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: All feedback gratefully received: firstname.lastname@example.org
Under the dappled light filtering through the blossoms on the apple tree, the brunette beauty slept peacefully. He head rested against the bark of the tree, hair falling around her shoulders in waves and one hand lay splayed over her swelling belly. Her other hand lay carelessly on the grass, palm up, fingers curving skyward. Seldom did she allow herself this sort of guilty pleasure but she knew here, in the imperial palace she was safe enough to let her guard down.
She was unsure how long she had been lying like that when suddenly she was wrenched from sleep by the unmistakable sounds of fighting. Her eyes popped open, aware and ready to fight in that instant. Tensing to pounce into a fighting stance she forced her body to be still as she three boys taunting a third, her daughter glaring daggers at the obvious ringleader. Before she could spring to her feet and separate the children Mesella was there, striding purposefully towards them.
He two stooges, stood menacingly behind the obvious ringleader took one look at the guard and turned tail. The taller, thinner boy stood firm, glaring at the soldier with menace, menace that sluiced off the warrior like water off a duck. Never taking her eyes from the bully she stood Claudius back onto his feet and, flicking her eyes at Xena, gently pushed Eve to go to her mother and take her friend with her. Satisfied that the children would be safe her gaze instantly returned t the boy. Without a word she grasped him roughly by his collar and hoisted him over her shoulder, marching him, kicking and screaming back to the palace.
"H… he's in big trouble n… now." There was no glee in Claudius' words; in fact he almost sounded sorry for the other boy. Xena smiled at him reassuringly and tousled his pale hair. Claudius beamed and basked in the attention, unused to anybody but Mesella showing him any interest.
"Are you two all right?" The children nodded. "Well then you can go and play but stay in sight, I don't want to have to have you rescued again." Eve placed a kiss on her mother's cheek before grabbing Claudius' hand and dragging him back onto the lawn to resume their adventures.
"Cute, aren't they?" Xena spoke without looking up, surprised that the small warrior was lowering herself to the floor beside her, but trying not to show it.
"Yeah…" It was said so softly that she almost missed it.
They sat like that, side by side but not touching, for a long time, watching the children create their own world. Every now and then Xena found herself gazing at the blonde's familiar profile. It had been so long since she had been this close to the other woman that she had to resist the near physical urge to lean in and kiss the soft, downy cheek. She would never allow her eyes to linger too long for fear that the other woman would see her watching and bolt.
Mesella was fighting her own physical desire to reach out to the woman beside her. The beautiful brunette was so close that she could smell her, breathe her in and hold her inside. She would be lying to herself if she didn't admit to being attracted to the statuesque woman from the start but it was wrong, she was pregnant with another man's child. Not just a man, she reminded herself, a god's child. Not to mention that the other woman's intense scrutiny scared her. Her eyes would drift from the children to the brunette over and over again almost of their own accord.
On one such stolen glance the two women locked eyes and smiled sheepishly at one another, both admitting wordlessly that they had been caught. Mesella reached a hand up and smoothed her hair in a nervous gesture, then cleared her throat a couple of times before beginning to speak. Xena found the movements endearing, like watching a gawky teenager and was reminded of the bard at the start of their life together. She did her best to hide her smile at the blonde's nerves, unwilling to antagonise her.
"Eve's a great kid."
"I like to think so," as she responded Xena moved to face the smaller woman and was gratified to see her do the same. "What will happen to the boy?"
"Caligula? Probably nothing; I took him back to his… um… tutor and told him what had happened. That boy gets away with murder. He is next in line for the thrown after Germanicus…"
"Shouldn't Claudius be next in line?" Confusion was written large across the brunette's face.
"You must see what I see when I look at him. That boy is so smart, he soaks up information like a sponge, you can ask him anything and he'll know the answer. The nobility don't see it that way though, it's all show. He doesn't fit into their ideas of perfection, he speaks differently, he walks differently and he looks different and that is why he'll never be emperor." Pain and sadness were clear in her expression.
"At least he has you."
"Yeah, because his mother doesn't care if he lives or dies. The Emperor is better, but he still sees him as an embarrassment."
"I had a friend," Xena knew that she was about to step into dangerous waters but she couldn't seem to hold herself back. "She was different too. She wanted to be a great storyteller and a warrior but she was from a small village. Nobody understood her dreams or the way she acted, the way she spoke, so people made fun of her and tried to push her into things that she didn't want."
"What happened to her?" Genuine interest showed in her face.
"She ran away, made her own life, the one she really wanted. She had friends, a fa… a family," she choked on the last word but pushed it out.
"Sounds like you loved her a lot. I hope that Claudius can have that when he gets older. I'll do the best I can to see he does." They lapsed back into silence. Xena was disappointed that her words hadn't triggered anything in he other woman, but pleased o have shared.
"So, have you always wanted to be a soldier?" Her enquiring words were accompanied but the almost unconscious gesture of placing her hand on a conveniently placed knee. Almost with the speed of lightening the soldier was on her feet, and mumbling her apologies before disappearing behind the tree.
Mentally Xena smacked herself in the forehead as she turned back to the children who seemed oblivious to the little commotion. Way to go, Warrior Princess, she just starts to let her guard down and you chase her off. She rubbed her tired eyes, it was the voice, and how I've longed to hear that voice talk to me. Share with me. I have to remember that she isn't mine anymore. As if to remind her that she belonged to somebody else now too, the baby kicked, letting its very real presence be felt.
I wonder where Ares is. He's been very busy and secretive since we've been here. Then, I guess I haven't been much better. I hope you're not plotting something husband, I don't think I could take it right now.
Hand poised over the door handle, Mesella froze. Her mind began to whirl as she looked up at the building that housed her lover. Another patron barged his way past her and into the building, knocking her out of the way without a care. Most days her reaction to that that would be to pull him back and have a long talk about manners, today she was barely there at all.
Turning with a sigh she trudged aimlessly through the backstreets of Rome. The waning light made the air seem hazy and thick, like walking through a dream. She had run from the other woman like a child, one touch and she had to leave. It was one thing to admire the other woman's beauty but another to be touched by it. She'd run, straight to the person that made her feel safe… Lepida. Once she arrived at the tavern she could go no further, she had started to think about the younger woman, to picture her face, her hair, her eyes and I had hit her, not for the first time that the young woman looked like the Warrior Princess. The difference this time was that she was aware, on some level that she had always known that she reminded her of somebody else. Always. How could she have always wanted, missed Xena when they had never met?
Mind whirling she looked up to find herself once more outside the palace walls with no memory of having walked so far. Night had fallen in her journey and rather than continuing to brood she made her way into and through the palace, one destination in mind.
Softly opening the heavy door she made her way towards the small bed, illuminated by the weak light of the candle at its side. Not knowing whether the child was sleeping or awake she softly moved to the bed and saw two sleepy eyes blinking up at her. Smiling down at the boy she pushed a stray lock of hair out of his eyes before straightening the sheets around his shoulder. Sitting on the edge of the bed she dusted his forehead with a kiss.
"Hey little guy, you look really sleepy, why are you still awake?" She could see from the strain on his face that he was fighting sleep's hold.
"Was w… waiting for y... y… you." The last word was split by a jaw snapping yawn.
"Well here I am! Would you like a story to help you drift off?" She knew the answer without seeing his rapidly nodding head. Unless she was on a mission and the little boy knew she wouldn't be around, she would make a point of tucking him in at night and making up a story. She couldn't understand why but she always felt compelled to tell stories, but it would be frowned on for a royal guard to take part in such a trivial pursuit, so she had to make do with telling them to the boy.
Tonight's story was about a young girl who unwittingly released the Titans from their prison and the trouble that she got into. Before the hero could save the day soft snores could be heard coming from the bed. Watching him as he slept, her mind went to her story and she couldn't help but be reminded of the friend that Xena had spoken of. Something about the young girl that she had described was familiar but she couldn't understand why.
Straightening the sheets one last time she extinguished the candle between finger and thumb and moved through the darkness to the door on sure feet. Not quite ready for sleep she headed out into the gardens and sat beneath on one of the marble benches staring at the stars.
Days had passed and no sign of the small, blonde warrior. Xena sat beneath the same tree where they had talked and watched the children chase each other through the bushes. She knew that she shouldn't still be thinking about Mesella, knew she should be focused on Ares and the baby but she couldn't seem to help herself. After the first day with no sign of the captain she had looked everywhere. She had even pumped Claudius for information but the little boy knew as little as she did.
Sighing she began to get up when footsteps headed her way. Looking up she was pleased to see Autolycus coming her way, smiling broadly as he extended his hand to help her up. Gratefully accepting the firm grasp she allowed herself to be hoisted up and led over to a stone bench.
"I don't know about you Xena, but I'm getting too old to be sitting on the cold hard ground. Not that this cold hard bench is much better but you take what you can get." His boyish smile hadn't changed in all these years and she had to smile back.
"It really has been good to see you again Autolycus. I know I haven't spoken to you much since I've been here, been a little distracted."
"I noticed that; after all I am the head of intelligence gathering. Who'd have ever imagined that I'd been in charge of security? I've come a long way Xena."
"You really have and it looks good on you. I don't think I've ever seen you so happy, so content."
"Only one thing could make it better." His hand made to twirl the absent moustache in his habitual gesture. "I always forget it's gone. Joxer thought this made me look younger, how about you?"
"You're handsome as always! What would make things better Auto?" She reached out a hand and laid it on his forearm.
"I just wish things had worked out with Octavia. I need to find myself a good woman and my life will be complete. So how are you enjoying the delights of Rome, this time round?" He was more than well aware of her tumultuous history with the empire.
"It's been the best visit I've had here and Eve seems happy. Tell me Autolycus, how well do you know Mesella?" Let the information gathering begin…
TBC in Chapter 14
Return to Main Page