Relativity Theory

This story takes place right after Many Happy Returns, and before Friend In Need

Read the following statement: Xena and Ares have had a smoking sexual tension type of relationship going on for years, but Ares is very probably Xena’s daddy. If this statement makes you want to whimper and crawl underneath your desk, you might want to give this story a miss. If, however, you can take it in a “Greek Gods will be Greek Gods” kinda way, read on.

This story contains references to romantic and sexual actions between two women. Nothing graphic, but plenty suggestive, to the point of being downright bawdy, much more so than I originally intended, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your tastes. Reader discretion is advised.

All characters belong to Renaissance Pictures and Studios USA. No copyright infringement is intended.

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Xena lazily circled over the cliff face, enjoying the view, the play of light and shadow over the rock and the sea as they were struck by the first rays of dawn, and the exhilarating feeling of sustained and limitless flight, knowing that she might not have the chance to feel quite so perfectly happy and free again, as she would need to turn in the Helmet of Hermes to Aphrodite as soon as the sun had risen fully. Reluctantly, Xena slowly glided in for a landing.

As her feet touched the earth, Xena turned to the precious cargo she held cradled in her arms. Her soulmate was sound asleep, her head resting on Xena’s shoulder, her features relaxed in an expression of complete peace and contentment. Now that was a view Xena would never grow tired of watching. In sleep, Gabrielle’s face often assumed a sweet, childlike innocence, as it did this morning, and it never failed to touch Xena deeply, down to the very depths of her soul.

Which was a bit ironic, since earlier that evening Gabrielle had been thoroughly engaged in quite a few activities that were the very antithesis of the words “innocent” and “childlike.” Hence her current exhausted condition. Xena smiled down on her soulmate. My little trapeze artist. Xena would never have guessed that poetry would inspire her bard to do, well, those kinds of things. It made Xena wish she’d figured that out sooner, because if she had, well, there’d have been quite a few starving poets in the world who would’ve suddenly got a nice regular source of income, thanks to her. Xena was feeling pretty exhausted herself. She’d spent the first half the night being imaginatively and thoroughly thanked for the birthday gift she’d given her lover, and the second half of the night scouring the shores of the Aegean Sea, trying to figure out where all their clothes had landed.

Incredibly enough, they actually managed to find most of them and don them midair, which was difficult and tiring and not nearly as much fun as losing them in the first place, so Xena wasn’t surprised that her bard had nodded off on the way back.

Xena looked around her. There was no sign of Aphrodite anywhere, so maybe they could both get some rest. But as the warrior began to gently lower her soulmate down to their bedroll, Gabrielle sighed softly, and her eyes fluttered open.

“Hey there, sleepyhead,” Xena murmured gently, and was rewarded with a shy, adoring smile, as her lover gazed up at her through beautiful sea-green eyes. As many times as Xena saw that look, every time it happened she simply couldn’t believe that look was for her.

“Last night was wonderful,” said Gabrielle. “That was the best birthday present I’ve ever had.”

“It was the least you deserved, for putting up with me and my pranks all day.”

That earned her a wry look from her soulmate. “Things could get pretty dull around here without your sense of humor to liven things up. I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

Xena was about to remark that of all the dangers they faced in life, dying of boredom was definitely not one of them, at least not as long as she kept traveling around with a certain cute blonde trouble-magnet, when, as if on cue, trouble arrived, in a bright flash of light and a golden shower of sparkles.

“Well, good moooooorn-innnnnng!” sang the goddess Aphrodite. She was the very picture of good cheer, grinning mischievously at them, and twirling a bright red cloth between her fingers. “Hermes is going to need his helmet back, though I think that kind of a shame, y’know.” Aphrodite favored the two lovers with a sly wink. “You two put it to much better use.”

It was at this point that Gabrielle began to notice that the red cloth Aphrodite was flipping about, in a suspiciously too-casual fashion, was unsettlingly familiar.

“Aphrodite, what’s that you’ve got there?”

“Got where?” Aphrodite was now demonstrating her mastery of the art of pretending-to-look-innocent-and-deliberately-not-succeeding.

“In your hand. The red thing in your hand. Your left hand,” Gabrielle said, as the goddess made several seemingly-bewildered glances in every direction except for the most obvious one. Gabrielle had the sinking suspicion that she was about to be thoroughly teased and embarrassed by a being who had centuries to perfect the art.

“Oh, this?” Aphrodite stopped twirling the cloth, and held it up for inspection. Truthfully, there wasn’t much you could say about the object in question, other than that it was very lacy and there wasn’t much of it.

Gabrielle regarded the garment with a look of pure dread. The sinking feeling she had was confirmed both by the fact that she recognized the cloth, and the fact the she’d just realized that a certain portion of her anatomy was feeling just a bit draftier than usual.

“Aiiigh! Aphrodite, put that away! Where did you get that?” Gabrielle was turning a shade of red that almost matched her panties.

“Weeeellll, that’s kinda a funny story,” said Aphrodite, determined to savor every minute of this. “I was feeling kinda jazzed after all the fuss and hullabaloo we had yesterday, so I thought, ‘What better way to calm down than to take a nice moonlight swim, maybe catch some waves, out on the ocean at night, when it’s all nice and peaceful,’ when all of a sudden, I hear these really odd noises coming from up in the air, and I’m thinking, ‘I never heard a seagull make a sound like that,’ so I look up, and what should come dropping out of the sky but these.” Aphrodite directed a cute little smirk at the thoroughly flustered bard. “These wouldn’t be yours, now, would they?”

“Ohhhh, I’m gonna die!” Gabrielle buried her face in Xena’s shoulder. Xena felt sympathetic, but not so sympathetic that she’d tell the love goddess to lay off. Plus, Gabrielle was extremely cute when she was embarrassed.

Aphrodite burst out laughing. Gabrielle was soooo cute when she was embarrassed! “Well, aren’t we just Little Miss Modest today? You weren’t nearly so shy yesterday, when you were scandalizing young virgin sacrifices.”

“That was... bathing. That’s normal. That’s different from getting caught doing...,” the normally loquacious bard was finding herself at a loss for words, or at least words she’d use in public, “...doing.... ....doing that,” finished Gabrielle, and the thought of discussing that out loud, even in the vaguest of terms, turned Gabrielle’s blush to an even deeper shade of scarlet.

Xena remembered that. That had been a sudden, unexpected, and extremely inventive maneuver that had startled the living daylights out of her and had come within a hair’s breath of knocking the Helmet of Hermes right off her head. Damn near got them both killed. Xena grinned at the memory. Woulda been worth it, though. They would’ve both died smiling, that’s for damn sure.

Aphrodite snorted, “Honey, I’ve seen more varieties of that than you can ever hope to see in your limited lifetime,” the love goddess paused before adding with a wicked grin, “though that’s definitely not due to a lack of effort on your part.”

Gabrielle steeled herself, and gathered the remains of her shredded dignity around her. “Are you done tormenting me yet? Can I have my panties back now?”

Aphrodite now assumed an expression of wounded innocence, that once again was hugely unconvincing. “Well, that’s a fine way to say ‘thank you.’ I went to all this trouble to return these very nice and expensive silk things to you, which I’m sure have all sorts of special memories for you, and that’s the reception I get?” Aphrodite sighed dramatically and tossed Gabrielle’s underwear back to the bard. “It’s just the fate of the Goddess of Love to be forever unappreciated.”

Gabrielle caught the lacy red silk, and, after realizing that she had no pockets, and that there was only one place she could put them where they wouldn’t be be out in the open, and be a further incitement for teasing, stepped into them and slid them up underneath her skirt, an operation that was watched with varying degrees of interest from the members of her audience. Gabrielle turned to Xena, her hands on her hips, and cocked an eyebrow at Xena. “Enjoy the show?”

Xena just grinned. She had, in fact, enjoyed the show immensely, but knew better than to gloat about it. She was currently reevaluating her immediate need for sleep, possibly to be rescheduled in favor of other activities as soon as Aphrodite left.

Aphrodite piped up, “Hel-looo-oooo? Seeing as I’ve just returned something of yours, there’s a little item you’ve got of mine, and it’s getting to be about that time...”

Xena paused, then remembered. “Oh, right--the helmet!” Reluctantly, she removed the helmet, and was unable to squelch a profound feeling of loss as she did so. Nothing compared to the complete uninhibited freedom of personal flight, not even when she was a Valkyrie, riding a flying horse--even that didn’t fully compare.

“Oh, quit pouting,” said Aphrodite as she took back the helmet. “It’s not like they’re gonna revoke your membership in the Mile High Club or anything.”

Xena stopped pouting and started glaring. “I do not pout!”

“Mile High Club?” Gabrielle was confused. “What’s the Mile High...” Gabrielle blushed as she figured it out. “Oh... right. Wait--there’s a club for that? Who else is in it? I mean, who could be in it?”

“Oh, a buncha gods, some Valkyries, Perseus and Andromeda, some other folks you wouldn’t have heard of, you know.” Aphrodite tucked the helmet under her arm. “Look, if you wanna make this an annual thing, a special birthday treat for the little one, I could see my way clear to loaning it out to you guys--If you ask nicely.”

“It’s not just that,” said Xena, who was not, repeat, not pouting. “It’s just that this thing could be really useful.” Xena noticed the love goddesses huge smirk at that last statement. “For life or death situations, I mean. Especially given this one’s,” with a gesture at her soulmate, “tendency to go falling off things. I mean, into rabbit holes, off cliffs, into Hell--you name it. I mean, if Ares hadn’t caught her that one time with the lava pit, I don’t know what I’d be...”

“Ares? What? Xena, what are you talking about?” Gabrielle regarded her friend with a look of pure bewilderment. “Ares didn’t catch me--I hit a ledge, remember?”

Xena sighed. She really was exhausted. She really never intended to let Gabrielle know about that. Gabrielle’s memories of that time were painful enough as it was. There was no need to add more trauma to them. But the cat was out of the bag now, and there was nothing else to do except come clean.

“That’s all you remember because Ares wiped your memories after he saved you and put you back in Potedaia...”

“What? That doesn’t make sense. It was Ares’ idea to have me take out Hope in the first place. I remember at that point he really wanted me out of the way. Why would he then turn around and save me?” Gabrielle was truly perplexed now.

“No, Ares wanted to save Hope, she was carrying his kid, so he grabbed you both, and...”

“Xena, I saw Hope hit the lava.”

“That was put in your mind by Ares.”

“No, I ran into Hope later on in Potedaia, and she said that she was caught by the fire, but the fire was really Dahak, and...”

“AAAAIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!!” Both Xena and Gabrielle stopped arguing and swiveled to face the source of the terrible, earsplitting noise, to find a truly and mightily pissed-off Goddess of Love. Her face was bright red, and golden energy crackled and sparked off her. One of the golden bolts hit a poor innocent nearby woodland creature, who immediately ran off and started mating frantically with some nearby shrubbery.

Aphrodite was visibly shaking, with a fury that neither of the two heroes had ever seen her display before. “That... that RAT! That... creepy... rotten... disgusting... great big...” Aphrodite paused, as she racked her brain for a word nasty enough to appropriately describe her brother, but she couldn’t find one, so she had to settle. “Great big.... JERK!” The final expletive set off a matching energy explosion from the goddess, and a nearby tree began pollinating like there was no tomorrow.

The two heroes stood staring with silent amazement at this outburst, and neither was quite sure what to say. Gabrielle, self-appointed Head of Sensitive Chats, decided to go first. “Aphrodite, is there something bothering you?”

Aphrodite wasn’t paying much attention. “After all that trouble I went to, he goes and just takes all my credit. Like it was easy to turn myself into a gust of wind and blow a falling bard onto a nearby ledge at just the right moment? And digging a tunnel through all that rock and up to the surface while she was all passed out--that was so gross. I ruined three, three whole outfits and got about six feet before I had to ask Hephy to finish it for me--he liked that stuff anyway. But I can’t believe that... that LOSER would just go around... why I’ve got half a mind to...”

Realization hit Xena like a ton of bricks. “That BASTARD! He TRICKED me! And I FELL for it! That no-good, son of a bacchae...” And here Xena began to list a series of word that accurately described the God of War in great detail. Unlike Aphrodite, Xena’s vocabulary did not fail her in the slightest.

Gabrielle just stood there in total bewilderment. The only coherent thought she was capable of forming at the moment was that she really needed to have a talk with Xena about her language. Those were Doric curses she was using, but she was saying them with an Ionian rhythm. That would simply never do, but right now did not seem like the best time to bring this up, or say anything, really. Gabrielle waited for both women to calm down.

After a few minutes, Aphrodite was no longer shooting off sparks, and Xena had ceased cursing in favor of repeatedly smacking herself in the skull with the heel of her hand and muttering, “Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid...” like a mantra. Gabrielle approached the still-fuming goddess with her first question. “Aphrodite, you saved me from the pit? I’m very, very grateful for that, but why did you do it? As I remember, we weren’t exactly on the best of terms, back then.”

“Yeah, SO? Like I’m going to let my own daughter get all burnt to a crisp over a silly little thing like a stolen diamond? Sha, RIGHT! Geez, do you really think I’d be that shallow?”

Aphrodite indignantly crossed her arms, tossed her head, and waited for an apology. Mortals could just be so ungrateful sometimes. There was a long silence, and the goddess was beginning to get irritated again. Mortals could also be incredibly dense. “WELL?” She turned to confront Gabrielle face-to-face...

...and was confronted with an expression on the bard’s face she’d simply never seen before. It looked like Gabrielle’s brain was on overload. Aphrodite looked at Xena, only to find the warrior’s countenance similarly arrayed. Puzzled, she extended her senses. Nope, there weren’t any magicks or enchantments around, and if either of them had been hit with stray love sparks, she’d know, so what could...

Gabrielle finally regained some of her powers of speech, enough for a stammering, “M-Mom?”

Aphrodite winced, looked about apologetically, her hands flying to her lips. She hadn’t meant to let that slip. “Oopsie!”

Mom?” It really wasn’t the most intelligent conversation the bard had ever had, but it was really the best she was capable of, considering the circumstances.

“Pookie!” Aphrodite threw her arms wide, and rushed over to embrace her daughter. If her secret was out, she might as well make the most of it.

As well as she could, Gabrielle commanded her arms to hug her mother back, but her brain was still reeling from the shock. “B-but, how is that possible? I mean, you never... I never thought...”

“You know, that would explain few things.” Xena’s analytical mind had recovered already and was working overtime. Actually, it would explain eight or nine things, most of them from last night, that a prim and proper lass raised in straight-laced Potedaia had no business doing that well, but those weren’t the things she was thinking of. Well, they weren’t all the things she was thinking of. They weren’t the things she’d discuss out loud. In mixed company.

“What are you grinning about?” Gabrielle had a fair idea what the answer to her question was, but she really wasn’t in the mood for any of that right now.

“Uh, well--Y’know, I always thought it was odd that Lila never looked much like you, and you said you never fit in at Potedaia. Aphodite's the most beautiful goddess there is, and you’re the most beautiful mortal woman in the world by far, hell, you had almost the entire male and female Nordic population throwing themselves through a wall of fire to get to you, though I think part of that’s due to the fact that at the time, you had actually gone a whole year without saying anything, that probably fooled ‘em...” Xena trailed off as she realized she was digging a hole for herself that would be very hard to climb out of.

Gabrielle automatically threw a glare Xena’s way, but she was still too stunned to put much heart into it. She was struggling to mentally reconstruct her life, as everything she ever believed about herself and her roots now seemed to waver in a state of uncertainty. She needed to reorient herself, she needed to know the truth, but the enormity of what she’d just learned was such that she found herself unable to even form a question that could lead to the answer she needed.

Xena, on the other hand, was less overwhelmed, and was used to working under pressure. She turned and queried the goddess, “So, why did ya keep this a secret for so long? Why are we just hearing about this now?”

Now it was Aphrodite’s turn to look embarrassed. “Hey, now--remember, I’m the Goddess of Love, all right? I mean, if kept perfect tabs on every measly little kid I’ve had over the millennia, why--I’d never get anything done. It’s a rough job, okay?”

“Aphrodite!” Gabrielle was shocked, and turned on the goddess, temper flaring. “Are you saying you abandoned me and just forgot? That’s the most thoughtless thing I’ve ever heard! I can’t believe even you would be so selfish. How can you abandon your child like that and still call yourself a mother? How COULD you?”

Aphrodite’s face tightened into a stiff mask, as she responded with a terse, “Look who’s talking.”

It was like she had been physically struck. Gabrielle’s face turned ashen, and she felt her guts churn. Xena automatic reaction to leap to her soulmate’s defense was short-circuited by the sudden reminder that the whole Hope debacle was partially her fault, which led to the memories of how she ended up abandoning both her children, with disastrous results in both cases.

The three of them stood staring at each other, each caught up in their own private hurt. Aphrodite broke down first, and Gabrielle rushed over to comfort her, and Xena followed last, wrapping her arms around them both.

“I’m sorry, Pookie, I didn’t mean...”

“No, you’re right, I was being judgmental, but I did the same thing with Hope, and she was my child...”

“Sweetheart, you had to do what you did, to keep me from getting at her, I didn’t give you any choice...”

“But Xena, I should have listened...”

“No, no--you two,” Aphrodite began to take deep breaths, trying to regain her composure, “This is still the Little One’s birthday. It’s her party and she can cry if she wants to. It’s supposed to be a happy day and I’m just dumping tons of stress on her with all this news.

“I’m okay, I’m just a little confused... I mean... how could you lose your... I mean, I’m sure there’s a reason...” Gabrielle paused, the typically loquacious bard once again at a loss for words, not wanting to ask her question in a way that would sound like she was accusing the goddess of anything.

“It’s okay, you can say it--how could I lose you? Well, I’ve got an explanation. I mean, I may be blonde, but I’m not that blonde. You see, your daddy was a mortal, and when that happens, the kids could either be mortal, or immortal, and there’s know way of knowing which way they’ll turn out beforehand. Well, you turned out mortal, and while you were soooo cute and soooo precious,” (At this point Aphrodite directed a huge smile at her daughter, which prompted a smile in return, which prompted Xena to think that ‘Dite’s description was still perfectly accurate even today) “but for a mortal kid to be raised on Olympus--well, it’s not allowed, and even if it was, it just wouldn’t be safe at all. So, though it was hard, I gave you back to your daddy, so you could be raised safely among mortals.”

Xena regarded Aphrodite with mild surprise. “So, you and Herodotus? I wouldn’t have pictured that, but I suppose in his youth...”

Aphrodite stared goggle-eyed at Xena for a full thirty seconds before bursting out in hysterical laughter. “HERODOTUS! Like I would actually...” the love goddess’ next words were swallowed up by another laughing fit. Gabrielle had to smile herself, as she couldn’t see that pairing happening herself in a million years. Of course, she could hardly fathom the idea of her adoptive parents ever having sex with anyone, including each other. Sometimes she wonder how they even managed to have two children. The answer being, she now realized, that they hadn’t.

Xena glared at the goddess, but it wasn’t one of her more effective or intimidating glares. She didn’t appreciated being laughed at by anyone, except maybe Gabrielle, but she was trying to take it in good humor. “All right, so who is the father, then?”

“Gabrielle’s father was a poet. A verrry good poet. Specializing in love poems, and let me tell you, there ain’t nothing that can get my motor running like a nice, passionate, eloquent love poem. Gets me every time. I’m just a sucker for ‘em.” Aphrodite let out a sensual shiver at the memory.

“Heh. Runs in the family,” said Xena, as she grinned wolfishly at Gabrielle, who started blushing furiously.

“Uh... well, right... Wait, if I’m not really related to Herodotus or Hecuba, why did they raise me?” Gabrielle was eager to change the subject, as she didn’t like the details of her sex life made public, which is why she never put them in her scrolls, and she didn’t want them discussed in front of her mom, even if she was the Goddess of Love. “What happened to my real dad?”

Aphrodite sighed, “Well he got sick, and died, like you mortals often do.” The goddess didn’t like this subject at all, because it reminded her of the frailty of the two people with whom she was talking. One day, the same thing would happen to the both of them, as well, and she’d be all alone. It was so much easier to think of mortals as pawns or playthings. That way, it didn’t hurt so bad when Celesta came for them. But the little one had a way of making it impossible to not care. There was just something about the young bard--surely part of it was inherited from her mother, thought Aphrodite with no small amount of pride, but part of it was a completely ineffable quality that the goddess simply couldn’t explain. And as for the father... Aphrodite interrupted her musings with the realization that she had let her thoughts go way off-track. What had she been saying? “Yes. Well, anyway, by the time I found out about it, Pookie here had already been adopted, and her parents seemed... well, okay--aside from being really dull, so I figured she was best where she was. But the only problem is, her new family was like, really strict. And they didn’t trust strangers at all, so I could only go visit now and then, and I had to do it in disguise, and you know, for us gods, we just measure time much differently than you mortals do. You know, you think to yourself, I’ll do it first thing tomorrow, and then tomorrow comes, and then there’s whole ton of other stuff to do, so you say, this time I’ll really do it tomorrow... and, you know... time just flies.” Aphrodite sighed. “The last time I saw you, you know, before--you were 11 or 12.”

Gabrielle thought for a minute, then her eyes went wide. “I remember that. That strange old woman who knew all this stuff about me--that was you?” The goddess nodded, and Gabrielle continued reminiscing. “You were really nice, and I told you a story. It was one of my first. It was about a woman who had a flying horse, and she flew the horse up to visit the stars in the sky. The woman was beautiful, hair as black as a raven’s wing, and eyes as blue and cold as ice. Everyone said she was cruel and cold-hearted, but she only acted that way because she was sad and lonely inside. She flew up to the stars to hear them sing, because she heard that if you could listen to the starsong it would tell you how to find your one true love. I had completely forgotten that until today.” Gabrielle looked over at Xena and smiled, “Beautiful, blue-eyed and dark-haired. And years later, the hero from my childhood fantasies comes to life and saves me from slavers. It’s no wonder I dropped everything and followed you.”

Xena smiled, but her brain was demanding her immediate attention, as it usually did whenever it found a connection, a pattern, that might be important. Gabrielle was about 16 when they first met, so when Gabrielle was 11 or 12 Xena would have been...

...In the Northlands. With the Valkyries. Riding a flying horse. Back then she had been cruel and bloodthirsty. Had she really been sad and lonely? And then Xena remembered. The one activity she truly loved back then, other than warfare, was the simple thrill of riding a flying horse, which she’d do for hours, long into the night. And one night she flew higher than she’d ever had before, so that even Valhalla seemed small in the distance below her. And up above her she saw the stars, and she’d had the sudden, almost overwhelming urge to fly up to those stars, at the time, she’d thought, just to see if she could. She’d circled at that great height for a very long time before finally, she’d thought to herself, come to her senses and headed back, to complete her plans to steal the Rheingold, and gain ultimate power, which was far more important than possibly killing herself for no real reason other than childish curiosity.

But now Xena wondered, had the stars actually been singing to her, very faintly, just below the edge of her hearing? If she had flown higher, would she have heard the full song? At would it have told her of a beautiful young maiden, the daughter of the Goddess of Love, who lived in a small town in Greece, with green eyes and blonde hair, who was dreaming of her and waiting for her and loved her even then? Xena’s reverie was interrupted as her soulmate continued her questioning.

“So you didn’t recognize me the next time you saw me?” Gabrielle still found this hard to believe.

“Of course I didn’t! You had already been with Xena for, what, over a year already? You had grown up sooo much. Like, I’m supposed to see this buffed, staff-swinging Amazon chick I meet in Amphis, and immediately connect that with the cute, precocious little peasant girl I left all the way over in stuffy, provincial little Potedaia? I may be a god, but that’s a stretch even for me.”

Gabrielle grinned ruefully, remembering just how much she’d changed over the years. Sometimes she could barely believe it herself. But still... “The name ‘Gabrielle’ wasn’t a tip-off?” Gabrielle knew her name was really unique in this region, and she had never met another woman that shared it.

Aphrodite snorted, “’Gabrielle’ isn’t your real name, it’s just the name Hecuba and Herodotus gave you. When you were born, I named you Amaltheia, and that’s how I always thought of you. I’d be, like, ‘I wonder how little Amaltheia is doing,’ or I’d sneak out and watch you, and I’d be, like, ‘There’s my little Amaltheia.’ So when I run into this ‘Gabrielle’ chick conking baddies over the head with a great big stick...” Aphrodite trailed of with a shrug of her elegant shoulders, and an expression that said, “Who knew?”

Gabrielle’s expression was unreadable. “You named me Amaltheia?” The name was oddly familiar. Gabrielle searched her memory, and in her bardic repertoire found the reference, to the story of Zeus’ childhood, when he had to be hidden from his father, Kronos, and was spirited away to the isle of Crete, and was nursed to manhood by a magic fairy... “A goat? You named me after a GOAT?”

Aphrodite giggled with delight. “Yes! Isn’t it a great name?”

“Umm... It’s really... well,” Gabrielle was rapidly searching her vocabulary for just the right word to describe her birth name, but even though she had a huge vocabulary, the right word was not making itself known.

“Just fabulous, right?” Aphrodite was delighted. “Now, I know you’ve been using ‘Gabrielle’ for, like, your whole life, but now that you know what your real name....”


“What, don’t you think it’s...”


“Well, what if..”


“Not even if it’s just the two of us, and...”

“Not even.” Gabrielle hated to be harsh, but nobody was calling her a goat.

Xena smirked. New ammo. “I dunno, Amaltheia, I think it kinda...”

Gabrielle whirled on her soulmate. “Don’t You Even Start!

The warrior knew her partner well, and she had learned what that tone of voice meant. It meant that continuing down this path would surely bring her far more misery that amusement, so she quickly retreated from her “wicked, smirking look” to a “neutral innocent” look. Her retreat was noted with disgust by a disappointed Goddess of Love, who had placed great hopes on this new ally, only to have them crushed by Xena’s near-instantaneous withdrawal. Aphrodite saluted Xena’s retirement from the field by waving her hand and making “whip-cracking” sound effects.

The bard felt it was time for a change in subject. “But, even with the name-change, eventually you figured it out, and a while ago, too. Because you did know who I was when you caught me in the lava pit, right?”

“Uh-huh. It was, like, right before then, when we all had that leetle misunderstanding about that mystic diamond thing, and I kinda sorta put just a bit of a spell on the both of you?”

“Oh, yeah--that was so embarrassing!” Gabrielle shook her head at the memory. “Xena couldn’t stop fishing, and I got completely obsessed with myself. I turned into the hugest egomaniac on the planet.”

“And you were soooo good at it!” Aphrodite beamed at her daughter with pride. “I saw that and I said to myself, ‘Damn--since when did she get that kinda style?’ I mean, honey, you were just smokin’ up the wilderness with that routine. It was great! And that poem--no--that song you did... How did it go again?”

Gabrielle, the legendary bard, grimaced as she recalled what she considered to be the absolute lowest point of her bardic career. “Uh, I can’t really remember now, plus...”

Xena knew an entrance cue when she heard one. “Ohhhhhhhh....”

“Xena! Don’t you dare...”

Wrong tone of voice, gotta say it like you mean it, Xena thought with a smirk as she started to sing, “Listen to m’story ‘bout Gab-ri-elle,”

Aphrodite recognized the tune and joined in on the next line, “Cute little gal that’s lookin’ really swell,”

The bard knew it was futile, but she couldn’t keep from trying, “It's okay, guys, I remem...”

The poetic carnage continued, “Perfect hair, such a lovely lass,”
(with extra gusto for the finale) “Nice round breasts and a firm young...”

“GUYS!” Gabrielle was beside herself with embarrassment.

“What? We were really groovin’ there, what’s the problem here?” Aphrodite loved her daughter, but she could be such a killjoy sometimes. I blame her upbringing.

“Xena,” the exasperated bard said as she faced her partner, “Out of all the years we’ve been together, and with all the poems I’ve written over those years, that has to be the one poem you remember?”

“I like it. It’s catchy. And it rhymes. And,” the warrior added with a leer, “it’s completely true.”

“And,” said Aphrodite, “It’s so completely me. When I heard that song, I knew something was up. You don’t get that kinda style from nowhere. So I thought really hard, you know, and I remembered--hey, Amaltheia’s that age, could it even be possible... and I had to make sure, so I popped on over to Podunk--Potedaia, I mean, and you weren’t there, and then I knew. And that Herodotus person was really rude when I asked about you, Gabs, and he said some things about Xena that weren’t nice at all. And... Xena, I can’t believe you’d really think that I’d actually sleep with that man. I mean, give me some credit here--I do have my standards.”

Xena would have replied, but she had a sudden coughing fit, only the coughs ended up sounding a lot like “Caligula!”

“Oh, ew! Okay, like, maybe if I was totally unbalanced and completely out of my mind,” the goddess wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Truth be told, I don’t even know how that happened. I can barely remember anything from around that time. I’ve got no idea about what I could’ve being doing. Probably some wild stuff.”

“Oh, I’ll say,” Gabrielle chimed in. “Why at one point, you even tried to...”
Gabrielle’s voice trailed off, and her face suddenly went white as a sheet. “Oh! Ugh! Ew! Ew! Ewwwwwwww....” The mortified bard clawed at her tongue, trying to clean it off, but it wasn’t working, “Gross! That is so gross, I can’t even... Aaaaaaaiggghh!”

And then, driven by a sudden urge for some serious time-out in private, Gabrielle ran to the edge of the clearing, and dived into some nearby shrubbery, dislodging a startled and exhausted shrubberphiliac rodent, who had to shuffle off in search of another bush.

Xena and Aphrodite both stood and stared at the now bard-laden shrubbery, utterly baffled by Gabrielle’s outburst. Aphrodite recovered first. “’Ew’?” she said in voice that was little more than a whisper, “She finds out I’m her mom and she says, ‘Ew?’ She... she thinks I’m gross?”

Xena could see where this was going, and she didn’t want it to get there. “Aphrodite, I’m very sure that that’s not what she was upset about...”

But Aphrodite was on a roll. “I knew it! I mean, you guys always treat me like an annoyance. I know you don’t respect me, you never have! I mean, most mortals, when they meet a god, they’re just fawning all over you from word one. But you guys never did that, neither of you. And okay, maybe in the beginning, for a while there, you had some reasons, but I’ve been good lately, haven’t I?”

“Yes, you have. And I’m sure...”

“I mean, I know I screwed up sometimes, but I was so trying to help. Okay, flipping your spirit into the body of that little kid was a serious screw-up, I’ll admit it, and I’m sorry I lost that little virgin at the market, but didn’t it turn out all right? I mean, I’ve got a big, serious job here, keeping love going for the whole world. Does that sound easy to you? I lost my job once, and NEITHER of you liked it AT ALL. Some APPRECIATION wouldn’t HURT. Just a teeny, tiny, little bit of...” And at this bit, the goddess’ voice changed to a choked-up squeak, right before she ran to Xena, wrapped her arms around her, and began sobbing on her shoulder.

Xena was out of her element. Before she met Gabrielle, having someone turn to her for comfort in this fashion was an alien and awkward experience. And now, she was discovering that having someone who was not Gabrielle sob on her shoulder was just nearly as awkward. And as much as she’d like to argue otherwise, Gabrielle really was better at the sensitive chat thing. And Gabrielle was always better at handling Aphrodite than she ever was, for reasons that were now obvious. Still, a warrior had to try.

“Okay, now. That’s okay. Let it out, go ahead. Just let it all out. Come on, deep breaths, can you give me some good, deep breaths?” Xena relaxed a bit, as the goddess began to calm down. Aphrodite gestured, and a filmy hanky appeared from nowhere. She put it to her nose, and blew a great honking blast into it. She tossed the hanky aside, and it dematerialized, gone from whence it came. For some reason, doing that sort of thing is always reassuring on some level, even for a goddess, so she did it again. That brought her almost back to normal, and she helped the rest of her tears to dry by fanning herself with her hands. Then, the goddess leaned against, well, her daughter-in-law, though she hadn’t thought of it that way before, and sighed.

“Xena, why doesn’t my daughter like me?’

“I told you, she does, just...”

“Just not as a mother, though, huh?”

“I don’t think that’s it, I... I don’t know exactly what got into to her, but it was something about Caligula... You know, Gabrielle had a pretty conservative upbringing, it’s easy to forget that now, but it comes out sometimes. I think the thought of her mom and Caligula, you know--doing the nasty, I think that’s what freaked her out. She doesn’t even like to think of her pa--of Herodotus and Hecuba having any kind of sex. She said to me once, ‘Xena, my parents have had sex twice, once for Lila, and once for me. That’s it.’”

Aphrodite snorted, “Where those two are concerned, she wasn’t inaccurate. She was only off by one.”

The warrior tried to control her astonishment. “What? You gotta be kidding...”

The goddess shook her her head and rolled her eyes.


A nod.

“And that was Lila?’


“And never again?”

“Just the once.” This wasn’t a favorite topic of the goddess. There were few things she hated worse than squandered resources.

“No wonder they were so grumpy-looking every time I ran into ‘em,” Xena still had to control her amazement. “Well, when you consider all that, the fact that I’ve got a sex life at all now is a furkin’ miracle.”

Aphrodite sniffed. “You are, like, so welcome.” She let out a sigh. “I still don’t think she respects me at all. I tried, a lot, but never could figure out how to, you know, do something that would really... really make her proud. And then, when I’d done that, I could tell her, but...” the goddess trailed off, and Xena sensed another crying jag approaching.

“Aphrodite, why don’t you take a rest while I go see what’s really bothering Gabrielle, okay? We’ll come call you after we’ve all calmed down and gotten some sleep, and I’m sure Gabrielle will be happy to catch up with her mom then. All right?” Xena was seriously hoping that it was all right, she wasn’t sure if she could deal with another outburst.

“Okay,” Aphrodite sniffed, “I’ll just be... (sniff)... waiting... (sniff)... in one of my temples... (sniffle)... by myself... (choke)... All Alone.” The last bit was delivered in that squeaky voice that Xena now knew to be the preface for another of the love goddess’ crying fits, but fortunately, Aphrodite popped out to wherever she was headed before the warrior had to deal with it.

The warrior took a breather, and focused on the point where her soulmate was still moaning in the shrubbery. Xena grimaced and steeled herself for the task ahead. Two sensitive chats. In one morning. Back-to-back. With no break in between. Well, no one ever said the course of true love would ever be a smooth one.

Xena sidled up to the bard-filled vegetation. She waited a minute, then figured she’d have to start this off after all. “So, wanna talk about it?”

“No,” mumbled the grouchy hedge.

“Oh. Oh, well--okay then. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.” Xena carefully kept any amount of amusement from her voice. She’d traveled with her soulmate for over six years, she knew her better than that. The warrior started counting off the seconds that her partner actually managed to stay quiet for. She got up to “six hippopotamus” before Gabrielle’s resolve went out.

“Xena, it’s like... well, you know, how you meet someone, and you get to know them, and you think of them in a certain way, and then you learn that they’re completely different from how you thought, and it’s... you just don’t know how to act around them any more.”

“Well, yeah, I could see how that could be rough on a person.” Xena remained patient. She could sense there was a lot more to it than that, or her lover wouldn’t be so distraught.

“And, well... we’ve been, you know, hanging out together lately, and... I mean, there are things you shouldn’t be doing with your own mother, and...” Gabrielle was struggling to put her confusion into words. “I mean, Xena, we’ve gone oil wrestling together!”

Xena’s train of thought had a complete and abrupt derailment. “You did what together?”

“Oil wrestling. And really, that’s just not a proper mother-daughter activity.” Gabrielle paused, she was trying to gently ease herself into saying the horrible truth she knew she’d have to face up to. “I mean, I’m not blind. I had noticed that Aphrodite had sort of begun to take an... interest in me lately. Which is a total change from how she used to be. When we first met, she looked down her nose at me. She thought I was this completely naive kid.”

Xena was looking a little hurt. “You never asked me to go oil wrestling with you.”

“Xena, it was no big deal. What I’m trying to say is, for a while now, Aphrodite and I have been pretty close, not as close as you and I are, of course. But still, she’s really been making sort of, you know, this extra effort to hang around with me and... um...”

The warrior had her arms crossed and was muttering to her boots, “I might’ve liked to do some wrestling too. I happen to be a very good wrestler. Over six years we’ve been together, and just once, she might’ve turned around and said to me, ‘Hey, Xena--there’s this hobby I’ve got, and...’”

“XENA!” Gabrielle’s annoyed head shot up from underneath the shrubbery. “It was when Aphrodite accidentally popped you into that little girl’s body, and the only way we could get you back was with this special kind of oil, and these twins, Castor and Pollux, had it, and they were holed up in this sleazy club, and the only way we could get close enough to them to steal the oil was by doing the oil wrestling, and it was totally disgusting and totally degrading, and the only reason I ever did it in the first place was to save your life, okay?”

Xena digested this new information. “So, you wouldn’t want to be doing it again anytime soon, then?”


“Not even if we...”

“I said no! And quit pouting! And--Xena! Have you even been paying attention to a word I was saying?”

Most people would have been in serious trouble at this point, but Xena had intensely conditioned her awareness to the point where she was always paying attention, even when she wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention. She also had a near-flawless memory. “Aphrodite used to ignore you, now she’s been following you around, and...” Realization struck. Xena let a huge grin cross her face. “You thought she was flirting with you.”

Gabrielle let out a piteous groan, and sunk back into the bushes.

“And I bet you didn’t exactly mind the attention, either.” Xena was having fun now. This would be prime teasing material. “After all, it’s quite a coup, to have the extremely sexy and gorgeous Goddess of Love herself following you around like a lovesick Joxer, right? Not exactly damaging to the ego, now, is it?”

“And she was trying to be motherly. And I took some perfectly innocent overtures of family affection, and I thought it was... um...” Gabrielle was about ready to curl up and die from the embarrassment of it all.

The warrior let out a gentle chuckle. “Gabrielle, you had no way of knowing. How could you have been able to figure something like that out, if she never bothered to tell you herself? I couldn’t have guessed it. Plus, this is Aphrodite we’re talking about here. Her whole existence revolves around love and sex. What were you supposed to think?”

“Anything but that.” Gabrielle was adamant. “You never think that about your parents.”

“Gabrielle, you’re a human being,” Xena was sure she’d get through to her partner if she kept at it, “And Olympian gods are eternally young and beautiful, and your mom is the most beautiful of them all. Which shouldn’t be surprising, since she is your mother.” Xena smiled as she said this. Sweet-talking was easy, when you had a subject like hers. “Besides, a few stray thoughts are nothing to be embarrassed about. I mean, it’s not like you had a passionate make-out session with her or anything, right?”

Silence from the shrubbery.

Xena tried again, with a bit of uncertainty this time, “It’s not like you had a passionate make-out session with her or anything, right?”

“Umm... well....”

“YOU HAD A PASSIONATE MAKE-OUT SESSION WITH APHRODITE?” Xena was beside herself, mostly with astonishment. Had her bard actually strayed, or...

“NO! Well, um... NO! Well... she did kinda kiss me.” Gabrielle really didn’t know how to best explain the incident, especially when it was now giving her an extreme case of the heebie-jeebies.

“She kissed you?” Xena needed more details “Was this when you were oil wrestling?’

“NO! This was in Rome, when Caligula was sucking out her immortality, and she was completely out of her mind, and didn’t recognize anyone.” Gabrielle cringed at the memory. “She was messed up, and confused, and right out of the blue she up and starts trying to kiss me.”

“Did you kiss her back?” This story was sounding fairly reasonable so far, but Xena needed to make sure.

“No, I pushed her away almost immediately,” Gabrielle replied indignantly.

“Oh. Well that’s okay then. No big deal.” Xena was relieved that this turned out to be such a small matter.

“No big deal? I KISSED my MOM.”

“You kissed your mom? You sick, twisted, Gabrielle you.” Xena really thought her soulmate needed to lighten up a little.

“But... but... there... there was... there was...” Gabrielle didn’t want to say it, she really didn’t, but there was no other way for her to deal with the horror that was her existence right now but to stand up and call it by name, “There... there was TONGUE! I had my MOM’S TONGUE inside my MOUTH! Do you have ANY idea of just how GROSS that is?” Gabrielle was wailing inconsolably, “How do I GET into these messes? I’m a GOOD, PROPER girl from Potedaia, I really try to be, but somehow I end up doing.... Aiiiggghhhh!”

“Gabrielle, you are good.” Xena thought it was time to put things in perspective. “The stuff I used to do, killing and pillaging and looting, that’s bad. This type of stuff, it’s just a bit kinky, is all. And accidental, to boot. It’s really nothing to worry yourself about.”

A blond head began to emerge from the hedges, but it stopped just after sea-green eyes cleared the shrubbery and latched onto Xena with a long, green glare. Somewhere, a mouth attached to the glaring eyes spoke, “Why am I not surprised? What other advice was I expecting to get from ‘Daddy’s Little Girl?’”

Xena remained cool as a cucumber. “That’s never been proven,” she said with a sanguine grin.

Gabrielle snorted. “Xena, do I look stupid?” Gabrielle was on a roll now. “I remember the evidence, I did the bard thing. I know my mythology. Every Greek hero who was ever worth a pile of grapes has had a divine ancestor somewhere.” Gabrielle paused before adding, “Including me. I don’t see why you, who can make colossal leaps no ordinary human should be able to survive, should be the exception. Plus, you look alike.”

Xena smirked. “Well if that were true, and since Ares is Aphrodite’s brother, that’d actually make you my cousin, so you might want to rethink that.”

Gabrielle’s eyes went wide, and Xena immediately realized that she’d miscalculated. Badly. Xena barely heard her the other half of her soul whisper, “C-Cousin? Y-You’re my... we’re cousins?”

Xena was starting to get nervous. “Now, Gabrielle, just think about this before you...”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” Gabrielle’s brain had finally overloaded completely. She disappeared back into the greenery and began wailing, “EVERY RELATIONSHIP I HAVE TURNS TO INCEST! WE MAKE THE OEDIPUS FAMILY LOOK WELL-ADJUSTED! I’M NEVER GONNA HAVE SEX AGAIN!”

Now Xena was a very worried warrior indeed. This was serious! “Honey, it’s immortal blood--it doesn’t count. The normal rules don’t apply. I mean, Hera was Zeus’ sister, for crying out loud.”


“But, Sweetheart, you’re overreacting. I mean... Cousins! Cousins isn’t bad. That’s legal in most city-states...”

“It’s still family. And not allowed where I come from.”

Now Xena was puzzled, “Gabrielle, you’re from Potedaia. It’s a small farming community. I thought marrying your cousin was practically a requirement there. I mean, wasn’t Perdicus...”

Gabrielle piped up indignantly, “PERDICUS was NOT my COUSIN!” Then she had to think twice about the question for a second, and then said, with only slightly less conviction, “I’m PRETTY SURE that PERDICUS was NOT my COUSIN!”

Xena was getting desperate. “Sweetie, what does it even matter where we’re concerned? I mean, it’s not like the kids are gonna come out funny-looking or anything...”

Gabrielle’s only answer was a string of curses that almost rocked her partner back on her heels. Xena was truly impressed. It was a skill that Gabrielle almost never used, but believe me, nobody, and I mean nobody, can curse like a bard. Especially the Doric curses. Xena wasn’t sure why, but they always had a particular “zing” to them when her partner said them. She’d have to talk to her about that later. It was at that point Xena suddenly thought of something. It was a bad, naughty, evil thing, and she knew she’d pay dearly if she said it out loud, but somehow, she just couldn’t resist...

And Now...

The Punch line:

“Whoa there, sailor,” Xena said with a smirk. “You kiss your mother with that mouth?”

There was a moment of silence, a moment when the whole world seemed to be holding its breath. Xena took off running as truly pissed-off bard exploded out of the shrubbery.“You keep running, Xena,” she yelled as she tore off in pursuit of her laughing partner. “Because when I catch you, it’ll be the last thing you ever remember!”


Epilogue: Gabrielle eventually calmed down, and she and Xena took a much-needed long morning nap. Later they caught up with Aphrodite, and after a teary reunion where Gabrielle reassured the emotional goddess that she was absolutely pleased and honored to have a mother like her, and that her early reaction was just due to... being really startled, is all. Aphrodite sympathized, as it was a shock to her when she learned that she had also been adopted, too. Yes, the Goddess of Love had actually spontaneously formed out of sea foam, and had later been adopted by Zeus, so Aphrodite wasn’t actually really related to anyone in her family, either. Then there was much rejoicing and singing and dancing from the bard, and much relief from the bard’s warrior, and Gabrielle was so happy that she vowed to put any nasty or squicky thoughts about her parentage right out of her head (As well as some other myths she’d heard about what that “sea foam” actually was, that was just too gross for words) and never think or speak of such things ever again.

Disclaimer: No lacy red panties were harmed during the making of this motion picture. However, Gabrielle’s modesty may never recover.

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