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: Huge apologies for the long hiatus of this story. I hope to update with much more regularity. I hope that people will give this a chance. All feedback gratefully received: email@example.com
Dark hair fanned across the red silk pillow, highlighting the pallor of the woman sprawled across the bed. Inky tresses merged with those of her bed mate as he cuddled close to her side. Although exhausted from the journey she could not sleep, the baby in her womb doing summersaults seemed to be able to feel her agitation. Blue eyes stared sightlessly up at the filigreed ceiling, shrouded by the darkness of t night. Unsure and uneasy about why she could not sleep, the warrior began to contemplate events in Rome since her arrival…
They had arrived with a bang, well a whimper (one of Joxer's) but it was spectacular. The wannabe warrior had taken it upon himself to carry what seemed to be every piece of the group's luggage off of the boat. Piled high with leathers, equipment and bags he staggered under the weight. His vision totally obscured he had weaved his way to the gang plank. Seeing the potential for disaster, Xena had moved to stop him only to be brought up short by Ares hand on her shoulder.
Looking into the cool brown eyes the warrior had seen a spark of something malicious and cruel in their depths. It was times like this which prevented her from giving over all of herself to the former god. She loved him, had experienced some of the happiest days of her life in the last six years with him, but this look continued to give her pause. It unsettled her that she seemed to be seeing that look entirely too much of late. It was almost as though the larger the child inside her became the more like the God of War he became and the further away he moved from being her husband…
A broad hand moving possessively over her swelling stomach brought her thoughts slamming back into the bed chamber. The man who filled her thoughts nuzzled his head to her shoulder, short beard tickling the skin, and relaxed back into slumber. Xena looked at his features in the dim light provided by the waning light of the moon. He seemed peaceful enough, face relaxed like a child but something new still lingered in his countenance which gave her pause. Sighing deeply she turned her thoughts once again to their landing…
True to form Joxer had hit the top of the plank at the tail end of a stumble. His foot had caught on the edge and sent him flying through the air. He sailed several feet through the air, coming to rest only when he hit the pier in a graceless heap. The equipment which had been carefully piled in his arms came crashing down moments after he came to rest. Several items, thankfully replaceable, fell into the water with many undignified plops. Other, larger and infinitely more dangerous pieces crashed down close to his head. Luckily nothing further hit the human pretzels dock hands rushed to help the gangly fool to his feet.
Xena watched in silence, pleased to see people come to her friends aid. Silence turned to shock as she realised that the trebling hand on her shoulder was due to the barely repressed hysterics of the man beside her. Ares eyes were filled with mirth, his face pulled into a cruel parody of a grin as he tried not to show Xena his amusement. Beside the couple Eve took in every second of the accident, particularly perplexed by the different reactions of her parents.
As a six year old she was used to falling down and usually escaped unharmed. She had seen Uncle Joxer in similar positions numerous times before and was confident that he would be all right. She was actually firmly convinced that the clumsy adult was made out of rubber, so often did he bounce. Her puzzled gaze, flitting from one warrior to the other was not missed by her mother. Once again Xena
found herself troubled by her daughter's devotion to the dark man.
"This isn't funny Ares!" The fiery eyed brunette picked up the still confused child and marched briskly away.
Xena tried not to argue in front of Eve, recalling the traumatic environment that the child had been born into. Her first days had been filled with fight and flight, the gods constantly after the small family. The trio; warrior, bard and baby, had managed to survive countless vollies by the gods, as well as more down to earth foes. Xena did not want her young life to be shaped by the danger surrounding her and her parents.
Recalling her brisk march away from Ares along the pier, Xena began to fidget in the bed. She suddenly felt much too confined under the broad arm of her husband. Careful not to wake the sleeping man, she wriggled free of his embrace and moved towards the large window. The window looked out over the sleeping city, illuminated by moonlight. Stillness shrouded the usually bustling streets but here and there weak torchlight could be seen providing light for late-night revellers. Shivering a little in the cool air, the warrior snagged a fur covering off of a nearby chair before perching on the ledge. Carefully wrapped in the blanket, she continued to mull over the events of the day.
Momentarily her thoughts strayed towards forbidden territory. She always found her thoughts drawn to the bard when she thought of eve's first turbulent months of life. How could she not when it had been the bard who had kept them alive more often than not? The strain to keep those bleak memories and the pain out of her thoughts was constant and having to repeatedly tamp them down hurt. For a brief few moments she allowed herself the guilty pleasure of focusing on the love that they had shared before very firmly replacing the lid. In order to keep them at bay she once again turned her thoughts to the rest of the day's events.
Meeting with Augustus had been, interesting to say the least. When she had last seen the young man he had been a thorn in the side of other men's political machinations. A boy named Octavious, an innocent in the ways of Rome. Now, only seven years later, he was a different man in more than name. His youthful features faded by power and stress, already lined like a man of more years. Even his hair was greying at the temples, the legacy of leadership.
Their meeting had been fleeting, the Emperor on his way to a meeting with several of his regents. He stayed no longer than it took to say a cursory greeting and introduce his wife to their guests. He had been surrounded by guards who hurriedly bustled him out of the ornate reception room. He had uttered a distracted apology for having to run, and something about the captain of the guard getting snippy and been gone.
Xena had been left with the young empress while the rest of her family had been shown to their quarters, where she would join them later. The warrior cast a critical eye over the other woman, even as the empress did the same. Livia was a tall, elegant young woman who radiated power in much the same way as her husband. Her form was reed thin but still looked capable of inflicting harm on those who would stand against her. The silken robes that wound around her frame should have made her look like any other Roman noblewoman but there was something about her eyes that stopped that being so. There was a steal, a core of darkness in their depths that sent a chill through the warrior princess. This was a woman to never underestimate.
On her side, Livia recognised in Xena a woman who could just as easily become an enemy as an ally. Dressed as she was in her customary leather the Grecian looked quite imposing. Even the swell of her stomach did little to soften the edges of the soldier. Livia, a wary woman by nature, knew that she would keep a guarded eye on her husband's guest. Xena saw all of this written clearly in the Empresses face and gave an acknowledging nod which was soon returned. The tension in the room was broken only when a bloom of pink light flashed to life at the rooms centre.
Aphrodite found herself standing between the two equally powerful woman, there twin regard making the goddess feel more than a little uncomfortable. As she looked between the two she was shocked to see more than a little resemblance. Both women were dark haired and blue eyed, of towering stature and exuding power. The love god found herself wondering if maybe the young emperor had been swayed as much by his wife's resemblance to the warrior princess as by genuine love. If she was honest with herself the goddess couldn't see a great deal in Livia to love, so she was hoping that Augustus had seen something in the young woman.
"Aphrodite!" The warriors face broke into a huge grin as she took in the appearance of her old friend. The goddess was, unsurprisingly, clad in pink but of a much more Roman style. Her hair stood high above her head in waves and the diaphanous gown shimmered with gold in the light.
"Warrior-Babe!" Slender arms wrapped around broad shoulders as the two women embraced.
"I'm sure the two of you have much to discuss. If you will excuse me I must attend to my children." Livia spun on her heels and marched from the room without waiting for a response, it was clear that she could not get away from them fast enough.
"Nice girl." Xena said the words with a straight face and raised eyebrow that sent the blond into fits of giggles.
"That my friend could not be further from the truth." Tucking one arm through the warriors she led the other woman towards the guest chambers. "There is something rotten in the heart of Rome. I'm just not sure what."
As Xena continued to ponder over the revelations that the goddess had shared with her the sun began to rise, heralding a new day over Rome. Streams of light began to seep through the window on their journey to wake all those who were still sleeping. Out in the reception room of their suite keen hearing picked up the sound of small feet rushing around, already getting into mischief. Shaking her head to banish the thoughts that still clouded it, she headed out to get her daughter ready for the day.
Stealthily the young warrior traversed the maze set out before her. Green walls towered overhead, an impenetrable barrier from which there was no escape. Her only option was to keep moving, following the dusty path ever forward. It seemed, to the traveller, that each time she turned a corner the path behind her closed, stopping any chance of retreat.
Clutching her short-sword more tightly in her clammy hand she turned blue eyes towards the equally pale sky. Clouds moved overhead, tracing a lazy journey that only they knew. The sun, his dominion in the sky, was obliterated from view by the solid wall. The prisoner was only aware of the golden presence because of the warmth in the air and the pallor of the sky. With no way of telling time the hapless youth sped up the pace of her journey, wanting to be free of the suddenly oppressive shadows.
Screams suddenly rent the air, shattering the stillness. Small birds fled their green and leafy homes as the noise seemed to ricochet from wall to wall. Panicked birds filled the air, momentarily creating a wealth of fear in the warrior's heart before it was quickly tamped down. Resolute, the youth set her shoulders and headed towards the terrified cries which, although dampened in volume, held no less urgency.
Running on sandal clad feet she made barely a sound as she drew closer and closer to her goal. Spurred on by her quest, that now sat at the end of the maze, she began to make ground with tremendous speed. It almost seemed as though her movements were being guided by an invisible force. Wrong turns were now a thing of the past. Like a woman with a map she remained sure footed until she reached her destination.
Unfolding ahead of her through the dense foliage was a clearing. Festooned with bright flowers and crisp vines it seemed like an oasis after the oppressive green of the labyrinth. Allowing herself a brief moment to wallow in the beauty, the warrior sucked in a deep breath, squared her shoulders and headed once more on her mission.
A small rise dominated the clearing, which the soldier dimly realised was not surrounded by the maze, over which the sounds of conflict emanated. Jogging over the mass she saw the source of the earlier cries. Three men surrounded a fourth, who lay cowering on the ground. He was clearing no match for the others, looking much smaller and frailer than his attackers. Weak arms were wrapped around his head, vainly trying to ward off blows that rained down on him. Taunts and obscenities spewed forth from his assailants, who clearly held the advantage.
An awesome war cry swept through the clearing, causing heads to snap in her direction. The three bandits found themselves facing the charging warrior, sword upraised in challenge. One of the men turned tail and ran, too afraid for his skin, to remain. The remaining men stood firm, not sharing their fellow's sense of self preservation.
Drawing nearer she leapt into the air, bringing her sword down with a mighty thud onto the raised arm of one man. He screamed in pain as the force of the mighty blow radiated up his arm. Falling to the ground he clutched his rapidly swelling limb as tears spilled down his face. Realising that he was no longer a threat she turned her attention to her final challenger.
Rage filled the face of the man who stood before her. Madness shone through his eyes as his mouth curled into a vicious sneer. The brave warrior realised that this man would not be as easily dispatched as his henchmen. Suddenly the much larger man swung a fist, which would easily have smashed her jaw, had it made contact. With blinding speed a still larger hand clamped down on his shoulder, yanking him off balance and causing his fist to contact with nothing but air. He was spun to face the burning eyes of his new foe.
Eve stared, wide eyed, as the older boy stood quaking under the gaze of a royal guard. The guard was not very tall but radiated power and danger. She had the same sort of presence that Eve was used to seeing in her own mother. As the boy was led away to a corner, the little girl bent to help the hapless victim. As she crouched down, she could just make out the sounds of chastisement. Although she could not make out the words she was more than familiar with the tone, having heard it more than a time, or two, herself.
The boy on the floor looked to be not much taller than the six year old. He was almost painfully thin, his whole body shuddering as he waited for the next blow. A plaintiff whimper periodically escaped but it was so soft that the girl was unsure whether she had truly heard it. Even as the sound of the other boys running feet crept into her awareness she reached out to comfort the child. Cooing, as if to placate a scared colt, Eve reached out small fingers to help. As skin touched skin he flinched away as though burnt, leaving Eve confused and hurt.
Strong arms reached past the small girl, startling her, as they gathered up the frail form of the boy. As he was lifted from the ground and into the comforting embrace of the burley guard the boy began to relax. Eve watched, amazed, as the child seemed to blossom like a flower in the blonde's arms. His body visibly relaxed, uncurling his legs and wrapping his arms around her neck where he buried his face. Standing at her full height the soldier looked down at the petite brunette by her side as she unconsciously rocked the body in her arms.
"Now who might you be, little soldier?" The armour clad soldier wiggled her eyebrows at the girl, making her giggle.
"I'm Eve." For the first time the small child actually seemed shy, fidgeting with her leggings and not making eye contact with the adult.
"Well Eve, I'm Captain Mesella and this handsome young man that you so valiantly rescued is Prince Claudius." At the words the boy cautiously raised his head and made a weak attempt at a smile. Carefully securing the boy in her arms, she reached out her free hand to the dark child. Eve grasped it readily and allowed this strange adult to lead her towards the palace.
"Who were those other boys?"
"Caligula, the one who wanted to hit you, he's Claudius' cousin. Not a nice boy, you should keep away from him."
"Yeah!" The weak words were the first that the young prince had uttered but Eve knew that he wanted her to understand.
"OK. Where are we going?"
"You'll see!" With a wink that made Eve feel unaccountably safe, the trio made there way to the stables.
TBC in Chapter 9
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