"Donít you think that youíre moving a little fast, bro?"
Ares turned to face Aphrodite and an implacable Artemis. He didnít notice Xena move slightly closer to his sword side.
"Ladies, I would like to assume that the two of you arenít here to interfere." He placed the child down, keeping between her and Xena. "After all, Artemis, I believe you already have a Chosen?"
Artemis gestured up the hill where the first light of the sun was reaching, and Ares spotted a familiar little strawberry-blonde in Amazon leathers standing beside James. The Goddesses voice was cold.
Aresí confusion had given Xena more than enough time. He never saw the blow that sent him flying, even while her hand grasped the hilt of his sword from its sheath. Immediately she felt an almost drunken rush as the energy flowed into her.
"Now, letís see. You were saying...?" she said, twirling the sword about casually, watching the sunrise reflect off of it. "Nice. Iíd forgotten what an excellent balance it has", she commented professionally. "What do you think, Ares, Goddess of War have a nice ring to it?" She looked down at the now mortal Ares.
Ares leapt up to retrieve the child but found himself facing an angry and armed Gabrielle who struck him in the chest and then swept his feet out from under him with her staff, before dropping her weapon and bending over to clutch her daughter to her heart. James and Robin came running towards them, Robin taking the time to remove the blonde wig on the way.
Gabrielle then turned to Xena, who shifted the sword somewhat defensively, as her angry soulmate stalked towards her warrior in fury and said " And YOU, if you think being the Goddess of War is going to protect you from me, youíve got another think coming..."
By now Xena had been backed up to the edge of the water, and had stopped trying to make any more placating noises. She had closed her eyes and was waiting to be shoved in to the stream. But Gabrielle surprised her by growling deep in her throat, spinning on her heel, and walking away. As she sat down in the shade of a tree, they could hear her telling Lycea in the softest of voices, what an asshole her mommy wummy was.
"I thought she liked it when a plan came together?" James said mildly, as the chastened Xena approached. "Maybe you should seriously consider this Goddess of War thing for a bit?"
Ares moaned from the ground. "Goddess ĎTHINGí?" He slowly pulled himself up, watching as Xena began again to practice her drills with his sword. " Stop that. We all know that you have no intention of keeping it. Why donít you all stop this gloating and tell me what you want from me?"
Xena paused. "Oh, youíre right, Iím not planning on keeping it. But we didnít do all this just to get another of your useless promises."
There was another flash of light and Robin stared as a stunning woman appeared with a shield and goat skin draped over her shoulder.
"So nice when the family can get together like this." Athena smiled. "Ares....Artemis...íDite..." Each acknowledged their sisterís greeting in turn. She turned to Gabrielle.
"Is this the child? And she has stood alone?"
Gabrielle nodded and carefully presented her daughter to the Goddess. Athena turned to the Goddess of the Hunt.
"Artemis, are you certain that you have no problem with this? The future ruler of your nation sponsored by another?"
Then she reached over to Xena, and taking Aresí sword, said, "I think Iíll keep this for a while, until my brother and I can reach an arrangement." And then she and the sword were gone.
Ares looked at the remaining mortals and Gods and blurted "What?" Gabrielle just grinned. Keeping one eye on her staff, Ares said, "You donít think that this ends it? There are always loopholes..."
To James` surprise it was Robin who snapped out of the reverie first. "Breakfast or sleep?" she said brightly. They all turned to the Queen.
Afraid that their return would be used as an excuse to continue the party at Cyrene`s, the two couples and child opted to make the long walk to the dining hut. The mist had dissipated and it looked to be another glorious day. Neither Robin or James noticed the slight tap on the ass that forced the dark warrior forward with a sigh. Robin soon fell into step along the well worn path with Gabrielle and Lycea as their taller companions drew ahead under the canopy of the forest.
Xena was staring straight ahead when she asked " So, whatís up with you and Robin?"
James stopped dead. "Wha?" He looked suspiciously at the dark woman at his side, but she seemed to be engrossed in checking her teeth with her tongue. He glanced back at Gabrielle, smirked knowingly, and then continued walking.
"Donít say it." Growled Xena.
There was another, deeper growl. "I dunno. When did I start cutting you so much slack?"
"Around the time you found out I could make dumplings on an outdoor fire."
There was chuckle. "Thatís right. That was when Gabrielle was..." and both fell silent.
"Damn, Iím sorry, I shouldnít joke about that time..." James apologized.
"No, thatís all a part of it...." and she put her hand on his shoulder and clenched it gently
When she knew that James, if not Xena, was out of earshot, Gabrielle asked Robin "Do you know whatís bugging James?"
Robin was walking with Gabrielleís precious staff, and striking the end aggressively into the ground "How would I know? Heís been avoiding ME. If he wants to talk, Iím right here."
Gabrielle sighed, and shifted Lycea. "I feel Iím sort of to blame, Ďcause I havenít been much help. The last time you were here, you were avoiding him, and I...I convinced him to talk with you."
Remembering the conversation with Joxer she had overheard, Robin blushed. "He asked me, about us, and I told him Ďnoí. Right?"
"Not exactly, more that this bond thing scared the Tarterus out of you. You told me he was very calm. Even apologized to you for putting you on the spot. Left with a joke, you said."
Robin closed her eyes. "Oh....
" ...Gods , I really miss my daughter," James said to Xena, and received what he took to be an understanding grunt. "And since all the crises have passed...." he waited.
Xena didnít slow her step, but turned and asked "You stay for a week, or a day, you still go back to the same moment in her life, right?"
"When did this become an assignment?" Xena asked.
"Well, no..." Flustered, James was searching for excuses. "You know Iím not exactly a free agent. Things happen. Itís only..."
"...only chance, Robin, that James brought you here the first time?"
Robin looked over at her companion, and they both stopped while she thought for a moment. "Could I...?" she gestured towards Lycea. Gabrielle passed her over gratefully, and took back her staff. "Sheís getting so big...." They continued walking.
"James said that he was leaning over me, arms sort of, wrapped around me, showing me the fingering on a chord, when he was ....transported. He figured I was just in the field...or something, so I came too."
"... friendly force in the cosmos, the one that has always seemed only concerned with emotional pain, it suddenly decided to send you to kill Andrea, help stop Raza,....?"
"You donít think so." James said.
"Iím not sure. But Iím beginning to think that if youíve
decided that you should leave, you will."
Gabrielle grinned in anticipation. "This sounds like a story...."
James glanced over at Xena. "You know itís funny you should
say that, because I was just thinking about this childrenís book, itís
about this farm girl who gets picked up by a cyclone..."
Amused Gabrielle interrupted. "And you think James
is like her?"
"So she thinks that she has to complete each of these
challenges on her quest to get home..."
"...but in the end she finds out that she had the power
with her all along."
James decided to change the subject. "I went and had a
talk with Jessan..."
"You know, I had a talk with Elaini..." Robin smiled at the trepidation with which she had approached the forest dwellers` tent. She had felt like Beauty meeting the Beast right up until she had seen the furry healer playing with her children.
"And...." Robin sighed. "She saw that there was a ...bond. Faint, but she saw it."
"Bet you she told you Jessan`s mum would be pissed."
Robin relaxed and laughed. "Yeah, she told me that they were just getting used to the idea that you and Xena shared the same...connection. She asked though, , if we were, uhh, related..."
"She did, did she...?" Robin ears pricked up at the note
in the bards voice.
James hated to be seen as a coward. "Look. What do you expect? Remember, I saw you, when Gabrielle was..."
Once again they shared the memory, of the loss, the pain, the warrior curled up like a child, agony so great that tears would have been a blessed relief...
James mumbled "I could barely handle the rejection before. I know I couldnít handle that..."
"...pain, when separated from your bond, or what happens when a bondmate dies? Yeah, she told me."
"Thatís gotta scare you. I still see the shadows in Xenaís eyes when she doesnít know Iím watching. But," and Robin could hear the conviction in her voice, " itís still the greatest gift, the most extraordinary thing that IĎve ever known or even imagined, the...completeness... I feel with Xena , I wouldnít, I couldnít ever trade it just for peace of mind." The Bard held Robin with her eyes. "For two to find each other. To love each other. There is nothing more important than that.But it is frightening. Scary as Tarterus. And itís something James has seen. So imagine wondering how your soulmate could say no. Or forget you..."
Robin stopped. She saw that James and Xena had closed the distance, and Xena was looking longingly at Lycea. She eyed Gabrielle, and asked "Do you think Lycea would like to see her other mother?"
Gabrielle frowned, and leaned over to the child. "Are we going to trust that warrior with you?" Lycea pursed her lips and gurgled happily. She looked towards Xena and nodded. Robin ran along with her bundle only to pass James halfway . He gave her a shy grin, as he retreated to where Gabrielle stood leaning on her staff. Robin sighed and moved on to join Xena. Thus coupled, they continued the walk.
James fell into her stride. "What?"
"Guy stuff, you know, gladiators..."
Xena took Lycea into her arms gratefully. "Eponin told me she was impressed with your sword work."
Robinís eyes widened. "Really? Thatís funny, she told me that Lycea had more upper body strength than I did."
"Wow." Robin beamed. "I mean it felt right, you know?"
The warrior gave her a grin, reminding her that if anyone knew what it
was like, it was this woman. Robin added "But then a lot of things feel
"You know, this isnít like last time, for her. Sheís becoming stronger, sheís not frightened by all this, now."
"Being around Xena, you mean."
The Bard blushed.
He paused. "I wish I could bring my daughter here...."
Gabrielle appraised him. "And you think maybe you could, now? Why?"
Robin tried to explain. "It isnít about holding the sword.
Itís knowing I can use it. When Solari gave me Titanís reins, you know,
when we first arrived this time, I backed off. I said, `but I havenít ridden
since I was twelve`. And, sure, that was me. But, in Amphipolis, when I
was needed, I said `I can ride`. That was me, too. But I like the woman
that got on the horse a lot more, you know? James asked me if I was getting
hooked on adventure, but itís just that I want to do whatever it takes
to be that person..."
Gabrielle pointed ahead at Xena and Robin. " I think Robin is already making a lot of discoveries lately. Sheís had a chance to see what she can do. And sheís really enjoying it. Those two have a lot in common, donít you think?"
James looked askance at the tall muscular warrior, and
her shorter companion, then back to the bard."O.....K! No no no..."
"No, I know what you mean." Answered Xena. "Sometimes I wonder if Gabrielle..."
"Well. " The reticent warrior tried again. " I think she
only feels a responsibility to help other people. She doesnít often feel
the ...joy of the fight. I think James is like that too..." She glanced
down at Robin. "What do you think about that...?"
"Quit this right now, Gabrielle." James stopped "Weíre not going to have that conversation where you figure that I`ll end up calling you grandma, or great great great grandma. Robin and I are not like you and Xena. I donít know where our bond comes from, but whenever or whatever this place is, Iím sure that it isnít my past. And I am not your future. You already have one kid. Donít try to adopt me."
"Then," said Gabrielle, "if thereís no link, than there
wouldnít be any harm if you and I were to talk about...say, flying machines...."
"Oh no, " said Xena looking back at where their companions had halted. She watched as her partner made a pointing motion to her finger.
"Sheís going to her Beta plan."
"What is that?"
"Gabrielle, likes to add one and two and get six sometimes.
She thinks that where you come, from has flying machines. And that James
wonít tell her because heís afraid she might invent them too early." She
laughed, waiting for Robin to join in. And waited.
Gabrielle was counting points on her fingers. "Six. When we were in the mountains you told me where you live is rather flat. So where do you go para-whatever jumping?" She quickly cut him off. " No, donít start that. Youíve never lied to me before, you arenít going to start now. Seven. You also said you were looking at the landmarks if there was a chance you could recognize it from the air..."
"What is it with you and flying? You hate heights." James
was getting what he thought of as his Gabrielle headache.
"Umm, Xena, I heard James telling you all about TV... umm... pictures through the air? He seems pretty free about telling you about some things from our era. Why would flying be such a big deal?"
"Because Gabrielle isnít obsessed with pictures
flying through the air."
"Gabrielle. History of man flying starts with Icarus, and then goes downhill. Itís full of people studying birds, and then jumping from barns and castles and cliffs and ending up at the bottom, real fast. I just think you could be doing other stuff, you know?"
"No, Iíve been thinking about Xena`s flying parchment."
"What about her kite, ...er, parchment?"
"Uh huh." James grunt was non-committal, but the bard noticed with amusement that his patronizing smile was as phony as his relaxed air, and that his hand was clenching slightly. "And then, "she continued ingenuously, " thereís the business with the sparks."
Relieved that the subject seemed to have been changed, James said "The sparks? What about the sparks? " He nodded encouragingly.
"Well, you know how sparks fly upwards in a fire? And
then fall down when they drift away from the heat? Well, Iíve played with
a lot of fires in my life, and I donít think they float because theyíre
burning. I think the heat makes the air around them lighter somehow." She
looked up at James. He had his eyes closed and was using one hand to massage
"James told me, that you destroyed some dynamite, black powder, coming back from Chin, even though Gabrielle thought it could have some good uses." Xena grunted an assent. She still had nightmares because the formula had been so simple.
"Well imagine how much more dangerous it would be if you could drop that from a flying machine. And what if the powder got more and more powerful. Till they could drop a..." She hunted for a word "... a big amount of it, so powerful, that if they dropped it here, that people in Amphipolis would die a second after we did, and then those in Potedia would die from the poison from the explosion days later..."
Xena stopped and stared and the earnest face beside her. This wasnít hypothetical to the smaller woman, she knew. "You will not tell Gabrielle any of this." Her voice had become harsh.
Robin froze, realizing she had crossed a line. She waited
for Xena to explain. Looking away from her, the warrior began, "You see
"...in education. Knowledge isnít a problem. Itís the key to peace. Understanding ourselves. What is wrong with believing in that?"
James thought about all of the places he was terrified
he could be sent to. The deliberate famines, the genocideís, the Holocaust...
He forgot about their connection until he noticed the shock on Gabrielle`s
face. He tried to push his visions away to a far corner of his mind and
although Gabrielle wasnít sure what he had been seeing, caught enough to
demand " What are you hiding? If there are such terrible things in the
future, what difference would it make if...why are you always afraid of
Xena was sober. "James once told me, you have these huge cities. Like a thousand Athens packed together. I couldnít, I did not want to imagine that. People living like ants in an ant hill... Someone dropped one of those bombs youíre talking about on a city, a city big like that, didnít they?"
Robin couldnít look at the warrior.. " I shouldnít... sometimes it seems in our time we see each other like ants, and so life isnít as...precious......so that we could do..."
"Gods..." Xena was surprised she could still be shocked
at war. "If thatís the future, what in Tarterus does it matter what we
"Gabrielle, I want to believe that, but Iíve seen..." He was searching, trying to find the words. How do you explain global warming? "Humans invent ahead of their capacity to use new things wisely. People get lost in all the bright shiny inventions,...But I still truly believe what my mother believed. That if all that was best in the world, worked for the good, then there were no problems that couldnít be solved. That, itís all in the hands of those people." But in his mind a picture flashed of a small boy shocked to see his mother weeping, this middle-aged white woman crying helplessly, because a black man named King had been shot. Because she believed he had been one of those people.
He tried again. "You and Xena, in this time, doing what you do, I believe you are holding off even greater evils. Itís a burden, but itís a glory too..."
"That," The Bard spoke for the first time, "is also a good description of the Bond..."
James stopped, and mumbled, "maybe, I donít know. But
I do know this....
"...what you and Gabrielle do, thatís what ultimately counts." Robin implored. " I really...know...peopleís dreams come from inspiration. Not from envy or power. Itís the caring, and Love, and Sacrifice, thatís what changes the world for the better. Thatís what keeps us apart from the animals. You and Gabrielle, youíre heroes...
"...And the world has never had enough heroes..."
"...And the world has never had enough heroes..." Robin and James heard their words echo and all four stared at one other. There was an uncomfortable silence.
Robin had anticipated that the dining Hall to be empty, forgetting that there were children and the next patrol shifts who had not been up all night. But none of them expected to see the figure slumped at the rear table preferred by Xena.
"Is that the same flagon?"
"I think we can guess itís not the same ale."
"I know that itís the same leathers."
"Phew... Pony, go take a bath, and go to bed." ordered Gabrielle.
Eponin caught that. "Hey!"
Xena slumped onto the bench. "Letís all eat, then sleep. Please. Weíre all exhausted."
Eponin disagreed. "Youíre all exhausted. My staying awake has become a spiritual quest. The first three days up are hard, but after that ..." She looked at James, "I know youíve done this. You know what I mean, donít you?"
James looked at her sourly "I know after three days drinking without sleep, humanity becomes THEM."
"And the downside of this is....? Anyways, Iíve got a class of trainees in an hour, and so do you, Missy."
"I could make it an order..." Gabrielle was warning.
"No you couldnít." James said confidently
"Sheís conducting the ceremony. Anyways, itís also supposed to be someone who helped bring you to this point, to the person that youíre being joined to. Thatís why Xena chose Hercules."
"Another male. All the more reason to choose.... I know! Your Mom!"
"You really think that my Mom wants to be considered accountable for my life with Xena?"
"I pick Lila and then my Mom would be hurt."
"Of course, that makes sense" he said sarcastically."....Maleager."
"I thought you said it couldnít be a male. And I want you."
"Youíre being overly sensitive."
"Well, a talking deer in the dreamscape, maybe I jumped to a conclusion..."
"And she said no, too?"
Gabrielle didnít laugh. "Itís not up to her to say no."
"I say no, I withdraw any application to this tribe. Regretfully."
She stared at her friend.
"How many women are here because of violence from men?" he asked.
"So this is a refuge." She nodded. James put his hand on hers. "Gabrielle, she was right. Iím playing that this is a big joke, reverse sexism, and Iím doing it amongst people who are wounded."
"James, you believe that a soul has no sex, right? You also told me that you didnít like to get into subsections of human rights. Thatís what womenís rights were, you argued. Human rights, right?"
"Centaur crap. I refuse to see you even as an exception to a rule. Youíre chickening out."
Eponin popped a nut into her mouth, and looked at James . "Xena`s already asked me for her side. Iím going to be a token Amazon."
"Great. Well, what do you think the other warriors would think?"
"No, Pony, Donít..."
"For Hade`s sake, Pony" Xena said. "If you canít take a bath, at least close your legs. Weíre trying to eat here."
There was some grumbling. "Oh yeah, maybe some people could worry about establishing a precedent, having a male in a command capacity, even honourary..."
Several older Amazons nodded at this. "Donít really see that either. Whatís the precedent? That some one could come and save the Queenís sanity, her child, her love and her mask, and get properly acknowledged for it? Tarterus, if it happens again, exactly like that, which I sort of doubt, then yeah, I think weíre stuck with them, even if theyíre a Cyclops.
"Meanwhile, Xena has Hercules leading her group. Anyone here want to tell her no?"
"Then I donít see a problem, do you?"
Gabrielle was smiling complacently, until she saw Jamesí smile didnít reach his eyes. He whispered to her "I still want a Knife at the throat for the rest of the stay, and Iím going to go talk to Hercules, and try to explain it to him, too."
"Youíre welcome. I think I`ll try a shower. I`ll see you,"
pointing to Robin, "and your little friends in half a candlemark."
Hercules had been put in a bed in the corner of the hospice, surrounded by a single sheet to separate him from the rest of the patients. He was sitting on the edge of the pallet, stripped to the waist, his normally tanned complexion pale, and he was sweating as he was vainly reaching up for his shirt on a hook.
He didnít look at James as he dropped the dividing sheet behind him.
"Look. Iím already getting a complex about the fact that half the women here have bigger biceps that I do; yesterday I was declared not a man, now you want to force me stare at YOUR chest? Please, let me give you the damned shirt, OK?"
"Going somewhere?" James asked.
"So you went to tell Gabrielle....?
"And of course now youíre back in?"
"Not her usual thing? Actually, I think She and Artemis are more or less bouncers."
"You know, Ares, Callisto..."
Hercules grimaced. "Thatís really why I have to get out of here. Do you know what injured Amazons do all day? And night?"
"OK, thatís bad enough. But the younger ones Gossip. Continuously. About everything. Everybody. When, who, how many times..." The strain increased in his tone. "I have got to get out of here."
James began to laugh. "Learn anything interesting?"
"Mainly things I didnít want to know. But I did hear that Ephiny finally decided what Xenaís challenge was..."
"You mean to prove herself worthy of the Queen? What was it? Nobodies talking. She has to fight a dozen warriors with a fish?"
"Gabrielle was against anything that might injure Xena. No, they decided on self-discipline. Xena had to stop working on her palace."
"What? Why that?"
"No, they were all sitting around watching her. You know, lifting stone blocks...sweating away...Nothing was getting else was getting done..."
"Bunch of Centaur dung," the warrior mumbled.
It was then that the fear started. James felt it first, and looked, panic-stricken to Xena.
James tried to read the Warriorsís expression. "Oh damn..." she whispered.
"What?" James eyes darted between the Xena and Gabrielle.
Gabrielle took his hand and said softly "Robin... you have to find her...now."