Disclaimer: Another challenge from MyWarrior, to try to write a variation on her "The Single Most Important Thing"
Why? It stands alone.
But my thanks to Extra , thenorm, Cath and especially Mary Morgan for suggestions and corrections. If this doesnt work, its not their fault. The characters at last check, are owned by RenPic, MCA, and they dont know what Ive been up to with them. As always, there are specific references to Merwolfes Xenaverse, used with her very kind permission.
Sex: If two women in love upsets you, well, to be impolite, grow up, or get out.
Violence: A few cracked ribs, nothing major.
The chair was definitely wedged in there now, she thought. Caught between the smoke and chaos of the New York street, and the quiet dark unknown of the shop within, the senior citizen was quietly furious. Just the hub of the wheel was firmly caught in the door frame. The small woman tried twisting her body in the chair to rock it, but it wouldnt budge. One lousy inch larger, thats all it had to be. Another twist and jerk...finally, she was inside the store. She called to the shadow behind the counter.
"Damn it, did you like watching me? Why dont you have the door widened? One inch! Dyou ever hear about wheelchair access?"
The shopkeeper hadnt moved from behind her altar. "One inch, one foot, its all the same in widening a door. Ya need a new frame, new door, then a ramp, ya rebrick the exterior, comes to maybe 7,000 bucks, easy. Just so one customer a year doesnt get stuck? Tell me another one." The voice was clearly that of an older woman, bitter and bored.
"There are subsidies." The woman in the chair carefully straightened her pantsuit.
"Yeah. Half. And thats after you do the job. And then if they send it."
The customer rolled up to the counter, cursing herself for racking up her electric chair again the day before, and tried to evaluate the woman in the shadow.
"You might find yourself needing that extra inch yourself, someday."
"Well, when that happens..." probably some damned activist for the disabled thought the owner. Looked the type. Mid 60s, white hair, but with a fire still burning behind the green eyes. The shopkeeper stared down at the little woman. "You the one who placed the ad?"
The woman in the chair had closed her eyes while listening to the voice, and then shook her head. "Not so fast. I put a lot of effort into getting down here, so now I get to relax."
"You said in your ad, that you had a specific item to sell." Damn. Just another old biddy who needs to talk....
The woman in the chair cocked her head. "I described it. I got it. You want it. Its a fairly simple transaction. Its just that it took me a long time, a very long time to get here, and Im going to take a moment to...savour the experience."
"Could you savour quickly?"
"Hey! You did say it wasnt a cash deal? So Id like to spend some time looking at your wares, is that all right with you?"
The shopkeeper gestured towards the walls. As the womans eyes gradually adapted to the dark room, the incredible array of objects became clearer. Every square foot of the shop seemed to be covered in masks and weapons, some in cases, others mounted to the walls.
"Most impressive. You must have done a great deal of traveling...?"
The older woman gave a quick snort. The younger woman in the chair was determined to get some conversation out of her.
"You dont recognize me, do you?" There was only an indifferent shrug. "Isnt that so sad? I spent so much of my life trying to get my face on just about anything and everything." She gave a short self-mocking laugh. "But I guess you werent interested in fan magazines, didnt go to the movies, huh?"
"Traveled pretty much all my life, finding these..." Another gesture. " So have you savoured enough yet?"
"No. Im enjoying myself. Its like...did you ever get lost when you were a child, and then have that wonderful feeling when you were found?"
The older woman yawned. "I spent most of my life enjoying getting lost."
"Anyone ever tell you, you were looking for something..?."
The shopkeeper tried to get back on track. "Could you at least tell me the provenance of the item?"
The woman in the chair noticed a series of quarterstaffs and rolled herself towards them. "Family heirloom, I guess youd say."
"Someone in the family was an archeologist, or a tomb raider?" The owner continued to press.
Ignoring her, the customer was examining the Amazon masks when a battered volume caught her eye. It seemed to be the only book in the store. She reached for it. Oh Gods. Its the Sonnets!, she thought. And she moved her fist to her lips to stop them from trembling.
"Thats not for sale," was possessively called out.
"And why would I want it?" the woman in the wheel chair yelled back. But the shopkeeper had noticed her eyes had filled for a moment upon identifying the thin volume. The smaller woman held the book almost tenderly, and said. "It seems to have traveled a long ways. And its hardly a first edition. Did it go with you on your excursions?"
The store keepers expression didnt change, but she was thinking What was it about this woman? How could she know...? When no response was forthcoming, the other didnt ask again.
"You know," and the woman spun the chair around with ease. "many scholars believe that a woman wrote much of the work attributed to William Shakespeare."
What did that have to do with the price of fish? "Yeah, yeah. Or Christopher Marlowe or Francis Bacon."
"That poor wild boy? And Sir Francis, he never was a true romantic. Still; a wonderful, challenging man...But Will did write all of King Lear. One of the great works of the theater."
"Yeah, I heard few critics liked it. Think it did fairly well." Damn nutbar. The shopkeeper cursed inwardly. Her disappointment was easily read; the prize probably only existed in the womans imagination . "Knew them well, did you?" But the bright green eyes seemed pretty clear, and even shining with mischief.
"Well, that wouldnt be possible, would it?"
Tired of these games, the owner decided to finish this up. "Look, if you have the item, I would like to see it. Now."
"Rush, rush..." The woman in the chair protested. But she reached to her bag and pulled out an ornate case. The shopkeepers eyes widened at seeing it. The box was of an intricate jeweled design, and even at this distance she could see it alone could be worth any of the items in the shop.
Seeing the interest, the woman in the chair stopped. "Do you mind if I tell you the story behind it?" She said casually.
Licking her lips in anticipation the shopkeeper merely nodded.
"Well, it only passes to the family member who knows a certain phrase...."
"I dont understand. Where did it come from originally?"
"Originally? Its always been worn by..."
The shopkeeper interrupted again. "Lady, if its what you claim it is, its over 2,000 years old. It hasnt been always worn by your family. Where did it come from originally? Who found it?"
"Im trying to tell you. It has always been worn.."
"Maam, the chain alone would have worn out a millennium ago..."
"Oh, the chain is periodically melted and reforged, the present one is from the 17th century." The customer said cheerfully. "But its still the same chain in my heart."
The shopkeeper just shook her head and growled sarcastically. "Im happy for you. May I see?"
Carefully the box was laid on the counter and opened. To the shopkeepers amazement it appeared to be genuine. The crystal caught the glow of the examination light as she brought it closer. She was further astonished when a second case was brought out, laid beside its twin and opened with a near duplicate nestled inside. "You never said there were two!"
"I was afraid, you would get upset," the customer said quietly.
"Upset? Why would I get upset? Do they..."
"Yes, they link." And both held their breath as the shaking hands picked up the relic and moved the two halves together.
"Ive never even heard of a matching pair of Joining necklaces surviving..." The quick mind shifted gears. "What are you asking for it?"
"I want you to take the challenge." The woman in the chair held herself still.
"As I was saying. After the owner dies, the necklaces are kept, well, most recently by our lawyers, who are instructed to give them to the family member who responds with the correct phrase after they come of age. If you can get it right, its yours."
The older woman, felt a spasm of regret at taking advantage of this addled cripple, who clearly thought she was someone else, but it passed in her almost obsessive desire to possess one of these items in front of her. "What do I have to do..."
"You take it into your hands..."
"Maam, I cant take a 2,000 year old piece of history into my hands.."
"You take it into your hands," she repeated sternly. "and I will prompt you." Clumsily, the owner reached in and took the precious stone and chain into her hands, and looked up expectantly.
The woman in the chair seemed to stop breathing as she looked directly into the older womans blue eyes and touched her hand.
"Now I say, Is This Yours?"
The automatic yes, was caught in her throat as her eyes closed, her world spun. A long forgotten door seemed to open in her mind and image after image flowed through. The aged but still broad shoulders straightened slightly and she felt herself stand just a little taller. Then she opened her eyes again to look at the now familiar piece of her heart in her hands.
Strangely hoarse, she whispered, "No, this one is Gabrielles."
And her world righted itself as she looked down at the teary-eyed but expectant woman in the chair, and said "Gabrielle?"
but now that I know her worth, and that we so long have slept together, rose at the same instant, learned, played and eat together, I cannot live without her company...
Celia, of Rosalind in As You Like It
"Gabrielle?" And there it finally was. That crooked smile, the eyes filled with tears and love. The Bard just tried to bask in it for the brief moment she knew she had. Because then...
"Gabrielle." Xena quietly inquired.
Eyes cast down. "Yes, Xena?"
"Youre just a little....LATE!" There was no anger, but definitely exasperation.
And once again she was that little girl from Potadeia.
"Xena! It wasnt my fault. Really! Alice, your niece..."
"She buried you with the necklace..." Seeing the widening of those beloved blue eyes, she hastily added "She loved you, and she must have thought, well, she knew how important the necklace was to you, and instead of giving it to the lawyer like she promised, well ...anyways, when you were reborn this time, and your parents died, and all of you were adopted... then the church with the records burned and the county records were sealed..." It came out in a rush of guilt and explanation. Guilt, because she had received Xenas necklace at 18, and had waited for her warrior to come as she always had before. And had continued to dream and wait for too many years. How could she explain how long and how hard she had searched after that? The near arrest for bribing an official to open the court documents, the detectives, the phone calls, the sudden travels based only on a feeling... she finished, embarrassed, "I tried..?"
But already her warrior had moved and was kneeling beside her. Holding her with those arms and those eyes. Both still so strong and filled with compassion.
"I know. I know you did."
And it was all right.
Xena would have stayed just like that for ever, and she didnt want to waste a moment with her Bard arguing but...fifty years?
"Gabrielle? Why didnt you advertise your necklace sooner?"
"I only just figured it out and got it." She hung her head.
"You mean...?" She withdrew one hand, tapping her chin with the fist. "Gabrielle. You opened my coffin...again?"
The head snapped up quickly. "You make it sound like its some sort of habit."
Gabrielle gave the warrior her version of the LOOK.
"So, let me get this straight. You were forced to became a world famous actress and plaster your face everywhere, thinking I might see you?" The teasing tone infuriated her. "Quite the hardship."
"Listen, you dumb warrior, I sold my life story to tabloids for you. Damn it..." She almost wailed "I did television!"
"Poor Baby." But the gibe was eased by gentle kiss of her hand. Gabrielle reached over absently brushed a silver hair from her warriors eyes.
"And all that time you were probably in the Congo, or camping by the side of the Amazon...Looking for this..." She gingerly passed over her necklace.
"That wasnt what I was looking for." And she pulled Gabrielle up and wrapped her arms around her, and there was a deep sigh from both women that said more than any of their words. The white head rested on the older womans shoulder. They were content just like that for a long moment.
Breathing in that familiar scent, Gabrielle mumbled "Im just so glad you had the sonnets. I dont suppose it ever occurred to you that they were..."
"Written for me? No, I know I dreamed that, that there might be someone, who felt..."
"My Dark Lady," Gabrielle muttered into her warriors warmth, and the embrace was tightened.
"Do you still have that copy of your originals? Before Will edited them and added his own?"
"They were all still for you. He had that tremendous crush, you remember."
"Yes, but he kept changing everything. Look what he did to the ending of As You Like It."
"Xena," she reminded. " He was a genius. He was almost as important to the writing of my poems as you were. And look at the way he kept the outsider insecurities of the woman warrior by changing her into a Moor. That was brilliant."
The warrior in question tightened her jaw. "Do NOT bring up Othello. I come back after a hard campaign, and act just a LITTLE bit jealous, and Im portrayed for all time as a murderer of sweet, loyal, INNOCENT Desdemona."
Gabrielle giggled. "Well, perhaps I laid it on a bit too thick, but it kept you in line for two centuries."
"Its a reminder though." Gabrielle freed a hand to draw gentle circles on Xenas shoulder. "That time we were together right away. I did my best writing, you went roaming and fighting with Drake and Raleigh... but this time...weve wasted..."
"Wasted? Gabrielle, I know you. You had access to all the money, didnt you? What did you do with it this time?"
"I invested some in Beta clones..."
"It was the better system!"
"But what else?"
"Well, there are the womens shelters, and the lobby groups, and funds for legal assistance..."
"For people who cant defend themselves..."
"Of course!...Did you know, for example, that even in the province of Quebec
youre only eligible for Legal Aid if you earn under $8,000! And thats in
Canadian? And poverty is anything under $15,000!" Xena closed her eyes, listening
happily to the outraged voice.
"No I didnt, sweetheart, but Im so glad that you do." And she held her tighter. Gods, I love you, woman.
"So where are your medals?"
Xena stiffened. I havent got any medals..."
"Oh come on, now. I know you, too. Theres no way you didnt fight the Nazis."
The warrior dropped her eyes. "They were... taken away. When they discovered..."
"That you were a woman? How dare they? How could you let them!" If the bard had seemed outraged before...
"Gabrielle. I wasnt there for medals."
How long they might have stood there wouldnt be known, because the momentary peace the lovers had enjoyed was shattered first by a buzzing of the bell. Then the shop door crashed in.
Three young thugs swarmed in, slamming the door behind them. They were unmasked, nervous and armed. One had a gun, the others knives.
Xena blinked once and looked to Gabrielle with concern but saw only anticipation and a smile that matched her own.
" Im assuming that we are prepared for this sort of thing?" Was all she asked.
Their conversation was interrupted by the boy in the centre. "Shut up bitch! Both of you. Raise your hands and get out here." He gestured with his gun, panting slightly.
Xena hesitated for a moment thinking shes in a wheel chair. And then realized but its Gabrielle in a wheelchair,. So she gave their old hand signal indicating that Xena would take the two in the middle, Gabrielle the one on the end. Simulating fear, she hobbled forward and threw a wad of bills to the centre of the room, pleading "Take it. Take it all. Just please, dont hurt us." A glance confirmed that the money had aligned them properly and the sound of her voice covered the release of the iron grate suspended in the ceiling.
Weighing over 500 pounds, the grate swung swiftly down on its hinge, nearly lifting the two would be robbers off their feet, sending them flying across the room, crashing against the wall, where they lay stunned. Simultaneously, Gabrielle flicked her satchel out by its strap, where it seemed to just graze the chin of the distracted third boy, who instantly collapsed like hed been struck by lightning.
Xena stared at him. "What have you got in that purse?"
Gabrielle looked surprised. "The usual things. Keepsakes, mementos. I always try to replace certain things. That quartz the colour of your eyes, the piece of amber you gave me when we were swimming..."
"Rocks. Your purse is full of rocks, Gabrielle."
"Right. Do you want to deal with these jerks?"
"Maybe duct tape."
The tape was found, and there was a companionable silence as they worked.
"That ones conscious." One of the thugs struggled to rise and Gabrielle reached over to the wall and grabbed a quarter staff , wheeled over and laid the tip on his chest.
"Now," she said in a gentle, motherly tone. "You have a few broken ribs. Already they may be scraping different internal organs like your liver or your kidneys. So if youre silly enough to move around now, youll be doing more than just peeing blood for a few days... also, I would have to hit you on the head . Hard. Now, you dont want that now, do you? So, just lie still. Thats a good boy."
Xena snickered. "You always were better at the sensitive chats."
There was a popping sound of a joint as the warrior stooped over to tape the hands of her second victim.
"Gabrielle...when you thought I had the necklace...and I didnt come for you....did you think...?"
Gabrielle blushed and was silent for a moment. "Well, it did occur to me, that maybe, after all this time, you could have gotten...well...bored."
Xena tossed the tape over to Gabrielle who caught it neatly. The older woman began to laugh.
"Bored? Gabrielle, I have had this store for two years. Ive never been robbed in the daytime. And you were here for what, 15 minutes?"
"Now dont start that again, this is not my fault..." She continued wrapping her victim. "But, Xena, are you really attached to this place...?."
"Well, I have this cabin....on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia?"
"And theres a tribe called the Haida, theyve sort of adopted me..."
Xena rolled her eyes. "of course..."
"And theres fresh water, and all season hunting, and stars... the stars at night Xena..."
"Gabrielle, has it occurred to you that I am 74 years old?"
"Well, if youre worried about roughing it, the cabin cost around two mill, and theres a landing strip for my Cesna...."
"I will never forget the day when you first tried to explain compound interest to me..." Xena mused.
"...And they make sleeping bags with heat coils, and tents that come with all the amenities and clear see through roofs...." Gabrielle waited, holding her breath. The short pause seemed to drag on.
"Are there a really a lot of stars?"
Gabrielle broke into a huge grin. "Yes, yes, yes! And Northern lights, Xena, so beautiful... Ive been waiting so long to show you..."
"It must be cold..."
"It was...sometimes, but now! Theres electricity, of course, but, Gods," her eyes were sparkling " I cant wait to build the most gorgeous fire in the main fireplace!" Gabrielle tried to quell her enthusiasm for just a moment. "But it is a little, well, out of the way. I expected youd be more worried about...."
"The Greater Good? Gabrielle. Thats never been a problem. You and me together? We could be stuck on an iceflow and someone needing help would find us." The warrior caught the familiar look in her partners eyes, and smiled in the comfort of seeing it. But something still had to be dealt with. She stood up and dragged the last punk by his heels over to his companions.
"Gabrielle, you didnt wait...for me... You had..."
"Three." No hesitation.
"Three? Youre talking...Husbands?" She dropped the legs, and slowly straightened up.
"Xena... I loved them all, but I would have had a bag packed and ready five minutes after you showed up."
"Why? Damn it Xena, I have always lived for this moment. You, and me, together."
"But look at me!"
Gabrielle pulled herself out of the chair, using her staff as a support, and took the hand of the love of her lives. She looked into the eyes of the other half of her soul, knowing what she would see.
"Theres a song I heard in Canada, by a folk singer named Stan Rogers....one of his songs is about an middle aged farm wife who looks into the mirror and sees all the aging lines." She stopped and tried to sing.
So this is beauties finish. Like Rodins Belle Haumiere
The pretty maid entrapped within the Ranchwifes toil and care...
She swallowed, and explained. "But in the end she realizes that the local dance is coming up, and shell be there with her husband, her long time love...
"Shell look up in that weathered face, that loves hers line for line
And see that maiden shining in his eyes...
The tears were flowing freely now. "You see, Xena, youre the one who will always see that maiden... and I , I always see my Warrior..."
Xena stood and reached for her again and just whispered "Always. As first you were...." She took a breath, and closed her eyes, her chin resting on Gabrielles hair. Her arms wrapped around the smaller woman from behind. And as they enjoyed that familiar pose the bard recited almost to herself, "my Home...of Love. Like she that travels...I return again." She tilted her head upwards. By the Gods, do you know how much Ive missed you? If you hadnt been here...And heard the soft answer to her thoughts...
"Shhhh. Its all right now, its all right."
It was only when they noticed the reflection of a police flasher on the windows that they reluctantly separated, and a sense of urgency infected the couple. As Xena escorted the bard back to her chair, she asked, "So, do we have children, and grandchildren?"
Now Gabrielles grin was exactly as she remembered. "Oh yeah. But I get to have you alone for a while first. Then you can play Super Grandma all you want."
"Family..." The aged orphan closed her eyes.
"Yup." The Bard agreed happily. "But Xe... what about the store, all this stuff?"
The warrior gave her home for two years a glance. "Well, cant say that I could be packed in five minutes, and we do have to talk to the police, but we can afford movers, right? and two million did buy some space...?"
Gabrielle looked about at the hundreds of killing blades, African deities, and deadly weapons of war. "We do have a rec room."
Xena grabbed a mace from the wall, swinging it casually as she approached the side of the chair. "Gabrielle, do you have another ..."
"Oh yes. This is just a loaner while my electric one is being repaired. And I can walk. A bit."
"No need." She smashed the hub of the wheel flat with the mace. "Your electric one come with extras? Like rocket launchers?"
"Well," Gabrielle smiled ingenuously, "not exactly rockets..."
Another crash and the right side was crushed in as well. Xena opened the door, and standing behind her bard took the handles of the chair. It slid though the doorway with room to spare.
"Wait a minute...." Xena went over picked up the boxes from the counter, and formally presented a case to Gabrielle. Taking her own necklace, she stood behind Gabrielle, draped it over the bards shoulder, and carefully closed the catch, bending over to gently kiss the weathered neck just below the clasp. Then facing away, she slowly lowered herself and stood still while her bard painstakingly did the same. She turned, still in a crouch and stared, lost for a moment in the eyes of her wife; and they both smiled, and Gabrielle reached out to tenderly tuck the chain under the collar. Xena took the hand and held it against her own cheek, trying to freeze the moment in her mind, before rising and resuming her place behind the chair.
A thought occurred to her. "Oh, Gabrielle? What happened to your other chair...?" She gave one last look about the shop, another check on the condition of the bound punks.
"Xena, it was just the strangest thing..."
The warrior just rolled her eyes. "Uh huh...." and the door closed behind them.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
And summers lease hath all too short a date
But thy eternal summer shall not fade...