Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Lao Ma, Alti, Borias, and everyone else who sounds familiar belong to Pac Ren and Universal Studios. I am not making money off of this story.
Genre Disclaimer: Ok. Bear with me, please, because this is kinda tough to explain. Sometime last year, I read a story on the internet that moved me so much, I was inspired to write a sort of companion piece to it. That story was "Lost Soul Walking" by DJWP. In her words, "This is NOT UberXena fiction. It just starts out like it is." The same can be said for this piece. While not directly related to "Lost Soul Walking", "Desert Storm" can be considered a sort of prequel to it. It is a story, if you will, about the lifetime before the one depicted in that fabulous, outstanding story. (Can you tell I loved it?) In addition, this is somewhat of an ambitious piece of fiction, in that I am attempting (dont know if Ive succeeded, but Ive attempted) to take the entire X:WP universe and modernize it. We start, in updated terms, with my version of Xenas betrayal by Caesar (seen in "Destiny"), and continue up through the X:WP episode known as "Remember Nothing". The plot will be very recognizable to you. Its meant to be that way.
Special note: Because of this, Gabrielle does not appear, except in offhand mention, in a great deal of the first half of this story. Do not look for her, because you wont find her. After all, she was not a part of evil Xenas life. If she were, things might have turned out differently, but because this is based on the premise of "Lost Soul Walking" it cannot happen differently. Gabrielle will, however, make her presence known, and that quite strongly, in the second half of the story. If you can hang on till then, I believe that you will not be disappointed.
Sexuality and Violence Disclaimers: Were dealing with an updated dark Xena through much of the first half, and an updated redeemed Xena through the second. Theres gonna be violence. There are gonna be naughty words. There are also descriptions of sexual activity in this work. There are allusions to heterosexual sex, but nothing graphic. There are some graphic (though I hope tasteful) scenes of sexual expression between women as well. That is how I see the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, and that is how I will continue to write it.
And, finally, thanks: To, as always, the incomparable Mike. A better beta and a better friend one could never hope for. Thank you also, as always, to Mary D, who rescued this story from the refuse heap and begged me to keep going on it. If you hate it, blame her. <w> Grateful and heartfelt appreciation goes out to DJWP, for continuing to write stories that grab me somewhere above the liver and giving her kind permission to mention her story in these disclaimers. If you havent read her stories, please, do yourself a favor and do so. Finally, this story is dedicated to a group of people without whom I would most probably be living on the streets. Elizabeth, Rachel, Sulli, and the rest of the "Get Sue to Atlanta" crew, this ones for you!
Feedback: As always is gratefully appreciated. If you wrote to me regarding "Redemption" during the month of September to early October and I havent responded, please allow me the honor of apologizing in public. It was then that I was at my lowest point and making ready to move to my new home. Your words of praise and encouragement for my writing kept me firmly out of the pit of depression I was falling into and I shall be forever grateful to each and every one of you who took the time out to feed this bard. And for those of you patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for Redemptions sequel, fear not, for with the conclusion of this piece, that piece will be started. Any and all who wish to may write me atSwordnQuil@aol.com . Ill continue to do my best to answer each and every email. An exploding mailbox is a good thing to have. Thanks again!
by: SwordnQuill (Susanne Beck)
24 July, 1990. Very Early Morning. Temporary Israeli Military Camp. ~100 miles West of Tadmur, Syria.
A hot gusty wind blew through the open flap of the command tent, causing the papers on the large table set in the center to rustle, much to the consternation of the small figure who was trying to read a map in the near darkness of the enclosure. Commander Tovah Rybak raked a hand through the cinnamon curls on her head in frustration. "Damn it," she hissed, trying futilely to prevent the map from rolling up once again.
Lt. Commander Benjamin Adellich, Tovahs second in command and field medic, grinned at his friend, coming to her aid and flattening the paper down onto the table. "Youll ruin your eyes if you keep trying to read in the dark," he quipped.
Tovah rolled her eyes. "Thanks, dad." Sighing, one small finger traced a route from where they were currently stationed into Iraq and the bunker hidden beneath the ever shifting sands.
"Youre sure theyre there."
"At this point, Ben, Im not sure of anything anymore. All I know is that we received a report of five captives being brought to that location two days ago. No ones seen them since."
Tovah shrugged, tracing the route again, calculating the dangers. "Only that they were dressed in robes and had hoods over their heads."
"They could be ours then. Those are the clothes they were wearing when we lost track of em. Minus the hoods, of course." He gusted out a sigh, blowing black hair away from his forehead. "Of course, its just as likely not to be them. Things being the way they are, the Iraqis are seeing a spy in every pot these days."
"Our people or not, Ben, theyre obviously enemies of Hussein. Which makes them friends of ours."
"Friends perhaps," Adellich countered, "but is friendship worth crossing hundreds of miles of open enemy desert? Theres a good chance well go all that way just to rescue a bunch of corpses who dont even belong to us."
Tovah stepped away from the map, stalking to the other end of the tent, her tiny, compact body vibrating with tension. "Im well aware of that, Ben," she snapped. "But if theres one thing Ive learned, its that you dont turn your back to someone who needs your help. And if theres anyone still alive in that place, theyre going to need our help. Kin or not."
Adellich smiled warmly at his friend. "Thats my Tovah," he said, grinning. "All fire and no fear."
Tovah returned the warm grin, returning to the table one last time. Memorizing the route, she rolled the recalcitrant map back up and placed it in the case with the others. "Everything ready?"
"Well leave the moment you give the word."
"Lets go then. I want to be back here by sundown tonight."
24 July 1990. Early Morning. Just Outside the Underground Bunker of the Republican Guard. Ar Rutbah, Iraq.
Adjusting the dials on his binoculars, Adellich squinted into the bright sunlight. "Somethings going on in there," he remarked to his silent commander. "Theyre running around like birds without heads."
"Let me see," Tovah replied, grabbing the glasses away from her friend, adjusting them and peering into the heavily guarded compound. Scarlet clad Iraqi soldiers ran back in forth across the flat cleared space where the squat bunker and its outbuildings sat. None seemed to be moving with any purpose. "Alright then. Lets add to their distraction. A unit ready?"
"And waiting," her second replied, holding a radio to his lips. "Is it a go?"
"Yeah. Everyone ready here?"
Adellich nodded, clicking a button on his communications device. "A unit. Set up a distraction on my mark. Ready. Now."
B unit waited as the first sounds of mortar fire were heard around the periphery of the compound. The shots were designed to draw the soldiers away from the main target and they were working to perfection, compounding the distraction of the Iraqis. Drawing up their weapons, the Republican Guardsmen returned fire on their unseen tormentors, their attentions drawn totally away from the bunker proper.
With a wave of her hand, Tovah beckoned her fifteen member squad to follow her on a zig zag path up to and behind the outbuildings. "Tell A squad to put their fire down further to the west. We need more of a clear shot to the building." They were moving in from the east and the blinding cover of the rising sun. The bunkers door was to the north. A few guards hovered around the entrance, their weapons at the ready. The others were still close enough to be a danger if Tovah and her people were spotted before they had a chance to silence the guards.
As Adellich complied with her order, Tovah and her squad made it to another outbuilding, the last piece of cover before the bunker itself. "Ok, everyone. This is it." She pointed out ten of her men. "You stay topside and take out the commander and his guards. The rest of you down into the cells with me. Shoot anything that moves and wears scarlet. Were not out here to make friends, understand?"
The men and women of her squad nodded at her, adjusting their weaponry and clothing, brave beyond measure. Tovahs heart filled with pride for her people and she let that pride show in her eyes. "For the glory of God and our homeland," she whispered. "Lets go."
The sixteen members of B squad paired up and ducked from the cover of the last outbuilding. Their camouflage uniforms blended easily with the desert as they made their way to the front of the compound and the four guards who were standing uncertainly by the doors, their attentions off to the west. Tovah kept her weapon strapped to her back as, instead, she simply extended the first two fingers of both hands and drove them into the nerve centers of first one, then two guards, stepping past them as they slumped to their knees, paralyzed. Her partner took care of the other two with a knife across the throat and the pair stepped aside as two more Israeli soldiers stormed forth to blast open the door to the barracks.
Once inside, the group split up. Tovahs smaller group made off to the left, down the slowly descending hallway that led to the cells. The rest of the squad moved off to the right and into the command center of the building. Weapons fire started up immediately.
The way to the cells was sparsely guarded, and the Commander found out why as she rounded the last curve and stepped through the door and into the prison proper. Throwing up a hand to cover her nose as the stench of death and decay hit her full force, Tovah led her group into the prison. Thick steel cell doors lined the long, dark corridor, ten to a side. Using hand gestures, the commander directed her men to begin searching the cells.
The sounds of steel hitting concrete soon filled the cramped corridor as Israeli soldiers searched the prison for any signs of life. Tovah raced down the narrow hallway, blowing into the last cell on the right. The stench inside made her step back outside for a second to clear her sinuses. With a deep breath of less fetid air, the commander ducked back into the cell. Two men lay curled in the cell, their bodies awash with dried blood. Sewer roaches crawled into and over open mouths and eyes as the two deceased Marines stared blankly into eternity.
Stepping further into the charnel house, Tovah got a good look at both men, matching up what she could see of their features with the memories of her own captured kinsmen. Neither was a match and her heart grew sad and hopeful at the same time. Maybe her cohorts were having better luck.
"Tovah, in here!" came the voice of Adellich from the adjoining cell. "Weve got a live one!"
Finishing her quick prayer over the two dead men, Tovah quickly retreated from the cell, entering the next one down the line at a dead run. The stench in the new cell was worse and the commander could tell by the condition of one of the bodies that death had claimed one of the prisoners some time ago.
The second body was that of a young, thin man who had most of his face blown away. The back of his bloodied head was pillowed upon the chest of the third figure, next to whom Adellich was currently squatting.
Tovah edged further into the cell, intent on examining the third member of the cell. Her eyes widened as she took in the deathly pale face of the prisoner. "Its a woman!"
"Yeah. And shes nearly dead. With these wounds, its a miracle that shes managed to stay alive this long."
"Can she be moved?"
Shouts and screams sounded near to the entrance to the prison. The fighting was getting closer. "I dont think we have much choice," Adellich replied, gathering the long body of the woman and hefting her easily into his strong, stout arms. "Hang on for a little longer," he whispered to the woman in his arms. "Just a little longer. Well get you out of here."
Tovah squatted down, retrieving her friends weapon while looking closely at the other two. Like their compatriots in the other cell, their faces were almost unrecognizable, but they didnt match with any of her missing kin. "These arent ours either."
"No," Adellich agreed. "At first I thought they were Americans, but when I saw her . . . ." The big man shrugged.
"I guess well just have to wait till she wakes up."
"If she lives that long."
Tovah looked into the womans face once again, seeing the strength there even near death. "She will," she said with confidence. "Come on. Lets get the hell out of here."
Stepping back into the hall, Tovah and Adellich met up with the rest of their small party. All the other members were empty handed. "No one in the other cells," one young soldier remarked sadly. "I guess well never find them now."
Smiling sadly, Tovah walked over to the young man, putting a warm hand on his shoulder. "Dont give up hope, Itzak. Theyre not here, so theres always a chance, alright?"
Itzak returned his commanders smile. "Yes, Maam," he replied.
Giving the shoulder beneath her hand a fond squeeze, Tovah turned to the rest of her troops. "Even though we didnt find our kin, our mission was a success. Weve managed to save one soul from the arms of the Reaper. Now lets get outta here and blow this place off the face of the earth."
Raising their weapons, the squad let out a shout, turning to follow their brave leader back into the fighting.
The increased numbers evened the odds and the firefight quickly turned into a rout. Al-Hassein had been found much earlier in the battle, seated behind his desk, his life ended from a self inflicted gunshot wound to the right temple. He had died before the bunker was even stormed as in his killing rage he had managed to execute the last two people who could possibly tell him anything. Overcome with fear at the thought of what his superiors would do to him, the Iraqi Guard Commander ended his own life rather than face the tortures of the very regime he so gladly tortured others in the name of.
The Israelis fought with redoubled fury and soon not a Republican Guard within the bunker was left breathing. The commotion outside the barracks had prevented other soldiers from coming to the Iraqis aid, the sporadic gunfire inside the bunker seeming less important than the violent explosions outside.
Lifting the radio to her lips, Tovah pressed a button. "C team. All clear?"
"Ready and waiting, Commander," came a static-filled voice.
"Were ready in here."
"Stand away from the walls then. Well have you out in a jiffy."
The group stepped away from the south wall of the bunker, most milling around Adellich and the unconscious woman he still carried in his arms. "All clear," Tovah announced.
Seconds later, a large area of the south wall disintegrated soundlessly. As soon as the dust settled, the group ran from the building, allowing the C team to enter and place explosive charges around the facility.
Five trucks, emblazoned with the Republican Guard symbol on their canvas flaps and door panels, stood ready for the group. Adellich and Tovah ran to the nearest one. Adellich laid Kaels body on the floorboards in the back of the truck, then hauled his big body inside, lifting the soldier once again and gently placing her in a stretcher strapped to a long plank.
The driver of the truck, clothed in an appropriated Republican Guard uniform, stepped to the rear, striding over to his leader. "Weve got problems, Commander."
"What sort of problems," Tovah asked, turning her attention from the silent figure being strapped to the gurney and searching the young mans face with dark, almond eyes.
"The Iraqis are shoring up their boarders with Syria. Our escape route is pretty much cut off. The secondary route is still passable, but its at least a twelve hour trek through some pretty rough country." He looked significantly into the back of the truck where Adellich was squatting next to the secured woman, checking her vitals.
"Shit." Tovah looked inside the truck as well, waiting until her second had finished his work before clearing her throat. "You heard?"
"Think shell make it if we take the long way home?"
"I doubt it. I dont know how shes managing to hang on now. Any more jostling and well probably lose her."
Tovah crossed her arms and slapped one palm against her bicep as she searched her memory, working at her lower lip with sharp white teeth. "Weve got a safe-house in Karbala. Thats closer to Baghdad than I want to be right now, but I dont think weve got a choice."
"I dont think thats such a wise idea, Commander," the young soldier stated. "The roads between here and there are going to be crawling with the enemy with this massive troop buildup. And when the war starts, you can bet that Baghdad is gonna get bombed. Youll be in a lot of danger."
"I realize that, Martin. But this woman is going to die if we dont get her some immediate aid. And Im not willing to let that happen."
The young man took a deep breath. "Commander, forgive me for speaking out of turn, Maam, but youre taking a big risk. The chances are good that none of you will survive once the bombing starts. I know you want to save this woman, but whats the point if shes only going to die in Karbala along with the rest of you? I think its better to chance the longer route."
Tovah looked back into the truck, meeting Adellichs intent gaze. The older man shook his head slightly. The commander looked back at her young compatriot. "Its a risk Im going to have to take, my friend," she said gently. "Only this truck will go to Karbala. The rest of the squad can take the route to the north and safety. If you want to go with the others, do so. I wont fault you. Just leave your uniform so we can make use of it."
"Begging your pardon, Maam. But if youre going into danger, Im going with you," the young man responded, his chest stuck out with pride.
Tovah smiled and clapped the young man on the shoulder. "Youre a good man, Martin." She beckoned another soldier to approach. "Relay my orders to the others. B and C squads get in those trucks and head north to meet with A squad at the rendezvous point. Take the secondary route out of here. Benjamin, Martin and I will go to Karbala with our injured friend. Good luck and Gods blessings on all of you. You did a great job today. Im proud of you."
The young woman beamed, snapping off a stiff salute. "God grant you safety in your journey, Commander." Turning, the officer gathered the rest of the soldiers and the group entered the remaining trucks, escaping the bunker under cover from their compatriots still pinning the Iraqi forces down.
Adellich reached down a hand and aided Tovah into the back of the truck. Once there, the commander found a cache of purloined uniforms and took one out for herself, groaning at the gigantic size compared to her tiny form. She also threw one to Adellich and the two began to hurriedly dress as the truck lurched away from the scene of slaughter.
Scant moments later, the small truck rocked on its springs as a titanic explosion sounded behind them. Tovah looked out the flap and saw the remains of the bunker litter the sky in a field of fire. "May God have mercy on your souls," she whispered before turning and coming to sit beside her friend. "Hows she doing?"
"No change," Adellich replied, dragging a hand through his sweaty hair. "She has an incredibly strong will to live. I just hope itll be enough. Theres nothing more I can do for her here."
"The safe-house has a pretty good medical facility," Tovah informed him, leaning over to brush a lock of dirty raven hair from the face of the injured woman and gently caressing her noble brow. She cocked her head to the side, studying the womans features intently. "Who are you, Jafit?" she whispered. "Where are you from? Do you have kin to mourn your fate or tell your stories?"
The silent battered woman gave no answer as the truck lurched along through the desert.
24 July 1990. Israeli Safe-House. Karbala, Iraq
The journey to the safe-house was easier than any of them expected. They arrived quickly and without incident, having only been stopped twice on the road. The scarlet of their uniforms and the expertly forged documents allowed the group through the established blockades with nary a passing glance from the quickly growing ranks of Iraqi soldiers filling the streets.
With a rattling cough, the truck stopped outside of a non-descript two story building that had seen better days. The whole neighborhood had, in fact, seen better times. With its close proximity to Baghdad and the continuous shelling that was doubtless going to start up soon, Karbala might just be gasping out its last breath of existence in these watchful weeks of summer.
The rear flaps blew back as Tovah jumped from the truck, followed quickly by Adellich who bore Kaels heavy body easily in his arms. A knock to the door, an exchange of passwords, and the group was allowed entrance into the home.
With one look at the unconscious figure slumped in Adellichs arms, the soldier guarding the door sent the group up the narrow stairs and onto the second floor of the house where the medical facilities were housed. The rooms were filled with young men and women industriously going about their assigned duties. Quick glances of curiosity were spared the newcomers before attentions were returned to the important work being done.
A door at the far end of one hallway opened and a tall, striking woman with cropped dark hair stepped out, taking in the sight of the three visitors and beckoning them closer to her. "Bring her in here," the young woman said, stepping aside to allow Adellich and Tovah to enter a large, sterile room filled with medical instruments. "Weve been ready since we received your call."
Adellich strode to the single bed set in the center of the room and gently laid his charge out on the crisp white sheets. He turned to the woman, running a hand through his disordered hair. "Show me to your washing facilities. Then get her prepared for surgery."
With a crisp nod, the woman did as ordered, leading the medic back to the bathroom and the stack of clean gowns laying on a rack just inside the small room. Conditions were hardly sterile, but Adellich was used to operating in the middle of battle and so would make due with what he had, filling the woman with potent antibiotics to stave off whatever infection the lack of sterility would cause. Of course, lying about in fetid, filth infested water for days with open wounds would pose far more of a danger to the womans fragile health.
Finished washing and gowning up, Adellich gently ushered Tovah from the room as the nurse finished preparing her unmoving patient for surgery. "Itll be a few hours at the very least, so why dont you get out of that uniform and take care of business. Ill come down and let you know how things went once Im through here, alright?"
With a last long look at the woman shed helped rescue, Tovah nodded. "Good luck," she said, squeezing his arm briefly before turning from the room and closing the door firmly behind her.
"Ill need it," Adellich remarked softly, walking over to his patient to begin the lengthy process of trying to save her life.
Tovah traversed the long hallway and entered the command center of the house. Her compatriots greeted the soldier warmly, ushering her into a shower and giving her clean clothing to replace the detested and blood spattered Iraqi uniform she had been forced to don.
Rolling up the sleeves and pant legs of the too-large garments, Tovah walked back into the large second floor room, coming to stand next to an earnest young man who was busily tapping codes into a massive computer terminal housed along the back side of the room. The young man looked up at her, smiling and removing his glasses, which he proceeded to clean on the tail of his shirt. "Ive sent your information to Command, Maam. Weve just been given orders to bug out in a week. Maybe less if the Iraqis cross into Kuwait sooner than expected."
Rising, the young officer led his superior over to one of the large windows and pulled back the heavy curtain. Both looked down onto the bustling city streets. Off into the distance, Tovah could see Iraqi soldiers pulling heavy camouflage tarps over huge nests of armaments and military equipment. Tovah smirked as she noted that the soldiers werent half as interested in protecting the city and its attendant civilians from the threat of military reprisals. "Ill bet youre looking forward to getting out of here," she remarked softly to the young man at her side.
"Home has never looked so good," he agreed, closing the curtain and walking back to his post. "I havent seen my wife and daughter in almost a year."
"You realize its likely to be just as dangerous there," Tovah warned, looking over the mans shoulder at the military strategy mapped out on the large computer monitor.
"Yes. Probably moreso. But Id rather be with my family when war comes." He blushed slightly. "Theres just something about looking into my daughters eyes that makes me want to fight harder for the freedom of our homeland."
Tovah smiled warmly and clapped her compatriot on the shoulder. "I understand perfectly."
Turning away from the young officer, Tovah found an unoccupied desk away from the middle of the action and sat gratefully down in the padded chair, staring into the blank computer monitor, lost in thought. She wondered if shed ever see her homeland again. She was stuck about as far behind enemy lines as one could get, right on the brink of an all out war. Her thoughts traveled back to when she was a young girl, the only child of a marriage between an Israeli mother and an Egyptian father. Her father had been a soldier in the Egyptian army and his wife and daughter had been his biggest secrets. Growing up, the young girl had revered the impossibly tall man with the thick black hair and laughing brown eyes. She listened to his impressive tales of battles won, her young mind not even comprehending that the enemy her father spoke so proudly of defeating encompassed fully one half of her own heritage. Until she was much older, she never thought to question the fact that her mother seemed so impossibly sad during the telling of these particular tales of glory.
All the young Tovah knew was that she wanted to be a soldier like her father. It mattered not that women were not allowed in the Egyptian military. Shed change those rules when she was old enough. The day that the news came telling his family that her father died during a particularly bloody battle was the saddest of the young girls short life. She remembered being woken up in the middle of the night by her mother. She remembered being bundled into heavy clothing and taken down seemingly endless twisted alleyways that comprised the city where she had lived. She remembered her terror as large men with rough hands and rougher voices hurried her into the back of a hot, smelly truck without a word of kindness or explanation. But most of all, she remembered the totally empty look on her mothers face and how her arms seemed stiff and cold as she wrapped her young, heartbroken daughter into a maternal embrace.
Mother and daughter had barely escaped with their lives to Israel. When her father had died, Egyptian officials had found on his person letters from his wife, a wife they now knew to be the enemy. The Egyptian army officer, hero of the battle, was given the burial of a traitor that day and his family was hunted down like dogs. Friends of the family had risked their own lives to ensure the safety of Tovah and her mother, sending them on a secret, desperate journey to Israel and freedom.
Tovah was jerked out of her reverie by a strong hand on her shoulder. She started slightly, swiveling her chair around to meet the warm eyes of her second. "Howd it go?" she asked softly.
"Better than it had any right to," Adellich answered truthfully. "You want the rundown?"
The medic ticked off the injuries on his thick fingers. "Her hands were a mess. Totally crushed. Probably by rifle butts if Im not mistaken. I was able to save em both, though. She should regain full use of them, God willing. Her shin bones were pretty much shattered by the shots her legs took. It was the weirdest thing, though. When I got in there to clean them out, they had already started reknitting! Ive never seen anything like that before." He chuckled ruefully. "Shes an interesting case, alright. Anyway, I went into her belly to take a look around. Her gut was fine. Her spleen was pretty much ruined, so I took it out and took care of a laceration on her liver. She has few cracked ribs, but she must have been able to protect herself pretty well despite her injuries, cause none of them penetrated a lung. She was really lucky." Adellich shook his dark head. "She lost a lot of blood, but were replacing that right now. Some of her wounds were pretty badly infected, so were pumping her system full of antibiotics to take care of that. Shes really dehydrated, so weve also got fluids running into her."
"Will she live?"
"Well, I cant guarantee anything, but given what Ive seen so far, I think thats a pretty safe bet."
Tovah blew out a breath of relief. "Thank God for that." She smiled at her friend. "At least something good came out of this mission, huh?"
The medic returned his friends smile. "Yeah."
"Can I see her?"
"Shell be out of it for awhile. She just came out of surgery and weve got her on some pretty intense pain killers."
"Thats ok. I dont need to talk to her. I just want to see her. To reassure myself that shell be alright."
Adellich looked at his commander intently. After a moment, he shrugged. "Sure. I cant see the harm in it." Helping her up out of the chair, the medic steered his friend down the long hallway and into the bedroom they were using as a recovery room.
Their patient was laying comfortably in the large hospital bed, a faint bloom of color already returning to her cheeks, courtesy of the blood being infused into her system via a pump located next to the bed. A soft chime sounded from the cardiac monitor seated on a shelf over her dark head, keeping time with the slow beat of the womans powerful heart. IV poles and tubing competed for space in the cramped quarters.
Both of the womans long arms were laying stiffly on the bed, bound up in the thick plaster of casts which came up to her fingertips. Likewise, her legs were heavily casted from toes to mid thigh. The crisp white gown hid the bulky bandage covering the large wound on her abdomen. And with all that, Tovah was still enraptured with the sight of the woman whose newly cleaned raven hair shone almost blue in the stark lighting of the room.
"Shes a beauty alright," Adellich teased gently, easily reading Tovahs thoughts. "Id give anything to know her story."
"So would I," Tovah responded, coming to stand beside the bed. She stared intently down at the motionless figure. "Who are you, Jafit?" she asked again, whispering. "Wake up soon, alright?"
Adellich cleared his throat from his position by the doorway. "Itll be at least a couple more hours before she wakes up," he said. "Since its getting late, why dont you go get some rest? Ill have the nurse get you when she wakes up."
Not taking her eyes away from the study of the woman on the bed, Tovah answered. "No. I think Ill stay here awhile. Shes doubtless going to be disoriented when she wakes up. I dont want her reopening her wounds."
"Suit yourself," the medic said, grinning to himself. "Im going down to get something to eat. Ill be back up later to check on her, alright?"
Pulling up a small stool beside the bed, Tovah nodded absently.
Softly clucking his tongue, Adellich left the room, closing the door softly behind him.
With a start, Tovah raised her curly head from the bed, beyond chagrined that she just spent some unknown amount of time sleeping, her head on the bed of the very person she had promised to watch over. Yawning and wiping her chin, the commander sat up, putting her hands on her hips and stretching out cramped back muscles.
She paused in mid stretch as a strange tingle traveled up her spine. Opening her eyes slightly, she was shocked to meet a pair of intense pale blue irises looking back at her, very much aware and sparkling with faint amusement. Tovahs dark skin colored in a furious blush and she cleared her throat against the sudden dryness in her mouth. "Um, good . . .morning, I think. Its good to see you awake. Youve had a very rough time of it." The commander stopped her babbling when she realized that the stranger probably didnt understand a word she was saying. Clearing her throat again, Tovahs gaze traveled down the relaxed form and up to the steadily beating cardiac monitor before again meeting the mesmerizing blues of her patient. "I really dont know if you can understand me . . . ." Her voice trailed off. The strangers intent expression didnt change, nor did she speak. "Um, well, my name," she said, pointing to her chest and feeling faintly foolish, "is Tovah. Tovah Rybak. And somehow Ive got to make you understand that youre safe." She looked around the room, scratching her neck behind the fall of her thick cinnamon colored hair. "And Im not really sure how Im gonna do that," she said in an undertone. "Hmm. Well, ok. Just in case you do understand what Im saying, youre not in the bunker anymore. My friends and I rescued you from the Iraqis and brought you here to Karbala. Youre in a safe-house. Obviously, weve treated your wounds and Ive just been waiting for you to wake up so we could talk." She laughed a little. "And so here we are. Youre awake and Im the one doing all the talking." She thought she saw the eyes of the woman twinkle a bit at that last statement, but when she blinked, the expression was gone, replaced by that mesmerizingly intense stare that made her uncomfortable and giddy at the same time.
The gaze left hers as the womans eyes traveled around the room, taking in everything, missing nothing. The woman projected the air of a professional assessing the situation for hidden dangers and potential escape opportunities. Her examination complete, the patient turned her head and her gaze back to Tovah.
The Israeli was determined to say something, anything, to spark some type of reaction in the woman. She had to know if she were being understood. "About the men in the cells with you," she said finally. "They didnt make it. Im sorry. They were dead when we got there. Im sorry," she said again, softly. Then it happened again. The womans eyes changed, a look of profound sadness and guilt darkening the pristine blue before they were hidden behind lids bearing thick, dark lashes.
"Thank you for trying," came a whisper in Tovahs own language; a whisper so soft the commander wasnt sure if she had heard or merely imagined it.
"Youre welcome," she answered, but the woman was asleep and didnt hear.
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