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'
NOTES: Hello everybody...remember me? Well I hope so. Sorry it has been so long. Life has been kicking me in the teeth, but I have decided to give it the finger and have some fun with my muse. Please send me feedback.... I need to know if this still fits the fic and all feedback will be answered greatfully.
Xena woke with Eve in her arms. Sad blue eyes gazed down at the sleeping child, knowing she would soon have to disturb her rest. It was time to get up, she could hear the sounds of her travelling companion somewhere in the woods, searching for breakfast. Gently she blew on the little girls face, ruffling dark bangs, until sleepy blue eyes blinked open and met her own.
" 'lo Mommy." Two small fists came up to rub sleep filled eyes.
"Hi Evie, time to get up sweetie."
Yawning hugely the toddler rolled to her feet, and stood unsteadily beside her reclining mother. Clad only in a shift, the chubby infant looked like any moment her eyes would close and she would crumple back down onto the bedroll, fast asleep. Xena sat up, crossing her legs, and held out her arms. Gratefully the child clambered onto her lap and snuggled into the warriors ample chest. Xena began to rub Eve's back, enjoying the early mornings when she could lavish attention on her baby.
"Mommy." After several minutes of just cuddling, the muffled voice travelled up to her mothers ears. Xena pulled slightly away from the small girl so that they were now face-to-face. A single raised eyebrow let Eve know she could continue. "I don't wanna stay with Nana! Want to be with you and Unca Ares!" A pout formed on the angelic face, a miniature version of Xena's own.
"I know Evie, but there are some really bad people that we have to find. You know we just want you to be safe." She kissed the creased forehead.
"Can't I go stay with the Amazons? They're fun." A wide grin covered her face.
"They are not on our route, imp. Anyway, you know how spoilt you are when you stay with your nana. You'll get lots of presents." That clinched the deal. At the mention of presents the three year old was off her mothers lap, heading towards the river as fast as her legs could take her.
Xena followed close behind, laughing at the antics of her precocious daughter. Eve was the most important thing in her life. She brought the warrior a sense of joy and happiness which she had thought dead along with her bard. Without Eve, Xena knew that she would have succumbed to the draw of oblivion, following Gabrielle into the after life. Even three years after the Amazons death, the pain was still fresh and raw.
"Mommy." This was followed by a loud splash of water.
"Is Unca Ares gonna be my daddy one day?" Although out of the blue on such a peaceful morning, the question was not unexpected.
Cyrene had been badgering her daughter about the very same thing for months. The idea that she would marry the former God of War was the constant topic of conversation in her mothers kitchen. She must have been gossiping in front of Evie. Ares had been a big part of all their lives over the last few years. He had helped Xena through some of her darkest times, proving to be a constant for both the warrior and her child. Joxer and Autolycus had tried to be supportive, but Ares was the one she could always turn to. He was always there for her.
At first Ares had been her sidekick, helping her battle the evils of the world while he tried to adjust to a mortal life. He was not a replacement for Gabrielle, nobody ever could be, but he was somebody to watch her back. Her initial distrust of the dark man had helped to keep her sane. She couldn't afford to let her guard down around him, he had fooled her enough for one life time. Slowly from these tense beginnings, their relationship had grown and changed. Time and time again Ares showed a strength of character that nobody could have expected, that Xena found herself drawn too. Ares even proved to be an excellent father for Eve. Xena's barriers came down slowly, but soon the sexual chemistry between them became something much deeper, much to everyone's surprise.
Xena had found herself falling for Ares. The guilt that came with this new found romance was almost crippling. Every time they kissed, the bard would pop into her head. Images of her ravaged face would flash across her mind, making her pull away. Gradually they had started to overcome this obstacle, as much for Eve's sake as her own. The girl needed a second parent, a balancing element in her life and Ares could provide that and more for mother and child. Recently Xena had even been able to push Gabrielle out of her mind, into a dark place where Xena tried to keep her hidden. This protected her sanity and let her move on in life.
Ares had asked her to marry him frequently in the past few months, since their relationship had become increasingly physical. Each time she would side step the question, remembering a new mission or problem that they just had to handle. This time, though, was different. She was actually contemplating it seriously this time. He had turned into a good man over the years, he fought well and sympathised with people. She was still mulling it over as she pulled the dripping toddler into her arms.
Three riders sat gazing down at the valley that held the town of Amphipolis. The once small town had grown over recent years into a large, thriving town. With the opening of new trade routes to Athens the village had become an ideal rest stop for weary travellers on their way to and from the metropolis. The boost to the economy that these merchants and tradesmen provided, spending their coin, meant that village could grow. Restaurants and craftsmen set up shop in order to cater to the needs of the people, while shop keepers branched out into new wears.
Looking at her childhood home, Xena could barely reconcile the site before her with the little farming community she had been raised in. In the fields the women still sang the song of Amphipolis as they brought in the harvest their men had planted, but rough harvests were no longer such a great fear with the increase in trade. Casting her eyes further into the village she sought out her mothers tavern. Other innkeepers had opened up shop in the town, but Cyrene's establishment was by far the busiest and most sought after. Almost every night the place would be packed to the rafters with as many natives as not. An entire second building had been added two years ago to give more sleeping rooms. Cyrene, never a poor woman, could now be called extremely wealthy simply due to the atmosphere and good food of her inn.
A huge smile spread over her beautiful face as she spotted her mother outside the inn. Flashing the same smile at her two companions, Xena wrapped her arms around her daughter sitting in front of her. With a whoop of happiness she spurred her horse into a gallop towards the town. Ares, shaking his head and smiling ruefully at her antics quickly followed.
Cyrene stood outside of her establishment talking to Old Ephesius. The kind hearted old man had lost his own family many years ago to a fever in a far off village. He hadn't been able to stay in the place of his birth, too many sad memories, and had moved to Amphipolis when Xena was only a baby. Over the time he had adopted many of the young men and women of the village as his own, Cyrene being no exception. He enjoyed talking to them and giving advice about things they could not turn to their real parents about. Today the frail man was asking Cyrene about her favourite topic, her granddaughter.
"They grow up so fast, Ephesius." Cyrene had been lamenting on not seeing her grandchild for several minutes.
"That they do my dear." Ephesius smiled a toothless smile and patted her hand. Over the tavern keepers shoulder he saw people approaching leading horses. The big, bearded man put a finger to his lips in a gesture of quiet and Ephesius winked in understanding.
"What's more, that daughter of mine needs to realise she isn't getting any younger." The old man saw the young woman in question suddenly drain of colour and stand looking totally mortified.
"Um, Cyrene, you might want to turn round and tell her that yourself." A look not unlike her daughters covered Cyrene's face as she realised what Xena must have heard. Before she turned Ephesius made a hasty retreat. Well as hasty as his legs would let him. "I'll leave you too it, dear. Nice to see you again, whippersnapper, you come see me before you gallivanting off again." And he was off, his three legged shuffle of foot, foot, cane covering the ground at a brisk pace.
The two women stood looking at each other with twin expressions of shock on their faces. Cyrene was overwhelmed that her daughter was actually standing in front of her, while Xena was still horrified at what her mother had said. Not universally known as a vain woman, the warrior did have an ego about her appearance and used it to her advantage on numerous occasions. Finally pulling herself out of her shallow whole she smirked at her mother.
"Hello mother, finished embarrassing me to the neighbours?" Cyrene flew at her daughter and threw her arms around her in a crushing hug.
"Oh, Little One, you know I didn't mean it like that. I just think it would be nice for you to give me another grandchild before I'm too old to pick it up." Cyrene couldn't help herself, the expression on Xena's face whenever she mentioned anything like this was priceless.
"Now, Xena, enough of that. Where's my granddaughter?" She looked everywhere except at the child who was bouncing around excitedly.
"I'm here Nana, look." Little arms waved wildly in the air.
"Why so you are, precious." Eve squealed in delight as she was lifted into her nana's arms and settled on a well padded hip. "And last but not least, hello tall dark and handsome."
"Hello Cyrene." Ares leaned over and placed a kiss on the older woman's cheek. It had taken surprising little time for Xena's mother to accept the former god into the family. Well, after I reassured her that I really wasn't Xena's daddy, he thought. He followed the happily chattering Cyrene and Eve into the inn.
Swoosh. Thunk. Swoosh. Thunk. The steady sound of the axe arching through the air and splitting logs created a strangely soothing counterpoint to the conversation between the two women. Xena sat opposite her mother, desperately trying to divert her attention from the tall man cutting wood in the courtyard. Without much luck.
"So, Little One." Here it comes. "When are you going to marry that man and give me some more grand children?"
Cyrene saw the dark cloud pass behind her daughters eyes. Cyrene knew that Gabrielle would always hold a large part of her child's heart, but the younger woman had to move on. Ares hadn't always been her favourite person, but he had proved himself time and time again to be a better man than he was a god. Xena needed to be happy, and Ares made her smile. Cyrene looked into Xena's crystal eyes and waited for her usual dismissal.
Xena knew that her mother was waiting for an answer, the same answer that she had been giving for almost three years. The only problem was, Xena didn't know what to tell her this time. Things change... She found her eyes travelling away from her mother and out through the window where her own daughter sat laughing uproariously as the big man pulled silly faces at her. I never thought I could love anybody half as much as I loved HER, and he will never be HER, but he is in my heart. And Eve loves him so much. Who would have believed it? A wry smirk spread across her lips as she continued to watch the pair play.
Cyrene was amazed as the darkness in her child's eyes faded, leaving them sparkling and alive as she looked at the adult and child outside. She hadn't seen that look in what felt like a lifetime. The older woman was further stunned she saw a smile spread across her daughters face and light up her eyes. Crystal blue eyes turned to look squarely at her.
"Maybe sooner than you think."
Eve ran as fast as her tiny legs could carry her, squealing loudly as she went. She was running from the big stinky monster chasing her. If he caught her he would gobble her up and make her just as stinky! As the toddler veered around a blissfully unaware chicken, sending the poor bird into a squawking frenzy, the beast following her paused to take in the scene.
Eve was covered in pieces of straw and smudges of dirt. Her little red tunic was torn and covered in mud and somewhere the child had lost one of her sandals. The chicken, in its terrified state had worked up its brothers and sisters and the yard was alive with chickens and one very excitable three year old. The beast found himself laughing hard at the little girls antics.
"I'm going to get you little princess!" And the chase was on again.
After several more minutes of Eve running flat out, with the lumbering beast behind her, suddenly two giant arms reached down and scooped her up. The stinky beast had caught her! The dark haired infant began to scream as the stinky lifted her high above its head and moved its lips towards her tummy.
"Nooooooo!" The screaming dissolved into laughter as the former God of War planted a loud, wet raspberry on the squirming child's stomach.
"C'mon Evie, lets go see your mama and your granny." He lowered the child to his side and felt her wrap her legs around his waist as he began to stride towards the inn.
"Can I call you Daddy?" The little voice sounded so hopeful, her eyes so open and innocent that Ares wanted nothing more than to say yes.
"I tell you what, I will talk to your mama while we go and stop the bad guys. Maybe when we come back you can, but I have to ask mama first, okay?" The dark head bobbed up and down in agreement. The big, dark man planted a kiss on the crown of the bobbing head, as the pair passed through the door into the kitchen.
Night had fallen, the sky clear and the moon full, as the pair decided to set up camp for the night. They had set out early after a peaceful night spent in Cyrene's inn. After a hearty breakfast the older woman gave them enough trail rations to feed one of Xena's armies. Leaving Eve behind was always difficult for both warriors, the little girl cried and her mother had to try hard not to do the same. Now, with camp set up, a rabbit cooking slowly on a spit over the fire-pit, the clearing seemed eerily quiet. Eve always produced happy little sounds, even when asleep. Without her all that could be heard in the camp were the sounds of one sword being sharpened and another being used for practice.
Xena sat close to the fire, keeping a close eye on their dinner as it browned slowly as she sharpened her sword. The couple had decided not to start using the mountain of supplies until the following day when they would be less likely to start a fire. They wanted surprise to be on their side. Splitting her attention between the cooking fire and the tall figure standing on the edge of the light, she let herself admire the way the red light of the fire played across the muscular man. Her hands continued to run the whetstone over her blade without thought, years of performing the action had made it as natural as breathing.
Standing between the trees and the fire, the deep red of the fires fringes picked out only the very edges of muscle. His face and side were thrown into almost complete shadow as his sword took up the gleam of the moon. In all he looked every part the god that he had once been. In truth, Xena thought he looked more heroic and worthy of worship now than he ever had before. Watching the man dance with unseen opponents, Xena almost didn't notice the smell of burning coming from their dinner. Only her lightning reflexes enabled her to pull the rabbit from the flames and quickly extinguish the more charred areas.
"Ares." She called out brandishing the rabbit in the air.
Ares re-sheathed his sword and made his way over to the beautiful woman, wreathed in golden light. "Looks like we'll be breaking into the rations sooner than we thought." He couldn't contain his mirth, his bearded face glowing with amusement.
"Its not that bad." The feeble argument was lost when the leg suddenly snapped off and crumbled to the floor. "Then again..."
Ares reached over to their saddle bags and pulled out a block of cheese, some fruit and a slab of bread. He placed his finds in front of the warrior princess, smiling charmingly up at her. It was in the second, with him just looking at her with such love and devotion, that Xena realised that she was truly happy. Not since Gabrielle died had she felt this content, this loved. Maybe Ares wasn't her bard, and maybe she would never be able to love him with her whole heart the way she had the blond warrior. But Ares was here, and he was warm, and he was alive. And Gabrielle was never coming back. I love you my Bard, but I need this. I will always love you. Xena put the warrior bard into a sealed room in her heart, forever preserved, but not in the way of her future anymore.
"Yes." The whispered words confused the tall man as he settle back again the log they were using as a backrest.
"Yes... Oh, you mean Evie can call me daddy?" He hadn't been able to stop himself from asking almost as soon as they were out of the town. He really did love the child like she was his own.
"No... Well, um, yes to that to... What I mean is yes Ares." Locking eyes with him, Xena could see that he got it.
"Whoo Hoo!!!" The former god, partner of the great warrior princess and foe to evil forces, ran around the clearing in circles whooping for joy. Xena looked on indulgently although a small locked room inside her heart could be heard weeping.
TBC Part 5 (Which is ready...Gasp!)
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