Xena and Gabrielle stepped from the shuttle onto the flight deck at the Baldridge Inter Planetary Shuttle Port in New Thebes. They were greeted by a Platoon of Amazon Marines and could see another platoons worth of Marines in strategic positions everywhere they looked. The Amazon Marines were distinguished only by a tan colored “A” in the word “MARS” on their Marine badge. Other than that there was no clear differentiation between them. Females still joined the regular Marines at about the same percentage that they always had and they never had a desire to become Amazons. There was of course the usual rivalries between the two branches of Marines but they were never serious and were always forgotten when outsiders tried to infiltrate. They often trained side by side and they always fought side by side with seamless perfection. The Fighters had docked in the Marine Docking Bay on the other side of the Port. They would meet up with their Commanding Officer and rest of the Squad later when they debriefed. Xena and Gabrielle strode forward and stopped in front of a woman that had silver eagles sewn on her upturned half collar. She had the name Blazer on her right breast. As they approached her both Clair and Captain Gellman saluted the Colonel sharply, it was an Amazon salute with the left fist to the right breast and when she had returned the salute they peeled away.
“Wait…” Xena called after them.
They stopped and turned back. “I’ll meet you once I have debriefed my Squad.” Clair said with very little emotion and began to turn away again. Captain Gellman began to turn with her. She stopped when Gabrielle called out to her.
“Captain, can I trust you?” It seemed like a strange question to ask her especially now after everything that they had already experienced together.
The Captain thought that it was a strange question as well until she really looked into Gabrielle’s eyes. Then she understood what the Amazon Queen was asking. “With… everything my Queen.” That was her equally odd response. It was a response that caused Clair some discomfort for no readily apparent reason.
“Then return with Clair.” Gabrielle said to her and nodded once then she returned her attention to the Colonel Blazer that stood before her. Xena had been watching the exchange with interest but she knew that Gabrielle would let her in on what she was doing when she had time.
Once both Xena and Gabrielle had returned their attention to the Colonel Blazer that had come to greet them, the Colonel spoke. “Welcome home Xena, Queen Gabrielle…” She extended her hand and shook theirs in turn. “I’m Colonel Wilamena Clark-Blazer, you can call me Willy or Wil, whichever. I understand that there are some gaps in your memories so just to help you keep things straight, Amy was the youngest of five daughters and one son. I am the second to the eldest child, Clair is the eldest. Next in line after me is our brother Chad and after him are two more sisters, Alexandria and Debora in that order. You will be meeting them at Corporate Headquarters.” She motioned for them to follow her and turned to walk between the ranks of Amazon Marines. The Amazons parted like well oiled doors before them and closed ranks behind them. When the three women reached the middle of the ranks the Amazons opened a hole to accommodate the women and then they all turned a smart about face and began walking with them in their midst. It was done with a precision that impressed the ancient heroes very much.
All other Shuttle patrons smartly stepped out of the way of the Amazon escort. It was not a common occurrence but it happened often enough that it was not even remarked upon. These were simply members of one or the other of the local Royal families.
“I understand that you have already been given the state of affairs with Hope’s family, is that correct?” Willy asked Gabrielle as they walked.
“Yes that is correct. As I understand it Hope has a single living brother, a grandmother and two daughters. Will they also be at Corporate Headquarters?” Gabrielle was looking at the Amazons while they walked. All of them wore some kind of long knife,sword or Sais or a combination of them as well as many other bladed weapons. These were carried as well as the usual Pulse weapons and the single less than lethal weapon that they carried.
“That is correct.” Her demeanor was much more friendly and accommodating than that of Clair. Xena liked this sister and respected her, Clair on the other hand she found that she respected but did not necessarily like. Her body seemed to agree with her.
“Isn’t it dangerous to bring both families together into one place?” Xena asked as they passed through the doors to enter the parking garage.
“It might be if it were any other place other than Mars. Mars is our home and it is better protected than I’m sure Clair led you to believe. There hasn’t been a successful direct assault on our planet since the last time you were here.” She ushered them into a large conveyance. It was Mars’ idea of a limousine. “No offence to my older sister but she tends to be wound a little tighter than she needs to be.” She smiled to herself and shook her head. “There’s a reason why two of her younger sisters outrank her.”
Xena nodded knowingly and Gabrielle didn’t seem to care. Her mind was obviously on something else. Willy noticed but didn’t remark on it. Xena occupied her time by asking Willy history questions while Gabrielle sat quietly and looked out the smoke colored window.
Soon they were descending into another parking area that had very few vehicles in it. The Amazons did not follow them and the garage door closed and locked behind them. The elevator that they stepped into took them down another flight or two. Beyond the elevator doors was a large reception area and on the other end of the reception area were a set of large ornately carved double doors.
On the other side of the doors was a large banquet hall that contained the families of Amy and Hope. They were apparently the last to arrive; even Clair and Captain Gellman had beaten them here. After a quick hello Captain Gellman excused herself. She said that it was inappropriate for her to be there and Clair clearly agreed. For Gabrielle this information only served to put more pieces into the puzzle that she had been working on for hours.
They were introduced to Hope’s family first as it was small after all. Once introduced Gabrielle did not want to release the two fourteen year old twins that looked so much like her sister Lila had when she was that age. The twins were thrilled to have the hero’s attention. They seemed to accept their mother’s death as a matter of course. Their great grandmother was proud to tell Gabrielle that the children had been well trained. Gabrielle did not like the thought that they had been taught to expect their mother to die and to prepare for it early. So she held them close and talked to them when others would have dismissed them. And she tried to teach them a bit about life and death and love in the short time that they had in the midst of everything else. She decided to find time to make them a video before she departed. They needed a mother and they would never have one again. But she could try to fill in a few gaps.
In striking contrast to Hope’s miniscule family, Amy’s family was quite large. All of her siblings had multiple children and nearly all of those children were clamoring to be cuddled by Xena the way that Gabrielle was cuddling Solace and Faith. Xena of course only gave them all a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek or forehead. Amy’s children were not in attendance and she really wanted to meet them. Lori finally came to rescue them both from the clamor of children and overzealous in-laws.
“Where is Hope’s beau Steven?” Xena asked Lori.
“He’s not here, nor should he be. He is not part of the family so it is not appropriate for him to be here just as it’s not appropriate… well for others not to be here.” Gabrielle heard it in her voice she knew exactly who Lori was talking about.
Lori took them to the buffet line and helped herself to some salad while Xena and Gabrielle found some more substantial items to put on their plates. They sat their meals on the table that had been prepared for them and before they could seat themselves the double doors swung open. A man and three children of descending ages walked through. Everyone looked at him and then almost as one they turned to look at Xena. Clair tried to intercept him as did Debora but he brushed past them while making a beeline towards Xena.
Gabrielle didn’t know what she was supposed to do but almost of its own accord her body stepped up beside Xena. Had Gabrielle not consciously put on the brakes she would have continued to ultimately stand between him and Xena. Another piece of the puzzle snapped into place in her mind. She forced her feet to hold their ground and ground her teeth together to keep from speaking.
Xena only half noticed her lover’s distress. She was having some difficulty of her own with her body. It seemed to want to step behind Gabrielle or at least out of the way of this man. He had clearly been Amy’s husband but for some reason her body didn’t want anything to do with him. It could have been her but she really didn’t think so. Neither she nor her body had any fear it just didn’t want to be there. The children on the other hand brought a different sensation to her body. When she looked at them she thought of Solan and Eve. It was a warm, tender and loving feeling.
Suddenly the man had enveloped her in his arms and was laying kisses on her ear and neck. Her arms were pinned to her side… deliberately it seemed. He was calling her Amy and telling her about how frightened he had been and how much that he loved her.The children were standing behind looking at the exchange and there was doubt in their eyes. With effort Xena was able to extricate herself from his clinging hands.
“What is it sweetie?” He asked her while holding her upper arms in a tight grip.
He was not abusive, Xena knew what that felt like and how it made the body involuntarily cringe. She would have known if that were the problem. He was clinging and somehow hoping for a positive response from her. But he was not a danger.
“I am not your sweetie.” Xena said as gently as she could without sounding like she didn’t mean it. Something made her look down at Gabrielle. Gabrielle was looking up at her with an odd pleading look in her eyes. Xena wasn’t sure that Gabrielle even knew how she appeared. “I’m hers.” It came out of Xena’s mouth as if it were the most natural thing in the world and to her it was. She was Xena and she was looking at Gabrielle. But the man in front of her saw his wife Amy who was looking at Hope and he grew angry very quickly.
“Don’t do this to us Amy!” He said angrily but before he could say anything more Debora and Clair had stepped forward and had pulled him back from Xena and Lori had stepped between them. Amy’s children had been corralled by the rest of Amy’s sisters and Hope’s grandmother.
“Shut up Sean before you say something really stupid.” Lori began and for some reason he stopped to listen to her. “This is not your wife. Amy is gone. They are not sharing a body like with Cara and Margo.” Her voice was filled with compassion but it brooked no nonsense.
“What are you saying…?”His eyes darted between Xena and Lori. He did not bother trying to shake the sisters loose from his arms. “Amy’s gone? What does that mean?”
“It means exactly what it sounds like… she’s gone Sean. She died in an accident on Titan. Xena took her body.” She was being as compassionate as she could be under the circumstances.
Sean’s knees buckled and had it not been for the sisters he would have crashed to the floor. He sobbed for only a moment. He was quick to regain control over himself. That was when he shook off the sisters and turned a questioning and angry eye to Gabrielle. “Please tell me that you are Gabrielle and not Hope.” He almost growled at her. His tone and posture caused Xena to finally stir in a defensive way. There was no need, Lori still stood between him and them, and the sisters had not moved and Willy had now stepped up beside Gabrielle and Alex was beside Xena. Alti stood a better chance of getting a hand on Gabrielle at this point.
Gabrielle nodded. “Yes I am Gabrielle.” He breathed out a sigh of great relief and turned on one heal and walked away. Gabrielle found that she was not surprised by his reaction to her. She pointedly looked at Clair. “Well we found another person that didn’t like Hope.” Her voice was very low and only a few that were around them had heard what she had said.
Lori had been one of them that had heard it. She cast a quick angry glance at Gabrielle and just as quickly she smoothed her face and smiled. Had you not been watching the exchange you would have missed the look so quickly was it masked. Xena and Willy had caught it also but neither remarked just then.
The children were ushered away to be consoled by the other women and children including Solace and Faith. Gabrielle wondered how Amy’s children had viewed Hope.
The remainder of the meal went smoothly and quietly. Xena and Gabrielle sat side by side near Hope’s grandmother who sat at the head of the table. Amy’s grandmother sat to the right of the head. From there on out it was a free for all on where people sat as far as they could tell. Hope’s brother had managed to steal a seat near Gabrielle for him and his wife. They occupied Gabrielle through most of the meal.
When the meal was over Sean and his children approached the head of the table and asked permission to address Xena. His petition was granted and the room fell silent.
“Xena, I apologize for how I reacted when I saw you. I had heard of my wife’s death but when I saw you here it seemed as though the report that I had heard was in error. My emotions got the better of me.” He stood awaiting her judgment.
Xena was annoyed, probably more than she should have been. She completely understood his reaction to her; she did not understand why he had not responded to any attempts to contact him. But what seemed to be causing the emotional rash was his attitude towards Gabrielle. He had not been the first one and that fact chafed even more. When they had left Cara and Margo in charge Cara was the big dog in the kennel. Now it seemed like Hope had been a tolerated mutt, despite the fact that her grandmother was clearly the woman in charge.
The people in the room waited for her to speak while Xena thought and wrestled with her emotions. “I accept your apology for the misunderstanding.” He muttered thank you and started to move away. “But as I understand it you are required as a spouse to answer an attempt at contact.” He had stopped to hear her out and it was obvious that he was sorry that he had. “Yet it is clear that you did not. I am also concerned that you felt it to be correct behavior to speak in a foul manner to Gabrielle… or Hope.” Several people began to open their mouths to speak and between looks from her and Hope’s grandmother they shut them abruptly. “Frankly you have no right to speak to any member of either family with that tone… it can be forgiven I think, considering the circumstances, but I cannot grant that forgiveness.” Her inference was clear he must ask for Gabrielle to forgive him.
He looked at her as if she had just asked him to step into a pit of poisonous snakes. Either he was afraid of Hope, which she did not believe that he was or he hated her passionately. He chewed on his lip but did not speak. Finally Xena spoke for him. “Get out of our presence. Leave our children. You may return when you can give an honest apology.”
Most in the room were stunned. Clair looked as if she would argue a case for him but a look from Lori and she lowered her eyes. The other sisters were smirking as were Hope’s children. Gabrielle looked on dispassionately. But she took mental note of everything. Sean stood stock still for several more seconds before he nodded at his eldest who looked at him with some small amount of pity and he slithered from the room.
Xena turned to Gabrielle and in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear she said, “What is wrong with me and my bloodline Gabrielle? We seem to keep picking jack asses for husbands. Is it just me or do sense a pattern here?”
Gabrielle smiled and actually had to hold back a laugh. “I don’t know Xena. Maybe the family should have stuck with the traditional Amazon way. But on the bright side you seemed to have picked the right girl, even God thinks so.” She put her hand on Xena’s cheek and in a rare public moment between them she pulled her beloved’s face to hers and planted a warm loving kiss on her lips.
Xena was not ignorant of what Gabrielle was doing. She was sending a message and Xena really hoped that someone would read the darn thing. “You’re right… I did.” She said when Gabrielle finally pulled away and let her breathe.
After that dramatic event the ensuing dinner conversation was a mixed bag. Some were trying to justify Sean’s behavior, some were confident that he would return soon while others dismissed him like a smelly dish rag. Hope’s grandmother was one of the latter. Gabrielle switched seats with Xena so she could talk to the woman.
“Please don’t tell me that Hope called you grandmother all the time. It seems awkward to me.” Gabrielle asked as she reached out and covered the old woman’s hand with her own. Amy’s grandmother was leaning forward so that she could be included in the conversation. Both women seemed to be sympathetic to both Hope and Gabrielle.
“I imagine that it would be strange for you as I am your granddaughter and you are in fact the grandmother. But Hope had no such problem. In fact there were several times when I thought that she would try and call me mother, but something always stopped her.” Her eyes looked away at the memory. “But you may call me Chase and this is Belle.” She indicated Amy’s grandmother.
“I was there when they took Hope from her mother’s belly. She was such a fragile thing wasn’t she Chase?” Belle said to them.
“Yes, she was both fragile and strong. Do you remember how her eyes were already open and how they burned with so much strength that it looked as if she could burn a hole right through the fabric of the universe?” Chase countered with her own piece of the memory.
“I remember that look.” Gabrielle said softly. Both women looked at her; they knew what she was just beginning to suspect.
Belle reached across the table and put her hand over Gabrielle’s. “Hope was a star that burned too brightly for those duller stars around her. Everyone near her had a choice, they could either orbit the bright star and bath in its light or they could drift in the darkness and envy the light. My eldest is a duller star.” She whispered the last sentence conspiratorially.
“Yes, that’s right… and many like Sean were not even stars and those that are like him will always seek to destroy the light and anyone that wishes to be near it.” Chase added to Belle’s assessment.
“Amy was like Xena. She loved the light. But her husband hated the light even more for his wife’s love of it.” Belle added to the mix.
Gabrielle only thought on their words for a moment or two before she had made a decision. “Sean is gone and that is how it should be. I hope that he does not return. He has given us children to further Xena’s line that is all that he can do.” Gabrielle was thinking like an Amazon again. It was becoming easier for her with each lifetime.
“Yes, would you make that a decree?” Belle asked her hopefully.
She glanced from one elderly face to the other. “Yes make it a decree. Any apology that he would offer me would be a lie anyway. Let it be, the children are ours and Sean is no longer part of the family. So I Gabrielle Queen of the Amazons decree, so let it be done.” She had been speaking conversationally but others had heard her.
“So let it be done.” This phrase was repeated in unison by all that had heard her including the grandmothers at the head of the table. Gabrielle turned to look at the others at the table. They may not have liked her granddaughter Hope but they had been well trained and conditioned to obey. Gabrielle marveled at how much had changed since she had been here last. Cara had promised her that she would never be challenged again and Gabrielle had seen the promise come to pass. “Thank you Cara, God bless your beautiful heart.” She said lightly and by moving her lips very slightly. Only Xena and the grandmothers had heard her.
Belle still held Gabrielle’s hand over the top of Chase’s hand. She squeezed lightly to get Gabrielle’s attention. When she had it she said, “I for one and Chase for another are sad to have seen the light that was Hope burn out so quickly. But I think that our families will see her light again… just as we see yours from time to time.”
“Yours is a special soul Gabrielle. Your legacy of love is the most precious gift in our family.” Chase lifted Gabrielle’s hand and Belle’s along with it and kissed the knuckles of both hands. “Without your love for Xena and her love for you… none of this and none of us would exist. You two are our pride and joy.”
Gabrielle was embarrassed by the outpouring of love and respect from the two women. Xena had both of her hands on Gabrielle’s shoulders and had whispered I told you so in her ear. It made Gabrielle blush.
Once dinner was over Gabrielle noticed that Lieutenant Colonel Clair Blazer had snuck out of the room. Somehow she knew exactly where she was going. “Xena, I’m going to go finish a conversation with Clair.”
“Want me to come? I’ve been wanting to talk to her myself.” Xena wasn’t sure of the nature of the conversation but she was sure that Clair was a loose cannon.
“No, everything is fine love. I’ll send her to you when I’m done with her.” Gabrielle knew that Xena was concerned, but there was no need. She could handle the Colonel herself.
What Gabrielle didn’t know was that Xena was more concerned that Gabrielle would find out something that would really piss her off and in that case she kind of worried for Clair.