Please read the Disclaimer in Part One!
Note: Obviously this story involves characters from the episodes "Warrior...Princess" and "Warrior...Princess...Tramp." Other than the characters themselves, there shouldn't be any actual spoilers for said episodes. Character name spellings are from WHOOSH, so if they're inaccurate, don't blame me. As far as I know, the baby in "WPT" was unnamed, so I invented a name for her.
Xenite Disclaimer for Part Three: No more pigs were harmed in the production of this chapter, but countless goats gave their livers for the cause.
Xena strode quickly over to where Hercules and Meg were facing off. "I said put the knife down."
"Xena?" Meg cringed, as if she expected Xena to hit her. Instead, the warrior removed the large butcher knife from the cook's hand and turned to the man.
"It's all right, Hercules." Meg's eyes widened.
"Hercules?" she repeated in awe. "Wow!" Her eyes slowly surveyed the legendary hero, taking particular note of his muscular arms and the way his pants fit. Hercules remained mute, his eyes darting from one woman to the other. His mouth hung slightly open. Pig blood congealed on his arm.
Meg glanced around the courtyard, opening her mouth to say something else. Her eye fell on Joxer and her gaze hardened.
"Hey, what's HE doing here?" She gave Xena an accusatory glare. "Whaddya think you're trying to do, anyway?" Abruptly, she burst into tears and dashed off into the castle. The various servants and courtiers who were still gathered began to disperse.
"See, I tried to tell you guys," Joxer said morosely, hanging his head. "She won't even talk to me."
"She - you - but-" Iolaus gave eloquent voice to what both he and Hercules were thinking. They both stared at Xena in bemusement.
"Yeah," Xena said.
"I'll go after Meg," Gabrielle said, handing the toddler princess to Xena. "You better find King Lias and find out about the assassination attempt."
"But first -" Gabrielle turned and grabbed a rag from the butcher's block, tossing it to Hercules. "Clean him up."
"Thanks." Hercules mopped rigorously at the blood on his arm. His expression was eloquent.
"We'll find some water on the way." Xena looked warily at the child in her arms, and handed her to Iolaus. "Come on, you two. The king's quarters are this way. Joxer, stay put."
"Right," Joxer agreed sadly. Xena led Hercules and Iolaus off in one direction. Gabrielle trotted off in the other. Joxer sat down on the ground and put his chin in his hands.
Halfway across the courtyard, Iolaus handed the little girl to Hercules.
Gabrielle followed the trail of pig blood drippings and fearful servants to the kitchen. Pushing through the doors, she found the kitchen empty save one lonely pot, bubbling forlornly over the firepit, and an equally forlorn Meg, weeping quietly on a stool in the corner. Red stained Meg's cheekbones where her blood-soaked hands had wiped her face; tears mingled with the pig blood, smearing and smudging it further. The overall effect was quite gruesome.
Gabrielle removed the pot from the fire and grabbed what she hoped was a clean rag before kneeling beside the cook. Gently, she pulled Meg's hands from her face and began to clean her up.
"Gabrielle, I'm so glad you're here," Meg confessed earnestly. "I've really made a mess of things this time."
"What's going on with you and Joxer?" Gabrielle asked. "In your last letter you said everything was great." She tried not to wince at the memory of Meg's terrible spelling. Well, at least the former tramp was learning to read and write.
"It was great, till I had to go and mess it up," Meg sniffled. "I just don't know how to tell him."
"Tell him what?" Gabrielle finished with Meg's face and turned to her hands, which looked like something out of a Bacchian nightmare.
Meg's voice dropped to a confessional register. "I'm not so sure it's his."
Gabrielle looked up into the other woman's face -- so familiar, yet not -- with a small frown of bemusement. "What's not his?"
Meg gave back an identical frown. "The baby. What else?"
Gabrielle nearly dropped the rag. "What?! You're pregnant too???"
"I thought he told you!" Meg exclaimed, jumping up. "Aw geez, Gabrielle, swear you won't tell anyone!" Suddenly her frown returned. "What do you mean, 'too'?" Her eyes widened. "Not Xena?"
"Oh, this is just too much," Gabrielle said. "You and Xena ... no, it's too weird."
"I'll say," Meg agreed wholeheartedly. "And I seen some weird stuff, lemme tell ya." She moved closer and lowered her voice again. "So, ah, what happened? Confidentially, Gabrielle, I always thought you and Xena were ... you know...." She nudged Gabrielle meaningfully. The bard sighed.
"It's a long story."
Xena strode swiftly through the halls of the castle, followed by two men and a baby. After a moment Hercules scowled and tried to hand the child back to Iolaus, who refused to take her. The two men looked at each other.
"Xena," Iolaus called, hurrying to catch up. Xena slowed her pace minimally. "How do you know this place so well?"
"Been here, done this," Xena said shortly. Hercules took the opportunity to shove the little princess back into the Warrior Princess's arms. Looking disgusted, Xena settled the child on her hip.
"Here we go." Xena confronted the guard at the door of the king's chamber. "Let us in or die horribly."
Cowed, the guard stepped aside, just as Prince Philemon appeared in the doorway. "Xena!" he said. "This is a surprise ... but not unwelcome. Come in."
"Philemon, this is Hercules and Iolaus," Xena said, stepping inside and hastily handing the toddler over to her father. He raised his eyebrows.
"Really? The great Hercules himself coming to my father-in-law's aid? We're honored. Aren't we, darling? Yes we are!" he cooed. The little princess laughed and grabbed his nose.
"Hello, Xena!" King Lias called feebly from his bed. Xena walked over and took his outstretched hand.
"Hello, Your Majesty. You're looking well."
"Oh, don't give me that," he said, squeezing her hand with his thin papery one. "I'm old and weak, not stupid." He smiled. Xena smiled back -- almost.
"So, about this assassination attempt?" Hercules prompted. The prince nodded quickly.
"A false alarm, thank the gods," he said. "You see, my beloved Diana was in the mood for some pickled onions, and believe it or not, even after all this time she's still pretty scared of Meg!"
"Gee, I wonder why," Iolaus joked, then coughed apologetically as everyone glared at him. "Sorry."
"So I went down to the kitchen to get them for her," Philemon continued. "I was trying to be very quiet, because it was the king's nap time." He lowered his voice and confided, "He naps a lot lately." The others nodded in understanding. "Anyway, on my way back, I tripped and dropped a platter. It startled the guard. He drew his dagger so quickly it flew out of his hand and thunked into the wall above the king's bed." He indicated the spot. They could all see the hole in the woodwork where the dagger had pierced it. "In the confusion it took a while to sort it all out, but that's what happened. There was no assassination attempt."
"I'm glad," Xena said, getting up from the bed. The king had fallen asleep again. "So where is Diana now?"
"Oh, she's in her chambers eating the pickled onions. And some fried goat livers. She made me get them while we were trying to figure out what had happened."
"Goat livers?" Iolaus repeated, making a face.
"Oh, yes." Philemon grinned ruefully. "Well, you know how it is. With Lilia," he indicated the toddler now sleeping in his arms, "she wanted to eat nothing but pomegranate! Can you imagine? Only pomegranate until the very last month, and then she started gorging on nutbread. At least this time there's some variety. Today goat livers, yesterday chicken gizzards, tomorrow ... who knows?"
"Wait a minute," Xena burst out. "Are you trying to tell us that Diana is pregnant too?"
"Well, yes, I thought you knew," Philemon said in surprise. "She writes to Gabrielle so frequently I thought surely she would have told you two about this." He beamed cheerfully. "I'm hoping for a boy this time."
"Waaaait a minute," Hercules said, echoing Xena even as he stared at her. "What do you mean, 'too'?"
"Huh?" Iolaus said, blinking. Xena turned suddenly and dashed out of the room. Hercules and Iolaus looked at each other.
"By the Gods!" They both ran out in pursuit of Xena. Philemon stood watching them go, nonplused. The little princess drooled on his shoulder.
"...and it's been two months," Gabrielle was finishing up, "and just this morning we realized that Xena is pregnant."
"Wow," Meg breathed in wonder. "So you're gonna be a daddy!"
"I guess you could look at it that way," Gabrielle agreed, feeling somewhat alarmed. "But listen, Meg ... about your baby. If not Joxer's, then whose do you think it is?"
"Gabrielle, we have to get out of here," Xena announced, panting slightly as she burst into the kitchen. Gabrielle and Meg got up from the fireside where they had been sitting and chatting.
"Now!" Xena ordered, almost frantically. She grabbed Gabrielle's arm, but it was too late. Hercules and Iolaus came running in on Xena's heels.
"Xena!" Hercules yelled. "If you're carrying my child, we have to talk!"
"Hey, it's not yours, it's Gabby's!" Meg said belligerently. Xena let go of Gabrielle's arm.
"You told her?!" the warrior exclaimed.
"I had to. Xena, guess what? Meg's pregnant too!"
"What?!" Xena looked shocked. Hercules and Iolaus both put their hands up as if in surrender.
"Hey, don't look at me," Herc said defensively.
"Oh, shut up," Xena told them both. She turned to Gabrielle. "So is Diana."
"How many Dianas do you know?"
"Do you think she and the king will throw me out?" Meg asked despondently. "I can't face him with this." She began to sniffle. Gabrielle put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"Of course not, Meg. He'll understand. Right now you need to worry about facing Joxer."
"Joxer?" the other three repeated in unison. Herc and Iolaus raised their eyebrows dubiously. Xena looked ill.
"I think I'm going to be sick," she said. Gabrielle gave her a chiding look.
"Oh, Xena, he's not THAT bad."
"No, I mean I'm going to be sick," Xena said chokingly. She turned to the large kitchen sink and bent over it. The men made faces. Meg and Gabrielle hurried to help Xena.
"Oh, Meg, I wonder if you could make me some of those little dumplings with the red-- Ooh, what's going on?" squealed Princess Diana, entering the kitchen. "Gabrielle!"
"Diana!" Gabrielle left Xena bent over the sink and went to hug the princess. Hercules and Iolaus looked like they were about to keel over from shock.
"Philemon probably told you all about my little cravings," the princess said with a little giggle. "He's so sweet, always rushing to get whatever I want. I thought I'd give him a little break."
"Uh-huh." Gabrielle stood on tiptoe and whispered in Diana's ear. Her eyes grew round and wide.
"You don't say!" She extended her hands to Xena as the warrior straightened up, wiping her mouth on Meg's bloody rag. "Xena, you and Gabrielle must stay with us awhile. You need your rest."
"You're kidding, right?" Iolaus couldn't hold his tongue. "You do realize that's a recipe for disaster?"
"Who's your little friend?" Diana asked dubiously. Gabrielle hastened to mollify her.
"Oh, Diana, this is Hercules and this is Iolaus. Guys, this is Diana -- the princess," she added meaningfully. Iolaus bit his tongue.
"Nice to meet you, your highness," Hercules said respectfully.
"Uh, sorry about what I said," Iolaus apologized. Diana smiled beatifically at him.
"Oh, what does it matter? Life is so wonderful, isn't it?" she trilled cheerily, looking at her two lookalikes. Meg sniffled. Xena swallowed carefully.
"Yes, yes it is," Gabrielle said quickly, stepping in. "Listen, Meg, why don't you show Xena to your room so she can get some rest, and Iolaus, you go find Joxer. Hercules, can you help me with the dumplings?"
"Ooh, you know how to make them too?" Diana cried with delight, clapping her hands. "The little ones with the red stuff in them?"
"Sure," said Gabrielle. "Xena loves them. Right, Xena?"
"Urrrgg...." Xena put her hand over her mouth and grimaced as Meg led her out the door.
"Gabrielle, you really do have many skills," Diana said admiringly. Gabrielle winced.
"You don't know the half of it."
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