Another Year Older

by Lori Bush (

Disclaimers: I hate writing these things. Y'all know the drill - the characters (except Lilly and Maxie) belong to someone else, specifically Renaissance Pictures and USA/Universal Studios (sigh). Money is the root of all evil, and as much as I'd like to root around there, I won't - no profit will be made here.

Rating: G (really clean - you could wash with this one)

Sex: Not this time - a nice cozy kiss, is all

Violence: None

Archive: TRIS, GJRS, anyone else just ask.

Actually this story responds to *two* Challenges - the TRIS Birthday challenge, of course, but it was originally written upon the occasion of my own fortieth birthday, when my husband said, "Why don't you write a story where one of the Xena characters turns forty?" He has a funny way of trying to get my mind off of things, doesn't he?

"Mommy," the little girl called, "Auntie Xena's here."

Gabrielle untied herself from the yoga pose she had been holding, and shook out her limbs. "Okay, Lilly," she answered her daughter, "tell her I'll be right there. Where is your father, anyway?"

"He sent me to get you. He's talking to Auntie Xena out in the front yard."

Gabrielle smiled, imagining her two favorite people hugging and catching up with each other. Although she had been with Xena only last week, Joxer hadn't seen her in a while. She stood and walked to the window, spying on the reunion. Xena was laughing at Joxer, who was jiggling little Maxius to make him burble. Just then, the baby spit up on his father, who blushed. Although she couldn't hear him from here, she was sure he was stammering out some excuse to the Warrior Princess - as if a baby needed to be excused for spitting up. She hurried outside to rescue her husband.

"Gabrielle," Xena called out as she came out the door. "I couldn't let your birthday go by without a visit."

Joxer was scrubbing at the front of his shirt with a grimy rag. "Here," he said, handing her the baby, "He did it to me again."

"Well, honey, if you didn't toss him around like that, his food might settle better."

"Lilly never used to do this," her husband grumbled.

"Well, she has her mother's appetite," Xena laughed, plucking the golden-haired boy from Gabrielle's arms, "Never met a food she didn't like."

The Warrior Princess studied her closest friend, and decided that forty years old should look so good on everyone. Her body was still firm and trim, and her hair still shone like the sun. She shifted her gaze to the man still fruitlessly rubbing the stain on his clothes. Sure, Joxer looked older, but he hadn't changed all that much. There was a touch of silver around his ears, a streak or two elsewhere, and a few lines around his eyes ("Laugh lines, I'm sure," she thought), but he was still tall and slim, with a certain innocence he had never outgrown.

She turned again to her friend. "So, old lady," she joked, "how does it feel to finally have caught up with the rest of us? You don't look like you're moving any slower than before."

"I told you years ago, Xena, that yoga would keep me young. Besides, you haven't LET me slow down any."

Just then, a six-year-old bundle of pure energy wrapped herself around Xena's legs. With her mother's sweet smile and her father's dark hair and obsidian eyes, she was as pretty a child as Xena could ever remember seeing. "Auntie Xena," cried Lilly, "come see me do my back handsprings. Daddy says I'm almost as good as YOU are!"

"Lilly," Joxer warned, "This can wait! Aunt Xena just got here and..."

"It's okay," Xena interrupted, always happy to spend time with her favorite gods-child, "I want to see." As she walked away, little Maxie on her shoulder, holding Lilly's hand, Xena looked almost domestic.

"Gabby," her husband asked, approaching her from behind and placing his hands on her shoulders, "Does it bother you?"

"What is that, Joxer?" she asked, leaning back against his chest to look up into his eyes.

"All of it," he responded, seriously. "Turning forty, leaving me and the kids all the time to go off with Xena, the fact that your scrolls aren't as popular as they used to be..." He sort of let the question drift off as he saw the look in her eyes. She was angry, and he didn't know why.

"First of all," she answered through gritted teeth, "Forty is just a number. It didn't bother you when you turned forty, why should it bother me? As for my scrolls, I stopped writing them for anyone but you and me a long time ago. What other people think isn't important to me; I know it isn't important to Xena either. The people have found new heroes - times are changing. How much do you hear about Hercules these days? We know he's still out there, still the same, but people just don't care anymore."

"Then what are you mad about?" he asked, turning her around to face him. "Is it me and the kids? I know you like what you do, but I just thought it might make you sad, being gone so much."

Her anger vanished as quickly as it had come, and she sagged against him, sighing. "Yeah, I guess that's it. Everybody else who knows gives me a hard time about going out, fighting beside Xena, while you stay home and raise our kids. They say that it isn't right for a mother to do that, that YOU should be supporting us and I should be home, washing dishes and wiping bottoms... not that that's all you do," she finished guiltily. "You're such a good father."

He smiled thoughtfully, which developed into a snicker and blossomed into belly laughter. "Me," he chuckled, "supporting us all. Right! We'd all starve. You know Xena's line she always uses about having 'many skills?' Well, if there is an exact opposite of that, it would be me." His smile grew a bit wistful. "Why DID you marry me, Gabby?"

She stepped back, taking both his hands in hers and looking deep into his eyes. "You make me happy, Joxer. You make me laugh. For so many years I was so sad, so driven. I was looking for something, but until I figured out what, I tried SO MANY things. I ran away from home, and then there was that awful time in Britannia, and then I went on my spiritual quest. Being with Xena was part of the answer, but the empty place inside still gnawed at me. Your love filled that empty place and I never want to feel that way again." She pulled him to her, and kissed him hungrily. She still warmed to his touch, after all these years. And she could feel that his interest hadn't waned any, either. She broke away reluctantly, smiling. "Later. Right now, we have company..."

"Gabrielle," she heard Xena calling, from a distance, "Gabrielle!"

"Gabrielle!" The bard shook herself awake. "Xena! Where's Lilly and Maxie? Wha..?"

She looked around the campsite, and caught sight of Joxer in his silly armor, fiddling with something. She looked back at the Warrior Princess, who looked thoroughly befuddled.

"Lilly? Maxie? Gabrielle, are you okay?" She reached up and brushed aside the blonde bangs to lay her hand on Gabrielle's forehead. "Well, you're not feverish..."

"Gabby," Joxer burst in, missing the exchange between the two friends, "We didn't want you to sleep right through your birthday. I made you a gift, and Xena said we could go to that tavern in Corinth for dinner tonight, if you wanted. And then..." His words drifted off as he finally noticed her studying him. "Are you okay?" he echoed.

"Sure," she said, smiling widely at him. "And I can't wait to see how it all turns out. I think things will get even better."