by Maderlin Bidmead
Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, Autolycus, Eve and the horsies belong to MCA/Universal Pictures. Just the little story is mine
Love/Sex: Two women in love, but nothing graphic. The following chapters will also contain an m/f relationship. This is not the main part of the fic, but it is essential to the plot. F/F loving will prevail.
Angst: Yep....Good God Yes!
Timeline: This is an alternative to the events following 'Looking Death in the Eye'
Comments: Huge apologies for the long hiatus of this story. I hope to update with much more regularity. I hope that people will give this a chance. All feedback gratefully received: firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
"Stand down!" Sweat sluiced down both figures as swords were lowered with twin salutes.
The young man, breathing heavily, moved into a crouch bracing his hands on his knees. He could hear his sparring partner putting their gear away, barely breathing hard. Shaking his head at her recuperative abilities, he began a series of stretches, slowly cooling his body down. He was wise enough to know that, unlike his mentor who had been hardened by real warfare, he would be unable to move tomorrow if he just got on with his day. He could feel her watching him as he moved and felt pride swell in his chest.
"You're getting really good at these new drills, Germanicus. I think that you are more than ready to start leading the guard drills." Seeing the youth prepare to demure she quickly cut him off. "Germanicus, my prince, you will one day be emperor of Rome, you need to learn how to lead hardened men. It doesn't matter how good a soldier I say you are, the men need to see you in action. You're fifteen years old, a man, a leader, a prince! Now you have to take up those responsibilities."
The young prince sometimes hated the reality of his situation, the responsibility that was beginning to build upon his shoulders. A lesser man would have allowed the indignation to seep through and make him bitter and resentful. Fortunately for the people of Rome, Germanicus was able to work through his problems and not take them out on other people. He really loved being prince but just wasn't sure that he wished to be in sole charge.
Looking closely at the closed face of his mentor, he knew that she only had his best interests at heart. A few years ago he would have screamed at her for interfering in his business. Made some rude comment about knowing her place but he just couldn't do that anymore. She had become the guiding force in his life; holding more influence over him the older he became. Nobody, not even his 'father', held as much sway over him. His mother tried to force her will on him at every turn, but Mesella was just better at it.
"I guess!" It was a sigh.
"Cheer up boy, Postumus is coming; things can only get more annoying!" Looking up through his lashes the youth could see his friend grinning at him as they watched the older man approach.
Postumus was a soldier of the old-school, a dry, staid man who followed the rules. That he was the best friend of the gregarious, no holds barred woman beside him always made the boy smile. Opposites really do attract! The trouble with Postumus was that he worked very closely with the Empress and the sign of him meant that mother was calling.
"Wonder what she wants now?" It was said on a sigh and low enough that the approaching man would not hear.
"All I can suggest is that you get washed before you see her, 'cos kid, you reek!" The pair clasped forearms.
"Look whose talking!" Breaking contact he walked towards the other soldier, who beat his chest and raised his fist in the traditional Roman salute.
Mesella watched the pair retreat into the palace, giving Postumus a brief wave as he looked over his shoulder. The prince was one of the best soldiers at the palace and would make a fine leader if he would just let himself. Running a calloused hand through her damp hair, the small soldier tried to ignore the eyes that she knew had been on her all morning. It had been much easier to do when all of her focus had been firmly planted on the boy but now it felt as though they were burning through her. Being watched by the goddess over the past weeks had been a constant strain on the young woman and it seemed that she now had company in her regard.
Firming her resolve not to look at the other women, she collected the last of her equipment and headed into the weapons room. With a precision had by few she quickly racked the practice weapons and guards. Satisfied that all was in order she began to plan the rest of her day, a rare rest day from the rigours of being captain. Before she could make any decisions a sudden breeze blew through the open door, brining with it the pungent smell of her own body. Definitely a bath first!
"She knows, you know?"
There was a pause, almost as though the other woman was hearing her words from very far away. Aphrodite was becoming more and more worried about her old friend. She had seemed dazed and confused ever since she had realised who the young soldier really was. Thankfully Ares had not noticed and she knew that Xena would not tell him but it was only a matter of time.
"What...?" Still blue eyes stayed fixed on where the blond stood watching her student walk away.
"She knows that we're watching her, she can feel us. It's ironic really, she doesn't remember us yet she seems to have a lot of your skills." This caught the other woman's attention and made the ocean blue eyes turn. Aphrodite was shocked to see how haunted their depths appeared.
"Tell me!" It was a plea, rung out of a heart that didn't know whether to swell or shatter.
Reaching out, the goddess clasped her friends trembling hand, even as the pained eyes turned back to the bustling figure. For a moment, Aphrodite let her eyes follow the path of the other woman's, noticing the small blond disappear into an outbuilding. She could feel Xena tense as she lost sight of the warrior.
"She can sense things now, like you, that's pretty obvious. She can tell when I'm around. I try to snoop sometimes and boom, she tenses right up, knows I'm there. She inspires total support in her men. They would literally walk through fire for her." Trying to lighten the other woman's mood she tried a different tack. "When I first saw her, I wasn't sure she was our Gabby, she just wears too many clothes. I guess modesty was part and parcel of her new identity."
Nodding almost absently, without a trace of a smile, the stormy eyes went back to watching. Suddenly the small warrior burst out of the weapons room, blinking against the strong midday sun. Now clad only in a thin tunic and breaches, the padded carapace that she had worn to spar with the boy gone, her physique could more clearly be seen. The fabric was moulded to her body and made almost translucent by sweat. It allowed Xena to get her first look at Gabrielle's form. Muscles through fabric seemed much larger, more defined. Shoulders and arms were certainly more powerful. Stomach muscles, that had once jokingly been referred to as 'abs of steal', were now wash board solid and stood out in stark relief under the white linen.
Eyes dancing across the body before her, Xena took the changes in. It was like looking at two different people merged into one. On the surface this was Mesella, Captain of the Guard, loyal Roman, mentor to the prince. Yet underneath that veneer, the eyes were still Gabrielle. Still a window into her soul. In the brief glimpses the Warrior Princess had got into their olive depths, she still saw poetry there. Even as she sat staring, she felt an invisible force drawing her towards the blond. She had to physically push it down.
Aphrodite could feel the tension coming off of her. It surrounded the pair of them like a storm cloud; dark and foreboding. The goddess felt sure that this could not be good for either mother or child. Xena was going to have to make a decision soon before this went too far. Noticing the figure of their shared scrutiny disappearing out of sight around a tall hedge, she reached out and pulled the suddenly standing brunette, back onto the bench.
"You can't go after her like this!" Her voice was soft but commanding as the other woman sat stiffly.
Curling in on her self, glossy blue eyes focused on the hand holding her arm. Almost unseeing they blinked furiously fighting back the gathering tears. She didn't want to cry, shouldn't cry. This was a happy time. Yet, her joy at seeing the other woman alive was overshadowed by hurt caused by one simple question… Why didn't she remember? It was like a knife in the warrior's heart. That there was an enchantment on the bard was without question but both goddess and warrior had seen through it, why couldn't she? It gnawed at Xena, that the familiar green eyes showed no sign of recognition. What did it mean that the smaller woman could not see the truth?
"What is going on?" The plea in her voice was undeniable; how could the Goddess of Love not feel her heart break?
"I really don't know Xena…"
"How can you not know?" It was more a snarl than a question. "It's obviously something cooked up by an Olympian to destroy my life from beyond oblivion!" Her voice rose with every word. She refused to give in to the comfort and tears, preferring the familiar burn of rage.
"What's that supposed to mean, Warrior Princess?" Aphrodite's temper also began to fray. "Lest we forget another Olympian, who you married! How dare you suggest I would be party to manipulating you that way! Gabby was my friend just as much as she was your lover!" Like a wave breaking, tears began to flow from azure depths, painting the pale face in shades of sorrow. Reeling in her anger for the sake of the broken warrior, the blond forced herself to calm. "C'mere." She reached out for her friend and enveloped her in a comforting embrace. Resistant at first, Xena soon took the offered comfort and continued to cry silent tears. "I know what you're feeling babe, I can feel it too. We'll figure out what happened… Somehow."
"Dite, I'm so sorry." It was mumbled into a pale shoulder but silenced by soft shushing from above. The two women stayed huddled together, goddess lending her strength to the woman in her lap and fell into a contemplative silence.
Ares had never considered his wife and his sister to be particularly close. Friends, certainly, but not in any deep and meaningful way (that had been more Dite's deal with Gab… He refused to even let himself think that name). Now he wasn't so sure, as he walked through the garden to see the two of them huddled together. Xena was not a hugger yet here she was allowing herself to be held by the other woman. Seeing a slender hand reach up to wipe a tear from his wife's cheek he realised she was crying and quickened his pace.
Getting closer eh could see that the usually vibrant blue eyes were little more than a nest of red. Not wanting to distress his pregnant wife further, but still selfish enough to think of his own needs, he cleared his throat to gain their attention. After all, he reasoned, it was his job to comfort the brunette. Two heads snapped up as one, both looking equally startled and sending all sorts of warning signals through the God of War. His Warrior Princess was never startled.
"Hello girls!" Trying to keep it light he sat gingerly on the warriors other side. Seeing the almost dazed look on his lovers face he reached out and drew her towards him. He felt his sister relinquish her hold as he settled her head on his chest. She was stiff at first but she soon relaxed into his embrace.
"Well Bro, I'll just leave you young lovers to it! I've got people to do and things to see. Toodles!" Unable to leave fast enough, Aphrodite vanished in a swirl of pink hearts leaving a very confused Ares in her wake. He couldn't help but notice that her hearts didn't seem quite as brilliant, her voice a little too strained… Pushing the thought aside he chose to concentrate on his partner. Turning his gaze downwards he found she had fallen into an exhausted slumber.
Squaring his shoulder he tenderly lifted her from the bench, careful not to jostle her. He would have liked to ask her what was wrong but he couldn't bring himself to wake her. Knowing that there would be plenty of time when she woke, and hoping that it was just hormones triggered by the baby, he made his way back towards the building. Striding across the neatly kept lawn, trying to keep his paces even and measured he almost walked into the figure coming out through the doorway. Only the soldier's quick reflexes kept them from colliding.
"Sorry captain." Ares could feel embarrassment colour his cheeks as he realised that it was the mortals awareness that had prevented an accident and not his own.
"Nothing to apologise for, Sir, I can see that you have more important matters on you hands." A blond brow indicated his snoozing burden. "I would suggest that you try not to dump her on her ass, however. Ladies usually don't appreciate it… I can't think why?" An endearing smile and sparkling green eyes accompanied her jest and Ares found himself really liking this little warrior. The body in his arms began to stir at the sound of her voice, almost seeming to lean towards it and Ares realised that if he didn't hurry Xena would wake up in the doorway and probably not in a very good mood.
"I'll keep that in mind Captain Mesella. I had better go. I don't think she'd want to wake up here." Mesella nodded in understanding and strode carefully around the pair, saluting him as she did. Smiling and shaking his head at the captain's antics, Ares made it back to their chamber with no further interruptions.
Sitting alone in the great hall of Olympus, Aphrodite moaned in disappointment. She had started looking for some trace of the enchantment the second she materialised in her childhood home. She had riffled through parchment after parchment to no avail. Her eyes burned and her fingers were liberally smudged with ink. Rubbing the bridge of her nose she left a streak of black along its length. This was getting her nowhere.
Standing so quickly that she sent the ornate golden chair clattering to the floor she marched over to the throne. On her way she past the wall of mirrors she caught a glimpse at her reflection and froze. Her clothes were rumpled, hair totally dishevelled, face dirty and fingers too. She had only looked this way once before and that had been Gabby's fault too... With that thought whirling through her head the Goddess of Love fell to the floor with her back to the glass and allowed herself to cry for the plight of her friends. It wasn't the first time she had cried since Gabrielle had 'died' but this time they were bitter tears.
What felt like hours later, but in reality could have only been minutes, she struggled to regain her composure. I have to do this, she thought resolutely, for them. She stood and snapped her fingers, the sound echoing eerily around the room. Sparkling pink surrounded her, taking away all trace of her search and leaving her once again looking like a goddess. She caste dull eyes around the room once more, taking in the signs of battle that still lingered after six years, before striding purposefully out to search in other, more secret places; never noticing the small door all but hidden by a toppled throne.
TBC in Chapter 11
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