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

My road block is gone!  2 Chapter finished in 2 days and only 2 more to go!

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20

Looking fondly down at the two slumbering women, the goddess was loath to wake them.  She knew that their relationship needed time to heal and grow and that the news she had for them would not allow that to happen.  Unfortunately she knew she had no choice.

“You’re thinking too hard Dite; I can hear the wheels turning!”  The soft alto broke the silence.

“I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“I wasn’t asleep.”

“Me either,” both women turned, shocked towards the tousled blond as her voice rasped out. 

Checking that the two children still slept, Xena eased out of the bed and lifted the stirring newborn into her arms.  Nodding towards the doorway, she indicated that the other women should follow her out into the main room of the suite.  Gabrielle gingerly sat on the edge of the bed and braced herself to stand; as she pushed herself up she felt a secure hold on her left side, smiling her thanks to the goddess as she helped her into the other room.

The two blonds slowly made their way to the pair of couches where the brunette was perched feeding the baby.  Xena glanced up and smiled at her companions, gesturing for them to sit with her.  Aphrodite carefully lowered the small soldier, checking that she was comfortable before taking a seat herself.

“So, Dite, what brings you here so early?”  Though she had a pretty good idea, she needed the immortal to confirm her suspicions.

“Ares wants his son.  My brother’s come to the conclusion that you’ve picked Gabby over him and he won’t fight for you.”

“Charming!”  Xena could barely believe what she heard; how could he so easily abandon everything they had?

Ignoring the Warrior Princess’ comment, Gabrielle joined the conversation.  “He tried to kill me, how can he be sure I’m still alive?” 

“He is a god, babe.  He knows when his handy work goes awry.”

“I thought he gave up his godhood to stand with Xena in the Twilight?  At last that’s what I… Mesella… heard.”  Xena was also puzzled, she knew her husband retained many of his godly attributes but thus far nothing like in his heyday.

“He did give up much of his power, though he seems to have been regaining it since you arrived here and I am not sure how.”  Stroking a gentle finger over the baby’s downy head she voiced her biggest fear.  “I think the baby may be feeding his power, making him stronger.  He hit me with an energy bolt last night and almost over powered me.”

Xena sat very still contemplating this.  If it was true that he had grown more powerful since arriving in Rome, she was not convinced that the tiny life in her arms had anything to do with it.  Thinking back over their stay, something gnawed at the back of her mind, something about his long periods of absence.  All along he had been up to something and if they knew what perhaps it would reveal the source of his renewed power.

“I need you to do something for me, Aphrodite.”  Getting a compliant nod she continued, “I need you to find out what he’s been up to while we have been here.  I think that his business may have a lot more to do with this than his child.”

“I’m on the case!”  She was gone before the words were complete.

Left alone together the two warriors fell into silence.  Gabrielle couldn’t help but watch mother and child; transported back to Eve’s birth and the events that led to their separation.  Inside her head was a peculiar jumble of memories, Gabrielle’s youth and Mesella’s marched side by side until the void of years where only the Roman remained.  Taking a moment to bask in the fact she could pick out her own memories, she tried to put off talking to her companion knowing that the sooner she did the sooner painful emotions would be laid bare.

“Everything changed the last time you had a baby too.  It seems to be a pattern.”  Almost before she completed the thought she wanted to real it back as she saw the other woman’s face fall, only the knowledge that saying nothing destroyed them the last time stopped her from taking it back.

“I didn’t know… You never said…”  Xena couldn’t meet the probing gaze of the younger woman.

“It was as much my fault, Xena; I knew it then and I know it now.  I expected you to read my mind, I guess, to understand why I was acting as I did and you just didn’t.”  Pausing, the injured woman scooted closer and placed a hand on the warm back of the baby.  “What are you going to do about this?”

“I have no idea.  I wasn’t exactly expecting any of this to happen,” covering the smaller hand she gave it a reassuring squeeze, “though I’m glad it did.  Now I just hope Ares doesn’t do something we’ll both regret.”

Gabrielle wanted to make a jibe about the war god, desperately wanted to rant and rave, to ask Xena what she had been thinking; instead she held back.  Xena didn’t need her petty jealousies right now.  “I do have one suggestion, for the baby.  Dedicate him to another god.  That way he will be protected and have choices and it won’t create a rift between you and your husband,” she almost choked on the word.

“I’m not exactly flavour of the month with the remaining gods,” at a quirked brow she had to correct herself, “Well obviously Dite is an exception to the rule.  Do you think I should offer him to her?”

“No, Aphrodite has already interfered and Ares will only see it as a ploy, he won’t honour it; the same is true for Eros.  It needs to be somebody impartial.”  Gabrielle was frantically working through the possibilities in her head; it wasn’t a long list.

“Artemis is out, as much because he is a boy as the fact that she would still like to see me dead.  She didn’t surrender easily.”

“What about her twin?”  A broad grin covered her battered face.

“Apollo did refuse to be involved in the Twilight and he has never toyed with us.  It could work.”  Absently her thumb moved in small circles over the hand that still rested on the infants back.

“Um…  Yeah,” Gabrielle was distracted by the feel of warm skin on hers, something so familiar yet so alien.  “He really is the perfect choice; he is one of the few benevolent gods, controls healing and the Sun.  Maybe this little one will grow up to be a healer.”

“I think you’re right, I’ll need to collect the right herbs for the dedication.”  Nervously she locked eyes with her partner, “His name is Lyceus.  I wanted to call him Gabriel but Ares wouldn’t hear of it.  He said he was tired of living in the shadow of a ghost.”  Kissing him on the brow she passed the child into the stunned arms of the blond warrior. 

“It’s a good name Xena, a really good name.”  The importance of this exchange was not lost on either of them.  Huge blue eyes stared up at his new guardian and a coo escaped his lips.  “He looks just like Eve at this age.” 

It would take a while but they would work it out.  Quite where all this left her marriage had the warrior princess in a quandary thought she felt sure that Ares was hell bent on making these decisions for her.  The real question was; what was he up to?

********

Heavy black boots pounded on the dusty marble floor, the sound reverberating off the walls.  The emptiness of the palace was jarring; for so long it had been filled with the hustle and bustle of the pantheon and their hangers on.  Now it seemed a lonely place.  Ares had not returned home, alone, for any substantial amount of time since the destruction of his family, resentment began to well in him as he passed room after room.

The great hall loomed large ahead of him and he could almost see his father seated on the throne, hurling orders as he would thunderbolts.  Other memories soon overrode those, memories of pain and fury as his brothers, sisters and uncles were slain by the woman he loved in this very room.  The woman he loved and, damn it, he did still love her like he always had and probably always would.  He wished he could believe that she would choose him over the annoying blond, they had a solid marriage and there was love; it just wasn’t enough love to break that bond.

With a practiced swagger he flowed towards the throne and perched within its seductive folds.  The allure of power steeled over him revealing yet another reason why he knew that Xena would never be his again.  She would never be able to deal with his plans, never be able to accept him as a full god once again.  It was a part of him that she had never trusted.  To make it even worse he had felt his power grow long before they stepped foot on Rome’s shore, failing to tell her about it would just show her a further betrayal.

Expelling some of that power he created a corona of energy around his fist as he thought about his return to divinity.  He really had no idea why he had suddenly changed; although he thought it may be linked to the birth of his son it could as easily be the increased worship from the Roman provinces, led by Agrippina.  That woman certainly had a plan in mind which she had executed to perfection.  When she had come to him in supplication, begging him to favour her son he had thought she was delusional but revelled in the adoration which he had missed for so long.  Now that he had made the deal, engineered a new empire loyal to him and regained his following, he knew he couldn’t give that up again.

Aphrodite watched her brother from a hidden alcove in the wall.  She remained invisible even though she was out of his sight, she did not want him to be aware of her presence.  Her hope was that he would reveal something while alone that would let her in to his plans.  As he sat in the throne she watched as he played the small bolts of power through his fingers, a feral grin that she had not seen on his face in o long, firmly in place.  This was the brother she had grown up with, not the man he had become.

“What do I want the Roman’s to call me?  Ares is a member of a dead pantheon; it needs to be something new, something catchy.”  The sudden sound of his clear baritone caught Aphrodite off guard, almost making her give away her location.  Focusing in on his words, she realised that her worst fears were being realised.  “Mmm… Mars!  I’ll be Mars, God of War!  It’s got a nice ring to it.  I’ll have to tell Agrippina to spread that around.”  Drumming long fingers on the ornate armrest of the chair he continued to plan his future.

Agrippina?  What is he up to with that simpering shrew?  Seeing that her brother was now caught up in his own thoughts, the blond was pretty sure that nothing more would be forthcoming and made her way to his old quarters. 

Oppressive red and black walls greeted her as se entered the room.  Weapons lined the wall, with opulent gold furnishings framing them.  Making her way across the room she riffled through the scrolls that littered the huge desk that dominated one side of the room.  She found nothing but old and yellowed parchment.  Taking her investigation to the bed chamber a flash of pure white on the inky sheets drew her like a magnet.  Picking it up she unrolled the sheet and began to read the contents with growing apprehension.

********

Sneaking up behind her prey the fearless panther was ready for the kill.  Taking one last look to make sure that her dinner was unaware she pounced.  The dark haired missile flew though the air, taking down its target in one efficient move.  As they crashed to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs a groan of pain escaped the victim.

“Owie, Eve!  That r…really hurt!”  Claudius lay on his back with the younger child perched on top of him, grinning like an idiot, utterly unrepentant.

“That was fun!”  Fists held up high in victory she failed to notice the glimmer of mischief in the boys pale eyes until it was too late. Seeing his opportunity, Claudius leapt up, fingers at the ready and began to tickle his tormentor mercilessly.

Rolling around on the floor the children seemed blissfully ignorant of all the turmoil that surrounded them.  Xena peered into the main room, having heard the commotion and was pleased to see the young prince giving as good as he got.  Satisfied that neither child was really hurt and that tears were not imminent she moved back into the sleeping chamber and resumed her seat beside the reclining Gabrielle.

“Did they call a truce?”  High pitched squeals answered her question.  “I guess not.”  The blonde’s voice was slurred, showing her fatigue.

“Don’t worry, little Claudius is getting his own back.  He really adores you.”  The statement came out of the blue.

“I love him too, he’s my boy.  I’ve been taking care of him ever since he was a baby.  Well I guess until he was four that was the real Mesella but we both love him a lot.  He’ll never be a great leader; he’s just a good kid.  I wish Livia would realise that.”  Rubbing at tired eyes, it was clear that she was fighting a battle with her still healing body and losing.

They had spent much of the morning talking about the time that they had spent apart.  Both knew it was too soon to talk about the things that really mattered.  They needed to reconnect and look to the future before they worried about the past.  Xena did have one thing that she needed to know.

“When I go back to Greece, will you be coming with me?”  She spoke softly almost as though she was trying not to startle a wild animal.

“Will Ares be there?”  It was petty but she was too tired to censor herself.

“I can’t trust him now, not after what he did to you.   It took me a long time to get this far with him and now it’s gone.  It’s just me and the kids.”

“Do you love him?”  She wasn’t sure why she was torturing herself this way; the need for sleep was clearly making her crazy!

“I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t.  There was always something between us and it grew.  Without you I was lost and he filled the void.  I never felt for him what I do when I’m with you.”  Not realising that she had used the present, it wasn’t lost on her companion who weakly reached out and patted her forearm.

“I get it, Xena.”

“You still haven’t answered my question.  Will you come home?”

“I have to think about Claudius, I can’t just abandon that boy.  Of course I would love to go home but…” the two children who had been hiding just outside the doorway moved away, not hearing the rest of the conversation.  That had grown tired of their game and decided to eavesdrop on the grownups.

“Mesella really loves you.” 

“Not Mesella, Evie, t…that’s G…Gabrielle but it’s ok ‘cos she l…loves me too.”  Seeing that the little girl wasn’t completely following him he tried to explain.  “She was never r…really Mesella, she kind of lost her m…memory, that’s why she couldn’t rem…member you and your m…mum.  I think they used to be close when you were a baby.”

“Oh.”  Eve’s eyes became stormy, “Does mummy not love daddy anymore?”

“I think your d…daddy did something bad.”

“Oh.”

“I’d love to go and live with Me… G…Gabrielle in G…Greece.”  Claudius became wistful, caught up in his own fantasy of a life as his protectors son.  He failed to notice as a tear tracked down the unusually silent girl’s cheek.

TBC in Chapter 21


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