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
"Argh!" Shattering pottery accompanied the pained cry.
Seconds later the rough hewn door was slammed back on its hinges, bouncing as it hit the wall, revealing a dishevelled man holding a sword. Postumus stood there, breathing heavily as he scanned the room with a practiced eye, hunting for trouble. Seeing no sign of anybody but his friend, who stood staring at him with a raised eyebrow, he gingerly lowered his weapon.
"I…um…thought I heard something?" Sheepishly he stared at his bare feet.
"Pheew, for a moment there I thought you were here to ravage me!" The smile in her voice was more than obvious to her old friend. "By the way, your legs look lovely in that nightshirt!" The mischievous blond watched as his blush continued to deepen, her earlier anger evaporating.
"Now that you've completely embarrassed me, care to tell me what was going on in here? I hear a scream and crashing and think that you're in trouble…Hell the last time I heard that your latest conquest was throwing things at you and screaming." Briefly they both thought back to that morning, faces stretching into broad grins. "You should really have known that she was the senator's wife."
"Why? She didn't!" Although he chuckled, Mesella could see that Postumus was not going to be put off. With a sigh she finally relented, "I just let it get to me for a moment, that's all. There is nothing to worry about." She watched as the larger man walked over to her cot and sat down, scepticism written clearly all over his face. "What?"
"This really isn't like you, Messy. I've never seen you loose your temper except in battle. I don't even know what is getting you so agitated. Come on, explain it to me, I might be able to help and at worst you might feel a little better after getting it off your chest." He had such beguiling look on his face that she couldn't say no. Sighing heavily she sat beside him on the bunk.
"You're going to think that I am loosing my mind when I tell you." Postumus' gaze was unwavering as he nodded for her to continue. "It's just that, since the Goddess arrived she's been watching me all of the time. Sometimes, when I'm practicing or walking around the market I can feel her there. I look around but she's nowhere to be seen but its like a million little needles are in my skin, telling me to look out. Sounds crazy, right?" Failing to look up from where her gaze had settled on her clasped hands she did not see her companions surprise. "It has really been chipping away at my nerves. I've been on edge the whole time. I thought the situation would improve when the guests arrived for the party, keep her distracted so she would loose interest in me. It seemed to work for the first week or so." Standing suddenly she almost toppled her friend who had been leaning closer to hear her lowered voice. She moved to the window and broodingly looked out into the night.
"Mesella you've started, you might as well finish." Shivering at the slight chill in the air, he tugged one of her sheets around his shoulders, conscious that he was sitting in only his sleep shirt while she was still fully clothed. Maybe I am getting old, it is early, I should be going out. Maybe that's why I don't have a wife? Storing these thoughts away for later analysis, in private, he focused his attention back on his friend. He watched as her jaw worked silently for a few moments, knowing that she was mulling over her next words. In those moments he studied her profile and noticed a slump to her shoulders and a sunken quality to her cheeks that had never been there before. It troubled him.
"It was at the banquet, after the Emperor left when things got worse. I had really been enjoying the time since the guests arrived." She finally looked him in the eye. "Did you know little Claudius has found a friend? I tell you, Eve is the loudest, most precocious child I have ever seen and Claudius loves her. I've never seen him so happy!" For a few brief moments her face was covered in a beautiful smile which was all too quickly shadowed. "At the end of the gathering you had to stay with the emperor but he asked me to stay and have a good time so I did.
I was talking to Vipsania, well to be honest she was asking me about you, and suddenly there was a crash. I looked around and there was the Warrior Princess staring at me with a glass of wine pooling at her feet. She was sitting with the goddess and I felt a chill run down my spine, I could almost see what was coming. I tried to shrug it off and turned back to Vipsania, but I could tell that they were talking about me.
Now, instead of the goddess following me it's the warrior. Wherever I go there she is; when I train with Germanicus or play with Claudius there she is. If I take the horses out or brush them down she is always close by. It's worse than when the goddess was doing it. I could convince myself it was just for sport; that she was simply entertaining herself at a mortals expense. I can't do that with the warrior, the look in her eyes when she watches me is eerie, like she can look into my soul. I hate it and it is grating on my nerves. That's why I threw the cup; it was either that or beat my head against the wall." Seeming almost deflated she sank back onto the bed.
"I had no idea that this was going on. Have you asked either of them to stop?" He knew the answer before the question was out of his mouth, so well did he know his friend.
"I refuse to let them know that this is getting to me Postumus. I am the head warrior of the Empire; two women watching me should not be making me crazy! I will not give in!" Eyes burning with pride he knew she would never back down.
"Mesella, go out tonight. Work off some of this tension, don't bottle it up inside it'll blunt your edge. Go and see Lepida, let her help you forget, if only for a few hours." Postumus was sure that that was what she would do.
"You're right, as usual. Can I give you some advice, as you're sitting on my bed?" With a grin and a nod he assented. "Go and ask Vipsania out, she thinks you hung the moon. Take some of your own advice and grab the chance while it's still there."
"I'm old enough to be her father!" It was a familiar argument.
"You're no more than 11 years her senior, live a little. Who cares what people think?"
Postumus stood up from her bed, pulling off the sheet and straightening his night shirt he prepared to leave. He had a lot to think about when he got back to his room both for himself and for her. Not for the first time he was glad that his rank allowed him the luxury of a private bedroom. Impulsively he hugged his friend, knowing that she would not come back tonight.
"Have fun kid. I'll think about what you said, all of it, if you do too." With a soft good night he was gone, leaving Mesella alone with her thoughts. That was a place that she did not want to be. Leaving the scattered shards of clay on the floor she grabbed her sword from its place by the door and hefted her coin pouch and fled into the oblivion of the night.
Men and women streamed in and out of the large inn in the centre of town. Some patrons just went for the wine, ale and assorted delicacies while others were there for a more exotic repast. Mesella was one such reveller. Many did not know the hidden secrets of 'The Gilded Swallow' and if those particular patrons had found out they would have been more than offended. Fortunately the owner was a shrewd man who knew the meaning of the word privacy. Those who came for his special delights never came for anything else and were soon swept out of sight when they entered.
Mesella walked through the throng of patrons waiting for tables in the busy establishment and made her way to a small desk in a back corner. The young man waiting there looked bored out of his mind, but perked up as soon as he saw the captain of the royal guard. She was a popular visitor, always treating the boys with respect and a tip, not like some of the men who visited…pigs! The boss tried to keep the worst out but in the end he was set up to make money and couldn't afford to alienate the wrong people.
"Good to see you Captain, you haven't been here in a while, how you doing?"
"You too Gemellus, you're growing like a weed. I'm alright, is Lepida free tonight?" It wasn't an unexpected question.
"She's always free for you Captain. Go on up, you know the way." In his heart of hearts the boy was a romantic, at fifteen, and hoped that one day the cute little guard would join with the beautiful Lepida. His heart hadn't been broken enough yet to realise such dreams seldom come true.
"Thank you, Gemellus, tell your father I said hello and give this to your mother," saying this she pressed a large sum of gold coins into his palm, before walking through a hidden door and disappearing into the bowels of the place.
When she had first discovered this place, shortly after the rebel uprising ended, she had felt almost guilty for indulging in this pleasure. Long past that feeling she traversed the winding corridors with practiced ease, heading towards the familiar door that she knew would bring her oblivion, at least for a little while.
Reaching the smooth, light blue door Mesella listened for a moment before knocking. She knew that whether the other woman was occupied or not the client would be leaving quickly because of her but she was not too keen on interrupting right in the middle. Only hearing soft murmurs she hoped that she had interrupted before things had really started.
An angry male voice could be heard within the room, followed by the sound of wood cracking. Tensing the soldier was ready to just burst though the door when it flew open in her face to reveal a balding man with a sheet clasped around his waist. His face was red with rage and pinched into a hideous mask. He was tall but his body showed no sign of muscle.
"Who do you think you are?" It was a snarl. "Do you have any idea who I am?" Out of her uniform Mesella knew that the man would not recognise her but she was all too aware of who he was.
"Senator Agrippa, so good to see you outside of the royal court! I'll be sure to send your respect and kind regards to the Emperor." Eyes widening Agrippa realised just who was standing in front of him and swallowed convulsively.
"I can see that you're finished here," she walked forward into the room causing him to back up, "I'll just help you collect your things." Picking up his belongings she threw them into the hall, all the while making sure not to look at the woman shaking in the corner. Finally she straightened up and faced the senator. "Have a safe journey home!"
Agrippa found himself standing in the hall, still clutching the sheet with the door shut in his face. Bemused, he stood for several minutes before shuffling away with his clothes in his hands.
Inside the room Mesella finally turned to the figure in the corner that was still shaking with her hands covering her face. Walking closer she pulled her hands away and stared into the tear streaked face. Face blooming into a grin she joined the other woman in laughter as they both collapsed onto the bed in a tangle of arms and legs. Lepida giggled hysterically and rolled on top of the soldier.
"I love it when you do that! I thought the old goat was going to clock you when he first opened the door!" Sucking in huge a lung full of air she tried to regain her composure.
"You should have seen his face, pompous bastard." Pulling a face the captain was thrilled to see the beautiful face above her crumble back into laughter. "I'm sorry I interrupted, I know you need the…"
Mesella found her words cut off by a pair of warm lips pressed to her own. Falling into the kiss the blond felt herself relax for the first time in weeks. Hands in her hair massaged her skull as her own hands wrapped around the slender waist of the woman above her, thumbs moving in tiny circles over the sheet that was still wound around her. A tongue flicking at her lips caused them to part almost as a reflex and soon their tongues danced together as their kisses became deeper and more impassioned.
Lepida pulled away, to sit straddling the clothed woman, and let her eyes trail over the familiar face. "I would rather be with you than any of the foolish old men who come here trying to recapture their youth." She would have said more, told her how much she loved her, wanted to be with her but knew that she could not. As noble and caring as the warrior was, she was still a soldier in the royal guard and there was no way that the Emperor would allow her involvement with a mere harlot. Running a fine boned finger across a golden eyebrow she forced a sultry smile for the woman below.
"Well, lucky me. I've missed you. These last few weeks have been really difficult. Seeing you always makes things better." Calloused hands reached up and tugged at the sheet wrapped around the slender figure, eyes following it as it pooled on the bed beneath them. Moving so suddenly that Lepida felt the world drop out from under her, Mesella reversed their positions.
Gazing down at the other woman Mesella studied her features as she followed the path of her eyes with her fingers. Short dark hair fanned around her face in a perpetually mussed look bringing out the pallor of her skin and the vivid blue of her eyes. Blue eyes, dark hair… Mesella's breath suddenly stopped as she studied her lover; the high cheek bones and full lips together with her hair and eyes - she could have been a sister to the Warrior Princes. Swallowing hard she buried her head in the slender woman's shoulder, squeezing her eyes closed. Lepida reached up and held the back of the other woman's neck and massaged tenderly.
Eyes still closed she breathed in the other woman's familiar scent even as her mind worked frantically. Why hadn't she noticed that the woman who had been watching her so closely looked like her lover? No that was wrong, there were similarities between the two women, that was certain but many more differences. Lepida was more delicate, her skin paler and without blemish. She was shorter than the Greek warrior, her nose cuter. Placing a tender kiss on the flesh beside her lips she pushed the troubling thoughts down, storing them up for later. Pushing up on her elbows she leaned over the other woman and swooped down to brush lips.
"Shoes!" It was the last thing either of them said as clothes began to fall to the floor. The feel of skin against skin silenced any lingering doubts as Mesella fell into the other woman.
Vinicus flew through the corridors of the inn, searching desperately for the right door. As much as he knew he must deliver the sheaf of parchment held tightly in his hand, he was not keen on interrupting any of the high ranking officials behind the doors. Zigging and zagging through the dimly lit, narrow spaces he had to dodge several men and women who were making their way out. Landing solidly on his ass after one such move, he tried desperately to calm down, just a little.
Blue door. Blue door. Blue door. Where's the blue door? He was starting to get desperate as he rounded yet another corner. It was like hunting through the labyrinth. The secret areas of the inn wound around its sides and underneath like a rabbit's warren. Mind suddenly preoccupied he smacked face first into a solid, blue door.
"Son of a…" His voice trailing off as he saw that he was face-to-face with his destination. With little thought of propriety he flung the door open and charged inside.
Standing in the doorway of the room he suddenly felt very self conscious as he looked from one woman to the other and back again. The gorgeous brunette was sitting with a sheet held firmly to her chest and one raven brow raised in question while his captain stood pulling her shirt over her head. Looking up she fixed him with a burning stare that left him, not for the first time, quivering in his boots. Trying to speak he could do nothing but squeak, so nervously thrust the parchment at the blond.
"Vinicus, go away before you feint." As much as Mesella liked the boy, he really was an idiot. It was lucky for him that she had been thinking about leaving, if he had interrupted them she would have taken his head off and asked questions later.
Seeing the boy nodding, without any real form of comprehension, Lepida took pity on him. "Vinicus, is it?" All she got in response was a vague nod. "Go back to the desk; the boy there will give you a cup of water. Now scoot, get out of here!"
Vinicus couldn't get out of the room fast enough and bolted like a frightened rabbit. Watching him careen into the wall outside both women began to giggle. Mesella felt her eyes drawn back to the woman smiling happily on the bed. Without a second thought to Vinicus or the scroll he had just delivered she pushed the door closed and moved back to the bed in one fluid movement. Dropping the cylinder to the floor she once more reached for the sheet and began to place a trail of kisses down the woman's torso as the linen fell lower and lower. Just as she was about to fasten hungry lips onto a coral nipple, hands pulled her head up.
"Don't you think you should read that? After all that kid did almost have a heart attack to deliver it so it must be important." She watched, amused, as the blond blew a frustrated breath up through her bangs. Wrenching herself away from her lover she reached down and took the scroll.
Mesella sat on the edge of the bed and unrolled the yellow parchment. As she began to read she could feel soft lips running up and down her neck, coupled with the soft firmness of the other woman at her back. It all stopped as the soldier suddenly stiffened and the parchment crumpled in her hands. Like the tripping of a switch she was up and collecting her things, body taught.
"What's going on, Mesella?" Lepida had never seen her lower this way and it scared her more than she could admit. Knowing that she was a warrior was one thing but seeing it was another.
"They're back." With that and no more she scooped up her sword and was gone, leaving her coat behind.
Lepida was left alone, not needing to be told who 'they' were. Knowing that she would see Mesella again soon, in the wake of this, she grabbed the smaller woman's coat and bolted the door. Lying curled in the rumpled sheets, with the smell of her lover wrapped around her, she fell into a dream filled sleep of things that could not be.
Xena walked into the war room to find perfect calm. She had seldom seen this sort of organisation on the eve of battle. Usually nerves were ragged and men were itching to fight. Posturing and shouting, pockets of sword practice and frayed nerves characterised battle, in both preparation and action; there was no sign of that here. Mesella and Postumus stood before their men handing out instructions and assignments with a clam detachment.
The Warrior Princesses attention was firmly fixed on Gabrielle. Mesella, I have to remember to call her Mesella, Xena forced herself to remember that this was not the woman she loved anymore. She moved with confidence and conviction while explaining to her men the tactics employed by the enemy. The Greek warrior shuddered at the cool way the other women described the circumstances in which she had 'died' so many years ago.
"The rebels will use anything at their disposal to beat us. They almost succeeded last time because we were not familiar with their form of attack. Thanks to the work of Gabrielle we had the opportunity to learn similar techniques. She lost her life to drive this blight out of the kingdom and now they have returned. Let's not let her death have been in vein. Remember you training men." The voice was firm and controlled as Mesella laid out their mission.
"Today we are lucky to have the former partner of Gabrielle riding with us into battle. Xena, Warrior Princess of Greece will be fighting by our sides. Those of us who fought side-by-side with the Amazon remember the stories she told of her training under this woman. Follow Xena's orders as you would follow ours. To victory!" Postumus raised the call and the men took it up, shouting at the top of their lungs.
Moving out and preparing their horses, Xena clasped Postumus by the shoulder. "Thank you for keeping her memory alive."
"She was a great warrior and she saved this Empire. How could we not remember her?"
The dappled mare that stood waiting for Xena was not Argo, the palomino having been left at home in Greece, but seemed to be a solid steed. As Xena approached it tossed its head and pawed at the ground. Saddling up almost as one the soldiers were ready and looked to their captains to lead them. Xena watched as Augustus came to rally his troops, speaking loudly but saying nothing, she saw the faces of the men grow more resolute to protect their Empire. With a last salute they charged out ready to confront the rebels for the second time.
In the anticipation of a good fight to come, she tried very hard not to think about what had gone before. It was useless of course, how could her mind not remember what had happened last time a group like this had gone up against this enemy? She would just have to protect Gabrielle this time; she couldn't let her die again, this time it would be permanent.
TBC in Chapter 12
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