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 Seven: Countless potatoes were peeled during the production of this fanfic, although very few were actually consumed.
"Just ensuring our continued safety," Xena said cryptically. "What talks?"
"Oh!" Holding the little girl forward, he announced proudly, "Lilia said her first real word! Say it again, honey!"
"Xeeeeeena!" the child announced with glee. Xena nodded tolerantly.
"Well done," she said, awkwardly patting the little girl on the head. Philemon beamed.
"Come on sweetie! Let's go tell Mama!"
"Mama!" the princess repeated over his shoulder as he strode off. Xena rolled her eyes and turned to secure the door.
"Xena?" said Gabrielle, emerging from a third direction. "What were you doing in the weapons room?"
"Oh ... nothing," Xena said irritably. "Can't a girl get a minute to herself?"
Gabrielle looked closer. Xena's braids were disheveled, her cheeks flushed, her breathing slightly rapid. Either she was in labor or.... "Have you being fighting???"
"What? Gabrielle!" Xena looked injured. "Who would I spar with? Everyone in this palace is terrified of me." But she didn't meet Gabrielle's gaze. The bard narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
"Well ... that's true." She peered around Xena's extremely large belly and looked into the weapons room. It seemed to be empty, except for a whole lot of weapons. "Well, okay." She looked back up at her lover. "Iolaus wanted to know if you could draw him a map of the fastest way to Centaur territory. He's going to try to get a message to Ephiny. He's in the courtyard."
"All right," Xena said. "I'll draw him a map, but then I'm taking a long bath. My feet are killing me."
"I'll come join you in the baths," Gabrielle said, giving Xena a quick kiss. It was getting harder and harder for the short bard to reach her lover's lips with that big belly in the way. But she didn't mind. She couldn't wait to be a mommy ... or a daddy ... well, whatever. She and Xena turned and strode down opposite corridors.
Hercules and Joxer were in the kitchen, doing what they seemed to do nothing but these days -- chopping and peeling. Joxer's Mom could be very persuasive. Actually, at the moment Hercules was skinning a chicken and using it as a teaching aid as he attempted to tell Joxer about childbirth.
"...and then the head pops out, like this," he was saying, demonstrating with his fist, "unless the baby's breech, in which case, it looks more like this..." He looked up from trying to poke two fingers through the chicken skin and noticed that Joxer looked a little green. "Hey, you okay?"
"Sure, never better," Joxer choked. The potato in his one hand and peeler in the other dangled, largely forgotten. He jumped as his mother bustled in.
"Get peeling you rotten boy!" she bellowed. "You a married man now, or do I gotta keep reminding you? Peel!" She glared at Hercules with his two fingers protruding from a delicate part of the chicken's anatomy. "You! Fooling around as usual, like you ain't never growed up! Son of Zeus or no, Ma can still whup your rear!" She glowered. "Get to work, you boys!" They both cowered.
Gabrielle emerged into an atrium and discovered the Princess giving decorating instructions to a group of befuddled-looking ladies-in-waiting. "And over here," she was saying as Gabrielle came into hearing range, "I thought maybe we could put a covered up couch thingy. Like they got in Egypt. Ya know?"
"Um ... you mean a canopied recliner?" one of the ladies ventured. The princess beamed.
"Yeah! One o'those things! With some shiny silk on it! Won't that look real classy?" The ladies-in-waiting exchanged dubious glances.
"Diana?" Gabrielle said, stepping forward. The princess turned, swinging her large belly awkwardly around. She started guiltily at the sight of the bard.
"Oh... Hi, Gabrielle! I was just doin'..." she corrected herself, "I mean, I was just contemplating doing some redecorating. Won't you give us your input?"
Gabrielle frowned. "Meg?" The ladies gasped. The "princess" pouted.
"Aw, darnit! How'd you know it was me?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, reaching up to grab a lock of hair. "It's been so many months, I guess we forgot your hair was growing out. I'm going to cut it again, right now." She pushed the former tramp into a chair and shook a finger in her face. "Sit right here and do NOT budge until I get back with the scissors! Got it?"
Meg pouted. "Oh, all right."
Gabrielle turned to the gathered ladies. "You better go find the real Princess. She's probably in her chambers." Curtseying, they began to disperse. Gabrielle turned, shaking her head and muttering to herself, and went off in search of scissors.
Grimacing, Meg put a hand to her stomach as the baby inside kicked strongly at her innards. "Hey, calm down, willya, kid?" She winced. "I know what'll put you right back to sleep. A nice hot bath." Looking up, she spotted another large-bellied figure passing by. "Hey! Xena!"
"Meg? What's going on?" Xena diverted her bath-ward course and approached her lookalike. Grunting, Meg heaved herself up out of the chair.
"I'm gettin' kicked to death," she complained. "Lissen, can you do me a favor?"
"Maybe," Xena said cautiously. Meg gestured her toward the chair.
"Just sit here and don't move for maybe five minutes, okay? That's all. I swear."
"Okay," Xena said dubiously, lowering herself carefully into the chair. "Just sit here."
"Right. Thanks!" Taking the towel from Xena's hands, Meg headed off toward the baths.
As Meg rounded a corner and disappeared, Gabrielle returned with scissors in hand. "Here we go!"
"Gabrielle," Xena said, surprised. "What-"
"Not another word!" Gabrielle ordered, shaking her finger again. "I'm very annoyed at you for this, you know."
"I-" Xena started to protest, brow furrowing in confusion, but Gabrielle glared warningly.
Xena shut up. Gabrielle moved around behind her.
"Now, we won't be having any more of this," she instructed firmly as she gathered Xena's scruffy hair and began to snip. "I expect you to behave yourself from now on, got it?"
"Uh-huh," Xena said tightly, holding very still.
"Good." Gabrielle gave one last snip and stepped aside. "There! All done." She handed the scissors to Xena. "Now, do me a favor and take these back to Philemon's study. I've got to go find Xena."
"Thanks!" Turning, Gabrielle hurried off. Xena stared after her, bemused. Her free hand came up to feel her newly shorn hair.
Gabrielle made her way to the baths and, removing her skirt and tunic, slipped softly into the hot tub with her lover. Xena was drowsing, leaning her head back against the edge of the tub, but she opened her eyes and smiled when she felt Gabrielle enter the water.
"Hi Gabby," she said muzzily. Gabrielle's eyes widened.
Meg lifted her head. "Mm?"
"By the - Who - What did I -"
"Gabrielle!" Alarmed, the bard turned to see a very short-haired, very short-tempered warrior with a huge belly stride into the room.
"Xena?" she squeaked. Suddenly, the clue hit, and she turned her accusatory glare on Meg. Xena did the same. Meg withered under their combined anger.
"Sorry," she said meekly.
"So make sure everyone knows -- all the servants, the guards, and so forth," Gabrielle said wearily, standing in the door of Philemon's study. "Xena is now the one with short hair, and Meg will have the braid. She swears she'll braid it faithfully every morning."
"All right, I'll take care of it," the prince assured her. "Can we trust Meg this time around?"
"I hope so," Gabrielle sighed. "She says she just did it because she was getting bored. With Joxer's Mom taking over the kitchen and the baby sapping her energy, there's not much for her to do lately."
"Yeah." Philemon nodded in understanding. "Diana's the same way. She finally stopped eating all day, but now she just mopes around mostly. If she didn't have Lilia to play with, I don't know what she'd do."
"Yet Xena doesn't seem affected by it," Gabrielle mused. "She hasn't even been complaining about being unable to spar, or go on scouting expeditions with Hercules and Iolaus. I wonder what's going on with her."
Philemon shrugged. "Sorry, Can't help you there."
"Hmm." Deep in thought, Gabrielle turned and set off down the hall. After a few steps, Joxer appeared and hurried to catch up with her.
"Hmm? Oh ... hi, Joxer."
"Listen, I was thinking," he said earnestly.
"That's nice. Everyone should have a hobby." Gabrielle frowned. "Including Xena...."
"Huh?" Joxer shook his head. "Anyway, the thing is, I thought maybe I should go with Iolaus on this trip to the Centaur village. You know, for backup? I figure he could use my sword at his side, and I mean-"
"Joxer!" Gabrielle interrupted. "You're too late. He already left."
"Oh." Joxer's face fell. "Well ... maybe I can catch up with him."
"I don't think so. Listen, if you're sick of chopping vegetables, maybe you could go find Meg and rub her back. She was complaining of back pain earlier."
"Um ... sure, okay," he said reluctantly. "Thanks, Gabby."
"Let's go hear his report," Hercules said, putting down his peeler with relish. They all escaped while Joxer's Mom was still in the smokehouse.
"Hey everyone!" Iolaus called cheerfully, poking his head around the side of the gate. "I'm back! Look who I bumped into on the way here!" Emerging into view, he pulled someone along beside him. Hercules' eyebrows rose. Gabrielle smiled happily. Meg blanched.
"Greetings one and all!" the newcomer proclaimed. "The King of Thieves, at your service!"
"Autolycus!" Gabrielle exclaimed, running forward to hug him. Iolaus grinned. Hercules rolled his eyes.
"Where'd you find this scamp?" the demigod asked his friend.
"Oh, just hanging around," Iolaus replied. "Listen, all went well with the Centaurs, but they said there's - Is she all right?"
"Huh?" Everyone turned to look at Meg. She was white as a sheet and clutching Joxer's arm. Autolycus took one look at her enormous tummy and turned equally white.
"By the Gods!" he cried. Gabrielle looked up at him and gasped.
"Him??" she exclaimed to Meg. Hercules and Iolaus backed away. Joxer's eyes narrowed.
"Him??" Joxer repeated angrily. Meg continued to hold his arm in a viselike grip.
"Oh, this is just the last straw," Gabrielle said. "Xena-" She looked around. "Hey, where's Xena?" She looked over at Hercules. "Can you handle this?"
"Good." Gabrielle turned and hurried off. Joxer looked from Meg to Autolycus and back again.
Philemon entered his daughter's playroom and found the toddler princess building a pyramid with her blocks, unattended. "Hey, sweetie," he said in surprise. "Where's Mama?"
"Mama!" the little girl replied, pointing toward the door that led to her parents' bedroom. Alarmed, Philemon went to the door.
"Philemon...." the moan came from the side of the bed. Rounding the corner, the prince found his wife on the floor, curled up in a ball. As he dropped to his knees beside her, she cried out in pain.
"What is it, darling? A contraction?" he demanded. Gasping, the princess nodded. Quickly, Philemon scooped her up and laid her gently on the bed.
"I'll be right back, my love!" he yelled as he raced out the door. In an instant he was back. Grabbing the child, he ran out again. "GABRIELLE!" his shout echoed through the corridors as he ran.
Rushing through the halls, unable to locate Xena, Gabrielle suddenly remembered the mysterious events of a month ago. Changing course suddenly, she headed for the weapons room. The door was firmly closed, but not locked. It moved when Gabrielle pushed it.
"Xena?" Cautiously, she pushed the door open and peeked inside. What she saw there made her gasp in dismay.
Xena stood in the middle of the cleared floor, flushed and panting, holding a sword. Opposite her, holding his own sword, stood the God of War, sweaty and equally flushed. They both turned at the sound of Gabrielle's gasp; Xena's eyes held a hint of guilt, and Ares' a strong tinge of anger.
"Xena ... what ... WHAT are you doing?" Gabrielle exclaimed, her shock rapidly turning to anger as she moved into the room. "Are you insane?!"
"Gabrielle, it's not what it seems," Xena began, letting her sword drop. She glanced at her divine opponent and admitted, "Well, okay, it probably is what it seems, but it's not what you think!"
"Oh?? You mean you haven't been endangering our baby for months by sneaking off to secretly meet and fight with the God of War behind my back??"
"Listen, you little pissant," Ares began, but Xena brushed him aside.
"Shut up, Ares!" Surprised, he shut up. "Listen, Gabrielle, I can explain. I-" She paused, her eyes widening. Gabrielle rolled her eyes in annoyance.
"Oh, now what?"
Wincing, Xena looked down. Gabrielle followed her gaze. Bemused, Ares did so as well. All three looked in dismay at the pool of liquid forming at Xena's feet.
"Okay, everyone calm down and let's just discuss this rationally," Iolaus said, attempting to intervene. Autolycus put up his hands defensively as Joxer tried to glare a hole in him.
"Look," said the King of Thieves quickly, "I got nothing to - I mean I don't - I didn't - I barely know the girl!"
"You know her well enough!" Joxer yelled. Iolaus nodded hastily.
"Okay, Joxer, just calm down, remember what Aphrodite said...."
"Joxer...." said Meg.
"To Hades with Aphrodite!" Joxer yelled. Autolycus winced.
"Hey, there's no call to bring the gods into this," he said nervously. Hercules stepped in as well.
"He's right about that. The last thing we need is any more gods interfering," he pointed out.
"Joxer...." said Meg.
"That ... that ... thief seduced my wife!" Joxer yelled. Autolycus blanched.
"Your wife? Hey, she never said anything about being married...."
"JOXER!" Meg yelled. All four men turned to stare at her. She was now clutching her belly with her free hand, the other still holding Joxer's arm for support. Her eyes were wild.
"I think it's time!"
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