Family by Godot

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess are owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures, bless them. No copyright infringement is intended.

Note: This is my one and only rift aftermath story. Antipany is a character from a previous story, but this tale stands alone. Suffice it to say that Antipany and Xena still don't like each other very much. Many thanks to Inga, whose command of language is so much better than mine, for suggestions and corrections. The quote from "Silk's Lil Black Warlord Book" is used with the permission of Silk. Thanks Silk. All feedback is appreciated.

Chapters 1-3

There are bonds so strong the gods can not sever them.
Ties that do not succumb to the ravages of time.
Stones that will not wash away in the hurricane.
Together they form an edifice no flood can destroy.
A home in which lasting relationships are nourished and families are formed.
A family of relatives, friends, lifemates, children, community, country.
And every residence is different.
Some are so snug only two contented souls may squeeze in
And others so vast a multitude may reside in comfort.
Some are so solidly built that no one else may enter,
While others sway in the breeze as rooms are added with happy abandon.
One would expect these structures to collapse, but they don't.
Not when their ties are so strong.
But even the strongest of homes can be weakened.
Not by the cataclysmic raging of storms whose battering may only strengthen bonds,
But by the little hidden assaults that chip away at the structure leaving its occupants
unaware of imminent collapse.
There are times when love is not enough.

Chapter 1

It was always a bad sign when Xena turned monosyllabic on her. They had been on the move for days and Xena had shown no signs of wanting to stop. And if she had a destination in mind, she had refused to share it with Gabrielle. The truth was that Xena didn't know herself where they were heading. There was an unease within her that she just couldn't quell and it just grew whenever they stopped long enough for her to ponder on it. She had no idea of its cause but she suspected it had something to do with Gabrielle and her instinct told her that if she took the time to analyze it, she would lose something very valuable to her.

Gabrielle was tired. This incessant wandering was wearing her down. It wouldn't be so bad if she could just get her companion to communicate in more than grunts, gestures and a wide assortment of facial expressions. She wondered idly what her punishment would be if she plucked the warrior's eyebrows out while she slept. She would have to be drugged first... Gabrielle shook her head. Stop that, she told herself. She looked up at Xena who was riding impassively on Argo and laid a hand on her companion's leg.

"Xena, walk with me for a while. Please?" She thought that her friend was going to refuse, but after a few moments the warrior grunted and dismounted. They walked silently on. Xena didn't want to walk and she sure as Hades didn't want to talk. And she knew Gabrielle would want to talk, as surely as she wanted to breathe.

"Let's play a game," Gabrielle suggested to the warrior's surprise. They hadn't done that for a while.

"All right," Xena readily agreed. Anything to keep the bard's attention off her bad mood. She didn't know why she felt the way she did but she knew Gabrielle would want to analyze it, discuss it, pick it apart until it bled and she just didn't feel like bleeding this day.

Gabrielle looked at her and sighed. "I'll start. I'm thinking of a man we both know." She looked at Xena expectantly.

"God or mortal?"


"Is he still among the living?"


"Does he do manual labor?"


"Ahh, that narrows the field." She finally looked down at her companion and smiled. "Is he a politician?"

Gabrielle laughed. "How many politicians do we know?" she asked.

"None," her companion admitted. "At least ones that are still living." She never shifted her gaze as a shadow fell over them and moved away. Gabrielle glanced up quickly. A large bird flew lazy circles over their heads, gradually spiraling down to cast a another shadow over them then flapping his wings and rising up. Argo nickered a greeting.

"Hey," exclaimed Gabrielle, "isn't that Peisander?" She waved to the big ugly vulture. He cawed a greeting and settled on a tree branch in front of them.

Xena never broke stride. "So, it's not a politician," she mused. "Is he a bard?"

Gabrielle stopped in front of the bird. She looked at Xena's retreating back. "Yes!" She looked back at the bird and again at the warrior's back. "Wait up!" She ran to catch up. Peisander flew in front of them and settled on another branch.

"A bard, huh? That's not fair. The only bard worth remembering is you." Xena walked on not acknowledging the bird cawing his concerns at her head. "Well, let's see. How about Homer. Are you thinking of Homer?" She walked on until she realized she was walking alone. Gabrielle had stopped. Argo had stopped. And they were both looking at her with a mixture of exasperation and amusement. The vulture just looked exasperated.

"Whaat?!" she asked in irritation.

"Xena, you can't just ignore problems and expect them to go away. That's not like you. What is going on?"

Xena grimaced. "I wish I knew, Gabrielle. But I don't, so there's no point in talking about it." She pointed at Peisander. "We can ignore that though. Let's go." She whirled around and had taken a half dozen steps when she realized her gambit hadn't worked. No one had moved. Slowly she turned around and gazed sadly at her horse. "You too, Argo?" she asked softly. Argo snorted but stood pat.

"What have you got against Peisander, Xena?" Gabrielle asked.

"It's not Peisander, it's the company he keeps. Antipany can't be far away. And where the sorcerer is, trouble isn't far behind."

Gabrielle looked at her in puzzlement. "Antipany has forgiven you for the deaths of her brothers. Why don't you want to help her?"

Xena held up her index finger. "She's a sorcerer." She held up a second finger. "She may have forgiven me, but she certainly hasn't forgotten. She hates me." A third finger went up. "She's a despicable sorcerer. Not that there's any other kind," she added. The fourth finger went up. "She manages to almost kill you every time we meet." Her thumb followed her fingers. "She's a despicable, deceitful sorcerer. Not that there's any other kind." The first finger of her other hand came up. "She's..."

Gabrielle caught the warrior's hands in hers and stilled them against her chest. "All right. All right. It's been over six months since we've seen her. She could have changed by now." Xena snorted. Gabrielle frowned and continued. "You stay here then. I'll go. Come on Peisander, lead the way." The big bird cawed his appreciation and flew off with Gabrielle in pursuit. Xena's face may have been impassive but she was cursing fluently to herself. Argo wandered over and nuzzled her mistress.

"I know, I know," grumbled Xena. Sighing, she mounted the horse and set off after Gabrielle. As she passed her companion, she leaned down and swept her up, depositing the startled bard behind her. "I know I'm going to regret this," she murmured.

They followed Peisander in silence for the rest of the day. Xena's face was set in a perpetual scowl and her companion had given up trying to make conversation after two grunts and an ominous silence were all she could coerce from the warrior. So Gabrielle was left to wonder why they had been summoned after all this time. The thin, delicate sorceress had spent five years preparing her revenge on Xena only to find her plans thwarted by the bard and the knowledge that Xena had changed. What had sealed her fate was the love of a certain priest of Apollo whose peace loving ways finally precluded any further attempt at revenge. Not that she hadn't tried. Twice she had come close to killing Xena, so it was natural that the warrior had a healthy skepticism when it came to the motives of the mercurial sorceress. But Antipany had married Telamedes and in the end she had forgiven Xena. Whatever other faults the sorceress had, she was fanatical when it came to keeping her word.

Peisander led them toward the temple, past well tended farms and peaceful villages. Their only diversion came toward evening when coming over a rise, they chanced upon an overturned wagon. Three men were fleeing across an open field to the trees beyond. Sweeping down on the wagon, the pair saw a man sitting up holding his head.

"Take care of him," Xena ordered, dropping the bard off by the wagon. Gabrielle watched, vexed as the warrior took off after the fleeing men. It was the fourth time in as many encounters that Xena had found some excuse to keep the bard away from the fighting. By the time Xena had rounded up the unlucky ruffians and they had delivered them to the nearby village it was time to stop for the night.

They made camp in silence using food supplied by the grateful merchant for a late supper. Xena sat by the dying campfire sharpening her sword. Gabrielle finally knelt in front of her quiet companion and asked, "Are you mad at me?"

Xena looked up in surprise. "No, of course not."

"Then why won't you talk to me?"

"I talk when I have something to say, Gabrielle. It has nothing to do with you."

But Gabrielle suspected it did. She just couldn't figure out why. The rocky road from Britannia to Chin to home and the death of their children had left large gaping wounds but those had healed. They'd even sung about it for the love of Zeus.

"Why didn't you take me with you today?"

Xena looked at her perplexed. "There wasn't a need for you to go."

"And the last three times?"

"No need there either," Xena replied brusquely. "It's getting late. We better get some sleep." She went to check on Argo, then settled on her bedroll with her back to Gabrielle and closed her eyes. The conversation was over. Gabrielle sighed and reached out to gently touch Xena's back. When she got no response, the bard sighed again and turned away, drifting into a troubled sleep. She was somewhat surprised to wake up during the night to find herself securely tucked within her companion's embrace, Xena's quiet breathing resonating against her hair. Almost, she thought as she gently stroked the arm that encircled her, as if there were nothing wrong. Almost. She drifted back to sleep.

They left early the next morning. At midafternoon Peisander suddenly veered into the trees when they were about a half day's journey from the temple. They came out of the trees to a walled compound that appeared to be the residence of a well-to-do nobleman. Xena had a fairly good idea where Antipany was as they watched Peisander circle above a windowless tower that stood by itself buttressed against the defensive wall.

Xena climbed high into a nearby tree and looked into the compound. The area appeared calm, there being but a few guards. Most of the household was going about their business. A woman was washing clothes and gossiping with another woman carrying a basket. The blacksmith was busy shoeing a horse. Children played in the yard. In the far fields, Xena could see men and women working the neat fields.

"Well, getting in isn't going to be a problem," Xena told her companion. "It all looks pretty quiet in fact. Why don't you stay here with Argo while I go see what's going on..." She paused when she noticed her friend scowl. "On second thought, you'd better come with me. Let's get over the wall at that blind spot over there." She started walking to the edge of the trees with her companion dogging her footsteps.


"She doesn't look like she's in any danger to me," the voice said. "Let's go."

Antipany refused to open her eyes. That voice was as welcome as sore tooth and maybe this new pain would just go away if she ignored it.

"Wait a minute Xena," Gabrielle pulled on her friend's arm to stop her from leaving. She looked at the sorceress chained securely to the stone wall behind iron bars that went from floor to ceiling, then rattled the iron bars of the door only to find it locked securely. The sorceress looked terribly ill. Where before she had always been gaunt, now she was bloated. Her hands and face were blown up twice their normal size and her big brown eyes were sunk deep within her face, with dark circles surrounding them. She opened one sunken eye and peered at the two.

"Holy Hestia, if it isn't our hardy heroes. What brings you to this part of the country?"

Xena looked at her with distaste and a growing suspicion. "Peisander," she said curtly.

Antipany opened both eyes in surprise and sat up clumsily. "What?!" she exclaimed. "What is wrong with that bird! I sent him to get Telamedes and he drags you back. You don't look anything like Tele."

"It's all right, Antipany. We're going to get you out," Gabrielle said, waving a set of keys. "These were hanging right outside the door. Someone needs to talk to these people about defense. Theirs stinks."

"I don't need help," Antipany said irritably. "I can get out anytime I want to." She pointed her hands at the door. A dim glow appeared and promptly died at the end of her fingers. "I'm just having a brief power malfunction. I'm sure I can get it corrected any time now." The chains rattled as she shook her hands in frustration and concentrated again.

Gabrielle stood before the door, keys in hand. "I'll have you out in a second," she said, starting to insert the key into the lock. Then felt herself pulled violently to the side as a thunderous energy bolt sprang from Antipany's hands and hit the door with such force it was pulled from its hinges, pushed through the outside wall and fell to the ground below.

There was silence for a moment while the dust cleared. Then Xena picked herself up off the bard and checked her anxiously for injury. "Are you all right?" she asked.

Gabrielle took a slow shaky breath and patted herself to make sure she still had all her body parts. "Yeah, I think so. Thanks, Xena," she said gratefully.

Antipany was looking at them in consternation. "I suppose you're going to blame me for this," she said peevishly. Then she groaned and leaned back against the wall.

Xena couldn't keep the fury out of her voice. "We're leaving," she said with finality and grabbed the bard's arm pulling her to the door. Gabrielle dug in her heels and grabbed the door frame. "No!" she exclaimed, "Can't you see she's sick. She needs our help."

Antipany groaned again. "I just wish these pains would go away. I knew I shouldn't have eaten those pickled sows ears, these cramps are killing me."

Gabrielle noted the sudden look of dismay on the warrior's face as she released her companion's arm. While Gabrielle walked back to pick up the keys, Xena closed and bolted the door to the stairway.

"She's not sick, Gabrielle," the warrior said darkly. She walked back to the cell and leaned against what was left of the iron bars while the bard unlocked the manacles. "When are you due?" Xena asked the sorceress.

"Due?" asked Gabrielle in confusion.

Antipany smiled and took the bard's hand and slipped it into her cloak to rest it on her swollen belly. Gabrielle's face broke into surprised wonder as her hand rested on the obviously pregnant abdomen. "Oh, Antipany. This is wonderful," she said with a delighted grin. Antipany watched as the smile slowly faded only to be replaced with sadness and a look of inexplicable longing. She gently stroked the bard's face.

"Don't worry Gabrielle. I'm sure that one of these days you'll be saddled with a brood of your own. There's always hope you know." And raised an eyebrow as the bard burst into tears. She pulled Gabrielle to her chest, trying to comfort her and turned a bewildered gaze to Xena. "What did I say?" she asked.

"Don't you ever get tired of trying to eat both boots at once?" replied the distressed warrior. Before she could explain there was the sound of feet pounding up the steps. "We have to go, now!" Xena hissed.

Gabrielle gave the swollen belly one last gentle rub before drying her tears and rising. "That's the only way out, Xena. How are we going to get past the guards?"

Xena flashed a wicked grin at the sorceress, who was fairly sure she wasn't going to like the answer. "We're going out that way," the warrior said pointing to the hole in the wall. Antipany was absolutely, positively sure she didn't like the answer.

"Oh no I'm not!" she retorted. "You know I don't like heights. There's no way you're going to get me...awk!" Antipany choked as Xena grabbed her cloak just below her throat and hauled the unwilling sorceress to her feet. The door reverberated from the pounding of the guards.

"Of course you are," Xena replied, the feral smile never leaving her face. She dragged the wailing sorceress over to the hole in the wall and looked down. No sweat. She threw the rope over to Gabrielle. "Tie that to the bars," she ordered. When the rope was securely tied, the warrior tested it and swung half way out. "All right, grab on tight, or I'll just swing you out and you can dangle all the way down," she told Antipany, secretly hoping the sorceress would resist.

Antipany looked down and groaned, then with remarkable agility for such a pregnant body, wrapped her arms tight around Xena's neck and her legs around the warrior's thigh. And shut her eyes tight. The door began to give under the incessant assault of bodies.

"Hey, loosen up a little," Xena growled. "It would be nice to breathe." She swung the rest of the way out and began to descend. When they were half way down, Gabrielle began her descent. And the door finally burst under the pressure, spilling guards into the room.

Xena dropped to the ground and looked up. Gabrielle was still fifteen feet up when a guard dropped over the edge to follow her down. She reached for her chakrum only to discover the sorceress was still firmly wrapped around her. Frantically she attempted to shake Antipany off. "Let go!" she yelled, straining to pry away the arms that continued to have a death grip around her neck. The guard had rapidly descended to just above the slower moving bard and had unsheathed his sword preparing to bring it down on Gabrielle's head.

With a final desperate effort Xena pried the sorceress away from her with one hand and grabbed the chakram with the other, flinging it up at the bard's head. The sword began it's deadly stroke down. Clipping a few golden hairs, the round disc sliced through the rope and the sword swung harmlessly through its arc as the bard dropped toward the ground.

Gabrielle squealed in surprise as she hurtled down the final fifteen feet, only to sigh in relief when she found herself gathered into the sure arms of the warrior. The chakram whizzed by their heads and imbedded itself into a nearby tree. Xena whirled to avoid the sword thrown down by the disgruntled soldier dangling from the severed rope. She fixed him with an icy glare and he suddenly decided retreat was the better part of valor by climbing back up the rope.

The only evidence to betray Xena's stoic calm was her rapidly beating heart which the bard could feel when she laid a relieved head against the warrior's chest. "Sorry about the haircut, Gabrielle. I didn't have time to aim," Xena said regretfully.

Gabrielle felt a shiver run through her body. "Didn't need to know that," she gulped. "Ah...Xena, you can set me down now,"

 Xena nodded grimly and continued to walk on still carrying the bard, pausing only long enough to retrieve her chakrum. Gabrielle looked around for Antipany, but the sorceress had disappeared. "Wait, Xena. Where's Antipany?" Xena looked neither left nor right as she continued to walk on out of sight of the guards. "Xena, put me down!" Gabrielle demanded. And found herself abruptly dumped on the ground while Xena looked around with a peeved expression on her face.

The bushes rustled and Antipany walked out adjusting her clothing. She noticed she was being stared at. "I had to go," she said defensively. "Or would you rather I peed down your leg, princess?"

Thunderclouds gathered on Xena's brow and she actually growled at the unrepentant sorceress. "Let's get out of here," she snarled then whistled for Argo and began walking into the trees. Argo whinnied and appeared within seconds, followed by a small brown sway-backed pony. Xena vaulted onto Argo's back and waited impatiently for Antipany to mount her pony, who was named Circe because the sorceress claimed the gentle animal bore such a remarkable physical resemblance to her namesake.

Gabrielle helped Antipany struggle onto the pony's saddle and then headed for Argo. She looked up at a visibly angry warlord and wondered briefly if she was going to get an assist up. Xena finally took a deep breath and reached down to help the bard. They hurried out to the road and soon put the stronghold behind them.

Gabrielle looked back at the sorceress who every few minutes would groan and clutch her belly. "How you doing back there, Antipany?"

"I hurt. My feet are swollen but what the hey, my belly sticks out so far I can't see them anyway. This kid is breaking my back and if she kicks me one more time... And pee! I've watered every bush in the region at least once in the last three months...Oh Hades!" Antipany exclaimed, halting Circe and slipping off her back almost before the horse had a chance to stop. She waddled into the underbrush and disappeared around a tree.

Xena halted Argo and patted the horse's neck. "You just had to ask...," she muttered. She looked around wearily. "Why don't we make camp here. There's a clearing over there. I'll to go back and make sure we're not being followed and see if I can hunt us up something to eat. It's going to be a long night." She helped the bard to the ground, dropped off the saddlebags and set off down the road.

Antipany came back to the road straightening out her clothes. "Where's tall, dark, and snarky off to now?" she inquired.

"She's just checking things out and finding us supper," Gabrielle replied, picking up the saddlebags and headed for the clearing. "Come on, let's go set up camp."

"Great, I'm starved."

Gabrielle raised her eyebrows. Antipany had never had much of an appetite before. "Maybe you should be with child more often," she suggested.

"I thought you liked me, Gabrielle."

The bard laughed. "I do. What are you doing wandering so far from home when you're about ready to deliver?" She dumped the saddlebags on the ground and began to set up camp in the small clearing.

Antipany plopped down with a groan. It felt good to walk, it felt good to sit, it felt good to lie, but never for long in any one position. "The temple is having a small land dispute with the man you rescued me from. I was out at a nearby farm delivering lambs and just decided to see if I could talk some sense into Medius. Besides, it's not time for her to come yet. Tele said she won't be joining us until the third day after the quarter moon."

Gabrielle did some quick calculations. "I hate to tell you this, but today is the third day after the quarter moon."

"No, it isn't," Antipany snorted, counting on her fingers. She frowned and counted again. "Oh, centaur paddies, Tele's going to kill me. Maybe I can get back before he realizes I'm gone." She sighed and fell backwards to look up at the sky. "Time really flies when you're having so much...misery." She rolled over to her side and struggled up into a sitting position. "It seemed like a good idea at the time." She held up a hand as Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak. "No, don't ask me why it seemed like a good idea. I can't remember now, it was something I just had to do."

The bard slowly rose up and stared at her. "Your husband doesn't know you're gone?"

"Well... it's been two days. Even Tele has probably missed me by now. He can be so obtuse sometimes. For a guy so concerned with the afflictions of mankind, he can be a bit oblivious to the people around him." She grabbed a low-hanging branch and stood up. "So, what's been happening with you two? Xena seems a bit out of sorts. Not that it's a big change from her usual demeanor, but she's growling more than usual."

"You wouldn't believe where we've been, Antipany. Have I got a story to tell you!" But when Gabrielle looked into the sunken puffy eyes of her friend and saw only concern and sympathy the storyteller faded into the confused young woman she really was. So she sat down on a nearby log and began with their travels to Britannia, her pregnancy and Xena's reaction to Hope. Then on to Chin and her betrayal of her best friend. Haltingly she explained the death of their children and Xena's attempt to kill her. The lies they both told, the confrontation and making up. Two hours, eleven contractions, and three trips behind a tree later Gabrielle was wiping the tears from her eyes and finishing her story. "But it doesn't feel like before, Antipany. She doesn't ask for my opinions, she tries to leave me behind when she thinks there may be a fight, and lately she barely talks to me. I think she just wants me to go away." That set off a fresh set of tears.

Antipany sat down awkwardly by her friend and drew her close. "You've been through a lot, Gabrielle. Maybe you both just need some time to adjust to the changes." She clutched her belly as another contraction started. She was having difficulty concentrating on the bard's story as the pains became stronger. "Oh boy," she sighed, "I don't think I'm going to make it home."

Gabrielle wiped away her tears and smiled. "No, I don't think so either. I'll put on some water for tea and spread out the blankets. We better get ready for what's coming."

At that moment Xena rode in, blood-splattered and sporting a slight wound in her thigh. Two rabbits and a pheasant hung from the saddlehorn. Gabrielle ran to her side as she dismounted. "What happened!" she exclaimed. "Come over by the fire and let me wash that cut out."

Xena shoved the dead animals at her. "Just get supper Gabrielle. I'm fine. There's a stream not too far from here. I'll get some more water and get cleaned up. I ran into some guards hunting us, but they won't be hunting anything more for a while." She turned and walked into the trees. Gabrielle looked after her with a hurt look on her face but made no attempt to follow. She turned back to the camp, her shoulders slumped in dejection.

Antipany shook her head. "Warriors," she spat in disgust. "What good are they? Destroy. That's all they know. Wouldn't know a true emotion if it punched them in the face. A bunch of idiots, the lot of them. Ah, geez...." she hoisted herself up and headed for the trees.

Gabrielle looked numbly at the dead animals meant for supper and slowly picked up a knife. Something had to give. They couldn't go on this way. She was going to force the issue or die trying. Which might be the only way to get a coherent feeling from her recalcitrant friend who kept telling her everything was all right when she knew full well it wasn't.

Chapter 2

Antipany put down her plate after only a few bites. It didn't take much to fill her up and what she was feeling now was not hunger. Funny how life changed, she mused. Not all that long ago she would have been thrilled to see the tension between the bard and her dark companion, but not now. She sighed and rubbed her abdomen. "You know, I'm glad Peisander found you. Tele and I have something to ask you two." She was rewarded with two inquiring stares. "We want you both to be godmothers to our daughter," she announced.

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. "Me?" asked a skeptical Xena.

"Oh yes," replied the sorceress. "I figure we'll have all bases covered. The artistic," she said nodding at the bard. "The physical," nodding at Xena. "A priest from the temple will provide her with spiritual guidance. And her other godfather will be a farmer from the village."

"And what does he represent?" asked Gabrielle.

"The rational," replied the sorceress dryly. "The only one among us with his feet planted firmly in the soil." To her surprise Xena smiled.

"All right, I'll do it. But what are you going to give her?"

"Birth," replied Antipany, closing her eyes wearily. "She'll think it's my crowning achievement." She opened her eyes and peered up at them. "By the time she realizes I might have an intelligent thought to share with her, I'll be old and gray. Help me up."

Xena reached down and pulled the sorceress to her feet. Antipany stared at her for a minute. "This is all your fault, you know. If I would've just gone ahead and executed you, Tele would have left, I wouldn't be pregnant, and my child wouldn't be alive to follow you around like some lost puppy." She suddenly drew back her hand and let it fly at the warrior's face.

It was stopped just before it connected with Xena's cheek. The warrior gripped the offending hand tightly and leaned forward until she was nose to nose with the sorceress. "Do you have any last requests before you die?" she growled.

Antipany pondered the question briefly then turned into the arm gripping hers and leaned a shoulder to rest against the warrior's chest. "Yes. Rub my back, please. Right there." She pointed to the small of her back with her free hand. "It aches all the time."

Xena threw the bard an exasperated glance before reaching down and rubbing Antipany's back. She was rewarded with a sigh of pleasure as the sorceress relaxed against her. "Tele has consulted the oracle and found out that not only are we having a daughter but she will be obsessed with all things Xena. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to hear that. My daughter, the warrior. Chills ran down my spine, let me tell you." Xena knew she wasn't being complimented.

Gabrielle smiled. "What makes you think she won't listen to you? You're her mother after all."

"Get real, Gabrielle. Like you two are the fulfillment of your mothers' hopes and dreams."

The two friends looked at each other and winced. "Good point," said Xena.

Suddenly Antipany stiffened. "Oh, oh...," she muttered and glanced up at the warrior. "Sorry about that, princess."

Xena stood still for a few moments pondering the many vulgarities of life before finally deciding this was not among the worst. But she was still annoyed. Carefully she moved the sorceress away from her and studied her boot which was now soaked in fluid.

Gabrielle made a face. "But you just went..."

"Her water broke, Gabrielle," Xena interrupted. "I think we better get ready. This kid is coming whether we want her to or not."

Antipany looked dismayed. "She can't come. Telamedes isn't here yet!" She scowled at the ground. "That man will be late to his own pyre." Suddenly she grabbed her belly and fell to her knees, howling in pain. Her contraction was so forceful she couldn't rise. Finally it eased and she sucked in air, grabbing the warrior's arm. "I changed my mind," she gasped. "Get her out! Get her out now!"

Xena snorted. "Sure," She leaned over and tapped the swollen belly. "Come on out kid, I command it. No? Ah, gee Antipany, I guess she's not going to listen to me either." With Xena and Gabrielle supporting her, they managed to get Antipany over to the blankets where they removed her cloak and helped her lie down. She was soon drenched in sweat as another hard, long contraction shook her body. Every animal within a league of their encampment ran for cover as her screams rent the growing darkness.

"Guess only the deaf don't know where we are now, huh?" mused the bard.

"Guess so," muttered Xena, positioning herself between Antipany's bent legs. "What's so hard about this? You come out of battle, drop the kid and go back to fighting. Nothing to it."

Antipany stopped her groaning for a moment to stare up at the warrior, then turned to Gabrielle. "Did I ever tell you how much I hate warriors?"

"Yes, but I don't think now is a good time to bring it up," Gabrielle reminded her gently. "Ah...would you ease up on my hand a little, Antipany. I can't feel it anymore." She wiped the sweat from the laboring woman's face.

"Sorry about that, Gabrielle." She released the bard's now bloodless fingers. Then let out another blood-curdling scream as another contraction hit hard.

Xena lifted her head and examined the darkness. "We've got company," she warned. "One rider, coming fast." Gabrielle craned her neck, hearing a horse but could see nothing in the near blackness. Suddenly there was a rustling in the tree overhead as a big ugly vulture settled on a low branch and called out a greeting. Then a rider on a black stallion appeared in the light of the campfire. He was a big man with a head of curly black hair and a full beard, dressed in gray robes. Telamedes vaulted off his horse with surprising grace and rushed to the group.

"Apollo be praised," he thundered. "I was sure I would get here too late." Telamedes lifted his wife's shoulders and nestled her upper body onto his lap. "Where were you!" Antipany asked plaintively.

"Well, beloved, I spent the better part of two days hunting for you. For some reason it never occurred to me that you'd go running off just before you're ready to deliver our child." He brushed her cheek gently with his hand. "Silly me. Now if you'll just give me some clue as to what direction you plan to disappear in next time..." He grunted as his beloved reached up and grabbed his beard, pulling his face closer.

"Now is not the time for recriminations, my love," she reminded him through clenched teeth. "And believe me, if there is a next time, you'll have to carry the fruit of our passion." Then she howled as another contraction hit full force and Telamedes added his voice when she yanked convulsively on his beard and he found his face buried between her breasts. He stayed there until the pain passed then extricated himself from her grasp and leaned back rubbing his poor face.

"Good grief woman, you're just having a baby. Calm down..." His voice faltered as he noticed three pairs of eyes glaring at him. "...and you're doing a fine job of it too," he finished.

"Why don't you use those pressure points to ease some of the pain," Gabrielle suggested.

Xena smiled. "I wouldn't want to deprive her of the full experience of giving birth..." She stopped, startled as Antipany raised up and grabbed her breast plates drawing the warrior close. My, wondered Xena, where did she get that strength? Last time they clashed, she couldn't beat a corpse at hand wrestling.

"Give me herbs!" she yelled. "Knock me out. Do that pointy... whatever she said thing. Just get rid of this pain. Now!"

Xena winced as Antipany's fingernails dug into her chest above the breast armor. She looked up at Telamedes who just shrugged helplessly. With two jabs at the woman's thighs and two more at her back, Antipany stopped mid-howl and looked at the warrior in amazement.

"Wow," she said. "You could make a living doing that, princess. Women would be falling all over themselves begging for your services." She could still feel the tightening of her belly, but the pain had all but disappeared.

"Women already beg for her services," Gabrielle said dryly. "Men too."

"Gabrielle..." the warrior warned.

"You could say she's a full service provider," the bard continued thoughtfully. "A woman for all reasons..."

"It can't stay on very long, Antipany," Xena interrupted, throwing the bard an annoyed look. "Now push when I tell you to and let's get this child out." She lifted her head once more searching the darkness. "Great, we have company again. Eight, no ten men coming from the direction of those trees." She checked her chakrum and glanced down. Her hand on the laboring woman's lower abdomen noted a tightening of the muscles. "Push now," she commanded.

Antipany was busy trying to peer under her husband's arm at the men who were sneaking up on them. "I don't see anyone out there," she said. She howled in sudden agony as Xena released the pressure points.

"Pay attention," Xena snapped. "Now push! Harder!" As if Antipany had any other choice in the matter. Even if her mind bothered to rebel, her body was busy obeying the command to push. Gabrielle stood up and surveyed the darkness, staff held ready, sensing the presence of others.

Xena peered down and saw a small head trying to force its way out. "We're almost there. One more good push will do it."

Telamedes glanced around nervously. Even if he could pry his fingers loose from his wife's iron grip, he knew he wouldn't be any good in a fight. The gentle priest believed with all his heart in peace. "Maybe I should go talk to them," he suggested. "I'm sure this is all a misunderstanding."

"You're not going anywhere!" panted his wife. "This is all your fault and if you think you can just leave anytime you want..." She let out another howl and pushed with all her being. She felt like her insides were being torn out of her and then there was a blessed relief. She heard Xena coo and there was a gentle slap and suddenly a new howl split the darkness.

"Good lungs," the warrior said with approval. She glanced up. "Gabrielle, duck!" And let fly with her chalkrum. Gabrielle dropped to the ground with the warning, but still lost a few more hairs as the chalkrum flew by her head. They heard a clank as it hit a helmet then a thud as it ricocheted off a tree. Then another clank, thud, sprong, clank, clank, thud, thump, clank, thump, wonk before returning to the warrior.

Gabrielle rubbed the top of her head. "Are you sure you're not mad at me?" she asked, peering at her friend.

Xena shook her head, placing the squalling little girl on Antipany's stomach. "No, of course not. My hand was just a little slippery with all the birthing mess. Come on, you finish up here while I see what's out there. Telamedes, why don't you give me a hand."

The proud parents finished their anxious examination of their new offspring relieved to find ten toes, ten fingers and all other body parts where they should be. Xena stood and stared impassively into the darkness. Judging by all the cursing, someone out there was clearly peeved. A voice called out, "Give us the sorceress and we'll be on our way!"

Xena arched a hopeful eyebrow at the bard who just shook her head and smiled. She felt a tug on her leather skirt. "Would you tell him I'm kind of busy right now?" Antipany asked. The warrior looked up in time to snatch an arrow out of the air just before it impacted into Telamedes' back.

Antipany looked around peevishly. "We don't have time for this." And let fly a thunderous energy bolt into the darkness. It struck a huge oak severing the trunk in half and toppling the tree. There were cries of terror as the soldiers ran to get out of the way of the flaming branches. The burning trunk lit the area.

A tall man dressed in dark robes and armor stomped out into the clearing. "That does it!" he roared. "Telamedes get your conniving, magic-loving, spawn of darkness off my land. If I ever see her again, I'll kill her! Is that clear?"

"Spawn of darkness?" sputtered the object of his rage. Telamedes laid a warning hand on her shoulder. "By the gods, how I despise warriors." She glared at her little girl. "How could you want to be one of those...those..." Words failed her.

"At least he seems to be a shrewd judge of character," Xena archly observed. She walked toward the fuming nobleman and Telamedes joined her. The priest held up his hands trying to placate the man. "Medius, please. Antipany meant no harm. She just wanted to settle our little dispute before the birth of our child. I will, of course, make any reparations for the damage she caused. Ah...what did she do?"

Gabrielle helped Antipany sit up and wrap a clean blanket around the infant. "Listen to that," the sorceress muttered. "Like it was all my fault. That's loyalty for you."

Medius didn't look like he was going to accept anything but Antipany's head until he glanced over at the woman standing by the priest and then took a really good look. "Xena," he gasped. "It's an honor to meet you, but I can't exactly say I approve of the company you're keeping." He nodded at the sorceress.

"You don't always have a choice of the company you keep, Medius, " Xena replied with a small smile. "Perhaps you both just need an impartial third party to mediate your dispute." She thought for a moment. "Would an Amazon queen do?"

The two men looked at each other. Neither wanted to continue this dispute over a little piece of land that really had no value to either one of them. It was the principle of the thing. "All right," said Medius with a shrug. Telamedes nodded thoughtfully.

Xena strode back to the campfire and dropped a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "It's all up to you now, my friend." Gabrielle looked at her for a moment before walking over to the two men.

"Nice to know I'm good for something," she muttered on the way. Xena looked at her retreating back in puzzlement.

Xena proceeded to clean up the campsite and dispose of the afterbirth while Antipany washed her baby and rested. The disputing parties and their mediator settled themselves by the burning trunk and began to argue their cases.

"All that talk, and for what? A piece of land no one really wants or needs," Antipany muttered.

"What did you do to Medius?" Xena asked.

"Nothing!" Antipany protested. "...much." She dropped her gaze as Xena arched an eyebrow at her. "It was accident, really." She glanced at the warrior before studying an interesting finger on her baby's hand.

"Your whole life seems to be one big accident," the warrior observed.

"I'm cursed," Antipany agreed sadly. "I just went over to talk to Medius. Just talk, I swear. You warriors are not good at polite conversation, you know. He insulted me, he insulted Telamedes, the big fool even insulted Apollo. But I was calm. Oh no, I didn't lose my temper."

"And then...?" the warrior prodded.

"He called Peisander a big ugly good-for-nothing freak-of-nature and he would kill him on sight if he ever flew on his property." She glared in the direction of the burning tree. "Xena, no one threatens my bird!" Peisander cawed his indignation from a branch above them. She looked at the warrior daring her to disagree.

But strangely, Xena understood. She would have felt the same way if some fool insulted Argo. She glanced fondly at her big war-horse. Of course no one would have cause to insult such a fine animal, but a carrion-eater...? The warrior exchanged a wary glance with the vulture.

"And then...?," Xena asked with growing impatience.

"I tried to leave." The eyebrow went up again. "But I lost control of a bolt and it did a bit of damage. Unintentional, of course."

"Of course. What damage?" Xena with some irritation.

"Just a few pieces of furniture, a couple of drapes... His wife."

"You damaged his wife?"

"Barely nicked her. That didn't upset him near as much as blasting his dog." Antipany wondered if that eyebrow would stay up there permanently.

"You hurt the man's dog?" Xena just shook her head wondering if even the queen of negotiators would be able to settle this dispute. Although the bard did seem to be making some headway. She watched Gabrielle talking earnestly to Medius, a hand on his arm, then nodding in agreement at something he said.

Xena smiled. She would have just battered the nobleman in submission. Talking took too much time and wasn't near as much fun. So while she made alliances, Gabrielle made friends and sometimes her way worked, sometimes the bard's way was better. And even though Xena recognized the way Gabrielle filled the gaps in her sometimes questionable social skills, she still felt a vague unease. Not since Lyceus had she relied on or trusted another person as much as she did this little bard. But the events of the last few months had sorely tested that trust.

The disputing parties finally stood and exchanged handshakes. Medius called to his men and they melted back into the forest. Telamedes watched them go before engulfing Gabrielle in a happy bearhug.

"She's brilliant, Xena," Telamedes exclaimed when they returned to the campsite.

"I know," Xena said quietly, looking at the bard in fond amusement. "So what are the terms of the agreement?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "The temple gets to keep the land in exchange for healing services for the next two years. Medius must of course, make the proper sacrifices to Apollo...," she glanced down at the skeptical sorceress, "but what really decided Medius was the promise that Antipany would never set foot on his land again."

"As if I'd want to," sniffed the sorceress.

Telamedes exchanged a relieved glance with Gabrielle. He was never sure how his unpredictable wife would react.

They bedded down for the night and headed home the next day. No one could have predicted the turmoil to come and for once Xena was the last to see it coming.

Chapter 3

They reached Antipany's home by midafternoon. The corral, stables and outbuildings were just as Gabrielle remembered them. And while Antipany had a serious problem with heights she had no qualms at all about enclosed spaces. Her home was a five room barrow underground and its main access was through a huge oak growing in the yard. Apollo's temple was just on down the road.

Telamedes went on to the temple while the others entered the oak, walked down a flight of stairs and made their way down a short tunnel to the main living area. Antipany murmured a few words and the walls lit up with a eerie yellow glow, providing enough light to illuminate the room. It was furnished with odds and ends from all over the known world, much of which was obtained by Antipany's mentor on his frequent trips. Most showed scorch marks and other damage from failed spells and fits of temper. There was a curious lack of pottery in the room, a tall stately vase along one wall being the only breakable item to survive Antipany's apprenticeship. Gabrielle started for the library while Xena plopped down into a soft chair. "Don't get too comfortable," she called after the bard. "We're leaving soon."

Gabrielle stopped and stared at her. "Where are we going?"

"Down the road," Xena replied with a shrug.

The bard pursed her lips and scowled. This had to stop. Now.

Antipany entered the bedroom and tucked the infant into her cradle with a relieved sigh. It had been a harrowing adventure and she was happy to be home. She'd gladly leave the heroic deeds to Xena. She reentered the main room to find Gabrielle glaring at an impassive Xena.

"Why won't you tell me what I did wrong?"

"You didn't do anything wrong," Xena replied quietly.

"Then why won't you talk to me and what's with this sudden reluctance to have me near you in a fight?"

"I'm talking to you now." Xena was beginning to look a little irritated.

"Xena, I'm tired of this. Talk to me. Tell me what's bothering you." The bard was past irritated and headed into just plain mad.

"Leave it alone, Gabrielle," warned her companion.

Antipany looked on in surprised delight. "It's not my birthday," she mused to the stately vase at her elbow. The vase had no comment.

Gabrielle knew she should be quiet, but right then she just didn't care. "What's the matter, Xena? I'd give you my opinion, but you haven't told me what to say yet!"

"Ooh, good one," Antipany approved.

"Shut up Antipany," both snarled at her. She held up her hands and nodded.

"What do you want from me, Xena?" the bard pleaded.

Xena continued her slow burn. "A little silence would be a nice start," she growled.

Gabrielle stood nose to nose with her companion. "Fat chance. Listen up. If you want to leave me, just say so. Say something."

"You do what ever you want to. At least I never betrayed you," Xena ground out. Then looked bewildered, not knowing where that thought had come from.

Gabrielle recoiled as if she had been slapped. "So that's it," she said slowly.

"Ouch." Antipany winced.

"Shut up Antipany," Xena said automatically. This was exactly why she didn't want to talk. No good ever came out of one of Gabrielle's lets-get-in-touch-with-our-feelings discussions. She reached out to the bard. "Gabrielle, I didn't mean that."

Gabrielle stepped back. "Of course you did. It all makes sense now. Why would you ever have someone you distrust cover your back? No wonder you don't want me around when you fight. But then I'm not much good to you, am I? If you think you can't count on me. I thought we had hashed this all out, but I guess not." She whirled around and headed for the door. And turned back in surprise when a huge bolt of energy flashed by her and hit the warrior square in the chest throwing her up against the wall. She slid down and sat on the floor, stunned.

Antipany pushed away from the wall and confronted the bard. "Gabrielle, she's a warrior. To get her attention you have to take your staff and whack her between the eyes a couple of times. Then you've got her respect and she'll listen to you."

Gabrielle gaped at the sorceress. "Have you been out in the forest gathering nuts with the squirrels again, Antipany?" she demanded furiously. "Just what part of that pea brain of yours came up with that load of horse dung? That doesn't solve anything."

"It makes me feel better," Antipany retorted. She threw another bolt at the warrior who was struggling to stand up. The bolt drove her back to the floor. "I knew this partnership couldn't last and not too long ago that would have made me very happy. But let me tell you, Gabrielle, I'm a mother now..."

"Now there's a scary thought," muttered the bard.

".. .and an unescorted Xena wandering the countryside makes me very nervous."

Gabrielle moved to stand over her stunned companion. "Stop this now, Antipany. Xena has picked her path and whether I'm with her or not, she'll continue on that road. You have nothing to fear from her."

"Perhaps you'd better talk it over some more," Antipany said coolly. She threw another light bolt of energy at the bard. When she collapsed in a heap on Xena's lap, Antipany beat a hasty retreat to the outside.

"Oooh, I hate that," moaned the bard . She struggled to her knees and turned so that she was facing her companion before she plopped back down on Xena's thighs. Even though she had taken a much lighter hit than her friend, she still felt weak. "Are you all right?" she asked anxiously.

"Yeah," Xena muttered. "I just can't move." She glared at the doorway and then turned an inquiring eye to her friend.

"Yes, I'm all right. And yes, I know how much you hate sorcerers. And no, you can't kill her." The warrior's lips pouted for a moment then a sly smile started to appear. "And no," Gabrielle continued, "you can't hurt her, No, not even a little." The pout returned.

"Gabrielle, why is it so important for me to talk? You know what I'm going to say anyway," Xena grumbled.

"Not everything," the young bard said wearily. "I certainly didn't see this coming. Maybe that's because you didn't see it coming either. As long as you don't trust me, I'm a danger to you." Xena opened her mouth to protest. Gabrielle put a finger to her lips. "I'm right," she said sadly. "I'm going back to the Amazons for a while to think things out. You should think about it too and then we'll decide what's best." She leaned forward and gave the warrior a quick kiss before rising shakily to her feet and leaving the room.

"Gabrielle..." Xena called out weakly, but her friend had gone. "Why do you beg me to talk and then never let me get a word in edgewise?" she asked the empty room in frustration. The stately vase wondered about that too.

Antipany was waiting for her when she exited the tree. Gabrielle grabbed her staff and some supplies from the saddlebags and put them in her bag.

"Couldn't talk any sense into her, huh?" asked Antipany sympathetically.

Doing her best to keep her ire under control and her tears in check, Gabrielle turned to the sorceress. "I don't know what you hoped to accomplish in there, but I'm the one who's leaving, not Xena. You keep out of this or so help me if Xena doesn't hurt you, I will!"

"All right, all right," Antipany said soothingly. "I just wanted her to see that you would stand by her, that's all."

"She knows that, Antipany. It's just that we have a different outlook on certain things."

"You violated the warrior's code," Antipany said with sudden understanding.


"Sure. What do you value above all, Gabrielle? Life, right? And what does Xena value above all? What all warriors value. Loyalty. The knowledge that her companion will guard her back through thick and thin, good and bad, right or wrong. You flunked the warrior's code, my young idealist friend. Xena now knows she can't trust you to put her values before your own." Antipany was on a roll. She started to pace. "What she wanted to do to your daughter was wrong according to your standards, and she knew that. But she assumed you would accept her actions because she's the queen of your little household and loyalty is above all else in her home. She dismissed your beliefs, Gabrielle."

"Oh, she did not. She knows how I feel about preserving life."

"Yes, but life doesn't hold the same meaning for her as it does for you. It kind of loses its value after the first few thousand deaths, don't you think?"

Gabrielle just stared at her then shook her head. "My motives weren't all that pure, Antipany. It was jealousy that drove me to betray her in Chin not some lofty belief in life. She has good reason not to trust me. I'm going to the Amazon village; if she wants me to be with her, she knows where to find me. It's her choice this time. Try to stay out of trouble, will you?"

Antipany caught her arm. "The Amazons, huh. Theocles!" she bellowed. A young priest stuck his head out of the stables.


"How would you like to accompany Gabrielle to the Amazons?"

"Great," he exclaimed. "I can take those herbs to their healer. Greetings Gabrielle, nice to see you again. Let me get my stuff and I'll be right with you." He disappeared back into the stables.

"Antipany!" Gabrielle protested.

"It would be a big help to Telamedes," Antipany explained. "We don't want him to make the journey by himself. The poor boy can defend himself about as well as Tele can. He'll be much safer with you along."

Theocles ran out with a large bag draped over his shoulder. "I'm ready. Let's go."

Gabrielle shot a peeved look at Antipany who, being impervious to such looks, simply ignored it and gathered the bard into a grateful hug. "Thanks, Gabrielle. He needs the experience and he'll be good company." She continued to hold her friend. "It's terrible being human, isn't it Gabrielle? To know that as good as you are, sometimes those baser emotions like hate and envy just slip out before you can grab them."

Gabrielle buried her head into the cloak. "And almost destroy the person you love most," she whispered.

"Did Xena ever apologize for nearly killing you?"

Lifting her head, Gabrielle nodded and smiled. "Yes, she did. In Illusia." She sighed wistfully. "It was a beautiful song."

Antipany's eyes widened. "She sang it? That's it? One little song?" She considered that for a moment. "Let's see if I understand this. You destroy the evil created within you, undergo Amazon purging, ask forgiveness in Apollo's temple, confront your harshest memories with Mnemosyne, tell Xena you're sorry more times than I can count... and she sings? Once? In an illusion?"

"No!" Gabrielle protested, "Not illusion. In Illusia."

"Where do you think the word came from, Gabrielle?"

"Why do I talk to you?" the bard seethed. Resolutely she straightened and kissed Antipany. "I have to go."

"Ah, Gabrielle, you're leaving a huge load of your baggage on the floor of my home. Please remove her before you go," Antipany pleaded.

"Oh, I don't think so," Gabrielle patted her arm. "You created this problem, you clean it up."

"She's going to kill me!"

"Consider it an act of mercy," Gabrielle replied tartly. "See you, some day...maybe. Come on Theocles, I'm ready." She strode down the road, the excited young priest chattering beside her. Gods, she wondered, how could anyone talk that much?


Antipany cast a cautious glance around the main room and was relieved to see Xena still sitting on the floor unmoving, still apparently under the influence of the bolts. Her arms were limply handing by her sides, her head resting against the wall, eyes closed. She entered the room and went over to the warrior, sitting down on the floor beside her.

"Sorry about that princess. I was just trying to keep Gabrielle around a little longer. Guess it didn't work. She's on her way to the Amazons with Theocles."

One eye opened. "You expect Theocles to protect her?"

"Well, no. Actually, I expect Gabrielle to protect him. But Theocles is fast. He can outrun the wind when he wants too. They'll be all right."

Xena nodded, then quicker than Antipany could possibly image her hands flashed and the sorceress felt jabs on each side of her neck. Her eyes widened. "Wha...why?" she squeaked.

"It makes me feel better," the warrior growled. "And I'm tired of your meddling."

Dark spots appeared in her vision and she began to feel lightheaded. "Bu...but what are friends for?" she gasped in bewilderment.

Xena scowled at her. "We're...not...friends!"

A thin dribble of blood trickled from each nostril as Antipany tried to focus on the warrior's words. "Oh...yeah." Blackness was threatening to overwhelm her. Suddenly an infant's wail came from the other room. Antipany made an instinctive effort to rise in response to her child's cry, but found she couldn't move. She flashed Xena an inquiring look.

"Oh, Hades," the warrior said in dismay. Her hand flashed again and the sorceress felt immediate relief as blood flowed again to her brain. She sat a moment waiting for the spots to disappear and the dizziness to pass. Then she passed a shaky hand under her nose. "Ugh," she said staring at the blood on her fingers. She reached over and wiped her nose on Xena's shoulder.

"Stop that!" Xena snapped, pushing the sorceress away.

Antipany studied her for a moment. "You know, you're right princess, we'll never be friends. But I think I finally got my revenge." She winced as Xena wiped her shoulder off with an elaborately embroidered scarf from a nearby table.

"How do you figure that?"

"Now that you're my child's godmother, you're part of my family." She reached over and planted a sloppy, bloody kiss on the warrior's cheek. "Welcome to the family."

"Get away from me!" Xena pushed the laughing Antipany away once more and rubbed frantically at her cheek.

Getting up, Antipany made her way on rubbery legs to check on her infant. When she returned Xena was walking to the door. The sound of running feet could be heard coming down the tunnel and an adolescent boy bounded through the door and ran smack into the warrior.

"Xena!" he exclaimed. The warrior steadied the blond headed boy and felt a momentary pang as she studied him. Only a couple of years younger than Solon she thought sadly.

"Do I know you?" she asked with a smile.

"No, probably not," he replied. "You saved our village last year from Zagreas. My name is Chrolus." He looked at her with wide-eyed admiration. "I just wanted to thank you. Gee, are you staying? All the initiates want to meet you."

"Oh, I don't think..." Xena began.

"You know," Antipany interrupted. "We've been thinking a few lessons in self-defense would be good for the boys. Chrolus, maybe you could persuade Xena to teach you boys a few things about staffs."

"Now, wait just a..."

"Oh, wow," the boy exclaimed. "That would be great! Please, Xena." He looked up at her with pleading fawn eyes. And her heart began to puddle, remembering another blond headed boy.

"Well... maybe," she said gruffly, ruffling his hair. "Go on back to the temple and let me talk to Antipany about it."

"Oh, wow," he repeated. "Wait 'till I tell the others!" He jumped up and down a couple of times before dashing down the hall, whooping.

"Chrolus..." Xena protested in vain as the boy disappeared. It always amazed Antipany how fast the warrior's expression could turn from maternal to deadly. She hastily put a table between herself and Xena when those icy blue eyes turned to her and then watched as those same eyes dissolved into grief.

"It's too soon," Xena whispered. She ran her hand through her hair and paced the room. "I can't do this." Antipany waited patiently while Xena continued to pace. "Besides, what do I know about children?" She glanced at the sorceress. "More than you, but still..." Antipany pursed her lips in annoyance. Xena stopped and scowled. "All right, I'll do it for a couple of days until Gabrielle comes back." She started for the tunnel.

Antipany caught her arm. "Ah, Xena. Remember, it's self-defense. Nothing lethal, please. We don't want to upset Telamedes now do we. Please, don't do that."

"Don't tell me he'll beat you." Xena gave a small disbelieving smile.

"It's worse," Antipany swallowed. "He...he pontificates, he orates, he lectures. He can go on for hours, until I'm down on my knees confessing my indiscretions, real and imagined, just to get him to shut up." She shuddered.

The warrior was smiling thoughtfully as she started out of the room.

"Xena," Antipany called, "you'd still have time to go get Gabrielle before she gets too far down the road."

Xena stopped but did not look back. "No, she's the one who left. She'll come back when she's ready." She left the room.

Antipany scowled at the vase. "How can someone so smart be so dumb?" she asked exasperated. And the vase, perhaps fearing for its life, steadfastly refused to answer.

Continue to Chapters 4-10 (the conclusion)

Return to the Fanfic Summary Page


You Are On
The Pink Rabbit Consortium
(click the above link to break out of frames)
Send Comments or Questions to Pink Rabbit Productions

| Home | Subtext Zone Art Gallery | Subtext LinksWhat's New | HTDTZ? |
 | Xena Fanfic Archive (no frames) | Buffy Fanfic Archive | In Process |