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by Blue Knight
The road was long and hot on the way to Potodeia and neither Xena nor Gabrielle felt much like talking. Each was engrossed in the events of the last month. Xena kept playing them over and over again in her mind. The death of Perdicus and then of Callisto. The speed at which the events had unfolded had been too much even for her fine tuned warrior mind to completely fathom. Then there was Gabrielle's reaction to it all and her near emotional shutdown after it was all over. Xena had not known what to do for her and for what seemed an eternity Gabrielle had locked her out and the strain on their relationship had been tremendous. Time had slowly begun to heal some of Gabrielle's pain as it invariably did and Xena welcomed this change in mood with more relief than she had expected. For now, though things were not yet back to normal between the two of them, Xena was content to enjoy the change as much as possible. Besides it kept her mind off the thousand questions she didn't want to ask, and the answers for which she was not prepared.
Gabrielle walked along silently lost in her own world much as she had been for most of the last month. Her silence was just as disquieting to her as it was to Xena but for now there was little she could do about it. Her mind was constantly racing with questions and second guesses. Her feelings about Perdicus, Callisto and Xena were one big jumbled mess that even after a month she had made little progress in unraveling. She had begun to think that she would never feel again but then just slightly, almost imperceptibly the pain had begun to ease. Not much just enough where she could hold the occasional conversation with Xena without spewing emotion from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other. Numb as she was to most things she was aware of how she was hurting Xena, and this slight relief from her sorrow made her happy if for no other reason than it brought Xena a small amount of joy as well. Or at least it had. Just as things had seemed on the mend something else had come up. Gabrielle was almost sure that she was pregnant.
The suspicions had started a couple of weeks before. Gabrielle had started to feel ill in the mornings. Not too badly but she frequently felt nauseous and had lost much of her usual appetite. At first Xena had thought that this was simply a new stage of grief, but it had persisted and soon so did Xena's doubts. Her fears were confirmed a week later when Gabrielle noticed that she was late for the month. She had tried to hide it from Xena but it would be impossible to keep something like that from her. They were together too much for their patterns to not be known by each other. Xena had been the first to broach the subject one night after dinner as they prepared to settle down for the night.
" Have you thought about the possibility that you might be pregnant ?"
"Yes, I have"
" And what ?"
" How do you feel about it ? What do you want to do ?" Xena was trying very hard not to let her emotions on the subject come across. If the truth were to be told she was very confused about them. They ranged from fear to anger to concern and she was as yet unwilling to analyze them and figure out what it all meant. She decided to concentrate on Gabrielle and her emotions not that she'd ever had much success figuring those out either.
" I don't know. I suppose the first thing to do would be to find out if I'm pregnant or not before we panic for no reason". Gabrielle tried to sound nonchalant as she spoke, but she was scared. What would it mean if she were pregnant ? What would happen to her ? Would Xena leave her or not ? Did she even want a baby ? This most definitely was not in her plans, but then nothing in the last month or so had been.
" Who's panicking ?" asked Xena, a little indignantly, bringing a small smile to the corner of Gabrielle mouth. "I just want to know what you want to do next".
" Well this has got to be a first, I never get to decide the itinerary. I suppose you should take me home, to Potodeia".
"O.K. we're only about three days walk away. Will you be able to make it all right?" Xena asked, her voice betraying more emotion than she would have liked.
" Xena I'm pregnant not disabled. If you can go into battle pregnant I think I should be able to make it to Potodeia".
And so there they were on the road to Potodeia on a hot day each deep in thought about the future.
They arrived in Potodeia three days later at around midday. Conversation had been limited and the effort to avoid talking about the possible pregnancy had exhausted them both. They were both glad at the prospect of having someone other than each other to converse with. Their arrival did leave them with the problem of what to do next. The fact that they had avoided talking about the issue meant that they had also not formulated a plan of action once they arrived in Potodeia. Xena thought it might be best to once again leave the decision to Gabrielle.
" We're here, what do you want to do ?" asked Xena.
" About what ?"
" About meeting your family and what we should tell them about our reason for being here".
" I guess for starters we should just go home and see what they know about Perdicus' death and not mention the pregnancy until we find out if its something worth mentioning."
Gabrielle sounded annoyed as she said this. She realized
that this was just Xena's way of trying to show she cared, by
letting her make the decisions lately but it seemed condescending
to her and only added to her antagonism toward Xena. Xena for
her part was not looking forward to their arrival at Gabrielle's
parents house. Her family was never rude to her and was in fact
always very courteous but there was always an underlying sense
of unease in the room whenever she was present. She knew Gabrielle's
parents were grateful to her for saving Gabrielle from the slavers
when they first met, but they had never been happy with her decision
to follow Xena afterwards. For some reason they had always held
Xena responsible for that even though if forced, they too would
have to admit that even the Warrior Princess could do nothing
once Gabrielle's mind was made up. Xena was sure that they only
tolerated her because up to this point she had kept Gabrielle
alive. What minor incidents they didn't know about wouldn't hurt
They arrived at the house and were just about to knock on the door when all of a sudden there was a loud shriek from inside and Lilla came running out. She grabbed Gabrielle in a huge hug while at the same time yelling over her shoulder to her mother inside.
" Mother its Gabrielle. She and Xena are here for a visit." " What a wonderful surprise ," she said turning back to Gabrielle. " Mother will be so glad to see you." At that their mother came rushing out of the house and embraced Gabrielle. Lilla turned to Xena and gave her a much less exuberant welcome, but a welcome nonetheless.
" Xena its good to see you, its been too long between visits"
" Yes it has Lilla but were here now and its good to see you too." Xena marveled at Lilla's knack for being gracious while at the same time getting in a jab at her for not bringing Gabrielle home often enough. Her attention was soon back to Gabrielle and her conversation with her mother.
" What a wonderful surprise sweetheart, what brings you and Xena home to Potodeia ?"
" Well we were in the neighborhood after our last adventure and I thought it would be nice to come home and see everyone. Where is Daddy by the way ?"
" Oh he's out in the fields helping Linus the neighbor bring in the harvest. He should be home by dinner and won't he be surprised to see you. But look at me tending to the family business outside , come in, come in. Xena its good to see you again, thanks for bringing Gabrielle home."
It wasn't until later that night as they prepared for bed that Xena and Gabrielle were alone and had the chance to talk.
" Why didn't you tell them about Perdicus ?" asked Xena.
" I don't know. I figured from their reaction when we got here that they hadn't heard so I didn't want to spoil the surprise with bad news"
" Well your going to have to tell them sometime aren't you ?"
" I'll tell them when I'm good and ready and not before. I've decided to find out if I'm pregnant first before I tell them".
" How will that change anything. I don't understand what you hope to accomplish with this Gabrielle ".
" That's right Xena you don't understand any of this so why don't we just drop it. I've had a good day today and I don't want to end it by having yet another petty fight with you.. Tomorrow I'll go to the healer and then I'll figure out what to do from there".
" You mean tomorrow we'll go to the healer", added Xena.
" Whatever". Gabrielle at this point got into bed and put an end to any further discussion.
She heard Xena get into bed soon after and after
a short while she could hear her friend fall into a restless sleep.
They were in the room Gabrielle had shared with Lilla as a child,
and Gabrielle thought it ironic that she shared it now with Xena.
As a child she had been unable to sleep if she could not look
over and see Lilla asleep across the room. Now so many years later
she could not sleep unless the Warrior Princess slept nearby
as well. Gabrielle lay in her bed grateful for the quiet time
so she could think. That was all she had done at night since she
first suspected she was pregnant. She thought about the past,
the present and the future, especially about the future. With
those thoughts about the future she thought about one thing and
one thing only - Xena. Would Xena leave her if she found out
she was pregnant.? Above all else this was her underlying fear
and yet she thought to herself, I seem to be doing my best to
drive her away before I even find out if I am pregnant. Gabrielle
was well read and spoke a variety of languages but her inexperience
in human relationships made her unable to see that her fear of
being left was exactly what was causing her to drive Xena away.
She pondered her situation a while longer and then she too fell
into a restless sleep.
The next morning came too soon for the both of them but they rose when Lilla came to wake them and joined the family for breakfast. After breakfast Gabrielle excused herself from the table and told her family that she was going to spend the day showing Xena around the village. They left soon after and headed straight for the village healer.
"Thank you for changing your mind about me accompanying you to the healer this morning", said Xena.
"It would have caused too much suspicion to leave you behind", answered Gabrielle, adding with a small smile "besides I'm not mad enough at you to subject you to a full day alone with my family".
Xena wasn't quite sure how to take the comment but based on the fact that Gabrielle had graced her with a smile she thought it best to take it in the spirit of humor in which it appeared to have been intended.
They continued in silence until Gabrielle pointed out the healer's home coming up around the corner.
"There it is", she said unable to hide the nervousness in her voice at this point. Xena detected it immediately and even though it was unlike her to show much emotion in times of stress she knew she had to say something to Gabrielle. Turning to her Xena grabbed Gabrielle by the shoulders and looking deep into her eyes said, "whatever we find out in there it will be all right I promise". Gabrielle was momentarily taken aback. This was a huge show of emotion for Xena even at the best of times, and these certainly weren't. Her first instinct was to throw her arms around Xena, thank her , and open up the dialogue that they both so desperately wanted to get started. She knew this would only delay the confirmation of the truth of her pregnancy which right now was a far greater priority. Instead she looked just as deeply into Xena's eyes and said ,"thank you". "That will have to do for now" she thought to herself as she turned away and walked into Linea the healers house.
"Gabrielle, what brings you here ? I heard this morning that you were back for a visit but I wouldn't have expected to see you here in my place of business", said Linea with surprise. Gabrielle looked for a moment then remembering that Xena was right behind her she turned and as she pulled her alongside said to Linea, "Hello Linea its good to see you. This is my friend Xena".
"Ah, the mighty Warrior Princess, its a pleasure to meet you though I must say that I don't think our fair village will ever forgive you for stealing our young bard away from us". Xena was just about to protest when she caught Gabrielle's blushing face out of the corner of her eye and realized that the healer was just trying to lighten a heavy mood.
"Its a pleasure to meet you as well, said Xena, wishing the circumstances were totally different. "I have heard some of the remarkable tales of your abilities from Gabrielle".
"Well as I'm sure you know she can be prone to exaggeration", replied Linea still smiling at the now seriously red bard.
"If you're done making me pray for a crater big enough to house all of Athens to open up beneath me , perhaps we should tell you what brings us to you," said Gabrielle once she had regained her composure.
"Yes, that would be best", answered Linea,
all of a sudden the picture of seriousness.
Xena and Gabrielle spent most of the morning with the healer explaining the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy and having her perform a number of rituals as well as a physical exam. At the end of it all Linea had their answer for them.
" You were correct in your suspicions Gabrielle you are indeed with child".
"Are you completely sure, aren't there any more tests you can do?" asked Gabrielle. "Just one", replied Linea "but it involves a rabbit and would be rather obvious to outside eyes. You have both given me the impression that this is not a piece of news you are prepared to make public yet. Besides I have a feeling that you knew the answer to your question before you came to see me. Perhaps you were hoping for a different answer in which case I am sorry that I could not help you".
Xena feeling no more could be accomplished by staying longer got up to leave. She thanked Linea for her kindness and paid her the 25 dinars they owed her for her services. Gabrielle still looked somewhat in a state of shock so Xena set about collecting her belongings.
"Xena why don't we give Gabrielle a moment alone to gather her things while I speak to you in my examination room". Xena followed Linea into the back room of her home. "What is it, is there a problem with the baby?" asked Xena. "No the child appears to be fine. I am concerned about the mother though. She is obviously distressed about something. I suspect it is more about an issue concerning the two of you and less about the fact that she is pregnant. This is not the time for her to be worrying herself over matters other than her health and that of the baby. I suggest that whatever it is that has come between the two of you, you make the first move in resolving the issue. I know this will be hard for you because even I can see that feelings are not a battleground that you feel comfortable fighting on but I can also see that your feelings for Gabrielle run deep enough that you will do whatever you need to, to return the smile to her face". With that Linea turned and returned to the outer room, leaving a stunned Xena behind her. She pulled herself together and entered the room in time to hear Linea tell a more composed Gabrielle that she had been giving Xena instructions on what to feed her for the good health of the baby.
"Now the two of you go out and enjoy the day. The weather is gorgeous and you both look as if you could use a little sun". With that Linea showed them out and shut her door , leaving a stunned Warrior Princess and her pregnant companion out on the street wondering what to do next.
Xena spent the evening at the family dinner table wishing she was at some of the more gruesome battles from her past. Fighting any one of those again would have been easier for her then having to relive the events of the past few months as Gabrielle told her family that she was pregnant. It was bad enough remembering that it had all happened, but to see the look of anguish on Gabrielle's face as she told some of the more gruesome details was almost to much for the Warrior Princess. She desperately wanted to leave the table, the house, the village, but to do so would be impossible. No matter how strained their relationship now was, Xena knew that she could not leave Gabrielle. Not now, not ever.
"Xena we must thank you for rescuing our Gabrielle from Callisto and returning her to us", said Gabrielle's mother. Xena was so preoccupied with her thoughts that she almost didn't realize that the focus of the conversation had shifted to her.
"Of course", she managed to stammer out. "Anything for Gabrielle's safety". Xena looked over at Gabrielle and gave her a smile. She felt suddenly guilty that while Gabrielle was giving her family the hardest piece of news she had ever had to yet in her young life, she was wishing she was anywhere else but Potodeia. Gabrielle returned the smile and having finished her tale, and as always being very aware of Xena feeling uncomfortable, asked to be excused .
"I think I'll take a short walk before I turn in for the night. Xena would you care to join me".
Xena almost fell out of her chair she got up so fast.
"Yes, of course Gabrielle. Let me get your shawl from the
room, it seems a bit chilly out tonight".
They walked in silence for about fifteen minutes until they got to the river. The moon was full and cast a beautiful glow on the scene. "I used to love sneaking out of the house on nights like this when I was a child", said Gabrielle wistfully. " The village looks so peaceful and beautiful under a full moon". Xena turned to reply to Gabrielle's comment but stopped as soon as she looked at the bard. Gabrielle looked wonderful in this light. Not that she doesn't always, thought Xena to herself, but tonight she looked particularly so. Before she could stop herself she said , " you look beautiful". Gabrielle looked so startled for a minute that Xena wished that there was some way she could take it back.. Slowly she began to smile, and when she finished there was a smile on her face that Xena hadn't seen for months. It was the smile that Xena knew Gabrielle kept for her and no one else. " Thank you, I needed that", said Gabrielle after a moment. " No, thank you, I needed that", said Xena pointing to her smile and fast developing one of her own. "I have missed that smile so much". Gabrielle was taken aback by the show of emotion. This little exhibition was almost a years worth of tenderness for Xena and its revelation suddenly made clear to Gabrielle just how hard the past few months had been for Xena as well. Tears started to form as she looked up into Xena's eyes. " I'm so sorry", she said. Xena alarmed that she had done something wrong asked, "for what, you haven't done anything".
"Oh yes I have, I've been pushing you away since Perdicus' death and since we first thought I was pregnant", cried Gabrielle.
"You were angry Gabrielle and you had every right to be. Its not fair that my past interfered with your future happiness. I understand".
"No I wasn't angry. Well maybe at first but that wasn't it. I was frightened".
"Of what ?" asked Xena surprised at this revelation.
"I was afraid that you would leave me. I had left you to marry Perdicus and then I made you kill Callisto, and then to top it off I find out I'm pregnant. If I wasn't a burden to you before, I will be now. I'm afraid that you will decide that its just not worth it anymore". Gabrielle managed to gasp the last part out before she broke into tears completely.
Xena was stunned . Gabrielle's confession raised so many emotions that she was not ready to deal with. Emotions concerning Gabrielle's marriage to Perdicus, killing Callisto and the pregnancy. The only emotion she felt she could deal with was her unwavering love for Gabrielle. The bard meant everything to her and if nothing else she must make her see that, especially now. Wiping away Gabrielle's tears Xena looked into her eyes and said softly, " I will never leave you. Never". With that she wrapped the small bard in her arms and held her while she cried out all the fear and frustration that had built up over the past months. They remained that way for a long while, the warrior and the bard, each needing the other more than even they knew.
After a while Xena pulled herself away from Gabrielle and with a hint of disappointment in her voice said, "we should probably get back . Your parents will worry and besides you shouldn't be out in this cold". Gabrielle smiled at the last part and turned to leave with Xena by her side.
They said their goodnights when they got home and went straight to bed. Gabrielle citing cold asked to sleep with Xena in her bed. Xena happily complied also feeling the need to be close to Gabrielle after the evenings events. As they lay together close to sleep, Gabrielle half turned towards Xena and asked, " what happens now?" "Now we settle down and wait for the baby, but first we get some sleep. Goodnight." Rolling over and smiling Gabrielle felt happier than she had in a long time. Everything was going to be all right. "Goodnight Xena".
The next couple of weeks passed without incident. Gabrielle was past the stage of having morning sickness and had begun to show just slightly. Her mother made her a new dress, feeling that the Amazon outfit that Gabrielle wore was not suitable for a pregnant widow. It was forest green, knee length and had short sleeves. It looked like a typical village dress, and Gabrielle hated it until Xena saw it.
" Gabrielle you look wonderful. Where did you get the new dress, it really suits you".
"Mother made it, do you really like it?" asked Gabrielle. "I was sure you'd think it was too impractical".
" No. You look very pretty in it, besides I hardly think you'll be doing anything strenuous for a while", answered Xena with a smile. After that Gabrielle decided that maybe the dress wasn't so bad after all.
Xena had been spending her days in the village doing odd jobs when possible for people in an attempt to keep busy and feel useful. She had helped Gabrielle's father and Linus the neighbor in the fields and had begun to develop a relationship with at least one member of the family. Lilla and Gabrielle's mother still regarded her with some dislike but Xena figured that as in battle she would deal with them one problem at a time.
Gabrielle had settled down to village life again rather quickly. It had been a long , hard last few months, and she was grateful for the relative boredom of Potodeia. She sensed there was still something going on with Xena that she wasn't talking about but Gabrielle was content to wait, knowing that there were a few things that she too wasn't ready to deal with either. She was just so glad that things seemed to be back to normal between her and Xena, and that Xena had not left her, that any minor issues she was willing to let lie. It was a new experience for them both to be leading a settled life together and Gabrielle hoped that maybe it was just boredom that was keeping Xena from being her usual self completely.
One evening after dinner Xena took her weapons and headed out to the river to practice as was her usual habit. Gabrielle watched her go thinking she looked a little more thoughtful than usual but she decided to give her the time to practice knowing that that usually helped to clear Xena's mind and would make her more likely to talk later. Xena headed to the small clearing by the side of the river where she and Gabrielle had first broken down the walls that had built up between them. Since that night the clearing had held a special place in her heart and she always found it comforting to practice there.
Xena was in the middle of a complicated maneuver with her sword when all of a sudden she heard a deep, all too familiar voice behind her.
"Very nice. I see that village life has not hampered your technique any despite your lack of opponents."
"Ares. What are you doing here? Surely you haven't taken to scouring farming villages looking for action have you?" asked Xena the anger beginning to rise fast and furious at the presence of her nemesis.
"No Xena, not action, just you. I figure I've left you alone long enough in this pathetic pit called Potodeia. Its time to bring you home to me", replied Ares grinning that nauseating grin of his that always made Xena want to punch him right in the month.
"And just how do you propose to do that. I seem to recall that we have played this game before, and you never win."
"I thought I'd try a new tactic this time. I've decided to tell you the truth", answered Ares, the grin still firmly planted on his face.
"The truth, what would you now of the truth? You give pathological liars a bad name", said Xena spewing contempt with every word.
Unbeknownst to Xena, Gabrielle had arrived on the scene. She had decided in her typical fashion that she couldn't wait and so had followed Xena out to the clearing. She had arrived just after Ares and had decided that due to her condition that it might be prudent to stay out of sight and see what was going on before she made her presence known.
Ares continued with his taunting of Xena. " The truth, oh I know plenty about the truth . I just don't generally enjoy using it. Of course there are exceptions, and this certainly is one of them".
"Get on with it Ares. As usual I'm in no mood for your little games. What is this truth that you seem so keen to tell me?" asked Xena, not bothering to try and disguise her loathing for this particular God.
"Oh I think you'll find it very interesting Xena. It involves that little bard of yours Gabrielle".
"Gabrielle, what about her?" asked Xena trying not to let her alarm show.
"Oh this is a good one Xena. I am so going to enjoy telling you this. Just when I think I can't outdo myself I do. Its amazing", laughed Ares.
"What are you talking about Ares. I'm losing patience, and you know how unpleasant I can be when I get mad", seethed Xena.
"I'm talking about your little bard and the fact that she's pregnant".
At this Gabrielle almost leapt out into the open but fear got the best of her and she kept her spot behind a large tree.
"Why don't I start at the beginning", continued Ares "that will make the telling that much better".
And as Xena watched him circling around her and as Gabrielle watched from behind her tree, Ares began his telling of the truth.
"It was about three months ago. You had just finished deposing some minor warlord. I forget who and where, but its not important. A soldier by the name of Perdicus found you and Gabrielle and he asked her to marry him. At first the bard was not sure that she would but then he broke down in battle and her heart filled with such pity for him that she agreed to fill the last of his days with happiness and marry him".
"You're not telling me anything I don't know Ares". interrupted Xena.
"Quiet. Has your little bard taught you nothing about how to appreciate a great tale when it is told? Let me continue. Now where was I ?" asked Ares rhetorically.
"Ah yes, the wedding. You looked so forlorn trying to be happy for Gabrielle on what must have been one of the worst days of your life. Still you put on a brave front and she went ahead with the wedding. She left with Perdicus and you left to wallow in self pity, only you found out that Callisto was going to attack them and as usual you ran to the bard's rescue. Too bad you couldn't save Perdicus, but at least you finally got rid of Callisto".
"As I said Ares, you're not telling me anything I don't already know", said Xena, her low voice being the only sign of the anger she was feeling.
"Alright, alright", laughed Ares, "here's something you don't know. I WAS PERDICUS." Ares shouted the last part as if he wanted the whole forest to appreciate his genius.
Gabrielle almost fell over and had to grip the tree tightly to keep from doing so.
"What ?" asked Xena, a horrible realization beginning to dawn on her. "What do you mean"
"Just what I said. I was Perdicus. I took his form and I'm the one that asked for Gabrielle's hand in marriage. I'm the one that married her and I'm the one that died. It was brilliant. I almost can't believe that I thought it all up myself. Oh who am I trying to kid, who else but me could have thought this up, its too devious."
"Why ?" gasped Xena as the full meaning of what he had just said hit her.
"To get you back of course. I'm lonely without you Xena. None of the other warlords are as much fun".
"How ? How was this supposed to get me back ?" asked Xena incredulously.
"Oh its simple really. I was going to marry the bard and take her away. Then I was going to kill her once we had gotten far enough away from you. I figured you would be so distraught without her that it was only a matter of time until I would get you back".
"But that's not what you did, why the change in plans ?" asked Xena, her anger now returning.
"Well she kept talking all night about you, and one of the things she mentioned was how she had made you promise that you would never return to your old ways if anything happened to her. She was worried that you might be tempted even if she wasn't dead but just gone. She soon convinced herself though, and me too that you would keep your promise to her no matter what. All of a sudden this began to look like a flaw in my plan. I was beginning to get rather annoyed when another of my brilliant ideas struck me. I would let Callisto kill me thereby getting rid of that tiresome Perdicus and testing the level of your anger by seeing if you would kill Callisto. She was beginning to bore me anyway. She was not the successor to your throne that I thought she'd be, it turns out that she was mostly just crazy. But I digress. The final perfect part of my new plan was to get the bard pregnant."
"You raped her ?" yelled Xena. "I swear by all the gods on Mount Olympus I will see you dethroned". Xena was so angry that she visibly shook with rage.
" Temper, temper", laughed Ares. "It wasn't rape, I was her husband, I was Perdicus her childhood sweetheart".
"No you weren't, you were Ares, God of War", spat Xena. "You only looked like Perdicus".
Sensing even he had gone too far, Ares told Xena the truth.
"Relax, I did not rape her. I did not physically sleep with her at all. I'm not Zeus you know. Sleeping with mortals might be alright for him but frankly it disgusts me. I got her pregnant using my powers after I put her to sleep. I made her dream that she had had sex with Perdicus. I never actually touched her. As a favor to you I left her virginity intact". The last line Ares spoke with such conviction that Xena could tell that it was a favor he expected to be thanked for but she was using every ounce of willpower she had to keep from attacking him head on. She knew there was more to the tale and she would never know it if she attacked and he killed her.
"Why did you make her pregnant ? What is that supposed to accomplish ?" asked Xena.
"Easy it will make you leave her. I know you Xena, you have almost as much pride as you do anger. You could never stand by and watch Gabrielle give birth to the son of Ares. You hate me too much to not want to kill the child every time you see it. Think of your conflict Xena. The person you love most in the world giving birth to the child of the god you hate more than anything in life. You could not handle it. Your little bard has changed you, but not that much. You will leave her and your anger will eventually lead you back to your old way of life and once again you will fight for the glory of Ares. Even though you hate me Xena you are still a warlord at heart and I will always be a part of you life as a result".
As Ares finished his tale Xena's heart sank. Once again Gabrielle was being made to suffer for Ares sick obsession with her. And how she would suffer. To have to bring the son of Ares into this world all because of her. And would the plan work ? Right then Xena felt angry enough to ravage ten villages all on her own. Was Ares right, would she leave Gabrielle ? Her heart told her No but her head wasn't sure. Ares had confused her with his last speech. She needed Gabrielle to balance his negativity. Gabrielle ! All of a sudden Xena thought to herself ' how am I going to explain this to Gabrielle'. She needn't have worried, because right then she was shaken from her thoughts by a howl like an animal in pain and she whipped around to see Gabrielle fall to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably.
Xena dropped her sword and rushed to Gabrielle's side realizing that she must have heard everything. How she wanted to kill Ares, but there was no time for that now. She knelt before Gabrielle and gathered her in her arms. The bard continued to sob. The only words she spoke were "why Xena why ?" having no answers Xena could only hold her tight and try to bring her sobbing under control. Xena had completely forgotten that Ares was still present, but he soon reminded her.
"Well you seem to have your hands full and my work is done here anyway. I'm sure I'll be hearing from you soon, until then have fun". And with that Ares vanished. Xena turned her full attention back to Gabrielle and wondered what to do now.
It seemed like forever that Xena knelt in the clearing holding Gabrielle, but in reality it was only about half an hour. Slowly Gabrielle's sobs subsided and Xena was able to help her to her feet.
"Gabrielle I don't know what to say to you. I'm so sorry. I never imagined that Ares was that sick", began Xena. She looked at Gabrielle waiting for some sort of response but she just looked at Xena blankly. Fear began to well up in Xena's throat. "This is it, I've lost her", thought Xena to herself. She wanted to beg
Gabrielle to please say something, anything but she knew that this was not the time. Instead she wrapped Gabrielle's shawl around her shoulders and said, "let's go back to the house. It's much too cold for you out here". Gabrielle looked up at Xena briefly as she turned her and slowly made their way back to the house. When they got there Xena quickly made their excuses, telling Gabrielle's mother that they were tired after their walk and were going straight to bed.
Gabrielle changed slowly for bed never once looking at Xena and when she was done she climbed into her own bed for the first time in almost a month. Xena could do nothing but watch. Once she realized that Gabrielle was not likely to say anything to her at all, she too got ready for bed. She put out the light once they were both settled and waited for what she knew would be a very long night to pass.
Morning arrived with Xena having only slept fitfully the whole night. She awoke and rolled over to check on Gabrielle but she was already gone. Fearing the worst Xena decided there was nothing to be gained by delaying the inevitable, so she too rose and headed to the main room for breakfast. When she got there she realized that she must have slept later than usual because every one else was done with breakfast and Lilla was clearing the table. She looked up at Xena's entrance.
"That must have been quite a walk last night, you never sleep this late", said Lilla.
"Yes, I guess it was. I'm sorry I didn't realize how late it was or I would have gotten up sooner. By the way, where is Gabrielle ?" asked Xena trying not to sound too anxious.
"She said to tell you she went for a walk and that she'd be back later, around lunch time. Oh, I nearly forgot Father wanted me to ask you if you would meet him and Linus down at the farm. It seems there's a problem with wild boar foraging too close to the grain stores".
"Yes of course, I'll leave right away", said Xena glad to have something to do today to keep her mind off of Gabrielle.
"Don't you want something to eat first ?" asked Lilla.
"No thanks, I'm not really that hungry".
Xena made it down to the farm in record pace using the trip as a way to give Argo a good workout. Xena felt guilty that she didn't give her as much exercise as she was used to, and hoped that her horse would appreciate it now. She found Linus and Gabrielle's father preparing to go into the woods to hunt the boar that were encroaching on the stores for the winter.
"Linus why don't you let me go out and find your boars, while you and Meneas continue to store the rest of the harvest", said Xena as she nodded her head toward Meneas, Gabrielle's father.
"Are you sure Xena?"
"Definitely, it will give me a chance to give my horse and myself a good workout".
Xena spent the morning and most of the afternoon hunting boar. She took her time, enjoying the hunt and appreciating how it took her mind off of Gabrielle. When she had the culprits she rode back to the farm in time to accompany Maneas home for dinner.
When they arrived Gabrielle was at work in the kitchen with her mother and Lilla and said little to Xena. Judging from the lack of reaction from the family, Xena surmised that Gabrielle had not yet said anything to them about the encounter with Ares last night. Perhaps she was waiting to discuss it with her first thought Xena, hoping this was the case. If it was though, why was Gabrielle saying nothing to her. All through dinner she said enough to Xena to ensure there were no suspicions that there was a problem between them, but she was cold to Xena and this was a feeling that Xena was not used to, or prepared to handle. After dinner Gabrielle excused herself from the table to go to bed, but encouraged Xena to stay up and talk over the days events with her father. The message was clear to Xena, 'Don't come to bed while I'm awake, I don't want to talk to you'. Xena stayed up as long as she could stand to then asked to be excused and went to bed. When she got there Gabrielle was sound asleep as Xena knew she would be. Xena climbed into her bed and settled down for another long and lonely night.
The next couple of days went as the previous one. Gabrielle said little to Xena and made sure they were never alone together ensuring they couldn't talk. Xena died a little each time Gabrielle looked at her coldly, or found an excuse to leave the room when Xena entered. Xena for her part tried to do what she thought Gabrielle wanted, and made sure that she found things to do that took her away from the house for most of the day if possible. Finally though Xena could take it no longer. She followed Gabrielle on one of her walks, ignoring her subtle warning that she wanted to be alone. Gabrielle had stopped at the clearing by the river and Xena watched her for a while to make sure that they were alone. Finally she came out from her hiding place and spoke.
"Gabrielle, we need to talk".
"Xena. I wondered how long it would take you to muster the courage to speak to me. If only people knew what a coward you are when it comes to a war of words", said Gabrielle, anger burning like fire in her eyes.
Xena was completely taken aback by this display of contempt from Gabrielle. "What do you mean, I left you alone because I thought that's what you wanted", said Xena defensively.
"Only an emotional cripple such as yourself would think that after what I went through the other night, I would want to be alone".
"Then why did you keep giving me not so subtle hints to keep away from you ?" asked Xena surprised.
"To test your resolve. Ares is not the only one with the right to test the mighty Xena is he ?"
"What do you mean, to test me ?" asked Xena, the confusion fast being replaced by anger.
"To see if you would fight for me .To see if you would fight me to show that you cared for me. I was in shock the first night, and I had a right to be, but then I was scared. You never came to me you never fought your way through to me like I would have done for you. At first I was hurt but then as the days went by, I got angry, and now I'm furious. Why has it taken you nearly a week to come to me to discuss the worst thing that has ever happened to me". By this point Gabrielle was yelling at Xena.
"You told me to leave you alone", yelled back Xena.
"And how many times have you told me to leave you alone when something is troubling you ? How many times ? And do I ever ? No! No! Because I know that whatever you say, you need to talk about it", shouted Gabrielle.
"Wait a minute", said Xena, her low voice and icy eyes now the only signs of how angry she was. "Wait just a minute. I'm standing here getting yelled at by you because I'm not good enough at playing emotional chess ? I'm sorry I had no point of reference. You are the first woman that Ares has impregnated in order to win me back. Next time it happens I'll know what to do. I don't believe you. I have been going out of my mind for the last week wondering what to do to help you. Dying each time you gave me that icy look, and now you tell me its my own fault because I didn't know enough to pass your little test".
Gabrielle looked at Xena in shock. That was the most she had ever seen Xena say in one stretch. Looking at her eyes she could see just how angry Xena was. She began to calm down as fear replaced anger. She had never seen Xena look at her this way. She had seen that look of anger before but never directed at her , and almost never that concentrated. Gabrielle began to realize that maybe she had gone too far. She knew she was within her rights to have been frightened and even angry, but she realized that she had no right to have made Xena pay for it as she had. She tried to cool the situation.
"Xena wait", she said, but there was no stopping Xena who for the first time in her life was on a verbal roll.
"Wait ? No! You wait", said Xena between clenched teeth. "How do you think I feel about this whole mess ? Its my fault that you are carrying the child of the God of War. How do you think that makes me feel ? You don't know. And you know why you don't know ? Because ever since your wedding day you haven't asked me how I felt about anything. Not Perdicus' death, not about the pregnancy, not even about living with your family in Potodeia".
Suddenly all the little nagging thoughts that had been in the back of Xena's mind for months came pouring out. These were the things that had kept Gabrielle from feeling that Xena and she were back to normal. Once Xena had opened the floodgates she could not stop the hurt and anger of the last few months from pouring out and spilling before them at her feet.
"How do you think I felt watching you marry that sniveling simp. A coward who got you to marry him out of pity. How do you think I felt watching you leave, thinking you would never be mine again ? You don't know how I felt. Have I made you pay for that ? No. Instead I avenged the fools death, killing Callisto, watching her die so we could live in peace. But then even before we could settle in to our old routine you tell me you're pregnant. And then you shut me out and move us here to your family when you know that most of them can't stand me. Did I ever complain? No! I stood by you and tried to ride it out, hoping that you would let me in again. And this is my reward, a test ?"
Gabrielle was so taken aback that she could only state the obvious in Xena's argument. "It was Ares Xena, not Perdicus".
This comment raised Xena's anger to a new level and her words were filled with spite. "Did it ever occur to you Gabrielle that maybe Ares came to you as the pitiful Perdicus because he knew that you would fall for that pathetic display."
This last comment was too much for Gabrielle, who answered with her eyes flashing, "and did it ever occur to you Xena that Ares knew he could lure me away because you were too much of an emotional coward to come to me and keep me from marrying him by telling me how you felt."
Xena was stopped cold with that last comment. The only way that she had kept from going mad in the last week was to let some small part of her mind blame all of this on Gabrielle's pity and her marrying Perdicus. Now Gabrielle had made her see that even that was perhaps her fault too. She could not take on this last load of guilt without a fight.
"What good would it have done, you said you wanted to marry him, what right did I have to spoil your happiness ?"
"Xena I kept asking you if it was alright with you, what you thought, how you felt. I kept hoping that if I prodded hard enough you would tell me how you really felt about me", said Gabrielle, no longer shouting and in a voice betraying her sadness at the memory.
"So what are you saying, you married him to teach me a lesson ?" asked Xena.
" No, I married him because I thought that you didn't want me", Gabrielle answered with tears in her eyes.
All of a sudden all the fight drained from Xena's body. She realized that once again her refusal to deal with her emotions, especially those concerning Gabrielle and led her into a predicament that she didn't know how to get out of, only this one was the worst by far. Falling to her knees in resignation Xena looked up at Gabrielle and said the only thing she could.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle, so sorry".
Gabrielle walked over to Xena and crying as she fell to her knees said, "I'm sorry too Xena about everything. I'm sorry I hurt you, I had no right."
"You had every right Gabrielle, I've been a fool and because of it I've let Ares do this to us", said Xena softly as she held Gabrielle and gently stroked her hair.
"Xena its not anybody's fault but Ares. We just have to decide what we want to do about it.".
Xena slowly stood up pulling Gabrielle up with her. Gabrielle kept her arms around Xena and looked up into her eyes. Xena looked down at her and her heart broke. "Even after all this , even all that as been said, she still manages to look at me this way", thought Xena to herself, " Surely I am not worthy of such devotion, especially not now". Brushing the tears from Gabrielle's face, Xena slowly stepped back away from Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle I need to figure out what to do", said Xena slowly.
"WE need to figure out what to do. We're in this together. I don't want you to take this all on yourself", said Gabrielle.
"I know Gabrielle, and thank you for saying that, but there are some things I need to figure out on my own".
"What do you mean", asked Gabrielle, fear creeping into her voice. "Are you leaving me?"
"No Gabrielle I'm not leaving you. I just think that I need to be alone for a while to think this out. I think it would be good for you to be away from me too".
"You are leaving me. But you said you'd never leave me", pleaded Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle I said I never would and I never will but I think that we both need some time apart to think. This is going to be the biggest decision of our lives and we need to have our heads clear to make the right one. I think from what just came out this afternoon, we both have things that we need to think about"
"Where will you go?" asked Gabrielle resigning herself to the fact that this was one argument she could not win.
"I'll go home to Amphipolus. I'll be close by then in case of emergency", said Xena.
"When will you go ?" asked Gabrielle starting to cry again.
"Tomorrow, first thing in the morning", answered Xena her heart starting to break again. She fought back her own tears and to convince herself that this was the right thing to do.
Putting her arm around Gabrielle's shoulders, Xena turned and led them back to the house. By the time they got back they had both composed themselves and arrived just in time for dinner. Over dinner they told Gabrielle's family that Xena had decided that since she was so close to her own village she would go home for a visit. They seemed to accept this without question and the evening passed as usual.
At bedtime Xena and Gabrielle retired at the same time for the first time in a week. Gabrielle climbed into Xena's bed much to her surprise but also to her delight as she was forced to admit to herself. They didn't speak, Xena simply wrapped her arm around Gabrielle's waist and held her until they both fell asleep.
They awoke the next morning just before sunrise. Xena packed her things and prepared Argo for the trip. She walked back into the quiet house to say her good-byes to Gabrielle. Gabrielle had refused to see her off outside saying that she didn't want the last thing she saw of Xena to be her riding away. Xena hugged her and kissed her on the cheek saying she would see her soon, then left. Gabrielle sat on the edge of the bed listening to Argo's hoofbeats get fainter as she cried. She wondered if she would indeed see her Warrior Princess again, or if that had been their final good-bye.
Xena arrived in Amphipolus in the late afternoon. Her trip had been without incident which for once frustrated her. She had almost been hoping to meet up with some scum so that she could vent some of her anger and burn off some of her pent up energy. Luckily for whatever scum might have normally been in the area, they did not meet up with Xena. Upon further reflection she had to admit that it was for the best because she would have unmercifully attacked anyone that crossed her that day. She instead spent the journey thinking about Gabrielle and what to do about their present situation. She arrived at her mother's inn having shed no more light on what to do then when she left Potodeia.
Dismounting Argo she strode into the inn. It was a little before the dinner hour so she knew her mother would not yet be busy. As she came through the doorway her mother looked up from her position at the bar.
"Xena! By the gods, what are you doing here?" she said as she came around the bar to hug her daughter.
"I was in the neighborhood so I thought I'd stop by and see you. Its been quite a while since I was home", said Xena, happy at the warm welcome.
"Yes it has. Where is Gabrielle? I've heard that you two are always together and I've been looking forward to meeting her. I must meet this little bard that I hear keeps my mighty warrior in check", laughed Xena's mother.
A look of pain passed briefly across Xena's face as she tried to appear light hearted with her reply, "She's not with me this trip mother. I left her visiting with her family in Potodeia".
"Oh well, maybe next time. I'll have you all to myself then", said Xena's mother giving her another hug.
"For as long as you can stand me".
The rest of the evening passed relatively quickly, with Xena meeting people she hadn't seen for years. Her village had forgiven her for her past and many people were anxious to hear how she was now doing. She was kept quite busy, but her mother noticed that occasionally she would look listless as though her mind was somewhere else. She decided to wait until Xena felt ready to tell her what was wrong herself, rather than pry. Even before Cortese Xena had not been much for talking about her feelings, and her mother knew that since then she had only gotten more tight-lipped about things that bothered her.
By the time the inn closed for the night Xena was exhausted and went straight to bed promising to fill her mother in with her news in the morning. Even though she was tired she lay in her bed thinking about what to do about Gabrielle for what seemed like hours before she fell asleep. Nothing in all her experiences so far had prepared her for the choices and decisions she knew she must now make.
The next day Xena told her mother only the most basic details about what was bothering her. She told her mother that Gabrielle was pregnant and that she had come home to think the situation over while trying to decide what to do next. Her mother sensed that there was more to the story than that but knew that to push further would accomplish nothing. Instead she took Xena at her word and hoped that whatever else was bothering her she would mention when she felt the time was right.
Xena spent the rest of the week either lost in thought in the inn or out walking through the village. Occasionally she would go out to the forest to practice with her sword but even that did not clear her head as it normally did. She could not figure out what to do about the baby. They could not take it on the road with them but how could they settle down. And did she want to, did Gabrielle want to? And if she did, where? Xena knew she could not spend the rest of her days in Potodeia. What about Ares ? Would he now be more of a fixture in their lives than ever before? Xena could not stand that either, but what other choice then, leave? She couldn't do that. The more she thought about it the more confused she got. She knew it had been a week already since she left Gabrielle and she had promised that she wouldn't be gone long, but she could not go back with the same questions she had left with.
At the start of the second week of her stay in Amphipolus, Xena's mother came to her room early one evening and told her that she had a visitor. Xena went downstairs to the bar expecting to see yet one more well wisher from the village, but instead seated at a table in the corner was Maneas, Gabrielle's father. Xena crossed the room in three quick strides, the panic rising in her throat as she did so.
"Maneas what brings you here, is there something wrong? Is Gabrielle alright?"
Maneas rose to meet her. "Yes and no", he answered.
"Excuse me , what do you mean? Is there a problem or not?" asked Xena.
"Yes everything is alright, but no there is a problem. We need to talk Xena", said Maneas gravely.
Xena sat down across from him and had her mother bring them some ale. Once it arrived she turned to Maneas and asked him to tell her what was on his mind.
"First of all I think I should tell you that I had a long talk with Gabrielle and I know everything"
"How?" asked Xena surprised that Gabrielle would have told her family the truth while she was gone.
"I'm afraid I had to force it out of her", he said sadly. "After you had been gone about four days, Gabrielle basically stopped eating. She would pick at her food and spent most of the day in her room or in sitting in the garden staring off into nothing. Finally I couldn't take it any longer and I begged her to tell me what was wrong. I knew it had something to do with your leaving, but she had refused to mention it once you had gone. She told me about Ares Xena. The baby and how it came to be, everything".
Xena looked down at the table unable to look Gabrielle's father in the eye. "I'm so sorry Maneas. I truly am. If I could have it all undone I swear to you I would. Please forgive me", pleaded Xena.
"Xena there is nothing to forgive, it is not your fault. I know that and so does Gabrielle. I do not blame you in anyway for what happened. The gods control our fates, we do not control the gods", said Maneas.
Looking surprised, Xena asked, " then why are you here?"
"You are not to blame for the pregnancy Xena but you are to blame for how you are handling it. Gabrielle is so upset that you haven't returned that she has stopped eating. She is convinced that you have left her Xena. I know my daughter well, we have always been close and we talked at great length about what to do, but she can't do it without you. You are everything to her, that much is clear to me, and I can see from your pain that you love her very much as well. She needs more now".
"Maneas", said Xena in a voice that displayed more weakness than even her worst enemy would hope to see, "I don't know what to do"
"Do what your heart tells you is right, for you and Gabrielle and the baby", said Maneas kindly.
"How can I do what I want? This is not the time to be selfish, I have too much weighing on me to simply follow my desires", said Xena
"Xena you have fought these last few years to do what is right often sacrificing what you want in the process I'm sure, but you must learn that only by doing what you really want, can you do what is right. If you base your decision now on what you think is right rather than what you heart tells you is right for you, than you will not be happy. If you are not happy what use will you be to Gabrielle and the baby? Eventually your unhappiness and resentment would spill out and hurt them. I have faith that you will make the right decision, but I think that you must make it soon. Gabrielle needs you".
Xena looked up at Maneas with a new affection for the man and an appreciation for his quite understanding. He had given her the advice she needed but was unable to ask for. She smiled warmly at him and said, "Thank you, your words have not fallen on deaf ears".
"Good, then my mission is complete. I must return to Potodeia".
"Its too late to travel, won't you stay the night and return in the morning?" asked Xena.
"No, I didn't tell anyone that I was coming to see you. They think I am at Linus' and if I'm not back by morning they will begin to worry. If I ride through the night I should get back with no problem. The area is safe and there is a full moon tonight so there is no need to worry about my safety", he said smiling as he gathered his things.
Xena thanked him once more and walked with him to his horse. " I will return to Potodeia within the next couple of days. Look after Gabrielle until I get there, and convince her that I will be back".
Maneas nodded and mounted his horse, waving good-bye as he rode off into the night. Xena turned and re-entered the inn already formulating a plan about how to do what she wanted. First thing to do she decided was to tell her mother the truth. Xena helped out in the inn until closing time then told her mother the truth as they cleaned up. She was shocked at the news but glad that Xena had finally told her what was going on.
Xena rose early the next morning, packed herself a small lunch and prepared Argo for travel. She then woke her mother and told her plan. Her mother wished her luck and begged her to be careful, then watched her leave with a silent prayer to the gods.
Xena mounted Argo and looking back over her shoulder one last time, rode off into the forest. she rode for most of the morning stopping for lunch just before noon, then remounted Argo and rode for a couple hours more. she stopped when she came to a large clearing in the forest. It was right in the middle of a dense cove of trees, and one came upon it with surprise if you didn't know it was there. Xena knew it was there and remembered it well. This was the clearing where she had first met Ares after the death of Lyceus. She had come here to ask Ares to give her the strength to defeat Cortese and he had willingly obliged her, sensing that she was the warlord that he had long been looking for. Xena thought back to the day with a mixture of regret and remorse. If only that day had never been, but it was pointless to think that way. Xena had begun to realize that it was her constant desire to rewrite her past that so often interfered with her present happiness. She now realized that to keep doing that would continue to keep her a prisoner of her past. She now saw a future that she desperately wanted and was prepared to fight for, even if it meant fighting the gods themselves. Hopefully though she thought to herself, it won't come to that.
Xena dismounted and prepared for the coming ritual. She placed a mat on the ground and using water she had brought with her she cleaned her face and her arms. She then removed her weapons placing them on the ground off of the mat. She took a deep breath, hoped she wasn't making the biggest mistake of her life, and began.
"Zeus O powerful leader of all the gods I come to you defenseless and without pride to beg for an audience". These were not easy words for Xena to say. She had no love for any of the gods, but she knew that Zeus was her only hope now. She could only hope that the god that had fathered Hercules had the sympathy for mortals that his son said he had. She repeated the phrase once more than sat back on her knees to wait for a response.
Suddenly she felt a cool breeze wash over her and she looked up to see Zeus standing before her in the clearing. Despite her ambivalence she had to admit that he looked magnificent. She could see where Hercules got his striking features from. Zeus certainly looked as one would expect the head of Mount Olympus to look. When he spoke his voice echoed through Xena's head but she could tell that it wasn't loud in the forest itself.
"Yes mortal you have begged an audience. what do you wish to ask of the mighty Zeus"
"O mighty Zeus", began Xena swallowing hard, " I am Xena and I come to ask for your intervention in a situation with another god".
"Xena", he boomed. "I have heard of you and as such can only assume that you refer to Ares. What has he done now that would force you to beg for my assistance? Your feelings towards the gods are well known on Olympus.
Xena swallowed hard and then began to tell Zeus everything. When she was finished she could see the rage on Zeus' face and even though she knew it was not directed at her she could not help but feel just a little frightened.
"This time he has gone too far. To toy so recklessly with the lives of mortals is forbidden especially in the case of the bard who has done nothing to provoke him. I will see that he is punished accordingly".
"No", said Xena, then realizing that she had just given Zeus an order she continued more softly and explained. "I did not seek an audience to ask that you punish Ares, though if that is you choice I obviously will respect you decision. If you simply punish Ares that will only make him madder and cause him to wreak even more havoc in my life. I wish to make a truce with Ares, to end this constant battle between us".
"Why do you need me for this", asked Zeus.
"I need you here to be a witness to the agreement if we come to one, and to ensure that he keeps his end of the bargain. My experience with him tells me that it would be unwise to take him at this word if I am the only one that hears it", said Xena.
"Alright mortal, you seem to have a plan. Let me hear it. If it meets with my approval I will help you".
Xena explained her plan to Zeus and he agreed to help her. When she was finished he made himself invisible and she once again knelt on her mat. She repeated her plea only this time she asked for an audience with Ares. There was a loud clap of thunder even though the day was clear, and when Xena looked up, Ares stood before her smiling.
"Xena. You took a little longer than I expected. The bard has more influence over you than I suspected. Still you have called me now, better late than never. Are you ready to return to the fold? I can have an army for you in a week. Are you ready to fight once more for the glory of Ares?"
Xena could feel the anger beginning to rise. What arrogance, even for a god. she thought. She took a deep breath swallowed hard and spoke.
"No Ares I will never fight for your glory again. I am here to ask you to please release me. End your obsession with me and let me lead my life in peace", said Xena.
"Why?" laughed Ares. "Why should I release you Xena. You are mine. Soon you will see that. What would I gain by letting you go? My life would be so empty".
"I am not yours Ares. My soul may have been in your possession once, but that time is long passed. It belongs to another now, only this time I am a willing prisoner and I have no intention of leaving".
"You speak of your little bard Xena. Come on do you really think that you can stand to watch her raise the son of Ares. You have too much pride. Your anger would rise every time you looked at him", sneered Ares.
"It is true that I have a lot of pride Ares and that has been a problem for me in the past but it is heavily tempered now by my even greater love for Gabrielle. I love her more than I could ever imagine it was possible to love another person. I cannot live without her. She is my whole world now and because of that I will be able to look on the child not as yours but as hers. Ours". Xena finished her speech realizing that was the first time that she had ever openly admitted to herself let alone anyone else, the true extent of her feelings for Gabrielle. It suddenly filled her with a great sense of peace and she now knew without a doubt that she was doing the right thing.
"You disgust me", spat Ares. "You would give up all that I could give you for that, that BARD. What could she possibly have that would make it worth your while to stay with her?"
"I told you already Ares. She has my soul, my heart. She is the future I want and that I refuse to live without. Without her I may as well be dead. Life without her would be Tartarus here on this plane", said Xena.
"And what makes you think I will let you have this life, this future you say you refuse to live without?" asked Ares threateningly.
"Because we will make a deal", answered Xena.
"A deal, what do you possibly have to deal with".
"Your son. If you will leave me alone to live out the rest of my life in peace with Gabrielle, I will raise your son as my own. I will ensure that no one finds out his true identity and that he lives to adulthood. I will teach him how to use weapons because that is all I know, but I will teach him they are only to be used in defense. If once he reaches manhood you can undo all that I and Gabrielle will have taught him then I guess he will be yours. BUT if he resists you as I have done and still do, then you must leave him alone as well".
"An interesting offer", said Ares " but do really the terms are equal. I feel I am giving up more than I stand to gain".
"I have one more thing to sweeten the pot Ares. I know how you have always longed to see me kneel before you and beg", said Xena slowly falling to her knees. "If you will agree to the terms I will do just that".
"I don't believe it. You would do that just to live in peace with that talkative bard?"
"I would", said Xena, now on her knees.
"Go ahead, this I have to see".
"First I must hear you say that you agree to the terms".
"Fine , fine I agree".
Xena on her knees now looked Ares straight in the eye and began to speak. "O Ares, powerful God of War, I Xena a humble mortal beg before you to be released from your hold. I beg to be allowed to live the rest of my life in peace without your interference . To show my sincerity I now prostrate myself before you". With that Xena proceeded to lean forward until her head touched the ground, with her arms straight out in front of her. She was completely defenseless should Ares decided to attack her but she was sure that he would not. She held her position until she heard him speak.
"Get up! Get up Xena", Ares was shocked. He had not believed that she would go through with it. The realization of the depth of her love for Gabrielle suddenly hit him and his shoulders dropped slightly in defeat. He knew that he could not ever hope to win Xena back.
Xena slowly rose to her feet. "You agreed to the terms remember", she said looking at Ares and for the first time feeling like the one in control.
"Yes I remember"
"And just in case you choose to ever forget, I heard everything". Ares whipped around to see Zeus standing a few feet behind him.
"Zeus", Ares stammered, "what are you doing here?"
"Xena asked me to be a witness to your agreement, and I have something to add to it. I will let these resent acts of yours go unpunished on condition that you do in fact keep your word. Should you decide to forget the terms of your agreement however, you will feel the full nature of my fury shower down upon you. Agreed?"
"Yes Zeus", answered Ares still in complete shock. This is not at all what he had expected when he heard Xena calling him. He realized slowly that he had finally truly lost her and this actually filled him with a level of sadness that he had not been expecting and had almost never felt.
"Come Ares let us return to Olympus and leave the mortal to her life. I suspect she has much to do now that she is free of you", said Zeus as he put his arm on Ares shoulder. And with that and a small wink to Xena, Zeus vanished taking Ares with him.
Xena almost fell over when she realized the full impact of what and just happened. She was finally free of Ares attempts to get her back, free to follow her heart. She packed up her things quickly and ran to Argo, anxious to get home.
Xena got back to Amphipolus late that night just before the inn closed. Her mother took one look at her and could see that everything had gone to plan.
"Oh Xena I was so worried. Is it over, are you free?" asked her mother.
"Yes. Yes mother at long last I'm free", answered Xena, slowly pulling away from her mother and heading up the stairs.
"Where are you going? Its too late to travel tonight", said her mother.
"I know its late mother but there is no way I could sleep tonight anyway. I might as well leave now and get to Potodeia that much sooner". With that Xena ran up the stairs two at a time and began to pack her things.
When she came down again the bar was empty and only her mother remained clearing up.
"Do you want me to help you ?" asked Xena.
"No. You go and for once follow your heart", answered her mother.
Xena smiled and gave her mother a long embrace. When she slowly pulled away she saw that her mother was crying.
"You make sure you bring Gabrielle to Amphipolus. I want to meet the woman who has captured your heart so completely. She was only a child when she left here with you before", said her mother.
"You will like her mother. I know you will", said Xena fighting back the tears.
"I know child. Now go". With that Xena
left, turning at the door to wave good-bye one more time before
Xena rode Argo hard all night toward Potodeia. Her guilt at working her horse so hard was quickly overridden by her need to see Gabrielle. She would make it up to Argo later she thought as her mind focused on what to say to Gabrielle once she got to Potodeia.
Xena arrived at the village in the middle of the morning. It was wash day and the scene of the small village under a gorgeous blue sky was made more beautiful by the colors of the clothes being hung out to dry. Xena arrived at Gabrielle's parents house with her heart in her throat. There was no one around but she could hear voices coming from the back of the house. She dismounted just as Maneas came out the front door. He stopped in surprise and then his face broke into a large smile. He approached Xena with his hand extended and gave her forearm a strong shake.
"I knew I could count on you. Gabrielle will be so happy to see you.. She is out back with her sister hanging up the wash".
Xena nodded her head unable to speak. She walked through the house and nodded to Gabrielle's mother who was in the kitchen. She looked startled for a moment but then she smiled at Xena and nodded her head toward the back door. Xena walked through it and saw Gabrielle with her back to her hanging up her green dress to dry. Lilla was in mid sentence when she saw Xena and stopped talking. Gabrielle wondering what as wrong turned to see what her sister was looking at so intently. She looked up to see Xena slowly walking toward her.
Gabrielle just stood there for a moment unable to say as Xena continued to come toward her. Finally she found her tongue and in a voice loud enough for the gods she hear, she cried, "Xena", as she started running to her.
Xena swept Gabrielle up in her arms and buried her face in Gabrielle's neck. All she could say was "Gabrielle, Gabrielle, Gabrielle".
"Oh Xena", cried Gabrielle "I thought you'd left me for good. I was so scared".
"I know Gabrielle. I'm sorry. I'm sorry it took me so long to see what was right in front of me. I didn't mean to worry you."
Lilla realizing she was witnessing what should have been a private moment turned and walked into the house happy for her sister. Even though she had never been that fond of Xena the last two weeks had shown her how much her sister needed the warrior, and for that reason she was glad she was back.
Xena and Gabrielle held each other for a long time before Xena pulled away and said, "Why don't we go to the clearing, I have something I want to say to you".
When they got to the clearing Xena sat Gabrielle down on a large rock and looking into her eyes began to tell Gabrielle what had been in her heart for so long.
"Gabrielle while I was gone I did a lot of thinking, about you, me, the baby. And I realized something that I think I've known for quite a while but was too frightened to admit. I love you Gabrielle. I've loved you for a long time. I can't imagine my future without you". Xena leaned over and wiped the tears from Gabrielle's face. She took her sword from its scabbard and dug it straight into the ground. Leaning on the hilt and dropping to one knee, she took one of Gabrielle's hands in her own and said, "Gabrielle I am yours, now and forever for as long as you will have me".
Gabrielle could hardly believe her ears. These were the words that she had so longed to hear, but feared she never would. She rose slowly from the rock, pulling Xena to her feet as she did so. Looking up into Xena's deep blue eyes Gabrielle spoke the words she had wanted to on many a warm night, "And I am yours Xena for as long as you will have me. Now and forever".
With tears in her eyes Xena cupped Gabrielle's face with her hands and for the first time, kissed the lips of the woman she knew had captured her heart forever.
Gabrielle's pregnancy continued without further incident. Xena told her of the deal she had made with Ares, and how she was now free of his attentions. She also told Gabrielle that she thought they should settle down, much to Gabrielle's surprise. She got a job as a military advisor to one of the many kings that she had helped in the past. Xena knew that fighting was all she was good at and that her income would have to come from that but she also wanted to continue fighting for the greater good. This arrangement would allow her to do that, as well as provide her with a home for Gabrielle and the baby when it came.
Xena had been Back in Potodeia for about one week after securing a job when she was awakened by the sounds of Gabrielle in labor. She woke the family and then went to get Linea who would act as midwife. Despite her medical knowledge Xena preferred to leave the job of birthing the baby to someone else so she could concentrate on helping Gabrielle.
The labor was long and hard but after ten hours Gabrielle and Xena had a beautiful baby boy placed before them. He had jet black hair and blue eyes, features which Xena guessed were a gift from Ares meant as a peace offering, and Gabrielle's smile. When the family asked what they were going to name him, Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other lovingly and then replied in unison, "Lyceus".
Copyright 1997 by J.M. Isige.
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