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Teresa M Shafer - For books that kindle thought and ignite the imagination!
Choices 

Gabrielle was heating water for her morning tea, she was trying to make a concerted effort to wean herself off of Pepsi, and she was having limited results. This morning she was also trying to get a nagging kink out of her shoulder when she heard footsteps on the front porch. She was already heading for the door when the knock sounded. At her command the GEV opened the door. It was Naomi and Sherese. They both dropped to one knee and saluted. 

“Rise and speak.” Gabrielle had given up on trying to keep them on their feet. It was easier to just let them do what they would do. It made them feel better about their jobs. 

“Greetings Majesty, we pray that this fine morning finds you well.” Sherese spoke first but Naomi did not wait for Gabrielle to reply to what she surly considered to be an inappropriate way to address the Queen. Surly Queen Gabrielle did not have time to exchange small talk with a Shadow. 

“We have found several pieces of land that might satisfy your desires. All meet your requirements but we would like for you to see them all and then decide if they are what you want.” Naomi was all business. 

“Return for us in an hour and we will look at these pieces of land.” With women like Naomi it was best just to keep to the business at hand. She would never be the kind of person that you could befriend… at least Gabrielle could not befriend her. Gabrielle was her job and her Queen not her friend. 

The women nodded smartly, saluted and turned on their heels and returned to their conveyance. They probably would drive around the block and sit across the street until Gabrielle emerged again. 

Gabrielle awoke Xena and got her moving. She had made up two large to-go cups of tea and when she stepped out of her doorway she saw the conveyance with Naomi and Sherese standing just outside of it conversing with some other Guardians or Shadows. They spotted Gabrielle and Xena and were at the curb with the vehicle when the two young women reached it. 

Hours later they were driving on a dirt road going up a small mountain. They had already seen several prospective building sights. Gabrielle suddenly got a bug of curiosity and started asking the Shadows questions. “So is every Guardian a Shadow and every Shadow a Guardian or is there some other set up?” Gabrielle asked whichever woman that would answer. 

“Every Guardian is a Shadow and visa-versa. It is a matter of assignment. To be a Shadow usually means that you are with us… either of you. So it is a great honor to be a Shadow for more than one reason.” Sherese was not driving so she answered. 

“So does that mean that there are no Shadows unless one of us is here?” She should know the answer to that question but she wanted it clarified. 

“Yes and no, a Shadow is a term that you coined so we are still defining it. But it looks like it will be defined as a person who shadows a person of importance… or something like that. So in answer to your question we had no Shadows before just a few months ago but the assignment was available in other times.” Sherese was trying to make sense but she wasn’t quite sure that she was. 

“Before it was a called a Shadow assignment what was it called?” Not that it mattered 

“Protection detail.” She said almost with disgust. 

I like Shadow assignment better.” It sounded mysterious. 

“Yes ma’am me too.” She got a glare from Naomi for her familiarity. 

Gabrielle did not miss the exchange. “So are you two always teamed up?” 

“Only recently, my usual partner is… busy with other work.” She was too hesitant. 

“Other work… not another assignment?” Curiosity was a task master. 

“Yes or rather no… she is not currently assigned.” 

“Is she injured?” Naomi shot Sherese another nasty look. Sherese was older and more experienced than Naomi but she was tolerating her insolent actions. 

“She is raising her family. Her children are more important than an assignment right now.” There was nothing like dodging a question. 

Gabrielle realized that if she was to get a straight answer she was going to have to ask a straight question. “What’s the name of your regular partner?” 

Sherese looked a bit white. “Her name is Harmony.” 

Gabrielle looked surprised but Xena just smirked as if she had figured it out a long time ago and she probably had. Both Xena and Gabrielle knew Sherese from when they were younger. Gabrielle had realized that she knew the woman just this morning. She had told Xena and the connections were made. Gabrielle wondered if Naomi would make the connection or if that was the reason behind her behavior. For now Gabrielle continued to pretend innocence. “Well that explains a few things.” 

They rode in silence for the next few minutes until Naomi stopped the vehicle. This was the third piece of land that they had stopped at. The first two hadn’t hit the spot for Gabrielle but when she stepped out of the vehicle she knew that this was the one. 

There was a gentle roll in the landscape and as they topped the small knoll they could hear the meandering stream just on the other side of a small cope of scrub brush and trees. The slope was not so steep that it made the water rush down the hill but it was not flat either. 

They walked over to the stream and Xena’s face lit up like a bonfire. There was a pool just below a small waterfall and from the pool the stream wandered deep and slow. It was a great place to fish. Gabrielle could feel the excitement in her partner and could only smile in pleasure. Xena began talking happily about how nice the pool was and speculating on the kind of fish she could coax out of the water and on and on. Gabrielle listened to the wind in the trees and the birds on the branches and of course to Xena. 

When Xena had finally run out of speculation and Gabrielle had convinced her that she could fish later they started back over the rise. When they reached the peak Gabrielle stopped and Xena wrapped an arm around her waist. 

“This is it Xena. This is where we’re going to build our house and live.” She was gazing at the valley below the way that Xena had been gazing at the stream and Xena was smiling just as she had a few minutes before. 

“It’s a nice view babe.” Xena was going to let Gabrielle describe what it was that she was seeing. It was probably more than she was seeing anyway. 

“It’s more than a view Xena. That’s our Nation. Those are our Amazons down there. They’re our legacy.” The view overlooked the valley that the Amazons had made their own generations before. 

“That’s your legacy Gabrielle. I wasn’t even an Amazon until recently… remember.” Xena was being her usual modest self. 

Gabrielle laughed lightly. “If I remember right you were the one that promised Ephiny that you would not let the Amazons die out and you were the one that killed Pompey to ensure that it happened.” She slid her arm around Xena. 

“But it was you that let Brutus return to his troops so that he could attack Pompey from the flank and it was you as Queen that gave him the treaty of peace.” She kissed Gabrielle on the head. 

“A treaty that Caesar burned… or so I was told.” She said with a little fire in her voice. 

“It doesn’t matter what Caesar did with the treaty, you wrote it… that’s what matters. Besides it was you that took your Amazons to war in Helicon and returned the victor.” They had a lot of history with the Amazons. 

“It was your plan and we couldn’t have come out alive had it not been for your part in it.” She had given up trying to see who had done more for the Amazons, she was reminiscing. 

“But they would not have followed me. You were their Queen.” She had sensed the change in her partner. 

“Should I be Queen again Xena?” She asked hoping that Xena would know which answer she wanted to hear. 

“No, Faith is good Queen. She reminds me of you actually. She is benevolent and kind and strong when she needs to be. She tries to rule by example and education, not by a strong hand and rules. No sweetie, she is quiet capable of being the Queen, but she could probably use your wisdom as a Matriarch.” Xena knew that was what Gabrielle both wanted and needed to hear. 

“I kind of blew that assignment last time.” She shook her head in disgust. 

“No you didn’t actually. The Guardians and the Shadows exist because of that blown assignment. You saved the entire Amazon Nation… what more could they ask of you?” Xena knew that Gabrielle would argue the question. But she really felt that Gabrielle was asking too much of herself… again. 

“Really Xena… I was their Queen. They needed me to lead and instead I was… throwing pebbles.” She hung her head. 

“No, you had reached the end of your endurance… and that was my fault for listening to someone else instead of you… instead of my heart.” Xena had her own demons that still ate at her. “You saved them and when you knew that they were safe and that they had an heir, then you sat down and threw pebbles… stop beating yourself up about it. Just look at that…” She lifted Gabrielle’s chin and made her look at the valley below. “That exists because of you. You put your life on hold to save them. You raised a daughter to give everything a future and then you just couldn’t take any more. There is no shame in that. You did not fail. The very fact that they flourished is testament to that fact.” She couldn’t help but smile at her beloved. She was beautiful when she was pouting. 

Gabrielle looked at the houses below in silence for quite a while. Finally she looked up at Xena who was still looking at her. They both smiled. “We both did a lot for them. They are our legacy Xena… and this is the perfect place to watch over them.” They both looked out over the valley. 

The Shadows behind them had of course heard every word. They were both smiling… for different reasons. Naomi was pleased that she had pleased her Queen, Sherese was just happy for the young woman that she loved so dearly. She fondly remembered the day that Xena was born… she had been there. Harmony was her best friend. They had been at each other’s weddings and the births of every one of their children. Harmony had held her when she cried at her husband’s funeral and at the funeral of Sherese’s eldest daughter. There was a bond between Sherese and Harmony and hence Xena that the young snippet Naomi did not appreciate or even understand. In fact Naomi had made it perfectly clear that she felt that Sherese often overstepped her bounds. Sherese didn’t care she loved Xena as if she were her own child. It hurt her deeply that because of orders and tradition she had not been allowed to help Harmony in Xena’s training. She had not been included in any of it.  
“Sherese, I’m sorry that you were not around these past few years. We could have benefited from your wisdom.” Xena said as if she could hear Sherese’s thoughts. “Where did you go? I remember you being there and then you were just gone. Things moved so fast for me when I regained my memories that, I’m sorry to say but you were forgotten in the rush.” She turned to look at the redheaded woman. Sherese was still smiling but it was a lopsided smile. It was the kind of smile that one wears when they are both melancholy and happy. 

“I could not stay. Harmony had the responsibility of training the two of you and your friends.” She said as judiciously as she could. 

Xena looked at the smirk on Naomi’s face and then down at her partner. Xena cut to the chase. “So suddenly because you weren’t family you weren’t good enough to be around me? Is that it?” Xena was angry. 

Sherese lowered her head. “I’m sorry ma’am it is not right for me to speak to you about these things.” She sounded like she didn’t want to start a war. It was too late for that. 

“You are required to tell us the truth when we ask.” Gabrielle had taken a step forward. “Now answer the question.” She was barely controlling her anger. 

Sherese raised her head and looked Xena in the eyes. Naomi was fidgeting. “I did not want to leave you. Harmony is my best friend. But because of tradition and… things I was not… I could not help her. I’m… not Family as you say.” She had almost said that she was just an Amazon but had managed to stop herself. 

The soul mates exchanged another glance. “So we were robbed of your knowledge and love and Harmony was robbed of your friendship and counsel for… what… tradition? Humph, we’ll see about that. Naomi, get Faith on the vid.” The young woman hesitated. “Now!” Naomi jumped and ran back to the vehicle. 

“Sherese, I am so sorry.” Xena said and then pulled the woman into an embrace. “Why didn’t you just make yourself known to me? You should have known that I wouldn’t let this travesty stand.” Xena remembered bouncing on her knee at picnics and playing kill the Gods with her. How could she have dismissed those memories so easily? She was chiding herself when Sherese became the comforter. 

“Oh Xena dear, don’t beat yourself up. You’re as bad as Gabrielle when it comes to self-recrimination. I never really left. I requested Shadow duty every night and I got it most of the time. I tolerated young brats like Naomi just so I could watch you grow. I am so very proud of you… both of you. My apologies to you my Queen but I have watched you for so long… you were always around when Xena was growing up… I just feel as if I know you as well as her.” She tried to look ashamed as if she had been peaking in someone’s bath. 

That is when the memories of her time with this woman truly surfaced. “You always played Athena didn’t you?” It wasn’t quite a question. 

Sherese nodded and tears began to run down her cheek. Gabrielle reached up and wiped the tears from one cheek while Xena wiped them from the other. Sherese was too well trained to put her arms around Gabrielle but she allowed her to wipe the tears without flinching. 

Naomi reappeared at Sherese’s side. She was scared and frustrated. All of her training told her that she should be angry at Sherese right now and she should be reporting her for some breach of protocol but it was Queen Gabrielle and Xena that were initiating the infraction. She had no idea what to do. 

“Well, do you have her on the line or not?” Gabrielle had no patience for the youngster. She had rubbed her wrong from day one. 

“Yes ma’am.” Naomi managed to stammer. 

“I’ll be back… unless you want to listen. Then again I’m angry enough you may hear all you need to from here.” Gabrielle stalked off with a purpose in mind.