Please read the Disclaimer in Part One!
Note: I don't know much about birthing no babies. Inaccuracies run rampant in this chapter, mostly for comic effect. I hope those of you who have experienced the agony ... ooops I mean the joy of childbirth won't form a lynch mob and come after me for misrepresenting the whole thing. As Katrina always says, "Remember, this is all in fun!"
Xenite Disclaimer for Part Eight: No furniture was harmed in the production of this fanfic.
Fortunately, Gabrielle had thought ahead. Months ago she had ordered the Queen's Antechamber (long standing unused since the death of Diana's mother) converted to a delivery room, complete with three beds side-by-side, just in case. Gabrielle was ever practical. So it was here that Philemon rushed, followed by two extremely nervous, sweating palace guardsmen, bearing the moaning Diana between them. They hurried her to the bed nearest the door, directed by the prince, and laid the princess down as if they were laying priceless crystal on eggshells. Then both guards stepped back and wiped their brows in relief.
Philemon had just opened his mouth to issue another frantic order when Hercules rushed in, carrying a panting Meg and trailed by Iolaus, Autolycus and Joxer. Barely had Hercules deposited Meg carefully on the second bed before voices and rapid footsteps could be heard in the hall.
All heads in the room turned to stare in amazement as Gabrielle burst in, leading the God of War, who bore in his arms a loudly protesting Xena.
"...fectly capable of walking here on my own two Gods-be-damned feet," she was insisting, "and I certainly don't need any help from the likes of you!" Ares rushed to the third bed as directed by Gabrielle, and dumped Xena on it rather unceremoniously. She bounced once and yelped, grasping the topsheet with both hands. "Gabrielle, I'm going to KILL you for this!"
"All right, all you extraneous men OUT!" Gabrielle ordered, taking charge. "You two!" She pointed to the guards. "Out! Iolaus, out! Ares, out! Autolycus, out! Hercules ... no, you can stay."
"Autolycus?" Xena repeated, lifting herself up to stare. "What in Tartarus is he doing here?" She caught sight of the grim-faced Joxer and had a sudden Xenalike intuition. "Oh, you must be kidding!"
"Iolaus, go fetch Joxer's Mom," Gabrielle ordered. "Tell her we need her up here, and find a clean knife. Autolycus, bring the princess to her nanny." Philemon suddenly noticed the toddler in his arms, and thrust her at the alarmed thief.
"But ... ah ... Gabrielle...." Autolycus took one look at the bard's expression and fled.
"Good, now let's get the clothes off and get to work. How far apart are the contractions?" Gabrielle demanded, looking from woman to woman. Meg squinched her eyes shut and whimpered in pain. Diana, breathing carefully, replied, "At least ten minutes, Gabrielle." Xena grunted.
"I'm not having any damned contra-" Xena began stubbornly, but stopped midword as a pain rippled through her midsection. She gritted her teeth and clutched the bedcovers even tighter.
A domino effect seemed to take hold, as Xena's contraction sparked one in Meg which in turn sparked one in Diana. Philemon held his wife's hand and then rushed to the windowsill to check the sundial. Joxer turned whiter than Meg as he helped unfasten her dress. Gabrielle went to Xena's side and stroked her shoulder, whispering, "We have to talk."
Suddenly Meg gave a shriek of protest. "I can't do it! Gabrielle, make it stop!" She turned and buried her face in Joxer's neck. Xena rolled her eyes.
"Oh, quit whining, you stupid cow!" the warrior yelled. "It's not that bad!" Diana was still breathing slowly and carefully.
"That's easy for you to say!" Meg shot back, somewhat muffled. "You two have done this before!"
"Hey!" Gabrielle cried, suddenly noticing that Ares had not left the room as ordered. "Ares, I said get out!"
The God of War crossed his arms over his chest and glowered. "Make me!"
"I'll make you wish you never entered this castle," Hercules growled, advancing on the god. The brothers squared off. Ares backhanded Hercules and the half-mortal flew across the room, narrowly missing Philemon's head. He hit the ground, leapt to his feet and rushed at Ares. They grappled fiercely. Gabrielle shoved her way between them and tried to push them apart.
"No fighting in the delivery room, by Zeus!" she panted, but both men ignored her. A wayward elbow caught her in the chest and she reeled back.
"Hey!" Incensed, Xena sprang up from her bed and rushed to help Gabrielle up. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Xena. Get back in bed."
"First I'm going to break up these two brats," Xena said, advancing toward the wrestling brothers. Gabrielle seized one of Xena's arms, Philemon the other, and together they pulled her back.
Desperation lent Gabrielle an angry recklessness and she looked at the ceiling. "Help!"
A shower of golden sparks, a gentle chime, and the Goddess of Love made another appearance. "You yelled?" she said to Gabrielle, glancing around the room. She spotted Meg's dress, wet with amniotic fluid, as Joxer pulled it off and hung it in a corner next to Diana's. "Ooh, grody!"
"Aphrodite!" Gabrielle exclaimed, pointing to the grunting men. "Get those animals out of my birthing room!"
Aphrodite looked in appreciation at her two sweaty brothers, muscles bulging, eyes narrowed, bodies pressed together in anger. "Like, whoa," she said with a grin. "How many times do I have to tell you boys to make love, not war?" She moved, as Gabrielle had done moments ago, to insinuate her own body between them.
Fortunately, Aphrodite had somewhat more success than Gabrielle had. Ares and Hercules suddenly found themselves pressed against a large, fragrant mass of soft flesh. Looking down, both men were somewhat mesmerized by their divine sister's golden cleavage, which was made even more impressive (as if it needed help) by being squeezed between their two chests.
Aphrodite put a finger on each man's chin and drew them slowly upward, looking first one and then the other in the eye. "Like, shall we take this outside?" she cooed invitingly. Four eyes widened. Three mouths grinned. Two small dainty hands seized two large rough ones. A single burst of light flashed through the room, and then there was only silence and empty space.
Gabrielle nodded in satisfaction. "Good. Now where were we?"
A short span of time passed. Joxer's Mom arrived and took co-control of the situation with Gabrielle. The three laboring mothers and their three coaches settled into a rhythm. The rest of the castle fell into an anxious silence, as if every courtier, servant, guard and peasant were holding his or her breath.
The quiet was broken, of course, by the erratic thumping and crashing from the courtyard. A few of the braver guardsmen ventured to investigate the fight, but since it seemed like Hercules was throwing around, and being thrown around by, an invisible force, the observers soon got bored or dizzy and left.
"Xena," said Gabrielle as things quieted down after a violent contraction, "are you going to tell me what's going on with Ares?"
Xena sighed. "I didn't want you to know. I knew you'd only worry." Lowering her voice, she explained, "Ares came to me not long after we decided to stay here. He was furious that I was having Hercules' baby. He was going to rush right off and kill Hercules, but I managed to talk him out of it. I knew Ares just wanted what he's always wanted."
"To have you back on his side, fighting his wars," Gabrielle filled in.
"Exactly. So I told him if he left you and Hercules alone, I would spar with him every day. And I ... well, I may have led him to believe that I'd give him the baby."
"WHAT!" Philemon, Diana, Joxer and Meg turned in surprise at Gabrielle's shout. Grinning nervously, Xena waved to them.
"It's nothing, guys. Really." Nodding uncertainly, they all looked away. Xena looked back at her lover.
"Gabrielle, I swear, I was only bluffing! I had to tell Ares something!"
Gabrielle took deep breaths. "Okay. I'm calm. I'm calm." She sighed. "Xena, you should have told me about this."
"I know." Xena took the bard's hand in her own. "I was only trying to protect you, love. Can you forgive me?"
"I love you, Xena." Gabrielle looked down. "Um, you're hurting my hand!"
"Sorry," Xena managed through gritted teeth. Gabrielle's eyes widened.
"Another contraction? It's too soon!" Rushing to the end of the bed, she lifted the sheet covering Xena's bare legs. "By the Gods! You're almost fully dilated!"
"So is Diana," Philemon exclaimed from two beds down. Everyone looked at Meg. Joxer's Mom lifted the sheet to check on her. Joxer hurried from Meg's side to stand by his mother.
"Crowning!" his Mom announced loudly. Joxer took one look and his eyes rolled up in his head.
"Who would have thought Meg would go first?" Diana asked merrily, raising her voice to be heard over the THUMP of Joxer hitting the floor. Moving between the beds, Gabrielle stepped casually over the prone man.
"Don't be so sure," the bard replied. "It's not over yet."
"No," Xena agreed, speaking with intense calm. "It's just getting started."
Autolycus and Iolaus, having delivered the toddler Princess to the nursery and the knife to Gabrielle respectively, walked companionably through the halls of the castle, the thief listening enraptured as Iolaus related the events of the past year that had brought them all to this point.
"So Gabrielle asked Aphrodite to switch her and Hercules?" Autolycus said in amazement, raising his voice as the sound of the fraternal squabbling got closer and hence louder. Iolaus shook his head.
"Well, not exactly, but that was the end result," he replied. "See, Aphrodite-"
"Yes?" said a sultry female voice. The two men rounded the corner, emerged into the courtyard, and beheld Hercules and Ares still throwing each other around. Aphrodite was sitting, bare legs crossed enticingly, on a nearby table, watching.
"Um, I was just getting Autolycus caught up," Iolaus explained. Autolycus looked suspiciously at him.
"Iolaus, who are you talking to?"
Iolaus looked from thief to goddess and back. "You mean you can't....?"
"Oh, like, my bad!" Aphrodite said apologetically. A shower of gold, and she was visible to Autolycus as well. He blinked and stuttered.
"Aphrodite, what's going on with those two?" Iolaus asked, moving to stand next to the goddess. Autolycus stood where he was, dry mouth opening and closing soundlessly.
"Oh, like, total testosterone fest," Aphrodite said disdainfully. "Like, I think it's got something to do with the bun in Xena's oven."
"Oh." Iolaus looked with concern at his friend. A momentary lull had arrived, as both brothers paused to rest their hands on their knees and pant.
In the sudden silence, the sharp high-pitched sound of a baby's scream echoed through the courtyard. Five heads lifted. Four men's heartbeats quickened. Three children of Zeus suddenly disappeared. Two mortal men went racing for the stairs.
In the suddenly deserted courtyard, a lone partridge flew down from the rooftop and perched on a convenient nearby pear tree.
"It's a GIRL!" cried Gabrielle excitedly, holding up a bloody screaming baby. Philemon smiled bravely. Diana smiled tiredly and flopped back onto her pillow. Joxer's Mom rushed over with the knife and a clean cloth. Meg watched avidly, still clutching the hand of the newly conscious Joxer.
"Oh! Oh! Gabrielle! Come quick!" Meg shrieked suddenly, sitting up all the way. Joxer looked up in panic.
"Ma!" he cried. His mother thrust the first newborn into Diana's arms and rushed with Gabrielle to Meg's bedside.
"What's going on? What happened?" cried Hercules as he popped suddenly into existence. He glanced at his sister. "Thanks, Aphrodite."
"Like, no problem!" Ares resumed glowering.
"Gabrielle!" Xena yelled as Iolaus and Autolycus rushed in through the door. The short blond man glared at Ares.
"Thanks for nothing!"
"Shut up!" the god retorted.
"Both of you shut up!" Gabrielle ordered, racing past Joxer's Mom to check on Xena. "Push! Push!"
"You push, by Hades!" Xena retorted, but she bore down fiercely, and Gabrielle put her hands out, and a second wet bloody baby popped into the world, screaming in annoyance before its little feet had even cleared Xena's womb. Gabrielle held it up and gazed at it in wonder.
"Xena! We have a daughter!" she cried with delight. Hercules grabbed the knife from Joxer's Mom and rushed over.
"Hey! Bring that back, ya rotten kid!" Joxer's Mom demanded, carefully but firmly seizing the head of her grandchild and easing it out. "There ya go Meggie! Ya done good! A lovely little girl! Joxie, hold her while I cut the cord!"
"Cut the-" Joxer took one look at his bloody daughter, moaned, and swayed. But he managed not to faint again. Mesmerized, he stared at the baby in his arms. One small arm escaped from her swaddling cloth, tiny hand reaching for Joxer's face. But the baby's little fist swung up and accidentally hit herself in the nose. She scrunched up her face and began to cry. Joxer stared at her in horror.
"She's definitely yours, Joxer," Iolaus laughed as Joxer's Mom took the little one from him and handed her to Meg. The infant burrowed her face into her mother's bosom and quieted instantly.
"Gabrielle, come on. We're not done yet," Hercules said, gently moving Gabrielle out of his way. "There's still the placenta."
"Our little girl," Gabrielle breathed, still looking rapturously at the baby in her hands. Hercules had to wipe the baby clean and wrap her in a cloth before shoving the bard aside and turning to Xena.
"Come on, Xena, one more big push," he coaxed. Two beds down, Philemon was saying the same to the princess. In between, Joxer's Mom was already disposing of Meg's placenta.
"Shut up, you son of a Bacchae!" Xena growled, but her weary voice had no bite in it. Taking a deep breath, she gave one more push, grunting mightily, and the placenta slid out. Hercules grinned triumphantly.
"This is ridiculous," Ares groused in the corner. "There's no way that annoying blonde is giving me that child."
"Duh!" Aphrodite replied, rolling her eyes. "Like, get a GRIP!"
"I'll be back," the God of War promised threateningly, and disappeared with a disgruntled poof. Aphrodite waved her hand dismissively, and stepped forward to coo.
"Ooh! Like, how totally cute!" she squealed, looking over Gabrielle's shoulder. "Can I hold her?"
"No!" Xena called sulkily. "Give her to me!"
"Oh, Xena, she's perfect," Gabrielle sighed happily, moving to her lover's side and gently putting the baby in her arms. Hercules looked on, fidgeting, as the two women exchanged a tender kiss.
"Okay, let's go," Joxer's Mom announced a few minutes later, wheeling in a large bassinet. "All the babies in here, and everyone out! Our moms need some rest! Ya got me?"
"Yes, Ma," everyone chorused, even Autolycus. Gabrielle moved between the beds, collecting the babies and laying them very carefully in the bassinet.
"Hey, they look pretty similar," Meg observed, sitting up tall to look into the basket. Diana and Meg craned to see as well. Everyone else gathered around to look.
"By the Gods," Iolaus said. "They look exactly alike."
"Uh-oh," said Joxer anxiously. "How are we going to know which is which?"
"Well, that one's mine," Meg said, pointing. "I don't know about the other two."
"Let me see," said Xena, moving to the edge of her bed. "Ah ... well, that one is definitely mine." She pointed. Meg's eyes narrowed. Gabrielle and Hercules looked apprehensively at each other.
"Uh-oh," said Hercules.
"No, that's mine, Xena," Meg insisted. Xena gave her most murderous look.
"Meg, I think I know which baby I just pushed out of my body, by Zeus!" the warrior growled. Meg quailed.
"Everyone calm down," Gabrielle interjected quickly. "Listen, I put them in the basket left to right. So that one is ours ... that one is Meg's ... and this one is Diana's." Both Xena and Meg looked confused.
"Are you sure?" Xena asked bemusedly. Gabrielle nodded firmly.
"Here," said Aphrodite, pushing her way between the mortals. "Like, aww!!!! Look at the cute little babies!" She bent over the bassinet and gently touched each tiny forehead. "Ah! There you go, little cupcakes!" When she stepped back, everyone could see that each baby had a distinctive mark on her little face. On Xena's daughter, a small circle; on Meg's, a bell-like shape; and on Diana's, a spiked rectangle. The goddess smiled with satisfaction.
"The marks will fade away in a year," she explained. "But by then you should be able to tell them apart."
"Thanks for everything, Aphrodite," Gabrielle said earnestly. The goddess smiled and patted her on the cheek.
"Like, don't mention it, babe!" she replied cheerfully. "Later!" And with a shower of sparks, she was gone.
"I just got word back from Ephiny," Gabrielle told her. "The Amazons will keep an eye on the castle and keep us informed about everything that happens."
"Are you sure you can do this?" Xena asked solemnly, putting a gentle hand on her lover's shoulder. Gabrielle swallowed before replying.
"It's the only way, right? We've been over it and over it." She sighed. "You can't give up your fight against evil. I can't let you go on alone. And we can't take a baby into battle." She looked up at Xena, her expression sad but resolved. "We have to leave her here."
"Gabrielle, we'll visit her whenever we can. At least once a month, I swear," Xena said, pulling the bard in for a hug. "We're doing what's best for her."
"I know," Gabrielle said, muffled against her lover's chest. "It'll stop hurting so much, right?"
"Of course it will," Xena lied. They moved apart, and Gabrielle gave Xena an 'I know you're lying' look. Xena sighed. They both turned to the basket in the corner.
"You be good, little one," Gabrielle said, lifting their baby out of her basket. She gurgled and waved her little fist at her mothers. "Grow up big and strong and smart and brave and sweet and...."
"How can she help it?" Xena said, capturing the little hand and bending her lips to it. "Besides having the best genes a girl could want, she's named for the bravest man I know." She gave that a moment's thought. "Well, except maybe her daddy."
"Are my ears burning?" Hercules asked, appearing in the doorway. He flinched slightly as both women turned to look at him. "Um ... we had better get going."
"Yeah," Xena agreed grimly. She reached for her and Gabrielle's bags. Hercules moved forward, taking the largest bag. Xena gritted her teeth and refrained from comment, picking up the other two bags. Gabrielle, carrying the baby, followed them into the hall.
In the courtyard, a small group had gathered to see the adventurers off. Reluctantly, Gabrielle put her precious bundle into Meg's arms.
"Don't worry about a thing, Gabrielle," Diana promised firmly for the dozenth time. "Everything is going to be all right. We'll write you as promised."
"The girls will be fine," Meg chimed in, glancing from the baby in her arms to the one in Joxer's. The man held his daughter as if she were an egg, and had difficulty taking his eyes from her little face.
"Yeah, um, don't worry, Gabby," Joxer agreed. "My Ma will take care of everything."
"I know she will," Gabrielle said as Xena emerged from the stables leading Argo. "I'm sorry to be such a pest."
"There's no need to apologize," Philemon assured her, passing his younger daughter to Diana so he could hug Gabrielle goodbye. "We'll take good care of your baby."
"Thank you for everything," Xena said to Philemon as Gabrielle bent to kiss their baby one last time. Xena then turned to Meg and Joxer and repeated, "Thank you."
"Don't worry, Xena," Joxer said seriously. "I mean it."
"I won't," Xena replied. "And I mean it." She touched Gabrielle's arm. "Come on, Gabrielle. We better go."
"Yeah." Gabrielle blinked rapidly, trying to hold back tears as she and Xena mounted Argo and headed out. At the castle gate, Iolaus and a grim-faced Hercules stood waiting for them.
Gabrielle twisted around in the saddle to look back. "We'll be back to visit!" she called earnestly. Meg, Diana and Philemon waved. Joxer nodded, afraid to remove either hand from his daughter.
"Walk on and don't look back," Hercules advised. He and Xena exchanged a look. Both nodded.
"Bye, guys," Gabrielle said, as Xena pointed Argo toward the eastern path. Setting off on the western path, Hercules and Iolaus waved.
"Bye!" Iolaus called. The four friends were soon on their way.
Back in the castle, all three babies hiccuped in unison and fell asleep.
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