PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS III:
Endings and Beginnings
by Cath, Bard
The characters of Xena and Gabrielle, their extensions, and others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA, Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended. I wrote this story at the urging of my muse; it should never be used for profit. Please do not copy or cite elsewhere without permission from the author.
Not enough to warrant concern. But these women DO love each other.
WARNING: This story takes place during Season 6 of Xena: Warrior Princess. It may contain spoilers for parts of the season. It is also an uber tale, so the references may be slightly obtuse.
This is part of the Professional Standards series (The Introduction, Season of the Battered Bard, and Endings and Beginnings). It might make more sense if the reader starts with Professional Standards I. and PS II. Amen.
A persistent buzzing interrupted Erin O'Hanlon's pleasant, tropical dream. Unconsciously, she tried to swat the tiny insect that had aroused her, then opened her eyes slowly, slightly disoriented. It took the drowsy young woman another moment to realize the buzzing, more like a vibration really, came from the cell phone on the nightstand beside her bed.
Erin reached toward the tabletop and grasped the intrusive object. She located the talk button by instinct.
H'lo? she whispered, her voice still fuzzy with sleep, and just a touch grumpy.
Hey Erin! The voice at the other end of the line belonged to Chris Keller, Erin's costar and friend.
Erin surfaced, fighting to waken. Her costar didn't usually call her at 4:48 in the morning.
Is something wrong, Chris? Erin tried to sound calm.
Yes and well not exactly .but well, yes, damn it! Chris moved from wistful to growling in the space of a sentence.
Beside her in the bed, Erin felt Jake stir. He reached for his wife of seven months.
Erin, I'm sorry. I'll call back at a reasonable hour. This was stupid.
Something in her friend's voice penetrated Erin's sleep-shrouded brain and brought her to full alert.
Wait, Chris. She spoke quickly to keep the other woman on the line.
Jake was listening, worried. Erin sensed this as he gently rubbed her back.
I'm here and awake. Don't you dare ring off.
Erin heard a small chuckle at the other end.
OK, tough girl. I need to talk, but not over the phone. Meet me at Bastion Point, near the park overlook in about two hours. That's sunrise.
Erin, just do it, OK?
Are you still there?
I'm still here, Chris, but this is weird. Are you sure you're all right? Should I bring Jake?
No. Just your sweet self, and wear something warm. The line clicked and Chris was gone.
Something wrong with Chris? Jake asked, with a hint of worry in his tone.
I don't know. She wants me to meet her at sunrise at Bastion Point.
That's ridiculous, love.
Jake pulled Erin close, spooning against her back.
Why the mystery?
I'm not sure. But something tells me I have to do this.
Erin caressed the large hands and arms that surrounded her, and sighed. It felt warm and safe here. She dreaded heading out into the morning chill. She had never become fully accustomed to fall in April, even though she'd lived the last six years in New Zealand.
Chris and Erin had just completed the final episode of their long-running television series five days ago. The whirl of parties and publicity that followed left Erin exhausted. She craved the comfort of her home and wanted to sleep for a month. The last episode proved emotionally taxing and her bouts with morning sickness during the past two weeks hadn't helped.
Erin rose and Jake started to follow. Gently, she pushed him back into the covers and leaned down to kiss him.
No need for you to get up. I'm gonna use the bathroom, and I'll be back for an extra half-hour before I need to leave. Keep my side warm.
Two hours later, Erin steered her small Honda sedan into the Bastion Point parking area, next to Chris' blue Mercedes. She had battled nausea and concern on the drive over, and leaned against the car for a moment to steady herself. The chill breeze coming off the bay caught her by surprise, and she wished she'd worn a hat.
I'm glad I won't be spending another winter in skimpy costumes trying to stay warm, she said aloud. But a small voice in the back of her mind warned that she was going to miss it terribly.
Despite the cold, the sky was surprisingly clear and growing lighter. Erin made her way along the path to the point. She shivered as she cautiously negotiated the mist-soaked pebbles that lined the familiar trail where she and Chris and their husbands had enjoyed several day hikes and picnics another thing she would miss. Tears welled in her eyes and she blinked to clear them. If Chris had a problem, it wouldn't help to show up crying.
Erin strolled into the clearing and sighted her friend. Chris sat on a bench near the edge of the point, her back against the picnic table. She looked over and greeted the blonde with a warm smile. Her sapphire eyes sparkled and her long, dark hair flowed loose lighter now than it had been during most of the series. The wind blew it in all directions, giving her a wild, romantic air.
How young she looks, and how beautiful, Erin thought. Maybe retirement agrees with her.
Thanks for coming, Chris stated quietly.
Erin sat beside her on the bench and reached for her hand. It was icy, but Chris returned the strong grip and Erin felt the tingle that always accompanied her friend's touch. She felt it the first time she shook hands with Chris, and six years had not dimmed the sensation.
Is something wrong, Chris?
Then why this mysterious morning conference?
Chris gazed out at the bay for a moment, then turned toward Erin. Her voice was low and sad as she spoke.
With all the parties and speeches and reporters, we didn't have a chance to sort out what this means to us.
Oh no, you're not going to get all mushy and philosophical on me are you?
Erin smiled when she realized how much that sounded like a line her character in the series had used. I must be losing it, she thought, I'm starting to sound like that irritating blonde bard off the set.
She noticed that Chris was studying her.
Chris, right now I'm somewhere between breaking into tears and throwing up, or maybe both. Don't pay attention to anything I say.
Oh hell, Erin. I forgot about the morning sickness. You OK?
Erin knew she looked as awful as she felt, but responded bravely. I've survived ancient warlords, rampaging gods, fire, and flood. Having a baby will be the easiest thing I've done in six years, but .
It seems strange to get up in the morning now and not have to go to work. I might be missing it, but still in denial, you know?
Believe me, I know. OK. No mushy stuff, or at least not much.
Erin slumped against the table and concentrated on the white-capped waves as the sky brightened. Both women relished the long silence.
I wanted to tell you how much this means to me; how much I enjoyed working with you. I thought we needed a moment just us.
That's sweet, but you had to pick the windiest spot in Auckland on the coldest morning of the year? Erin grinned at Chris to let her know she was kidding.
I have just the cure.
Why am I not surprised?
The tall actress pulled a large Polarfleece blanket from the athletic bag on the bench and wrapped it around her smaller companion like a cocoon.
What about you? Erin asked with an inviting grin.
I'll join you in a moment, but what's a celebration without bubbly, eh?
Chris reached into a cooler at her feet and lifted a large bottle of sparkling apple cider, which she proceeded to open, pouring liberal amounts into two paper cups.
You are amazing. The small blonde felt the tears threatening again.
Well, I knew you wouldn't be drinking the real stuff in your delicate condition. She flashed a smile and winked, then nodded toward Erin's belly. And I remembered you had a thing for this Martinelli's apple stuff.
Yes, my favorite vintage. Erin giggled as she took the cup from her friend.
Chris scooted closer and Erin lifted the blanket, enveloping her costar.
They toasted each other with the paper cups of sparkling cider.
Two women -- one of them tall, dark, and long-haired, the other short, muscular, and fair -- sat together staring out at the Bay.
It's over, Erin whispered in a voice tinged with sadness.
Yeah, Chris grunted.
A penny for those thoughts
Erin, I don't know what to say that would make this any easier. But thank you again from the bottom of my heart for six wonderful years, for being my best friend, for your style, and intelligence, and humor, and hard work, and .
Erin reached up and gently covered the other woman's mouth with her hand.
My turn. You know I feel the same about you too. And Chris?
Thanks again for sticking by me when they wanted to dump me that first season. She removed her hand. Your friendship made the difference then and it still does. You mean everything to me.
Blinking back her own tears, Chris reached into her pocket and extracted a small, green velvet pouch.
I want you to have this. She held out the tiny bag. Erin seemed frozen in place.
Hey, we already exchanged farewell gifts.
This isn't a goodbye gift. In fact, I don't plan to say goodbye at all.
Erin took the pouch. With trembling fingers, she pried it open and pulled out a small, silver talisman in the shape of a scroll. A golden quill rested in relief across the scroll. Erin held it at arm's length to read the inscription.
Hey, Chris, I didn't bring my reading glasses, but even if I did, I don't read Greek.
Allow me to translate.
Without looking, Chris recited the message she'd had engraved on the scroll.
E and C that's us, of course; X and G, that's THEM, she stated, referring to their characters on the show, best friends for eternity soulmates.
Erin lost control. Her deep, quiet sobs echoed in the morning stillness. Chris wrapped a strong arm around the smaller woman and pulled her close. She was crying too.
After awhile, the tears stopped and they sat together in silence again.
Chris leaned down and whispered, You asleep?
Erin looked up into Chris' sparkling eyes. God, it felt so good just to let go. This is gonna be tough, isn't it?
No doubt. But we'll find plenty of excuses to get together.
I hope so.
Count on it, Shorty.
Erin drew back a tight fist and punched her pal on the shoulder.
Ouch! What was that for? Chris actually looked surprised.
For making me cry. And for being wonderful to work with, and funny, and generous, and
Now who's gushing? Chris interrupted.
Erin ran a hand through her hair and dried her eyes on the sleeve of her sweatshirt.
You're right, as always. But, hey, I think you cured my morning sickness, at least for today. She paused and studied Chris' face, memorizing the moment. Guess we'd better head home and face the future.
Chris hadn't bothered to dry her tears and Erin noted the moist rivulets on the tall woman's cheeks. Instinctively, she reached up and brushed away the tears with her thumb.
Erin drew a deep breath. She needed to do one more thing this morning.
Chris, I have a favor to ask.
What is it?
Well, you know we never did get to do that Sappho episode. I really wanted to play her. It would have been so much fun. And that kiss in the last episode was wonderful, although Erin searched for the courage to continue, then Chris caught on.
But you want to know what the real thing would have been like?'
Erin stared down at her hands. Well, yes.
Are you sure?
The blonde nodded.
No problem. 'Sappho's Choice.' Take one.
Chris leaned down. Erin reached up, placing a strong hand on each cheek and drawing Chris into a soft, sweet, searing kiss that lasted .
Finally, Erin released Chris. Both women were breathing rapidly. The blonde's face glowed a deep pink; her grin extended from ear to ear.
Chris blinked a few times to get her bearings. She wore a matching smile, but without the blush.
You kiss almost as well as Jake! Erin exclaimed breathlessly.
I'll take that as a compliment.
Erin's grin turned sly.
Just think what a time the tabloids would have with that one.
To hell with them, Chris growled. I'll kiss anyone I damn well please. And Erin?
I have never been kissed like that. Never. Thank you.
After a few more minutes gazing at the bay, Erin helped Chris gather her gear and they headed back down the path toward the parking lot.
A passing observer would have seen two women strolling along; the shorter with her arm wrapped tightly around her friend's midsection. The taller woman draped her long arm casually, yet protectively, across the other's shoulders.
Their laughter rang warmly through the chilly April morning.
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