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....

Timeline: This is an alternative to the events following 'Looking Death in the Eye'

Comments: Any feedback can be sent to mjb1_1@hotmail.com

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18

What are you going to do now, Mesella? The thought had been plaguing her ever since her return to the palace and the dream. The dream, more than anything, had finally convinced her to accept the truth; now she just needed to figure out what to do about it. Sitting on an out of the way section of the parapet, she dangled her feet into the open air and took in the view of the city. Rome was spectacular, laid sprawling below her and not for the first time she felt proud to be a part of it. Would Gabrielle feel that way? Something at the back of her mind told her that she wouldn't.

Suddenly her vision filled with crosses and snow, almost causing her to loose her perch. Shaking her head to clear it, she once again found herself staring down at Rome, only it seemed a lot less glossy now. A memory; that was a memory! She was stunned at the realisation, too much too ask tat it be a happy one, huh? Even so, it was oddly reassuring to have something of this illusive past, at last.

Xena had been there, in that vision, lying beside her. They had been together at the end and, to Mesella, seemed strangely happy. I don't think I've ever been that serene; what must that be like? Picking up the roughly hewn wooden pipe that sat beside her she brought it to her lips and began to play softly. Not a skilled musician she only played for her pleasure, much to the displeasure of anybody listening.

Focused on her playing, she didn't immediately hear the footsteps coming from behind her. When they did register she discounted them; they were the steps of a soldier and one of her men. She carried on playing. The marching man moved passed her and she heard him disappear into the building. Once again alone, she let loose, playing her heart out. This time, when the figure returned, appear from thin air she had no idea until a long shadow fell across her seated form. Turning sharply she came face to face with the snarling God of War.

"What...?" Before the words were even out of her mouth she saw the glint of steel as he raised his sword.

Reaching up to block the blow, her flute was knocked from her hand to go flying over the wall and into the brush that lined the building. Unbalanced by the force of the fist blow she was unprepared when a dagger appeared in his hand. With a single thrust the dagger was up to its hilt in her abdomen. Looking down at the bloody hand that still clutched the weapon, her eyes slowly travelled back up o the bearded face.

"Why?" It was little more than a wheeze.

"She's mine now, just like she always was and I can't let you ruin that!" Releasing the dagger he watched her sag and fall to follow her flute. Looking down over the wall he saw her disappear among the undergrowth far below. "You loose Blondie, no hard feelings." Wiping his hands on a scrap of cloth that he had in his belt he made his was back towards his chamber and his wife.

??????

Pain sliced through her like a knife, making her double over in agony. One hand flew to her swollen abdomen, feeling her muscles flutter and contract through the thin material of her dress. Hoping beyond hope that it was just another twinge or false alarm, she stood tall and tried to carry on down the hall. Getting no further than a few steps closer to Aphrodite's chamber she collapsed to the floor. Agony lanced through her again and again and she knew, with mounting dread, what was happening.

"No, no, no, no..." Unable to get up, the Warrior Princess felt helpless to stop the tears from coursing down her face. "It's too soon!"

Spasm after spasm rippled through her at irregular intervals, leaving her unable to prepare for their arrival. That was how the Goddess of Love found her, prone and writhing on the floor, barely conscious. When the brunette had not turned up for their meeting more than an hour ago she had felt compelled to go in search of her and felt very glad that she had on finding her. Without a second thought she transported them both to her sleeping room in a shower of pink hearts.

"Xena, Xena wake up! Come on, babe, we need to give this baby a fighting chance!" Lightly, she patted the pain ravaged face, getting no response.

Leaving the woman in the throes of premature labour, she collected the water pitcher from the corner and moistened a cloth. Coming back to the bed she used the cold compress on her flushed skin, pleased to see blue eyes flutter open. Blinking sluggishly those eyes struggled to focus on the blond woman.

"Gabrielle?" Confusion was clear in her slurred speech.

"No, babe, not Gabrielle, it's me Aphrodite!" She continued to stroke the damp forehead tenderly.

"Aphrodite..." recognition, "I'm in labour."

"I know, babe." Staring into strained blue eyes she felt compelled to ask, "Was it like this before?" Xena, having been pregnant twice before would surely be able to make a judgement on this.

"No, not like this," the pain was coming more regularly now and she panted through it. "It's never been this bad before; I practically had Solan and Eve on the move!"

"Maybe that's because it's early?" Two moons early, but neither woman wanted to voice that fact.

"You could be right, Dite," a particularly bad contraction made her bite off her words with a scream. "Do you think the baby will be all right?" So unlike the warrior to be so unsure, her voice so very plaintiff. Before the goddess could offer ay words of reassurance she was interrupted by her door flying open.

"Aphrodite, I demand..." Bellowing suddenly ground to a halt as her brother realised who was on the bed. "What's going on?" He rushed to her side and clasped her hand.

"I'm having the baby!"

"Isn't it too soon?" Surely mortal women took nine moons to have a baby not seven?

"Yes!" Now it was a hiss and not a terribly happy one.

"It'll be fine, my love. Our baby will be healthy, after it'll be half god, so try not to worry." Too many people seemed to be forgetting that eh was still a god, albeit not as powerful as he had been, perhaps I should start reminding people!

Aphrodite watched her brother and his wife interact and couldn't help but note that her brother was behaving strangely. Over the last six years she had noticed him mellow and change, becoming a far better man than he ever was. However, since the couple arrived in Rome she had noticed him changing back, being far more the Ares that she had grown up with and it was not something she had ever hoped to see. Even though he appeared to be focused on his partner, she could tell that some part of him, a big part was elsewhere.

Something else was tugging at the edges of the goddess's mind, a feeling that she should be elsewhere but she didn't know why. Pushing it down as simply her growing paranoia over her brother, she returned to her friend's side, casting furtive glances at her brother as she did so.

??????

"We're gonna g...g...get in tro...tro...trouble!" Claudius knew he shouldn't be following the younger child through the hole in the wall, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. Something about the small girl always made him feel safe and adventurous although he still felt the need to voice caution.

"We'll only get in trouble if we get caught, Claude, and I haven't seen mommy or Mesella since lunchtime." Two candle-marks after that meal Eve felt sure that her idea could work.

Satisfied that he had tried to make her see reason and convinced that she would need his help, he wasn't strong but he was smart, the little boy followed his dark haired companion. In all of his ten years he had never ventured out of the formal gardens and into the kitchen garden. To his wide, blue eyes, it was a land of wonder not the sterile overly manicured trees and lawns he was used to. Not for the first time he wondered how Eve managed to find all of these fun, and sometimes hidden, places.

"Eve, are you s...s...sure we can g...get out this w...way?" Picking up his pace he hurried to keep up with her.

"Of course I am; I saw it when mommy took me out for a ride a few weeks ago." Well, if she said she saw it that was good enough for him.

Stealthily the two small children skirted the edges of the garden, staying out of sight until they reached the far wall. The back wall of the garden was covered in ivy and a large bush seemed to grow out of the wall. Grasping the small hand of the boy behind her Eve plunged into the foliage dragging him with her. Pushing aside the small branches of the bush they made steady progress forward until they hit the wall.

"Um, Eve?" There was only a wall in front of them.

"Claude, feel along the wall that way and I'll feel this way." Both children began to feel along until Eve heard a muted 'huff' and went to investigate. What she found was Claudius lying on the ground outside the palace after having fallen through the small hole in the wall.

"See, I told you there was a hole in the wall!" Carefully she pulled the fragile older boy to his feet. "We need to stay out of sight. If you get taken again mommy will be really mad!" Acting even as she spoke the children stuck to the wall and disappeared into the dense thicket that surrounded the brick.

"M...M...Messy would be really m...mad too." He really didn't like to disappoint his protector. He loved her too much.

Acting like two bold explorers they crept through the underbrush that reached well above both their head. They would occasionally scare themselves by hearing noises that weren't there and going to investigate. They had been at this for almost a candle mark when they heard something rustling through the leaves. Quickly Eve scampered to see what it was and soon came back to Claudius with a roughly made flute in her hands.

"Look what I found. The boy examined it closely and a look of confusion spread across his face.

"T...That's M...M...Messy's flute!" He continued to look puzzled, "and w...where you went isn't w...where I heard the n...noise." He pointed to where the noise had come from. "It was over t...there."

Determinedly he started to move in he direction that he had indicated, extremely concerned that they had found his guardian's instrument. The greenery was so thick in this area that he failed to notice the leg that lay in his path until he fell over it and landed, gracelessly, across a muscular body. Raising his blond head he couldn't help but let out a yelp as he came face to face with his hero. Hearing his cry, Eve was instantly at his side.

"Oh no!" The little girl was horrified by what she saw; there laid Mesella, a dagger sticking out of her side and blood covering her stomach and chest. Her fair head was lodged between two jagged rocks and blood also covered her hair, Eve guessed that she must have hit her head.

"S...she's really hurt, Eve. Somebody hurt her!" He had tears running down his cheeks as he pushed the encrusted hair off her forehead and took in her almost deathly pale complexion. Leaning down, he touched her neck with two fingers.

""What are you doing?" Uncharacteristically Eve's voice was feather soft.

"If I can f...feel a bump against m...my f...fingers then s...she's alive." He was obviously concentrating hard.

"How do you know that?" She was in awe of the older boys talents.

"S...she taught me." There, he had felt the bumping on his fingers a few times but they were really far apart and he knew that wasn't good. "Eve, c...can you c...call Aphrodite?"

"What do you men?"

"J...just c...call out for her and m...maybe she'll c...come." All of his focus was for his favourite person.

"Call Aunty Dite, I can do that!" Sucking in a huge lungful of breath she let loose with the loudest "Aphrodite" possible and just hoped it would be enough.

??????

Aphrodite's head jerked up and turned in the direction of the window, the woman in labour on the bed all but forgotten. What was that? Concentrating hard she could feel Eve and the anguish coming off of the child in waves and suddenly she knew what the tugging feeling had been. She knew that Mesella was hurt and need her and she had a sneaking suspicion that her brother knew something about it. I can't leave Ares alone with Xena; I've got a bad feeling about all of this...Why isn't she calling for her father?

"Ares, Eve's in trouble." The large bearded man seemed unconcerned, not even taking his eyes away from his wife's stomach. "Ares, your daughter needs you now!" Her sharp words seemed to cut through his concentration at last

"How do you know that? I can't sense anything." Not what she was hoping to hear and not a terribly reassuring sign of his dedication to parenthood.

"She called out to me, I don't know why." Reaching out she found the child's location and knew what to do. "She managed to get out of the palace and now she's lost in town and very scared. You need to go and find her!" That should get him away for a while.

"You go; I want to stay with Xena." The warrior in question had watched all this in silence, save for the occasional grunt of pain. Like the goddess she was troubled by her husband's lack of control for their oldest child.

"Ares, go and find Evie, Aphrodite is more capable of delivering this baby that you." Noting a pleading look in the blonde's eye she continued. "Don't you dare come back until you've found my little girl!"

"Fine!" Dejectedly he left in search of the little girl. His petulance and lack of interest had Xena focused on something other than the pain f labour and for that small mercy she was grateful.

"Is Eve really lost?"

"No but she is outside the palace. She called to me and I can feel incredible pain from out there." Seeing the panic in blue eyes she was quick to reassure, "Not Eve's pain. I need to fetch her; will you be able to manage while I pop in and out?"

"Go, quickly, I'll be fine for a few minutes." Before leaving the goddess checked the warrior's readiness.

"You'll keep; you're only about half way there, babe. I'll be right back!" With that she was gone.

An instant later she appeared beside the dense thicket, confused when at a glance she could not see the child. "Eve? Eve, where are you?" It was a low whisper but one that carried.

"In here, Aunty Dite, please hurry!" The usually exuberant voice was clearly terrified.

Picking her way through the shrub she lowered herself until she was crawling through the greenery towards the child. Moments passed before she came upon the little girl and what she saw froze her to the spot. Eve sat, knees pulled close to her chest rocking back and forth as she stared at the other two people in the tiny space. Claudius was wrapped around a prone adult form and as she drew closer she saw that it was Mesella. What spurred her to action was the sight of the dagger that still protruded from her abdomen.

"Kids, everything is going to be ok. Eve, go over beside Claudius and Mesella." Crawling closer herself, she reached out and touched the small warrior. "This might feel a bit weird, but we'll be inside really soon." Stretching her powers outwards she concentrated and transported them all to her chamber.

They materialised during a break between contraction and Xena snapped her head in their direction and was stunned. Eve ran to her mother's side and climbed onto the bed beside her head, cuddling close to her mother and crying. Reaching up her hand the Warrior Princess soothed her first born.

"Hush Evie, everything will be alright." She hoped.

"Mesella's really hurt, mommy." She sniffled and felt another quaking tremor rumble through her mother body. "Whatsa matter with you mommy?" Full on hysterics were looming.

"Shush, Evie, I'm just having the baby, that's all. You have nothing to worry about." She continued to sooth her child even as she watched Aphrodite make a second bed appear and place the injured warrior onto it. The small boy at her side did his best to help. Blue eyes landed on the dagger and narrowed to slits.

"I know that dagger...I gave it to him last Solstice." God damn you Ares!

"I was afraid of that. She's hurt pretty bad, babe. I can do a little healing but I don't have the powers to completely heal her anymore." Seeing the incredulous look in her friend's eyes she rushed to reassure. "Since I lost that particular power I've taken a lot more interest in the healing that goes on in my temples. I've learned a lot, trust me." And Xena found that she did.

??????

Who am I? Through the haze of pain she could not be sure. Memories started to blur together, whirling around and around in her mind like a tempest. Blending with the pulsating fire running through her body it proved to be entirely disorientating until she found herself falling into her own unconscious. Images slowed in their passing, allowing her to understand more clearly and finally to see...

Two small children stood beside a stream, one tall and dark, the other smaller and fair. The dark girl skimmed a flat rock over the surface, making it jump twice before turning to her sister.

"C'mon Gabby, it's your turn!"

"You know I can't do it Lila! Stop trying to make me." She tried to be patient with her younger sister but Lila didn't make it easy.

Gabby had never been a very skilled child when it came to physical activities. She could never run as fast as the other village children, or throw as hard, or climb the same trees (well at least not without falling out) and she was scared of the horses since one had taken a swipe at her; but she could imagine. Her imagination was better than anybody else's and she loved to regale her friends with stories and in her stories she could be the best.

"Well you could at least try!"

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"Come on Gabrielle, try it on, please!"

"Mother, I don't want to go to the dance, why have I got to try a dress on?" Why couldn't people just leave her to her own devices?

"Sometimes it isn't about what you do or don't want, Gabrielle. We are going to the harvest festival as a family and you need to look presentable." Her eyes bored into her stubborn twelve year old.

"Alright mother." Green eyes looked dejectedly at the sheaf of peach material that her mother held out, she could clearly hear her sister sniggering from the other room as she was chastised yet again. Maybe one day she wouldn't feel like such an outsider.

"Now, you need to hold still while I pin the fabric." Pins were place in strategic locations through the cloth bringing the dress to life. "Hold still!!"

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"Hold on Gabrielle! Come back!" The boy's voice receded into the distance as she continued to run, she knew that he would soon catch her but at least she could be alone for a while.

It wasn't that she didn't like Perdicus, she loved him, he had been her best friend since they were small children. It was just...she'd never banked on him becoming her betrothed. She had never though of him as more than a brother and now she was expected to marry him in the not too distant future. That had never been a part of her plan for the future.

For years she had thought that she was too odd for anybody to want her as a wife for their son. She was too bookish, too chatty and far too full of strange ideas to make a good wife. She knew it was true, having heard enough of the old women in the town say it. Seemed that her eccentricities had not put of Perdicus and his family, in fact they had probably encouraged her friend. There was no doubt in her mind that the thing that had swayed his family was the fat parcel of land that came as her dowry. Her family didn't have much but they did have a fairly prosperous farm and several acres of land.

"Maybe I'm just not like the other girls."

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"I was never the little girl my parents wanted." Sad green eyes met blue and not for the first time she felt a connection to the steely warrior.

The second her mind turned to images of the Warrior Princess the maelstrom in her mind sped up again. Visions of herself in a blue blouse and brown skirt morphed into a brown two piece, then she was in green that seemed to get smaller and smaller as time progressed. Her hair grew, changed colour and then ended up short. They fought with despots, witches, warlords, kings and gods, by the end Gabrielle looking more like a warrior than a village girl.

Moving through time, day after day, year after year flashed across her mind until she found herself standing on a battlefield, the dead body of a blonde soldier at her feet. In that instant all became clear. She felt the moment when Mesella and Gabrielle became one, the latter pushed aside for the former. The memories merged and compartmentalised, leaving her with complete clarity.

She was Gabrielle, Bard of Potadeia, Amazon Queen, Warrior and partner to the formidable Warrior Princess. Now all she had to do was wake up!

To be Continued...

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