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 It's 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 - I'm not disclaiming subtext anymore. If you've gotten this far in the series, you know what it's about. I don't personally think there's anything in their relationship that needs disclaiming. It's not like they're 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:

Circle of Life - Part 6

By Melissa Good

The entire village was gone.  Xena stood on the ridge overlooking where it had been and surveyed the lapping water, now being siphoned from the river through the cavern system and out the waterfall. The cool wind, growing steadily colder blew her hair back, and ruffled the edges of her light cloak, and she gratefully tugged the edges closed over her still damp leathers. "Damn."

Matthias and two of the other village elders stood nearby, their faces resigned. "It is God's will." Matthias stated. "We were not meant to be there."  He turned and surveyed the sad train of his people, with boxes and bags strapped on their backs, and a few on the backs of the sheep. "We will find another home, somewhere down the road."

Xena glanced at him. "This part of the country is not highly populated… it's pretty empty the further inland you go for a while here, until you hit the mountains, and Amazon country."

Matthias gave her a sour look, peering to his left at the group of Amazons standing around a seated Gabrielle, as they waited quietly. Their leathers gleamed a warm golden in the sunlight, against tanned skin and lithe bodies adorned with feathers and weapons. "No. We do not wish to go that way."

"They're not bad people, Matthias… they just have their own ways, like you do." The warrior commented. "Like all of us do… but further to the west you'll find a bunch of smaller villages..I think their traditions will come  little closer to yours."

He nodded briefly. "And you? Where do you come from?"

"Trading town called Amphipolis, about half a day's ride from here." Xena answered. "My mother's the innkeeper… Johan there is her husband. My brother Toris' wife is expecting her first child in a few months."  She exhaled. "We've got a winter fair going on in a few days.. you're welcome to stop by.. see if you can trade for some of the stuff you lost."

"Tis not a bad idea, Matthias… we're sorely lacking in gear." The older of the other two commented.

Matthias jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Gabrielle "What of her?" He asked. "Who tells tales to our children the like to give them nightmares?"

Xena let him wait a bit, while she stared at him. "Gabrielle is a queen of the Amazons… our town's chief negotiator… a talented bard… and tomorrow is our one year joining anniversary. " She stated blandly. "Which of those were you asking about?" She crossed her arms over her chest. "And those stories weren't any worse than what they've just been through."

Silence, as they looked at her. "Come." Matthias finally said, with a disgusted snort. "We must find shelter… tomorrow we will move on." He turned and stalked off, with the other two men following in his footsteps.

Xena's lip curled. "Bite me." She muttered, turning on her heel and heading downslope, to where her friends and family were waiting. Can't win em all, she realized, as she watched the remaining villagers group themselves around Matthias, and pointedly turn their backs on her. She felt the wind tug her cloak, and she straightened, facing into it, and letting it whip her hair back as she strode away from them, and towards a pair of patiently waiting green eyes. "Well… I guess we're outta here."

"Not even a thank you, huh?" Johan snorted. "Pig's butts.. half of em be dead or worse if it weren't fer us."

"What about all the gold, and the gems in there, Xena?" Gabrielle asked, as she got to her feet, and twitched her tunic straight. "Are they buried under all that water, for good?"

Xena glanced over her shoulder. "Pretty much… they're convinced their god doesn't want em around here, and I'm sure not going to tell anyone about what's in that cavern… and the riverbed's changed course enough so that maybe most of that gold'll get covered up again."  She settled an arm around the bard's shoulders. "You got your little bit, right?"

"Mm." Gabrielle nodded. "I think I'm going to have it made into a little charm.. maybe a bear or a horse or something." She glanced up at her soulmate and smiled. "With a place for a birthdate on it."

Xena smiled back. "Fair enough."  She shouldered her pack, and got ahold of Gabrielle's before the bard could lift it, slinging over her shoulder as well.


"Yeeess?" The warrior purred an answer, lifting both eyebrows. "You said you were going to walk.. not that you were going to walk while carrying all our junk."  She took a breath. "All right… if we get going now, and keep to the road, and we get lucky with the weather, we might make home by dark."

"We'll make it." Gabrielle's eyes twinkled. "I promised someone I know breakfast in bed on her birthday, and I'll be darned if I'm not going to keep that promise."

"Oh.. hey.. that's right!" Solari crowed. "Tomorrow is Solstice, isn't it!"  She socked Xena in the arm. "What a great excuse for a party!"

"Oh no." Xena started off, shaking her head. "No parties.. and since when did Amazons need a damn excuse?"  She glanced down at her soulmate. "Sorry things didn't work out too well with those folks."

A shrug. "Oh.. I don’t' know, Xena… I had a visit from Rebekah before they chased all the children back over… " She slid an arm around the warrior's waist. "I sent some scrolls with her."


She got an unrepentant look back. "You were right.. those people don't want our help.. but that girl does." She lifted her chin. "I gave her a basic instruction on our letters.. and the sounds.. and a few easy stories to read when she can."

Xena sighed, then laughed. "That's my Gabrielle."

"And directions to Amphipolis." The bard muttered, peeking up at her. "Just in case."

"I wonder what Baracus is going to think when he finally shows up, and there's no village there." Toris mused. "Think he'll come looking for them?"  He asked his sister. "That could be trouble."

"Cross that bridge when we come to it." Xena answered shortly. "Let's just get home."


It was just twilight when the road started angling up, leading into the main entrance to Amphipolis.

Gabrielle was direly grateful for this, since she figured if she had to hear her beloved soulmate ask her if she was okay just one more tiny little time, she was going to go completely out of control. Okay, so the walk had been taxing, and she had been out of breath a lot, but that didn’t' meant she was about to keel over.

The village had plenty of warning of their approach, and as they entered the main square, a flood of bodies headed towards them, ranging from Cyrene, to Elaini, to a very anxious looking Granella.

"Hey cutie." Cyrene hugged her. "Everything come out okay?"

Let's see. Bats, rats, floods, fanatics, warlords, and sheep. "Everything's great, mom… it all worked out fine." The bard assured her. "We're just glad to be back."

"We're glad you're back too.. and nice timing." Cyrene teased, tweaking her hair. "How's the old grump doing?"

Gabrielle peeked over at her soulmate, who was busy saying hello to Eponin. "She's fine…we had one or two little incidents.. but nothing major." She exchanged glances with Cyrene. "In fact, I think I have to go get her to change.. those leathers are probably still a little damp from this morning.. we had a little accident."

For once, the innkeeper didn't ask any questions. "Sounds like a good idea, cutie… you get changed, then c'mon back over… I think you'll like what's for dinner."

Green eyes twinkled into amber in the twilight. "I bet I will."  She eased over, and took Xena's elbow, grinning a hello to Eponin. "Hi Pony… glad you could make it.. how was the trip?"

"Just great… " Eponin rocked on her heels. "How about you?"

"Fine..fine.. listen, I need to borrow Xena here.. she's got an appointment with some dry clothes."  Gabrielle smiled at her partner. "Don't you?"

The warrior gave her a look.

"And I'll tell you all about our adventure when we get back." The bard added, directing this to Eponin. "Okay?"

"Sounds great." Pony agreed amiably. "I've got notes from Eph… and some stuff to tell too."

"Wasn't Cait supposed to be coming down with you?" Xena queried, glancing around for the girl.

"Oh.. yeah.. she's here.. she and Pal are down where they're.. uh.. setting up the fair, I think.. that's what she said." Pony scratched her jaw. "She'll be back here for dinner, m'sure."

"Speaking of which.. " Gabrielle tugged on her soulmate. "C'mon.. I'm hungry."

Xena amiably allowed herself to be led across the familiar confines of Amphipolis, past the open courtyard, and the front of the inn, their boots kicking up a light cloud of dust as they moved through the now cold air. Through the archway beside the inn and into the area behind it, where her brother's home was tucked into one corner, and to the left, nestled between two large oak trees, stood their cabin.

Home. Xena smiled, as their footsteps rang with familiar weight on the low, wooden porch, then she half turned as she heard the scrabble of running paws. "Hang on…" She warned Gabrielle as Ares hurled himself onto the porch and jumped up against her jubiliantly. "Hey boy.. whoa!"

"Rooo!!!!" The wolf threw his head back and yodeled. "Arggrroooo… " He shoved his head into Xena's chest, and snorted, as she ruffled his fur, and hugged him. "Grrrr… ."

"Hey.. I'm glad to see you too." The warrior laughed. "But you should be so grateful to us that you got left here this time, boy… you'd have hated this one."

"Grrrrroooo… " He panted at her, then glanced at the amusedly watching Gabrielle, and changed targets, aiming for her more readily accessable face.

"Hooold on there.. " Gabrielle staggered under his weight, as his paws hit her shoulders, and his head came even with her own. "Take it easy there, Ares… you're going to knock me over.. I'm not a tree like your mommy here."

"Roo?" The wolf delicately licked her face.

"Yes, I love you." Gabrielle kissed his nose. "Come on.. we've got to get your mommy into some dry clothes."  Ares trotted ahead of them into the cabin and ran around sniffing interestedly. "Wow.. good to be home."

"I was just thinking that." Xena replied, as she hung her cloak up, and unbuckled her armor, lifting it over her head and letting it drop with a sigh of relief. "That's gonna take an entire afternoon to bang back into shape." She glared at the plates. "Damn trees."

"Excuse me.. " Gabrielle lifted a bit, examining a healthy dent. "I'd much rather this dent be in here then on you." She waved the armor at the warrior. "Besides, you always fuss with this stuff.. even when it doesn't need it."

Xena unlaced her bracers, and chuckled ruefully. "Yeah.. I guess that's true.. it's habit, more than anything." She rubbed her wrists, where the leather armor marked her. "Wonder where those folks ended up tonight?"

Gabrielle sat down, and braced her foot on the low table near the fireplace to remove her boots, since leaning all the way over wasn't' a comfortable option. "Are they bothering you too? I don't know, Xena.. I.. I just feel like this whole thing is… unfinished."

"Mm." The warrior sat down to remove her leg armor, unstrapping the worn iron buckles behind her knees and lifting the heavy plates off. "Yeah… it bothered me just leaving them like that.. but I didn't see what else we could do… they decided to move in a different direction, and didn’t' want an escort.. I… " She exhaled. "I know they didn't like us, but… " She unlaced her boots and slid out of them, wincing at the filth caked all over them. "Ugh."

"Yeah… " Gabrielle regarded her own mud stained feet. "Gross… I think a bath is an option here, don't you?"

Xena didn't even think twice, she just headed for the small bathing room, and almost groaned in grateful relief when she spotted the full buckets already resting against the back of the fireplace wall on one side. "Oh ho.. remind me to give my mother a big hug for this." She called inside, as she emptied the buckets into the tub.

Gabrielle leaned back in her chair, folding her hands across her belly and gazing at the ceiling with a grin. She wiggled her feet contentedly, glad to be off them. "Oh. I will.. " She assured the wooden supports.

The warrior finished filling up the wooden tub, then padded back into the main room and collected a bag of bath salts they'd picked up someplace or other. "Shall we?" She offered a hand to her soulmate.

The warm water felt wonderful, and Gabrielle groaned as she let it envelope her, then she almost groaned again for a different reason when  soap wielding hands started rubbing her all over, scrubbing the sticky, nasty mud off her body in time with some gentle nibbling that progressed along her neck and ear. She kept her eyes closed, but reached for some soap herself, and started an exploration of her own. "Gods, this feels good." She muttered.

"Mmhnmm." Xena agreed readily, smiling as she felt a kick against her hand. "Baby thinks so too."

"Baby's glad to be out of that nasty, dank, disgusting cavern just like I am." Gabrielle informed her. "Hey.. roll over.. let me see your back." She inspected the cuts, and ran a gentle finger over the deepest one, still tender and visible. "That one was kinda scary."

"Uh huh.. " The warrior nodded. "I'm going to build another plate, I think… extending down between my shoulderblades to catch stuff like that.. I don’t' want to take any more chances with my back."

Gabrielle blinked at her. "That's a great idea." She complimented her partner, then kissed her lightly on the nose. "I think we'll have some time now… sounds like a good project."

"Oh yeah." Xena curled her arms around her soulmate protectively. "It's now my turn to spoil you rotten."

Gabrielle realized how bone deep tired she was, and surrendered to her body's warning signals gracefully. "Okay.. I think I did pretty good, holding you off for six months." She acknowledged. "I'll start taking it easier."  She promised, stifling a yawn. "Gods… okay, let's get out of here, and get some dinner.. or I'll fall asleep right where I am."

Xena regarded her fondly. "I'll go pick something up from the kitchen for you.. I mean, we'll have a couple of days to get together with the whole crowd… you've got an excuse to be a bum tonight."

Mist green eyes ruefully traced her face. "No… I'd really like to see Cait.. and spend a few minutes with Mom and Gran… we can make it an early night."

"You sure?" The warrior inquired. "You know they'll forgive you."

Oh.. no they won't. "Yeah.. I'm sure… " She tickled her partner's ribs. "C'mon… now that we don't look and smell like mudpuppies."

They dressed casually, then donned cloaks for the short walk over to the inn, where  streams of light were pouring out the mostly closed window shutters and spilling across the hard, cold ground. 

Xena guided the bard up the stairs, and onto the low platform outside the inn door, reaching for the door handle only to be beaten to it by her smaller companion. "Hey."

"Please.. I'm capable of opening a door." Gabrielle told her, pleasantly, tugging it open and standing to one side. "After you."  She gestured inside.

Xena had her eyes on her partner, and caught the faint smirk just before she ducked inside the inn.

To be greeted by a thunderous "SURPRISE!"

And get hit by a cascade of colorful, tiny, paper birds, that floated down from the rafters, and lodged in her cloak and hair, as she stood, too stunned to move, in the doorway.

"Heh." Gabrielle closed the door, and patted her behind. "Paybacks are a bitch, huh?"

Xena found her eyes looking at just about every friend she had in the world, who were now grinning at her, and slapping themselves on the back for a successful surprise. Autolycus, Salmoneus, half the Amazon nation.. she spotted Tyldus in the back there, along with Palimon's scarred face. Toris was grinning at her, his arm around Granella, as Jessan and his family laughed behind them.

She couldn’t even speak, not even to respond when Autolycus strutted up, and chucked her on the chin.

"Happy birthday there, Xena… I was going to steal you the crown jewels of Egypt, but um.. " He straightened his moustache, and leaned closer. "They tell me you and Cleo are like this." He crossed his fingers. "And I didn't want to end up a mummy, if you know what I mean."

"I know what you mean." The warrior responded faintly, then she had to chuckle, and lift her hands up, to let them fall. "All right.. all right.. you got me."

Ephiny sauntered over gave her a hug. "You bet your ass we did." The Amazon Regent laughed. "You should have seen your face." She handed Xena a large mug of something which smelled like it would take the hair right off a centaur's butt. "Try that… Pony made it."

"Xena… Xena.. listen.. remember that soap?" Salmoneus broke in, his bearded face all smiles. "We're a franchise!" He tugged her arm. "C'mover here and see this… "

Hands pulled her forward, towards a table filled with gifts, and her mother's small cakes. She found the presence of mind to turn her head and find Gabrielle's eyes, though, to see the bard gazing at her with a big grin on her face. Xena held a hand out to her, and beckoned her forward with a jerk of her head. "I'm gonna get you for this." She whispered, as Gabrielle snuggled in against her right side.

"Promises, promises.. you'll never top this." The bard grinned triumphantly, not seeing the instantly arched eyebrow, or the swiftly hidden, diabolical grin. 

Together they joined their friends, as the party began.


Much later that night, two slowly walking figures made their way back towards a snug, candlelit cabin.

"So.. you going to forgive me any time soon?" Gabrielle inquired, bumping her tall soulmate gently.

"Don’t keep doing that unless you want to be picking me up off the ground, Gab." The warrior drawled. "That was two cups of ale way too many."

"Sorry." The bard muffled a giggle, having kept to apple juice the entire night, thoroughly enjoying watching her partner get bombarded with well wishes, and the teasing of their friends, and gifts.

And ale, of course, and whatever the Hades it was that Ephiny had brought with her, which had knocked even Autolycus for a loop. Watching him and Sal try to develop a fake sugar crystal jewelry scam had been quite the experience. "You okay?" She tucked a hand around Xena's elbow just in case.

The warrior exhaled heavily. "Yeah… I have a feeling I'm gonna regret this in the morning, though… " She peered down at her partner. "How long didja plan that?"

"Since we were at the Amazons." The bard confessed. "Well… I mean, actually.. since last year, but….I got things moving then… sent runners out with messages, that sorta thing."

"Mmph." Xena considered this. "Well, I was surprised." She carefully negotiated the few steps up to their porch and padded to the door, reaching out for the handle, then stopping and peering at Gabrielle. "Any more s'prises?"

"No." The bard smiled fondly at her. "Well… I have a few things wrapped up for you fro tomorrow morning, but that doesn’t count."

The warrior nodded solemnly, and pulled the door open. "Good… I got a s'prise for you, then." She followed Gabrielle inside, then walked over to where her weapons were laid neatly on the garment press, and gazed at them. With utter seriousness, she picked up the sword and chakram,  and walked to the large, locked chest on one side of the bed, lifting the lid and putting the weapons inside.

Then she closed it, and locked the top, studying the key for a long moment before she stood unsteadily and went back to where Gabrielle was standing. "Here." She handed her the key. "And before you ask.. I'm not too drunk to know what I'm doing."

Gabrielle looked at the brass key in her palm. "You're really serious about this."

Xena's hand dropped lightly to her partner's belly, and rested there. "I want to know this child." She paused, as though considering the words. "I have three months to see if I can be something other than a killer…to see if I can leave the fighting, and the dying behind for a while."

The bard took a deep breath, and closed her hand over the key. "What if you can't?"  She asked, honestly. "You have a dark side, Xena… but we both know that dark side has brought light to a lot of people."

"And brought pain and grief to the people I love most in the world." The warrior responded softly. "I don't want this child to know the Destroyer of Nations, Gabrielle." She dropped her head, and exhaled wearily. "I know I can't ever leave that behind, but just for a little while. I'd like to try."

The bard studied her partner's shadowed face for a long space before she nodded quietly. "All right.. I'll keep this for you." She felt the coldness of the brass warm against her skin, an odd, dark trust. "C'mon…" She patted the wool covered chest with her free hand. "It's been a really long day, and you know we'll be busy tomorrow."

Xena smiled, and circled her with both arms, kissing the top of her head affectionately. "Thank you, Gabrielle." She mumbled. "I loved the party."

The bard grinned quietly, her face buried in warm fabric.

Amphipolis, two months later.

The cabin was quiet, only the dry rustling of the winter dead branches outside stirred the air, matching the gentle scratch of a quill on parchment inside. Candles lit the interior with a warm glow, outlining Gabrielle's pensive profile as she sat at her writing desk, her head propped up on one hand, and her quill idly being twirled by the other as she reviewed her writing.

The last fair we had was so successful, we've decided to have another, and it's going to be in about three weeks. I'm trying to get some things arranged now, because I've got a feeling that in three weeks. I'll be way too busy to be worrying about merchant space.

Not that I have a lot of energy to spare right now, of course…sometimes I sit here, exhausted, and think about what Xena must have gone through when she was pregnant… I mean, she was leading an army in the field, for Zeus' sake…how did she do it? I can barely do my chores these days, and there she was, probably riding and fighting right up until the very last minute.

Gabrielle shook her head, and put a hand on her stomach, as the baby shifted, and a cramp rippled through her. "Ow." She winced, shifting a little and grimacing until the cramp relaxed. "Ugh… are you unhappy in there tonight, honey?" She asked her unborn child, rubbing the swollen surface gently. "Or do you just miss Xena, huh? Like I do?"

She returned her attention to her diary. Xena had reluctantly, very reluctantly, taken a three day trip to pick up some 'things' she said she'd ordered earlier in the year, and had promised to bring back some fresh parchment as well. Go. Gabrielle had told her nervous soulmate. Go now, because we're in the home stretch here.  She'd said, gently shoving the warrior on her way.

Not that she wanted to get rid of her, of course… but as the bard had started moving closer and closer to giving birth, her partner's pervasive overprotectiveness had gotten progressively worse, until Gabrielle was seriously considering drugging her morning tea just to get some respite from the solicitous attention.

I feel like a glass ornament. And it's not that it isn't nice to be pampered, a little, but sometimes she acts like I'm going to break into a million pieces, when actually, I really feel pretty strong, and surprisingly energetic most of the time.

Well, not late at night, like now.. or if I've had to run around a lot, but in general, I feel great. Which has gotten Granella really pissed off at me, but I can't help that.. she's been sent to bed for the last two weeks, because the healer's worried about her delivering early, and she fainted twice at the inn before that. Every time I go in to bring her something she gives me that really irritated look, even though I know she's just wishing it was all over.

I guess I'm getting to that point, too.. it's been almost eight months, after all, and I'm kinda tired of not being able to do simple stuff, like put my boots on. And my back hurts, though not nearly as much as Gran's does, but then, Xena gives much better massages than Toris does, so I guess that kind of figures into it.

And would you believe it.. we still haven't picked a name for the baby yet. Oh, we've talked about lots of them.. .but it's like we haven't found something we both really like yet. I guess we could just call the baby 'Hey you.' Until we figure it out, but I'm pretty sure Mom and everyone aren't going to put up with that for more than a quarter candlemark.

It's been a very quiet two months… Xena.. I really had my doubts, but she held to her promise, and she hasn't picked up a weapon since Solstice, except her staff to keep the Amazons and militia amused. They all think it's so strange, but…and I have to admit I didn't think she could do it but I was wrong, and it's made a change in her I hadn't really expected.

She  says she doesn't miss it. I wonder. She's kept up her running, and the staff practice, mostly she says because it makes her feel good, or maybe it's because she's too proud to let herself get out of shape, especially with the Amazons around.. I'm not sure. Maybe a little of both.

She told me a joke the other day.. just out of the blue, and almost made me snort apple juice out my nose it was so funny. That funny, mischevious streak is coming out again, and I think I'm getting an idea of what she would have been like if Cortese had never happened. It hurts to think how many layers that's buried under…and how quickly it disspaears when she has to fall back on her dark side.

I think we both know this won't last forever.. I see it in her eyes sometimes, a kind of..oh, it's weird, but a sad kind of happiness, like how you feel when you see the beautiful leaves of fall, and know the winter's coming.

The darkness is too much a part of her to give her peace forever. I think I've come to accept that, and I know there will be a time when I hand her back that key, and take up my staff, and face that darkness again. It's sort of inevitable…I think. But for now, and for as long as this lasts, I'll accept this as a magical time in my life, and just enjoy it. You can't worry about what might have been, or what might be coming… you just have to take what's now, and make it the best now you can. 

Wow.. that was a profound tangent, wasn't it? Anyway, I was really uncomfortable earlier, because the baby was moving around a lot, almost like she was practicing backflips, but she's settled down now, and kind of shifted lower.. it's a lot more comfortable, but it feels kind of weird. And the cramps I've been having on and off for the last week or so are back.. they're driving me crazy tonight. I wish Xena were here.. she distracts me and I forget about them.

Names.. names… part of me wants to name her after someone we know.. but…I don't know.. I'm not sure I want to gift our child with anyone expectations.. Xena says it's going to be tough enough as it is, since we're both pretty well known, at least in these parts.

The bard paused, and listened to the first rattle of a frozen rain on the roof, and she tugged her fluffy shawl closer around her body. She hoped Xena was tucked away in some inn, not roughing it in this weather, though since the warrior had worn brand new clothes out on her trip chances were she was knee deep in mud by now.

It never failed.

Another cramp, and she leaned on the desk, closing her eyes until it passed, leaving her slightly nauseas. She picked up a chunk of dried apricot, and nibbled it, letting the fragrant scent sooth her stomach.

At the motion, Ares glanced up at her from his place curled up on the soft bearskin under her feet.

"No, no fruit.. remember how sick you got last time, when your other mommy gave you those cherries?" She warned the hopeful wolf, then looked up as the hail rattled against the window, and a low moan eased through the trees from the rising wind. "Great." She flicked a glance at the firewood, which Xena had stocked before she left. "At least we've got lots of that."  She put her quill down and rubbed her eyes. "Ares, I'm really tired… I think I'm just going to sit by the fire for a while.. what do you think?"

"Roo?" The wolf gazed at her inquiringly.

"Yeah, you too." Gabrielle answered, as she carefully got to her feet, waiting for her shifting balance to settle before she walked over to her newest gift, a nice, comfortable chair Xena had built, with padded cushions, and rounded runners on the bottom of it that allowed it to rock back and forth soothingly.

Gabrielle loved it, and now she settled into it's soft plushness with a smile, tucking a colorful quilt around her knees, and rocking a little. "Now.. watch your tail." She warned Ares, who curled up next to her. "Remember the other night." She'd accidentally come down on the wolf's dark, bushy appendage and suffered his resulting howl of outrage. She let her head rest to one side, observing the small, low table tucked in the corner, near the fireplace that held small wooden toys of various shapes, in various stages of becoming.

Xena's projects, ranging from tiny soldiers, to bears, to a tiny rocking horse. Gabrielle found a smile forming as she gazed at them. To one side stood a stuffed purple and blue dragon with button eyes, a teasing gift from Cyrene to replace the threadbare Flameball, Xena's childhood toy that Gabrielle refused to give up possession of.

The bard sucked in a breath, as another cramp tensed her body, this time going on a bit longer, and making her ache from the tension. "Wow." She sighed. "Maybe I should make some of that tea Xena showed me how to brew the other day." Her mind reviewed the ingredients. "I think I've got everything here… " She started to get up, but paused, as hoofbeats overshadowed the hail, coming down the main road.

Hoofbeats coming fast, and accompanied by a familiar warmth that made her blink in startled surprise. Xena wasn't due home for another three days at the very least.. unless something had happened.  Anxiously she listened, as the barn door opened and closed, and silence fell, then what seemed only moments later, she heard the door again and then bootsteps headed her way at a steady lope.

Ares scrambled for the door, and reached it just as it powered open, a gust of cold air and blowing hail revealing the tall, dark haired from of her partner. "Xena.. " The bard put her hands on the chair arms. "What's wrong?"

The warrior stepped inside, her chest heaving, and closed the door behind her, one hand ruffling Ares' head absently. "Are you all right?"

Dumbfounded, Gabrielle glanced around the cabin. "Yeah.. I'm fine… " She peered at her soulmate. "What in Hades is up with you?"  She gazed at the drenched and muddy warrior. "Good grief, get those clothes off before you catch cold.. and what are you doing here?"

Xena stepped further into the cabin, stripping off her cloak and hanging it on the hooks near the door. She was dressed in heavy wool riding leggings in burgundy with a matching wool tunic that covered her to mid thigh, and her new boots, which were liberally covered with muck.

Her armor and leathers hung quietly in the garment press, unused for two months, and she bore no weapon save her belt knife. "I.. um.. " Xena ran a hand through her wet hair and came closer, settling in the chair opposite her soulmate. "Crazy, I guess.. I just had a feeling I needed to be here." She confessed. "Must just be nerves." She paused. "You sure you're all right?"

Mist green eyes rolled wryly. "Xena… yes, I'm just fine.. with the exception of a few cramps, and an aching back, that is." She admitted. "I was just going to make some of that tea you showed me the other night." She sighed, then grimaced as another cramp hit. "Unless you've got something better in mind."

Xena slowly stood, then moved over to her, and knelt, putting a  warm hand on her wrist. "Cramps?"

Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah.. like I've been having.. only these are a little more persistent… they're driving me a little crazy tonight.. so I'm really kind of glad you did come back."

Her soulmate put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Sit back." She carefully felt the bard's belly,  probing cautiously, then letting a long, steady breath escape. "I've got something for this, yeah.. but you're not gonna like it."

"No?" The bard played with a lock of her dark hair restlessly.

"No.. it involves a lot of pushing ." Xena rested a hand on her knee and gazed up at her.

"Pushing? I don't…. " Gabrielle stopped, and stared at her. "What exactly did you mean by that, Xena?" 

"Those aren't cramps.. they're contractions.. the baby's coming." Xena told her, with a faint, rueful grin. "Guess my instincts were right on the dinar this time."

Gabrielle felt chiefly shock, mixed with a shiver of fear and anticipation. "Oh my gods…you're serious?" She put her hands on her stomach. "But it's… " Her eyes flicked to Xena's intently. "Isn't it early?"

Xena's lips twitched. "Babies have a mind of their own sometimes.. and since this is your child… " She teased lightly. "I know it surely will have that."

A hand eased through her dark, damp hair. "Our child." The bard corrected gently. "You're sure?"

The warrior's fingers traced a path around the lower curve of her partner's stomach. "See how the baby's shifted?  Down and forward"

"Yeah.. I felt that earlier today." Gabrielle gazed at herself in fascination, then she tensed, as the pain gripped her. "Ow." She sucked in a breath when it was over, and eyed her soulmate. "Now's the hard part, huh?"  Memories flashed in her mind, of a foreign stable, and an overwhelming fear that had gripped her body and soul. "I'm a little scared."

Xena put a hand on her shoulder. "It's gonna hurt for a while.. if I block the pain too early, everything might just stop."

"Like with Aileen." The bard remembered.

"Yes… so you just sit here, and let me get things ready, okay?" Xena half turned. "I'll get the healer, and.. " A hand on her arm stopped her, and she turned to see serious green eyes fastened on her face. "What?"

"Just you." Gabrielle whispered softly. "I don't want anyone here but you." She tightened her grip on Xena's arm when the warrior opened her mouth to protest. "Please… Xena, you're the best healer I've ever known… and.. I don’t' want anyone else here."

Xena stroked her face. "Gabrielle, Renas is a very good healer.. and you know it's not always the best idea for someone so close to be involved…"

"You won't choke." A small, sad smile edged Gabrielle's face. "We both know better." Her eyes searched Xena's face. "Please?"

Perplexed, the warrior sat back on her heels, and rested her hands on the chair arm. "If… if that's what you really want, Gabrielle.. all right.. but… " A tiny shake of her head. "I thought we…I mean I thought we had discussed this."

"I know." Her partner replied softly. "But I've been thinking about it, and it's what I really want, Xena…I want it to be just us.. just you, and me." Her eyes lifted, and found Xena's firmly. "I want you to be the one…to bring her into the world."

Xena's jaw muscles clenched suddenly, as the meaning of the words hit her.

A trust she hadn't earned, and knew in her heart she didn't deserve, and all she could do was accept it. "All right." She managed to get out. "If that's what you really want."

Gabrielle felt the confusion in her, and the pain, and she lifted a strong hand up and pressed her lips against the knuckles. "That's what I want."  She affirmed. "Now.. where do we start?"

Xena bowed her head for a long moment, then lifted it. "I get some water heated up, and prepare my kit… get you some tea to drink that'll help you relax. " She glanced around. "You might be best off walking around a little bit… you're starting to open up."

"Sounds like a plan." Gabrielle agreed softly. "Okay.. if you help me up, I'll give you a hand sorting some herbs.. how's that?"

The walking did, in a curious way, help, Gabrielle realized, as she paced very carefully around the cabin for what seemed like a dozen candlemarks, but was probably less than three.. She helped Xena get everything ready, then watched as her partner braced a chair into a small alcove, then put a footstool against the opposite wall. "What's that for?"

"You." Xena turned just as the bard gasped, and doubled over, and she jumped across the room to grab her. "Hey.."  A spreading dampness alerted her. "Water break?"

"Yeah." Gabrielle hissed, startled. "Oh.. that felt so weird."

"Okay.. okay.. c'mover here and siddown." The warrior led her to the chair, which she'd spread with soft linens, and sat her down, gently lifting her feet so that they were braced against the footrest. She let Gabrielle grip her arm as a contraction hit, and the bard's fingers tightened against her skin. "Now.. when you feel that, bear down." She patted the smaller woman's thighs. "Use these."

"Oh gods.. " Gabrielle did as she was told, and her strong legs almost lifted her up out of  the chair. "Like that?"

"Whoa.. try not to go flying across the cabin, love." Xena coached her gently.

"It hurts." The bard's faced contracted in pain. "Can't you make it stop?"

"Soon." Xena's voice was low, and soothing.  She checked the baby's progress. "Okay.. you're opening up real good here, Gabrielle.. I can… oh… "

"You can what?" The bard snapped, nervously. "Don't stop talking like that."

"See the very top of the baby's head." Her partner reassured her hastily. "That's good.. the baby's in the right position to be born.. not upside down, or backwards."  She got a long basin of water, and put it under her partner, then carefully arranged several long, painfully clean strips of linen across the table nearby. "Okay.. when it hurts, push."

"Easy for you to say." The bard growled, as her body seemed to want to rip itself into two parts. "Oh gods… " She latched onto Xena's arm, and squeezed hard. "Aughhh.."

Xena winced herself, at the strong fingers. "That's it… good job." More of the head had appeared, inside it's protective sac, enough to reassure Xena that the baby was, indeed, right side up. "Okay.. again."  She almost swallowed her tongue as a grip far more powerful that she'd realized clamped down on her wrist.  "Oh.. good.. good girl." She breathed, seeing the tops of tiny eyes appear. "Gab, let go of my arm."

"What?" The bard almost hollered. "Oh no… if I gotta go through this, you do to.."

"Gabrielle.. I need that hand to give you the pressure points." The warrior reminded her. "For the pain, remember?"

"Oh." Gabrielle released her, then felt a jab, then two more, and suddenly she could breath. "Sorry.. yes.. thank you.. I love you… you are a goddess… oh.. " It still hurt, and she could feel the compulsion to push getting stronger and stronger, but it no longer felt like she was fracturing apart. "Oh… " She bored down.

"That's it.. " Xena watched in barely contained excitement as the tiny head edged out, and she slipped a hand under it for support. The silvery protective sac was tearing, and she helped it, clearing the sticky stuff off the baby's face. "One more good push,.. c'mon.. "

"I'll push you." The bard gritted her teeth, and felt the contraction coming, and she arced her body, using muscles made powerful from four years of hard use. The tension built and built, and she pushed until her head felt like exploding. Then in one sudden instant, the pressure released, and her body relaxed, and it was done. She sank back against the cushions, and tried to catch her breath. 

"Whoa!" Xena got her other hand down just in time to catch the tiny form as it slid free, and squirmed in her grasp. "Whoa there… " She gently let it into the warm water, rising off the blood and birth fluids, then she lifted the tiny form up and reached for a piece of linen to dry it. "Oh… Gabrielle.. it's a girl.."

The bard opened an eye, then hissed as a final contraction worked through her, and she felt the baby's protective sac leave her. "A girl?" She whispered softly.

Xena carefully separated the sac. "Yeah, I .."

A lusty, bold yell almost made her drop the infant, as the baby took stock of it's surroundings, and decided she didn't like being held up head downward.

"Whoa… that's quite a set of lungs there, young lady." The warrior managed to get out, her eyes widening. She righted the angry infant, then tucked a sheet of linen around her. "Okay.. okay… just hold on there…" The baby squirmed, and let out another yell. "Good grief… you've got your momma's lungs, huh?" She cradled the infant in her arms and peered down at her, feeling an ache in her chest that brought a solid lump to her throat and cut off her speech.

Gabrielle struggled to sit up, then she peered at the noisy bundle. "Is she okay?"

Xena cleaned the last of the fluids off the baby's face and brought her close to her mother. "Here… "  She handed the infant to Gabrielle. "Say hello to your daughter." She couldn’t help the catch in her voice as she went back to her task, cleaning up and gently caring for her soulmate. "Don't even need a stitch there.. good job." She tucked a soft blanket around the bard's knees, then gazed up at the squirming infant. "She's beautiful, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle felt the slight weight and she curled her arms around the infant as she gazed at her in wonder. She gently touched the baby's face, and she calmed, though her fists kept waving. "Yes, she is… hello, sweetheart…" She whispered incredulously, as she smoothed a finger over the soft cap of dark hair on the baby's head. "I know where this came from.. " She laughed softly, then glanced up at her soulmate.

The blue eyes were almost gray with a mixture of emotions, chiefly a quiet, gentle sadness, which faded as Xena realized she was being watched. "She's perfect." The warrior agreed quietly. "She's long, for coming so early." One finger reached out and touched a tiny foot.

Gabrielle nodded gently. "I bet she grows up nice and tall." She picked up a small fist, and watched the fingers curl around her own in a sturdy grip. The baby's body was covered in red wrinkles, and her eyes were shut tightly. "She's so cute."

Xena rested her arm on the chair arm, and propped her chin on her wrist, gazing at the infant. "Yeah…. "  Her finger traced a spot on the baby's back. "She's got your butt."

"Tch.. Xena.." The bard muffled a laugh, glad of the gentle attempt at humor. She carefully turned the baby over and examined the bodypart in question. "Oh.. I don't think so.. " Then her eyes fell on the infant's back and she went very quiet.

"Oh yeah.. " Xena disagreed. "Same little round.. "

"Xena… is that a birthmark?" Gabrielle's voice had taken on a strange tone.

"Um.. yes..I noticed it." Xena peered at the baby's spine. "Kind of interesting…like a bird.. see, there are the wings there… I've never seen any one like that before."

Gabrielle was silent for a few heartbeats, savoring the moment as she had few before in her life. "I have." Her voice cracked.

Blue eyes glanced up, a touch interested, but mostly surprised. "You have?"

A solemn nod. "Yes.. I know someone who has one just… exactly.. .like it.. in the very same spot." Gabrielle felt the smile stretch her face as she watched the slow dawn of realization come over Xena's expressive features.

"You don't mean…." In a purely human reflex, Xena reached for her own back with one shaking hand. "I don't.."

"Yes you do.. and yes, I do mean just that." Gabrielle reached out a hand to cup her soulmate's face. "I don't think this baby's early at all…. I think she's right on time." 

The warrior slumped bonelessly onto the floor, swallowing hard. Her mouth moved several times, but no sound emerged. She suddenly realized that talking about something and being hit in the face with proof were two very different things. "I.."

"Here."  Gabrielle handed over the tiny bundle, watching her soulmate's eyes grow round. "Say hello to your daughter." She whispered, in exultant triumph. "Go on…"

Xena curled her hands around the infant, feeling it's live weight in her hands and gazed at her, so dumfounded she found it hard to even breathe. The baby wriggled, and she instinctively cradled her, studying the sturdy form intently.

Gabrielle was right. The baby was in no way premature, right down to her full head of silky, dark hair. The hands and feet were fully formed, with neat, tiny toe and fingernails, and the baby was of very good size, with a long body, and round, well shaped limbs.

Tiny hands that already showed long fingers, and a sure grip. And a birthmark she knew neither her brother nor her mother possessed.

Part of her wanted to dissolve in hysteria on the wooden cabin floor. Part of her wanted to run outside and wake the entire village. A big part of her was just shaking. Her daughter. 'Gabrielle. I think you better take her back." Xena handed the bundle over, feeling the blood drain from her face.

"Why?" The bard glanced at her, concerned. "Is she okay? I.."

"She's fine." Xena felt the room start to fade out. "I think I'm gonna.. "

"Good gods!" Gabrielle stared in shock as her soulmate slumped to the floor, out cold. She gazed at her daughter, who waved a fist at her. "Sweetie, you just did what half of Greece has only dreamed about." She sighed gently, leaning over to rub her nose against the infant's. "Not an auspicious way to be starting out, huh?"


 The first thing she was aware of was something cold, and wet draped across her forehead. A trickle of cold water dripped down her cheek, and she slowly became aware of the thick, soft carpet under her ear, and the friendly sound of the fire nearby.

"Xe?" Gabrielle's voice was a mixture of amusement, worry, and impatience. "Sweetheart.. you gotta get up…If I have to call your brother over here to lift you up into bed, neither of us is ever going to here the end of it."

Up. Xena's brow furrowed. What in Hades am I doing on the floor? Puzzled, she tried to remember what was going on, then her eyes popped open like twin blue marbles and she jerked upright, scaring her soulmate half to death.

"Yow!" Gabrielle tucked a protective hand around the gently moving bundle and blinked. "Didn't mean that fast… take it easy, there, tiger."

"Um."  Xena rubbed her head,  still feeling dizzy. "Sorry.. I… I don't think I've ever done that before."  She picked up the damp linen her partner had helpfully tossed across her face and examined it, then turned her attention to the now murmuring baby. She slid closer and smiled. "Wow."

Gabrielle reached over and stroked her hair back into some semblance of order. "You okay? You're still really pale."

"How long was I.. um.. " Xena rubbed her eyes. "Damn… "

"Just a few minutes.. that's all." Gabrielle reassured her. "Hey..look.. she's opening her eyes."

They both peered at the infant, who was indeed blinking open tiny, bewildered bluish green eyes.

"Hey sweetie."  Gabrielle whispered. "How're you doing?"

The baby poked a tiny tongue out a little and made a soft noise, her eyes watching Gabrielle's face in fascination.

"What does that mean, I wonder?" The bard mused.

"Well." Xena's deep rumble caught the infant's attention, and the eyes turned her way, opening wider. "Seeing as it's your daughter, I'd guess it means she's hungry."

"Ha hah." The bard rolled her eyes. "Is that right, honey? Are you hungry?"  She felt a little nervous. With Hope she'd never….  Xena had said it was because her body just wasn't ready for childbirth that time, so she never had any milk to give. This time was different, though.  She unlaced her tunic, and with Xena's help, gently positioned the baby, guiding her head towards her first meal. "That's it… come on, you can…whoa!"

The baby clutched enthusiastically at her, and found the spot, all right, making Gabrielle's mist green eyes pop wide open at the powerful suction. "Good grief…. " She peered down at the happily suckling infant, then up at her soulmate, who was struggling to keep a smirk off her face. "Well.. I certainly know where she got that trait from."

Xena glanced at the baby, then blushed slightly, but grinned. "She's so cute." She rested her chin on the chair arm and watched the infant swallow.

The bard lifted her free hand, and gently traced her partner's cheekbone. "So.. what are we going to call her? I know we said we were going to decide when you got back, but.. um… calling her snookums until we get our act together is probably not the best idea in the world."

"Well…" Xena reached out and played with the tiny foot that was kicking gently in time with the baby's suckling. "She's pretty feisty…"

"How about Doriana?" Gabrielle smoothed a finger over the dark hair that crowned the baby's small head.

"A gift?" The warrior smiled gently. "She is that, isn't she?"

"Mm… " Her soulmate agreed softly. "Dori, for short…it sounds so cute." She made a startled face as the baby sucked harder. "Guess I don't have to worry about her starving to death, huh? I hope I can keep up."

The warrior laughed gently. "The more she wants, the more you produce, Gabrielle.. you'll be fine. Trust me." Her face went a little pensive. "I didn't get much of a chance… just a little while, but.."

"Feels so strange." Her soulmate breathed, studying the infant seriously. "I can hardly believe I'm seeing this."

The baby slowed her efforts, and blinked, blowing a tiny, milky bubble as she moved her head back and poked her tongue out a bit. One small fist curled up, and she hiccupped, her eyes opening a little wider in surprise.

"Hey… "  Gabrielle shifted her into the crook of her arm. "You finished?"

Another tiny hiccup. "I guess you are." The bard murmured, then she glanced up at her avidly watching partner. "Here… would you take her for a little bit?"

"Sure." Xena replied instantly, taking the linen wrapped bundle and tucking it in the crook of one elbow. "You okay?"

Gabrielle retied her tunic, then she sighed, and stretched her body, curling her legs up and resting an arm on one knee. "You have absolutely no idea how good it feels to be able to do this."

Blue eyes tore themselves away from the tiny, milky smile and gazed at her. "Um.. yeah, I do."  She informed her soulmate wryly. "You feeling okay?"

"Yes.. in fact, I am." The bard replied,  putting her feet down on the floor and carefully standing up. Her body tried to adjust for a balance that was no longer front heavy, and she had to grab onto the chair for a quick support. "Whoa…. " She stood for a moment, just getting used to the sensation. She ached all over, and she was very tender where the baby had come out, but all in all, she really didn't feel too bad.

"Nice to be able to see my knees." She remarked wryly, glancing down. "I feel a lot lighter, that's for sure." Now she looked at Xena. "Could you put her in her cradle for a minute?"

"Sure." Xena stood without effort, and watched the baby's eyes widen, as she peered fuzzily around. "Hang on there.."  She moved over to where the wooden cradle rested near the fireplace, already lined with clean linen. The warrior very gently placed the baby down, and tucked  a fold of the covers in loosely around her. "Bet you're tired, huh?"


As if on cue, the baby yawned, making Xena laugh, and she tickled a tiny palm with one finger before she stood and faced her soulmate, who was patiently standing there. "What's up?"

Gabrielle walked slowly forward, wincing a little, and put her arms around her partner fully for the first time in months. "Oh gods.. I've missed being able to do this."

Xena wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and hugged her tightly, then carefully lifted her up, and felt Gabrielle's spine crack all the way down it's length, accompanied by a sincere moan of appreciation. "Did that feel good??"

"Have I told you lately just how much I love you?" Gabrielle responded, with a contented sigh. "That felt awesome." She simply leaned against the warrior's body for a short while, then she lifted her head and peered up. "Xena, we have a daughter."

The warrior's eyes were on the occupied cradle. "I know…it's so hard to believe." She held Gabrielle close to her, and pressed her lips against the bard's head. "It's incredible." She ran her hands down Gabrielle's back, giving her a light massage, which produced mostly incoherent sounds of pleasure from her. "Bet you're tired, too, huh?"

Gabrielle thought about that. She lifted her head, and rested her chin on Xena's breastbone, gazing up at the angular profile. "Actually. I'm hungry." She replied, a touch sheepishly. "With all the cramps.. excuse me, contractions, and all, I wasn't feeling great all day, and I didn't eat much."

"No problem." Xena replied at once. "I can go raid the kitchen… you go sit down, and I'll be right back."  She gave the bard a last hug, then released her, turning to see a pair of dark, furry ears poking out from under the bed. "Oh ho.. I wondered where you were hiding." 

A nose sniffed the air. "Roo?"

"C'mon, Ares.. come meet a new friend." Gabrielle laughed, patting her thigh. "Come out here."

One paw at a time, the wolf edged out, peering suspiciously at both of them.

"I think he's upset because you were yelling at me." Xena remarked, as she swung her cloak over her shoulders.

Gabrielle gave her a puzzled look. "When was this?"

"When I told you to let go of my arm, and you told me what I was going to die of." Xena replied dryly, her eyes twinkling. "And you said if you were going to have to go through  all that pain, so was I."

Shocked, green eyes blinked at her. "No way."

Xena chuckled, and reached for the door. "Don't worry about it… I'll be right back." She left, not without one last look at the peacefully sleeping infant, however.

"I said that?" Gabrielle put her hands on her hips, and regarded the wolf. "Really?"

"Roo." The yellow eyes blinked at her reproachfully.

"Wow." The bard hobbled over to her rocking chair, and sat very gingerly down in it, glad of the soft pads as she leaned on the chair arm, and watched the baby sleep. "See, Ares? It's a new friend for you..c'mere."

The wolf had tip toed over, sniffing at the cradle tentatively. He poked his nose inside, and smelled the tiny fist outside the covers, then his tail wagged. "Agrrooo."  The baby moved in sleep, and he jumped back with a snort.

"You're such a chicken." The bard rolled her eyes, then she propped her chin on one hand and just watched her newborn child sleep, a sense of peace settling over her.


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 hadn't slipped that much, she reflected, as she jumped out of the way of the violently slammed open door, managing to avoid the Toris' rushing form as well. "Hey!" She barked in surprise.

Toris stopped short, peering into the gloom. "Who.. oh! Xena… hey.. you're back.. that's great.. um.. I gotta go…. " He bolted off.

"Whoa.. what's 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.. Gran's 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.. you're gonna pass out." She advised him wryly, relying on recent experience.

"Hah.." Toris snorted. "We’ll see how you react when it's your turn." He bolted off before Xena could answer him, and she smothered a grin as she entered the door he'd 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 we've 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 Dori's birth, in her eyes, just that much more special.

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

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

"Great.. great… Toby,  come on, get those herbs, and let's get back there.. we've 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 mother's side. Cyrene was busy assembling soup, and watching the boiling water, but she looked up as she felt her daughter's presence. "Hi, honey… you're 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 don’t ask me to help you." Cyrene wiped her brow. "I've 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 I'm not sure I'm 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, I'm not sure if I…. " Cyrene turned. "What?"  She stared at Xena in puzzlement, then the words percolated through her understanding. "Oh no.. you don’t mean to tell me.. "

The warrior smiled. "C'mon.. can you take a minute?"

"Hera's left tit." The innkeeper pushed the soup back onto a smaller part of the fire and wiped her hands. "I can't believe it.. you didn't 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. "You've got enough on your plate here."

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

Cyrene glanced in, spotting Gabrielle seated near the fire, it's 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.

"We're 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, she's 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, it's 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. "Gran's 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 soulmate's. "Does she need any help?"

"Please.. ." Cyrene raised a hand. "The last thing we need is MORE people in that cabin.. it's 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. "She's 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 long's she been at it?"

"Four candlemarks." Cyrene sighed. "It's 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 mother's arms, and smiled at them both. "She's very well grown for an early birth." She commented quietly, watching the exchange of looks between her daughter and Gabrielle. "Isn't she?" She studied the baby curiously. "I figured you for another month at the least…Granella's 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 wouldn't realize she wasn't premature, but Cyrene…no way to avoid it. "See, we're not.. um.. " She paused. "We're not really sure if.. I mean,  Gabrielle was just about to start her cycle that night, and I… don’t' 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 hadn't… but well, a lot of things had gone wrong, maybe…  "I don’t understand…was there someone else?"

The bard looked up, a blush very evident on her fair skin. "No.. Xena's… um… no, there wasn't anyone else."

The innkeeper's brows knit in dire confusion. "I don’t get it… you're saying you don't think Toris is the father, but you say there hasn't been anyone else… exactly who fathered this child, then, Gabrielle?"  She put a hand on the bard's arm. "Honey, it's welcome in any case, don't get me wrong, but.. I mean.. who?" She paused. "If it's someone here, you'll have to tell Joscyln… even if Xena's going to formally adopt her."

Mist green eyes lifted and fastened on Xena, a helpless look of consternation crossing the bard's face. "It's.. kind of hard to explain." Gabrielle ventured. "We're not really, truly sure of what happened, "

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 Gabrielle's 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.

"It's.. 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 Xena's hand which was resting on her thigh. "It's been kinda weird for us, too."

"I'm…" Cyrene exhaled, perplexed. "I'm not sure what to say…on one hand, it seems impossible, but on the other.. " She gave Xena  a wry look. "I've learned over the years that impossible, and you don't 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 don’t 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. "She's ticklish."

"Oh.. and that's supposed to be from me?" The bard raised her eyebrows. "I don’t 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. "I"d better go see what's 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. "There'll be enough excitement tonight." Her eyes drifted over. "And that bed does look really good right now."

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

Cyrene nodded. "I will… don't worry." She touched the baby's fist, and smiled. "And we'll 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 Gabrielle's 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 tomorrow's 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 Dori's fingers. "Think Gran's gonna be okay?" She looked up at the warrior. "Sounds like she's having a rough time."

Xena curled an arm around her shoulders, and let her head rest against the bard's arm, as she, too, gazed at the dozing infant. "With that many people in there? She'll either be fine, or she'll 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 she's hungry.. or wet.. or.. "

"Mm..'" Gabrielle considered this. "We're 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 I'll do the messy parts, how's 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, that's for sure." She kissed Xena again, the jolt of reaction chasing back the weariness almost without effort. "C'mon… I haven't been able to snuggle with you for months… I'm 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. "C'mere."

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 bard's 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 bodied pressed against each other, and she was able to relax fully for the first time in months. Her fingers roamed over the warrior's 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,  I'd made camp, see…and I'd 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 you'd 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 you'd 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 I'd better just get back here." A pause. "Just in case."

Gabrielle's turn to reflect in silence. "So you believed it all along, didn't you?" She asked, gently, feeling the motion as her partner swallowed.

"I wanted to." Came the short reply. "You don't know how much I wanted to."

"About as much as I did." The bard gently kissed her collarbone. "I'm 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 bard's 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 it's 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 it's nest of linen, charmed when the baby instinctively closed her fingers around Xena's 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.


Concluded in Part 7