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 Five: Gabrielle's composure was not permanently harmed during the production of this fanfic.
An hour or so passed in relative calm. The castle went about its business. Oblivious to the comedy of errors occurring in the courtyard as Meg avoided Joxer, Iolaus avoided Hercules, and Hercules avoided everyone, Gabrielle and Xena snuggled quietly in Meg's room.
After a long blissful while of this, Gabrielle was beginning to drowse when she felt Xena slide gently out of her embrace. Mumbling softly, Gabrielle clutched the pillow and buried her face in it. It was only a few moments later that her lover returned, moving back into her arms. Gabrielle mumbled again, happily this time, and burrowed into Xena's chest.
Exiting the room, Xena looked both ways and decided to take the right-hand passageway. Moving somewhat uncertainly in the unfamiliar constraint of Meg's clothing, she proceeded down a few halls and eventually found her way to the king's chambers.
A bare instant after Xena disappeared down the right fork, Meg emerged from the left fork and opened the door to her room.
Another instant after Meg closed her door, Joxer came down the hallway from the right, but he happened to glance down the adjoining passage and saw a foot disappearing around a bend. "Meg!" he called, chasing after her.
Narrowly avoiding meeting up with Joxer again, Iolaus ducked down another intersecting hallway, went through a few arches, and got himself thoroughly lost. "Great," he muttered to himself. "Just great."
Seeing a Xena lookalike striding across the courtyard, Hercules quickly moved back into the shadowed halls and bumped solidly into something.
"Sorry," Hercules muttered.
"Great," Iolaus muttered yet again. "Listen, Herc ... we need to talk."
They stared at each other, then looked away, shuffling uncomfortably. The silence stretched.
"Do you remember which way the kitchen was?" Iolaus ventured at last.
"Sure. I'm starved," Hercules replied, relieved. "I think it was this way."
"Great. Lead the way."
Gabrielle murmured happily as she snuggled against her lover, pressing herself against the familiar curves. Xena's arms were around her and there was a hot wet tongue in her ear. She sighed with pleasure and stroked Xena's back as a roaming hand found her breast.
"Ooh, yes," sighed the voice right next to her ear. Gabrielle opened her eyes and blinked slowly, trying to focus her thoughts.
An instant later she sat bolt upright, gasping. "Meg?!"
"Don't hit me!" the cook squealed, cringing, as her hand fell away from Gabrielle's body.
"What are you doing??"
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle," Meg said contritely. "I just came in here and you were all alone, in my bed, and you looked so yummy...." She licked her lips and grinned a little. "You are yummy. Xena's so lucky."
"I - you - eugh!!" Gabrielle exclaimed, climbing hastily out of the bed. "Don't ever do that again!"
"I'm sorry," Meg said again, looking as if she wanted to cry. Gabrielle looked at her and threw up her hands.
After a few minutes of munching Meg's food, Hercules and Iolaus finally eased up and began to talk.
"I'm really sorry about all this," Hercules began.
"Nah, it's not your fault," Iolaus replied grudgingly. "If anyone's to blame, it's Aphrodite."
"Yeah. But even she probably couldn't have seen this coming." Hercules sighed. "What am I going to do? Gabrielle wouldn't even consider the possibility of letting me be involved in the baby's life. They could cut me out completely."
"Xena and Gabrielle won't do that. We won't let them," Iolaus said reassuringly. Hercules shook his head.
"Like we could stop them?" He grimaced. "No. I have to talk to them again, make them see reason. Maybe after they've had some time to cool down."
The kitchen door opened suddenly, and Xena -- or someone who looked a lot like her -- came in, wearing a rich velvet gown. "Ooh," she said eagerly, looking at the two men as they sat eating. "Is that roast quail?"
Hercules and Iolaus looked at each other. "Yes, Your Highness," they said in unison.
Xena was discussing business matters with the king and Prince Philemon when Joxer burst in. "Meg!" he called. He caught sight of the three people sitting around the table, and blanched. "Um, sorry, sire! Your Highness!"
"Joxer, get lost," Xena growled. He brightened suddenly.
"Oh, Xena, it's you. Have you seen Meg?"
"How would I know?" Xena asked irritably. "Everyone in this damn castle looks just like me." The king chuckled fondly.
"Um, yeah, well, okay," Joxer said uncertainly. "I'll just go check her room again."
"Her -- No, Gabrielle's still there," Xena said, rising. "I'll come with you." She turned to the two royals. "All set?"
"Yes, we'll take care of everything, Xena," the king assured her, as Philemon nodded. "Don't worry about it."
"Right," Xena said sardonically. "Come on, Joxer."
"Meg, tell me something," Gabrielle said, still keeping the entire bed between herself and Xena's lookalike. "Just how far along are you?"
"Um ... maybe two months?" Meg answered, trembling slightly. "Why?"
"Just wondering. And you haven't told Joxer that he might not be the father."
"No." Meg's face fell. "I know I hafta tell him, but I just can't." Suddenly she looked up. "Hey, maybe you-"
"No." Gabrielle gave Meg a stern look and the cook wilted. "But tell me something else. Since you found out you were pregnant, have you ... um ... with Joxer....?"
"Not once," Meg moaned unhappily. "And I gotta tell ya, it's no fun!"
"I know," Gabrielle murmured. "Um, I mean, I can imagine. Look, I understand that you're frustrated. Just don't ever, ever touch me like that again ... okay?"
"I promise," Meg said fervently. "You're not going to tell Xena, are you??"
"I don't think so," Gabrielle said. "The last thing Xena needs is more frustration."
"What's going to frustrate me now?" Xena asked, barging into the room with Joxer in tow. Meg's eyes widened in fear. Gabrielle jumped in startlement but recovered quickly.
"Oh, Xena, I was just telling Meg that I thought I'd stay here till you got back. I wouldn't want us chasing all over the castle looking for each other, and I didn't know where you went."
"Oh." Xena looked like she almost believed the story. "Well, I went to talk with King Lias. I want to discuss that with you, too, Gabrielle."
"Okay." Gabrielle looked at Joxer, who was looking at the bed with mingled longing and trepidation. Gabrielle blanched. Xena followed her lover's gaze and shuddered suddenly.
"Eugh!" She grabbed for Gabrielle's arm. "Come on, these two need to talk." They fled before Meg could protest.
Left alone at last, Meg and Joxer avoided each other's eyes, shuffling their feet, twisting their hands, biting their lips.
Xena and Gabrielle found Hercules and Iolaus in the courtyard, having a practice wrestling session to the great fascination of the castle guards and various assorted young children. The four friends moved off to a table by the wall, the men sweating and dirty and swigging wine.
"I may have been a little hasty before," Gabrielle began diplomatically, looking at Hercules. "I know this is a hard situation for all of us."
"You think it's-" Xena began, but she caught Gabrielle's eye and subsided.
"So, I'm sure we can work something out if we all put our heads together," Gabrielle said. "Right?" Slowly, the men nodded.
"Right," said Iolaus uncertainly. "Like what?"
"Well, like...." Gabrielle trailed off. "Well, do you have any ideas?"
Iolaus looked at Hercules. Hercules looked at Xena. Xena looked at Gabrielle. Gabrielle looked at the sky.
"Oh, I have to do everything around here," the bard complained. "Okay. How about this...."
Early the next morning, a small crowd gathered in the king's audience chamber. Aside from the king himself, the prince, the princess, the baby princess, the Warrior Princess, the cook, the bard, the demigod, the demigod's sidekick, and Joxer, there were also several of the king's most trusted advisors and guards, and a few ladies-in-waiting.
Hercules and Iolaus seemed oddly cheerful and well-rested, joking blithely with each other, including many nudges and pokes. Joxer avoided Meg, who watched him with an expression reminiscent of a kicked puppy. Diana was intent only on the plate of breakfast sausages in front of her. Xena looked somewhat green around the edges.
All three lookalikes were wearing identical plain yellow dresses and identical thick braids of hair down their backs.
When everyone had assembled, the King spoke briefly. "By now we all know the situation," he said with a discreet cough. "Gabrielle and the others have come up with a plan that we hope will satisfy everyone and be best for the children. Gabrielle?"
"Thank you, your majesty," Gabrielle said, standing up. She had a pair of scissors in her hand. She walked to where the three lookalikes were sitting. Despite their identical appearances, it was still easy to tell which was which: Meg was the one sniffling and rubbing her nose with the back of her hand; Diana was the one stuffing her face; and Xena was the one looking queasy and swallowing frequently. Gabrielle walked behind Meg and lifted the braid of dark hair off her neck. Joxer gave a small gasp as Gabrielle lifted the scissors and swiftly cut the braid off. Meg put her hands up, shaking her head slightly, discovering the new feel.
Moving on, Gabrielle went behind Diana and loosened the tie on her braid, pulling the plaits apart so that the hair cascaded freely down her back. The princess, too, shook her head, letting her hair swing free.
Gabrielle stepped aside, and everyone looked. "Now, I personally will braid Xena's hair every morning," she said. A few courtiers blushed. "This way, if you see one of them even from a distance, you'll know which one it is and there won't be any confusion."
She put the scissors down and went on. "We'll all stay here at the castle until the babies are born. King Lias has graciously offered guest rooms for me and Xena, Hercules and Iolaus, and even Joxer." She took a deep breath. "After the babies are born ... well, we'll decide what to do when the time comes. For now, we're all staying." She glanced around the room. "Any questions?"
"Yeah." One brave guardsman raised his hand and Gabrielle nodded at him. "Are the lot of you completely bonkers?"
"Hey!" Hercules jumped up angrily, but Iolaus yanked him back down into his seat.
"I know this sounds a little crazy," Gabrielle said apologetically, "but it's the best we could come up with. And it will work, if everyone just tries to cooperate." She glared individually at Hercules, Xena, and Joxer, and then glared generally around the room at everyone. They all subsided.
"Any more questions?" Gabrielle demanded.
"Yeah!" came another voice from the back of the room. Joxer's head popped up. He looked like he wanted to pass out. Instead, he just put his head in his hands and groaned.
From the doorway, a short, round, plump blonde woman stepped forward. "Anyone want some of my nice stew?"
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