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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(This chapter has been the biggest pain! I have rewritten it more times than I can count and finally this came out.  I’m still not happy with it but thought I should post before people completely lost interest.  I hope it was worth the wait).

19

In.  Out.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.  The rhythm of her breath gave the other woman something to focus on beyond her own pain.  Watching Gabrielle’s shallow but steady breaths gave Xena a sense of peace even as contractions tore through her body.  The baby was coming and then she would be able to tend to the battered blond.

Eve sat on the pillow beside her mother’s head, gently stroking through dark, damp tresses.  She wanted to help her mother through the birth but more than that she needed to feel safe.  Anchored.   Touching her mother gave that to her, even though wide blue eyes kept drifting to another pallet where her best friend sat in a pose that mirrored her own.  All the while she could hear the measured in and out of her mother’s breathing.

You can’t die, Messy, you’re all I have!  It was true and the small boy knew it; as much as his elder brother might love him the only one brave enough to fight for him was laying before him.  Perched on the edge of her makeshift bed he ran nervous fingers through short hair, deftly avoiding the bloody patches.  He was sure that he had felt her stir several times, lending him hope that she would wake.  Come on Messy, wake up!  There’s going to be a baby to see!  And still her breath came, slowly, surely, in and out.

“Ok Xena, it won’t be long now, you’re nearly ready to push!”  Aphrodite sounded a lot more confident than she felt; standing between her friends’ splayed legs.  As a goddess she had impregnated women but this was something completely different; not to mention the beaten body of the soldier beside them was way distracting!  “Don’t push until I say.  Just keep breathing; in, out, in, out…”

********

Lying with her newborn son in her arms and Gabrielle resting peacefully beside her, Xena could almost imagine this was her life; that all was well; that her family’s life had not been turned upside down in the space of a few short candle-marks.  Feeling the tiny infant begin to fuss she cooed softly to him, careful not to wake the other two children who lay sleeping together at the foot of the bed, curled up like puppies.  Glancing towards them she saw that they were peacefully resting.

Xena turned her attention to the woman who lay sleeping beside her.  Now that her inactivity was down to Morpheus’ healing touch, and not a coma, she was already looking a little better.  The colour had returned to her cheeks, replacing the deathly pallor which had taken residence there.  Tracing blue eyes over the angry cuts and bruises that littered that beloved face, she could barely contain her rage.  After Gabrielle had regained consciousness a lot of things in the room, and in Xena’s life, had instantly changed.

Sensing that the baby was growing hungry, Xena bared her breast and felt him eagerly attach his lips to her nipple.  As he feasted she allowed her mind to drift to the life changing events that had filled the room only candle marks before…

#

“I can see the head Xena, just one more big push and you’ll be home free!”  Seeing the baby crown had fuelled Aphrodite with confidence and buoyed her spirits.  A derisive snot burst from the Warrior Princess in response.

Sweat was beaded on her upper lip and rivulets trailed down from her hairline.  Pushing hard she felt the baby’s head move through her birth canal and braced herself for the final push.  Gritting her teeth and casting a reassuring look towards her daughter, Xena bore down and felt the baby break free from her body.

Aphrodite suppressed her desire to make a very loud ‘EEEWWW’ of disgust as she held the mucus covered child, quickly cutting the chord.  Surreptitiously, unsure how well it would go over with the dark haired woman, she magically cleaned the child up.  Bringing the now clean baby to her lips for a kiss she realised that he wasn’t breathing!  Eyes wide she tried not to panic as she turned horrified eyes to the woman lying before her.

“He’s not breathing!” Xena’s joy upon hearing she had a son was tempered by the news.

“Dite, take him by the ankles and hold him upside down.”  She watched as the Goddess did as she bid.  “Now very lightly slap his butt, it should stimulate his breathing.”  The goddess did as instructed while Xena eased herself up, her strength already returning.  Now seated against the headboard she placed a reassuring arm around Eve, waiting and hoping that her advice would work.

As a well manicured hand connected with the small, pink buttocks a wail tore through the room.  The tiny boy, indignant at being held upside down, made his displeasure known.  His cry tore through the room, drawing Claudius’ attention away from his vigil.  Moving off of the pallet and over to the bed he reached out a fragile hand and touched the fine cap of dark hair on the babies head.  He stood, fascinated, as the small boy was placed into his mother’s arms for the first time.

Green eyes snapped open as the scream tore through the room.  Blinking dazedly she attempted to focus on her surroundings, the pain racing through her making it a near impossible task.  Vaguely aware of the distant sound of voices she strained to make out the words, even as she took an inventory of her injuries.  Everything ached and throbbed, her stomach seeming to have its own sick pulse making her nauseas.  Come on Gabrielle, you need to work out where you are; even though her thoughts were muzzy from the sensations assaulting her, she could at least hold on to the fact that, for the first time in a long time, she knew who she was.  Now she just needed to figure out where.

Already feeling sick, the young warrior knew that she must turn her head and see who shared the room with her, damn the consequences.  If nothing else, the long years spent in the guise of Mesella had honed her skills to a point where they could not be ignored.  Painstakingly she rotated her neck, slowly bringing her cheek into contact with the rough surface beneath her head.  As her stomach roiled in protest she squeezed her eyes closed and nearly lost the contents of her stomach as colours burst behind her eyelids.  A pained whimper escaped her lips.

Blue eyes snapped away from the small child laying, cradled, in her arms to fix on the prone figure lying across the room.  Instantly locking with the glassy gaze of the woman she had loved for so long and thought lost to her, her face broke into a smile which only grew wider as it was returned on trembling lips.  Seeing a recognition in those stormy orbs that had not been there before, the warrior princess tried not to get her hopes up as she passed the tiny infant to a stunned Aphrodite, who kept switching her gaze from one woman to the other. 

Carefully easing off of the bed she approached the blond.  Looking down at the small figure she tenderly ran her hand down a clammy cheek, coming to rest along her jaw.  Behind her Eve and Claudius looked on, both knowing that something special was happening in front of them yet not sure what it was.

“Hey.”  Xena’s words were whispered, almost as though she feared that anything more than that would shatter the moment.

“Xena,” rough but understandable words were forced from a too dry throat, “I remember.”

“Gabrielle?”  A sob filled the proud warrior’s voice as she pressed a soft kiss to the bard’s forehead.

“Yeah.” 

Claudius had been watching the adults reunion with avid interest, eyes following their every move.  Eve, on the other hand, though relieved that her playmate was alright; was transfixed by her new brother.  Realising that nobody was holding him back, the small boy could no longer stop himself from approaching his hero.  On hearing the soldier answer to this new name he felt a creeping sense of dread thread its way up his spine.  He couldn’t lose Mesella; he just couldn’t!  He soon found himself standing close to the tall brunette, his face on a level with his hero.

“Claudius.”  Sensing the boy’s uncertainty she feebly reached out, backs of her fingers touching a downy cheek.

“You remember me?”  Fat tears rolled down his face and over her hand.

“Of course I do, you’re my boy,” and both of them knew, then and there, that was the truth.

Xena stepped aside to allow the child to throw his arms around his protector and hug her tightly.  A wince of pain flashed across the pale face but Gabrielle held back the yelp of pain this touch caused, knowing that the boy needed this.  Looking at the taller woman over the child’s shoulder she knew that she was home.

#

Aphrodite had helped to move the injured woman onto the larger and more comfortable bed in the centre of the room, which is where Xena now found herself.  Placing the now sated and sleeping infant into the bassinet beside the bed, also provided by the Love Goddess, she tried to reposition the fair head against her shoulder.  So intent on not waking the children at her feet, she failed to notice the green eyes watching her intently, until the body against her repositioned itself.

“I was…um.”  Sheepishly she trailed off.

“S’ok, I think I needed to move around a little anyway.”  Scooting up she reclined against the ornate headboard and watched as Xena mirrored her position.  Soon both women sat in a tense silence.  Xena was the one to break it long moments later.

“Well this is weird, never thought I’d be the chatty one.”

“I guess I still have a lot of Mesella in here, she’s been running the show for a long time now and,” here she paused, wondering how to say this without hurting the larger woman, “I wasn’t exactly sure who I was even before all this.”  She waved her hand vaguely in the air to encompass the whole situation.

“I’m sorry,” the whispered words were thick with remorse.

“Not your fault, Xena.  None of this was ever really your fault.  We both should have done things differently but in the end it was me who ended it all.  I should have opened up, told you how I felt,” a snort of laughter escaped her at that, making her wince in pain as it jarred her still fragile body.   “I spent so long trying to get you to open up, I think I just forgot how to.”  Seeing her companion about to refute her words she put a finger over full lips to forestall her.  “I wasn’t going to come back.”

“Oh.”  Really, what else could she say?

“We have a lot to talk about.”  Saying that, Gabrielle pushed the covers down to her hips and raised the sleep shirt she had been given in order to get to the bandage around her stomach.  Satisfied that no blood had seeped from the carefully placed stitches, she covered herself back up; ashamed that she had used this as a way not to meet the older woman’s eyes.  “I am happy that you’re here.”

“Good… that’s good.  I’ve missed you more than I thought I could miss anybody.”  Unable to resist, she reached out and clasped a calloused hand, rubbing her thumb across the back.  She was heartened when the other woman did not pull away.  “We will definitely have to talk, about a lot of things; more than I ever realised, apparently.  All of that can wait for now, though, it’s enough that you’re alive and finally know who you are.”

“Thank you.  I think we need to take things slowly.”  Grasping the larger hand more firmly in her own, she forced eye contact.  “There is one thing we need to talk about now.”

“I know what he did.”  There was no need to ask who the ‘he’ in question was.  “I just don’t know why.”

“I bet I do.”  The complete conviction in her voice left no room for doubt.  “The same reason that he’s been trying to get rid of me from the day I met you; you.  Only difference is, this time you’re his not mine.”

“You’re wrong about one thing.”

“Oh?”

“I was never his.”

********

How dare she!  How dare she send him away on some fools errand!  His wife, his wife, was about to have his child!  He had waited a lifetime for this moment and he was damned if his half witted sister was going to rob him of it!  Seething he stormed through the halls of the palace, intent on his goal.  He had decided not to just appear in the room; even in his current frame of mind he knew it would not go over well with the warrior princess.  He was also quite certain that he didn’t want to reveal to her just how much his power had increased during her pregnancy.

He had arrived in the city, franticly trying to find the child and return as quickly as possible.  As much as he was frustrated at having to leave at this crucial time, he did care for the tiny copy of his lover.  Realising that looking for her the mortal way would take too long, and could ultimately prove fruitless, he had delved into his reserves and used his powers to search her out.  She wasn’t there.  She hadn’t been there.  Aphrodite had lied to him, but why?

The why had quickly solidified in his mind.  She had known about Gabrielle all along and had clearly decided that she wanted to get the women back together.  Ares had allowed himself a burst of laughter at that, if only she knew that it would never happen.  He had seen to that!  This led him back to her audacity!

Now, as he rounded the corner to his suite, he had worked up a full head of steam.  Suddenly he was thrown back by surge of energy.  He didn’t have to see the angry red hearts swirling around him to know here they had come from.  Leaping to his feet, he found himself face to face with his glowering sister, hand upraised, ready o strike again.

“I never knew you had it in ya, Dite.”  The smug smirk etched across his features bellied his words.

“I know what you did Ares.  I won’t let them be hurt again, not by one of us.”  Her voice was as cold as he had ever heard it and the God of War actually felt the menace beneath them.

“And exactly what did I do, sister?  Gave Xena what she never could?”

“You sound sure of yourself now, brother.  How did you feel earlier when you stabbed her?  Doesn’t seem like the actions of a confident man to me, sounds more like a coward.”  A howl of absolute rage tore through the hallway as she hit the nerve she’d been aiming for; it was quickly followed by a barrage of lightening bolts.

“You bitch!  How can you choose that annoying little blond over me?”  Every word was a shout.

“Because we’ve hurt them enough already!”  It was a plea that she knew he would not understand.

“I haven’t even begun to hurt them yet!  I’ll only tell you once, let me have my son.  Let Gabrielle keep Xena, I can’t compete with that, I never could, especially not with you on their side but I want my son.”  Throwing one last energy bolt at his sister, this one nearly sending her to his knees, he turned to leave.  “Think about it, give me what I want or I will just take it!” 

“She means that little to you, that you’d give her up?”

“How dare you try to judge me!  Look at your own motives, Love Goddess!”  His voice rose to a near deafening level as it rolled off of the stone walls, “Give me my son!”  Then he was gone, leaving a worried blonde in his wake.

********

Blue eyes fluttered open, blinking sleepily in the dim room.  Something had woken him up but it was gone now.  It had almost sounded like shouting.  Listening carefully all he could hear was the even breathing of the four other people in the room.  Sitting up slightly he looked at each shadowed figure and felt a sense of peace settle in him.  He was still loved.

Yawning widely, he suddenly found himself looking into eyes much bluer than his own.  A wide, white grin shone in the gloom and he felt safe.

“Go back to sleep, little man.  I think we’ll have a busy day tomorrow.”  Xena watched as the golden head settle back onto the bed and large, thoughtful eyes fluttered closed.  She had been woken by the same thing as the child and had a sinking feeling that she knew what it was.  “Tomorrow.”

Settling back down she tried to fall back into the oblivion of sleep, listening to the breathing that was all around her.  The comforting sound of air moving in and out, in and out, in and out.

To be continued in part 20

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