they had to tell her. She also wondered about Aphrodite's presence here and the other Gods she could sense that were in the castle as well.

"Okay lets get you lying down while I wake Gabby and then I'll check you out" Aphrodite said thanking whatever power was out there that Xena hadn't experienced another contraction yet. Although she wanted the baby to come early so they could beat Zeus to the punch, she knew the more time in Xena's womb it had the better.

"Gabby!" Aphrodite said wanting to get Gabrielle awake as soon as she could, she needed to know if Xena was dialating, as soon as possible, there would be a chance to stop the labour for a few days if she was truly in labour if Xena had only dialated a small amount. She smiled as Gabrielle awoke sleepily and then looked over at Xena who had laid back down her hands resting on the baby. Then she took in Aphrodite's presence and was wide awake within seconds.

"Okay what's going on, is it the baby sweetheart?" Gabrielle asked Xena taking her hand worriedly. She looked over at Aphrodite and felt her heart quicken at the look on Aphrodite's face. She knew it was too soon for the baby to be born, they had all been hoping Xena would have a few more days before the baby decided to make its arrival to give it the best chances at surviving the birth without any complications.

"We're not sure baby I had a stronger contraction, just a few minutes ago so Aphrodite's going to check to see if I'm dialating at all, the good news is that I haven't had a contraction since, so it's probably just a stronger "practise contraction", it will be okay no matter what the baby will be fine I know it" Xena said looking up at the woman she loved and took in the worry on her face. She was worried too but she knew that the baby she was carrying was fine and that it was strong and healthy, an early birth was risky but she knew that the baby had good chances and her heart told her everything would be fine.

"Okay, but you listen to me kiddo, you had better stay in there a little longer, I want you as healthy as you can be, because we love you very much and we want you to be born safely" Gabrielle whispered to the baby and smiled as it kicked up at her hand which was pressing against Xena's belly. She gave Xena's stomach a quick kiss and then watched as Aphrodite went about the task of seeing if Xena was dialating.

"Well good news girls it looks like that was just a stronger "practise contraction", you haven't dialated at all Xena, I say a few more days and she will be announcing her presence to us" Aphrodite smiled as she placed her hand on Xena's stomach and breathed a small sigh of relief. She sent a silent prayer of thanks to Eli's God. She felt Xena's stomach rumble and knew the warrior was getting hungry.

"Should I go and get something for you to eat?" Aphrodite asked not sure of what the warrior's eating style was but willing to try. She wanted so much to make these last few days comfortable for Xena, she didn't want her to have to stress about anything, the birth would be stressful enough.

"Thanks Aphrodite that would be wonderful" Xena said as she laid herself back down with Gabrielle, hoping the baby would settle down so she could have another rest after her breakfast. She knew something was going on and that both Gabrielle and Aphrodite knew about it, but she was too tired and hungry to worry about it for the moment. She knew they would tell her in their own time and was content to let them take charge for a while.

"Thank the Gods you weren't in labour, are you okay sweetheart?" Gabrielle asked knowing she should tell Xena about the plans the Gods had for prolonging Zeus, but she was worried that Xena would want to help out. She didn't want Xena doing anything strenuous even though she knew her warrior princess was quite capable of fighting, she didn't want Xena to have to fight, she wanted to be able to take Xena away, where she could give birth in peace and not have to be worried about the King of the Gods wanting to kill their child.

"Yeah, the baby's just really active this morning I think that contraction made her uncomfortable and now she's moving all over the place, especially her head" Xena grimaced as the baby moved again its head pressing against her pelvis. It was one of the strangest things she'd ever felt when the baby moved its head against her pelvis and it made her extremely uncomfortable.

"Let me try and calm her down, I think you'll probably need another nap after breakfast, you didn't sleep very soundly last night" Gabrielle commented as she moved closer to Xena's stomach and then started stroking it. She loved times like this where she could just try and soothe the baby resting her head against Xena's chest as she whispered little stories to the baby. In a way she was overjoyed that their child would be born in the next few days but in other ways she was sad that she wouldn't be able to do this anymore.

"That feels great sweetheart, she's already started to calm down" Xena said running her hands through Gabrielle's hair trying not to fall asleep as Gabrielle's touch began to relax her too. She was just beginning to dose off when another practise contraction came and it was strong enough to make her grimace a little.

"That felt strange, your whole stomach tightened, are you sure they are just practise ones?" Gabrielle asked worriedly, that had felt a lot stronger than the one's Xena had been experiencing. She rested her head on Xena's stomach and felt the baby shift inside her warrior, obviously disturbed again by the contraction.

"If it wasn't a practise one I'd be dialating, I trust Aphrodite sweetheart when she says the baby won't be born for a few more days, I've always known she would probably come early, I don't know how I knew but I've had this feeling ever since I became pregnant" Xena told Gabrielle grimacing as the baby shifted again having been awakened by the contraction. She felt Gabrielle's hands move in slow circles over her belly again and sighed as the movement calmed the baby again.
"I just hope she doesn't move too much, I need my beauty sleep" Xena laughed and then sighed as the movement of Gabrielle's hand started making her feel sleepy again. She hoped Aphrodite would hurry with their food because sleep was beckoning her and she didn't know how much she longer she could fight the pull towards sleep.

"Okay I got some oatmeal, and some of your mum's pastries don't ask me how I got them it's a secret" Aphrodite giggled and then watched as both Gabrielle and Xena hungrily devoured their breakfast. It was almost comical watching the warrior eat with as much gusto as Gabrielle normally did, not for the first time did she wonder where Gabrielle put all that food.

"Gods that feels so much better" Xena mumbled sleepily, her full stomach causing her to feel even more tired and she decided not to fight the sleep her body so desperately needed. Slowly she closed her eyes and fell quickly into a dreamless sleep.

"It's so weird seeing her konk out like that, I'm so used to seeing her in motion all the time" Aphrodite commented looking at how beautiful Xena looked in sleep. The warrior had quickly fallen into a deep sleep and she knew it would be a few candlemarks before she would awaken. As the day approached for the baby to be born Aphrodite knew the warrior would be even more prone to deep sleeps and would most likely be tired almost all the time, most mother's got that way before they were due to give birth. Oh Xena this is going to be so hard for you, I fear my father will find you before you give birth or while you are giving birth and you will be forced to fight and suffer much more than I wished for you when I helped Abba give you this child, Abba look over her please Aphrodite prayed knowing that it would all be okay, Abba needed Xena to protect the child she carried so he would not let anything happen to her, but he couldn't help her possibly ending up in more pain than needed during the birth of the baby.

"Yeah, she's so tired, the baby's movements have been keeping her awake a lot, I'm worried about her, I'm not sure she'll be strong enough to fight if we need to, Gods what if she's in labour when Zeus finds her how will she fight then?" Gabrielle asked her fears and worries rising to the surface quickly. She gasped as she felt hands wrap around her from behind and leaned into the embrace knowing who it was that was holding her.

"Xena is the strongest woman I know, she will get through this Gabrielle, I can't say that she won't have to fight during her labour, but she is strong enough, believe in her as I do" Eli said as he held the blonde bard in his arms. He knew that Gabrielle was close to breaking point with her worry over her soulmate and that was not good for Xena. Xena needed Gabrielle to be strong for her and to be her safety in the storm that awaited her. He knew Xena was very close to giving birth and he also knew that unfortunately it would be necessary for Zeus to find her before she gave birth, to set the coming events in motion.

"Gabrielle, how is she?" Hercules said as he walked into the room taking in Xena lying peacefully on the makeshift bed they'd made for her and a distressed Gabrielle in the arms of a man he'd only met once but already admired greatly.

"She's doing good, I'm so glad your here" Gabrielle said breaking out of Eli's embrace to go greet the demi god. As she looked at him she suddenly realised what his purpose was here and her heart went out to him. She smiled as she was engulfed by his strong arms and took comfort in the warmth and safety she found there. It would all be okay it had to be.

Meanwhile not too far from the castle.

"You called Father?" Ares said as he appeared in front of his father, he had a feeling he knew what his father wanted and he was torn as to what his answer would be. He knew his father was hell bent on destroying Xena and the child she carried and as much as he loved Xena he wasn't sure he would be able to deny his father's wishes.

"I need a favour from you" Zeus said eyeing his son and wondering where he'd gone wrong with him. The God of war was not the God he once was and this obsession with the woman who held within her the key to destroying them all was not one he understood. He had only ever felt love for another woman other than Hera with Hercules mother. As much as he had loved his son's mother he would never have put her well being over that of the Gods.

"Let me guess you heard that Hercules has joined up with Hera and the other Gods and you want me to do your dirty work and get him out of your way" Ares sneered knowing that if his father had asked him to take out Gabrielle he would have had no problems but his luck hadn't been so good with Hercules and he kind of respected his half brother. When he'd been a mortal he'd come to gain a little bit of an understanding about the way his brother felt about the mortals he protected.

"That's exactly what I need, I know Hera led him to the cave with the remains of Chronos and I can't take the chance that he may have the power to kill me, it is too important to the survival of the Gods for us to fail now" Zeus said looking at his son and wondering if he too would stand against him. When he'd heard that three of his daughter's and some of the other Gods were standing against him and protecting the child that could destroy them all he had been angry and confused. Why they would protect a child that could destroy them was beyond his understanding and his fear over his possible death was driving his need to destroy Xena and the child.

"Sorry father but I can't, I love Xena and even though I know she doesn't feel the same way I can't help you destroy her or her child" Ares said breathing out uncertainly as he watched his father's face cloud with anger, the words had tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them and he had no idea where they'd come from. He knew if his father was angry enough he could just kill him right there and flinched when Zeus' hand came up angrily.

"How can you put your feelings for that woman above the survival of the Gods? Over your own survival?" Zeus asked angrily, he hadn't expected Ares to deny him this favour and although he was disappointed in his son he was also proud of him for sticking to his resolve.

"I love her, but I don't really think it's Hercules that poses the biggest threat to you anyway, it's that peace lover Eli, now if you wanted me to take him out that would be no sacrifice" Ares said hoping to gain some favour back with his father. He had never liked Eli, couldn't understand what Xena saw in him to believe in him so fiercely and in a way he was jealous of the zealot. Eli had earned Xena's respect something he'd never been able to earn.

"Very well I will take care of Hercules, Xena and her blonde little friend, you take care of Eli and do it swiftly" Zeus said resigning himself to his fate. He knew without a doubt that he would be victorious, after all he was Zeus the King of the Gods how could he fail.

"Yes father" Ares said as he disappeared from the room and went off in search of Eli. He was surprised to find the man of peace in one of his temples talking to some of the people who worshipped him. He's made it so easy for me, I wonder if he'll even know what hit him, Ares thought as he appeared in his temple and looked at the people gasping at his arrival.

"We don't need to fear the Gods, they fear us and the child that will come to bring us all the message of the God of Love, turn your hearts from hate and fear and look to love and we will never have need of the Gods again" Eli said his heartfelt words stirring the crowd and then looked up as Ares appeared in the temple.

"Without us Gods you people will have nothing but anarchy and misery, it is the Gods that decide your fates not some peace loving messenger" Ares snarled looking up menacingly at Eli and hoped to see fear in the preacher's face. He was dismayed to see nothing but a smug look of arrogance on the preacher's face and wondered for a moment if it was really a good thing for him to be doing this.

"That's where you are wrong Ares, we can make our own choices, decide our own fates, we have no need of the Gods anymore so unless you have something more to say I suggest you leave before you embarrass yourself" Eli said knowing he was provoking the God of war but knew it was necessary for him to complete his mission in life. He knew his purpose and he knew that Ares would be the one to fulfill his destiny.

"Why you!" Ares yelled and before he could control himself he fired a fireball at Eli knocking him to the ground and stared at the gaping hole his fireball had created. Then he looked into Eli's eyes and knew without a doubt that he'd just played a role he'd never meant to play, he'd made Eli's cause and the imminent death of the Gods more of a reality than he'd ever meant to.

"Love- that's the answer Ares – Love" Eli gasped against the pain that had exploded in his chest. He looked up at the God of War seeing the understanding on his face and the remorse quickly flooding his features. With a last look at Ares standing there an almost broken God he succumbed to the blackness his death was bringing.

"Oh by the Gods what have I done?" Ares yelled in anger at himself and at the man that had been alive just moments before. He looked over as Aphrodite appeared next to him tears in her eyes as she looked at the man she'd admired.

"You played your part Bro, you will probably never understand what this man meant to everyone, but I am happy to see some remorse on your face for causing his death" Aphrodite said seriously, knowing that some of the remorse she could see on her brother's face was because he had sealed the God's fate with the death of Eli, and that part of it was for killing the man himself.

"She's going to hate me" Ares said quietly, knowing how much pain Eli's death would bring to Xena, and in that one moment he knew without a doubt that he would never ever be able to gain the warrior princess' love. He looked over at his sister and then disappeared a broken God mourning the loss of a man he'd never tried to understand and the death of a love that could never be and never was.

Xena awoke from her sleep with a strangled cry, deep down inside she knew something terrible had just happened and tears sprang to her eyes immediately. She gasped for breath as fear invaded her mind over what could have happened.

"Xena, what is it, what's wrong baby" Gabrielle said groggily having been woken by Xena bolting upright from a deep sleep. She saw the tears and knew within her heart that something terrible had happened. She jumped when Aphrodite suddenly appeared before them a crumpled body cradled protectively in her arms. She hadn't wanted to do this but she knew that both Gabrielle and Xena needed a chance to say goodbye to the man they'd loved and admired.

Xena got up as quickly as she could and rushed over to Aphrodite who was holding the crumpled form of Eli, a gaping hole in his chest and knew with certainty that he was gone, that there was no bringing him back to life, Eli was dead. She laid her head on his chest and broke down into great wracking sobs, her heart in agony at the death of one of her closest friends. She felt warm arms surround her and felt the sobs coming from Gabrielle. Slowly she turned into Gabrielle's embrace letting out her grief and sadness out in the safety of that warm embrace.

When she had calmed a little she looked at the woman she loved and gently wiped the tears from Gabrielle's eyes, looking up at Aphrodite she didn't need to know who had done this and why. The gaping hole in Eli's chest already told her it had been a God that had caused his death and she knew without a doubt that Ares had been the one responsible. Anger welled up inside her and she wanted more than anything to go and seek out Ares' and make him pay for killing the one man she had respected and admired.

"Go ahead, kill me I deserve it, I didn't realise until too late that this was what he had wanted, it had been his purpose for being here, by killing Eli I've doomed my family and made sure Eli's cause will never die" Ares said as he appeared in the room, his head low as he looked at the pain on the woman he loved's face. He felt more guilty for causing that pain than the fact that he'd doomed his family, but he didn't want to dwell on that, he just wanted Xena to understand that Eli's sacrifice had been necessary so she wouldn't be angry with the man of peace.

"Why Ares, he was a man of peace, he wouldn't have fought you, how could you have killed him in cold blood?" Xena asked tears still running down her face as she thought of the pain Eli had probably gone through in his death and the fact that she would never see him again.

"Zeus asked me to, I thought I was doing the right thing for my family's survival, I'm sorry Xena I can't offer you a better reason than that" Ares said sadly, knowing he had lost any chance he ever had with this woman. He looked over at the bard and was surprised not to feel the anger he had once felt towards her. It was then that he was hit with the absolute clarity that things were as they should be, Xena was never meant for him and he decided to try and put her out of his heart once and for all.

"Just go Ares, please I can't take anymore of this, don't expect me to forgive you for killing him" Xena said feeling suddenly weary and light headed. She grimaced as another practise contraction gripped her and rubbed her stomach trying to make sure the baby wouldn't be unsettled by it. She sighed as Ares left without another word, she just didn't have the energy to deal with this at the moment. She looked down at her friend and fresh tears formed in her eyes.

"I'm going to take Eli's body to Hera's crematorium, I believe he wanted to be cremated and his ashed placed in his God's temple, Xena please rest, you need to get your emotions under control or you'll bring on labour and I don't think you're ready for that right now" Aphrodite said seriously seeing the toll Eli's death had taken on the warrior. She looked extremely pale and exhausted and Aphrodite hoped that she would be able to get some more sleep, she knew no words would be able to help Xena right now, her emotions were too strong to control and trying to offer condolences to Xena would just make matters worse.

"Come on sweetheart, lets get you back into bed, your looking too pale for my liking, a nice big nap and I'm sure you'll be feeling much better" Gabrielle said leading her lover to the makeshift bed and getting her settled in. She could see the exhaustion on Xena's face clearly and knew that if Xena didn't get to sleep straight away it could spell trouble for her warrior.

She laid down with Xena hoping to soothe her way to sleep by rubbing her stomach gently and was glad to see Xena drift off in seconds. She lay there for a moment thinking of what had happened that day and felt tears spring to her eyes as she thought of Eli's death. It had been so unexpected and even though she understood why it had happened she couldn't help but wish it hadn't happened so close to Xena giving birth. So much was happening and the more bad things that happened the more she was convinced that Xena would not have the birth she wished for her.

"Gabrielle, I'm sorry it had to be this way but it was for the greater good, I hadn't wanted to cause Xena any more pain, I love her and you but there was no other way, this was how it had to be" Eli's voice whispered to her and she felt his spirit engulf her willing her to understand that he wished things had been different. It caused him so much pain to leave Xena but he knew that his purpose in life had been fulfilled, he had prepared the way for the one, for his God's messenger, the child Xena carried.

"I understand Eli, I just wish I could take all this pain away from her, I wanted her to give birth peacefully and now it looks like that's not going to happen, I feel so helpless" Gabrielle spoke with her mind not wanting to wake Xena by whispering aloud.

"I understand and I wish things could be different for Xena, she deserves to have a peaceful birth, it tore my heart to leave her, but I know she is safe with you and that you will deliver the baby safely, I believe in you both and in the love that you share, thank you Gabrielle for loving her and for helping change her into the woman she is now, without you she would be lost" Eli said as he felt his spirit being tugged towards his God and knew his time was up, he sent one more wave of his presence to Gabrielle and then disappeared taking his place alongside his God.

Gabrielle lay awake for a while after she'd felt Eli's spirit, just thinking about the coming days, praying that they would be able to get through them as easily as possible, she didn't want to think about the possible deaths of her friends or the role she knew Hercules had to play. All she wanted to concentrate on was the woman she loved and getting her through the birth of their child. She smiled as she felt the child stir within her love and knew it would not be long until she would hold their child in her arms. She was overwhelmed with love for their child and for the woman who would bear her and she wrapped her arms around them both breathing in the scent of her lover before drifting off into a dreamless sleep, allowing all of her worries and fears to fade away as sleep overtook her.

Continued in Part 21

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