DISCLAIMER: The usual stuff. Xena and all things Xena are the property of MCA/Universal. They are used in this story without permission and no infringement of their copyright is intended. The story and other characters belong to the author, with the exception of Saras the healer, who was created by BL Miller (thanks for letting me borrow her, Bren!). The language gets a little heavy in places (yes, the fı word makes an appearance or two).
LOVE/SEX DISCLAIMER: This story depicts graphic love between women. If you think youıre unable to handle it, please go find some of the wonderful general fanfiction available to you. Thereıs an awful lot of it out there.
LINER NOTES: Thanks to my wonderful girlfriend for putting up with my verbal brainstorms at all hours of the day and night and for playing Sounding Boardı during the creation of this story, as I constantly bounced ideas off her. I couldnıt ask for a better wife! HUGE thanks to my favorite naval officer/editor for throwing encouragement my way when needed, for not hesitating to pull out the red pen and play English Teacherı and for helping with keeping our favorite girls in character. Finally, thanks to you, the reader, for taking the time to read this. Feedback is welcome and appreciated: firstname.lastname@example.org
FROM TIME TO TIME
David Cantner fell face down with a painful thud to the dusty ground. He felt like his body had been turned inside out and then reshaped and he gasped and heaved for air, coughing and sputtering in the unfamiliar dirt.
He rolled onto his back, finding himself staring through full green branches at a cloudless blue sky and bright sunshine. He lay there panting, willing his respiration to return to normal and mentally cataloging each of his most important body parts, just to convince himself there had been no serious damage during the trip. He flexed and unflexed, tightened and relaxed, bent and straightened. After several minutes, he concluded that everything was in working order. After several more, he took a deep breath of the surprisingly fresh air and sat up to examine his surroundings.
Birds were chirping in the distance. A gentle breeze blew through the thick trees. He sat on the ground, a combination of dirt, grass and weeds. He heard the sound of nearby rushing water, a stream perhaps. He cocked his shaven head to listen more carefully, but he caught no sounds of a nearby city, no distant traffic or hustle and bustle. Just nature.
Odd. He furrowed his blond brow and stood up to brush off his black t-shirt, instantly grabbing a nearby tree trunk for support. His legs were very shaky and he leaned, steadying himself until the tremors subsided. Kraus had warned him of the effects of the trip, but David was still surprised by the intensity. He took another deep breath. Is this what German air felt like? This fresh and clean and unspoiled? He smiled. Of course. Didnıt it make perfect sense? Perfect air for a perfect nation.
Feeling suddenly refreshed, he reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out the folded mini-map he and Kraus had drawn. He spread it open on the ground and knelt to study it. Kraus had never said anything about landing in the country. David had expected to show up in an alley or something. He really was not concerned at first. Heıd simply walk. But the longer he studied the map, the more uneasy he became. Nowhere, even on the outskirts of the city, was there a park or even any countryside marked on it. He began to wonder exactly how far from the city he was. He wanted to walk around a bit, but he was afraid to leave his arrival spot, just in case. Kraus had warned him about that, too. The bastard must have miscalculated locations. Dumb son of a bitch. Davidıs feeling of elation was rapidly ebbing as he tried to figure his course of action. Then a horrifying thought struck him, sending him into a near-panic.
What if Kraus miscalculated more than the location?
Mirza had seen the brilliant flash of light and heard the crackling from her guard post high up in the old oak. This was her fourteenth summer and it was only her third day on Perimeter Watch. She immediately broke out in a sweat at such an unusual occurance. And in her quadrant, of all places! Without a second thought, she put her hands to her lips and blew the bird call she had been taught, the one that basically meant "no emergency, but I could use a little advice².
As she climbed silently down out of the tree, she suddenly wished she hadnıt made the call after all. Arla would have to come all the way from her post, nearly half a quadrant away and it was probably nothing anyway. She shook her blonde head, annoyed with herself. She would never gain respect from the older Amazons if she didnıt learn to handle things on her own.
She adjusted her sword, squirming at the still unfamiliar feeling of it against her back, and quietly headed toward the area where the flash had occurred.
She heard the stranger before she saw him. He was cursing somebody named Kraus, but Mirza could see no one else. She inched closer, under cover of the brush. He was a handsome, if not strange-looking young man. He had a light fuzz of hair on his head and angry blue eyes. She had never seen clothes like his before. His trousers seemed to be made of a heavy bluish fabric with shiny fasteners, cinched with a black leather belt. He wore a simple black shirt, like a shift, but clingier. He had imposing black boots with silver accents on his feet. He was tanned and seemed very fit. No weapon was visible. He was not the least bit happy with his situation.
Uneasy and a little scared, she looked around for Arla. No sign of her yet. After a quick internal debate with herself, Mirza decided it was up to her to protect her village and its land by finding out who this imposing yet intriguing man was. She cleared her throat and stepped from the bushes.
David was genuinely startled and visibly jumped at the sight of her. He said nothing, but he was sure the surprise was evident on his face as he stood and looked the young woman up and down. She was definitely young, a teenager probably. She was dressed in a brown one-piece thing that was some sort of skirt and tank top. She wore brown leather knee-high boots, that left her muscular, tanned thighs revealed. Her blonde hair was shoulder length and she had a brown leather thong tied around her head. Peeking over her right shoulder was the handle of something. His appreciative smile faded slowly as he realized it was a sword.
"Sir, what is your business here?² Her voice did not betray her; she sounded much more authoritative than she felt.
David gaped at her for several long moments before speaking. "Where the hell am I?² he croaked.
"Amazonia, sir. I repeat, please state your business.²
His eyes widened. "Amazonia? Where the hell is Amazonia? Iım supposed to be in Germany!²
Mirza was becoming concerned. How could this man be in Amazonia and not know where it was? Where the Tartarus was Arla, anyway? She decided to take a helpful approach, as the man seemed very confused. "I am unfamiliar with this Germany, but Athens is not far from here. We could get someone to escort you if you need it.²
He was incredulous. "Athens!? Oh man. Kraus really fucked this one up. Oh man oh man oh man.² He dropped to his knees with his head in his hands, talking more to himself, it seemed, than to Mirza. "What do I do now? What the fuck do I do now? Okay, think, Dave, think.²
Mirza looked around, completely at a loss. She did not know what to make of this strange man. He was still mumbling. Was he mad? Maybe that was it. Madness would explain his odd clothes and the talking to himself. She tried to follow what he was saying, but it made no sense to her.
"Okay. Kraus must know he sent me to the wrong place. He said if that happens, I should stay put and heıd send for me. Okay. Thatıs what Iıll do. Iıll just stay right here. Yeah. Thatıll work.²
"Um, sir?² He looked up at her as if he had forgotten she was there. "Youıll need the Queenıs permission to stay on Amazon land.²
"Well, I, um, heard you say you would stay here. You canıt stay without the Queenıs permission.²
Suddenly, there was a rustle and a beautiful dark-skinned woman stepped out of the bushes. Davidıs eyes narrowed immediately. She was dressed similarly to the first girl, but she was older and walked and stood with much more confidence and strength. Typical, David thought.
"What took you so long?² Mirza mumbled under her breath.
"Sorry,² Arla apologized. "Whatıs going on here?²
"This man wishes to stay on Amazon land to wait for someone. I told him he needed the Queenıs permission.²
David stood slowly, leveling his gaze at Arla. Mirza noticed he had something shiny in his hand and wondered where it came from. "Look. Iım in the wrong place, here. I wonıt be long. Theyıll send for me and Iıll be out of your way. But I have to stay right here or I could miss my flight, if you get my drift.²
Arla and Mirza exchanged glances. Arla spoke firmly. "Sir, you are on Amazon land. Nobody is allowed on Amazon land without expressed permission from the Queen. Weıll be happy to escort you to her and you can tell her of your plight.² She took a step toward him.
David raised the shiny thing and pointed it at her. "Donıt come near me, you black bitch. You can bring your King here if you want, but I cannot leave this spot, do you understand me?² He was close to hysteria.
Arla tried to keep her voice calm, but she was losing patience with the man. And what on earth was he pointing at her? "Sir, we have no King in Amazonia. We have a Queen.²
"No King?² he laughed. "Nice. Iıll be interested to see how long your woman-run country lasts. Are you as weak and pathetic as the British?²
Arla pressed her lips together to bite back the snide comment lodged in her throat. "Come with me, sir.²
She took two steps forward and reached for his arm, barely grazing a rock-hard bicep before he yanked it away from her. Before she could react, he backhanded her across the face. In one swift motion that took only a split second, Arla had her sword drawn and pressed against his throat. His eyes were wide with surprise. "Youıre good.²
She glared at him and nodded once as a thin stream of blood trickled from her split lip.
"But not good enough, Iım afraid.² He raised the shiny thing.
Mirza jumped at the deafening crack it made, then gasped as Arla fell to the ground, blood spreading over the front of her leather outfit. When she tore her eyes away and looked up at the stranger, he was pointing the shiny thing at her. Unable to remember even one ounce of her training, she turned and fled blindly into the woods, unable to get the bloody image of her mentor out of her head, tears streaming down her cheeks.
David fired twice into the woods and heard a whimper and a thud. "God dammit. God dammit!² He poked at the dark woman on the ground with his toe. She was definitely dead. "Son of a bitch.² He looked up at the sky. "Damn you, Kraus! Where the hell are you? Get me out of here! You hear me? Get me out of here!²
The morning after David Cantner opened fire on the unsuspecting Amazons, Xena lay contentedly on a bedroll near the newly stoked campfire. She was propped up on one elbow, a girlish smile on her warrior face, absently fingering the soft, red-gold hair of the beautiful young woman asleep beside her.
Her thoughts drifted to the previous night. She closed her eyes and her smile widened as she recalled how the young blondeıs flushed and naked body had straddled her, glistening in the firelight, her eyes shut, her head thrown back in ecstasy. Xena broke out in gooseflesh as her brain replayed the sound of the bard as she leaned forward, the soft voice whispering in her ear "*Do you love me, Xena?*²² It was a command, not a question, and it sent shockwaves of pleasure through the warrior. "*Yes,*² she had responded, clutching a handful of blonde hair, her hips rocking against the young bardıs suddenly probing fingers. "*Say my name.*² Another command. "*I want to hear you say my name.*² Even now, in the morning light, Xena felt the liquid fire beginning deep within her. Just the memory of the bardıs ability to control her was nearly too much to bear. She curled her fingers tightly around the edge of the bedroll as she recalled her own voice screaming "*Gabrielle! I love you, Gabrielle!*² into the black woods as her vision filled with every color of the rainbow and the woman she loved held her tightly, fingers captured by intimate muscles, her sweet lips at the warriorıs ear whispering "*I love you, Xena* over and over and over.
With a wicked glint in her ice-blue eyes, Xena leaned close to the ear of the bard, who was sleeping on her stomach, and used the low, sultry voice she knew always brought a response. "Gabrielle.² The blonde stirred and mumbled something incomprehensible. Xena slipped her hand beneath the small, light blanket and lightly ran her nails down the womanıs smooth, naked back, saying the name again, and softly sliding her finger over the firm buttocks and between the warm thighs.
Gabrielle gasped at the touch and opened her green eyes immediately, meeting the mischievous blue ones looking down at her with a smile. "And just what do you think youıre doing?² she asked the warrior with a grin, clamping her legs shut around the probing hand, trapping it.
"Taking something I want.²
"Really.² Gabrielle rolled onto her back, grasping Xenaıs wrist to prevent any further maneuvers.
"Ever think of asking first?²
Gabrielle thought about this for a moment, remembering her well-planned ambush of her warrior princess the night before and nodded. "Point taken. Itıs not like Iıd say no anyway.² She hooked her finger around the shoulder strap of Xenaıs leather outfit, pulling her down onto her and releasing the hand she held tightly. Their lips met in the sweet, tender kiss of two people deeply in love. It began as a slow, soft melding of flesh, tender and gentle, before gradually escalating to a passionate, burning need to possess one another, open mouths crashing together, tongues meeting with desire, moans and sighs blending, making it difficult to tell which sound came from whom.
They moved as one, each intimately aware of the other. Gabrielleıs back arched as Xena captured a swollen nipple between her fingers. The bardıs hands were lost in the warriorıs raven-black hair, her grip tightening with each squeeze of Xenaıs fingers.
Suddenly, Xena stopped all movement. Gabrielle opened her eyes in confusion. "Xena?²
The warrior laid a hand gently over her mouth. "Shhh.² Her blue eyes scanned the woods. She reached and found, without looking, the sword that never lay far away and closed her hand around the hilt.
"Stay here,² she whispered to the bard. Gabrielle knew better than to disobey Xena at a time like this. She pulled the inadequate blanket over her naked body and waited quietly as Xena stalked silently into the woods and out of sight.
Less than a minute later, Xena returned, followed by a young woman dressed in the brown of the Amazon uniform. "Itıs for you, Your Highness,² Xena smiled at the bard, then sat down by the fire. Gabrielle stood quickly, trying, not quite successfully, to wrap the small blanket around her, flashing peeks of skin here and there in the process.
Upon seeing her queen in such a state of dress - or undress for that matter - the young Amazon messenger quickly dropped her eyes to the ground. They darted nervously from the fire to Xenaıs boots and back. She held a piece of parchment toward Gabrielle, without looking up. "Excuse the interruption, maıam. A message from Queen Ephiny.²
Gabrielle looked to Xena, silently asking her to retrieve the parchment. Xena pretended not to notice, tending to the fire instead. The bardıs eyes narrowed at the smugly grinning warrior and she stepped carefully toward the uneasy Amazon. Xena stifled a laugh as she was given a full view of the Amazon Queenıs backside.
"What is your name, Amazon?² Gabrielle asked of the messenger, trying to put her at ease, doing her best to pretend she wasnıt completely naked and holding a worthless piece of cloth over herself. She unfolded the parchment and glanced quickly over it.
"Um, Henra, maıam. My name is Henra.² She still could not meet the eyes of her queen, choosing instead to study the dirt at her feet.
"Youıve done well, Henra. Please let Queen Ephiny know that we shall arrive by nightfall.²
"Or at least before the moon rises,² Xena added under her breath.
"Yes maıam. Thank you, maıam.² Henra made an attempt at a curtsy, turned on her heel and escaped into the woods as fast as her young legs would carry her, unable to meet the eyes of her queen even once.
Xena allowed enough time to pass for the girl to be out of earshot before she burst into hysterical laughter. "Beautiful! That was just beautiful!² She fell backwards, sprawled on the ground, lost in throaty laughter. "That poor girl!² She mimicked an authoritative voice. "Henra, take this message to Queen Gabrielle. This is a very important duty.ı They just forgot to tell her Queen Gabrielle would be butt-naked!² She was lost in laughter again.
Gabrielle glared at her. "Ha ha. Very funny. Youıre a big help.² She walked around the campsite, finding her clothes in various locations where they had been strewn the night before, putting each piece on as she came across it.
Xena wiped the tears of laughter from her cheeks and finally sat up. "What did the message say?²
"It was pretty vague,² Gabrielle replied. "Ephiny just requested our presence as soon as possible.² She scanned the campsite with a puzzled look on her face. "Have you seen my top?²
Xena tore her eyes away from the luscious sight of her bard, wearing her skirt and boots, leaning on her staff, completely naked from the waist up. "Lemme think....² She scrunched up her eyebrows in concentration for several moments, then realization shown in her eyes. She smiled and looked up.
There, hanging from a jutting tree branch ten feet above their heads, was the green top. Gabrielle shook her head in disbelief and smiled in spite of herself.
"I love you,² Xena said simply and for no reason.
Gabrielleıs green eyes sparkled. She could never tire of hearing those words come from her big, tough warrior. "I love you, too. Now get my top.²
Kelly Valchris felt as if somebody had stomped on her insides and thrown her out a third floor window. She lay sprawled face-down in the grass, eyes squeezed shut, coughing painfully. What had she done? Was she insane? She was afraid to open her eyes, so she lay there for long moments, heaving breathlessly and wondering if she had broken any ribs. Gina had said it might be a painful trip, but this was ridiculous.
After what seemed like an eternity, Kelly dared to open her green eyes. She lifted her forehead off the dirt ground and scanned her surroundings.
Trees. Trees, grass, dirt. She was definitely in a country area. The sun was just beginning to set, but the temperature was warm. She heard rushing water in the distance, along with several birdcalls. A light, gentle breeze blew through the branches above her head. She took a deep breath.
This place was absolutely gorgeous.
She sat up slowly, steadying herself with both hands as the trees began to spin. She swallowed back the urge to vomit and waited for the wave of nausea to pass. She looked around again at the beauty of her surroundings. Amazon territory, huh? She still didnıt believe it. Werenıt the Amazons mythological creatures? She had said as much to Gina, who had strongly insisted otherwise. Kelly had no way of knowing if she actually had arrived in some sort of Amazon land. She could be in Walnut Grove for all she knew and she half-expected Laura Ingalls to come bounding over the hill at any moment. But Gina had been adamant about the destination she had been toying with before Cantner took them all by surprise and jumped through the portal.
Gina was going to kill her.
Kelly pulled the small keypad out of the waistband of her jeans. It was no bigger than a calculator with letters instead of numbers, but if all went well, it would keep her connected with Gina back home, assuming Gina would ever talk to her again once she realized Kelly had entered the time machine after she specifically forbade her to do so. She made sure the keypad was turned on and transferred it to the pocket of the light jacket she wore. Sheıd had no idea what to expect as far as the weather went and without Ginaıs advice, sheıd taken a little bit of everything, donning a t-shirt, her Navy sweatshirt, and a windbreaker, along with her most comfortable Gap jeans and white Nikes. The comforting lump of her pistol was snug against the small of her back and the backpack containing a few more essentials was strapped tightly to her body. Inside were various items she thought might come in handy, among them a toothbrush, clean underwear, and two extra clips for her pistol. She was way too warm and stood to remove the pack, jacket and sweatshirt.
The world immediately tilted and she dropped back to her knees with a surprised "Whoa-². She crawled to the nearest tree and slowly used its trunk to help get herself slowly to her feet. She held onto it like a toddler clutching its mothers leg until she felt steady enough to stand on her own. She took a few shaky steps and stopped, bending to put her hands on her knees.
"Hey, are you okay?²
The voice startled Kelly. As she whipped her head around to the source of the sound, her world once again tilted on her and she fell backwards, landing hard on her butt. She raised her green eyes to meet those of a concerned and gentle looking young woman. She wasnıt very tall, maybe 5ı4². Kelly guessed she was in her early twenties. She had long reddish-blonde hair and leaned on what seemed to be a big walking stick. She wore a brown skirt of some sort and a short top made of a green indistinguishable material that laced up the front and left her impressive abs in full view. She had brown knee-high boots on her small feet and an unsure smile on her pretty face.
The girl turned toward the second voice. "Over here.²
Kellyıs eyes widened at the approach of a second woman, who was leading a golden-colored horse. She was truly the most impressive woman Kelly had ever seen and she couldnıt help but stare openly at her.
>From her black, laced-up, knee-high boots to the top of her midnight-colored head, everything about the woman was dark and powerful. She was dressed in leather and armor, with a sword sheathed on her back and a round metallic object hanging from her waistband. She had leather bands on her forearms as well as her upper arms. She walked with long, confident strides and, as she got closer, Kelly noticed the brilliance of her ice-blue eyes. Although she was roughly the same height as Kelly, she seemed much taller. Kellyıs breath caught in her throat at the exciting mix of beauty and power this woman encompassed.
Only after the two strange women exchanged glances several times did Kelly realize she was staring - no, gawking - at them. She snapped herself out of her daze. "Um, sorry. Didnıt mean to stare. Could you, by any chance, tell me exactly where we are?²
They looked at each other again and the smaller one answered with a proud smile. "Youıre right on the border of Amazonia.²
Kelly gaped at her in astonishment. "Amazo---Good Lord, she was right. It worked! Holy shit, it worked!²
David Cantner was hungry. Hungry, dirty, and more than a little pissed off. Heıd managed to find a nearby apple tree, but apples only went so far. He was also becoming very, very scared, a fact he tried mightily not to admit to himself. Heıd waited for Kraus to reverse the time machine for several hours after his run-in with the black bitch and her whiney little friend and it took him that long to realize he had forgotten the keypad.
When that thought did strike him, it struck big. Heıd broken out in a cold sweat and began shaking uncontrollably before vomiting onto his own boots in a wave of panicked nausea. Heıd headed toward the sound of the running water and found a small river, where he stuck his entire head in trying to wash away the near-hysteria that threatened to overtake him. Thatıs when he had heard the voices.
Heıd peeked up over the bank of the river and watched as two more women, dressed the same as the first two, discovered his victims. Heıd ducked his head and silently withdrew his gun, checking his ammo. Heıd only brought one clip and heıd spent three bullets on the bitches earlier, leaving him with only seven shots. Heıd debated whether or not to take these two out also, wasting more bullets, but didnıt have to wait long for the answer. They left as quickly as they had shown up, taking the bodies with them.
Heıd realized that he also had to worry about more of the women returning to look for him. He had no doubt the area would be searched, but he was afraid to wander too far away. Kraus had to have figured out by now that Cantner had forgotten the keypad. Heıd cursed himself for the tenth time in as many minutes. Why didnıt Kraus just send the damn thing through to him?
Then he saw the lightning flash and heard the crackle in the air.
Expecting to see a small, black electronic device sitting alone on the ground, he watched in disbelief as Kelly Valchris appeared out of thin air. She looked like he had felt when heıd made the trip and he watched as she tried to stand. He chuckled to himself. He had to admire the tenacity of the little dyke bitch. Sheıd been on his tail for months. Too bad she wasnıt a man. Or even normal and not a sexual freak show, for that matter. Heıd have recruited her. Suddenly, his eyes lit up.
Sheıd pulled a keypad out of her waistband.
That was his ticket home.
He was just about to make his move, when the two others showed up. He smiled as he looked the little blonde up and down. Damn, she was cute. Now *that* was what all women should look like. Then he shrunk down in his hiding place as he noticed the tall dark one scanning the area with intense eyes. Something about her inexplicably and completely unnerved him and he didnıt risk another peek until he was sure they were gone.
He dropped his head into his hands and tried hard to concentrate. He needed a plan and he needed one badly.
Kelly and the two strangers arrived at the Amazon village only after being joined periodically by a total of four Amazon women who lowered themselves silently from various trees and fell in line behind the young blonde as the trio followed the dirt path into and through the woods. The blonde had insisted Kelly ride on the huge mare until her legs regained their strength, much to the dismay of the dark one. That had been the better part of two hours ago and Kelly was starting to feel an aching in muscles she didnıt know she had.
She had no idea what her next step would be. She had tried to explain to the two women that she was in search of a young fugitive who had arrived near Amazonia that morning. The smaller one, who had introduced herself as Gabrielle, seemed concerned to have a fugitive in their midst and was much more receptive to Kellyıs story than was the intimidating one. Gabrielle had introduced her, too. Xena. Even her name screamed power. She kept looking at Kelly with those piercingly blue eyes and Kelly was well aware of the fact that Xena knew she was hiding something. Kelly also knew that Xena would never believe where she had come from, so she decided to avoid the subject for the time being.
The atmosphere of the Amazon village was one of confusion and anger. The village itself was quite a sight to behold and Kelly was unable to do anything but look. It was much larger than she had expected (what had she to compare it to but that which she had seen on television?) and fashioned in a circle. Small, square huts were everywhere, along with a few much larger ones interspersed around the village, all made of wood and stone. There was a big, stone well in the very center of the circle and when the breeze kicked in, Kelly could smell the nearby stables, somewhere off to her right.
The first thing she noticed about the villageıs inhabitants, besides the tension, was that they were all female, which she had expected. They seemed very happy to see Gabrielle and Xena, gathering around them with enthusiasm. They regarded Kelly with strange looks, their eyes roaming every inch of her and she realized that her clothes made her look like quite an outsider. She shifted uncomfortably, pushed a lock of unruly dark hair back from her face and tried to smile.
"Queen Gabrielle!² came a cheerful yet authoritative voice. Kelly saw a confident woman with blonde curls approaching from one of the larger huts, arms outstretched. She sported the same practical brown outfit and boots as the rest of the women, but she wore a colorful necklace of leather and beads and a matching headband.
"Ephiny. Itıs good to see you.² Gabrielle closed her arms around the woman.
Kelly looked down from the horse, her jaw hanging open. "*Queen* Gabrielle? Youıre the queen?²
Gabrielle smiled up at her. "I donıt like to make a big deal about it. Kelly, this is Ephiny, the real queen of the Amazons. Ephiny, this is Kelly of Valchris. Sheıs looking for somebody. I thought maybe you could help her.²
Kelly slid down off the mare, her knees immediately buckling. Gabrielle and Xena each caught an arm and kept her from hitting the ground with her back end. She smiled gratefully, then held out her hand to Ephiny. "Pleased to meet you.²
To her surprise, Ephiny grasped her forearm just below her elbow and squeezed tightly. Unsure of proper procedure, Kelly followed suit. The blonde Amazon smiled sincerely. "Any friend of Gabrielleıs is a friend of the Amazons. Welcome to our village.² She turned and gave the same gesture to Xena, who nodded and grasped Ephinyıs arm with both her strong hands. "Good to see you, Xena. I trust youıve been looking after our queen?² she winked.
"Guarding her with my life,² Xena grinned back. Kelly watched this exchange with interest.
Gabrielle grew serious. "We got your message, Ephiny. Whatıs going on? Nothing bad, I hope.²
"Iım afraid itıs not good. You three must be exhausted and hungry. Come to the food hut and weıll talk.²
The Amazon food hut was warm and comfortable and the supply of food seemed endless. Kelly didnıt realize how hungry she was until she had actually taken the first bite of some sort of bread the cook brought out. She must have made some sort of noise, because suddenly Gabrielle was smiling at her. "Like it?²
"Itıs incredible,² Kelly nodded, her mouth full.
"Nutbread. My personal favorite.²
"Youıd better keep your hand on yours,² Xena interjected, much to Kellyıs surprise. "Gabrielleıs been known to steal nutbread from unsuspecting victims.² Gabrielle slapped her arm playfully.
The cook returned with a tray of cups and handed each of them one. Ephiny raised hers in a toast. "Itıs good to have you back, Gabrielle, albeit under unfortunate circumstances.²
"Tell us what happened,² Xena prompted the blonde.
Ephiny took a deep breath. "Arla and Mirza were assigned to Perimeter Watch in the southernmost quadrant yesterday.²
"Mirza?² Gabrielle asked. "I donıt think I know her.²
"Sheıs one of our newest guards. Just turned 14, smart as a whip, picking up the sword very quickly and worships the ground Arla walks on. She begged to go with her.²
Gabrielle nodded. "Go on.²
"When Danya and Stephie went to relieve them, they didnıt answer the birdcalls. When they finally arrived at Mirzaıs post, they found her unconcious and bleeding on the ground.²
Gabrielle gasped. "How? What happened? Where was Arla?²
Ephiny lowered her eyes and her voice. "We donıt know what happened. Arlaıs body was not far away. Sheıs dead.²
"Oh, dear gods.² Gabrielle covered her mouth with her hand and closed her eyes. Xena squeezed her shoulder.
"What kind of shape is the girl in?² the warrior asked.
"Not good.² Ephiny took a long drink from her cup. "Sheıs in and out of conciousness. Saras says sheıs lost a lot of blood and she canıt figure out what made the wound. Every so often Mirza will wake up and shout out one thing or another and then lapse back into where ever sheıs run off.²
"What kinds of things does she shout?² The warrior looked thoughtful. "Maybe they mean something.²
Ephiny shook her blonde head. "Nothing earthshattering. A lot of noıs. An occasional by the godsı. Sometimes she screams for Arla. Thatıs heartbreaking. A couple times she started yelling for somebody named Kraus.² She shrugged.
Kelly hadnıt really been paying much attention and was trying to figure out exactly what kind of wine was in her cup when she heard the familiar and hated name. Her head snapped up. "Did you say Kraus?²
Ephiny turned to her, nodding. "Thatıs what it sounds like. Come and get him, Kraus. Take him back.ı Or something to that effect.²
Kelly sat up, adrenaline rushing through her body. "Can I see Mirza? Could I talk to her?²
Xena narrowed her eyes. "What is going on here? Is Kraus the fugitive youıre looking for?²
"No, but heıs involved. Please, Ephiny. Can I see her?²
Ephiny looked from Kelly to Gabrielle to Xena and back.
The Healerıs Hut reminded Kelly of the infirmary tents she always saw on M.A.S.H or China Beach, although the atmosphere was much warmer. Ephiny introduced her to the healer as Xena and Gabrielle looked on.
Saras was a wise-looking, heavy-set woman with graying hair and knowing eyes full of life and its experiences. She radiated safety and security and Kelly had the inexplicable urge to curl up in her big arms and stay there.
The hut housed half a dozen beds with partitions to allow what little privacy they could. There were various bottles and jars on shelves and tables containing substances of a multitude of different colors, along with bandages and rags. She followed the healer to a bed in the furthest corner of the hut.
Ephiny had said Mirza was fourteen, but lying in this bed, her skin pale, her brow sweaty, Kelly thought she looked no more than ten or twelve. Her left shoulder was heavily bandaged and her fine blonde hair was matted to her face and neck by both sweat and dried blood.
Kelly looked to Saras. "Can I take a look at her wound?²
"Are you a healer?² Saras asked, the defensiveness clear in her voice.
"No, Iım not, but-² she struggled for the right words. "I may be able to help.²
Saras grunted reluctantly and removed the bandages. "Woundıs in the back, but didnıt come out the front. Maybe a weak shot from an arrow, but there wasnıt one around. I donıt know what else it could be.²
Kelly didnıt have to look for long to confirm her suspicions. She looked up at Xena. "This is a gunshot wound.²
"Gunshot?² Gabrielle looked at her blankly.
"The bullet is still lodged in her shoulder. It has to come out.²
"What in Hades are you talking about?² Xena was rapidly losing patience with this stranger.
"If we donıt get this bullet out, she will die. Itıs as simple as that.²
In a flash, Xena had a vise-like grip on Kellyıs upper arm. "Excuse us,² she said through clenched teeth to the other women in the hut. "We wonıt be but a minute.² With that, she bodily dragged Kelly out the door and away from the hut.
Xena didnıt let go until they were out of earshot of the hut. Kelly yanked her arm away, rubbing it, marveling at the strength of the woman who was the same size as she.
"Look. I donıt know who you are or where you came from,² Xena snarled at her, "but I donıt like this game youıre playing one little bit, so youıd better start talking. Do you know who hurt that girl in there or not?²
They stood face to face, eye to eye for a long, silent moment. Kelly sighed in defeat. "Yes, I know who did that to her. It was David Cantner, the man I came here to find. And I am not playing any games. Some things are too complicated to explain, so Iıve just avoided them. You wouldnıt understand. All I know right now is that that girl in there will die if we donıt remove the bullet.²
"*For Gaieaıs sake,what are you talking about?*² Xena was utterly exasperated.
Kelly had never stopped to think that these people didnıt know what a gun was, let alone a bullet. The realization hit her like a lightning bolt and she slapped her palm against her head, groaning with frustration at herself.
Xena arched an eyebrow.
"Okay, look.² Kelly withdrew the pistol from her waistband and released the clip, then popped the bullets out into the palm of her hand. "This is a gun and these are bullets.² She picked up one of the small shells. "This is what Mirza has lodged in her shoulder. If we donıt take it out, she will continue to bleed and will die of blood loss or infection, whichever comes first.²
Xena stared at the metal objects in Kellyıs hand. She picked up one of the bullets and studied it carefully. Suddenly she threw it with all her might at a nearby tree. It fell to the ground ineffectively and Xena looked at it, puzzled. "But how did it get in her shoulder?²
Kelly couldnıt help but smile at the action. "Here, Iıll show you.² She scanned the area, finding a good size flat piece of bark on the ground. She went to the edge of the woods and propped the bark in a tree, balancing it in a Yı created by two branches, about five feet off the ground. She returned to stand next to the warrior and reloaded her pistol. The warrior watched every move very carefully. Kelly turned to her. "Ready?²
"I guess so.²
Kelly held the gun at armıs length, aimed carefully and fired.
The bark flew.
The warrior was stunned.
A bloodcurdling scream came from the healerıs hut.
"What happened?² Xena asked as she and Kelly burst into the healerıs hut.
Mirza was sitting up in her bed, shrieking unnervingly and flailing her childlike arms. Gabrielle, Ephiny and Saras were trying their best to calm her down.
"Did you hear that sound? That - that - bang?² Gabrielle shouted to them. "She did and she just snapped! Did you hear it? What was it?²
"Iım afraid we made it,² Kelly replied, frowning.
After several minutes of consoling, comforting and rocking, Saras had Mirza calmed down to a quiet, semi-concious crying. Xena asked Kelly for one of her bullets, then told Gabrielle to get both Kelly and the horse settled and she would catch up with them soon.
Gabrielle showed Kelly to a guest hut. "You should be pretty comfortable here,² she said as she lit a small wall torch. "When Xena comes back, we should discuss this fugitive youıre after. It seems he may have killed one of my Amazons.² Her soft eyes clouded over in a flash of anger that Kelly could tell was uncharacteristic for her. Just as quickly, it was gone and she smiled warmly. "Make yourself at home. Iıll go check on Argo.²
Kelly dropped onto the low bed and sighed. David Cantner had been in Amazonia for barely twenty-four hours and had already killed one person and traumatized another. The manıs capacity for justified hatred was astonishing to her. Did he have any idea where he was? That he wasnıt in Germany? That Hitler was the last person heıd find here? A nation of women. God, heıd go absolutely ballistic when he heard that. And did he realize heıd forgotten the keypad and had no way of returning home without Kellyıs help? She closed her eyes, trying to block out the vision of Mirzaıs terrified, tear-streaked face.
Suddenly, there was a high-pitched beeping. Gina! She excitedly pulled the keypad from her pocket and read the small screen.
WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE?ı
Kelly typed back slowly, wishing sheıd tried harder in typing class, I love you, too. Couldnıt let Cantner get away.ı
Screw Cantner. COME HOME NOW! PLEASE!ı
No telling what he might do here.ı
Where are you?ı
Kelly chuckled, saying aloud, "You called it, babe.² She typed, Amazonia. Just like you said. Congratulations. Youıre a genius.ı
A long moment passed before the next reply.
Way.ı Kelly laughed again.
Honey, Iım worried about your return. I donıt know how long the keypad will function. Please, youıve got to come home. Now, please!ı
Kelly felt a small pang of panic in the pit of her stomach, but fought to ignore it. Gotta have more time. Iıll find him. Gina, heıs already killed here.ı
There was another long pause.
I donıt like this. I really, really donıt like this at all. Get the bastard and come home, do you understand me? I want you here with me. Iım scared.ı
Me, too. Iıll be back as soon as I can. Donıt worry.ı
Yeah, right. Be careful. Please be careful, Kelly.ı
I promise. I love you.ı
I love you back.ı
Kelly sighed and put the keypad on the small table and tried not to worry about the return trip - whether or not there would even be one. She glanced around the small room. The hut was a charming little shack, complete with a fireplace, the torch sending warm flickers of light throughout. There was a small table and chair, a bed and a clothes rack, where she hung her backpack and windbreaker. On the table was a wash basin and pitcher of water. She had known there would be no bathroom, but was disappointed just the same to find out she was right. She made a mental note to make a trip to the woods before Xena and Gabrielle left her alone. The idea of baring her butt in the pitch-black, unfamiliar forest with nobody standing guard was not a thought she relished.
There was a light tap on the door and Xena and Gabrielle entered together. Xena walked over to Kelly and dropped a small pellet of metal, twisted and stained red, into her hand.
"You were right,² she said. "Saras and I dug this out of Mirzaıs shoulder.²
"Howıs she doing?²
"Sheıll be okay. Itıs just going to take some time.²
"We need to talk about this Cantner,² Xena prompted. "The Amazons want him brought back here to stand trial for killing Arla. Problem is, nobody knows what he looks like, except Mirza, whoıs still in and out of conciousness, and you.²
"Youıre right. Itıs time I told you why Iım here.² Kelly sat up and patted the bed next to her, motioning for Gabrielle to have a seat. Xena took the chair, spinning it around and sitting so she was leaning forward against the back.
Kelly took a deep breath. "This is going to be hard for you to believe, but I swear to you, I am telling you the absolute truth.² She thought for several minutes, trying to decide the best place to start. "David Cantner is referred to as a white supremacist where I come from. He is an evil, hateful man who hurts and kills people who donıt agree or fit in with his perception of the perfect world.²
"Sounds like a lot of people weıve met,² Gabrielle commented.
"I live in a small city in Upstate New York in America.²
They shook their heads and shrugged blankly.
"Across the ocean?² Kelly tried.
"Valchris, right?² Gabrielle smiled. "You said you were Kelly of Valchris.²
Kelly decided it was easier to leave it than try to explain what a surname was, so she simply nodded at the sweet bard. "Right. Valchris. Anyway, my younger sister Amy was a nurse at a medical clinic back home. She was the kindest, sweetest, most loving person I have ever known. We were very, very close.²
"Your sister was a healer?² Gabrielle asked.
"Yeah, she was a healer. One of the best. Her patients just adored her.²
Gabrielle felt a sense of dread at the story. "I have a sister, too. What happened?²
"Cantner didnıt agree with some of the medical procedures that took place at the clinic. So he blew it up. The whole place burned to the ground in a matter of minutes, with thirty-seven people inside.²
"Including your sister.² Xena stated.
"Including my sister.²
"Thatıs horrible,² Gabrielle whispered. She put her hand on Kellyıs. "Iım so sorry.²
"Yeah, me too.² Kelly was grateful for the contact. "Since that day, I have vowed to get Cantner and make him pay for Amyıs death as well as for all the other innocent people heıs hurt because they donıt fit into his plan,² she sneered. "But the bastard has always managed to stay one step ahead of me, thanks to Kraus.²
Xena recognized the name from earlier in the day. "Who is this Kraus?²
"Kraus is the brains behind Cantner. Right now, he is in the custody of the authorities, thank god.² At more blank looks, she rephrased. "Heıs in jail. See,² she stopped in midsentence. "God, how do I explain this? See, Kraus is a highly intelligent man. Brilliant evil is a very scary thing.²
Gabrielle instantly thought of Callisto, of Caesar. "Tell me about it.²
"Kraus created a machine. A time machine.²
"A time machine.² Xena echoed.
"Yeah. A machine that can send a person back in time. Into the past.²
"I was chasing Cantner yesterday. I chased him into Krausı office and he jumped into the time machine before I could stop him.²
"Uh huh.² Xena was looking very skeptical and Gabrielle had stopped commenting altogether. Kelly nervously began to ramble.
"See, Krausı plan was to send Cantner to Germany to meet with Hitler, but Gina had been playing with the dates on the machine....Ginaıs my... uh... friend who went undercover as Krausı research assistant. Sheıs even more brilliant than he is and she picked up on the time machine technology right away. Anyway, she was just playing with times and dates and sheıs been fascinated lately with the whole idea of an Amazon nation and she was trying to set the machine for Amazonia just for giggles. When Cantner ran in, with me on his heels, he didnıt stop to think. He just jumped in, assuming it was already set for 1920s Germany, and he ended up here. We got Kraus before he could follow, but we didnıt think the police would believe the whole time machine thing. People are very skeptical in the future, you know. So we just said Cantner got away. Kraus thinks Cantnerıs in Germany and heıs expecting history to be changed any time. He doesnıt even care that heıs in jail.²
"The future?² Xena asked.
"You said People are very skeptical in the futureı.²
"Yeah, I did, didnıt I?² she smiled nervously. "See, Cantner and I both, weıre, um, from the future.²
"The future,² she repeated.
"Yeah,² Kelly sighed. "I told you this would be hard to swallow. Xena, I have no reason to lie to you.²
Gabrielleıs mouth was opening and closing silently, as if she couldnıt figure out how to make sound. Xena just looked at Kelly. "I guess that would explain the clothes,² she mumbled.
Kelly picked up the keypad off the table and held it toward Xena. "See this? This is my connection to Gina. She just contacted me a few minutes ago.²
Xena held it so Gabrielle could look. "It says I love you backı,² the bard said. Kelly flushed a deep pink.
Xena looked up at Kelly. "This Gina, is she your partner?²
Kelly swallowed hard. "My partner?²
Xena rolled her eyes. "Partner, lifemate, significant other, like me and Gabrielle.²
Kelly was surprised by Xenaıs openness. "Um, yeah, she is.²
"Why isnıt she here with you?²
Kelly chuckled bitterly. "Well, she didnıt want me to come. Sheıs... um... not real happy with me right now. I sort of snuck into the time machine without her knowledge.²
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows in surprise. "You did?²
"I was afraid of what Cantner would do if he really showed up in an Amazon village. Heıs not big on womenıs rights, you know.²
"You think he killed Arla simply because she was a woman?² Gabrielle asked incredulously.
"Itıs possible. He kills for a number of ridiculous reasons. Heıs just a sick, sick man. Heıs a chauvenist, heıs prejudiced against blacks, Jews, Catholics, heıs homophobic, the list is endless.²
Gabrielle said quietly, "Arla was dark-skinned.²
Kelly nodded. "That would do it for him.²
With a sudden thought, Kelly reached into her backpack and pulled out a folded up piece of paper and a pen. Unfolding the sheet, she spread it on the table. "See? This is a copy of a map showing where Cantner was *supposed* to end up.² She used the pen to circle a spot. Gabrielle gasped.
The warrior and time traveller both turned to her. "What?² Xena asked.
The bard pointed at the pen. "What is that?²
Kelly looked at her own hand. "This? Itıs a pen. Why?²
Gabrielle was in awe. "Like a quill? Could I see it?² she asked shyly.
"Sure,² Kelly smiled, understanding that pens were not something common to this time. She was willing to bet the bard would be equally fascinated with paper. "Wait, Iıve got something else you might like.² She went back to her pack and rummaged around, coming up with a small, spiral-bound notepad. "Here.²
Gabrielle tore her attention away from the ink-filled piece of plastic in her hand and gasped again at the notepad. "Itıs a book.²
"A blank book,² Kelly supplied, opening to the first, crisp, blank page. "Here. You can write whatever you want in it.²
Gabrielleıs eyes lit up as she fondled the strange-feeling parchment and immediately began to experiment, writing with the pen in her notepad from the future. Xena smiled at the child-like look on her loveıs face. Kelly watched for a few moments, happy to have been able to give something to the kind young woman. Then she returned to the map and addressed Xena.
"As I said, Cantner thought he would end up here, in Germany. We werenıt quite sure exactly where heıd gone. I just took a chance that Iıd be able to follow him to the same place,² she chuckled with very little humor. "Time travel can get pretty complex.²
Xena looked deeply into Kellyıs green eyes. "And you followed him here even though you werenıt sure if he actually *was* here? Just to protect a village that you thought *might* exist?²
Kelly blinked several times. "A village of women. Yeah.²
Xena felt a mix of suspicion and admiration toward this strange woman who claimed to be from the future. She was quiet for several minutes, finally saying, "Your story is certainly unbelievable, but as you said, I see no reason for you to make it up. Whether or not I believe you, we have to stop this monster Cantner before he hurts somebody else.²
"Absolutely.² Kelly exhaled the breath she hadnıt realized sheıd been holding and pointed to the keypad. "You should know that he forgot to grab this keypad before he entered the time machine.²
"So he canıt get home without it.²
Xena nodded with understanding.
"I think we should go back to the spot where Arla was killed, the same spot where you found me,² Kelly suggested. "Cantner would have stayed there at least for a while if he thought Kraus would pick him up. We should start there.²
Xena nodded again. "We need to get some rest, but weıll head out first thing in the morning.²
"Do you believe Kellyıs story?²
The couple lay in a big, soft, fluffy bed in the Queenıs Hut. The bardıs head was tucked in the crook of Xenaıs neck; one leg thrown over the warriorıs thighs and her arm draped across the warriorıs waist. Xenaıs arms were wrapped loosely, but possessively, around the smaller body. Both were naked under the blankets, yet too exhausted to do anything but enjoy the closeness of each other.
Xena sighed deeply. Gabrielleıs was a question sheıd been asking herself ever since they left the stranger in the guest hut.
"I donıt know.²
"If what she said is true and she came through some sort of time machine to save this Amazon village from Cantner, when she wasnıt even sure if this is where heıd end up, does that make her incredibly brave or incredibly insane?²
Xena chuckled and kissed the top of the blonde head. "Thatıs a very good question, Gabrielle.²
After pondering for a few moments, Gabrielle stated through a yawn, "I say brave. She could have easily just let him go; destroyed the time machine to ensure he couldnıt return and let the Amazons fend for themselves.²
"I suppose she could have,² Xena agreed, wondering what she might have done, given the same situation. "*If* her story is true.²
"If her story is true.²
Kelly tossed and turned in her unfamiliar surroundings for what seemed like hours before falling into a fitful sleep where her dreams melted into nightmares.
She was making love to Gina in their bed, in their apartment, the sounds and smells and touches beautifully real. Gina moved with her, under her, passionately connected to Kelly at the mouth, each tongue seeking to own the other. She slid her hand between Ginaıs olive-skinned thighs and felt the silken heat of their loveıs desire as Ginaıs legs suddenly wrapped around Kellyıs waist. She felt the beginnings of her own flood as she very slowly slipped a finger into the gorgeous woman beneath her and heard her gasp, "Oh, God, Kelly.²
"Excuse me, Kelly?²
Kelly whipped her head around in confusion at the voice behind her, only to find her sister Amy standing in the bedroom doorway.
"Kelly, could I talk to you for a minute?²
Kelly pulled herself up to her knees, all effects of what sheıd been doing suddenly gone, and gaped at her dead sister. "Amy?²
Suddenly, a deafening explosion rocked the little apartment. A blinding flash of red-orange light shot through the doorway sending smoke and fire into the room. Kelly jumped up from the bed in a panic, suddenly dressed in her jeans and sweatshirt. "Amy!!² When she got to the doorway, there was only blackness. All the fire, smoke and noise were gone. So was Amy.
Kelly turned back to the bed, only to find Gina gone, too. She flew to the bed and tore at it, as if Gina would be merely hiding under the sheets. As she pulled frantically at the linens, she heard a tapping sound. She looked up to find Gina floating outside the bedroom window calling her name.
"Kelly? Where are you?²
Kelly ran to the window, puzzled by the fact that Gina didnıt seem to see her, never mind that she was indeed floating. "Gina? Iım right here, sweetheart.² She waved her hands in front of Ginaıs brown eyes. She didnıt seem to notice. Kelly pulled at the sash. It wouldnıt budge. "Gina? Honey? Canıt you see me?²
"Kelly? Donıt leave me. Come back.²
Kelly began banging on the window. Gina didnıt flinch, just kept calling for her lover, sounding further and further away, though she stayed in the same spot.
"Iım right here! I didnıt leave! Iım right here!²
Kellyıs panic was rising to dangerous levels. She picked up a lamp and threw it at the window. It bounced off ineffectively and crashed to the floor. Gina didnıt see it, she just kept calling Kelly. Each mention of her name felt like a stab in the heart. Kelly fell to her knees, sobbing on the window sill, her hands pressed against the glass. "Iım right here,² she kept whispering. "Iım right here.²
When Kelly opened her eyes, she was not at all surprised to find fresh tears on her cheeks. The dream had seemed so real. She remembered every detail with vivid clarity. The combination of losing both her sister and Gina at the same time was nearly too much, and her eyes welled up once again.
Realizing more sleep was impossible and, frankly, frightening at this point, she got up and opened the door to her hut. Although it was barely dawn, there were several Amazons milling about, many pairs holding hands. Kelly took a deep lungful of fresh air, savoring the smell of no pollution. Birds were beginning to sing in the distance, and the sky was a gorgeous shade of indigo.
Two Amazons sat on a bench near the well in the center of the village, clearly visible to Kelly. They sat very close together and conversed in hushed but happy tones. To Kellyıs surprise, one leaned over and placed a long, tender kiss on the lips of the other. Kelly watched with envy. No shame. No fear. No eyes darting around to see if anybody noticed what had just taken place. Only love. Pure, simple love. It filled her heart with hope until she realized that this was actually the past. She wondered sadly how the human race had gotten things so pathetically backward.
"Morning, Kelly.² Gabrielle said this in mid-yawn, her green eyes barely open. She was carrying a tray piled high with various pastries and fruit, obviously on her way back from the food hut.
"Xena must eat like a horse,² Kelly joked, nodding to the tray.
"Oh, no,² Gabrielle said matter-of-factly. "She already ate. This is mine. Care to join me? I was going to eat in our hut, but there are always people fussing over me there.² She was clearly uncomfortable with that. Then she smiled as she admitted, "Plus, I may be too tempted to go back to sleep and Xena would have my head. Sheıs in the stables with Argo. Can we eat in your hut?²
Kelly was grateful for the company and waved Gabrielle through the doorway, taking a final glimpse at the couple near the well.
"Gabrielle, can I ask you something?²
"Sure.² The bard bit into a sticky cinnamon roll. Kelly sat on the bed and began to peel a banana.
"Do you and Xena ever run into... trouble of any kind because... youıre a couple?²
"Because weıre a couple?² She scrunched her eyebrows together, trying to understand. " No, I donıt think so. What kind of trouble do you mean?²
"Well,² Kelly tried to think of the best way to explain it. "Trouble like people being mean to you because you love Xena and not a man. Like itıs wrong or sick.²
Gabrielle looked surprised. "Wrong or sick? No! Weıve gotten occasional remarks, but mostly from men whose egos are bruised because we didnıt notice them.² She laughed through a mouthful of pastry. "Ares hates that weıre together. Thatıs only because he wants Xena for himself and she wonıt give him the time of day.²
"Ares?² Kelly raised her eyebrows in disbelief.
"God of War.²
Gabrielle sank her teeth into her third cinnamon roll and cocked her head in an inquisitive manner. "Why do you ask? Do you have... trouble... where you come from?²
"Letıs just say that the progress of the future hasnıt always gone forward.² She bit into her banana and chewed slowly, thinking again of the Amazon couple and shaking her head sadly, wishing Gina was there to see it, as Kelly was sure sheıd never believe it.
Gina woke with a start and lifted her dark head off the desk, unable to remember when she had actually fallen asleep. She had been afraid to leave the time machine, just in case. Sheıd had her first nightmare since she was a child, and it unnerved her. She didnıt remember much of it, just that she was looking for Kelly and could feel her near, but couldnıt find her no matter how hard she tried. The feeling scared her.
She stood and stretched her stiff muscles, working the kinks out of her neck. She looked at the keypad, frightened to realize that the small, electronic device was the one and only thing keeping her connected to her lover and terrified that it would just evaporate before her eyes, taking Kelly away forever. She understood most of the technology about Krausıs machine (damn, he was brilliant!), but there were aspects she was unsure of and could never be sure of without his help, assuming he himself knew all the ins and outs. She put on a pot of coffee and sat at Krausı desk once again to review the basic facts she knew.
One, the keypad was *key*. She didnıt know how exactly it worked, but there was no return trip without one in the hands of the traveller and one back at the machine. You could go through without one, but you couldnıt get back. Two, there were only two keypads. Kelly had one and Gina had the other. Kraus must not have had a chance to create more. Three - and the most frightening of all - battery life. Though Gina could easily replace the batteries in her own keypad, she had no way of getting a spare to Kelly, and she had absolutely no idea how long the one Kelly did have would last. If it died, or if the keypad was damaged in any way, that was it. There was no way for Kelly to return to her. She cursed Kraus then, such a brilliant man, yet he was unable to come up with a better power source than an Energizer. Gina couldnıt dwell on this little tidbit for too long because, quite honestly, it scared the hell out of her.
Gina flipped her planner open to the clear plastic page containing her pictures and smiled fondly at the two faces smiling at each other. It was taken last Christmas, and a larger version of it sat on the nightstand in their apartment. They had been sharing a moment, and their good friend Mike had snapped their picture, unbeknownst to them at the time. Their foreheads were touching, both had big smiles on their faces, and they were gazing lovingly into each otherıs eyes. Gina ran her fingertips lightly over the outline of Kellyıs face, following the finely chiseled lines over the ruffled bangs and across the top of the dark hair pulled back into a loose ponytail behind the head. This beautiful woman was her soulmate, her only family, and she knew in that instant, without a doubt, that she absolutely could not -- *would not* -- live without her.
She snatched up the keypad and began to furiously punch in letters.
Kelly? Are you there? Can you read this?ı
Several minutes went by before a reply finally came. Gina didnıt realize she was holding her breath until she exhaled forcefully and with relief. Hi, Sweetheart. Reading you loud and clear.ı
Are you ready to come back now?ı She was whispering "please, please, please² over and over again under her breath.
Not yet. Hopefully soon. Weıre on our way to find Cantner now. It is so beautiful here, Gina. Youıd love it. Itıs clean, friendly, all women (!) and get this -- no prejudice! The Amazons walk down the street holding hands and itıs okay! Itıs like Provincetown, BC!ı
Gina couldnıt help but smile at her loverıs enthusiasm for her surroundings, apparent even through simple letters on a screen. The surge of love she felt made the icy fist of fear close tighter around her heart. Soon, Kelly sent another message.
Gina? Everything okay?ı
"No, everything is NOT okay!!² she screamed at the keypad. "I need you to come home now!! Iım scared Iım never going to see you again!!² A tiny whimper escaped her throat before she collected herself enough to type.
Fine. Iım just worried, and I miss you. Hurry up, okay? Remember the battery.ı
Okay, honey. Iıll keep it in mind. Hopefully, weıll find him quickly, and Iıll be back in a flash.ı
Iıll check for you in a couple hours, okay?ı
Kelly, please be careful.ı
Always. Hold dinner for me. I love you.ı
I love you back.ı
Gina sighed and managed to hold her composure for a good three minutes before dissolving completely into heartwrenching sobs she thought would never end.
Kelly was quiet for most of the journey through the woods. Even Gabrielle had trouble engaging her in conversation, which was hard for the talkative bard to accept. Xena noticed that Kelly glanced at the keypad every few minutes. Sheıd scrutinize the screen, tap at it, then return it to the pocket of her peculiar pants until a few more minutes went by. Then sheıd repeat the routine.
Xenaıs mind returned to Kellyıs clothing. It certainly was different. The pants were the same ones she wore the day before, made of the heavy blue material. The small metal weapon was tucked in the waistband at the small of her back. She had a black hat with an X on the front on her dark head that shaded the sun from her eyes. Kelly had the same sweatshirt from yesterday on when they first left, but the sun had grown warm quickly. She had removed it, revealing a simple white shirt with no sleeves. Xena was appreciative of the well-defined shoulders and taut arm muscles. In a sudden realization, the warrior noticed that Kelly was built very much like she was, with the same dark hair, bronze skin tone, and tall, lean frame.
At that moment, she felt eyes on her. She turned to meet the green gaze of her bard that very obviously said, "And exactly what are you gawking at?² She cast her eyes down and smiled sheepishly, embarrassed that sheıd been caught looking. Gabrielle was smugly satisfied that she had actually busted the Warrior Princess.
"So, Kelly. Tell me about your home,² Gabrielle inquired, her eyes sparkling with the possibility of a new story to tell. "Whatıs different between your time and this one?²
Kelly smiled, grateful to be able to take her mind off the battery in the keypad. "Whatıs *not* different? The people are different, the land is different, the houses are different. There are so many machines in the future, Gabrielle. They take care of a million different tasks.²
"Like what?² Gabrielle prodded. Xena smiled at the childlike excitement in the bardıs eyes.
"Letıs see. Machines for transportation. We donıt use horses, not for general transportation anyway. We have automobiles or cars for short. Nobody walks anywhere in the future.² She smiled. "We have planes, trains, and automobiles.²
"Automobiles.² Gabrielle rolled the word around in her mouth, trying to get a feel for it.
Kelly held up the keypad. "There are machines for communication. Like this one. We also have telephones where you can hear the voice of the person youıre calling hundreds of miles away.² Xena threw her a sidelong glance.
"No, really!² Kelly defended herself and began using an invisible phone, punching numbers in the air and holding an imaginary receiver to her ear. "You have your own number at your house, I can dial your number on my telephone and yours will ring. Then you pick it up and talk to me on it.²
"Youıre kidding!² Gabrielle said with disbelief.
Xena also looked unconvinced. "Sounds like people are lazy in the future.²
Kelly thought about that one, realizing with some dismay that Xena was absolutely right and decided not to even attempt an explanation of television.
They soon reached the exact spot where Kelly had entered their time zone. Xena squatted to examine the ground while Kelly scanned the landscape with her eyes. There was no immediate sign of Cantnerıs presence, but that was to be expected. He wasnıt stupid.
"I think weıre going to have to split up,² Xena concluded with a sigh as she stood. "There are too many tracks and markings here. I canıt tell which are his.²
Gabrielle and Kelly each nodded silently, neither thrilled with the idea. Gabrielle was a little nervous, flashes of Mirza racing through her mind. As for Kelly, throughout all the anticipation of catching Cantner that sheıd experienced over the past six months, sheıd never actually thought about standing face to face with him. She had no idea what she would do in such a case.
"Okay, remember, weıre only looking for signs right now,² Xena instructed. "*Do not* confront him alone, if you can avoid it. The manıs dangerous. And remember, heıs got a... a...² she looked to Kelly for help.
"Gun. Watch out for the gun, okay?² This was solely for Gabrielle, and Xenaıs voice softened just a touch. "Donıt let him point that thing at you.² Gabrielle nodded with understanding.
"Kelly, since youıre not as familiar with the area, you concentrate your search in this general vicinity. Gabrielle, you take the east near the hill, Iıll go west toward the river. Weıll meet back here in exactly one hour.²
When Kellyıs watch told her that an hour had gone by, she headed back to the spot where the trio had originally divided. She had scoured the area to no avail. David Cantner had hidden himself well.
As she came out into the open, she saw Xena approaching from the other side of the clearing and marveled at the fact that the warrior had also returned in exactly one hour, even though she had no watch. "Anything?² she asked the blue-eyed woman.
Xena nodded. "Thereıs a matted area and some scrape marks on the riverbank where he may have hidden, but theyıre not from today.²
Kelly thought for a moment, then spoke aloud. "Heıd need a vantage point. Heıd want to hide someplace where he could still keep an eye on this spot. Heıd know the Amazons would come looking for him, but he wouldnıt want to go too far. He has no idea Kraus is locked up. He thinks Kraus will either send for him or send him help.² She suddenly had another thought. "Unless...²
"Unless what?² Xena asked.
"Unless he knows Iım here.² She and Xena had the same idea at the same time and both turned their gazes up toward the hill, squinting in the sunshine. Xena shaded her eyes and saw exactly what she was afraid sheıd see.
Standing in an opening among several trees on the peak of the hill was a man dressed in strange clothing, similar to Kellyıs. He was too far away for Xena to make out much more than his general size and coloring. She had no trouble, however, making out the details of the shorter, female figure whoıs neck he had a muscular arm wrapped around. Her arms seemed to be fastened behind her back, and he was holding a gun in his other hand.
"Gabrielle.² She snarled the name, not sure if she was more concerned for the bardıs safety or angry that she had allowed herself to be caught in the first place.
"Oh shit,² Kelly whispered.
"Kelly!² Cantner shouted in greeting, a smile in his voice. "Iım beginning to think you have a thing for me, the way you follow me all over the place! Iım flattered! And I thought you only went for chicks. Maybe thereıs hope for you yet!²
"Fuck you, you sick son of a bitch!² Kelly shouted back, fire in her eyes.
"I think if anybodyıs in a position to do any fucking, itıs me, donıt you agree?² He forced Gabrielleıs chin up with the barrel of the gun, grabbed a handful of her hair and kissed her roughly on the mouth. Xenaıs fists were clenching and unclenching, as were her jaw muscles. "Quite a catch I have here, huh?²
Xena caught Kellyıs arm as she took an angry step forward. "Easy, Kelly...²
"What do you want, Cantner?²
"Hel-lo!² he shouted sarcastically. "Letıs try to stay with the program, Kelly! Your presence here tells me I can no longer count on Kraus. Seems youıre the only way home. I want that keypad! I want you to bring it up here - you alone - leave your Amazon beast woman down there. Iıll be waiting patiently with my date!² He kissed Gabrielle on the cheek and slid his hand over her breast. She was unable to wriggle out of his iron grip. "And because Iım feeling generous today, Iıll even give you an hour to weigh your options! After that, Iım afraid Iıll have to end this beautiful life here in my arms!² He looked at his hostage and added as an afterthought, "after I have a little fun with her, of course!² With that, he and a still struggling Gabrielle disappeared over the hill.
Xena silently seethed. Only the vision of her breaking the hand that had dared to touch Gabrielleıs breast calmed her down.
"Goddammit!² Kelly spat when they were out of sight. "Damn him! Iıll kill the bastard!² Even in an entirely different time, Cantner managed to stay one step ahead of her. It was infuriating and she didnıt know how much longer she could stand it. She jumped in surprised as Xena grasped her arm and pulled her quickly into the trees and out of sight of the hill.
"Give me your clothes.²
"Your clothes. Take them off,² she ordered as she began tugging at Kellyıs jeans. "Switch with me. Now.²
"What are you talking about?² Kelly asked, slapping at the warriorıs hands.
Xena stopped and looked Kelly square in the eye. "Kelly, you know this Cantner. Is he the kind of guy that keeps his word? Heıs expecting to get the keypad and return to your time. What reason does he have to not hurt Gabrielle? Not to kill her? Or all of us, for that matter? According to your description of him, thatıs what he does. Thatıs who he is. Right?²
Kelly was quiet for a moment, absorbing the warriorıs words. Cantner was evil and at this point, he had nothing to lose. If he decided he suddenly had the urge to rape Gabrielle, thatıs what heıd do, without a second thought. Kill her? No problem. She finally nodded. "Right.²
"Well, Iım not gonna let that happen, are you?²
"No, heıs hurt too many people already,² Kelly stated, returning Xenaıs gaze. "Youıve got a plan?²
"You donıt think Iım gonna let him have his way with Gabrielle, kill the lot of us, take the keypad and disappear forever, without answering to the Amazons, do you?²
"Iım thinking youıve got a plan.²
"Thatıs right,² Xena nodded. "Arms up.² She pulled Kellyıs tank top over her head.
Xena was taken totally off guard by the comfort of Kellyıs strange clothing. The *jeans*, as Kelly called them, were surprisingly soft, despite the seeming stiffness of the material. She sighed involuntarily as she slipped her foot into the white leather shoes and laced them up.
Kelly beamed. "Nice, huh?²
"Wow. Where did you get these?²
"Theyıre Nikes. Nothing like em.²
"Nikeıs?² Xena was suddenly angry. "Howıd you get them? Did she give them to you?² Her eyes narrowed accusingly. "Or did you take them?²
"I got them from the shoe store, Xena,² Kelly defended herself sarcastically. "How did *you* get *yours*?²
"Certainly not from the temple of a goddess,² Xena replied with disgust, her disdain for all things godlike apparent in her tone.
"Temple of... okay, wait a minute. Hang on,² Kelly held up a hand, making the connection. "Goddess of Victory, right?²
"Where I come from, Nike is a shoemaker. Okay? No goddess. I swear.² She shook her head. "Do you *always* think the worst of people?²
"Yes. And Iım usually right.² Xena eyed her suspiciously for another moment, then gave in, wondering why she always seemed to believe this woman. She turned to Kelly and held her arms out from her sides. "What do you think?²
"Thatıs much better,² Kelly nodded. The two women were almost exactly the same size. Everything thing fit perfectly, although it had been like pulling teeth to get Xena to wear the bra. She didnıt seem to understand the problems caused by a white tank top with nothing underneath. Hell, it had caused problems for Kelly just to look at the warrior in that state. Looking at her now, Kelly smiled inwardly at the thought of Xena in the local gay bar and the appreciative stares she would certainly collect. She silently wondered how the exact same pair of jeans could look so much better on Xena than they did on her. Xena was a sight to behold, that was for sure. Now the finishing touch...
"But can I pass for you?²
Kelly stepped close to the warrior and tugged the X-Files hat onto her head, pulling her hair through the back and gathering it with her white scrunchy. She pulled the brim low enough to obscure some of Xenaıs face. She tucked the keypad in the pocket of the jeans. Then she stepped back, observed her handiwork and nodded with satisfaction. "I think weıre in business.²
"When this is over, we may have to make a deal for these jeans,² the warrior winked.
"Yeah, well it certainly wonıt be a trade for these,² Kelly gestured to Xenaıs leathers and armor, which she now wore.
"Not exactly comfortable, are they?² Xena smiled.
"Not exactly,² she grimaced as the hilt of the sword sheathed on her back once again bonked her in the back of the head. She decided to remove it. It wasnıt like sheıd know what to do with it anyway. Instead, she tucked her pistol into her right boot. "But I look damn good, wouldnıt you say?²
They stood face to face, looking very much like twins at first glance. Both tried to hide their worry. Xena was anxious to rescue Gabrielle, planning a severe scolding of the bard for getting caught in the first place (again). Cantner didnıt scare Xena, but the fact that he had a gun did. She saw what it did to Mirza and she knew Cantner had nothing to lose. The idea of that little piece of metal tearing through Gabrielleıs beautiful flesh was a vision Xena had to literally shake from her head. Cantner wasnıt thinking clearly, as was obvious by his demands. Why not just take the keypad immediately? Why the hour and the meeting at the top of the hill? It seemed silly. Maybe he feared the Amazons were waiting nearby to ambush him. Cantner was close to hysteria, Xena would bet her last dinar on it. The combination of hysteria and the gun was nerve-wracking, as Xena knew even she wasnıt fast enough to stop a bullet, should he fire at any of them.
Kelly was just as anxious. She tried not to think about the battery life in the keypad, not to mention the possibility of Cantner getting his filthy paws on it and leaving her here. She missed Gina and just wanted to be in her arms again. She felt terribly guilty for getting Xena and Gabrielle involved at all, and should anything happen to Gabrielle... Kelly didnıt even want to go there.
"Letıs do this,² the warrior growled.
An hour never seemed so long to Gabrielle. This man gave her the creeps, and she just wanted to be as far away from him as possible. She sat with her back against a tree, just over the ridge from where he had given his demands. Her wrists were tied behind her back and her constant, twisting attempts to free them had rubbed them raw. Cantner was pacing and talking to himself, clearly beyond the realm of reason. She wondered at his choice of action, thinking the same thoughts Xena was less than half a mile away. Why the hour? Why not march down there and just take the keypad? She shrugged inwardly. He wasnıt exactly logical. He had pawed at her, had his mouth on her, hit her (she could still taste blood in her mouth) and told her she was a perfect specimen of the human female, all in the space of twenty minutes.
She was baffled by him.
"I just need to get out of here, ya know?² he said aloud, more to himself than to his prisoner. "I need to get home. This has all been a terrible mistake. If I can just get back, Kraus and I can fix the problem, and everything will be just fine.²
"Why did you kill Arla?² The question was out before Gabrielle had time to think, and she was horrified with herself.
He seemed surprised by her presence, as if he had forgotten she was there. "Who?²
Gabrielle cleared her throat. "Arla. The Amazon woman you shot with your gun. Why did you kill her?²
"Was that the whiney blonde bitch or the bossy black bitch?²
Gabrielle glared at him, her green eyes flashing. "Arla was dark. The blonde girlıs name is Mirza.²
Cantner squatted down until his face was scant inches from Gabrielleıs. "Well they were both pains in my ass. Although the blonde was a babe. Too bad I had to kill her. She probably wouldıve been entertaining, huh? All young and inexperienced. I couldıve taught her a thing or two, I bet.² He smiled a demented smile that sent a shiver down the bardıs spine. She fought hard not to show her fear and instead, delivered a blow of her own.
"Oh, Mirzaıs not dead. As a matter of fact, sheıll be fully recovered very soon. Iım sure sheıll have no trouble identifying you when the Amazons put you on trial for murder.²
The smile slid off his face, and Gabrielle silently gave herself a point.
"Well, theyıll have to catch me first and as soon as that keypad is mine, catching me will be impossible.² He pulled her to her feet by her hair, all playfulness and humor gone from him. "Timeıs up. Letıs go.²
Kelly knew Xena would be upset with her, but there was absolutely no way she was going to sit idly by and wait - as the warrior had instructed her - while this meeting and trade for the keypad took place. She waited for a couple minutes until Xena was far enough away and then began taking her own roundabout route to the top of the hill where she planned to hide amongst the trees, safely out of the way, but still able to see and hear what transpired.
Of course, not being from the same time, Kelly couldnıt possibly be aware of Xenaıs keen sense of hearing and sight. The warrior observed Kellyıs progress off to her left and watched periferally as the time-traveller secured herself behind the trunk of a large tree not five yards away, probably out of sight of Cantner, but not the warrior. She made sure to level a disapproving gaze at the tree, so Kelly would know she wasnıt as hidden as sheıd like to think. Xena smirked in spite of her irritation at having been disobeyed by yet another trouble-attracting female. Gabrielle must be rubbing off on Kelly already. The warrior sighed quietly. The bard would not have stayed put either.
Xena stood for several minutes in the designated meeting spot, surveying the area, trying to figure the best way to get to Cantner before he could fire his weapon. She couldnıt get too close before he would realize he was not dealing with Kelly. She knew she could leap roughly ten yards with little effort. She would have to make her move before he discovered her identity. If she could get behind him before he knew what was happening, she could get the gun and prevent him from firing. Once he was disarmed, he was hers.
She smiled wickedly at the thought of slapping his sorry ass around a bit. She looked forward to teaching him some manners, starting with the proper way to treat a lady.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the approach of Cantner and Gabrielle. Their heads bobbed into view as they neared the peak of the hill. Cantner had the gun trained at Gabrielleıs head and a handful of her hair in his grasp. They stopped there, far enough away so Xena was certain Cantner couldnıt tell it was her. She adjusted the brim of the hat, inching it down to shade even more of her face. She felt more ill at ease than she cared to admit without her sword and chakram.
Cantner definitely had that wild-eyed look of somebody who has just about reached the end of his rope. Xena was sure he was wound so tightly, heıd snap at the slightest provocation. Sheıd have to be very careful. As for the bard, she had a swollen lip, but the fire in her eyes told Xena she was more irritated than scared. A pissed off bard was much more helpful in this type of situation than a frightened one and Xena added that fact to the list of things in her favor at that moment.
"I see you left the Amazon beast woman behind. Smart choice,² Cantner commended her.
Xenaıs lip twitched imperceptibly and she did her best to will his head to explode under her icy blue stare. Nothing happened. She planned to make him pay for that remark, too. She nodded slightly.
"Good. Whereıs the keypad?²
She pulled the electronic device out of the pocket of the jeans and held it in view. "*Itıs now or never,*² she thought. But, before she could even begin her leap, she was interrupted by a high-pitched beeping sound. She looked at the keypad in confusion.
"Must be your little dyke girlfriend,² Cantner sneered. When Xena made no moves, he prodded her. "Answer it.²
>From the trees only a few yards away, Kelly swore under her breath. It was Gina! She had said sheıd call and Kelly had lost track of time, ironic as that sounded now. It had never occurred to her to show Xena how to answer the beeping electronic pad. This was not good. Not good at all.
"Well, answer it,² Cantner repeated gruffly over the shrill beeping, clearly becoming agitated at both the sound and Xenaıs lack of response.
Xena couldnıt remember ever having been at a complete loss before, but the beeping was making her crazy and she couldnıt hear herself think. She shook the keypad to no avail and angrily tried a couple buttons. She made up her mind to spring at Cantner, but when she looked up he was coming toward her, dragging the bard with him. Their eyes met and the deception registered instantly on Cantnerıs face. He growled as his entire face scrunched into an angry sneer. He raised the gun to point it at the warrior.
Gabrielle and Kelly chose to act at exactly the same time.
As Kelly dove from her hiding place to push the warrior out of the way of the bullet that surely had her name on it, the bard did what she could to distract her captor and give Xena a few more precious seconds. She stomped on his foot with every ounce of strength she had. He roared in pain and suprise, pulling the trigger inadvertantly, the shot going wild.
The impact of Kellyıs body hitting Xenaıs knocked the warrior off balance, causing her to lose her grip on the shrieking keypad. It flew into the air, directly into the path of Cantnerıs stray bullet.
The beeping stopped abruptly as the keypad shattered into countless black shards, falling quietly to the ground.
Gina was just beginning to worry, coming up with all kinds of scary reasons why Kelly wasnıt answering the keypad when suddenly all the readouts on hers went blank. Lights, sounds, everything. Shut down. Gone.
She sat staring at it, frozen in time, for countless minutes. She picked it up and shook it lightly. Nothing. She repunched the sequence of keys, attempting to call again. Nothing.
"No,² was all she could whisper as her body became frighteningly cold.
Time seemed to stand still.
Nobody moved. Nobody breathed.
Cantner and Gabrielle stood side by side, watching the remaining pieces of the keypad flutter to the ground. As the reality of the situation sunk in, Cantner slowly let go of the bardıs hair and stood with the gun hanging at his side, shaking his head from left to right in utter disbelief, looking every bit like a little lost boy.
Xena was sprawled flat on her back on the ground. Kelly was sprawled face to face on top of her (she would kick herself later for not taking a minute to imprint the feeling of the warrior beneath her into her memory forever). On her face was the exact same expression as the one on Cantnerıs. She, too, shook her head from side to side, unable to accept what had just happened. In her mindıs eye, everything - everyone - she knew and loved slowly faded from view. "No,² she whispered. "Please, no.²
Cantner moved first. He stumbled to the shards of the keypad and fell to his knees, trying desperately to gather them up and piece them back together, holding the gun loosely in one hand. He was near tears and seemed oblivious to the fact that there was absolutely no way the keypad would be repaired. Most pieces were no bigger than his thumbnail, but he kept gathering, mumbling nonsensically to himself.
Kelly went through a whole gamut of emotions in a matter of seconds. Fear, relief, victory, anger, hatred, fury and finally, white hot rage. It wasnıt enough that Cantner had nearly killed them all. It wasnıt enough that he had hurt and killed countless innocent people. Now, he had succeeded not only in destroying his own world, but in shattering Kellyıs as well.
She slowly raised herself up off of Xena, who sat up and motioned for Gabrielle to come to her. Gabrielle obeyed, conveying her approval of Xenaıs new look in an appreciative nod. Xena tugged at the bardıs bonds, never taking her eyes off Cantner. He was inches from dissolving into a blubbering mess, but Xena still didnıt trust that he wouldnıt whirl around and start shooting. She had to get the gun.
Before she could make a move, however, she heard a rage-filled howl and Kelly threw herself at Cantner, much to the surprise of the young man. Dust flew up as the two of them rolled. Cantner lost the gun immediately and it went skittering off towards the edge of the clearing. When the struggle ceased, Kelly was seated upon Cantnerıs stomach, pummeling him with all her strength and absolutely no mercy.
"YOU SON OF A BITCH! YOU BASTARD! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOUıVE DONE???²
Kelly was screaming wildly, almost incomprehensibly. Gabrielle had never seen such fury. The bard turned to Xena, looking for help, her eyes conveying a message loud and clear to the warrior. Although she normally dealt with the emotional situations, she had no conceivable idea how to take care of this one.
To the surprise of all three women, Cantner did nothing to defend himself other than bury his head in his arms. Kelly continued to beat him with her fists, hurling obscenities through sudden tears. Suddenly, she stood and reached into the top of her right boot, Xenaıs boot, pulling her pistol out of it. Xena held up a cautionary hand, immediately clear on Kellyıs intentions.
"Kelly,² she warned softly. "This is not the way.²
"Shut up!² Kelly spat at the warrior. The tears were flowing freely down her grief-stricken face as she leveled the gun at Cantner, who whimpered and held his hands up in self-defense. "You donıt know anything!²
"Kelly, please...² Gabrielle began. Xena quieted the bard with a glance, silently telling her love to let her handle this one.
"Kelly, believe me, I *do* know. Killing him is not the answer. Youıll be just like him. Is that what you want? Think about what youıre doing.² Xenaıs tone was soft and sympathetic - a tone almost foreign to the warrior princess - and Gabrielle looked at her companion with renewed appreciation.
"I know *exactly* what Iım doing!² Kelly shot back. "Iım ridding the world... *your world*... of a worthless piece of shit who doesnıt have one ounce of compassion in his entire body! All he does is hurt people. He likes to see them suffer. He gets off on that! Heıs a pig!² With that, she kicked him sharply in the ribs. Gabrielle winced, then was shocked to hear the tyrant softly crying. She kicked at him again. "Look at you!² she sneered at him. "Youıre a big, tough man when all your skinhead buddies are around, but separate you from the pack and youıre a little tiny nothing!²
"Donıt you want him to suffer, Kelly?² Xenaıs voice took on a different tone, a conspiritorial tone. "Well, donıt you? Like he makes people suffer? And hurt?²
Kelly blinked the tears back and wiped her forearm across her face, looking at the warrior for the first time since the gunshot.
"Death is too good for somebody like him, Kelly. You know that. What better way to make him suffer than turn him over to the Amazons to stand trial?²
It was clear by the look on Kellyıs face that she was following Xenaıs train of thought. Xena took a quiet step toward her. Cantner lay sniffling on the ground, bleeding and defeated, no longer a threat to any of them. The pistol wavered ever so slightly in Kellyıs grasp.
"Think of your sister, Kelly,² Xena continued, taking another step. "Think of all the people like her that he hurt. Wouldnıt they like to see justice? What fate could be more appropriate than having this bastard locked up forever by a nation of women?² She chuckled at the irony, continuing her approach until she was standing next to Kelly.
"It does seem fitting,² Kelly whispered.
"Doesnıt it? Letıs do that, okay? Here, let me have this.² She softly and gently extracted the gun from Kellyıs fingers. "Good girl.²
Kelly slowly sat on the ground, her gaze focused on nothing. As Gabrielle approached and sat down next to her, Kelly stared at the toes of Xenaıs boots on her own feet, her face revealing no particular emotion at all.
Xena rolled Cantner onto his stomach and - none too gently - bound his wrists behind his back with the same cord heıd used to tie up Gabrielle, resisting the urge to kick him herself.
She turned abruptly when she heard a strangled cry from behind her. Her eyes met Gabrielleıs, the bardıs filled with unshed tears of sympathy for somebody elseıs pain.
Kelly was working through all the anger to reach the sorrow - the hardest emotion to deal with - and had collapsed into Gabrielleıs comforting arms, sobbing uncontrollably for the love she knew she would never see again.
The next couple of weeks went by very, very slowly for Kelly. She tried to be thankful and appreciative of the offer the Amazons had presented her with. She had, according to Ephiny, helped bring justice to Amazonia by leading Xena and Gabrielle to Cantner. They held a ceremony in her honor, overseen by Queen Gabrielle herself. She was given her own private hut and a bid to live among the Amazons as one of them. From what she understood, this was not something proffered to just anybody passing by and she was extremely touched. But just when she thought she was adjusting to her new surroundings, memories of Gina and their life together would flood into her mind and send her Amazonian world crashing down around her ears. Then sheıd have to start the rebuilding all over again. It was exhausting.
Cantnerıs trial went quickly, and he was found guilty, to the surprise of nobody. He never spoke a word in his own defense, even when a vibrant young Amazon named Mirza took the stand and told her story. He just stared blankly into space as she spoke of the heartless murder of her mentor, never meeting her eyes. The sentence, of course, was death, as he had killed an Amazon in cold blood, but Kelly found herself pleading for his life with the Amazon tribunal. After many heated discussions, the tribunal finally relented, with a small bit of the queenıs influence, and the sentence was changed to life in prison. Kelly felt strangely happy about having saved Cantnerıs life, when she had been so willing to take it not very long ago. To her own dismay, she still had trouble forgiving him for what he had done. That was something sheıd need to work on for a long time to come.
Xena and Gabrielle had grown quite fond of Kelly. In the aftermath of Cantner, theyıd formed a strong bond. The warrior surely saw herself in the young time traveller, so full of rage and lust for revenge for her family. She was secretly relieved and oddly proud that Kelly had managed to hold on and pull up before allowing herself to fall into the lonely depths of darkness and hate that the warrior had battled through for so many years. It was no place for a soul as giving and as full of love as Kellyıs. It was no place for anybody.
Gabrielle had been bursting with pride when sheıd watched her warrior talk Kelly out of killing the dispicable and hateful man. It would have been easy to let her. Gods knew sheıd been ready and willing. But Xena had known what it would do to Kelly, how it would only make things worse and she had talked her down. Xena was not good with words and she was even worse with feelings and emotions, but she had done it. It had been a beautiful thing to witness.
The sun was high in the sky, and shone brightly on the young Amazon girls in the field. Kelly was teaching them some sort of game she said they played constantly where she came from. She had set up four flour bags in the shape of a large diamond, and she was standing behind one of them, giving instruction to those gathered around. Gabrielle smiled from her position off to the side, enjoying the relaxation she always felt when with the Amazons, and watched the time traveller teach.
Kelly seemed to be fitting in with the Amazons. She was eager to learn their ways, and she was getting private lessons from Eponin on staff handling. She even sparred with Gabrielle every now and then, and the bard had to admit that she was a very quick study. She tought back to one night last week. As Gabrielle was walking in the moonlight, she had stumbled upon Kelly and her staff. She had been swinging it with all her might at a tree trunk in a blind, grief-stricken fury. This had goneon for several minutes until sheıd collapsed in a heap of sobs to the ground, crying for Gina over and over. Gabrielle had been reminded of the first time sheıd dealt with the death of Xena. She had done exactly the same thing. Feeling suddenly intrusive, she had hurried back to her hut without making her presence known to the distraught woman. Although the wistful looks that would pass across Kellyıs face now were occurring a little less often, Gabrielleıs heart broke each time she saw one. *That will be me if I ever lose Xena,* she thought.
The memories made her wish her warrior princess would hurry back from the last-minute trip. A messenger from Darby had appeared several days ago, asking for Xenaıs presence at one of their town meetings to solve some sort of dispute between its government and its military. Gabrielle had rolled her eyes at this, and once again launched into her familiar tirade about people taking advantage of the warrior instead of working to solve their own problems. Xena had watched her with interest, waited for her to calm down, and told her sheıd be gone no more than a couple days. She then instructed her to look after Kelly, and kissed the top of her head, shaking her own head and chuckling as she went to pack up Argo.
Although she had been gone less than a week, Gabrielle was becoming restless without the warrior, and was anxious for her return, which she expected to be that day. The lost loneliness in Kellyıs eyes made Gabrielle wish for Xenaıs presence. She sighed and returned her attention back to the young Amazons Kelly was tutoring on the meaning of the phrase short stopı.
At times, Xena was amazed by the blindness of people. It would come as no surprise to Gabrielle when Xena told her that the only thing the people of Darby had needed was somebody from the outside to direct their attention to a few facts. After that, they were able to amicably solve their problem and they had thanked the warrior princess profusely for pointing out something that they surely would have seen themselves, had they only taken the time to look.
She chuckled and shook her head as she held loosely to Argoıs reins, and rode at a leisurely pace toward Amazonia. They would make it easily before dinner, and Xena was eager to wrap her strong arms around her bard and lose herself in the sounds, smells and sensations of Gabrielle. Sleeping away from her was becoming more and more difficult, something Xena didnıt often admit to herself. Just the thought of the warmth of the young strawberry blonde brought a contented smile to her lips, and she sighed involuntarily. She immediately rolled her eyes at her own sudden sentimentality. Then she smiled again.
Xena and Argo were just approaching the border of Amazonia, when the warrior noticed a figure up ahead, walking slowly. It was definitely a female, and she seemed a little off balance at times, stumbling here and there for no apparent reason. She had just sat down on a rock, steadying herself and breathing heavily, when she noticed the convergence of horse and rider. She jumped up with a start, dropping the sizable bag that had been slung over her shoulder.
Xena narrowed her eyes in suspicion until she was close enough to pull Argo to a stop and stare down to study the woman. Then, she couldnıt keep the grin from her face.
"Um, hi,² the woman said nervously, her eyes darting quickly from horse to rider. She was quite attractive, Xena noticed. She stood about half way between Gabrielle and Xena in height, with dark skin and darker hair. She wore pants that Xena now knew were referred to as jeansı and a simple green shirt. On her feet were some sort of low boot with the same swish-like symbol that were on the Nike shoes the warrior had adored. Her flashing brown eyes were taking in everything they could about the warrior moving slowly down and then back up, finally settling on the ice-blue gaze.
"Hi,² the warrior replied with a knowing smile. "Not from around here, are you?²
"Thatıs one way to put it,² the stranger muttered, more to herself than to the woman on the horse. She slung her bag back onto her shoulder.
"You look lost. Need some help?²
"Iım looking for Amazonia. Am I anywhere close?²
Xena held down her hand with a wry grin and a twinkle in her eye, offering the woman a ride on Argo. "Lady, this is your lucky day. Iım on my way there now and I know somebody whoıll be very anxious to meet you.²
The woman hesitated for a second or two, a puzzled look on her pretty face. Then she shrugged and took the extended hand, surprised by the strength of the woman who easily hefted her onto the horse. Xena gave her time to settle herself comfortably behind the warrior and hung the bag off the saddlehorn. When she seemed firmly ensconced on Argoıs back, Xena glanced over her shoulder. "Ready?²
"I think so,² she replied, shyly placing her hands on Xenaıs waist as the horse started to move.
"Iım Xena,² the warrior offered.
"My name is Gina. I really appreciate the lift.²
Xenaıs smile widened as her suspicions were confirmed. "My pleasure. What brings you to Amazonia?²
The woman sighed heavily. "Itıs a long story and you probably wouldnıt believe it anyway. ²
The warrior chuckled. "Try me. Weıve got a couple hours before we arrive at the village. Itıll help pass the time. Besides, Iım a sucker for a good story.²
Welcome to the world, Allyson!!
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