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 Four: No bowls or balls were broken in the production of this fanfic.
Xena was lying down in Meg's small but cozy room. She had reluctantly removed her leathers and donned a simple shift from Meg's overflowing closet. Her arm was thrown over her eyes and she concentrated on breathing slowly and evenly. Meg bustled around nervously, trying to tidy up.
"So what are you gonna do about Hercules?" she asked at last, unable to contain her curiosity. "Hey, he sure is cute, huh?"
"Men are more trouble than they're worth," Xena opined wearily.
"Oh, I dunno about that," Meg replied. "I think they're...." She trailed off, her face falling.
Xena sighed almost inaudibly and moved her arm slightly to look under it at her double. "So what's with you and Joxer?"
"Oh ... nothing much," Meg evaded, twisting a skirt in her hands. "Just ... well...." She finally broke under Xena's level gaze. "I just don't know if it was him or not, okay?!"
"Gods," Xena groaned, moving her arm back over her eyes. "This gets better and better."
Gabrielle finished mixing the dough and handed the bowl to Hercules. "Here, knead it for me." Then she snatched the bowl back. "You did wash off that pig blood, didn't you?"
"Of course." Hercules showed her his clean hands. She gave back the bowl.
"Pig blood?" Diana repeated, somewhat faintly. Gabrielle looked anxiously at the princess to see if she was going to pass out.
"You all right, Diana?"
"Fine ... is there any ham?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and began chopping vegetables. "Hercules, we need to talk."
Hercules eyed her warily. "Yeah...." He kneaded the dough vigorously. "So what are we going to do?"
"Um...." Herc was nonplused. "Yeah, you, me and Xena. About our baby. What are we going to do?"
"It's my and Xena's baby. Not yours."
Hercules looked stunned. "Gabrielle...."
"Come on, you weren't even there when we conceived it!"
"I certainly was there! Or...." Now he looked confused. He frowned. "Well, my body was there anyway. And who do you think had to live with all the hickeys??"
Gabrielle almost blushed. "Don't change the subject, Hercules. Xena and I are going to decide what to do about this baby. You just stay out of it."
"Like Tartarus!" He slammed the bowl of dough down on the counter. "It's just as much my baby as yours, and I'll be involved in this decision whether you like it or not!" Wheeling, he stormed out.
As Hercules exited the kitchen, he swept past Iolaus and Joxer, who watched him go in surprise. "Herc?" Iolaus said tentatively, but received only a growl in response.
"What's with him?" Joxer asked, striding into the kitchen with the ease of someone who's been here many times. He spotted the princess and gulped a couple of times before stammering, "Uh... Your Highness."
"Hello again, Joxer," Diana said cheerily, dipping her finger in the bowl Gabrielle held and licking it. "Mmm!"
"Hey!" Gabrielle snatched the bowl out of Diana's reach . "Cut that out. Salmoneous taught me this recipe, and he said it's not safe before it's cooked." She looked at the men. "Here, Joxer, you must have learned a thing or two in your mom's inn." She shoved the bowl into his chest. "Fill the dough shells and cook them." Turning, she swept out the door.
"Gabrielle!" Iolaus chased after her. Joxer looked down at the bowl, then up at the princess. She stared intently at the bowl he held, licking her lips.
"Okay, I'll bite," Xena said resignedly. "If not Joxer, then who?"
"He was just some guy ... it only happened once," Meg sniffled unhappily, wiping her nose on her sleeve. "I mean, Joxer was gone for a while and I was just bored ... and lonely ... and he was really cute .... It didn't mean anything, Xena, I swear."
"I'm sure it didn't. If you didn't even bother to catch his name." Xena looked at her double, and realized it had not been the most comforting of comments. "I mean, I'm sure everything will work out."
"Do you really think so?" Meg looked hopefully at the warrior, her eyes wet. "I really like Joxer, ya know? He's so sweet and fun."
"Whatever," Xena said wearily. She lay back again and closed her eyes. Joxer, fun? She didn't want to think about that. Her stomach was already queasy enough. "This is why I don't do the sensitive chats."
"Gabrielle...." Iolaus caught up with the bard as she moved through the halls, having stopped a passing maid to ask directions.
"Iolaus." Gabrielle glanced at him. "Shouldn't you be chasing after Hercules?"
"He needs time to think," Iolaus evaded, matching his stride to hers. Gabrielle gave him a stern look.
"You still haven't told him how you feel, have you?"
Iolaus averted his eyes and fidgeted nervously. "I can't. It's just not my style, Gabrielle."
"So what is your style? Pining after someone from afar? Never letting them know how you feel?"
"Well, yeah," he admitted. "That's always been my way."
"Well, it could stand some variation," Gabrielle told him firmly. He nodded and grimaced.
"I know. I just don't have the guts. Anyway, I think he knows."
"Oh?" Gabrielle shook her head ruefully at him. "Maybe he does, but maybe not. You really should just tell him." They walked for a moment in silence. "Think about it, okay?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Gabrielle. I will."
Gabrielle stopped walking outside a modest wooden door. "This is it. I need to talk to Xena."
"Okay. I'll ... I'll go find the prince and talk to him about security and stuff. What was his name again?"
"Right." Iolaus turned and walked off, shoulders slumped. Gabrielle sighed loudly. Turning, she knocked lightly on the door.
"It's me, Gabrielle," she called.
"Come in," replied a faint voice. Gabrielle opened the door and went in.
For a moment she had a dizzying sense of disorientation, seeing two copies of Xena in the room: one standing, one prone, both looking in her direction. But the moment passed and she saw the myriad tiny clues: the slouch of one woman's shoulders, the resigned roll of the other's eyes. Gabrielle looked the standing woman in the eye.
"Sorry to interrupt, Meg. Do you mind if I talk to Xena?"
"Sure, no problem," Meg dithered, sweeping some clothes off of a chair. "Here, sit down. I'll just...."
"Meg, why don't you go back to the kitchen and find me some yarrow root," Xena said firmly. Meg nodded uncertainly.
"No," Gabrielle interrupted. "We don't need any yarrow." She looked at Xena. "Xena, please. Let's talk."
"The decision is already made. I want the yarrow."
Meg looked anxiously from one woman to the other. "I'll -- I'll just..." she stammered, and fled.
Gabrielle sat down on the bed beside Xena, gently stroking wisps of hair back from her warrior's face. "Xena, why can't you consider the possibility?"
"Gabrielle...." Xena sighed. "I know you think it would be wonderful and romantic to have a baby, but I'm trying to be practical. I'm not going to drag some whining, screaming, messy, smelly kid into battle. Our life is too dangerous and too full. Believe me, I know."
"But Xena, we created this baby out of our own love. An opportunity like this will never come along again!" Gabrielle gave Xena her best pleading loving look. "Please?"
Xena tore her eyes away. "We can't," she said, but Gabrielle could see she was wavering. After a moment she added, "What would we do about Hercules?"
"Oh...." Gabrielle sobered briefly. "Well, he seemed pretty determined to stay involved. But I'm sure we can work something out." She observed the corners of Xena's mouth twitching. "Xena?"
"I was just...." Xena allowed herself a small smile. "I was just picturing Ares' face when he finds out he's going to be an uncle...."
"Ooh!" Gabrielle laughed delightedly. "He'll be so angry! And what about Zeus?"
"Yeah...." Xena nodded wearily. Gabrielle sensed that the time to stop pushing was near.
"Listen, Xena, we're tired. Let's take some time to rest here in the castle and think about things. I'm sure we can work something out. Okay?"
"Okay, Gabrielle," Xena agreed reluctantly.
"Promise you won't take any yarrow root behind my back?" Gabrielle insisted.
"All right, all right. I promise."
"Good." Gabrielle lay down and snuggled into Xena's side. "Thank you, Xena."
"Yeah," Xena grunted gruffly. But after a moment her arm snaked around Gabrielle's waist and held her.
Iolaus consulted Philemon about castle security. Before long the smaller man knew every detail of the castle guarding system, the location of every watchpost, the timing of every change of watch, the history of the castle's defenses, the state of the weapons room, the names of the guards, their favorite colors.... He finally realized that the young prince was getting fidgety.
"I'm sorry," Iolaus apologized ruefully. "I just thought ... well, I'm kind of a fifth wheel around here. I wanted to give them some space."
"It's all right. I understand," Philemon assured him. "Actually, I'm glad all of you are here to provide some distraction. I love Diana dearly, but when she's in... you know, her condition... well, she can be a little hard to handle."
"Yeah." Iolaus nodded thoughtfully. "Apparently, so can Xena."
"Anyway, it's good to have another warrior to talk to."
"Well, I'll stop boring you with shop talk," Iolaus promised. "It's clear you have things well in hand here. So tell me about this Meg person. How did she and Diana and Xena meet?"
"Well, it all started long before Diana and I were married...."
Joxer finally escaped the kitchen, leaving Diana devouring a hot plateful of dumplings. He moved uncertainly through the halls, trying to convince himself that he didn't know which way Meg's room was.
"Come on, you're Joxer the Mighty," he was muttering to himself when he rounded a corner and bumped solidly into Hercules.
"Oops, sorry Herc," Joxer apologized distractedly. Hercules growled angrily and gave Joxer a shove which sent him flying across the hallway, to thump into the opposite wall. "Ow!" he whined.
Hercules whirled to stalk away down the hall, but found himself face-to-face with an equally upset Meg, who pulled up just in time to avoid slamming into him as well. They glared at each other, Meg with a calculating glint in her eye, Hercules not entirely sure who she was.
"Oh - Meg!" Joxer exclaimed gratefully, bounding forward with a cheerful greeting on his lips. Meg glared at him and gave him a fierce shove which sent him flying across the hallway, to thump into the opposite wall. "Ow!" he whined again. "Hey, what is it with you people?"
Meg and Hercules exchanged one more exasperated glare and stalked off down the hall in opposite directions.
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