Violence Warning/Disclaimer: This story depicts scenes of extreme violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
Love/Sex Warning/Disclaimer: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
Warnings and disclaimers written by Wildcat
Timeline in the Xenaverse Warning: The wonderful thing about the Xenaverse is that it can be nearly anything you choose it to be. In my story, in my corner of the Xenaverse, the fourth season of the X: WP television show stopped after "A Family Affair" and that's where my Xena and Gabrielle begin. In addition the fifth season of Hercules: the Legendary Journeys never happens. This is a virgin attempt at fan fiction so I would ask that you be kind in your responses, but by all means do be honest in your criticisms. What began as a short story has turned into a tome, so be patient with me and the updates will be here as soon as I can get them out. Thanks for listening.
Music Disclaimer: I will be quoting musical lyrics from time to time in this story and I assure you the words are not mine. I will usually give the author's name in the piece, but if I should forget, it's just a bad memory and not plagiarism.
Spoilers Warning: This story contains spoilers for the shows up to and including "A Family Affair" in the fourth season. Be warned
Thanks: Special and most humble thanks are sent to my Beta Readers, Dawn (NotTheMom9) and Meleager for their time and patience. You are great guys. I would also like to thank Cinthie and Dawn and Cari for their encouragement and friendship. It's a big Xenaverse out there; it's nice to know I don't travel it alone.
The sky was just beginning to lighten over the foothills. The depth of the valley floor was still in deepest shadow and only occasional streetlights pooled their glow over the empty and isolated edges of the city. The pavement was the only thing illuminated by their ineffective light. Out here on the extreme end of the city the houses were few and far between. They were mostly empty and deserted after the harsh desert weather caused the small farms to fail. Only a few disadvantaged or immigrant families remained. Set far back from the asphalt and surrounded by large lots of empty desert scrub and tumbleweed, the forty- year -old ranch house was dark and quiet in the early autumn morning. It sat small, gray and peeling with an ancient porch at the front and only the remnants of a short wooden fence standing up at the street line 20 yards away, to defend it.
Off to the right and left of the house, an odd assortment of cars and trucks ranging from abandoned shells on blocks with the hoods open and engines gone to a brand new electric blue Viper. Two late model sport utility vehicles vied for room with an older red Ford Pick-up and three other sedans showing more age. A few trees were scattered in front and to one side of the house but the leaves were gone and the near-constant afternoon winds of the high desert had scattered them to the scrub and beyond. Several tumbleweeds were resting against the side of the house. A few cars, weeds and some sort of hardy shrub were infesting what passed for a front yard. The air was cold, dry and filled with the dust of the desert. A light breeze was blowing. Only the smallest sliver of light seeped dimly out under the base of the drawn blind, through the window to the right of the front door. The rest of the windows were covered in thick black paper, including the window on the kitchen door to the left. If the cars weren't there, the house would look abandoned. That was their mistake.
She could just see the clock if she leaned to her right off the bed. It was hanging on the wall next to the door into the kitchen from the living room. They were the only other rooms outside of the single bedroom she was in and the small and dirty bathroom to her right. The black Budweiser logo showed up brightly against the back light of the clock as the hands read 4:52. They were finally asleep. This time, it seemed like all of them. She could hear the snoring in different timbres and an occasional shifting of position on the torn Naugahyde couch or the floor. Even Jose. She couldn't see him but she knew he would be there. Sitting in the ancient recliner against the wall right next to the doorway to the bedroom. The door had been removed the first night, and she had been told in frighteningly clear threats exactly what would happen to her if she crossed that threshold into the living room without his permission. That was three days ago.
Angela was terrified. ' For a bright girl, you sure messed up real good. ' Three days ago she had been safe. Or she would have been, if she had just done what she was told. She was a good girl. A smart girl. Her grades were way above average and she had the uncommon trait of having good common sense. She didn't ordinarily disobey her parents and, truth be told she had no really rebellious nature, despite being seventeen. She couldn't really think up a good excuse for why, that night of all nights, she felt so compelled to disregard her parent's instructions not to go to that party. They just weren't being clear. What possible risk could she be running just by attending a party at a classmate's house? She had been there before and the Cunningham's were known to both of her parent's. Joshua and she had known each other since she was a kid and, after all it was just a party. But that is not the way it happened.
She remembered the dancing in the game/rumpus room in the basement. She remembered seeing most of her friends from school and talking to Tiff, Britt and Shelly about the break-up of Jeremy and Amanda. Joshua was standing behind the bar and asked her if she wanted a drink. She asked for and received the Dr. Pepper. She remembered telling him his Mom must be a doll to let him use her good bar glasses for his clumsy friends and looking at the heavy cut crystal glass filled with ice and soda. She remembered finishing her drink and leaving to find a bathroom as soon as she saw Todd-the-Bod start to make his way over to her from the other side of the room. The bathroom downstairs was in use so she went upstairs to use the powder room near the kitchen. Then she remembered feeling a lightening in her hands and feet...then in her head and needing to close her eyes for a minute. And then she woke up here.
She couldn't get anyone to talk to her at first. She cried and yelled and threatened and then she realized that most of her captors didn't speak English well enough to understand her. Until Jose. The others were younger mostly, and dressed like she had seen the street gangs in the movies dress. Oversized pants belted low with their underwear showing and plaid shirts buttoned to the collar. A few wore bandana-like scarves around their head or carried them sticking out of their back pockets. Jose was different. Close to 6' tall and broad in the shoulders with thick brown hair that was obviously styled and cut by a professional. He wore sneakers like his "posse" but they looked brand new and expensive, just like the stone washed jeans and pale blue cashmere sweater he wore under the black leather jacket. His fingernails were manicured and his sunglasses by Halston. The small black cigars he smoked couldn't hide the aroma of too much Lagerfeld cologne. She remembered that too. That was the scent she smelled just before she passed out.
He swaggered up to her with a key in his hand, removed his sunglasses and just looked at her. His face was so handsome as to be almost pretty. The eyes were a rich deep brown and the whites were flawless. The lashes long and curled, the kind any woman would love to have been born with. He smiled and perfect white teeth shown beneath lush full lips. "This is the key to your future. I hold it." Common sense prevailed at that moment and she kept quiet somehow knowing this was not a man who would take interruptions well. She stood still at the foot of the mattress and waited for him to continue. "You are here, and no one you know knows where here is. You will stay here until I move you. You will be fed. You have access to the 'facilities' there." He pointed to the open bathroom door. "You will be unmolested." He turned and spoke a few words in Spanish to one of his gang. Angela wished ferverently she had taken Spanish and not German last semester. As he turned back to her she saw the door that led from the bedroom into the living room was being removed. "You will not leave this room for any reason without my permission. If you should cross that threshold you will be punished." When he said that, Angela saw his face change before her. His eyes became... evil. She had never been as frightened in her life as she was at that moment. The very air around her seemed charged with something and her vision tunneled down to focus only on his eyes. The vision she saw of herself in them left her trembling and her knees gave out as she fell back onto the mattress. A searing pain behind her eyes caused them to water and she instantly screamed and grabbed her head at her temples...and then it was gone. "You are destined for greatness, little Angela." He bent down and grabbed the metal shackle around her right ankle and gave it a little tug, then he smiled and softly whispered. "You will change the world...the very world." He laughed quietly and straightened. "Only I have the key." He held the key up and shook it a little. "When the time comes, you will be ready. This key assures me of that. We will only be here a little longer and then, oh Angela," The wicked grin returning to his face. "We will go forth together to change the world."
Sensing he was about to leave, the girl pulled herself together and, taking a deep breath to steady herself, asked the question she had wanted to know the answer to since she had woken up hours before. "What do you want with me? Why am I here?" Turning from her and nearing the doorway, Angela was sure her question would go unanswered until he stopped and looked back at her over his shoulder, "Because He desires it." Then he was gone.
That was three days ago and each night he had returned and slept in the chair just to the side of the doorway into the bedroom. She had not been touched and though the food was getting boring -McDonalds, Taco Bell and El Pollo Loco- it had been brought to her in sufficient quantity three times a day. She had not been able to get any of the others to talk to her and she was getting a little concerned that she had begun to look forward to Jose's nightly visits, if only for the sake of some kind of companionship. Each night he came and sat on the floor of her room and waited. That first night after he had come to her in the morning and told her about the key, she had just watched him drink his coffee from a Styrofoam cup and waited for him to speak. After what seemed like hours he finally broke the silence.
"So, how do you feel about the whole Kosovo thing?"
That had been the beginning. Each night for three nights he had come and they would talk about...things. Politics, war, religion, ethics, morals. Each night he would come at 9:00 and they would talk and then at 11:00 they would talk some more, but the subjects then were books, movies, music, fashion, television and even boys. At 1:00 in the morning he would stop and offer her a soda or a glass of milk and then, bid her good night. He'd leave and tell his gang to go to sleep and then he would set down in that recliner and go to sleep himself. Angela had been grateful for the company. She had always been a very active girl and a very bright one. She had been the captain of her debating team for the last two years at Larchmont Prep and had won the last two major meets for her school. She had varied and cosmopolitan interests for a girl her age and as such, she had an opinion on everything. She was wise enough to realize that they would most likely change as she got older, but it felt good for a while to have an adult pay her the compliment of listening to them...even if the adult was holding her captive. She was also smart enough to realize that this whole thing was very dangerous. She wasn't an expert on it, but had read enough for her report on Patty Hearst and the SLA to have a vague understanding of what the "Stockholm Syndrome" was. She knew she had to keep sharp and be true to herself. She knew he wanted something from her and she was willing to bet it wasn't a ransom.
She looked down at the chain attached to the manacle around her ankle and followed it the ring on the floor next to the wall where it was attached. She was about to give up and lay down to sleep when she thought she heard something. Something outside the window to the bedroom.
The SUV was parked around the corner and just hidden from view by the wreck of what used to be a small church of some kind, before the fire that gutted it made it just walls. They had made their way to the small gray house in total silence. The many years of working together, of affecting just this kind of rescue and the plans they had discussed and settled on the previous day made conversation unnecessary.
They had watched from their concealment in the ruin of the church with high powered binoculars as several of the gang came and went on various errands and as the owner of the Viper arrived that night. Experience and instinct told them instantly that this was the man in charge.
Staying low and in the shadows of the house, avoiding even the small amount of moonlight that lit the yard, they stopped beneath the window they knew belonged to the single bedroom and listened for any sound out of place. When the tall woman was satisfied that no one had detected their presence, she silently squeezed the small hand of the woman with her and signing her intentions, moved off toward the front of the house. The smaller woman watched her go and felt, as she always did, the small thread of apprehension at her absence and her intentions. Then, as always she concentrated on the task at hand and tried to forget the stealthy figure in black leather as she rounded the corner ahead of her and ascended the small step to the front porch.
The tall figure was the very definition of stealth as she brought one soft black boot down after another and made her way toward the small crack of light spitting out from under the blinds. Kneeling beneath the window on the right side of the door, she peered in and saw what might have been the aftermath of a bachelor party if she didn't know better. Men ranging in age from mid-teens to early twenties were asleep in every conceivable space in the room. Sitting and reclining and lying on the floor and couch and the three chairs, she counted a total of ten and if not for the absence of any kind of liquor bottle or beer can one would have assumed they were sleeping off a drunk. She could clearly hear the snores and minute shifting of the sleeping men through the thin walls as she slowly straightened and made her way across the porch and down to the other side of the house.
Pulling her night vision goggles over her eyes from where they had rested on her forehead, she examined the locks and knob on the door. Letting a small sound of disgust escape her lips, she dipped into her jacket pocket and removed the small lock pick case. Opening it and selecting one instantly she applied it to the bolt lock above and the knob lock below it and after hearing the clicks, replaced it in it's case and pocket. The whole procedure lasted less than twenty seconds and she was entering the kitchen. With her goggles allowing the necessary light to avoid stepping on anything that might give her away, she made her way across the filthy floor to the doorway of the living room and surveyed the land mine of bodies on the floor between herself and the bedroom. Looking up to the left she met the eyes of the pretty young woman sitting on the mattress. Her pale blonde hair came to just below her ears and her eyes, staring at the obviously startling sight of the woman in black held an innate intelligence that the rescuer was hoping she would find. Placing her finger over her mouth as a symbol for quiet, the leather clad woman lifted her leg and began the tedious and time staking process of stepping over and around the myriad of legs and arms and torsos separating her from the girl.
Angela had just about decided that she had imagined the noise and was about to lie down when she sensed...something. All her life she had these moments come and go when a sixth sense had told her to pay more attention, look here or there, believe or not in another's veracity and she had found them...these feelings, to be unerringly right. That's what made her look toward the kitchen door and see her there. She knew she had heard nothing that would have indicated her presence. She had come to recognize the sound of the kitchen door opening and closing and she knew that all the windows were nailed shut. But suddenly there she was. Tall, lean and broad shouldered, dressed in what she could barely see through the dim light from the single night light in the living room, tight black leather pants and a hip length black leather jacket. The jacket was unzipped and showed a black turtleneck shirt. The woman was wearing gloves and had what looked to be snow goggles pulled down over her eyes. As she made eye contact with the woman and saw her bring her finger to her lips indicating that she should be quiet, she saw her turn her head and her long black ponytail swirled out and fell on her right shoulder. And she knew then, she was safe. That same...thing, that thing within her that she couldn't name told her to trust this woman and she would be safe. It settled her nerves right down and her breathing started to slow until she was almost herself by the time the woman entered her room as silently as she had appeared.
Crouching down next to the girl on the mattress, she leaned forward until her lips nearly touched her ear.
Her voice was very soft and very low, but somehow very melodic as well.
"We're here to get you out. Please don't speak unless I ask you a question or until we are out of the house. I need for you to put this on for me and breathe through it for a while."
She pulled a small black canvas backpack from her left shoulder as she spoke and opened it pulling three items from it and placing them one at a time on the mattress to her left. She lifted one and slid it over her own head until it fell just below her jaw. She then placed the other mask over the girl's head and brought it up to cover her nose and mouth.
" I am going to release a gas into the next room that will assure that your captors stay asleep until we're long gone."
Angela nodded her head in understanding and then a thought occurred to her. Touching the hand of the woman adjusting the mask around her face, she screwed up her face in a look of puzzlement and pointed to the lock on the manacle around her ankle. Her rescuer nodded her understanding of her question and bent low to examine the lock. Before she had a chance to consider picking the lock, the captive bent down and pulling her mask down to her chin whispered into the dark woman's ear.
"Jose has the key."
Something about the tone of voice in which the girl said the name 'Jose' got her immediate attention. She looked up into her face and saw the look of calm gratitude that had greeted her gone. In its place was one of abject terror. The pulse at the girl's throat was jumping wildly and she could nearly hear the girl's heartbeat pound. She looked her over quickly and noted that there wasn't a bruise or mark on her anywhere. She didn't seem to be favoring any one body part as a person with a covered injury might, so the thought that she was afraid of more physical abuse was discounted. On their background check into the girl they had found through their sources that the girl was universally thought of as level headed and smart. She was not known to panic in a crisis and was not easily frightened. The thought that they would be dealing with someone with enough common sense not to scream or panic when she saw her rescuer approach in the middle of the night was part of the reason they decided to enter the house and rescue her in stealth, rather than take out her captors in a more martial way.
That this girl was terrified of this Jose was cause for alarm. Putting on her best face she leaned forward and whispered.
"Don't worry about a thing, I'll take care of Jose as soon as we make sure he's unconscious."
The girl nodded and though still deeply apprehensive, smiled lightly and took a deep breath. The woman nodded at her and placed her mask over her own nose and mouth as Angela imitated her. The woman leaned over and turned the small dial atop the silver cylinder attached to the right side of the mask and then turned the dial atop her own. She grabbed the third item for the bed, a black canister about 9 inches long and six inches round and made her way to the doorway.
As quietly as she had crossed before, she made her way to the center of the room and laid the canister down on its side before turning the dial at the top. A whisper of sound escaped as the canister let out the odorless heavy fog of Morph.273.In less than thirty seconds the canister was empty and the pale gray fog that hung from the floor to the top of the door was dissipating. The woman retrieved the canister and checked the level of unconsciousness of several men. Satisfied that they were well and truly out, she returned to the girl in the bedroom. Dropping to one knee she returned the empty canister into the backpack. She raised her voice to make sure she was understood through the muffling effects of the mask she wore.
"Which one is Jose?"
Angela started to remove the mask to answer when the woman stopped her hand.
"Not yet, just to be safe." Nodding her understanding she cleared her throat and in a shaky voice answered.
"He's the one in the recliner just outside the door. In the leather jacket."
The woman nodded and stood. She shouldered her backpack and turned toward the doorway. Angela watched as she left and saw for the first time the holster attached to the front of the backpack...and the wicked looking gun in it.
Once again stepping over the body asleep in the doorway, the leather-clad woman entered the living room and leaned over the sleeping form of the man in the recliner. He was the leader, just as they had assumed. The cut of his clothing notches above the group of illegals in his posse. She took a good look at his face and his even breathing and then began to professionally "roll him". She dug into each of his pockets and put the contents on his lap as she found them. The singular key, found in his right front pants pocket had to be the key to Angela's manacle. She slipped it into her own pocket and then proceeded to examine the other items. The compact and expensive cellular phone went from his jacket pocket to her own. There would be no calling for help until they were well and truly gone. His wallet held over $4000.00 in large and small bills, two condoms, a platinum American Express card and a Platinum Visa showing the same name as his driver's license. Jose Jugido-Soldado. The hairs rose on the back of her neck. She emptied the wallet of its contents and pocketed them. Dropping the empty wallet back onto his lap, she looked on his sleeping face once again then her attention fell to the last item. A key ring. It was gold, 14 carat gold, not plated and held two keys which obviously belonged to the blue Viper, attached to the round ring by a short braided gold chain sat another ring. Suspended from this ring were three items that made her blood boil in her veins. The first was a stylized representation of a serpent flat on the backside and curved on the other in an extended "S" shape with one small ruby for an eye and carved from a single piece of turquoise. The next was a small hummingbird seemingly in flight, carved and polished from a single piece of jade. The third item was a small eagle's feather. She knew what they meant. She'd seen them before. The realization of it made her decision for her and suddenly the plans had changed. 'Well, first things first. Got to get the girl out of here, then I'll come back and finish this.'
As the woman re-entered the room, Angela knew instantly that something was wrong. Maybe not wrong, but she was upset. She was angry and fearful and worried and Angela could feel those emotions pouring off of the tall woman like water. As always, when that kind of understanding came to her, she didn't question it, she just trusted it. She watched her as she dropped to one knee and without fumbling in the least, released the lock and pulled the manacle open and away with sure movements.
"Come with me and make sure you don't step on anyone on your way out."
She led the girl through the living room and supported her arm at the elbow when she had to make a particularly large step over the man sleeping in the kitchen doorway. Then they were through the kitchen and out the door heading to the back of the house.
As her partner ascended the steps to the porch, the smaller woman approached the first car and using her own night vision goggles and a special box held in her hand assessed the vehicle in front of her. Watching the dials on the scope read clear, she approached the red pick-up and laid the small black plastic gage on the hood of the car. Removing what appeared to be a screwdriver from her dark brown leather jacket, she knelt at the right front tire. Placing the tool on the tire at six o'clock she pushed hard, hearing a quiet 'phtmm' as the tool drove the slender hollow spike into the tire up to its head. She immediately heard the slight whistle of air as it flew from the hollow tube and began to deflate. Even if air were introduced to the tire now, it would still go flat. To be sure of a job well done, she poked two more holes at ten o'clock and two o'clock and then repeated her job on the other three tires. She finished with all of the vehicles in the same manner after frequently reloading the handle of her tool.. with the exception of the Viper. She felt sure that this car would have an alarm and had avoided it until now.
Her gage reached into the red as she approached the blue sports car and her night vision goggles helped her to read the type of alarms the car had secreted away. 'Okay, so we have a motion detector and Lowjack.' She put the gage away into her jacket pocket and removed the backpack from her shoulder. Kneeling, she opened it and removed what looked like a small remote control car. The item was about 5 inches to a side, black plastic with four wheels and a small circuit board and miniature dish like device attached to the top. Taking care not to approach the car too closely, she kneeled in front of the engine and placed the item on the ground. Removing the small remote control from her backpack, she flipped on the switch and pushed the toggle forward slowly. Lying on her belly she watched as the small machine inched forward over the uneven dirt until it was directly beneath the computer control box attached to the engine. When activated the device would effectively "kill" the computer control box and render the car un-drivable, then self-destruct and blow all four tires in the process. This Viper wasn't going to be going for help any time soon. She stopped it there and turned off the remote, replaced it in her backpack and hurried as silently as air to the back of the house. She had just arrived as the sound of familiar footsteps approaching alerted her to her partner's presence.
"Take her to the car and come back to pick me up in front. I have to take care of something."
The tone of her voice and the look in her eye was all that was necessary for the smaller woman to gage the seriousness of her partner's errand.
"Alright. How long will you be?"
She tried to hold only understanding support in the tone of her voice, but she knew the black clad woman heard the worry beneath it. The black-gloved hand reached out and gently clasped her upper arm.
"I'll be fine."
The voice was certain and the relaxing of the small woman's muscles as she held her arm confirmed her confidence in her partner's words.
"By the time you get here, I'll be waiting on the road."
She squeezed her arm gently again and then turned and silently made her way back around the side of the house.
The fair-haired woman smiled reassuringly at the girl and placed her arm over her shoulders.
"Come with me Angela. Let's get you out of here and someplace safe, hmn?"
The charming smile on her face seemed to lighten the spirits of the girl and even though she still wore her night vision goggles, the girl felt certain that the smile would show in her eyes as well. Worried about the warning the other woman had given her about not talking, she just smiled back and nodded as the smaller woman led her off across the vacant scrub toward the burned out shell of a building some three hundred yards away.
Xena made her way back as silently as she had approached the first time. As she was stepping over the man asleep on the kitchen threshold her uncanny hearing picked up a mumbled word from the man in the recliner who should have been deeply asleep. Stretching her senses to the limit, she could make out only one word as she crossed the room swiftly to the foot of the chair. The word was 'Totec' and it was enough. Lifting her goggles to the top of her head and leaning over the chair she placed her left hand over the mouth of the mumbling man as she bent and retrieved the blade from her right boot. Staring into eyes that should not have been able to open, she leaned forward until their gazes locked and she knew he was aware of her. Bringing the thin flat razor sharp blade to his eye level, she smiled. The eyes of the man became round and his breathing became labored. He looked into the blue depths of the beautiful face before him and watched the smile turn...deadly. He knew then, he was about to die. Watching his gaze shift from her eyes back to the blade, she lowered it slowly, brushing it lightly against his chest until it rested over his heart, then she lifted the handle and slowly pushed in the blade until flesh met the hilt. Shifting her body to the right to avoid the spurting blood as it pumped from his heart she never stopped watching his eyes. And she never stopped smiling until she saw his eyes close and his head fall backward. She wiped the blood from her glove on the shoulder of his pale yellow sweater and grabbed his car keys and put them in her pocket. As she reached up to retrieve her blade she noticed the small tattoo the man had just above his left collarbone. The knife must have pulled the sweater down just enough to reveal the nickel sized round mark just to the left of his sternum. She leaned closer and recognized the symbol. A round gold shield with a turquoise snake across the center. Making fists with her hands she began to tremble lightly all over and her eyes closed briefly in remembrance. She opened her eyes and consciously shook off the fury the memories brought forth then turned and made her way out of the house and up to the road, where a new model black Ford Explorer slowed and stopped for her. Quickly making her way to the driver's side door, she entered, buckled her seat belt, put the car in gear and took off.
"Number nine, please."
The voice low and controlled, but her partner knew better. You had to know the woman well to realize just how close to the edge of rage she was. Gabrielle leaned forward and pulled the CD rack from under the glove compartment and found CD number nine, opened the case and slipped it in to the player without saying a word. As the first song began to play, she reached her left hand over and laid it on the thigh of her partner and began to rub her leg in small circles. As they neared the end of the block, Gabrielle pulled the remote control device from the backpack at her feet and flipped a switch. A small beep could be heard a second later and no more than two seconds later a muffled explosion was all the evidence of the self-destruct mechanism that flattened all four tires on the Viper. She knew the beep had indicated that the static pulse had virtually destroyed the computer hardware before the Auto-lycus 5 had self-destructed.
"I must've dreamed a thousand dreams
Been haunted by a million screams
But I can hear the marchin' fee
They're movin into the street
Now did you read the news today?
They say that dangers gone our way
But I can see the fires still alight
They're burnin' into the night
There's too many men
Too many people
Makin' too many problems
And not enough love to go around
Can't ya see this is the land of confusion?"
As the voice of Phil Collins continued to sing Angela could hear the small alarmed breath of the blonde in the passenger seat in front of her. She watched her give a long intense look to the profile of the driver, who just kept staring at the road in front of her. The younger woman took a deep breath and when she seemed to see no response from the driver turned her attention back to the road in front of them.
'Ah, there she goes. Calming down a little. Now, on the other hand the powerful emotions rolling off the driver there is electric enough to short out fuse boxes for miles around. ' It was nothing you could see. No tension lines around the eyes, no pressure on the jaw, the hands on the steering wheel were loose and relaxed as were every other muscle Angela could define on her form in the semi-darkness. It was just there, as palpable as an offensive odor. And its presence in this powerful and obviously capable woman made her sick to her stomach with worry.
"So this is the world we live in
And these are the hands we're given
Use them and lets start trying
To make it a place worth living in"
'Ah, curiouser and curiouser. Now what happened here?" The tension level that moments before she felt pounding at her in waves seemed to settle down to nothing more than a whisper. She watched carefully and noticed that the two women in the front seat seemed to be?what? The emotion wasn't easy to read. Calm? Resigned? What was it? Determined? That was it.
"Oh Superman where are you now?
While everythings gone wrong somehow
The men of steel, men of power
Are losing control by the hour"
As the song continued, Gabrielle turned her head slightly and gave a small smile to the profile of the driver, then turned back to look out the windshield.
"This is the time, this is the place
So we look for the future
But there's not much love to go 'round.
Tell me why this is the land of confusion?
This is the world we live in
And these are the hands were given
Use them and let's start tryin'
To make it a place worth living in."
Angela continued to watch this interaction quietly from the back seat. As the music continued to play she watched the strawberry blonde lean forward again and pull what looked like a small table attached to arms out and up on to her lap. She opened the top and hit a button and a computer screen came to life. From where she sat she could see the illuminated keyboard of what must be the most state of the art laptop computer she had ever seen. To the right of the keyboard was a slot where a cell phone rested and as she watched the woman's fingers flying over the keys she considered what she had learned of her rescuers in the last few minutes.
The small woman was named Gabrielle. Gabrielle Soarsa she had said. By the dim and brief light of the SUV's interior she had discovered she had been right about those eyes. When the woman introduced herself and offered her hand in greeting she had smiled again and the smile did indeed fill her eyes. Lovely green eyes like the color of jade. Angela had liked her immediately. As the woman let go of her hand and removed her other glove she had said that they would talk more once they got her to a safe place. Angela had wanted to ask her when she could go home and see her parents of if they would let her call to tell them she was safe, but something told her to wait to bring it up. As always she listened to that little voice that had never steered her wrong and remained quiet. Without knowing why, she knew to trust this woman. When Gabrielle had reappeared at the driver's side and got in to start the car she turned over her shoulder and spoke briefly.
"Knowing how tight lipped she can be, I'm sure that Xena didn't introduce herself, right?" Seeing Angela nod her head, she continued as they started to drive back to the house.
"Yeah, I thought so. Your rescuer tonight was Xena Dikastis. She's not big on praise so wait until we're out of this whole thing before you thank her. It embarrasses her a little. We'll talk more and tell you all about what's been going on while you were gone and why we're here and what we're going to do just as soon as we get to someplace safe for the rest of the night. I think you could use a little rest and I could sure use a nap myself, alright?"
The last word was thrown over her shoulder with another one of those charming smiles and Angela found herself smiling and nodding back. She just met this woman but felt that it was probably very hard to say no to that smile.
"Now this is the world we live in
And these are the names we're given
Use them and let's start trying
To make it a place worth fighting for
This is the world we live in
And these are the names we're given
Stand up and let's start showin'
Just where are lives are going to."
She continued to watch the front seat and to observe the two women. As the song ended and something by The Doors started to play, she watched as both of them turned slightly and just smiled at each other. She could feel something very peaceful then. A kind of quiet resolve and pride in each other. It was a very nice feeling.
Xena leaned over and flipped a switch and she heard and felt warm air start to blow up from her feet. She then watched as she pressed a button and lowered the driver's side window a few inches and then leaned in again to a compartment in the dash. She withdrew a pack of cigarettes and a lighter and lit one, drawing long on it as she replaced the pack where it had been stowed. It was hard to see either woman clearly in the dim light from the passing street lamps and the only other light in the car came from the multitude of gages and dials on the dash and Gabrielle's computer screen.
Having no idea where she was or where she was going, Angela decided to just wait and see. Within fifteen minutes she could tell they were heading up into the mountains. A sign they passed revealed they were on the Angeles Crest Highway. Another ten minutes passed before Xena slowed and turned right onto what looked like a dirt road and followed it through the trees until it wound down to a small clearing. As the headlights shone in front, Angela could see a fairly large tent pitched there and what looked to be smallish teepee off to the side under a tree. The car stopped and both women began to get out. "Angela, welcome to Camp Amazonia." The blonde woman smiled as she talked and opened the back door for her before closing her own.
The women went to the rear of the Explorer and started to remove camping gear. Following them, Angela was stunned at the amount of gear that fit into such a small space and was about to comment on it, when Xena opened up a compartment in the floor. The arsenal that she looked at stunned her. There, in compact and pristine order was every kind of weaponry Angela had ever seen in the movies. The only thing missing was a rocket launcher. Her mouth dropped open and she must have inhaled sharply because both women looked at her and Gabrielle shifted the gear she held to her other arm and reached her hand out to touch her.
"It's only a precaution. The men who held you didn't work alone and it's our job to see that you remain safe." Patting her lightly on the arm, she said. "Here, come with me and lets get settled down for that nap, OK?"
She gently guided the girl to the tent and started to set her armload on the ground.
"Here." Handing the girl a small knapsack. "Why don't you step into the tent and change into some clean clothes. I know you'd like to take a shower but that will have to wait till tonight. If you need to go to the bathroom just enter the little teepee over there. Zip the tent up behind you as you change and I promise we won't bother you."
Xena cursed her own lack of concentration for frightening the girl and forgetting she was there when she opened the weapons cache. 'She doesn't even know what's going on yet and after being kidnapped and held prisoner for three days and nights, you grab her, take her out to a camp in the wilderness and open up a drawer full of deadly weapons. It's a wonder she doesn't run screaming into the night. Get it together woman!' After retrieving another blade to replace the one she left in Jose's chest and removing and assembling the high-powered rifle with the infrared scope, she closed and locked the weapons cache with the computer pad and grabbed the rest of the gear. Closing the rear door she returned to the front of the tent where Gabrielle was busy setting up the stove.
She put down the rifle and lit the lantern, then began emptying the large bag of their food and water.
'Gods, Xena don't you ever give yourself a break? It was a simple mistake.' But even as the smaller woman thought these things she knew it was an indication of something deeper going on with her partner. Something she new they would need to talk about once Angela fell asleep. Knowing she would be up a while explaining things to the girl and then later, talking to Xena, she considered making regular coffee and not decaffeinated and then considered again, knowing they were going to need to sleep for at least a while before moving on.
"No problem. We'll talk as soon as she changes."
She poured water into an old-fashioned wrought iron coffee pot and rummaged around for the decaf. coffee Xena had just emptied from her bag. Xena had set up the small camp table and put out the powdered creamer and sugar packets as well as the metal cups and spoons by the time the girl emerged from the tent. The sky was just beginning to lighten in earnest and Xena got her first decent look at the teen-ager. Tiny, no more than 5'1" and petite-the clothes they had picked up for her had to be bought in a size 4, the palest blonde hair cut in a bob just to her chin and parted on the right side. Pretty, with gray blue eyes and good teeth. A genetic throwback to the pure bred Scandinavians on her father's side going back three generations gave her those Slavic facial features. She had changed into a pair of clean jeans and a cotton turtleneck shirt, which she topped with a matching pink crew neck pullover sweater. She was just pulling her right arm into the sleeve of the dark gray parka as she came over to them at the table. They pointed to a seat nearest the heat from the stove and she sat down.
"Before anything else happens, I just want to say thank you."
She looked first at Xena and then at Gabrielle. The burgeoning dawn light allowed Angela to see the faces of her heroes a bit more clearly and she was quietly stunned at the beauty of the women before her. The tall raven-haired woman had the most remarkably blue eyes she had ever seen and the bones in her cheeks set high and the strength in the jaw were offset perfectly by the lush full mouth and flawless skin. The femininity of her thick full dark lashes and the insouciant curve of her brow all gave her serious aspect an alluring sexual overtone. This was one beautiful woman!
Her partner was only a few inches taller than herself but the confidence and bearing with which she carried herself made Angela sure that there was no "junior partner" in this relationship. She could see the eye color clearly now and the jade shone clear. The natural blush that swept across her cheeks and the fire that lit the golden hair made it glow in the early morning light. Lovely. Especially when she smiled as she was doing now.
Her tall partner just smiled and nodded.
"Okay, I expect you're about ready for an explanation of what happened to you, right?" Angela nodded and Gabrielle continued, taking a deep breath and folding her hands on the table in front of her, she looked at the young woman across the table from her and continued.
"Before I begin, why don't you tell us what you remember, from the beginning and everything you can remember about what happened before we got there?"
As Angela talked Xena watched her face and listened with only half of her attention. She had long ago mastered the art of listening to a conversation while keeping another part of her mind nibbling on a problem, and injecting possible solutions. After worrying at it from several angles she determined this problem would require some help to solve.
"...and that's when Xena came in. You know the rest. Now, can you tell me why I was kidnapped and what they wanted with me and; most importantly when I can go home or at least call my folks? By now they must be sick with worry." Her pixie like face filled with concern and homesickness, but oddly enough no fear.
"Angela...the people who kidnapped you...they're, well...they work for...someone..." Angela stopped and held her hand up to the blonde woman who had been stumbling so hard over the explanation.
"Wait a minute. This whole thing? it wasn't a normal thing, was it"? Taking a quick breath and gathering her courage, she continued. "I mean, it's like something, I don't know, X-Files like, right?" Angela remembered the bizarre yet real feeling she had gotten from Jose that first night. She shuddered and took in another deep breath. Looking first down at her own hands holding each other on the table then up into the blonde's face. She could tell she was on the right track here and it really made her nervous. "So just tell me the truth and I'll try to believe it, OK? Just don't lie to me."
'I guess they were right. This is one smart and level- headed teen-ager here. This should make the whole job a little easier.' She could tell by the look her partner flashed her, that she felt the same.
"Okay, cards on the table time." Knowing she was about to say some things likely to stun their young guest, she smiled reassuringly and reached her hand across the table to cover the teen-agers.
"The man you called Jose is working for someone else. I think you got that impression yourself." She watched as the girl nodded her head. "Well, this someone else is very powerful and very evil and he wants you and your "gift" to work for him. He's afraid that once you...realize...your full potential you could be in a position to...mess up his plans. He has some very definite plans for his future and the future of the world and he doesn't allow anyone or anything to get in his way, if he can avoid it. He thinks and plans very "long term" if you know what I mean." As she stopped to take a breath, the little blonde interrupted.
"What gift are we talking about here?"
The bard looked at the puzzle lines above the teen's brow and realized at that moment the girl had never told anyone about her gift. 'This could get real spooky for her real fast, here.' She reached over with the other hand and held the girl firmly by both wrists. "Your gift of knowing, Angela. Its called telepathy and you've been using it a little bit every now and then for a long time." The girl jerked away and tried to stand up, but was held firmly in her seat by the surprisingly strong grip of the small woman.
"How... I never...how do you know? What are you talking about?" The agitated girl was completely at a loss. The stunned teen-ager had always tried to believe that these moments where she just knew what someone else was thinking or felt how they were feeling was nothing more remarkable than good instincts. Anyway, that's what she kept telling herself. Just how these people knew about it, about her and what went on in her head was more than a little scary.
"We have many skills." The sultry voice of the dark woman startled the girl who had been concentrating so hard on the green eyes before her. She caught the merest hint of a grin as it flashed to her friend before returning to look at her.
"We also had, in this case, a bit of 'inside' information." The red haired woman paused and took a breath. Collecting her thoughts she continued. "I'm sure you're bright enough to have figured out by now that we aren't .. we.. well, what I mean.."
"What she's trying to say Angela, is that we have our own gifts, if you will. Like yours but different. I have the feeling you've never confronted the idea of being gifted with empathic telepathy before now, right?" Xena smiled warmly and leaned a little toward the girl trying with everything in her to radiate a calm and trustworthiness she knew the girl would feel.
Angela's first reaction was to deny it, but that lasted for no more than a second, and then the truth of the label "empathic telepathy" settled in. She couldn't deny it now. That was exactly what it had to be. That 'gift' of knowing what someone was thinking or feeling. It had helped, saved her so often. But it never seemed to be there all the time. Why was that? The knowing about feelings too. That only happened if someone was very distressed or she was trying to help a friend or when she really wanted to know how someone was feeling. 'That's it! Maybe I have to work at it...maybe, ya know will it somehow.' She looked into those vivid blue eyes across from her and willed it. And just like that, she knew, without a doubt that this woman was telling the truth. More than that she knew she wanted to help her... and protect her, from someone, something so horrible... she pulled her gaze away and dropped her eyes to her hands. Taking another deep breath, she decided she had nothing to fear from these women and she knew she had to trust them.
"OK. I guess you're fight. I've always known I had...something. I just used to tell myself it was really good instincts, ya know? Kind of" She tilted her head and smiled slightly. "just, well, going with your gut feelings and always being right. I never really thought what I had was really special. Just good genes and stuff like that." She sniffed a couple of times and then straightened her back. "So, why don't you just tell me everything I need to know and I'll just ask questions when you're done, ok?
Her rescuers both took a deep breath and smiled at her. Gabrielle brought her hands down from Angela's wrists and squeezed her hands gently. The girl could feel the warmth and relief flooding from the smaller woman toward her, and a sense of admiration and respect for her coming from the tall woman at her side. She knew she had done the right thing.
"Great! OK, lets see where to begin." Gabrielle lifted one hand and ran her fingers through her hair, staring off over Angela's right shoulder to gather her thoughts. "It would be impossible for us to give you all the information you want in the little time we have tonight, so I'll just hit the highlights and I'll fill you in over the next few weeks."
"Few weeks? Does that mean I'm not going home?" The girl's agitation returned and suddenly her facade of maturity began to crumble as tears began to fill her eyes. "Why can't I go home? I want to see my parents and my friends. I've got to get back to school. Why can't I go home?" Her voice had gotten louder and more plaintive as her agitation escalated. Between the strain of the last few days and the discoveries she had made of her gift added to the lack of sleep she'd had, she was edging very close to hysteria.
Gabrielle quickly got up and made it to her side. Putting one arm around her shoulder she pulled her to chest and hugged her as the tears started to fall. Glancing at her partner over the top of the girl's head, she nodded as Xena mouthed the words "I'll get her something." Heading for the medical kit in the back of the Explorer.
Gabrielle held her tightly and rocked her gently as Xena went to get the mild sedative.
"Angela. Honey, please, I know this is so hard for you and you've been through so much, but we just need to keep you safe. If we were to bring you home right now there is every possibility that there would be another kidnapping attempt made. That would be dangerous for you and your parents. It's our job to keep you safe. Believe me, we'll take care of everything. Just trust us." Xena finished mixing the powder into a glass of Gatorade and handed the cup to the girl.
"Here. Drink this. It should help to settle your nerves." She rubbed her back in small circles and watched as she drained the cup. Retrieving it from the table, she took it to the edge of the camp and rinsed it clean from the canteen before returning to sit down.
"Don't worry about your folks, Angela. A very good friend of ours will be in touch with them by this afternoon to let them know your safe and being well cared for." The blonde continued to hold onto the girl as she regained control and wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"This is a really scary thing and you've been very brave and very smart through it all. We just need you to trust us for a little while longer. I promise you'll be home before Christmas and this whole thing will be over for good."
"Ok. I know you want to help me. I'll try to do what you ask." Taking a deep breath and exhaling she suddenly began to yawn. "Whoa! Whatever you gave me sure works fast. I'm really sleepy and I still have so many questions?"
"Don't worry. We have lots of time to answer them. You go rest and Xena and I will be in shortly. We'll talk when we wake up. You're safe here. I promise."
They watched the tired girl make her way through the flap to the tent. Xena got up and poured them both a cup of coffee and returned to the table.
"Guess they were right. She really is remarkable. I know if it had been be me at that age I would have been a weepy mass of hysteria by now."
"Nah" the blue eyes smiled at her from across the table and one hand came down to cover hers.
"By her age you had already been kidnapped four times. Twice at knifepoint and once at the bidding of a God. You'd also been in eight life or death battles and tried to save the life of an Amazon princess, been captured by slavers and punched across a jail cell by the former Destroyer of Nations. And not once did you become a 'weepy mass of hysteria' my bard." The smile on her face as she ended was full of deep affection and pride for her mate.
Gabrielle returned the smile and tugged the hand that was holding her's.
" Yeah?well. Anyway, I think you have something to share with me here. Why don't you spit it out while I'm still awake enough to make sense of it?"
Grinning at her partner's need to change the subject, Xena took a deep breath and began.
"The leader was a guy named Jose."
"Yeah, was. He had to go. It looks like we were right about who we thought is behind all of this. I couldn't take the risk that he could continue to help his boss." She pulled out the driver's license and the key chain and set them on the table.
As the blonde picked up and examined the items on the table, Xena continued.
"After I rolled him and found these, I knew I had to come back and take him out. It's a good thing I did. He was getting some help. That gas should have had him out cold for at least five hours, but when I got back there he was almost awake. The first thing I heard as I entered the room was him calling out the name 'Totec'."
The blonde lifted her head and tensed her jaw at the name.
"By the time I got to him, his eyes were open and he was beginning to come around." She took in air and looked down at the table. "He had the mark." Her eyes made contact with her partner's and she watched as a small shudder ran through her. "A tattoo just above his collarbone. Put it all together and what do you have?"
"Big time trouble. Again." She blew a breath out and dropped her head into her hands. "I am SO tired of this, Xena. I know that the reason we're here is to keep this kind of thing in balance, but it's the willingness of the people who fall for this kind of crap?who crave this kind of power that just gets me down, ya know? He'd have nothing if there weren't assholes out there like this Jose who wanted that kind of power over everyone else. It just makes me so tired. And so ashamed. Part of me would really like to just resign from the species altogether."
That brought a tired grin from the face across from her.
"I know it does sweetheart. But you're right. That's why we're here. And because that species includes specimens like that girl sleeping in our tent."
The blonde lifted her head and smiled at her partner.
"Ok. So what's the plan now?"
"I haven't figured out the specifics yet. I figure we are gonna need some help for this one. Tomorrow we head out of here and hole up some place till we can get a hold of our friends and then we meet to discuss where to go from here. This is going to have to be fought on more than one battlefield, and our main job will still be Angela's safety." She stretched and took a deep breath. "Let's both get a few hours sleep and then we'll take off about sunset." She got up and held out her hand to help her partner up. "Come on, sleepy. Let's call it a night."
As the blonde started in to the tent, Xena scooped up the key ring and license and put them back in her pocket. She turned off the stove and shuttered the lantern. Picking up the rifle she took a walk around the perimeter of the campsite and, when she was assured they were alone, followed her partner to bed.
Morning came and went and so did early afternoon before the three travelers were all again seated at the camp stove. Xena as usual had been the first one up and by the time her partner had emerged had checked the perimeter again and was working on her second pot of coffee. Another hour went by before Angela appeared. She had visited the teepee and was given some water in a metal bowl and a ditty bag full of toiletries. After cleaning up she was seated at the table just in time to see a plate of scrambled eggs and ham set before her. She thought to herself that it really was true what they said about the great outdoors giving you an appetite. She wasn't sure if anything had ever tasted so good before. And she was sure she had never had this large an appetite. After the eggs and ham and half a cake tin of cinnamon rolls and two glasses of orange juice and a cup of coffee with cream and sugar she knew she had to stop. She was stunned to feel a tiny bit of hunger still unsatisfied but didn't want to risk being teased about her appetite.
"Don't worry about it, Angela. My friend over there could eat you under the table at any time of the day or night, on land or sea and in the dark." The dark haired woman just grinned at her while casting her eyes sideways at the glare from her companion. The blonde didn't even stop to dispute it as she continued to eat and passed Angela a new plate filled with sliced cantaloupe and green grapes.
As the plate came to rest in front of her the blonde finally took a break to speak.
"It would be in your best interest to eat while you can. My friend here has very little need for nourishment and sometimes gets so caught up in what she's doing forgets to eat for several meals. Unlike the rest of us who do get hungry every few hours, she can go without eating for days before it bothers her. Since we have no idea when or even IF she will deign to stop to let us eat again, I suggest you eat now!"
Angela was more than a little bit amused by the undercurrent of good-natured ribbing going on between these two partners. From the looks given and the words spoken she could tell that this was a very old point of contention between them. She suddenly knew something else, as well. These women were much more than friends and partners. These two really loved each other. The emotion seemed to come off of them in waves as the verbal sparring went on. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the feeling and the warmth of their bond washed over her and left her nearly breathless. She had only last night put a name to this gift and now, for the first time was beginning to see the awesome potential of it. 'How very nice. How very useful. But how could this thing she had be of help to this mysterious someone who had her kidnapped? Well, time to ask and find out, I guess.'
"So. What is it that this bad guy wants from me, huh?"
Exchanging a quick glance with the dark haired woman and seeing the raised eyebrow that always meant This is your area. You're the talker in this partnership'. Gabrielle squared her shoulders and rose.
"Lets take a walk and I'll try to explain."
She put her arm around the teenager and turned off toward the small stream she could tell was just over the low rise.
Xena couldn't have begun to stop the grin that started as soon as the bard's back was turned. 'One of these days she's not gonna let me get away with that anymore. We both know I could do it if I wanted to. Admittedly she's better at it, but I know she has got to be tired of it. I wonder just how many of those talks she's had to give over the years. Gods bless her. I've really got to do something nice for her soon.' Remembering the amount of sweat and effort she had to put into a conversation like this when she had been the one to give the talk always made her grateful when the bard took it on. 'Yeah, I'd rather fight a pool room full of angry bikers with migraines, than do that again.'
Pulling herself from the bench, she grabbed her mug and poured more coffee. Then grabbing the rifle with her right hand and slinging it under her arm, she went to follow the blondes.
Sitting on the small rise overlooking the tiny stream just a half dozen yards ahead she watched as the two smaller women sat on the smooth boulders near the stream. She could see Gabrielle talking earnestly to the young woman and hear an occasional word or too. She knew if she concentrated on it she could hear every word, but that's not why she was here. She had every confidence in her bard to tell the girl as much as she needed to know without frightening her or giving her more information than she could handle. She was there to watch out for them. Stowing the rifle across her crossed legs and sipping her coffee, she scanned the woods around the two and let her mind wander a bit.
It was still summertime then. Only a month or so since that horrible
nightmare began. Sitting on the rail enclosing the rear yard of her mother's Inn, she watched the bard lead the Amazon Regent down another rise toward another body of water, this time it was the small river that ran behind Amphipolis. Except, this time she had her right arm over Ephiny's shoulder. Her left was still too stiff and sore from the arrow wound the Persian soldier had shot her with and she was still favoring it. It had only been a dozen days since it had happened. 'A dozen days. A dozen days since I nearly lost her again. And only a little over a month since I nearly killed her myself.' She was more than just a little glad that the bard had been the one to suggest that she and Ephiny speak alone. She wouldn't have known how to begin to say it. 'How do you say I'm sorry for something like that? How do you tell a friend who has fought beside you to save your best friends life that you're sorry you became an animal and tried to kill them both. That you weren't thinking rationally enough at the time to know whom you were yourself, let alone who was a friend or an enemy. That the broken arm you gave her when you became that rage-driven monster was an act that you will regret for the rest of your life. How can you say you're sorry for that? Would she even believe that the sound of the bone breaking and the look on her face still made you wake up screaming in your nightmares? Or that your mind is so filled with the guilt and the shame of what you did to her Queen, that you can't even close your eyes unless you have her in your arms?' She swallowed hard and tried to stop the tears that had started with that memory, but just like always, it didn't work. She made an effort to think of something else. Taking deep breaths and staring at the back of her bard and remembering that smile and that hug they shared on the beach when they had finished in Illusia. Gabrielle had told her to hold on to that thought when the memories came. "That's what I do." She'd said. "I just keep breathing deep and remember the look on your face and the feel of your arms around me and the sun setting behind us and the way we laughed. If I didn't, I would have drowned in my own tears by now?and you would have dosed me with every herb in your medical kit trying to fix it." And they had both laughed at that, knowing the warrior's need to solve the problem in the most practical way she could think of. 'I probably would have too. Sorry my bard, I'm just way out of my league here. Never having treated my own, simply letting them fester into rage or burying them down deep, I never learned how to fix these wounds of the heart. Thank the Gods I've got you for that.'
That thought made the ache in her chest recede and brought a small smile with it. She could see them sitting at the edge of the water. Ephiny turned a little to her right and Gabrielle staring out at the river. They had both decided to tell the whole of the story to a very select few. It was just too painful and too personal. Besides, neither one of them had been able to figure out how it had happened. That it came about because of Solan was clear. That thought brought a rush of warmth to the warrior. The memory of her son calling her "Mother" and holding him in her arms and finally being able to tell him she loved him. That was wonderful. It made so much of the pain of losing him disappear. She knew he was safe and happy and that he loved her and forgave her, and the feeling of healing that thought brought nearly made her giddy. But they knew as well, that the wishes of one little boy were not enough to save them from what should have been a certain death. That the gods were involved was indisputable. But just which gods, and why was still unknown. "I wonder how she's going to explain that one. Ephiny has never been one to accept something without proof. If she had, I would never have had her help in proving that Phantes was not responsible for Terreis' death. Even as prejudiced as she was, she still went out of her way to be sure. She had to know.' She let out a little chuckle. 'OK, my bard. Just how are you going to get her to buy this? Well, if anyone can do it, you can. After all, you make all those stories you tell about me sound so real tavern's full of drunks stop what they're doing just to listen to you.' The grin got wider now and the warm feeling she got every time she thought of the beautiful girl just blossomed in her chest.
'Ah. Looks like she's almost done." She watched as Ephiny stood suddenly and carefully examined the bard's skin around the bandage of her shoulder. Gabrielle took her hand and smiled as she said something else. It was then that Ephiny's whole demeanor changed. The look of first incredulity and then tenderness that crossed her face made it clear that she had shared her thoughts about the conversation they had had before the Persian army struck. Xena sighed and then looked down to her boots. She wasn't sure she was comfortable with anyone else knowing what she had said to the bard, but it looked as if she had no choice in the matter now. 'Well, maybe, if nothing else it will let her know that I won't be dragging her Queen off behind my horse anymore.' She looked back up just in time to see them stand and start back. She hesitated for a moment trying to decide if she should stay and let them see her or just leave. She wasn't sure if Ephiny wanted to see her, and if she did was it to talk or arrest her for her crimes against the nation. She took another deep breath and decided to stand and face the music.
As they closed the distance, she could see the weary smile form on her partners face and noticed the tired slump of her shoulders. She was still not fully recovered from her wound and the effects of the emotional discussion she'd had shown clearly in her eyes. Deciding to take care of first things first, she approached them.
"Gabrielle, go on in and take a nap. I'll wake you in time for supper." She could see the retort and denial spring to her friend's eyes and waited for it to be voiced. Just then the tired little blonde seemed to have a change of heart and just nodded. Giving the regent a squeeze on the arm she said. "OK, see you at supper then?" When the regent nodded, she headed past them and after stopping to hug the warrior briefly, headed into the Inn by the kitchen door. The silence left behind by her departure made them both a little uncomfortable, and after a moment or two of quick glances at each other and off of each other's shoulders, the warrior finally broke the silence.
"Ephiny" she swallowed hard and finally made eye contact with the blonde. "I'm so very sorry." She inhaled again and set her jaw. " I don't know what I can say?or do to?"
"Nothing. Don't say a thing. I had no idea about what you two had been going through. When Gabrielle came to us after the?well, she didn't say much of anything, she just kept saying how sorry she was and that it was her fault. She wouldn't talk about it. Maybe if she had?I don't know. I do know that the woman who rode into the village that day with murder on her mind wasn't the woman I know as my friend." She slowly extended her right hand.
The warrior shook her head and let a small sad smile form as she grasped the regent's arm in the traditional warriors handshake. 'Oh my bard, I don't know what you said, but you worked your magic again.'
"Yes she was Ephiny, but you'll never see her again. I swear to you on the life of my mother."
"That's good enough for me. Now," she dropped her arm and pointed to the Inn "How about I let you buy me a drink while my Queen takes a nap and you can tell me how you managed to stop the elite of the Persian advance troops from a warrior's point of view."
Movement on the ground below her on the slope brought the warrior back to full attention. Just to the left of the teen she could see the autumn leaves shift and shimmer. Moving quickly down to the seated pair, Xena made no noise, even in the rotting leaves. Suddenly she was just there, behind and to the left of the teens back.
"Gabrielle, take Angela back to camp. Move upslope to my far right. Do it now."
The bard obeyed instantly, grabbing the girl by the arm with a strength the teen didn't expect and nearly lifting from her seat in the process. The startled teen just followed the blonde's lead and headed rapidly up the slope to the camp with the strawberry blonde on her heels. Just as they cleared the rise and approached the table in front of the tent, Xena appeared next to them. Only the teenager seemed startled to see her. She hadn't heard her approaching and wondered how such a large woman could be so silent.
"Rattlesnake. Western Diamondback. Didn't think you wanted that kind of company." The brunette smiled and rested the rifle against the bench of the table then turned toward the camp stove. "Coffee?"
Angela swallowed hard and sat heavily on the bench. She stilled for a moment and then looked under the table and lifted her feet.
"Don't worry Angela. You're safe here. We won't let anything hurt you, you just have to trust in that." Gabrielle then turned to her partner. "Do we have any of those cinnamon roles left to go with the coffee?"
The girl just put her head in her hands and closed her eyes. 'Safe. Oh yeah. I'm out in the wilderness in California. I'm in danger of being kidnapped again by people I've never met because some evil psycho person? Monster? Entity? God? Wants to use me for something nefarious in order to gain control of the world and make it over in his image and two women I've never seen before in my life want me to "trust them' with my life.' She thought about that for a minute and finally decided she really had no choice. Besides, all of her instincts, her 'gift' was telling her in no uncertain terms to go with it. It made her feel better now that she had that settled. She rested her feet back down flat on the ground and leaned over to take the last of the cinnamon rolls a bare instant before the bard got to it.
"Ok. What's next?"
By the time they had the camping gear broken down and stored in the back of the Explorer it was getting dark. They left the area as pristine as when they arrived and headed down the mountain the same way they had ascended.
A quick stop at a gas station/mini market gave them a full tank and to-go cups full of Pepsi for the girl and more coffee for the women as they headed toward the freeway.
As they entered the on ramp for the Antelope Valley Freeway south Gabrielle spoke.
"Well, where to now Xena?"
To be continued?