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Standard Disclaimer - These characters, most of them, belong to Universal, and Renaissance Pictures, and whoever else has a stake in Xena: Warrior Princess. This is written just in fun, and no copyright infringement was intended.

Specific Story Disclaimers:

Violence ĖItís a Xena story. There are forest dwellers, bad guys, pregnant bards, sly Amazons, several troublemakers, and one very persistent mincemeat pie. Of course there is violence. Not too much though. Maybe one head, maybe two.. it depends on how it goes.

Subtext - Iím not disclaiming subtext anymore. If youíve gotten this far in the series, you know what itís about. I donít personally think thereís anything in their relationship that needs disclaiming. Itís not like theyíre vegetarians, or something.

This is, of course, PG13 level involvement here, no more. That never changes.. for those of you who are waiting for me to stick in a rip roaring, no holds barred graphic orgy scene, make sure you have plenty of coffee and doughnuts handy. And a comfortable chair. And a good book. I can recommend some excellent altfic bards for you if you drop me a note.

If you read this story, and are offended by the love portrayed within, too bad. No raspberry brownies for you.

Any and all comments are always welcome. You can email them to: merwolf@bellsouth.net

Part 1 2 3 4 5 6

 

Circle of Life

By Melissa Good

 

Part 6

Xena paused on the porch for a moment, to take a deep breath of the cold air before she started off towards the inn, seriously resisting the urge to bounce all the way there. She rounded the corner of their cabin, then stopped as she spotted every window in the larger building ablaze, and a scurry of activity around it. "What in the... " She broke into a lope towards the kitchen door, and had to dodge two hurrying Amazons as she reached it.

It was a good thing her reflexes hadnít slipped that much, she reflected, as she jumped out of the way of the violently slammed open door, managing to avoid Torisí rushing form as well. "Hey!" She barked in surprise.

Toris stopped short, peering into the gloom. "Who.. oh! Xena... hey.. youíre back.. thatís great.. um.. I gotta go.... " He bolted off.

"Whoa.. whatís going on?" His sister hauled him down like a sack of turnips, catching the back of his tunic with one fist.

"Awk.. cut that out.. Granís in labor!" He shook himself loose. "I gotta get.. uh.. water.. and um.. they sent me for linens, and those herbs.. and she wanted some soup, and I.. "

Xena merely picked him up and shook him. "Would you calm down? How long has it been?"

"Yehh..uhh.. ." Toris scratched his beard. "Three candlemarks?" He glanced towards his own quarters. "Sis.. I gotta go... "

She released him, and patted his shoulder. "You need to relax, Toris.. youíre gonna pass out." She advised him wryly, relying on recent experience.

"Hah.." Toris snorted. "Weíll see how you react when itís your turn." He bolted off before Xena could answer him, and she smothered a grin as she entered the door heíd left open. Her mother was there, and several pots of water were boiling, at the direction of Renas, and an apprentice healer who was sorting out herbs, enough to service an entire village of pregnant women.

"Hi." Xena leaned back against the door. "Guess weíve got some excitement going on here, huh?" Suddenly, she was really, really glad Gabrielle had chosen to keep it simple, and very private. It had made Doriís birth, in her eyes, just that much more special.

Renas glanced up. "Oh.. Xena... youíre back. Great.. I might need some help." He wiped his brow. "I think Iíve got everything I need.. but is there any way to keep those Amazons busy?"

The warrior pursed her lips. "Iíll see what I can do."

"Great.. great... Toby, come on, get those herbs, and letís get back there.. weíve got to boil all those linens, and I .. " His voice trailed off, as he and the apprentice left the warm light of the inn for the cold darkness outside.

Xena pushed off the wall and went to her motherís side. Cyrene was busy assembling soup, and watching the boiling water, but she looked up as she felt her daughterís presence. "Hi, honey... youíre home early."

"Mm.. yeah... I had something I had to take care of." Xena remarked. "Mind if I rustle up some snacks for me and Gabrielle?"

"Sure.. go ahead... just donít ask me to help you." Cyrene wiped her brow. "Iíve got a dozen things to do, and those Amazons are running all over bumping into things, and Renas is driving me crazy with all these pots.. and... " She exhaled weightily. "And Iím not sure Iím ready to face being a grandmother yet."

Xena leaned over, and put a hand on her shoulder. "You already are one." She commented quietly.

"And, with all those linens, Iím not sure if I.... " Cyrene turned. "What?" She stared at Xena in puzzlement, then the words percolated through her understanding. "Oh no.. you donít mean to tell me.. "

The warrior smiled. "Címon.. can you take a minute?"

"Heraís left tit." The innkeeper pushed the soup back onto a smaller part of the fire and wiped her hands. "I canít believe it.. you didnít say a word?"

"Gabrielle wanted it that way." Xena answered quietly, as she steered her mother out the door, after grabbing a loaf of bread and a small basket of dried meats and cheeses. "Besides, it looks like... " She paused, as two Amazons rushed by, carrying a huge cradle. "Youíve got enough on your plate here."

They made it back to the cabin, and Xena pushed the door open, motioning her to go inside. "Gíwan."

Cyrene glanced in, spotting Gabrielle seated near the fire, its red flames catching the russet highlights in her hair, dressed in a thick tunic that was once again far too big for her. "Hey cutie." She smiled at the bard, who smiled back.

"Hi mom.. come here and meet your granddaughter." Gabrielle leaned over and lifted the still sleeping infant up, cuddling her in her arms and turning as Cyrene hurried over. "Say hi.."

"Oh... " The innkeeper crouched down, and smiled in delight at the tiny baby. "Would you look at that... what a cutie.

"Weíre going to call her Doriana... " Gabrielle said softly, then she carefully held her arms out. "Do you want to hold her?"

"You betcha..." Cyrene eagerly cradled the baby in her arms and studied her, touching the tiny nose, and tickling a sturdy foot. "Oh, Gabrielle, sheís beautiful." She murmured, glancing up at the tall, quiet form standing next to her. "And she looks very much like someone else I know did as a newborn."

Blue and green eyes met. "She does, huh?" Gabrielle smiled. "You know, itís really hard for me to imagine Xena that small." Her eyes twinkled up at the sturdily built warrior.

Cyrene chuckled wryly. "Me too." She cooed delightedly as the baby blinked her eyes open and made a face. "Hey there, honey..."

"Me three." Xena added dryly. "Granís in labor, by the way." She remarked to the bard. "The place is a circus over there."

Gabrielle jerked in surprise. "Really? Is she okay?" Her eyes lifted to her soulmateís. "Does she need any help?"

"Please.. ." Cyrene raised a hand. "The last thing we need is MORE people in that cabin.. itís bad enough with Toris, those Amazons, Renas and Toby, and the midwife." An angry yell echoed suddenly over the quiet village. "Ah... I think the contractions have really kicked in." She sighed. "Sheís not having an easy time of it... I think one of the babies might be turned."

"Ooo." Gabrielle took the bread and cheese her soulmate handed her and took a healthy bite of them. "Guess me romping in there now would be a bad idea, huh?" She chewed the mouthful and swallowed it. "How longís she been at it?"

"Four candlemarks." Cyrene sighed. "Itís been quite a night." She gazed at the bard. "For you too, apparently...you had a pretty easy time of it, eh?"

Gabrielle shrugged a little. "It happened so fast... Xena came back, and we figured out what was going on, then I walked around a little, then... " She glanced at the baby. "It was over before I knew it." She gave the warrior a fond look. "And I had the best coach I could have asked for."

Cyrene settled the infant back in her motherís arms, and smiled at them both. "Sheís very well grown for an early birth." She commented quietly, watching the exchange of looks between her daughter and Gabrielle. "Isnít she?" She studied the baby curiously. "I figured you for another month at the least...Granellaís about a week or two early... and this little honey looks full term."

An awkward silence fell. "Um." Xena rubbed her temples, and cleared her throat. Her mother, at least, would have to know. By the time most people saw the infant, they wouldnít realize she wasnít premature, but Cyrene...no way to avoid it. "See, weíre not.. um.. " She paused. "Weíre not really sure if.. I mean, Gabrielle was just about to start her cycle that night, and I... donít know if..."

Cyrene looked from one of them to the other. "But I thought... " Her eyes fell on Gabrielle who was gently rocking the baby. Surely the bard hadnít... but well, a lot of things had gone wrong, maybe... "I donít understand...was there someone else?"

The bard looked up, a blush very evident on her fair skin. "No.. Xenaís... um... no, there wasnít anyone else."

The innkeeperís brows knit in dire confusion. "I donít get it... youíre saying you donít think Toris is the father, but you say there hasnít been anyone else... exactly who fathered this child, then, Gabrielle?" She put a hand on the bardís arm. "Honey, itís welcome in any case, donít get me wrong, but.. I mean.. who?" She paused. "If itís someone here, youíll have to tell Josclyn... even if Xenaís going to formally adopt her."

Mist green eyes lifted and fastened on Xena, a helpless look of consternation crossing the bardís face. "Itís.. kind of hard to explain." Gabrielle ventured. "Weíre not really, truly sure of what happened, but...um.. "

Xena sighed, then knelt on the other side of her partner and gently unfolded the linen tucked around the infant, exposing her small back. "This look familiar to you?"

Cyrene stared at it, then looked up at Xena. "Oh my." She sat down abruptly, startling Ares, who scuttled in back of Gabrielleís chair, and peeked out at her. "Oh my. That was a surprise." She chewed on her lip for a moment, regarding the two silent women pensively. She knew the birthmark all right, but how... Cyrene studied her daughter, whose face bore a mixture of wonder and utter consternation.

"Itís.. kind of a little strange to think about, I know." Gabrielle finally said, tucking the blanket back around the baby, and curling her fingers around Xenaís hand which was resting on her thigh. "Itís been kinda weird for us, too."

"Iím..." Cyrene exhaled, perplexed. "Iím not sure what to say...on one hand, it seems impossible, but on the other.. " She gave Xena a wry look. "Iíve learned over the years that impossible, and you donít often collide."

"Yeah... well... " The warrior picked up a tiny foot, and examined it. "Gabrielle has a theory that the love we have is strong enough to do anything... " She looked up. "I donít know.. maybe it just is."

The infant opened her eyes and studied Xena solemnly, tugging her foot free when the warrior started tickling it. A tiny scowl formed, and the warrior grinned, giving her soulmate a wry look. "Sheís ticklish."

"Oh.. and thatís supposed to be from me?" The bard raised her eyebrows. "I donít think so, O Warrior Princess of a Thousand Ticklish spots." She reached over and demonstrated by catching the warrior on the back of her arm, making her squirm. "See?"

A frustrated yell broke the silence again, and Cyrene glanced over her shoulder. "Iíd better go see whatís going on.. " She turned back to them. "Should I wait for the morning to break the news? You both look pretty tired."

"Good idea." Gabrielle said, with a sigh. "Thereíll be enough excitement tonight." Her eyes drifted over. "And that bed does look really good right now."

"Come and get me if thereís trouble." Xena told her mother seriously. "If Renas needs any help, okay?"

Cyrene nodded. "I will... donít worry." She touched the babyís fist, and smiled. "And weíll get to know you better in the morning too, sweetie pie."

The baby poked her tongue out, then hiccupped, and closed her eyes, her fingers grasping Gabrielleís thumb. "Say good night to Grandma, Dori." Gabrielle smiled.

The innkeeper stood up, and brushed herself off. "Get some sleep, you two.. I have a feeling tomorrowís going to be a busy one." She gave them both fond smiles, then she left, closing the door softly behind her.

Gabrielle stifled a yawn, as she idly played with Doriís fingers. "Think Granís gonna be okay?" She looked up at the warrior. "Sounds like sheís having a rough time."

Xena curled an arm around her shoulders, and let her head rest against the bardís arm, as she, too, gazed at the dozing infant. "With that many people in there? Sheíll either be fine, or sheíll end up taking a few heads off." She murmured. "You ready for bed?"

The bard rolled her head to one side, and gently kissed her partner. "Yes...I might actually be able to sleep for more than a quarter candlemark, too." Sleeping the last few weeks had been uncomfortable, to say the least. She bent over and put the infant in her cradle, then hesitated. "Do you think we should bring her over there?"

Xena nodded immediately. "Yeah.. so we can be near in case she wakes up.. or sheís hungry.. or wet.. or.. "

"Mm..í" Gabrielle considered this. "Weíre not going to get much sleep for a while, huh?" She eyed her partner, who woke at the slightest sound.

"Tell you what.. you have to do the feedings." Xena traced a gentle finger along one swollen breast. "So Iíll do the messy parts, howís that?"

"Oo... you mean I get the sweet part of this deal?" Gabrielle grinned. "Oh boy... let me tell you, I am going to be the envy of the sewing circle, thatís for sure." She kissed Xena again, the jolt of reaction chasing back the weariness almost without effort. "Címon... I havenít been able to snuggle with you for months... Iím gonna enjoy this."

Xena grinned happily, then she scooped up her soulmate and carried her to the bed, gently depositing her. "Be right back." She retrieved the cradle, and set it by the bed, then stripped off her clothing, and donned a shift, turning to find twinkling green eyes watching her appreciatively. "Something wrong?" She lifted an eyebrow in question.

"Nothing at all." The bard assured her, with a cheeky grin as she held a hand out. "Címere."

The warrior slid into bed beside her, and wrapped Gabrielle up in a big hug, smiling as she felt the bard practically crawl all over her, finally settling in a half hug, half sprawl that hit warm, familiar spots. "Happy now?" She asked, with a chuckle, sliding her hands up and down the bardís sides, feeling her ribs expand and contract as she took in and released a huge breath.

"Ooohhhhhhhhhhh....." The bard burrowed into the warm skin under her joyfully . "I have so missed doing this." She could feel the wonderful warmth as their bodies pressed against each other, and she was able to relax fully for the first time in months. Her fingers roamed over the warriorís ribcage, as she stifled a yawn. "Xe... can I ask you something?"

One blue eye opened, and regarded the ceiling with trepidation. "Sure."

"Did you really just... think something was up here? I mean... I know how our thing usually works.. but I was fine.. or, anyway, I thought I was so... " The bard asked, sleepily.

Dead silence for a moment. "Um... " Xena swallowed. "Not exact... well, Iíd made camp, see...and Iíd started a fire.. I was in a nice little cave... and I was passing some time by reading the poems thing you gave me for Solstice."

"Uh huh." Gabrielle nodded. "And?"

Another silence. "And I got to the page where youíd written one after the night we... well, that time up in my old tree fort, remember?" She could feel the sudden movement as Gabrielle smiled against her chest.

"I remember." The bard stated quietly.

"So.. I was just reading that... I really liked it, and I noticed youíd dated it." Xena concluded, as though that explained everything.

"And?" Gabrielle persisted.

"I counted." The warrior finally muttered. "And give or take a day, it was.. um.. I mean the timing was pretty much there, and then with the storm.. that tends to trigger stuff... so I figured Iíd better just get back here." A pause. "Just in case."

Gabrielleís turn to reflect in silence. "So you believed it all along, didnít you?" She asked, gently, feeling the motion as her partner swallowed.

"I wanted to." Came the short reply. "You donít know how much I wanted to."

"About as much as I did." The bard gently kissed her collarbone. "Iím glad." She snuggled closer, and let her eyes shut in utter contentment.

Blue eyes misty with tears gazed up at the sturdy roof beams. "Me too." Xena whispered, as she felt the bardís body relax completely against hers. She stroked the warm back rhythmically, as their connection laid a blanket of peace over them, and she turned her head, to watch the wooden cradle and its miraculous contents.

She had no intention of sleeping, not with all this to savor. Not when every breath she took was one more breath in a moment of her life that nothing could ever match. In this one moment, for this one breath, she had everything she could have ever dreamed of. She extended an arm, and touched the small hand resting in its nest of linen, charmed when the baby instinctively closed her fingers around Xenaís much larger one.

It was so sweet, she could hardly bear to think about it, lest it disappear like a soap bubble in the wind. So she simply opened her heart to it, and soaked in the impossibility of it all, letting it fill her with the knowledge that nothing and no one could ever take this moment from her.

This one, perfect moment.

Deserved or not, it was hers.

The first restless stirring brought Xena out of the half asleep, half awake, extremely pleasant dreamy state sheíd been drifting in for about a candlemark. All sorts of things had been going through her mind, and sheíd been enjoying the slightly giddy feeling very much. Gently, she slid out from under Gabrielleís deeply asleep hold, and rolled onto her side, peering down into the crib.

To see round, wide eyes peering back at her. "Hey there." The warrior rumbled softly, and seeing the beginnings of a pout. She reached down and checked, then grinned. "You ready for a change, huh?"

A tiny tongue poked out at her.

"Okay... letís go." She slipped out of bed and collected Dori, padding into the washing area and quickly cleaning and changing the babyís linen wrappings. "You hungry again?" She tickled the babyís tummy, and Dori kicked her legs out, scowling at her. "Ooo.. thatís the same face your mommy makes when I do that." She leaned on her elbows, studying her daughter in the low light from the candles theyíd left burning. "And youíre gonna be feisty and stubborn just like her, huh?"

Dori pouted, her eyes watching Xenaís face intently, and she gurgled in apparent fascination. The warrior gently touched the tip of one finger to the tiny snub nose, and Dori scowled, making an uncoordinated clutch at the warriorís hand. "Youíre a real cute one, you are." Xena smiled.

The infant returned the smile, her eyes going round in delight, then she wriggled impatiently, her tiny brows contracting.

"One track mind, huh?" Xena laughed softly, then scooped the restless infant up and carried her back to the bed.

Gabrielle was half awake, hitched up on one elbow and peering into the dim candlelight. "Hey.. whereíd you two disappear to?"

"Fulfilling my end of the bargain." Xena slid back into bed, and cuddled closer to the bard. "Now itís your turn."

"Hello, sweetie." Gabrielle greeted her daughter, who was grasping for her with tiny hands. "Oh yeah.. you know where breakfast is, doncha.. what a smart girl.. yeeooww." The bard almost sneezed from the unexpected jolt of sensation as the baby took hold of her nipple, and started drinking enthusiastically. "Hades... listen, Xena.. I donít suppose your many skills would include...um.. "

The warrior laughed gently. "Sorry... " She tucked the softly quilted covers up around them both and settled down, circling the bardís shoulders with one arm. "You certainly meet with her approval, though."

"Yah... not like she has a choice." Gabrielle half laughed, half winced. "Take it easy there, Dori... Iím not going anywhere." She glanced up at the twinkling blue eyes above her. "And if you make one comment about her getting my appetite, Iím going to tickle you until you fall off the bed."

Xena bit her lip. "I wasnít going to say a word." She shook her head. "Honestly."

"Mm... you were thinking about it." The bard replied, in a half growl, half murmur. "Did you get much sleep?"

Xena rested her head against the bardís and sighed happily. "Nope... you?"

Gabrielle eyed her. "Slept like a...um.. ." She glanced down. "Like a baby... are you feeling okay?"

"I feel great." The warrior murmured in reply. "I felt too good just to go to sleep....I wanted to stay up and enjoy the feeling." She reached over and traced a tiny, perfect ear. "They look just like yours."

"Do they?" Gabrielle watched her partnerís face, fascinated by the sparkling joy in her eyes.

"Uh huh... see this little bump here? And the lobes are exactly the same shape as yours." Xena replied, tugging on the bardís ear. "And the way she smiles.. look.. there... see the way her eyes crinkle up? Reminds me of you."

"Yeah." Gabrielle heard the faint sound of surprise in her own voice. "But those are your cheekbones.. no doubt about it." She smoothed her thumb over one. "Iím glad.. when I was a kid, I was pretty chubby... and I got called Gabby the Squirrel a lot." The bard smiled ruefully. "Iím willing to bet you didnít have that problem." She reached up and stroked the angular planes of Xenaís face.

"Ah... no." Xena agreed. "I got called a lot of things, most of them unrepeatable, but Squirrel wasnít one of them." The baby stopped sucking and looked up at her, blinked, then started in again, with a little gurgle of contentment.

Gabrielle gave her soulmate a dire look, and held up a warning finger, feeling the silent laughter that shook Xenaís frame. "I wonder how Gran is doing?" She murmured, after a moment.

Xena cocked her head. "Want me to go find out?" She inquired. "Itís been four more candlemarks.. if she hasnít delivered by now.." As if on cue, a low, muted howl rose, making Ares lift his head, his ruff standing on end. "Uh oh."

"Iím surprised they didnít come for you." Gabrielle murmured, glancing down as Dori burped, then hiccupped. "Oh.. had enough, huh?" She smiled as the baby blew a milky bubble at her. "Gods, sheís so cute."

Xena gently kissed her partnerís head. "Just like her mother." She eased off the bed and stretched. "Iíll go check things out...itís almost dawn anyway.. and Iíll bring some breakfast back, howís that?" She paused. "You feeling okay? A little stiff, I bet."

Gabrielle shifted, tensing her thigh muscles, and rotating her shoulders a little. "Not too bad, actually... Iím really sore where the baby came out, but otherwise I feel pretty good... a lot better than I expected to, really.. given some of the stories I heard."

The warrior slipped into a heavy wool shirt, and leggings, as she nodded approvingly. "Thatís because we took good care of you and did things the right way." Her eyebrows twitched. "As annoying as I know I was, I think it paid off." She indicated the contented infant. "Believe me, I wish Iíd known better when I went through it... damn, was I ever young and stupid."

"Well... " The bard gave her a grateful look. "Iím glad I benefited from all your experience...I remember Aileenís confinement, and that wasnít a whole lot of fun, if I recall." She gave Dori a finger to hold, and the baby grasped it fuzzily. "Thank the gods you were here for me... I donít know what I would have done without you." She glanced up as she said it, as a vision of a waterfallís rocky edge flashed into her memory. "Thank you for making sure that didnít happen.. I know itís been tough for you."

Xena fastened her cloak, and paused, leaning against the door. "It hasnít been tough at all, Gabrielle." She admitted quietly. "Every day I donít touch that sword.. every day I donít draw blood... I feel that darkness sliding further from me." Her eyes rested on the baby. "I canít ever erase what Iíve done... but maybe I can find a way to be at peace with who I am." She ran her fingers through her hair, then put her hand on the doorlatch. "Iíll give Gran your regards."

"Thanks." Gabrielle replied quietly, as she watched the door close behind her soulmate. "Oh.. Dori... " She breathed, gazing down at her infant daughter. "If thereís anything I could ever hope for you.. it would be that the only way you know what she was, is by hearing old stories about it when youíre all grown up."

"Bck." Dori smacked her lips and blew another bubble.

"Oh really?" Gabrielle laughed, delighted when that brought a happy smile to the babyís face. She studied the infant intently, picking up her arms and legs, and rocking her a little. Dori smiled again. "Hm.. you know, I think Xenaís right... that does kinda remind me of myself." She informed her daughter. Sheíd wanted the baby to look like her partner, but the thought of Dori being a mixture of the two of them was suddenly very, very appealing to her.

A soft knock on the door made her look up in surprise. "Come in." She watched as the wood eased inward, and a big, furry head poked itself in. "Jess! Get over here...."

The forest dweller grinned his toothy grin, and ambled over, closing the door carefully behind him. He crouched down at the bedside, and peered at Dori. "Hi there bittyboo."

The babyís eyes widened, and she waved a tiny fist and gurgled.

Jessan obligingly lifted a hand and offered a clawed finger, which the baby grasped reflexively. "Oo... check that grip out." He glanced up at Gabrielle. "Sheís a cutie.. even without fur."

The bard laughed gently. "Glad you think so... " She watched the baby yawn, and close her eyes, curling up against Gabrielleís chest with a tiny burp of contentment. "I still canít believe it."

"Sheís beautiful." Jess gazed at the child. "How did Xena react?" His liquid, golden eyes lifted to Gabrielleís in smiling question. "Bet she went nuts, huh?"

"Oh... gods." The bard bit her lip. "I think sheís totally enchanted... her face lights up every time she looks at the baby."

A little silence fell, then Gabrielle looked up. "I guess thatís natural...itís her daughter too, after all..." She watched the forest dwellerís face for any hint of surprise and didnít see any. "You knew that, right?"

Jessan glanced up from where he was examining the tiny toes. "Of course." He answered, with a grin. "We always knew...I mean, itís so obvious to us." He moved his jaw reflectively. "We just knew it would freak you humans out, so we kind of shut up about it... but you knew, didnít you?"

Gabrielle nodded. "I... well, I mean, at the beginning, I didnít really think a whole lot about it, because after all, I was trying to get pregnant, you know?" She made a wry face. "So ending up that way wasnít a total surprise... but then after I started thinking about it, the timing just wasnít right." She paused. "And I knew there really was only one other possibility...but it was really scary to think about, considering what happened the last time."

Jessan nodded soberly. "I know.. thatís the other reason we didnít say anything." He put a hand on Gabrielleís arm and gazed at her. "But we always, and always, ever sensed nothing but good around this child, Gabrielle.. I want you to know that, sincerely, from my heart."

The bard felt a lump in her throat. "Would you have said something otherwise?" She asked, honestly.

The forest dweller looked down at the bed coverings. "Yes, I would have." He lifted his head and gazed at her. "As much as it would have hurt me to do that to both of you."

They just gazed quietly at each other for a few moments, while Dori dozed peacefully in Gabrielleís arms. "Iím glad you didnít have to." The bard finally said, very softly.

"Me too." Jessan replied. "You know.. there is a legend in our traditions, that tells of a lifebond who was trapped under a cart, and badly hurt, so that he couldnít move any longer. Thatís very bad for one of my kind.. and he wanted the release of death, but his partner was devastated. She begged him to live for her, and told him she would take care of him, for all his days.

He paused, and Gabrielle reflected soberly. "I donít know what Iíd do in that case... " She murmured. "I love her more than life, and it would kill me to lose her, but I know if she had to live like that, sheíd be dying inside anyway." She took a shaky breath. "Iím not sure what would hurt worse."

"Itís the hardest thing." Jessan agreed quietly. "And she knew that.. but they loved each other so much it was too hard for them to let go." He paused. "Finally, his body failed him, but as he died, he gave her a gift of the spirit, and she found herself pregnant." He glanced at Gabrielle. "I had thought it was only a legend...but then I remembered, that all legends have at their heart, a kernel of truth." He propped his jaw up on one fist. "My motherís going to be fascinated."

"Not pissed off?" The bard asked wryly, still thinking about the story.

Jessan sighed. "Sheís given that up." He replied. "Well, I should let you two get some rest... I know Xena went over to join the birthing crowd.. man, that womanís having the toughest time.. you humans shouldnít have multiples if youíre not built for it."

Gabrielle gave him a worried look. "Jessan, itís not like she asked for it, you know?" She glanced at the door. "I hope sheís okay." A hurried knock startled them both. "Come in."

The door burst open, revealing Posi, one of the Amazons currently living in Amphipolis. "I need Xenaís armor kni..." The woman stopped, and stared at Gabrielle. " Great Artemis.. thatís a baby!"

"The armor knife?" Gabrielle answered sharply. "Itís on the table, but.. whatís going on?"

The woman went and picked the item up, then paused to gaze at Dori. "What a beautiful little Amazon princess... " She murmured. "Granellaís not delivering... Xenaís going to cut her open and take the babies out."

Jessanís eyes bugged out. "What????"

"Oh." Gabrielle nodded. "Like she did with Ephiny... wow... you better get back there."

The woman nodded, taking one last look at the infant, and smiling, then she dashed out.

The bard drummed her fingers on the quilt, and gave Jessan a look.

"Get the Hades out of here, or Iím gonna kill all of you!"

Xena heard the bellow while she was still well clear of the cabin. "Ho boy." She quickened her pace, and trotted up the two short steps to her brotherís home, hearing a low murmur of voices and a lot of activity behind the door. One hand reached out and pulled the latch, and she cautiously poked her head in.

"Iím not gonna push one more gods be damned centaursí asses second, and not one of you damned pieces of sheep dung is gonna make me!" Granella was yelling, a look of frustrated exhaustion on her sweat covered face. She swung a fist and bapped Toris on the shoulder. "And itís your fault, you god damned... "

"Hi." Xena cleared her throat.

Heads turned and looks of relief spread across the cabin. Xena took that as an invitation to enter, and she did, stepping past the six Amazons, two healers, a forest dweller and the members of her immediate family to get to the bed, kneeling at the side and resting a hand on her knee. "Having a rough time?"

Granellaís eyes popped out. "Rough time? Iíll give you a rough time, lady... and as for blame... this is *your * fault too!!" She swung a wild fist at Xena, who caught it, and held it.

"Granella." The pale blue eyes turned quietly serious. "Watch who youíre swinging on."

The woman panted. "After what Iíve been through tonight.. you think YOU scare me?"

The warrior leaned over, and pinned her with a direct gaze. "You can shut up, and let me help you, or Iíll leave. Your choice."

Pale gray eyes searched her face for a long moment, then dropped. "Sorry." The Amazon sighed. "The painís getting to me."

Xena released her hand, then ruffled her damp hair. "Yeah, I know... hang on, and let me see where weíre at." She gently probed the very pregnant womanís belly. "Oneís breech." She turned and looked at Renas and Elaini, who nodded confirmation.

"Theyíre both still hanging in there." Elaini stated without prompting.

"Iíve tried everything..." Renas sighed. "I tried manipulation internal and external, all the herbs I had... I donít know where to go next, Xena... Iíd just asked your mother to go get you." He sighed. "Iíd have sent earlier, but I knew youíd just gotten home."

"Mm." The warrior straightened, and stood, unhooking her cloak and tossing it in a corner. "Weíre going to have to take them out." She glanced at Granella. "Iíll need boiled water, all the cleansing herbs youíve got, gut, a needle, and if someone can go get my armor knife.. itís the sharpest I know of." She gave one of the Amazons a nod, and they ran off towards her cabin. Guess I should have told her they have a new Amazon Princess, eh.. oh well.

"Ttttake them?" Toris stuttered, blinking at his sister.

"What... exactly.. do you mean by that, Xena?" Granella asked faintly.

"Means youíre gonna have a scar that matches the one Eph has." The warrior told her. "Relax."

"Oh gods." Granellaís eyes fluttered, then closed, and she slumped against the bed sheets, out cold.

"Youíre going to cut her open?" Renas asked, his eyes bugging out. "Great Hera... thatís insane!"

"No.." Solari edged her way forward, and gave Xena a tight smile. "Xena did it to our regent...it saved her life, and the babyís." She glanced at the bed. "Thatís what weíre talking about here, right?"

Xena nodded grimly. "They have to come out.. and with one breech, and her so small anyway, itís the only way I know of." She glanced at her mother, who was setting a bucket of water on the fire. "It can be done.. weíve just got to be really careful to sew her up good."

"Gods." The healer scrubbed his face, then turned to Solari. "I remember that scar Ephiny has.. was hers a breech also?"

"No. It was a centaur." Solari answered absently, her attention on Granella. She turned on hearing a thud, and spotted Renas passed out on the floor. "Damn."

Elaini dragged him out of the way, and joined Xena at the bedside. "How does it feel?" The forest dweller murmured in her ear.

"How does what feel?" Xena replied, perplexed.

"Parenthood." Elainiís eyes twinkled. "Youíre practically glowing."

The warrior grinned briefly at her, then turned as the door swung open and the Amazon returned, her eyes alight. "Guess the secretís out, huh?" She remarked, taking the knife from the woman.

"Sheís so cute!" The Amazon enthused. "What an adorable little nose... and those pink ears!"

Solari stared at her, then grabbed her arm. "Whadda ya think youíre doing, talking about the Queen like that... " She hissed furiously. "You drunk?"

Xena muffled a laugh, as she held the knife in the candle flame. "Soli, I think sheís talking about our daughter. " The warrior stated casually. "Or... at least, I hope so." This with a mock stern look over one shoulder. "Not that I disagree with either of those statements if youíre not."

"Your what?" A chorus of voices answered her.

"It seems that Gabrielle decided this was as good a night as any." Cyrene explained calmly, as she and Renas took the hot water off the fire, and offered it to the busy Xena. "She gave birth about five candlemarks ago."

Everyone stared at Xena who ignored them. "All right.. " She knelt beside the unconscious Granella. "I need someone to thread the gut on the needle for me, and someone else to get some blankets ready. " She washed the huge belly, and lined up her knife carefully, aware of Renas and Elaini flanking her, the forest dweller kneeling down and spreading her arms with clean, soft cloths. "Werenít you saying something about not having to birth human babies the first time I saw you?" Xena asked, as she prepared to make her cut.

Elaini laughed softly. "Yeah.. that was right before you knocked me on my fuzzy butt."

The knife slipped through the skin, separating it quickly. Xena was peripherally aware of a heavy body hitting the floor, and she guessed someone had passed out. Then two more thuds followed. "At least itís gonna be quieter." She muttered, as she cut through the next layer, then put her knife down as a squirming form moved under her hand. "Okay.. " She gently lifted the first baby out and handed it to Elaini, then reached in for the second, having to twist it around to pull it clear. "That was the problem." She murmured, as she gave the second baby over to Renas, then made sure she had the birth sac as well. "Gimme the gut."

It took a long time, and she had to put a pressure point on Granella when she started coming around partway through the process. The babies were cleaned, and swaddled, as everyone kept a silent vigil, some voluntary, others involuntary due to unconsciousness. "I think thatís got it." Xena finally said, examining her work.

"Xena, that was amazing." Renas murmured. "Iíve never seen anything like that before."

The warrior regarded him. "Yeah.. well.. be glad. I learned these techniques on the battlefield." Her voice was grim with memory.

"Really." The healer sat back, cradling the second tiny infant, who was gasping a little. "I didnít know women giving birth were a common battlefield problem."

Xena just looked at him, as she dusted Granellaís incision with herbal powder, and put a light bandage over it. Then she lifted what was left of the water, now cooled, and tossed it onto her brotherís face. "Hey!!!"

Toris spluttered to life, rolling over onto one elbow and coughing. "What in... Hadesí Seven Levels, sis... what was that for?"

"Thought you might want to meet your sons." Xena commented, lifting a fist. "If not, I can put you back out.

Toris sat up, and blinked. "My what? His eyes went from Elaini to Renas, who were holding up two tiny wrapped bundles. "Oh.." He promptly passed out again.

Xena shook her head. "Must be a family trait I never knew about." She muttered softly, checking her work, then releasing the pressure points. "Okay... done."

Granella stirred, then moaned, reaching for her stomach. Xena caught her hands. "Gran...." She was aware of Solari moving closer, and she gave her a quick look. "Sheís gonna be okay."

Solari rubbed her head. "Yeah... can you look at my skull next? I think I cracked it on that chair." She put a hand on Xenaís arm. "Did I hear right? Gabrielle had her baby?" She gave Xena a poke in the shoulder. "You centaurís puss... how come you didnít tell us?"

Xena gave her a look. "It was Gabrielleís decision." She answered. "You know she hates fusses...besides, you all were busy." She patted Granellaís cheek. "Gran.. címon..."

Slowly the gray eyes fluttered open. "Oh...gods... " The dark haired Amazon whispered. "Wh..." She reached for her stomach again, but Xena stopped her. "What hap...wh... "

"Hey.. itís okay." The warrior motioned Elaini forward. "Look... see what we found?"

Granellaís eyes slowly focused on the squirming bundle. "Oh...is...where.. "

Renas moved without prompting, handing over the second infant. "Here you go... son number two." He settled the tiny baby in her arms and sat back, sighing with relief. "Theyíre small, but theyíre healthy."

"Oh... " Granellaís exhausted face creased into a weary smile, as the baby made a small noise, and pawed at her face with one hand. "I canít believe it... " She looked up at Xena. "Scar like Ephís, huh?" She laughed weakly. "Thanks, Xena.. sorry I gave you such a hard time." Her eyes wandered. "Everyone.. such a hard time." A pause. "Speaking of which.. whereís Tor?"

"Here." The dark haired man pushed himself to a sitting position, startled when Elaini deposited his son in his arms. "Oh...gosh... " The baby kicked, and squalled as he juggled it, then settled down. "Wow." He looked up at his sister. "Itís a boy."

Xena peered at the child. "Oh yeah." She agreed, then pointed. "Soís that one." Then she smiled. "And theyíve got a little girl cousin they can play with soon... Gabrielle delivered a few candlemarks ago."

"What?" Toris stared at her.

"That little sneak!" Granella tickled her sonís chin. "She did it early just to spite me... so I wouldnít be able to tease her that I was done, and she was still suffering." Her eyes flicked to Xenaís face. "She doing okay?"

Xena put away the drugs and supplies, then settled back on her heels. "Sheís doing fine... and the babyís very healthy."

"Well.. itís been quite a night, then." Renas broke the silence. "Iíll go take a look at Gabrielle, though if you were with her, Xena, I know thereís no need for me do to it other than as a friend." He stood, and brushed his hands off. "Itís a girl?"

The warrior nodded. "Yep... sure is." She looked up, and caught her mother gazing at her. Cyrene pursed her lips, then followed Renas outside. Xena watched them go, then turned her eyes back to Granella. "We named her Doriana." She glanced at Toris, then at Granella. "You guys pick names yet?"

Toris was sitting, spellbound, as his son reached a fist up blindly and caught his beard. "What?" He blinked at his sister. "Oh... um... "

"We have a short list." Granella said softly, running a hand over the wisps of pale hair on her sonís head. Her face tensed. "Any chance of something for that little nick you gave me?" She looked up as the pale morning sun entered the window.

"Yeah." Xena mixed a cup for her. "Donít try to move around, Gran... you can have a cup of this twice, maybe three times a day... and itíll take a few days until it starts healing up."

The Amazon let her head drop back on the pillow. "Donít worry.. Iím not going anywhere." She said quietly. "Congratulate Gabrielle for me, would you?"

Xena was about to answer, but a familiar presence made itself known at her back, and she let out a long sigh. "Tell her yourself." The warrior shook her head, as the door opened, and a familiar pale head poked itself inside.

"Hey." Gabrielle edged inside. "How are you doing?" She pushed her hood back and walked slowly over to where Xena was kneeling, resting a hand on her shoulder for balance. "I was worried about you Gran... Renas said Xena had to... " Her eyes drifted to the two little babies. "I guess it worked out." She smiled at the infants, then at her soulmate. "I should have known it would."

"Youíre supposed to be resting." The warrior glared at her.

Gabrielle delivered an affectionate kiss to the top of her dark head. "Renas and Grandma wanted a few minutes with Dori.. and I needed a little fresh air." She looked around at the watching Amazons. "I bet Granella could use some breakfast." She told them pointedly.

Boots scuffled as they exited. Elaini stood and stretched. "Iím going to let Jess in on the news... he was so excited. He loves babies."

Gabrielle chuckled. "He was just by, as a matter of fact...I think Dori spotted him as a large, talking toy." Her eyes met Elainiís. "He wanted to congratulate us." She put the faintest hint of stress on the us, and saw the sweet smile crease Elainiís muzzle. "Thank you."

The forest dweller winked at her then rolled her eyes. "Like I said, he loves babies.. Not that we donít have enough of them... and you all will do me a favor, okay? If he mentions wanting more of his own, kick him." She winked at Gabrielle on the way out. "And I have to go see your little pup." The forest dweller exited, leaving the four of them alone.

Toris stood, balancing carefully, and walked to Granellaís side, seating himself on a small stool and rocking his son gently. "This is amazing."

Granella sighed. "Glad you think so ." She looked up wryly at Gabrielle. "Let me guess... you had an easy time of it."

Gabrielle gave her a direct look, and settled her hands on her hips. "Given what happened last time, I think I was due." She told Granella bluntly, getting a mildly startled look from her soulmate. "I donít mean to be rude or anything... but Iím getting a little tired of apologizing for that."

The Amazon dropped her gaze. "Yeah, I guess you are...sorry." She gave the bard an apologetic look. "Little girl, huh?" She indicated her son, and his twin. "Gave her some playmates."

The atmosphere relaxed, and Gabrielle eased forward, kneeling carefully and taking a tiny fist in her hands. "Oh... theyíre adorable."

"Xena... we wanted to talk guys to you before we... " Toris hesitated and looked at Granella, then cleared his throat. "We were talking... about names and stuff. And weíd like to name one of these little guys after Ly."

The warrior glanced puzzledly at him. "You donít need to ask me about that, Toris.. I think itís a great idea."

"No.. I know, but.. " He looked at Granella. "I mean, since you guys had a girl and all.. "

Granella hitched herself up a little. "What heís dancing around is that if itís okay with you, weíd like to name the other one Solon."

Gabrielle instinctively reached behind her, and captured Xenaís hand, feeling the gentle tremor in it. Their eyes met, and without any speech, understanding was passed effortlessly. "Thatís a really beautiful, generous thought." The bard said softly.

"Iíd like that very much." Xena added just as quietly. So it comes full circle. I guess thatís fitting.

Toris smiled, and settled his son on his knees. "With Jessan settling here... can you imagine what itís going to be like when all these tykes start running around? " He chuckled, obviously pleased by his sisterís agreement. "Weíre gonna have to give his two nicknames."

"Well... at least all the birthdays fall at once." Gabrielle commented, with a grin. "We can do one mass party." She leaned back, and exhaled as Xenaís arms circled her. "And with Ephiny permanently stationing a rotating group of Amazons here... weíve got an endless supply of babysitters." She grinned. "Neat, huh?"

Gran cocked her head. "Hmm.... I didnít think of that...good point." She paused. "Though.. I dunno.. Pony babysitting.. thatís pretty damn scary." Her voice took on a hint of amusement. " You know she and Eph are headed up here, doncha?"

"Aunt Ephiny, three times over." Gabrielle grinned. "And Aunt Pony... theyíre going to go nuts." Then she turned to Xena. "Hey.. maybe theyíll bring Paladia along.. and I can have her do a sketch of Dori. " She paused. "And you."

"Gabrielle... youíve got enough sketches of me." Xena gave her soulmate a dour look. "That kidís got some kind of imagination."

The bard ruffled her hair affectionately. "She just draws what she sees, Xena... and those pictures match what I remember... especially that one of you leaning against that tree in that Amazon outfit." Gabrielle waggled her eyebrows. "I like that one... I canít understand why you wonít let me hang it over the mantle."

"Gabrielle." Xena sighed.

"I havenít seen that one." Granellaís voice took on a more interested tone. "Next time you wander over, bring it, willya?"

Yells sounded outside, and Xenaís head lifted, as alerts came in from the outposts around the village. She sighed. "Never a damn dull moment..." Her eyes fell on her soulmate. "Stay here." A pause. "Please?"

Gabrielle let her wonder for a second, then she grinned. "Okay... be careful." She held out her hands as Toris also rose, and took the other twin. "Maybe you should stay here too, Toris... last time you almost broke your leg."

He gave her a wry look, then followed his sister out the door.

Gabrielle cradled the tiny infant, amazed at how much smaller he was than Dori. He had a thin cap of sandy pale hair and little, wizened face. She cooed at him, then looked up at Granella. "That stuff kicking in yet?"

The Amazon nodded, exhaling and regarding her ruefully. "Iíve been acting like an ass, havenít I?"

"Um.... " The bard tried to find tact somewhere.

"Yes, I have...especially to you, lately." Granella told her. "You didnít deserve that, and it sucks, Gabrielle.. not just because youíre my queen, and my sister in law, but because I regard you as a friend." She paused awkwardly. "Iím sorry."

The bard shifted a little wincing. "Xena says that happens sometimes when youíre pregnant... itís like your brain enters a different realm or something.. and you just react because youíre so uncomfortable, and so freaked out... we had to deal with that too." She hesitated. "Only with us, itís always more complicated, because thereís so much between us already, we had to stop and sit back, and say Ďwait a minute, this is not us, this is the babyí a few times."

Granella sighed, easing her newborn to one side. "It was like I was a different person." She admitted. "Everything bothered me... and I guess I was really jealous of you... I mean, we basically got pregnant about the same time, and it was like it didnít even affect you until the last few months."

Gabrielle nodded reflectively. "Planning." She replied simply. "And besides.. I... well, for one thing, I had one Hades of an example to live up to... Xenaís respect means a lot to me, and she kept fighting in the field, leading an army until right before she gave birth to Solon... and even if she sat there and told me six hundred times consecutively that she didnít expect me to follow that example, I..." She sighed. "I donít think Iíll ever get over needing her approval in some things." A long pause. "Or of wanting her to be proud of me."

The Amazon swallowed. "Gabrielle, I donít think thereís one bit of doubt about that...you just gotta look at her when she looks at you." She told the bard awkwardly. "You donít have to prove yourself to anyone anymore."

"I know." Gabrielle stated quietly. ĎBut itís been a long road.... And weíre still traveling it." She changed the subject. "By the way... thank you for being so thoughtful with the names...that was great of you."

Granella smiled sleepily. "No problem... I liked both names, and it made Tor happy... damn... I think there was something in that stuff thatís putting me out."

Gabrielle gently placed one baby in the cradle, then slowly straightened up and retrieved his brother, settling them down side by side in the large, ornate wooden bed the Amazons had gifted them with. "Knowing Xena? Probably... get some rest.. these guys will probably be hungry real soon." She put a hand on the dark haired womanís forehead, and smoothed the sweat-dampened hair back. "Sleep tight."

"Where ya goin?" Granella responded blearily. "Yítold Xena youíd stay here."

The bard grinned. "Yeah, but I didnít tell her how long Iíd stay here." She tucked the covers around Granellaís body. "See you later."

Xena stood and walked to the door, pushing it open with Toris right behind her, and moving out into the dawn light as she heard the rapid drumming of incoming hoofbeats. She looked around, seeing the militia already assembling, staves ready as the rider thundered in, pulling up and looking around. His eyes fell on Xena and he lifted a hand, acknowledging her unspoken leadership. "Thereís a group of refugees heading in... being chased by some soldiers.. not sure who they are. I didnít recognize the banner."

Xena nodded. "Right.. okay, you know the drill." She watched the militia separate and head for the inbound road, moving to either side of it and standing ready. She picked up an unused staff and joined the group, listening for the first sound of cartwheels. "Okay... here they come. " She yelled, and saw hands grip staffs in anticipation. About a half dozen of the best of her students were at the front, their eyes flicking down the road nervously.

The carts, three of them loaded heavily with people came in, passing the outer guard and hurtling into the central part of the village. As their pursuers followed, a strong, fierce yell rang out from the militia, and they ran to intercept, dodging the startled horsemenís battle maces and getting in hard blows from the much longer staffs.

Xena ducked a spear thrust, and took a horseman out of his saddle with a sweep, then worked her way towards the refugees, putting herself between them and the raiders. She mostly did mop up, the last defense against the men who got through the militiaís lines, an end of the line where they stopped, or retreated, or got dumped from their saddles by the powerful sweeps of the dark haired woman blocking their way.

This is how it should have been. Xena decided. Me, just one of many, taking part in a common defense of my home, and my family. No different than anyone else.

Thatís how it was now. She stood, and took out another rider, dumping him in the dirt and sending his horse bolting with a slap on the behind. She was just another village defender. No different than any of the men or women down the road.

A larger horse broke through, and thundered towards her, the rider evidently identifying her as a logjam. He leveled a spear and sat low in his saddle, presenting only a tiny target for her staff.

Just another defender.

Xena waited until he was committed, then she bolted towards him, picking up speed with every stride, then taking two last powerful steps and launching up into the air, sailing right over his lance and hitting him solidly in the chest with both boots, kicking out wards and sending him flying right into the side of the barn. She flipped in mid air, then landed neatly and bounced twice.

Well, maybe not JUST another defender, she wryly acknowledged.

"Nice one, Xena!" Blond Orrin yelled, shaking his staff at her. She waved back, then watched the raiders ride off, bloodied and shaken, carrying off stories of the defenders of Amphipolis. Xena twirled her staff with a satisfied flourish, then turned to see what the Hades the raiders were chasing.

And found herself looking at the remnants of Isaacís people. Damn. Four families, she reckoned, as a tall spindly man she remembered from the village stumbled forward towards her. "What happened?"

"We... tried to find land." The man told her, nervously. "It... wherever we went, there was only anger, and hatred... many died." He glanced behind him. "Weíre all thatís left... my wife and I, two other men and their families, and a few children whose parents were killed." He paused, and half turned, and she saw Rebekahís pale, sad face peering out from behind one of the wagons. "She had directions here." He looked at Xena. "I donít know if youíre an angel or a devil, but you can fight those people, and we canít."

Josclyn came up, wiping his hands. "Greetings to you." He gave them an a sympathetic look, then cocked an eyebrow at Xena. "Friends of yours?"

Xena sighed. "Something like that... theyíre just people looking for a place to live... can you get them settled? Theyíve got some children with them." She considered. "Theyíve got different ways than us, but theyíre hard workers."

Josc laughed. "Different ways, ye say? Get on with you, Xena... between the furries, and the Amazons, centaurs coming in and out of here, not to mention Hercules, that con artist, his buddy the thief... nothing seems different to me nowadays, not even if they were to have antlers and corkscrew tails.." He held a hand out . "Mínameís Josclyn.. Iím the reeve here."

"Stephen." The man took his hand gratefully. "Anything you could do would be appreciated... weíve been running since sundown yesterday, trying to get away from those men."

"All right then... weíve got a new stretch of land we just opened up... címon with me, letís talk." The reeve took his elbow, and motioned several of the villagers to help with the wagons. Four lonely bedraggled sheep followed disconsolately behind as they moved off. Xena walked behind the carts, and caught up with the last one.

"Hello, Rebekah." She gave the girl a smile.

"Hello." Rebekah whispered. "Your friend told me how to get here."

The warrior nodded. "I know.. she told me... Iím glad you made it."

A sad nod. "Iím the only one left.. " The girl told her tonelessly. "They chased our wagon down, and abba tried to stop them, but they just kept hitting and hitting... " She looked off into the distance, and Xenaís chest hurt from the hopelessness she saw in her face. "They took Ruben and Jacob... I donít know what happened to them. " She looked at Xena. "Ruben was crying...heíd just been telling me the story of when you saved him. " She looked down. "He loved telling everyone about it." Her eyes lifted to Xenaís again, and filled with tears. "Why did they do that?"

Xena had no answer for that, but a voice gently floated from behind her. "Because they can."

"Oh.. hello." Rebekah sniffled. "Youíre not having a baby anymore? Did they come here and take it, too?"

"No." Gabrielle ignored the discomfort and walked slowly along. "Our babyís here... and Iím sorry about what happened to your family." She gazed compassionately at the girl. "People do that because thereís no one to stop them.. no one to protect people, like there is here." She put a hand on Xenaís elbow. "But Iím glad you made it." She watched the cart rumble way, with that sad face looking back at them, until it went around the bend to the new west section of Amphipolis.

They stood by the corner of the inn, as a cold wind blew in, ruffling fair and dark hair in pensive silence. "Thatís a damn shame." Xena stated, softly.

"Mm." Gabrielle agreed. "Those poor kids." A pause. "You think it was those guys?"

"Nah." Xena shook her head. "Those were just punks." Long fingers drummed on a muscular thigh. "Merchants might know if there were slavers buying around here."

"Yeah, they might." The bard remarked. "Poor Rebekah... I canít imagine how Iíd have felt if theyíd taken Lila, and killed my parents, even after everything."

Silence descended, as the wind flicked a few leaves against their cloaks. A hawk circled overhead, letting out a lonely cry.

"Couldnít hurt to ask around." Xena finally said, putting an arm around Gabrielleís sturdy shoulders, surrendering to a newly burnished facet of her infinitely complicated nature.

"Nope." A gentle, inevitable smile spread across the bardís face. "It would be nice to reunite them if we could." Reflecting that nobility carried its own, inimitable addiction, even for reluctantly heroic, retired ex warlords.

And bardically inclined Amazon Queens, for that matter.

Xena let her hand rest on the wooden railing. "Families should be together." She agreed, turning her head and meeting mist green eyes gazing at her in loving trust. "I thought I asked you to stay by Toris." A sardonic grin chased the comment.

"I did." The bard tucked a hand in her partnerís elbow. "And after all the yelling died down, I came out to make sure you didnít get yourself in trouble. Youíre really good at that." She started a slow amble towards their cabin, and their new daughter.

"Iím good at that?" Xenaís voice rose in astonishment. "*I* am? Gabrielle, I think youíve got that a little backwards."

"Oh no.. thatís just this fallacy everyone has.. that I cause all the trouble.. well, let me tell you, Xena.. I never got into any trouble until I met you." Gabrielle insisted.

"Gabrielle, you may have forgotten this, but you were IN trouble when we met." The warrior countered wryly.

"Ah ah.. no no no... that was anticipatory trouble, because you were in the area." One slim finger wagged. "Itís an effect you have... I never got into trouble before that."

"Thatís not what Lila says." A dark brow slid up mischievously.

Long pause. "What exactly did she say?" The bard asked, suspiciously.

"Heh." Xena grinned.

"She didnít tell you about that pig, did she?"

"Heh."

"Gods.. I canít believe she remembers that... it wasnít really trouble, though.. I didnít mean to spill olive oil all over it before they were supposed to judge it at the fair." The bard sighed. "I wonder if they ever did catch it." A sideways glance. "But that was it, really.. until I met you, and then.. forget it."

"Titans."

"I fixed that."

"Morpheus."

"Not my fault."

"Bacchus."

"I donít remember much of that."

"Laced nutbread."

"You canít blame that on me, Xena.. and besides, itís given you the giggles for years thinking about me and those damn singing rocks."

"Cecrops."

"It was a shipwreck! Give me a break!"

"Amazon Princess."

"I didnít ask for that.. and did we ever figure out if an Amazon Queen beats a Warrior Princess? Oh right.. the image.. I forgot.. nevermind that. What else you got?"

"You married me."

"Hmm." Long pause. "Okay.. you got me there.. I definitely got myself into that one."

Boots crunched on the gravel strewn ground. "Hey, Xena?"

"Mm?"

"I think we both attract trouble."

"Well, we attracted each other. "

"Thatís what I meant... what if Dori inherits that from both of us?"

Silence.

"Gabrielle?"

"Yeah?"

"We could have a serious problem here."

"Yeah."

"Guess weíll find out."

"I guess we will."


The End

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