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:
"I can't wait to get a look at the guard captain who's managed to so thoroughly capture our daughter's attention!" Ares grinned at his wife as he straightened his Roman garb.
Ever since their second day in the palace, Eve had been positively smitten by the youngest prince and the royal guard. For the first time in her brief life her attention was totally focused on one thing. She woke up each morning, dressed, kissed her parent's good bye and dashed to the stables or the garden. It amused both parents that she had at last found a firm friend in a boy who was such a total opposite to her.
The couple had been introduced to Claudius the day after the children had met and been surprised at his fragility. The slender blonde looked to be no older than their own child but was in reality four years her senior. His pallid cheeks and huge blue eyes, topped by golden curls made him look like an angel. His short stature did not seem stocky, as his fame was so slight. Next to Eve, a girl almost too tall for her age, topped with dark good looks, but with eyes oddly similar to the boys, they made a striking pair.
Eve seemed pleased that the little boy who she had rescued (and hadn't they heard that tale a time or ten already) was gaining in confidence around her. When she had first brought him to their rooms he had barely spoken and when he had it had been forced out through painful stammers. Now after only four days he was much more confident around them, babbling back and forth with Eve. His stammer was still present but almost seemed to be forgotten by both children, so involved were they in their pursuits. Xena just hoped that Eve would form as close a bond with her new brother or sister.
The adults were preparing themselves for a banquet in their honour. Although they had arrived days before this was the first opportunity that the young emperor had to greet them formally. There was a buzz around the palace as excitement had grown over the event. The people were pleased that the treaty which the emperor had been so diligently forging was completed and strong. There was also joy that the anniversary of his reign was to be celebrated. For Xena and Ares, as much as they wished to sit down and talk with Augustus, they were equally intrigued to finally meet the royal captain with whom their daughter was smitten.
"How do I look?" The warrior princess was wrapped in a bolt of sheer blue silk which went some way to disguising her burgeoning stomach.
"You look," Ares moved forward as he spoke wrapping his arms around her, "absolutely beautiful! I almost wish that we could forgo this evening and stay here."
"As tempting as that sounds, how often do we get to go out to a nice little party without having to keep tabs on Eve?" It was true that whenever they went out as a couple they took the rambunctious child, she would inevitably find trouble. She was spending this evening with the prince who was, apparently, not very welcome at public functions.
"You're right." They linked arms and made their way towards the banquet hall.
Joxer found himself overwhelmed by the sheer opulence of the dining room as he entered, alone. He had wanted to wait for his friends but realised that they might want to be together. Now, standing in the gaping doorway, throngs of people to his left and right laughing and joking, he felt strangely out of place. He almost jumped out of his skin when the chamberlain standing at the door announced his presence. So startled was he that he failed to notice the dark figure approaching him from below.
"Hey, Joxer, how are you?" The tall, powerfully built thief reached out a hand and clapped the gangly wannabe on the shoulder.
"Hi… Um… Hi, Autolycus. This is a little… Um." If he had looked up he would have noticed the other man grinning at him.
"It is, isn't it? What can you do, these Romans sure know how to party." Leading his friend out of the doorway and into the main body of the hall, he soon directed them to a tray of drinks. Grasping one he offered it to the agitated man. "So how you been?"
"Good, you know, righting wrongs. I still travel with Xena sometimes; you know she can't live without me! Actually, I'm sorta' thinking about asking Meg to marry me." A blush bloomed over his face with the confession.
"Well good for you. I'm sure you'll make a lovely couple." That was what he said, what he was actually thinking was that the fool would be lucky to survive that marriage. He could still vividly remember the baby debacle where he had first met the look-alike. The name Mister Stinky would forever be imprinted don his brain when he thought of her. How one woman could look so gorgeous and be so foul he would never be sure.
Joxer, now feeling more confident in the crowded room, allowed himself to take in the appearance his old friend. Autolycus looked good dressed in the robes of a nobleman. He seemed to fit in with the people around him and from the way people would look his way, smile and nod, he was clearly a big part of this world. His hair was still dark and thick, chin still strong. The only thing that he seemed to have given up with the passage of the last six years was a slight thickening of his waist. Looking once again at the face he had not seen since an extremely painful funeral, it suddenly hit him.
"Hay, where's your moustache?" Almost involuntarily the thief reached up as if to make the habitual smoothing gesture to the now deceased facial hair.
"Thought it was time I made a change, new life, new career, new look."
Any further comment was cut off as the Warrior and God walked into the room to much fanfare. These two were legendary and soon surrounded by a flock of people, all vying for their attention. Spotting their old friends, they ploughed through the crowd and headed towards them.
Sitting at the head table of the banqueting room, the four old friends awaited the arrival of their hosts, as well as the Goddess of Love. Piles of sumptuous food had already been laid before them, releasing tempting odours into the room. Mouths watered at every table as they waited expectantly for their leaders to arrive.
A sudden burst of pink heart s attracted the attention of all those gathered as Aphrodite appeared beside her seat. Smiling winningly at the assembled diners she took her seat with a flourish and received a round of applause from the gathered nobility. Almost as soon as she was seated beside Xena, the huge wooden doors swung open. A roar of fanfare and cheers rose up as the new arrivals became visible.
"Ladies, gentlemen and honoured guests, the rulers of the Empire; Emperor Augustus Caesar and Empress Livia." The voice of the chamberlain was almost totally drowned out by the noise in the room.
Making their way steadily to the massive table the elegantly dressed couple waved and nodded to the assembly, carefully avoiding a snub on any one group. Behind and around them a small cohort of guards kept a careful eye on the hall. Around the walls yet more guards were lined, keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Each guard was wearing ceremonial armour, bronze and leather shining in the torchlight. Tanned skin gleamed as deep a bronze, showing how well polished the guards themselves were. Each man, and woman, had their face hidden by the guards of their helmets which were adorned with flashy plumes. The captain of the guard kept to the Emperors shoulder, seemingly more vigilant than the rest.
Xena noticed Aphrodite's attention was firmly rooted on the captain, studying her every more. Her eyes too were drawn to the woman, her fascination partially based on her daughter's infatuation, but part of it she could not place. There was something familiar about the soldier that she just could not place. Before she had the opportunity to question the goddess, the royal couple were seated and the food was ready to be consumed. In the volley of chatter her attention became redirected by Augustus and soon she was too involved in eating to pay much more attention to the small soldier.
Hours had passed in the company of new and old friends and time had come for the royal couple to take their leave. Augustus waved over his captain who had been in quiet conversation with one of her lieutenants.
"Mesella, I want you to stay here. You're now officially off duty!" Seeing that the muscular figure was about to protest he held up a silencing hand. "That is an order from your Emperor! You and I both know that you will be up before dawn drilling the guards. Take off your helmet, have some wine and mingle!" Seeing that her leader was not about to back down she acquiesced without comment, nodding her thanks.
The royal couple made their way out of the grand room with the same fanfare as when they had entered. When the doors closed behind them and their careful entourage, the remaining guards in the room began to disperse into the crowd. The remaining revellers also began to leave, as they could no longer schmooze up to the emperor thus making their presence a chore. Seeing that the crowd was thinning Xena and Aphrodite moved to a pair of comfortable chairs and began talking about old times. However, Aphrodite's attention was clearly fixed on something at the centre of the room.
"Dite, what's on your mind?" A glass of red wine was brought to her lips.
"Look over there." Xena allowed her eyes to follow the path of the elegant finger. In her line of sight now stood the captain, still wearing her helmet.
"What has you so fascinated with her? Have you decided your tastes run to…" Before she could finish the small, stocky warrior pulled off her headpiece.
Xena's wine glass crashed to the floor, falling from nerveless fingers. She was transfixed by the sight of piercing green eyes and short blond hair. A cherubic face looked blankly towards the sound of shattering glass before moving over the two women in the corner. With no sense of recognition she moved towards a serving girl and began to speak animatedly.
Aphrodite turned troubled eyes to the woman at her side who sat stunned. Her eyes were fixed on the soldier, her breathing ragged. As a delicate hand was placed on her shoulder the brunette suddenly blinked and focused on the goddess.
"Gabrielle." It was a whisper.
TBC in Chapter 10
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