Copyright © 1998 by Barbara Davies.
Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and backstory, are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea, and the story itself, are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
This story takes place sometime between Seasons One and Two.
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"Don't you think you're getting rather obsessed with this Xena of yours?"
"No," said Ares shortly.
I made myself comfortable on a couch. Black leather, of course - when it comes to home furnishings, Ares has little imagination. "There are plenty of other warriors out there, after all. You could give up on her, get yourself anoth -"
"I'm not obsessed," Ares interrupted me. "Just frustrated."
I smiled suggestively. "I'll bet!"
He gave me a look. "Not that way." Then he became thoughtful, "Though if she weren't a mortal, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea "
I pouted. "How did you mean it, then?"
He scratched his sideburn while he searched for the right words. "Well, every time I get Xena where I want her, she finds some excuse or other. I can't separate her from that irritating blonde let alone get her to come back to me." He glared at me. "I came that close this time, Sis." His forefinger and thumb were almost touching.
"Maybe you're going about it the wrong way." Only a twin sister could get away with saying such things to a god! Though there had been times when, like our parents, our relationship has been more intimate than a sibling one.
He grunted, pulled out a whetstone and began to sharpen his sword. The sound grated on my nerves. Not to be outdone, I reached for a nailfile.
"So." I filed a nail carefully to a point. "Maybe you should try something different, something not so warlike."
"Yeah, right. You're suggesting the God of War should avoid warlike tactics?"
I nodded. "Exactly. After all, Xena's a skilled warrior, isn't she? Which means when it comes to fights and battles, she's in her element."
"That's true." He stopped sharpening for a moment. "So what do you suggest?"
I put down the nailfile. "Why not let me have a go at separating her from that 'irritating blonde' you mentioned?"
Ares glanced suspiciously at me. "What's in it for you?"
I pouted. "Can't a girl help out her brother?"
"If you must know," I told him rather crossly, "I'm bored. It's been ages since I had a good wedding to ruin or reunion to mess up."
He considered that for a while then shrugged. "Sure. What have I got to lose? Give it your best shot, Sis."
I stood up, stretched, and smiled at him. "I was hoping you'd say that!"
* * *
When I walked into the clearing that was the Warrior Princess's current campsite, I expected the drab little blonde to squeal with delight and give me a hug. That's what sisters do, isn't it? Instead, her face turned pale, and she called out: "Lila! What's happened? Are Mother and Father all right?"
The woman sitting beside her on the log (long dark hair, leather, armour - it must be Xena, I thought) placed a hand on her companion's arm and whispered something in her ear. It seemed to steady her.
I looked suitably repentant. "Sorry, Gabrielle. I should have warned you I was coming. Nothing bad's happened. Mother and Father are both fine. In fact everyone in Poteidaia's fine."
"Thank the gods!" Gabrielle got shakily to her feet and rushed towards me. She hugged me fiercely - that was more like it.
"But if nothing's wrong, then why have you come?" She blushed as if realizing how ungracious she sounded and added quickly. "Not that it isn't nice to see you, of course."
I noticed that Xena was watching this sisterly reunion with interest, and smiled winningly at her. The corner of her mouth twitched.
"You remember Lila?" Gabrielle asked her.
Xena nodded. "From when you and I first met."
Gabrielle's eyes positively lit up. "That time when you saved us all from Draco's men and then came back to our house to get your headwound fixed "
Ares had told me how Gabrielle tends to be, well, gabby, so I didn't wait for her to finish the story but made my way round the campfire towards Xena. She stood up to greet me and I saw at once why my brother was so fascinated by her. Such stature, such presence not to mention Ares' leather fetish, of course!
I made a point of looking to Gabrielle for reassurance before taking the Warrior Princess's hand. She nodded encouragingly at me.
"Hello, Xena," I said demurely, "I've heard a lot about you." I didn't mention that my information source was one of her greatest fans.
Her grip was strong. "Me too." She cast an amused look at Gabrielle, who ignored it.
"You must be tired, Lila," said Gabrielle. "Sit down and rest."
I gave her a grateful smile. "It was a long way." I unshouldered my bag and sat beside Xena on the log. My groan of relief wasn't entirely faked - walking is not a goddess thing.
"My feet hurt," I told the two of them, "and I haven't had anything to eat since breakfast."
Gabrielle, good girl, immediately reached for the cookpot and a bowl and began to ladle out some stew. "I'm afraid this isn't up to your usual standard," she told me apologetically.
I was relieved she'd cooked it and not Xena - Ares tasted the Warrior Princess's cooking when he was pretending to be her father and he didn't enjoy the experience.
"I'm sure it will be fine, Gabrielle," I said, reassuringly. "I could eat a horse."
"Argo's not on the menu." Xena's face was expressionless.
"That's a joke," mouthed Gabrielle at me. I smiled dutifully and took the stew she handed me - rabbit, by the smell of it. I took a tentative mouthful. Hmm, not bad.
"So." Xena rose, added some wood to the fire, then sat back down. "Why have you come, Lila?"
"I've left home," I said.
Gabrielle's mouth dropped open. "You've what?!"
"Left home and stop looking at me like that," I protested. "You left home, why shouldn't I?"
"I felt stifled in Poteidaia," she said heatedly, "but you've always loved the place, Lila. You know you have."
"Yes, well," I said sulkily, "things change." I smoothed down the long woollen skirt - horribly coarse and oldfashioned, but what can you expect from mortal clothing? - and prepared to convince my so-called sister. Ares had filled me in on what I needed to know. There's nothing a dead warlord stuck in Tartarus likes more than to complain about the unfairness of his death and Damon proved no exception. Given the chance, he'd have talked for hours about Poteidaia, Meleager the Mighty, and Gabrielle.
"Last time you came home, Gabrielle, I was so proud of you," I told her, watching her flush with pleasure. "And I got to thinking. If living on the road with Xena could change you into someone who could help Meleager fight off a warlord, well, maybe it could change me for the better too."
Xena gave me a startled glance. "You want to come on the road with us?"
"Why not?" I turned to Gabrielle. "Unless you think I'll be in the way of course."
"You'd never be in the way, Lila," said Gabrielle. Good old Gabrielle - so big-hearted, so predictable.
"Hang on a minute, Gabrielle," said Xena, frowning slightly. "I'm not sure this is such a good idea. You're an Amazon princess, you can defend yourself with your staff. But Lila -"
I knew what she was thinking: Two's company; Three's a crowd. I also knew that she would quickly suppress that thought as being much too selfish. I was the bard's sister, after all.
"I was just as inexperienced as Lila when I started out," said Gabrielle earnestly. "But you looked after me, Xena. And I soon learned."
"Yes, but -"
"Besides, I'll make sure she doesn't get into any trouble or slow us down." A pleading note had entered Gabrielle's voice.
Abruptly, Xena raised her hands in defeat. "All right," she said gruffly. She turned to me. "But if it doesn't work out, I'm sending you home, Lila. Agreed?"
"Oh, but I'm sure it will be fine," I said happily.
* * *
So began my life on the road, and I hope I never experience such discomfort again.
It was obvious that Argo couldn't carry all three of us at once, so the Warrior Princess suggested Gabrielle and I might like to ride together for a while. It was a good idea, until we discovered that for some inexplicable reason Xena's golden mare had taken a real dislike to me. (Some animals have no taste!) Nothing Xena could do, no amount of apples, could change the mangy beast's mind enough to let me in her saddle. There was nothing else for it - I found out first hand why Gabrielle's legs are so well muscled and that a girl can find herself ankle-deep in horseshit if she doesn't keep a sharp lookout!
From the first night, I made sure that my bedroll was placed between Xena's and Gabrielle's - it warmed my heart to see the look of dismay, quickly hidden, that crossed their faces. That first night, something woke me, and I found that Xena had reached out to me, as if for reassurance. When she realized it wasn't Gabrielle whose sleep she had disturbed, she merely shrugged, apologized, and went back to sleep. But she didn't reach out for me again, I noticed.
Apart from that minor inconvenience, my 'sister' seemed to enjoy having me around. It wasn't long before she had helped me shorten my skirt, just like hers, and found me a suitable stick to use as a staff - don't talk to me about splinters. I played my part to perfection, dogged her footsteps like a faithful hound, listened encouragingly to her endless prattle - and by the gods, that girl does prattle. It went like clockwork. I even caught Xena smiling fondly at us, once or twice.
If Gabrielle ever gives up life on the road, she could take up teaching. "This is how you fetch the water/chop the wood/make a fire/cook the stew, Lila." "This is how you make and break camp . " Fortunately, Argo's continuing animosity towards me (not many horses have nipped a goddess and got away with it, but unfortunately Xena was watching us at the time) meant I escaped the chore of unsaddling and grooming her at least.
One thing the bard never asked me to help her with, though, was removing Xena's armour. There was something intimate about that nightly ritual, I decided. I made a note of it for later.
* * *
Life with the warrior and bard proved to be quite boring - somewhat ironic given the reason I was doing this little favour for Ares in the first place. Oh, there were the occasional ambushes and rescuings of citizens in distress to make the heart race, but Xena took care of those - if I never hear the phrase: "I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain" again it'll be too soon. Mostly we walked and rested, walked and rested, then stopped so Xena could catch fish or snare a rabbit or two. I also saw the insides of more grubby taverns and avoided the kisses of more grubby tavernkeepers than I care to recall. And dont talk to me about latrines!
Another problem was the en route entertainment or lack of it. The days were bad enough - playing that endless moronic guessing game that Xena and her competitive bard seem addicted to - "Are you male or female, living or dead, warlord or royalty ?" - but the evenings were the worst. I found myself listening either to Xena sharpening her sword or to Gabrielle reciting her latest Tale of the Warrior Princess.
In the end, out of sheer self-preservation, I offered to tell them some different stories - about the gods and goddesses, my brother in particular. And if I say so myself, I did a good job. Almost too good a job, as it turned out.
"I don't get it, Lila," said Gabrielle, when I'd finished my narration and was staring into the campfire flames. "How come you know all these great stories about the gods? Most of them are completely new to me, and - you'll excuse me if I sound immodest - I've been around, you know!"
Xena started to make some amusing retort, but Gabrielle's look restrained her to an eyebrow quirk.
I thought fast. "A travelling bard came to Poteidaia recently," I said, "so they're still fresh in my mind."
"Since when did you hang around travelling bards?" Gabrielle gave me a sceptical look.
A flash of inspiration hit me. "He was very handsome, Gabrielle," I said coyly.
"Oh, Lila!" And at that she laughed loudly and to my relief changed the subject.
* * *
A fortnight passed, and neither of them said anything about my continued presence. For if Xena did, she could be construed as criticizing Gabrielle's beloved sister. And if she didn't, then how could the unselfish Gabrielle complain?
But I saw the change in them, as the days passed. Saw how the playful banter and affectionate touches become selfconscious whenever I was near, noticed how Xena took to riding up ahead - 'scouting' she called it - more and more often, and Gabrielle sent wistful glances after her but felt unable to leave me on my own.
And I knew that they were missing that time when it had been just the two of them alone together, talking companionably under a starry sky.
* * *
That Xena was a tough nut to crack. She insisted on keeping me at arm's length, no matter what I did to make her like me. I succeeded in making her laugh, once or twice, though, and she was definitely a sucker for my cooking.
It was easy to find out what dishes she particularly liked - 'those little dumplings with the red stuff inside' for example. And since they were fiddly to make, Gabrielle didn't object when I offered to make them for her. Soon I was doing most of the cooking for the three of us, adding the special herbs and spices I'd brought with me from Olympus to the food that Xena caught or Gabrielle bought from the nearest town.
Even Gabrielle was moved to exclaim after one meal, "Yum! This is fit for the gods, Lila!" How right she was!
I said modestly, "This old recipe? You're too kind," and suppressed a smile when I saw Xena reaching eagerly for seconds. The rate she was going, she'd soon be Xena: Warrior Glutton!
The way to the Warrior Princess's heart wasn't through her stomach, I soon discovered, unfortunately. It didn't really matter, though. As long as Gabrielle thought it was. And when she started giving me hurt, baffled looks, I knew my plan was working.
My moment finally came when Gabrielle went to answer a call of nature before going to bed. For a brief moment, Xena and I were alone in the clearing illuminated by the dying fire. I stood up, crossed briskly to the tree stump where Xena was sitting, and began to unbuckle the straps holding her armour in place. She stiffened under my touch, made to pull away then checked herself. Perhaps she felt it would be rude to refuse my help without explanation. Before she could say anything, however, Gabrielle had reappeared. Right on time. She gazed at the two of us, her face stricken.
"Xena, that's my job." He voice was full of hurt. "How could you ask Lila to do it?"
Xena stared at her companion in some confusion. "I didn't -" she began.
"Oh, sorry, you two." I acted the innocent. "Have I done something I shouldn't? I was just trying to help. And Xena didn't seem to mind." That last sentence was a nice touch, I felt, and it certainly made Gabrielle wince. To be replaced in the affections of one's best friend by one's sister. Can there be anything worse?
Xena threw me a puzzled glance then took a step towards Gabrielle, her hands raised placatingly. "Gabrielle, it's still your job. Help me off with this, will you?" She touched her armour.
"No," said Gabrielle. "Lila started and she can finish." She sounded like a sulky child, and her cheeks were flushed.
Xena lowered her voice, though I could still hear her words. "C'mon, Gabrielle, this is silly." I felt a satisfied glow as in her haste Xena chose exactly the wrong words to calm Gabrielle down.
"Silly, is it?" Gabrielle's tone could have frozen running water. "Well, it may be silly to you, Xena, but it's important to me. But I don't suppose you care about my feelings do you. Not now you've got someone else to cook and skivvy for you."
"Gabrielle!" I rushed to her, all apparent concern, but she refused my embrace, almost spat at me.
"As for you, Lila, I don't know why I didn't see this coming." Her expression veered between anguish and rage. "I knew as soon as you got here you'd be trouble. Since we were children, you've always wanted what was mine. Then, it was my dolls you took; now, you've stolen Xena from me. Well, I hope you're happy."
"Gabrielle." Xena's voice was sharp. "Noone's 'stolen' me from you! This is ridiculous. Stop behaving like a child."
"A child!" For a moment, Gabrielle looked as if she'd been slapped. Then her jaw jutted, and she strode across the clearing and deliberately began to gather her belongings.
"Gabrielle?" Xena's tone was uncertain. "What are you doing? Come on, we can talk about this." She turned to me. "Lila?"
I shrugged. "It's up to Gabrielle."
And what impressed me the most, as Gabrielle picked up her fighting staff and walked off alone into the night, was that she did it in absolute silence.
* * *
Xena didn't sleep much that night, and because I could hear her tossing and turning, muttering under her breath, neither did I. It was a long, cold night, and I nearly gave up the whole exercise and returned home to Olympus. To have come this far, though I gritted my teeth and pulled up the blanket.
In the morning, the Warrior Princess donned her armour and came to stand over me.
I pretended I had just woken up and sat up sleepily. "What is it?"
She squatted beside me. "When you and Gabrielle quarrel, does it take you long to make up?"
"It depends," I told her. "But I shouldn't worry, Xena. She'll be back soon, full of apologies, just you wait and see."
"I hope so." Xena straightened and went to prepare breakfast - the worst I'd eaten for quite a while.
"Perhaps I should go after her," she said, after I'd forced the last morsel down.
"Well wouldn't that be treating her like a child?"
She sighed. "I wish I hadn't said that."
"Let her calm down a bit, think things through," I advised. "She'll realize she's got it all wrong and come back when she's good and ready." Like Tartarus!
She turned that shrewd blue gaze of hers on me. "Has she got it wrong?"
"What are you saying?" I raised an eyebrow in injured surprise.
"Why did you try to help me with my armour, Lila? You knew that was Gabrielle's job."
I sighed. "I was only trying to help, Xena. How was I to know she'd take it so badly? Honestly. Sometimes it's like walking on eggshells around here."
She grunted and looked away.
What Xena needed, I could see, was space for quiet reflection. So as the morning progressed I made it my purpose in life to ask her how to do the simplest tasks and chatter gaily about the trivialest of matters. Soon I could see she wanted to tear out her hair.
"By the gods, Lila -" she began once hotly, then she paused and bit off the rest of the sentence. "Never mind." Such self-control because I was Gabrielle's sister, I thought. And so misplaced.
By midday, there was still no sign of Gabrielle and I had begun to think about contacting Ares. With the irritating blonde out of the way . Suddenly, I heard the sound of booted feet walking through the woods and Gabrielle came marching into the clearing.
She stopped right in front of me, her nose practically touching mine, and said accusingly, "Just who in Tartarus are you?"
My heart pounded, but I kept my cool. "Lila, of course."
"What's going on?" Xena's face was full of relief at the bard's return. Yet she was also clearly puzzled at her behaviour. Perhaps I could use that to my advantage.
"Are you feeling all right, Gabrielle?" I asked. "The strain of last night "
"Never better. I've had time to think at last. And I know you're not my sister," she said flatly. "You cook much too well, and those stories about the gods you tell - my real sister couldn't remember the words to a nursery rhyme without help."
"Really, Gabrielle." I laughed. "Is this another one of your jokes?"
She brandished her staff and I took an instinctive step back. Ares may love violence, but I can do without it.
"This is no joke, whoever you are. You wheedled your way in here as my sister, ingratiated yourself with Xena, then tried to cut me out."
"Gabrielle!" Xena's voice was sharp. "You don't know what you're saying."
"Stay out of this, Xena." She advanced on me threateningly. "You've done all you can to break up Xena and me and now I want to know WHY!" Spittle sprayed on the last word.
Well, really. I thought. A goddess can take only so much. So I changed back into my own shape, and relished the amazement in my companions' eyes. Ooh. It felt so good to be back in my own body at last, wearing my own delightful clothes.
"I knew it," said Gabrielle, after a long pause. She frowned. "But who exactly are you?"
"My name is Eris," I told her.
"Ares?" Gabrielle raised an eyebrow at Xena. "There is a slight resemblance," she murmured. "Could it be him in drag?"
Xena shook her head. "I'd know," she said. "I can sense when he's around."
Inwardly I cursed the parents who had given me a name that sounded so like my brother's. "No, E R I S," I said.
Comprehension dawned in Gabrielle's eyes. "Oh my goodness," she said. "The goddess whose apple set Hera, Athena and Aphrodite at each others' throats and started the Trojan War?"
What an intelligent young woman! "The very same."
Xena smiled a smile that was all teeth and no charm. "Then you're Ares' twin sister, aren't you? Doing your brother a favour, by any chance?"
I sniffed. "What if I am?"
She drew her sword and advanced on me. Gabrielle retreated out of her way. "Then tell your brother from me," said Xena, her gaze as stony as a gorgon's, "that nothing he can do will make me come back to him."
I was suddenly bored with this charade. "I'd like to say these last few weeks have been nice - " I sneered at them both " - but I'd be lying."
And with that, I snapped my fingers, and was home in time for lunch.
* * *
"So," said Ares, later. "You couldn't manage it either?"
I made myself comfortable on the leather couch. "You could have warned me what I was up against, brother. That prattling blonde - she's cleverer than she looks."
He grunted and refilled his goblet with wine. "Xena can pick 'em, can't she? Damn her!"
"It did make a change from routine, roughing it." I allowed. "But it's nicer still to be back in civilized surroundings." I stretched out a hand for a lotus fruit and took a large, luscious bite. Wonderful.
"I'll get her back in the end," said the War god. "You just see if I dont."
"Of course you will," I told him, encouragingly, as all good sisters should. Somehow, though, I'm not so sure he will!