The smell of fish assaulted her senses. She tried to move and couldnt. Her arms were bound to her sides. Cautiously, Xena opened her eyes and looked around. The bright light shining overhead confused her: she wasnt outside and couldnt detect the scent of candles burning.
Slowly she turned her head, her breath caught. Gabrielle was sitting at her bedside. At first she hoped her friend's death had been a nightmare, but as the warrior glanced at the unfamiliar surroundings she realized she was far from the world she knew.
Nevertheless, her spirits rose as she gazed at the young woman beside her. She had found Gabrielle. Artemis had been right. The bard's very essence had passed down through the ages. The sight of her companion alive and well triggered waves of joy and relief.
Her friend was eating, chewing vigorously as she scrawled notes. The scene was achingly familiar, her mannerisms exactly as the warrior remember them. The sight was so welcomed Xena could have cried. She prayed that the connection between them had also survived time.
Feeling eyes watching her, Gabrielle looked up and quickly put down her papers. "You're awake." She smiled. "How are you feeling?"
Xena shrugged, her throat too dry from the drugs to talk. She watched as her bard pressed cool fingertips to her inner wrist.
"Your pulse is good." Gabrielle said while making an entry on the patient's chart. "You were brought in with a gunshot wound. They had to operate, but youre stable. You seem to be a quick healer."
Xena looked anxiously at her arms, bound securely to the bed. "They put you in restraints," the doctor explained. "You injured some of the people that were trying to care for you. We just want to be sure you dont hurt anyone else. Its only temporary. I promise." She smiled reassuringly, an expression so hauntingly reminiscent of the past that it made the warrior's heart ache.
"Can you understand me?" Xena nodded and stretched her neck swallowing hard.
"Would you like some water?" Her head bobbed eagerly. Gabrielle raised a straw to her lips. The warrior looked at it curiously but parted her lips and drew on the hollow tubing. The cool water felt wonderful on her throat. She drank more, amazed at how cold it was even though the room itself was perfectly warm.
She glanced at Gabrielles sandwich and suddenly felt ravenous.
"Are you hungry? I could call food services." Noting the blue eyes staring at her plate, Gabrielle picked up the uneaten half of her sandwich. "Im having tuna. Would you like some?"
Xena nodded. The doctor put the food down and stood next to the bed.
"Im going to raise you up so you can eat." She pressed a button on the remote and the bed began to move. The warrior jumped.
"Its okay." The blonde reassured, releasing the control. "These beds are a little noisy but you'll be more comfortable sitting up." She followed Xena's gaze. "The controller makes the bed go up and down." Gabrielle repositioned it in her hand so the patient could see. "This button raises your head and this one your feet." The young doctor pressed the button again, finishing her task.
She wondered if they had ordered a CAT scan. Perhaps there was a hidden head injury.
"Ready?" Gabrielle held the sandwich to her mouth. The smell was familiar yet different. Xena sniffed at it, then took a small bite, chewing tentatively. It was good.
"Please." She whispered. The voice sent a tingling sensation down the doctors spine.
"You can speak after all." Gabrielle replied, sweetly.
"Untie me." The young woman looked at her doubtfully. It was the same questioning expression Xena had seen her use so many times in the past. The warrior couldnt help but smile.
"Ill be good. I promise." She raised her brow playfully and Gabrielle couldnt help but laugh.
"Maybe we should wait until the drugs have worn off completely, just to be safe."
"I would never hurt you." Xena said seriously.
The doctors instincts told her that was true. "Im sure you wouldnt. Its the rest of the staff Im worried about. You injured about half a dozen people who were trying to help you the other night."
"I dont remember." She said thoughtfully. "Someone drugged me."
"What can you remember?"
"Three men attacked me. One of them had an odd weapon. I think he stabbed me. I never saw it coming. Thats all I remember clearly." She shifted uncomfortably, unconsciously straining at the restraints.
The doctor noted her discomfort. "Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?"
"Yeah, take these off. I want to get up."
"All the more reason to hold you down." Gabrielle smiled. "You need to get some rest. If you're still feeling okay tomorrow, Ill see what I can do."
Xena leaned back, resigned for the moment to her temporary imprisonment. She had found Gabrielle. That was the most important thing.
"Mhmm." Gabrielle fed her until the last of the sandwich was gone, watching her with great interest.
"Whats your name?"
Gabrielles pulse quickened. "I... ah... thats rather unusual. What about a last name?"
The warrior shrugged.
"A family member I could contact?"
"Do you live around here?"
Xena thought carefully before answering. "I dont think so."
She leaned over to examine the patients head. Her fingers gently probed though the dark hair, feeling for bruises. The warriors face was only inches from the doctors chest. She inhaled deeply. The familiar scent made her heart race.
Gabrielle stepped back. "You have a bump on the back of your head. That might account for the memory loss." Xena felt guilty about misleading her, but didnt see a way around it.
"All things considered, you seem to be doing much better." She smiled and walked to the end of the bed. "Im going to finish my rounds and head home. Let you get some rest."
The dark-haired woman immediately became apprehensive. "Please dont go. I... I..."
"Its okay, Im leaving you in good hands." She smiled and turned go.
"Wait! Where can I find you?"
"Usually Id say right here at the hospital, but Im officially on vacation."
The warrior pulled hard against the restraints. "Please. When will I see you?" Gabrielle watched in disbelief as the restraints began to strain against her incredible strength.
"Easy, Ill be back tomorrow to check on things. Youre my patient now. Ill be taking care of you." Xena relaxed, releasing a heavy breath.
"I want you to sleep while Im gone... okay?"
The warrior nodded reluctantly.
"Good. Ill see you tomorrow then." Xenas eyes followed her until she disappeared out of sight.
Ellie was the first person she saw the next morning. As the woman limped toward her, Xena noted the apprehension in her eyes and sensed that the nurse understood the violence she was capable of. She had the same wary expression the warrior had seen on the faces of countless strangers over the years. Even in this new age, Xena's reputation haunted her.
"Its good to see youve calmed down a bit," Ellie said cautiously.
"I dont remember much of what happened. Im sorry I hurt you." She looked away, saddened to have caused the kind woman pain.
Ellie saw the remorse in her eyes and smiled softly. "Its just a bruise. Ill be fine. What about you? How are you feeling today?"
Xena watched as the nurse wrapped a band tightly around her upper arm. She squirmed as the pressure around her biceps increased.
"What are you doing?" The warrior asked nervously.
"We use this cuff to measure the efficiency of your heart."
"And this?" She looked down at the tubing taped to her other arm.
"That line is used to give you fluids, nutrition and various medications." The nurses explanation only heightened Xena's anxiety.
"Gab went home to get caught up on her sleep. She stayed with you 'round the clock until she was sure you were stable. You had us very worried."
"Was I sick?"
"I think you were hallucinating. Dont you remember?"
"No." The nurse noticed her fidget restlessly against the restraints and tried to think of a way to calm her.
"Would like to watch a little TV? It might help keep you entertained." Xena didnt have the slightest idea what she was talking about.
Ellie pressed a button on the rail of her bed. The warrior jumped as sounds and images appeared in a box on the wall. It was as if she was looking through a window to another world. She was fascinated.
The nurse gave her a quick lesson in the use of the remote and went back to her duties. Xena watched the television with great interest, finding it very educational. In a matter of hours she had learned about everything from toilet bowls to firearms.
Although the TV diverted her attention, her thoughts always returned to Gabrielle. By some miracle, her friend was alive again, her appearance unchanged. And even though the young woman didnt seem to remember her, the warrior could sense a connection between them.
Xena hoped that she could somehow trigger her friends memories in time to bring her through the tear. She had already wasted days convalescing. And although she was much more alert today, she still felt drugged, sluggish. The warrior laid back and tried to relax. If she had any hope of getting them home, she had to get well. To do that, she needed rest.
Soft footsteps awoke her. Xena looked up to see Gabrielle at the foot of her bed, smiling.
"I heard youve been quiet today. You look much better."
She rolled her stiff shoulders. "Id feel better if you would untie me."
"Ill tell you what: Im willing to give it a try." She smiled sweetly, causing the warrior's heart to race.
"Besides, youre costing the hospital a fortune in restraints. You must work out. Ive never seen anyone break them like you have!" The doctor unfastened the right wrist first. Xena winced as she flexed and straightened the arm. With both arms free, she sat up and surprised Gabrielle by immediately pulling back the bandage to examine her wound.
"Is this your work?"
"Well yes, I re-stitched what you tore out."
"Nice job. Shouldnt leave much of a scar." The warrior pressed the bandage back into place.
Gabrielle laughed lightly. "Im a surgeon. Thats what I do."
"Yeah, Ellie told me. Why a surgeon?" Xena asked with interest.
The young woman shrugged. "I wanted to help people, make a difference."
"Ellie says youre very good."
"Well, you shouldnt believe everything Ellie tells you. She's a little biased." Gabrielle smiled.
A shadow appeared in the doorway. Suddenly Xena felt uneasy. When the man entered, she went white. It was Perdicus.
"Gab, you just about ready?"
"Yeah," She turned to face him, then back to her patient. "This is my fiancée, Peter."
The young doctor looked at Xena with concern. "You feeling okay? You look a little pale."
"Fine," the warrior managed. Gabrielle took her pulse. It was a little elevated but nothing to worry about.
She stepped away from the bed. "I have to go now, Peters taking me out to dinner."
Xena could not hide the distress she was feeling.
"Ill see you in the morning. Try to be good. Stay in bed."
The warrior merely nodded.
"Remember: you promised."
Peter put his arm around Gabrielles shoulder as they left the room.
Xena took a heavy breath. The fates were cruel.
Ellie was working the morning shift again. As she approached Xena noticed she was still limping, favoring her right side by leaning to her left.
"A free woman I see." Ellie laughed. The petite womans smile was warm and friendly despite her obvious discomfort.
If you can call this free." She tapped the bed.
"Just like my kids: wanting to run before you can walk."
"Can I get up for just a minute? I'd like to stretch."
"Okay, but let me come around to give you support." Ellie wrapped her arm protectively around the womans waist as she stood. It felt wonderful to be upright. Xena took a few steps without any problem.
As Ellie turned to lead her back to bed, she winced in pain. The warrior stepped behind her and wrapped her arms around her waist. With a quick jerk she lifted her off her feet. Ellie let out a yelp. Her back cracked loudly.
Xena eased her down. "Better?"
Ellie looked stunned. She twisted at the waist and smiled. "Yes. Howd you do that?"
"Just something I picked up. Bend down like you were going to touch your toes." Ellie gave her a quizzical look but did as she asked.
She gently ran her fingers along the womans spine. "You need another small adjustment." Again she wrapped her arms around her.
"Take a deep breath." As she did, the warrior lifted her. Her spine cracked in several place. She held her in the air using the womans weight to help stretch out the spine.
Gabrielle entered the room and froze in horror. "Ellie!"
Xena lowered her to the ground as Gabrielle ran toward them. "Let go of her!" The tall woman quickly released her.
"Its okay Gab. She was just fixing my back." Ellie tested it by turning from side to side. "It feels great. Your patient is a miracle worker."
Gabrielle released a heavy breath. The exasperated expression on her face was so familiar that the warrior had to smile.
"I was being good, like I promised." She said innocently.
Gabrielle turned to her, looking very irritated. "Then why are you out of bed? Lay down. I need to check your stitches. You could have torn them, trying a stunt like that." The young woman was obviously upset and Xena regretted her action.
She sat down and swung her long legs on the bed. "Lie on your side." Gabrielle opened the gown and carefully examined the incision.
She tried apologizing. "Im sorry. I... I could see she was in pain. I didnt think. Im not used to being so careful."
Gabrielle turned and walked out of the room, leaving Xena visibly wounded. Ellie came to her side. "She has a temper, that one. But dont worry, she gets over things quickly."
Before anything more could be said, the young doctor rounded the corner pushing a wheelchair. "If youre feeling that much better, I think its time you got out of bed. Hop in." The dark-haired woman was so grateful her friend was no longer angry that she obeyed without question.
"How about a quick tour?"
The warrior nodded eagerly.
Gabrielle kneeled down to face her. "I didnt mean to be so stern. But, its my job to look after you." Xena was so relieved, she merely smiled.
"Your stitches look great. Ive never seen anyone heal so quickly. Youre remarkable."
"Must be the excellent care," She replied. Gabrielle's eyes brightened at her remark.
Ellie walked over to the nurses' station to answer the telephone. "3C, Ellie speaking."
"Hi, its Peter. Gab forgot to turn her beeper on. Is she there?" Ellie glanced over at her friend. Gabrielle looked relaxed and happy for the first time in a long while. It was a welcomed change. She had not been herself since she announced her engagement.
"No, sorry. She hasnt been in. Ill be glad to tell her you called when I see her." The nurse rolled her eyes and hung up the receiver.
Gabrielle wheeled the chair past the desk. "Well be back in a few minutes."
"Take your time." Ellie said as she flashed her a smile.
They took a leisurely tour. As they passed the nursery, she stopped and pointed out the newborns.
"Where are their mothers?" Xena asked puzzled.
"In their rooms. The babies sleep here so the nurses can watch over them. She looked at Xena curiously.
"Do you have any children?"
The warrior froze, not knowing how to reply. She simply shrugged.
Gabrielle pointed to a fair-haired child that was squirming and gazing up at them. "Isnt she cute?"
She noted the young womans excitement and watched her with interest. "What about you? Do you have any children?"
"No, but Id like to someday." Gabrielle looked at the infant behind the glass. "Id love a little girl like this one." She paused for a beat. "...but with dark hair." She glanced at Xena. "Like yours."
The warriors breath caught. "Oh?"
"Yeah." She shrugged. "Peter has darker coloring." Xena sagged in disappointment..
She glanced down at her watch. "Well, its time we headed back."
They exited the elevator on the third floor and turned the corner. Gabrielle came to a dead stop. In the room to their right a man stood holding a gun on the charge nurse. He was pale and sweaty, obviously in need of a fix. "Unlock the drug closet. Now!"
Before she could react, the robber saw her. He grabbed the nurse around the neck and leveled the weapon at the young doctor. His gun hand was trembling violently.
Instantly, the warrior was on her feet, putting herself between Gabrielle and the gun. She swung her arm wide slamming his hand against the wall with a loud crack. The gun clattered to the ground. Her left fist hit him squarely in the throat. He staggered backward, gasping for breath. With one swift kick, she sent him crashing to the floor.
The dark-haired woman picked up the gun and handed it to the nurse, who looked at her in disbelief.
"You have someone who can take care of this guy?" She questioned.
"Yes, Ill call security... Thanks." Xena quickly sat back in the wheelchair, concerned that her friend would be upset with her again.
Gabrielle quietly steered her to a small waiting room and sat in a chair facing her. She regarded the warrior with awe.
"That was... it was incredible."
Xena shrugged. "Nah, he was easy. Ive been dealing with people like him my whole life."
"How did you learn to do that? Were you in the service?"
"The service?" She asked, a puzzled expression on her face.
"Yeah, the army, navy... you know."
"I... I spent some time with an army."
Gabrielle laughed. "It shows. God, you were great!" The young woman was suddenly full of energy, almost breathless with excitement.
Xena was happy to have done something that pleased her. Her friends smile warmed her to the core.
"My fiancée is a police officer. He has to deal with situations like that all the time." The warrior sat quietly, wondering if Perdicus was as mediocre a fighter in this age as he had been in hers.
Gabrielle continued. "I think its what first attracted me to him. I know its dangerous, but theres something..." She let her words trail off.
"I could show you some moves, if you like." Xena offered.
"That would be great! Ive always wanted to take a self-defense class. I just havent had the time."
The dark-haired woman reached over her shoulder to scratch her back. As she brought her hand back into view, Gabrielles mind flashed to an image of her patient with a sword. She stared ahead mutely.
Xena laid a hand on her shoulder. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I better take you back. I think weve had enough excitement for one day."
Gabrielle was quiet as they made their way down the hall. The vision of a warrior woman preoccupied her thoughts. She was so distracted she never saw Xena pull a flower from a bouquet on a passing cart.
"Here you are," the doctor said, wheeling her alongside the bed.
The dark-haired woman looked beyond her with a quirky smile.
"What is it?" Gabrielle turned her head to see what Xena was looking at.
"Come here." She coaxed. "You have something in your hair."
The young woman stepped forward, curious. With a quick motion, she ran her hand behind the doctors right ear, then brought it forward, displaying a daisy. The young woman beamed as Xena handed her the flower.
"A magician too." Gabrielle smiled warmly. "Thanks. Its pretty." For the first time she was near enough to fully appreciate her patients eyes. The blue was mesmerizing. Something tugged at her, making her feel that if she didnt look away she would be pulled into them.
Xena broke the spell. "I should be thanking you. It was nice to get out of bed."
"Yeah, for me too... I mean... it was nice." She stepped back shyly. "Ill leave the wheelchair for you. Just try not to overdue." Suddenly she felt very warm. "Ah, well... I better be going. Ill see you tomorrow."
Once out of the room the young doctor leaned against the wall in the hallway and brought the flower to her lips. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, inhaling its fragrance.
Ellie stood in the doorway watching. She had never seen her friend so radiant. She practically glowed. The nurse softly cleared her throat. Gabrielle turned to face her, blushing. "I... I..."
Ellie smiled. "She can be very charming when shes not trying to kill someone."
Gabrielle laughed. "Yeah, quite a combination."
"I wanted to let you know that your beeper is off."
"Damn." She reached down and slid the button up. "Thanks."
"And Peter called."
"Gab, we never did have a chance to talk over lunch. Is everything okay?... I mean the wedding and all. Things seem to be moving pretty fast."
Her young friend shrugged. "Peter thought it was time. Hes probably right."
Ellie looked at her sadly. "As long as you're okay with it. Remember, you can always slow things down if you need to."
Gabrielle nodded. "I Ive got to go." She gave her a quick hug, walked a few steps and turned. "Take good care of my patient, huh." She smiled, twirling the flower in her fingers.
As the days passed, Xena graduated from the wheelchair to walking on her own. Even though she was healing nicely, she was still frustrated. Looking out the window of her room, she felt stir crazy, closed in. This was the longest period of time she had ever spent indoors. The warrior missed the wide open spaces and fresh air more than she ever could have imagined.
She heard footsteps and smiled as Ellie entered her room. Xena had grown quite fond of the nurse and Ellie of her. Over the past week they had spent a lot of time together. During that time it became obvious that the dark-haired woman lived for the moments Gabrielle stopped by. Sympathetic to her plight, the nurse decided a change of scenery might be a good idea.
"Im about ready to go to the cafeteria for lunch. You want to come?"
The warrior's face lit up. "Yeah, thanks."
They found a table by a window and Xena looked out longingly, barely touching her sandwich.
"You shouldnt have to stay much longer." Ellie offered.
"Youre doing so well. Im sure Gab will discharge you tomorrow or the next day."
"I see." She said a little hesitantly, her mind already working on the problem of how she would keep in contact with Gabrielle once she left the hospital.
Ellie noticed her concern and spoke up. "Do you have a place to go when you leave here?"
Xena shook her head.
"Well, you could come and stay with my partner and I until you get your feet back on the ground. I have to warn you though, I have three teenager girls who are hell on wheels."
The warrior smiled at her gratefully. "Thats nice of you. I..."
Ellie patted her hand. "You dont have to decide anything now. Think about it."
"Do you live near Gabrielle?" Xena asked.
Ellie couldnt hold back a smile. "Gab lives on the other side of town Im afraid. Bet you're going to miss her."
She shrugged and looked up from her sandwich. "Did she mention when shed be in tomorrow?"
"No, she didnt say. Wait... tomorrows Thursday. In the morning she stops on the childrens ward. She tells them stories, tries to make their hospital stay a little easier."
Ellie noticed she had captured Xenas undivided attention. "You could stop by there, catch her in action. Shes really quite good."
Xena looked at her gratefully. "Thanks. I will." She paused. "Ellie, I was wondering..."
"Ah... about Gabrielle... have you known her long?"
"A while. She did her internship here and has been on staff about a year. Theyre lucky to have her. Shes a very good surgeon and has a wonderful rapport with her patients. They all love her."
"I can see why they would." Xena ate a bite of her sandwich. "Has she been engaged to this guy long?" She failed miserably at sounding casual. Ellie held back a smile.
"That news came as quiet a shock. Their engagement was rather sudden. To be honest, I wondered if she might be pregnant. I couldnt think of another reason for the rush. I guess thats not the case though."
She looked down sadly at her sandwich.
Ellie continued. "Hes the one pushing it. Cant say that I blame him. Shes a wonderful person."
Xena met her eyes. "Is... is he good for her?"
"I think he treats her well enough. But, Im not sure thats the same thing. Know what I mean?" The dark-haired woman nodded.
"Ill tell you one thing, Ive never seen her happier than the last few days. Shes been telling the story of how you handled the guy with the gun all around the hospital."
The warrior smiled. It felt like old times, the bard telling about their adventures. "It was nothing."
"It sounded pretty impressive to me."
"Gabrielle has a way of exaggerating sometimes."
"Does she?" Ellie looked at her suspiciously, puzzled by her comment.
"Ah... I mean..."
"Did you know Gab before you came to the hospital?"
Xena avoided her eyes. "Sometimes it feels like it."
Ellie squeezed her shoulder. "Lifes funny that way. Some paths seem destined to cross."
Gabrielle stood in the center of a large circle of children. Their attention was riveted on her as she told a tale of super heroes with extraordinary powers. Her hands moved in sweeping gestures as she made her story come to life, vivid in every detail.
Xena leaned against the doorway, watching.
The children erupted in cheers as she finished the tale. It filled the warrior with joy to see her friend so happy.
"Tell us another story! Please..."
"Sorry guys. I dont have time today. I have to see a patient of mine. Im late already."
"Pleeease, just a short one." The entire group was pleading.
Xena stepped from the background, catching Gabrielles eye. "Im sure your patient wont mind. Lets hear that story." She settled between two of the children and watched intently.
Gabrielle looked over at Xena and smiled. "Okay what kind of story do you want me to tell?"
A child in a wheelchair spoke up. "A funny one."
"A funny one, huh? Okay let me see." She paused for a moment before she began. "I grew up on a farm with all kind of animals. My favorite was a pig my sister and I named Pinky." Gabrielle gave a mischievous smile. The children's eyes followed her as she walked among them.
"Well, we were kind of poor and one day father told us that he needed to sell her. My sister Lilly and I were really sad. We decided to hide Pinky so that our father wouldnt be able to sell her. That night we snuck outside and lead our pig into the neighbor's barn. We planned to put her in a spot no one would ever look, 20 feet above the ground in the loft." Gabrielle gestured the great distance with arms.
"We tied a rope around a large wooden crate and led her into it. The other end of the rope was threaded through a pulley attached to the ceiling. Now, Pinky was large and very heavy, even for a pig, but with a great deal of effort my sister and I used the pulley to hoist her up level with the loft." Gabrielle grimaced as she pretended to tug an imaginary rope, lifting the pig into the air.
"Lilly and I held the rope steady and waited for her to step into the loft, but Pinky wasn't keen on the idea. She stood fast, refusing to step out of the crate. It became obvious that one of us was going to have to coax her into the loft. Lilly quickly agreed and without thinking released the rope." Gabrielle cast a smile at Xena and the warrior rolled her eyes in understanding.
"Well... I weighed a lot less than our pig so as soon as Lilly let go, Pinky quickly started down and I started up. We passed at about the half way mark and I could see Pinky wasnt any happier than I was. She let out a little grunt as I sped past her." Gabrielle snorted through her nose, mimicking the pig. Xena laughed out loud as she visualized the scene.
"Just as I thought I might shoot straight through the roof, poor Pinky landed with a thud in the hay stack below, bring me to an immediate stop. Dangling 30 feet above the ground, I hung on for dear life and hollered for all I was worth." Gabrielle flailed her legs in demonstration. The children giggled.
"Just when I thought things couldn't get worse, Pinky hopped out of the crate." Xena winced.
"Now, without her weight to hold me up I began to fall very fast. This time passing only the empty crate on the way down. I landed flat on my back in the hay, the air leaving my lungs in one great whoosh." Gabrielle's eyes bugged out as she exhaled hard. Xena smiled and shook her head. She knew what was coming.
"Stunned, I let go of rope... Lilly screamed and I looked up to see the empty crate growing larger and larger as it fell toward me. I rolled out of its path just before it hit the ground, splintering into pieces.
By now, our screams had alerted our parents and drawn a small crowd.
Pinky had had enough of our antics. She let out a squeal and took off running, knocking my father into the watering trough and drenching half our neighbors.
Needless to say, my sister and I were grounded for a month, but father never did sell Pinky. He said he couldnt part with an animal that had more sense than his daughters.
Xena's heart swelled with emotion as she watched the bard finish her tale. She knew no matter what the outcome of her journey here, it had been worth it. This was the Gabrielle she knew so very well. She was as captivating as ever.
After she finished saying goodbye to the children, Gabrielle walked over to Xena.
"Youre very good."
"Thanks, Its a hobby of mine: storytelling." She gave her patient a puzzled look. "How did you know where to find me?"
"Ellie told me. She said you usually stop here on Thursdays, so I decided to come."
Gabrielle smiled. "Shes been talking about me quite a bit lately it seems. What else has she been telling you?"
Xena shrugged. "Not much. She said you might let me leave soon. Is that true?"
"Yeah, thats right." Gabrielle had already kept her in the hospital longer than was customary for her condition and Ellie knew it. Her reluctance to discharge Xena confused the young doctor. She told herself that it wasnt safe to discharge her with no place to go and no one to look after her, but they were just excuses. The simple truth was she didnt want to lose track of her. She was drawn to Xena and enjoyed being around her. Gabrielle wondered if Ellie and Dennis were right. Maybe she did need a vacation.
"Do you think youre ready?" She asked.
Xena was also reluctant and hesitated. "Will I see you again... after I leave?"
"Generally, I would schedule a follow-up appointment at my office but..." She hesitated. "Ill be away on my honeymoon. Of course, Ill arrange for one of my colleagues to follow up with you." Xena tried to mask her disappointment.
Before Gabrielle could say anything more she was interrupted by one of the nurses. "Ellie just called down. Theres some homeless woman in the main lobby that wants to see one of your patients."
"So whats the problem?"
"Well, it seems she refuses to leave her shopping cart."
Xenas face lit up in a smile. "Gert."
"You know her?"
Gabrielle turned to the nurse. "Tell security to send her up. Shopping cart and all."
The dark-haired woman smiled.
Gert entered Xenas room escorted by security. She cried out with delight when she saw the warrior.
"I thought you were dead, laying there in all that blood."
"Im fine, Gert. Glad to see that you werent hurt."
"Nah, those cowards took off running. I went to a phone as quick as I could to call an ambulance, but I never thought youd last until they got there." She looked at Xena with relief. "I woulda come sooner but I had trouble finding you."
"Have a seat." Xena motioned to the chair beside the bed.
Gert pulled a rolled up grocery bag from her cart. "I almost forgot. I brought you a present."
"Yeah," She handed her the bag.
Xena unrolled the top and looked inside. "You found some shoes for me!" Xena exclaimed. She smiled as she pulled the pink high top sneakers from the bag. "Thanks, Gert."
"Why dont you tryum on for size?"
She slipped the sneakers on and laced them up. The old womans kindness warmed her heart. She held her legs out admiring the hot pink shoes. They were a little too large, but Xena never let on.
Gabrielle listened from a distance, not wanting to intrude. Finally, curiosity got the best of her and she joined them. "Nice shoes."
Gert glanced in the doctor's direction and immediately noticed her blonde hair. "Hey, is this the friend you were looking for? That Gabrielle woman."
The young doctor looked up in surprise. Did Xena know her from somewhere after all? Is that why she reacted the way she did when they first met?
Xena ignored the old woman's question, not sure how she could explain. She quickly changed the subject. "Gert, can you tell me where we were when I got shot? I need to get back there."
"Sure. Its right across from Maple Grove Park off North Street, a little alley."
"Is it far from here?"
"'Bout a forty minute walk is all."
The old woman smiled happily. "It looks like things are working out for you, kid. Im glad." She stood awkwardly. "I guess I should go. I wanna be back before dark or someone will take my spot." She grinned. "Its a nice one, outta the rain and over a heating grate. If I know when you're getting out, Ill save you a space."
"Thanks Gert. I appreciate that."
Gabrielle spoke up, turning to homeless woman. "What about the shelters? Isnt there some place you could go?
The independent old woman shrugged. "I guess, but theyre pretty crowded and I kinda like my spot." She smiled proudly. "It was a great find."
The doctor made her way back to the desk. She pretended to look at the chart but was lost in her thoughts. She couldnt get the image of Xena sleeping over a heating vent out of her head.
Ellie interrupted her thoughts. "You discharging her tomorrow?"
"Yes, I think so." She dropped the chart on the counter. "Damn, I hate to think of her on the street." Ellie watched her friend closely.
An idea sparked in Gabrielles mind. "El, any chance you could take her in?"
Suddenly Ellie had an idea of her own and decided not to tell her friend that she had already offered Xena her home. "With the three girls, were really short on space." The young woman frowned and nodded.
"What about you?" Ellie questioned. "Youve got lots of room in that huge condo of yours."
The thought had occurred to her, many times. But she didnt know how shed explain it to Peter.
Ellie grabbed her bag. "Well Doc, Im off shift. I think Ill give Gert a ride, if I can fit the cart in the back of the van."
Her young friend hadnt heard her. She was lost in her thoughts. Ellie turned to her. "I think you should ask her." She smiled. "I know you want too."
Xena was standing at the window when Gabrielle entered.
"Pretty night." The young doctor offered.
"Yeah, I miss laying out under the stars." The warrior said wistfully.
"About that... I dont want to over step my bounds here... I..." She took a deep breath and forged ahead. "Ellie told me that you dont have a place to stay and I thought that, well... I mean... I have an extra room at my place if youd like to stay for a while... until you get ... well, as long as you need to." She stopped and anxiously waited for Xena to reply.
The warrior took a relieved breath. There was still a chance. "I... Yes, Id like that. Thanks."
The young woman smiled nervously. "Great, then Ill see you tomorrow morning. Ill be in around ten to discharge you." She turned and quickly exited the room. Her heart was pumping double time.
Gabrielle was there the next morning promptly. She was a bit surprised to find the door to Xenas room closed. Curiously, she pushed it open and stepped inside. The sight before her made her stop in her tracks. Xena was standing by the bed, naked, except for a pair of white bikini underpants. Gabrielle stood, mouth agape, unable to look away.
Xena smiled. "Come in and shut the door."
The young doctor blushed and glanced away in embarrassment. "Im sorry. I... I should have knocked."
"Ellie brought in some of her daughter's clothes for me to try." She pointed to the pile of clothes stacked on the bed. "I didnt want to leave the hospital in this gown and robe."
Gabrielles eyes wandered nervously from the clothing to Xenas semi-naked form. She was struck suddenly by her height. During most of their interactions her patient had been either lying down or sitting. Standing before her now, she was nothing short of majestic. Her lean muscular legs seemed to go on forever.
Xena was both surprised and pleased by the young womans unmistakable reaction to her body. Always the strategist, she decided to use it to her advantage and held up the two tops. "Which do you think I should wear?"
The young womans eyes were hypnotically drawn to the sensual swell of Xenas breasts, soft and perfectly formed. Her rose colored nipples were small and noticeably erect. Gabrielle could feel her body temperature rising and shifted anxiously.
"So, what do you think?" She repeated.
The young doctor snapped out of her haze and struggled to speak. "Ah... I think... I... ah.... I like them... both."
Gabrielle dropped her glance shyly and found she was now focused on the dark shadow beneath the thin fabric of Xenas sheer underwear. Her pulse quickened.
In a fluid motion, the tall woman slipped the thin black sweater over her head. The tight fitting garment left very little to the imagination. Gabrielle could still envision what lay beneath.
The warrior smiled inwardly as she assessed the young womans reaction. "Could you help me fasten the back?"
The bard took a breath and walked toward her. Xena turned gracefully, offering her back. Lifting the dark silky hair, Gabrielle laid it over her shoulder. It felt soft against her skin. She had to concentrate to keep from gliding her fingers through it. Her hands trembled as she reached for the zipper but somehow she managed to complete the task.
The warrior turned to face her. "Thanks." They were standing very close. Gabrielles heart raced.
"Sure. Im... ah... Ive got to fill out your discharge papers." She took a few awkward steps backward and hurried from the room.
Ellie watched the young doctor curiously as she stood at the desk trying to concentrate on the paperwork in front of her. "Are you okay? You look a little flushed."
"Its hot in here. Dont you think?"
Ellie tried not to smile. "Xena told me you were taking her in for a while."
She was about to answer her friend, when the dark-haired woman came out of her room. Ellie glanced up, amazed by what she saw. She could have been a fashion model. The snug fitting sweater and jeans suited her well. Even the pink sneakers looked good on her.
"Wow! You look terrific! Doesnt she, Gab?"
The young woman was too shaken to speak. She couldnt take her eyes from her. Ellie was right. She was incredibly beautiful, naked or clothed.
Xena stood casually with her hands in her pockets and looked at Gabrielle. "What do you think?"
She swallowed. "A definite improvement over the gown."
As soon as she stepped through the hospital doors and into the bright sunlight she stopped. Gabrielle watched in rapt fascination as the tall woman closed her eyes and tilted her head to the sky. The soft breeze caused wisps of dark hair to dance around her face. She spread her arms and slowly turned, enjoying the feel of the air around her. The moment was magical.
It wasnt until that instant that the bard understood the extent of her friends beauty. She was like some exotic flower opening to the rays of the sun. Xena turned to her and gave her a breathtaking smile. Her blue eyes were hypnotic, her glance penetrating. It seemed to touch her very soul. Gabrielle felt light-headed.
She looked away and struggled to regain control. "My cars over here." She pointed nervously.
"Is it far to your home? Could we walk?"
Gabrielle wanted nothing more than to take off with Xena, walk the entire city, sharing the sights with this intriguing woman. But, she had promised to meet Peter for lunch and had just barely enough time to take Xena home. A wave of resentment washed over her rapidly followed by guilt.
"I wish I could but I have to meet Peter for lunch. Im sorry." It pained her to see friends smile fade.
Immediately she wanted to make it up to her. "I'd rather we weren't rushed. Maybe some other time."
"Id like that."
Gabrielle opened the beige BMW convertible. The tall woman settled into the comfortable seat. The smell of the leather interior reminded her fleetingly of home. She stared in fascination at the numerous lights, buttons and knobs that adorned the dash. It was a truly amazing machine. As they pulled out on the highway and began to pick up speed the warrior felt an incredible rush. She put her hands on the top edge of the windshield and pulled herself up. The wind whipped through her hair. Gabrielle watched in wonder. There was something wild and untamed about this fascinating woman that excited her.
Xena dropped back into the seat, laughing. "Now this, I like!"
The young woman smiled, happily. "Your first time in a convertible, huh?"
She nodded. "Its a lot faster than horseback riding."
Gabrielle laughed. "Yeah, and a lot closer to the ground."
The doctor pulled into the lot of the restaurant about thirty five minutes late. After dropping Xena off at her house, she had gotten caught in traffic. For the first time in a long while she hadnt minded the delay. It gave her time to think about the alluring woman. Gabrielle couldnt get the vision of the half naked body out of her head. She had dwelled on it so long, that now she was both highly aroused and extremely frustrated. Pushing the erotic image from her mind, she hurried across the lot to the entrance.
Peter was waiting for her outside. He leaned in to give her a perfunctory kiss on the lips. Her fevered mind flashed to Xena and her hands tightened around Peters hips. She deepened the kiss, leaning hard against him. Behind her closed eyes she envisioned the dark beauty before her. Her body tingled. He pushed her away.
"Gab, whats up with you? Were right out in public, for crying out loud."
She looked at him in shock, embarrassed by her lapse into fantasy.
"Im sorry Peter, I... I..." He shook his head impatiently and ushered her inside.
Gabrielle found the conversation incredibly dull. She couldnt keep her mind off Xena.
Finally, Peter became annoyed when she lost the thread of the conversation for the third time.
"Whats up? You havent heard one thing Ive said."
"Im sorry... Ive been think about one of my patients."
"I thought you were supposed to be on vacation," he said with a little agitation.
She dismissed his words. "Do you remember the woman I told you about with the gunshot wound?"
He nodded. "The crazy one who nearly killed Mercer."
"Shes not crazy and it was only a broken arm."
"So, what about her?"
"I discharged her today."
"Thats great. One less headache."
"Peter, I..." She took a breath and continued. "Shes staying at my house."
"What?!! Some psycho you know nothing about?!!" He looked at her incredulously.
"Shes not a psycho. Remember the guy with the gun? She practically saved my life."
"She feels like trouble."
"Not to me. I... I like her."
"I think you should ask her to leave."
Gabrielle took a frustrated breath. "She doesnt have any place else to go."
"There are shelters for people like that to live."
"Maybe so, but I told her she could stay with me. Things are settled." She spoke with a rare air of authority.
He threw down his napkin and stood. "All right, dont listen to me. I dont know whats gotten into you lately. When you come to your senses, call me." He tossed money on the table to cover the bill and left in a huff.
As she watched him leave, she wondered if he was right. Was she losing her senses?
Gabrielle awoke early. She had dreamed of Xena again, odd dreams, disjointed and unorganized, a slide show of unrelated images, many hauntingly erotic. There was something compelling about the mysterious woman that made the doctor want to be near her.
Their first few days living together went very well. In fact, she had never felt so comfortable with anyone.
With Peter working through the end of the week, they were able to spend a lot of time alone. Gabrielle felt happy and relaxed. It was as if theyd been friends for years. They took long walks and had fascinating conversations. She found the older woman extremely easy to talk to. Their personalities seemed to balance one another. Being together felt natural, right.
Across the hall Xena was awake too. For the first time in weeks her first thoughts were not recalling Gabrielles death, but remembering she was alive and nearby. The warriors heart felt light. She was truly happy. How could she not be? It was wonderful being with the bard again. Gabrielles life experiences were different but she had not changed. She was the same wonderful person the warrior had fallen in love with.
And even though the bard had no memory of their past, Xena could still feel the chemistry between them. There were times when she sensed the young woman's attraction to her, like the energy in the air before a rain. She felt certain that given time Gabrielle would regain her memories. Unfortunately, she couldnt wait for the bard to remember on her own. Somehow she had to find a way to tell her friend... everything. And it had to be soon.
Xena got up quietly and went to the laundry room to get her clothes. Her few belongings lay neatly folded on the table where Gabrielle had left them for her. She glanced at the doctor's white lab coat hanging beside them. In a moment of weakness, she pressed it to her face, inhaling deeply. Hidden beneath the sweet perfume of the soap was her bards scent, exactly as she had remembered it.
She heard a noise and turned. Gabrielle was standing in the doorway. "Good morning."
"I just came in to get my clothes." Xena offered awkwardly, unsure if the young woman had seen her.
"I brought you a cup of coffee." She handed her the steaming mug. "You up for some breakfast? I could cook some eggs."
The warrior smiled. "Not this time... Its my turn to cook for you." She headed straight for the kitchen.
Gabrielle sat at the table while Xena rummaged through the refrigerator. The tall woman wore one of her oversized T-shirts as a nightgown and it barely covered her. As she bent over the refrigerator Gabrielle couldnt bring herself to look away. She let her eyes run up the length of the warriors muscled legs to her firm rounded bottom.
Xena proceeded to vigorously stir a collection of ingredient in a large mixing bowl. The young woman watched in erotic fascination as her friends breasts swayed gently with her effort. The warrior eyed her curiously.
Gabrielle began talking nervously in an attempt to get her mind off Xenas beautiful body.
"How would you feel about going downtown today? We could go shopping. You really need some clothes."
Xena hesitated. "I was wondering if there was someplace we could go with fewer people. Id really like to get away from the crowds and noise." Are there any woods near here?"
"Sure, there is a beautiful state park a couple of hours away, with a nice lake."
She brightened. "That would be great."
"Okay well leave after..." Gabrielle stopped mid sentence. "Oh damn, I forgot... Peter and I are having dinner with Ellie and her partner Sonja. Wed never make it back in time."
"Maybe another day." The warrior tried to hide her disappointment. She needed time alone with the bard to talk and soon.
Gabrielle paused. She knew Peter would be angry but she couldnt help herself. She didnt want to spend the evening without her friend. "Would you like to join us for dinner?"
Xena smiled and nodded. "Thanks, It will be good to see Ellie."
They sat at a large wooden table in a dimly lit pub, finishing dinner. The atmosphere reminded Xena of the taverns at home. It was pleasant.
She watched Gabrielle finish her last chicken wing and smiled. The young woman had a way of making eating an almost sensual experience. Xena loved to watch her.
"They have the best wings here, don't they Peter?" He only shrugged as if food was the farthest thing from his mind. He looked across the table at Sonja.
"Gabrielle tells me you like to play pool."
"Yeah, I used to."
"How about a game?"
"Well okay, but youll have to go easy on me."
He smiled. "Sure, just a friendly game."
The three of them walked over to the pool table, leaving the two women alone.
"Peter loves to play pool." Gabrielle said rolling her eyes. "Have you ever played?"
Xena didn't respond to her question. She was focused on a small spot of barbecue sauce near the corner of the young womans mouth. The doctor waved her hand to get her attention.
"I'm sorry.' Xena said, leaning in. "You have a little sauce right here." The warrior carefully wiped it away with her index finger. The contact sent a shiver through Gabrielle.
"I I've always been a messy eater." The young woman replied, a faint blush coloring her cheeks.
Xena smiled and licked the sauce from her finger. "I like that." She winked. "And, no I've never played. What about you?" Gabrielle's eyes were fixed on the dark-haired womans lips as her tongue ran lazily over their surface. It was Xenas turn to wave her hand and break the bards gaze.
Gabrielle could feel a subtle warmth spreading through her abdomen. She laughed nervously. "No, I'd like to play. I mean I " She glanced up anxiously. "He, loses patience with me. I'm afraid I'm not very good." Suddenly uncomfortable, she stood up. "Let's go over and watch."
Peter cleared the table, winning the rather close game.
"Gab wasnt kidding, youre pretty good." He smiled.
"Thanks." Sonja replied. "I havent played in years." She handed her pool stick to the blonde. "What about you? You want to try? Maybe you can do better against him."
"She cant play well enough to beat me." Peter said matter of factly.
"Hes right." Gabrielle shrugged.
The warrior caught the edge to her friends voice and came to her defense. "Looks like a silly game to me."
"Maybe to people who dont have the skill to play." He said brusquely.
Ellie spoke up. "That sounds like a challenge to me, Xena."
"Yeah, how about it?" Peter smiled.
"She doesn't play," Gabrielle said, upset with his rude behavior.
"I think I've got the general idea," The dark-haired woman said confidently.
Peter's smile broadened. "Ill even let you break." His tone was patronizing. "And remember, you dont want to sink the white one."
The doctor looked uneasy. Ellie cast her a supportive glance.
Xena studied the table layout momentarily before taking aim. Her shot was forceful, knocking
three balls in various corners.
"Wow!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
Sonja grinned at Ellie. "Peter, you may have met your match."
He shrugged. "Beginners luck."
Xena ignored him and walked to the far side of the table to take her next shot. Gabrielle stood at the opposite end holding a cue stick. The warrior froze at the sight. She had seen her countless times, standing in the exact same way holding her staff. Her concentration gone, she missed the shot.
Peter laughed, now confident he would win. Gabrielle gave him a stern glance. Immediately he began showing off, shooting behind his back. He missed a difficult shot, trying to bank it.
Xena stepped up to take her turn. She excelled at anything that required dexterity and logic so it didnt take her long to hit her stride. Soon only one ball remained on the table. She sunk it effortlessly, winning the game.
The three women cheered. Gabrielle's attention was fully focused on the tall woman. Her expression revealing her obvious admiration.
"You were incredible."
Peter looked at her cynically. No one played that well without training. She had to be lying.
"Hard to believe youve never played before." He quipped. His fiancée cast him a warning glance.
Xena ignored him. She was watching the bards fingers lightly caress the smooth wood of the cue she was holding.
Gabrielle continued on excitedly. "Really, you were wonderful!"
"You could do it too. Here. Let me show you." The bard handed her the cue stick. The warrior held it horizontally in her hands. "Try to think of it as an extension of your body." She tipped it back and forth, gauging the balance, then tossed it back. The bard caught it easily. Xena smiled. She knew if Gabrielle allowed her instincts to take over she would be a natural.
Peter couldnt hide his agitation as he watched them. Ellie and Sonja took in the scene in awkward silence.
"Close your eyes." Xena instructed. Her young friend did as she asked.
"Feel the smoothness of the wood." She watched as the bards hands caressed the cue.
"Something comforting about holding it, isnt there?"
Gabrielle opened her eyes, surprised by her comment, mainly because it was true. She did enjoy the feel of the wood, the way it fit in her hands. It made her feel safe, in control.
"Let yourself get a sense of the weight." The bard rocked the cue back and forth.
Xena held her arms out fully extended to her sides. "Now thrust out lightly with your right arm and tap my palm with the end of the cue." Gabrielle did so easily. "Good, now the left... very good. Now alternate back forth between them." Soon she had picked up a good pace.
"This is supposed to help her play?" Peter asked skeptically.
Xena didnt respond. Her eyes remained on the bard. "Pick up the pace a little." Gabrielle didnt understand why, but the exercise felt wonderful. She was soon moving very rapidly.
"Now that you have a feel for the stick, lets give it a try." Xena racked the balls. "I want you to hit this spot." She placed her finger near the ball in question. "Keep your eye on the ball. Think of the stick as an extension of your body. Let it flow."
Gabrielle focused her attention on the ball and let her stroke follow through naturally. The break was a good one. She sunk two balls and beamed with excitement.
"See? Nothing to it." The warrior smiled.
Peter wasn't sure which disturbed him more: the way Xena was looking at his fiancée or the way Gabrielle was looking at Xena. He motioned the waitress over to their table. "How about a drink? Im buying."
Without waiting for a reply he ordered five shots of Southern Comfort.
Gabrielle pushed hers aside. She didn't like where this was leading.
Xena turned to her. "You don't want any?"
Peter answered for her. "She gets drunk just sniffing the cap."
The bard glanced away shyly. "Ive never been much of a drinker."
Sonja, Peter and Xena downed theirs in a gulp. Ellie slowly slipped hers.
The dark-haired woman ran her tongue over her lips. The sight made Gabrielle's skin tingle.
"This is very good." She commented.
Peter got a wicked glint in his eye. "You up to another?"
Xena sensed the challenge in his voice. "If you are."
Peter grinned and looked at Sonja. She shook her head. "Thanks, no more for me."
"Heres a game for you." He turned to face Xena. "We rack the balls. After every ball you sink, you drink a shot. The first one to miss loses. You up to it?"
Gabrielle was angry at the thinly veiled competition. He was being a bad loser. "Peter, this is silly."
"This is between her and me." He turned to the warrior. "If youre not up to the challenge..."
Xena was agitated. She didnt like the way he was treating Gabrielle. The prospect of humiliating him was suddenly very appealing. "Youre on."
Peter ordered a bottle and two shot glasses. He racked the balls and smiled at her. "You want me to break?" Remember for every ball you sink, you down a shot."
The tall woman stepped up to the table. "I think I can handle it," she replied sarcastically. With a concentrated effort she sank one ball. She downed a shot and handed the cue to Peter.
They continued until they were more than three quarters of the way through the bottle. The warrior saw Peter stumble as he walked to the other side of the table to take his shot and smiled inwardly.
Gabrielle watched anxiously, her discomfort increasing with each round. When Xena noticed how unhappy her young friend was she decided to end the game. She took aim and purposely missed. Peter cheered.
"I won!" He went to his fiancée and kissed her sloppily. He was quite drunk. She pulled away.
"I think wed better call it a night." The young womans agitation was clearly evident in her voice. Ellie and Sonja said quick good-byes and left.
Gabrielle was quiet on the way back to the car, keeping distance between herself and Peter. She didnt try to mask her anger and Peter wisely stayed back.
The warrior remained silent, cautiously eyeing a large group of teens sitting on the stoop of an apartment building. One of the young men hollered something at her young friend in Spanish. Xena turned, looked him over and decided to let it pass.
Gabrielle glanced at her, wondering if she had understood. "Do you speak Spanish?"
"What did he say?"
"Something about me?"
Peter, although quite intoxicated, looked on with interest.
The warrior attempted to rephrase the young mans crass remarks. "Yeah, he said you had... ah... nice... err... breasts." Gabrielle smiled and blushed.
Peter cast an angry glance at the kid and started to walk toward the teens. Gabrielle laid her hand on her shoulder to stop him.
"Dont. Theyre just kids."
"I cant just let them get away with that." He said indignantly.
"Why not?" the warrior shrugged. "Its true."
Gabrielle looked at Xena in surprise and laughed out loud. Peter, now incensed, headed toward the boys.
She tried once again to stop him. "Please, youre drunk."
"The hell I am." He brushed passed her and stepped up to the cocky teen. "I think you owe my fiancée an apology."
The kids ignored him, making him even more angry. He grabbed the offender by the front of his shirt. The group reacted instantly, pulling out weapons.
Gabrielle spoke up. "Peter, please... let it go."
Peter released him and started to pull out his badge. "Im a pol...." The teen punched him hard in the stomach. He dropped to the pavement, struggling to recapture his breath. The young doctor ran to his side.
The leader of the group walked toward Gabrielle. "How bout you and me..." Xena somersaulted over several of the kids and landed protectively in front of Gabrielle.
She smiled playfully, shaking her head. "Not tonight."
The leader looked at her with interest. "Howd you do that?"
Xena sized him up quickly. "Ill show you." She proceeded to demonstrate. He watched her movements carefully.
"Take a few steps and spring off your lead in foot. If you get enough height, tuck and follow through. Try it. Ill spot you." The whole group stood watching. The kid took a few running steps and leapt. The warrior gave him a boost and guided his landing. They all cheered.
"A little more practice and youll have it down." He smiled. Xena went over to Peter who was groaning and rubbing his stomach.
Gabrielle looked up at her gratefully. "I think hes okay. Can you help me get him to the car?"
The warrior hefted him over her shoulder and walked toward the car. Gabrielle opened the door and Xena settled him into the back seat. In moments he was out cold.
"That was great... the way you handled them." Gabrielle said.
"They were just kids."
"Still, we could have been hurt. Peter really made them angry."
"Nah, I never would have let them hurt..." She stopped. "They didnt want any trouble."
Gabrielle was quiet for long moments. Suddenly she spoke up. "You missed on purpose." Xena looked at her uncertainly.
"When you were playing pool. You threw the game, didnt you?"
She nodded sheepishly.
"Why? You could have won."
"I could see how uncomfortable you were. I never should have agreed to it."
"Thanks. Im sorry for how Peter behaved tonight. Its really out of character for him."
"Its not a problem. I had a good time."
To her surprise, in spite of everything Gabrielle had too.
Xena heard an insistent knock at the door and went to answer. Peter stood outside, obviously irritated to find her there.
"Isn't Gabby home?" He stepped past her into the room.
"She went to the hospital, but she should be back soon." He looked a little pale.
"Are you feeling all right after the other night?" She asked a little too sweetly.
"Im fine," he said not bothering to hide his irritation. "And youre obviously fully recovered. Healthy enough to get back to your life and let Gabby get back to hers?"
"I wouldnt be here if Gabrielle didnt want me to stay."
"Look. Gabby may be a little naïve, but I see right through you."
The warrior couldnt hide her amusement at his obvious discomfort.
"Oh? And what exactly do you see?"
"I've seen the way you look at her. I know what you are." Xena didnt waste her breath denying his accusation. There was no point. She smiled lightly.
Her assured manner unnerved him. "Gabby's not like that. You're wasting your time."
"If you're right, then you have nothing to fear from me." She replied matter of factly.
"What do you mean if I'm right? I'd know if she was that way." Xena merely lifted a doubting brow.
"Look, Gabbys the type of woman who knows what she wants and... thats me. Shes in love with me. Were getting married in a week."
"A lot can happen in 7 days." She gave him a sly wink.
"Listen, I want you out of here. I've got guys at the station checking on you. If they even find a traffic violation against you, youll wish...."
The sound of the key turning interrupted him. Gabrielle entered and Xena met her at the door to help with the bags she was carrying. She smiled cheerfully at her friend.
"I got some great stuff. I thought I'd cook for you tonight. About time you had a good home cooked dinner."
Suddenly Peter stepped into Gabrielles line of vision, surprising her.
"Hi, Peter." She leaned in and lightly kissed him on the cheek. He took her in his arms and kissed her firmly for Xenas benefit.
She pulled away awkwardly. "How are you feeling?"
"Great! How about coming over to my place tonight? You can cook dinner for me. It's been awhile since we've been alone." He let his hands slide over her hips and squeezed her butt suggestively. He peered over her shoulder for Xena's reaction. Gabrielle squirmed uncomfortably from his grasp.
The warrior turned away and walked into the kitchen. She listened to their conversation as she placed the groceries on the table.
Gabrielle backed out of his embrace. "Ive been at the hospital most of the day. One of my patients took a turn for the worse. I was looking forward to relaxing at home this evening."
"You work too hard. Christ, youre supposed to be on vacation. After were married you should take that leave we talked about." She ran her hands nervously through her hair and walked toward the bar to pour herself a drink.
"If youre feeling tired, you shouldnt drink."
Gabrielle released a heavy sign and turned to face him. "Im fine. I just want to unwind a little."
"It doesnt take much and you start to feel it." Xena watched from across the room. The young womans energy seemed to fade as if she was fighting a losing battle. She leaned against the couch, the empty glass dangling loosely in her hand. Like the other times the warrior had seen them together, she seemed to surrender to his will. It made her ashamed of the times she had treated her friend like a child.
Xena walked toward the bar and smiled. "A drink sounds like a great idea." She took Gabrielles glass and poured them both a bourbon. The young woman looked at her gratefully.
She took a sip and spoke with an authority she didnt feel. "Peter, I want to stay home tonight."
Xena raised her glass. "To women who know what they want." She let a quirky smile draw up the corners of her mouth. Peter glared at her.
"Look Gab, we havent spent anytime alone together since..." He left the sentence unfinished. They all knew it was since Xena had come into their lives. He sputtered in frustration "I... I feel like I have to make an appointment to see you anymore."
Gabrielle took another sip of her drink. "I know Ive been busy. Maybe we can get together tomorrow for..."
He cut her off. "Im working late tomorrow, remember? I had to change with Roy to get the next few weeks off."
"Im sorry, I forgot." Gabrielle realized suddenly how little shed thought about Peter lately.
"Too bad." Xena said catching his eye. "I guess it will be just the two of us alone again." She couldnt contain a mischievous smile as she watched the muscles tighten in his jaw.
He turned angrily and closed the door a little to loudly behind him.
Gabrielle let out a heavy breath and rested her head against the back of the couch.
"Yeah, but suddenly I have a headache." She set her unfinished drink on the table.
"I know Ive intruded on your life." Xena said softly. "If its a problem, I can leave."
"No, I like having you near... err here. I mean... I dont want you to go."
The warrior took a relieved breath. "Then, why dont you let me cook dinner?"
Gabrielle stood up. "No, its okay. Cooking relaxes me. But I could use some help."
She put Xena to work chopping vegetables. The feel of the knife in her hands was oddly comforting. In a world filled with things that were alien to her, this was familiar. She set to her task with vigor, slicing the vegetables with amazing speed. Task completed, she handed the chopping board to Gabrielle.
"That was quick." As the bard began to toss them in the wok, she noticed the precision of the slices.
"These are all the same size." Gabrielle picked up two pieces of carrot comparing them closely. "Theyre almost exactly the same."
The warrior shrugged.
"Were you a cook?"
Xena laughed. "Definitely not." She poised the tip of the knife on the end the circular slice of carrot and pressed down. As it flipped in the air she caught it in her mouth.
Gabrielle smiled. "Pretty impressive. But can you do this?" She grabbed a cherry from the bowl on the counter and tied the stem with one hand into a perfect surgical knot. She held it up for Xena to view, a mischievous grin lit up her face.
"Not bad." Xena admitted. She picked up a cherry and popped it into her mouth. Moments later she pulled out the stem, having neatly tied it with her tongue. She handed it triumphantly to the young woman.
Gabrielle laughed. "A tad competitive, I see!"
Xena barely heard her words. She was hypnotized by her friends playful expression. It was achingly reminiscent of their interactions in the past.
"Well, I cant beat that, but Im willing to bet that I can eat more than you. Loser does dishes." Xena suddenly didnt care about competing or winning. She was too busy hoping Gabrielles appetite had not changed, hoping she would lose.
The meal finished, Gabrielle got up to pour coffee. She was dressed in khaki colored shorts that showed off her well defined muscles, something Xena had missed being able to see. She slipped off her shoes and padded through the kitchen in her bare feet. The warrior loved the casualness of it. She followed and began to do the dishes. The contest hadnt even been close. It made her smile just thinking about it.
Gabrielle went to the living room to retrieve her dirty glass. As she turned the corner, she watched the dark-haired woman rinse a plate and move to set it in the dishwasher. A wave of dizziness washed over her and she closed her eyes. Her mind flashed to a vivid image of Xena in a leather dress with a circular object outstretched in her hand. She opened her eyes and it was gone. Her friend was looking at her with concern.
She reached out to hand her the glass. "This needs to go in, too." Still feeling dizzy, she released the glass too quickly. It hit the floor and shattered.
Before she could react the warrior's hands gripped her waist and lifted her up, setting her on the counter. Without conscious thought her hands slid down the young womans thighs, calves, and feet, checking for cuts. Gabrielle remained quiet and watched Xenas curious behavior.
She was unharmed.
She lifted her hands from the young womans legs and offered a nervous explanation. "I... I thought you might have cut yourself. I..."
"Im fine. But thanks."
Xena looked down at the broken glass, avoiding her eyes. "Stay there. You dont have shoes on. Ill take care of this." She began picking up the pieces.
"I'm not sure what happened. Just before I handed the glass to you, I had this vision of you in the oddest costume. Maybe I should have passed on that second helping of desert." She laughed lightly.
The warriors heart leapt at her words. Without thinking, her grip on the broken glass tightened.
"Youre bleeding!" The doctor was on her feet examining her hand. Xena pulled back.
Gabrielle took her by the wrist and led her toward the bathroom. "I want to clean that out."
"Really, its not that deep."
"Whos the doctor here anyway? Indulge me." Xena nearly melted at the familiar words. She offered her hand sheepishly.
"Cant have you getting an infection." She quickly swabbed the cut with Betadine and carefully bandaged it. She had always enjoyed caring for people but taking care of Xena felt like the most natural thing in the world. It gave her pleasure.
Before Gabrielle released her hand she ran her finger over a long scar on the older womans forearm.
The warrior pulled her arm back and shrugged. "Ive been in a lot of fights."
"I dont understand. You seem so gentle."
"I... I wasnt always. Ive changed." As she spoke the words, she found she believed them, for the very first time. She wasn't the same ruthless person she had been all those years ago. Falling in love with Gabrielle had changed her.
The dishes done, they sat side by side on the couch, letting the delicious meal settle. The silence between them was comfortable. When Xena closed her eyes, she could almost pretend they were laying by their campfire.
Gabrielle turned her head, taking in her friend's profile. The dark-haired woman was incredibly beautiful. Her mind went back to the incident at the hospital, when Xena stood before her in only underwear and a smile. She closed her eyes and tried to visualize the tall womans naked body. Her memory reproduced the image with surprising clarity and she felt her skin flush.
Suddenly her stomach rumbled loudly. She laughed, a little embarrassed.
Xena looked at her playfully. "I think its rebelling, and no wonder. Ive never seen anyone put away food like you do."
"Yeah, Peter says Ill be fat before Im forty."
"Hmmm, sweet." She said sarcastically.
Gabrielle laughed. "Well, for what its worth he said hed love me anyway."
"How romantic." Xena replied dully.
"Actually, he can be romantic, in his own way."
"And what way is that?"
"In a practical, subtle, kind of way."
"Subtle?" Xena questioned.
"Yeah, very. Almost undetectable." They both laughed. "You dont like him very much do you?" Gabrielle asked seriously.
"I dont know him."
"Actually, he has many good qualities," she defended.
"I'm sure he must, for you to love him."
Gabrielle paused and looked away shyly. "Xena, have you ever been in love?" The young woman sat quietly, waiting for her reply.
The question caught the warrior off guard. She paused only a moment before answering. "Yes." Her expression softened as she focused on Gabrielle. "I fell in love a very long time ago."
"Do you remember what it felt like?"
Xena drew a deep breath. "I could never forget. There was a connection between us, like she was part of me. When we touched it was..." She stopped suddenly overwhelmed by the memory.
Gabrielles mind focused momentarily on her use of the feminine pronoun, confirming her suspicions. As she looked up at the dark-haired woman the depth of emotion in her blue eyes surprised her. "What happened? Why arent you together?"
Xena looked away. "She died."
Merely speaking the words caused a shudder to run through her. "It was as if part of my soul had been torn from me. Facing life without her seemed more than I could bear. I thought it might kill me. For a while I wished that it would."
"But you survived."
"Because she asked me to... and theres nothing I would deny her."
The young woman remained silent. The desire to comfort Xena, to take her in her arms, was nearly impossible to repress. "Im sorry."
"Dont be." She smiled softly. "I have my memories of her. I go on, hoping..." Her voice faltered as her eyes met Gabrielles. There was a sad longing there.
"I want that." The young woman said softly. "I want to love... that much."
"You dont feel that with Peter?"
"No." She glanced away shyly. "I... I care deeply for him. Hes dependable, a good family man but I never felt that intensity." She blushed. "Not with him."
Gabrielle released a heavy sigh. "Maybe its better this way. There's not nearly so much to lose." She spoke as if she were trying to convince herself as much as Xena.
The warrior looked at her seriously. "Few things worthwhile come without risk. True love is worth any price. The joy of being together... I dont regret a single moment of that. Ill never settle for less. Id give my life to have... her back, if only for an instant. I..." Xenas throat tightened as a wave of emotion tore through her. It was impossible to remain detached. The woman that was her world, her reason for being sat before her, completely unaware.
The sadness in the warriors eyes was utterly compelling. Gabrielle felt her sorrow as if it was her own. Without hesitation her arms encircled the older woman, holding her close. It was as if the world came into alignment. Their bodies fit perfectly, melding into one another. Xena moaned at the rightness of it.
"Gabrielle." The word was uttered with such tenderness, that the young woman pulled back in confusion.
A single tear rolled down her cheek. As if in a trance Gabrielle reached to wipe it away. The contact sent a charge through her. Her eyes fell to Xenas lips, so close that she could sense their softness, nearly taste their sweetness. She feared she would die from longing if she didnt. Her entire body screamed for it.
Gabrielle froze, astonished by the strength of her feelings. The moment was electric for both women.
The warrior reached out. She had to touch her, she needed to know she was real. Her fingers tingled as they slid through the soft blonde hair. When she reached the base of her neck she stopped, lightly resting her hand there. Their eyes met and Gabrielles heart nearly stopped beating. She waited for Xena to continue, silently prayed for her to continue.
The shrill ring of the telephone stole the moment. The young woman shook herself from her haze and rose to answer.
Xena closed her eyes and tried to calm her racing heart. After a few minutes Gabrielle hung up and stood before her.
Conclusion ... Part 4 of 4
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