~ The Thread ~
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, et. al. are characters belonging to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. There be subtext here folks, this story implies a loving relationship between two of my favorite women. If the idea of said women deeply in love upsets you, go visit the lovely works in General fiction. A little language is here as well, but I think you'll find its use appropriate.
This one is based on one of my crazy 'ham-sandwich-and-rootbeer' dreams (hey, I can actually get something out of them other than, ummm, INTERESTING encounters...) These gals always seem to show up when I need them the most, wish they would hang around more often though. You're beautiful ladies, I loves ya. Timeline, hmmm, takes place just after "Motherhood". For those of you who haven't seen all episodes previous to that one, there may be spoilers here and there.
Any constructive comments are welcome at the e-mail address below.
This is dedicated to all writers of fanfic wherever you may be, - writer's block is HELL! To my online bro, the MartMan - Viva the Relationship! To Eptalk, thanks for bringing back my faith in the love between a warrior and bard when I most needed it. To my main galpal Nightsong, always trying to make you proud. To Renee O'Connor, for dazzling me with with beauty, and charm (wellll, and also for providing me with some memorable moments during R.E.M.!) And to my best friend D, you are a part of all I do.
Okay, I really need someone to cut me off now. It's four am, and I'm still on the Internet. Worse, I have to be up at six for work. Oh, how I could write if there was nothing but Xena in my life...
Who am I really? Ahhh, just one more wannabe bard. Trying to make it in a rewarding enough, but ever changing biz. Fanfic pages? Yeah, I've scoured the majority. Written letters to my alt. Heroines, worshipping their work? Hell yeah. I should sleep more, but I have to absorb it all - the power, the passion, the whole nine yards. I think I'll turn in now, though. The cookie box is empty and my computer screen is looking like my 5- year-old cousin's first attempts at art.
With a few quick keystrokes, Brenna logged off the online discussion channel and shut down her laptop. She fumbled for the light switch to the small black lamp on her computer desk, and with slow, heavy movements, removed her jean shorts and white T-shirt for bed. She slipped on some oversized sleeping boxers that her Gram had bought her years back, and a long flowing nightshirt prominently featuring Disney's '101 Dalmatians.' After mumbling a few short sentences to fulfill her evening prayers, she slid under the thin sheet covering her bed. It was too hot for a comforter, and her fan was turned up to the highest level. A shower might have been welcome about now, but she figured she'd drop from the effort and knock herself unconscious on the shower floor.
She rolled around a bit to find a comfortable position, then lay on her stomach, snuggling her head on her dark green pillow and burrowing her left arm under it. Letting out a contented sigh, her blood-shot eyes closed to welcome the wonderful world of sleep.
'Pok, pok, pok....'
What is that??? Brenna asked herself, as she struggled to lift her head from the pillow. Who would be making noise in my room at this hour of the night? Brown eyes shot open in shock. Oh my God, did somebody break in? Nah, the security system would have gone on full-blown red alert. So, what...?
Slowly, propping herself up on her pillow, Brenna turned her head to the left, and the other half of her bedroom. Oh boy...
As much as her brain tried to register it as sleep haze or distorted vision (her contacts were out,) she could clearly see a tall, dark-haired brunette standing by her computer in full leather outfit. And not just any outfit...
It sure LOOKED like Xena. The moonlight streaming in through Brenna's open window outlined a graceful, finely chiseled face and blue eyes so dark one could barely tell what color they were at all. Her sword as always at her back, and the recently renovated chakram on her belt. Her brow was furrowed in what seemed like curiosity and puzzlement, as she tapped the knuckle of her right index finger on Brenna's darkened computer screen.
'Pok, pok, pok,'
Almost immediately, the dark figure felt Brenna's eyes looking her up and down, and she slowly turned her head to regard the equally dark-haired brunette on the bed. For long seconds, neither said a word.
"Xena," a smooth, female voice called, "just look at this!"
Both women turned towards the source of the quiet tone and Brenna saw a short, svelte blonde standing by the writer's workdesk. She must have been about the sleepy woman's height, and her light brown leathers with an ingenious cross tie in the back outlined a slightly muscled, but none the less admirable feminine form. Brenna's eyes widened slightly and she felt her already dry mouth take on a sandpaper quality.
The short-haired woman had become very interested in Brenna's can of pencils and small sheets of paper on her desk. "Look Xe, it's like my quills and ink, only without the ink bottle. What an odd yellow color. And look at her writing materials. So fine and soft, not so much like my scrolls..." Gabrielle turned around to show her joyous find to her companion and immediately noticed that she too was being watched.
"Oh!" the bard dropped the pencils and paper that she had been so openly admiring. "I...uhhh...we hope we didn't scare you."
Scared doesn't even BEGIN to describe how disturbed I am.
The sleepy woman looked over at Xena. "Are you guys really...you know...the Warrior Princess, and..."
The tall woman's face curled into an amused expression. "That would be me, yes, and this is Gabrielle, bard of Poteidaea."
Brenna sat up. "Oh, I know who you both are, I was just checking to make sure I wasn't going insane..."
Gabrielle stepped closer and tentatively kneeled by the bed very close to the nervous woman's face. "And why exactly do you think YOU'RE the one who's crazy? We weren't here a candlemark ago and all of a sudden were in this odd little room of yours and wondering how in Tartarus we got here."
It took the now fully awakened woman a moment to register a normal, coherent thought, as she was unable to break away from Gabrielle's intense green eyes. God, those eyes. But if they are, who they say they are, what about LL and ROC? I'm getting a headache. Clearing her throat, she was pleased to find her voice lacking the annoying 'just-woke-up' scratchy quality.
"Well, you're here, you're really here. None of us know why, but just the same, it's a pleasure to meet you both..." She glanced at the red numbers on her white, digital alarm clock. "...Although I wish this meeting could have taken place in the late afternoon." FIVE in the morning? I only slept HOW long? She turned back to Xena and Gabrielle.
Brenna noticed that Xena was very wary of her dark green swivel chair. "Uhh, you can sit in it if you like Xena...can I call you Xena?" Well, that was an idiotic thing to say, she mentally berated herself.
The warrior merely smiled and nodded. Slowly she sat in the chair, only to find in her surprise that she could turn it in any direction or push it off across the carpeted floor. She did so with a grin that Brenna was sure no viewer ever got to see on the show. She spun a few times for good measure then quickly let it stop, just facing Gabrielle and the pair of puzzled brown eyes looking back at her.
"Now THIS is interesting contraption Gabrielle, see how those little cartwheels propel it where I want?" Cute, 'Xena: Warrior Playmate'. For some reason that thought made her think of an equally appealing double entendre which she quickly shook her musings from.
The bard didn't seem too interested in the chair, as much as in the materials she'd dropped. She quickly stood up to retrieve them and placed them almost reverently on Brenna's desk. "Are YOU a bard?" she asked hopefully.
The room's inhabitant sat up in a cross-legged position and thought for a moment. "I'm trying to be. I'm going to college to learn how to be a better one, but I like to write stories, ahh, about you and Xena, for the public and for other bards."
Gabrielle blushed, which Brenna thought was unbelievably adorable, while Xena raised an eyebrow.
The former asked, hoping to change the subject from she and her companion, "College? Is that like a writing school? An academy?" she added, eyes shining at old memories.
"Yeah, just like that. An academy of sorts. Only they don't just specialize in the barding craft, they also teach the foundations of science and mathematics. Other trades as well."
Xena's face began to darken a little, her eyes becoming icy and penetrating.
Uh-oh, what did I say?
"How can you write about us if you've never actually been around to witness the things we've done in the past? You're either very good at following us around or adapting from, maybe copying, Gabrielle's scrolls."
The bard looked shocked, then hurt. Brenna looked up at the warrior in open-mouthed amazement. "NO! That's not it at all! I merely gather inspiration from your show to write a fictional account of an adventure the two of you MIGHT have. I don't take the work of others, and certainly not that of Gabrielle. Why, other than on TV I've never even SEEN one of her scrolls."
Xena looked at her carefully, and to the young woman's relief, saw her anger dissipate. "I believe you're telling the truth. Forgive my reaction but there are few that write so much or so well about our lives as Gabrielle herself. Any other bard hears it second hand from her fine works." The tall woman looked at her best friend with an openly loving and appreciative glance. Brenna smirked. I wish I could have had a camcorder on hand for this moment, just one more piece of evidence of the bond these two have.
What am I thinking? Would anyone online believe a mere tape as proof? They'd think it was some goofy homemade deal, or extra footage swiped from the studio. Let's face it, if the 'The Quest' didn't convince people, nothing will...
"Umm," she quietly interrupted the warm energy between them, "You still don't know who I am. Brenna Reilley - student by day, hostel operator by night."
Xena grinned at the small jab and extended her right hand in greeting, which her grateful admirer shook warmly. Gabrielle did the same, verdant eyes sparkling with friendliness. Brenna decided to be bold and lightly took the blonde woman's strong but soft hand to deposit a light kiss on it. The bard blushed once more, looking quickly to her companion who had raised both eyebrows at the action. The jammy-clad bard smirked at her, letting her know no harm was intended and the warrior quickly winked at her in understanding. Yes, I know she's yours, but that doesn't change any bit that she is GORGEOUS. Just testing a theory, and I am so pleased to find I'm right.
"Now, you mentioned a show about us. Do they re-enact plays in our honor here?" the tall woman asked, confused.
"Not exactly, well...they act out your adventures, which get filmed or captured for all to see through this electronic device over here..." Brenna proudly pointed at her small color set on the shelf. "This is a television set, or a TV for short."
The bard looked eagerly towards the set, but frowned slightly. "I don't see us in that little window."
Brenna scratched the back of her neck in frustration. "No, you gotta turn it on first." And she did so, to the shock of one ex-warlord and one ex-farmgirl. Ignoring the Warner Brothers cartoons on the screen, the student slipped a tape into the VCR beneath the set. She pressed the play button, and turn around to beam at her visitors. They watched in rapt attention as Xena ran along through a grassy setting and took a long, spectacular leap onto a looming ship in the water. Her battle cry in full glory.
The Warrior Princess sat back stunned in her chair, as Gabrielle absently sat on the now unoccupied spot on the bed to watch her life play out on this funny little box.
Brenna wanted to interrupt them for questions or to talk some more, but saw that they wouldn't be budged until the end of the episode. Oh well, let em watch. I'll get them to pay attention to me again when it's over, and I love this episode anyway. The young woman couldn't help but smile as her heroines briefly looked away from the set to gaze at each other affectionately during the reunion scene.
Oh yeah, thought their new friend, This will be fun.
It wasn't hard to notice the emotions playing across the two women's features as they finished watching the tape. Fear, disbelief, suspicion - it was all there. Brenna was amused to watch Xena touch the TV screen every now and then to be sure that the things she was seeing weren't solid, weren't real.
Finally, the end credits rolled by and the young woman walked over to shut off the screen.
"That was...magical," Gabrielle murmured after some contemplation at what she had just seen. "You own a visual, a piece of our lives that you can have access to anytime. Forgive me if that makes me a little self-conscious, Brenna."
Xena's brow was wrinkled in thought. "I don't suppose you could explain how this works?"
"No way," Brenna sighed "That would take me forever, especially since I don't completely know myself. It's what we call here 'the wonders of technology.'" She looked eagerly at her guests. "Ummm...given any thought as to HOW you got here?"
The leather-clad warrior thought for a moment, absently swiveling the green roller chair back and forth.
"There was nothing out of the ordinary going on before this. We were staying at friend's house for the night. I had started to polish my sword, and Gabrielle was taking down one of her new stories. Well, that's what I think she was doing - she sat there so long without writing a word I thought she'd fallen asleep." Xena smirked at her companion still seated on Brenna's bed.
Gabrielle crossed her arms in a mock glower. "I was restructuring ideas in my head, I might have had an easier time concentrating without that little 'shik, shik' sound you were making with your weapons."
Brenna grinned at the small exchange and slowly walked to her bedroom door and locked it. I don't want my roommate to hear this. She's gonna think I'm talkin' to myself or something.
Then she shuffled to her desk to pick up the tear-sheet calendar sitting on it. "Just so's you know, you are somehow on the American continent, across the sea from your homeland, in the year 2000. You are a loooong way from home, my friends."
Said friends seemed startled, even dazed at this news. "That means Eve is still there, by herself," Xena commented softly. From the corner of her eye, Brenna noticed Gabrielle's indifferent look and slight shift of position.
Hoping to relieve some of the growing tension in the room, Brenna hopped over to her laptop. "Uhhh, I wanna show you guys something else."
She turned on the monitor and waited for the Windows screen to pop up. The whirs and beeps prodded Gabrielle to stand up and walk over for a closer look. Finally, Brenna's main screen came up, complete with 'Xena' desk top theme and wallpaper. Both women were amused at the writer's embarrassed flush, as a resounding "Ayiyiyiyiyiyi" sound clip announced the computer as fully on.
"See Xena," the bard poked the taller woman in the ribs, "I knew you would always be remembered, you probably have your own fanclub." At this the Warrior Princess scowled but looked playfully at the blonde.
You have NO idea what sort of a fanclub you BOTH have...mused the jammy-clad writer as she quickly logged onto the Internet and clicked on the Netscape icon.
"Check this out ladies, your one-stop information source on Xena or anything else you like." Brenna beamed. Her guests watched with curiosity as she typed in the URL for the TavernWall chatroom. Then she froze and said thoughtfully, "Wait, you're Greeks right?"
"That's right," Gabrielle raised an eyebrow.
"Than how are you understanding me? I don't speak Greek."
Xena raised an eyebrow. "Well, we assumed that was the case..."
"Can you read what I'm typing out here as well?" Brenna indicated as she entered Gabrielle's name in the blank.
"Yes," the bard smiled indulgently. The warrior just rolled her eyes.
"Okay then. This is what we call a message board. I write notes to other people who love watching Xena," she flushed as said woman smirked. "I mean, the show 'Xena: Warrior Princess.' Then, if these people want to respond they leave ME a note, and it all follows a topic on the same thread."
Brenna briefly showed them how she manipulated and used the mouse as well as the keyboard, to type out her messages. Then she let a round-eyed bard sit in the chair and explore. Xena found more interest in Brenna's stereo system than in the wonders of the net.
Having seen what the remote to the TV had done, she instinctively reached for stereo's control and found the on button on the first try. The blaring sounds of the local rap station filtered through the speakers.
"Almost as bad as Draco," she said absently.
With more patience than she thought she had, the shorter brunette demonstrated how to change the stations or switch to CD player mode with the remote. Xena finally settled for a channel playing Bonnie Raitt's "Somethin' to Talk About". Brenna controlled the urge to giggle as she turned back to the computer to see what the bard was up to.
What she found was a fuming young woman angrily typing out a message on the keys. Brenna quickly checked to see what topic she was responding to -
Bile: Warrior Bard - Good or Extremely Bad for the Relationship?
"Gabrielle, what are you doing???" Brenna asked with evident fear in her voice.
"Telling these people that I've found my path. That I fought like Tartarus for Xena and her child. Out of love, not savagery! Love, not blood-lust!"
A casual glance at Xena told the writer that she wasn't listening to anything else but the stereo, so she easily continued to speak to the bard.
"I know this makes you angry Gabrielle. Sometimes it makes me see red too. But didn't you read the little disclaimer before clicking on the topic? You shouldn't be in here if you are easily hurt by other people's opinions. And doesn't everbody have a right to those? It's not for either of us to say that any one statement is wrong - just as long as you and I know what we believe with regards to your relationship with Xena."
Gabrielle wrestled with her temper for a few more seconds, then sheepishly pressed the backspace key to erase her lengthy and explosive response. She asked with a blush "Is EVERYBODY on the...uhhh...Internet aware of how she and I really feel for each other?"
Brenna sighed and as a comforting gesture (OK, also as an excuse-to-touch gesture) put her left arm lightly around the bard's shoulders. "Most of us who watch know that the bond between you two is so strong it surpasses this life and the next. We know you're soulmates. I'm also inclined to think that there is romance in there somewhere...isn't that right?"
Gabrielle's luminous green eyes met warm brown and she nodded with conviction. She briefly looked at Xena, still bobbing her head to the music as she lay sprawled on the bed. "She's my entire world, Brenna. I couldn't live without her. But lately..."
She looked like she was going to cry. Her new friend gazed thoughtfully at her and waited for the bard to collect her thoughts before continuing.
"Sometimes I feel like these people here," she motioned to the screen, "are right. Not just about my 'warrior' attitude but about a lot of things that have been going on lately. Listen, this time jump was especially shocking for us both because back in out time, we had already jumped 25 years into the future from our PREVIOUS time. We lost a daughter, a friend and possibly both our families in that leap. And we've never talked about it."
Brenna began some soothing motions with her left hand on the bard's arm, now feeling really guilty about not having warned the bard just what was on the MSB.
"We don't talk about ANYTHING anymore. We just let it happen, never mention it again, and just try to forget - move on. But I think neither of us has moved on..." Gabrielle now struggled to keep her composure, as small tears streaked down her face. "Brenna, she doesn't look at me the way she used to. She doesn't touch me or hold me when I really need it. She doesn't really talk about how she feels. She almost killed me not too long ago because..."
"I know what happened, Gabrielle. The chakram blow and death of the gods, right?" Brown eyes looked sympathetically at her. Funny, you'd think with all of Xena's super senses she would hear this conversation. But she hasn't said anything or moved to anything but the music. Maybe she's ignoring the problem? Or too afraid to address it?
The blonde woman looked again with suspicion at the writer, probably questioning again JUST how much this person knew about her life with Xena. She swallowed and paused before speaking again.
"Well then...you know. But do you have any idea how it felt when she wouldn't speak to me about it? Just ignore it and focus on Eve? I need her just as much as I used to, maybe more. But these days her thoughts aren't directed at me anymore."
Brenna's heart felt heavy. If she didn't already know, she could easily see what the blonde was feeling. Hell, she'd seen how Xena dragged her though the mud like so much baggage while cradling her daughter. She understood the power of motherhood, but still...
Gabrielle wiped her eyes and looked painfully at Brenna, who in turn scratched the back of her neck uncertainly. What to say?
They were interrupted by Xena's cry of astonishment.
"Hey, I'm fading away!"
The bard and the short brunette watched as Gabrielle was also beginning to fade away. "Brenna!" she cried, reaching out for her new friend's arm. To their horror, Brenna also began to fade away along with her heroines.
This is just NOT my night...
An almost blinding light seemed to swirl around Brenna's eyes, preventing her from seeing what was going on. Her stomach was in the process of doing a jig, and her head felt like it had been hit by a soccer ball. Again.
All at once, the light began to fade and the young writer cautiously opened her eyes to find...
Endless rows of trees dotting the landscape and a huge mountain far off in the distance. She was breathing in the sweetest air imaginable, and her hands softly gripped a bed of long, lush grass. Is this New Zealand? Brenna wondered in awe. Or perhaps...
"Xe, we're home again!"
With a gasp, Brenna turned, still on all fours, to the right where Gabrielle was picking herself up and dusting off her skirt. For a moment, their eyes met and an equal amount of shock registered on either woman's face. They were apparently still having the same dream, or the most frightening experience of their lives.
For her part, Xena was standing not too far ahead of them, her eyes scanning the surroundings to be sure they were indeed where they should be. She also turned to look at Brenna, but simply raised a curious eyebrow.
"Gabrielle," she mused, "How exactly is our friend supposed to get back home now?"
Good question. Here's mine...WHY DID I HAVE TO TRAVEL BACK IN TIME IN MY PAJAMAS?!?!?
Gabrielle smirked as she looked Brenna up and down, apparently reading her thoughts. She ran a hand through her shaggy blonde locks pensively.
"I think you and I both know that normally the gods are behind something like this, warrior. But there's only Aphrodite now, and what reason would she have to play with time?"
Brenna frowned and looked to Xena.
"Can she do that?"
The tall woman answered almost right away. "No, I don't think that particular talent is included in the Goddess of Love's repertoire. No, there's something else going on which I can't put my finger on just now."
Brenna herself was running through the possibilities in her head. Ares can be ruled out, but what does that leave us with? C'mon bard, think creatively, think cosmically, think...
"I think the first thing we need to do is get Brenna out of those clothes." Gabrielle remarked, obviously amused. "I'm not sure the modern world is ready for her, ahh, fashion sense."
The student's cheeks flushed in embarrassment, as she gingerly lifted herself off the ground and removed what she could of the dirt from her nightclothes. Then, brown eyes almost popped open. "Does this mean I get to wear...leather?"
Xena chuckled. "Well, there is that. Or how about a nice colorful blouse and a long, flowing skirt?" she shot a teasing glance at Gabrielle, who easily returned a mock glare at her love.
"If it's all the same to you, let's find a tanner." Brenna strode purposefully a few steps to the left. Suddenly she stopped, and looked back to regard her companions once more.
"Uhhh, can I borrow some dinars?"
It didn't take long for bard and warrior to get their bearings and locate a town close to where they had originally been staying. Immediately seeking out a clothing shop, they quickly ushered their gaping friend inside. On the walls hung many, many kinds of garments, uniforms and suits to choose from, all situated according to occupation or postion.
Gabrielle was the first to speak up. "I can help you with this Brenna, I have a good eye for style and color. And maybe while I'm here I could pick up a few things we've been needing at the house..."
The Warrior Princess groaned audibly. "I'll meet you both outside at the tavern when you're done. Have fun." She quickly turned on her heel and made her escape.
The bard twisted her lips into an indulgent smile. "Chicken."
The dark-haired woman giggled at the jab, but soon found out why Xena had left so quickly.
And wondered why she hadn't gone with her.
Gabrielle took her time, pointing everything out to her new friend and explaining the benefits each item could have. Even going as far as to calculate how much she could talk the price down with the vendor to suit their purse. Geez, and I thought my sister was a shopping freak. This woman has it down to an art!
Finally, she was able to decide upon on outfit that she liked and that Gabrielle didn't frown at. It was composed of soft gray leathers with simple black boots, silver-colored arm bands and a black leather belt with a circular buckle to hold the vest and snug pants neat and tight. The shirt itself had no sleeves, exposing what Brenna considered her frail arms to the world. A very modest cleavage cut and a gray hair-tie completed the look as she anxiously examined herself in the mirror. Gabrielle smiled approvingly.
Whooo, not bad. This is no imitation wear, either. Man, why can't stuff like this be available for conventions?
She was feeling a little guilty about having Gabrielle pay for it, but there was no other choice and the blonde woman didn't seem to mind. Hell, she'd already convinced the shopkeeper to accept 20 dinars less than it was worth.
Then it was simply a matter of tagging along after the bard, who obtained a new set of scrolls, ink, and an assortment of goods for meals and weapon cleaning. Kinda like an ancient Wal-Mart, only without lines, without clumsy shopping carts...
Just then a large man, smelling of weeks old ale stepped up from behind and made a grab for Brenna's arm. He never even got hold of the fabric as Gabrielle casually slipped a sai out of her boot, and bringing her arm back, knocked the idea out of his head soundly. Thump.
And without cheerful 'Welcome to Wal-mart' greeters.
The walk to the cottage that Gabrielle and Xena had spoken about must not have taken all that long. Still, their young companion found that it was energy draining to lift a boot-clad foot, and that the hot sun loved to feast on leather. She wiped the sweat out of her eyes for the hundredth time, and groaned in relief when she finally saw that they had arrived at their destination.
They stepped inside and as Gabrielle began to lay her purchases on a large wooden table, Brenna collapsed in a nearby chair. Xena began to call for her daughter.
"Eve, we're back! Where are you? You'll never believe what we picked up..." The last being said with almost certain amusement in her voice. The student glared at Xena's retreating back and idly scratched at her leather-clad thigh. This type of wear just wasn't as glamorous as she'd imagined.
Gabrielle's green eyes regarded her with humor, but also warmth - she understood how strange the experience was for such a one. A different time, a different way of life, it was probably way too much to take in a couple of weeks, let alone a day. As the dark-haired woman closed her eyes, the bard looked at the neatly folded up print pajamas she had tucked away with the goods. She assumed the creatures depicted on them were dogs of some kind, but - how strange - with black spots covering their coats.
Xena interrupted their few minutes of peace, as she strode back into the room. "Eve's gone, Gabrielle." Her blue eyes were obviously clouded with worry and fear.
Her companions sat up. "Let's not panic, she's probably not far away, Xena. And besides, Eve is a full-grown woman who can take care of herself." Brenna noted a slightly bitter edge to the words.
"Yes, but she's unstable, you know that. What if she's gotten herself into trouble? I'm going to go look for her." The warrior opened the door to leave, and then paused to look back at the woman she had once called soulmate. "You comin'?"
Their audience of one could tell that Gabrielle wanted to say yes, to be with the woman she loved as she always had been. But instead she looked to the floor briefly, and green eyes filled with confusion and pain.
"You go. Brenna can go with you if she wants to. I'll stay here and see if she doesn't return before you get back."
For a moment, sky blue eyes implored with the blonde woman to be by her side, but as quickly as the emotion had surfaced, she pushed it back and clenched her jaw in determination.
"Alright, I'll go then. Brenna?"
The student swallowed a bit in discomfort, than looked to Gabrielle for permission. The bard nodded her head, and forgetting her exhaustion, the dark-haired woman moved to join the warrior by the door. As Xena stepped outside, Brenna looked back trying to convey reassurance in that everything would be alright when they got back.
The bard smiled and watched her friend set out after her lover. When she was sure they had ridden off, she quietly brought her hands up to cover her face and began to sob.
Having had some experience riding horses as a child, Brenna didn't have too much of a problem getting on Gabrielle's tall, brown roan. Or at least, that's what she thought was the steed's gender.
Did they really name the horse Amber? Can't they get these things right by post-production? Ye gods, what a season!
Resting her fingers nervously on the reins, the writer stole a glance to her left where Xena, sitting in the saddle, was quietly talking to Argo II. The warrior princess had a scowl on her face as she suddenly straightened up and nudged the horse to a start. Following clumsily, her companion took off right behind her.
Whoa, steady fella! Uncle Jeff may have had 'Bitsy' for me to ride back oat the farm, but I'm not in any way used to your pace!
To her relief, they slowly picked up speed and were able to comfortable match Argo's gait, covering a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time. Xena continued to look somber, as she focused on the terrain far ahead and nothing else. I think she's as upset and confused as Gabrielle, but there's no way she'd think of telling her. Should I even get involved with this? The thought of a chakram-wielding, pissed-off warrior princess doesn't much appeal to me. Damn your stoic nature, Xena! Why can't you just give her the comfort of knowing you still care what she thinks?!
"We'll be making a stop in that village up ahead!" the ex-warlord called over her shoulder. "Keep your eyes open for trouble."
Brenna nodded to the wind as the taller woman turned back to her course. If not for the delicate situation, the writer would have enjoyed immensely the feel of the wind flowing through her dark hair. But instead her features were wrinkled in concentration, trying to come up with a delicate way to approach the warrior without making her lose it. She'll probably tell me to butt out, I would too I guess. But this is too important to let go. If I can't see this happen on the show, then it's gotta happen here, right now.
Her thoughts were interrupted as she noticed Xena coming to a stop in a small grove situated on the outskirts of the village. With practiced, fluid motions she slid off the horse, giving her a pat on the nose before she turned to look at Brenna.
"This is a fairly small population, the place consisting of a tavern, an inn, a worship temple, and the council chambers. I'll look around the general area and see if the locals know where Eve went. You go to the temple and see if anyone there can give you information. We'll meet back at the chambers before the sun goes down to compare findings."
The warrior turned to leave but on an impulse, the younger woman walked quickly to where she stood and mustering some courage, took hold of her arm.
The tall brunette turned to face her, ice-blue eyes glinting dangerously. "Never, do that again."
Oh, good job clueless. Just risk getting your arm ripped off before the good stuff begins...
With an almost audible gulp, Brenna looked up and steeled herself for what she had to say.
"Listen, I know you and Gabrielle are having personal problems..."
Xena's eyes softened a touch, but only that. "And what business is that of yours?" she murmured low and menacing.
Eek. "You do know how much this is hurting her, right?" Blue orbs narrowed. "Well, having invested so much time in both of you, with regards to the show and my stories, I feel as though I know you both relatively well. You can't tell me that things are OK, as always, because I know you haven't talked about anything that's been troubling either of you for ages. The time jump, the possible loss of both your families and friends, Gabrielle's instinct to ki-uffff!"
A fuming woman pushing her and holding her back against a nearby tree cut her sentence short. Now she'd done it, gotten on an ex-warlord's bad side.
"What do you KNOW about how Gabrielle is feeling?!? Or what I'm feeling?!? You haven't had to face the problems that we've had or felt the pain we've been forced to accept!!! You've never lost a child or been forced to see that your second has become as ruthless as you have!!! Every night I have to live with the fact that I'm losing Gabrielle to these circumstances and that she is becoming more like me everyday! You have NO idea how hard this has been on us both!"
Hookay, I've had it. It was Brenna's turn to be angry as she furiously swiped Xena's arm away from her chest, releasing her grip. "All I can see is a coward who is to afraid to do what's right for the one she loves!"
NOW Xena looked like she was ready slice the writer's throat, but the younger woman was too filled with her own ire to notice.
"Both of you are at fault here, but I can't believe you can't just talk about it, dammit! She's supposed to be your 'soulmate', your lover, and your best friend - and still you can't take a few minutes to talk about what's wrong in your life together! Remember, I SAW you use your 'sexual whims' to lure Antony and Ares into your trap, just what do you THINK Gabrielle is supposed to think about it?!?"
"NOW WAIT A MINUTE!" the warrior roared in objection.
"No, YOU wait, I'm through with keeping quiet about it! I ALSO saw you throw that chakram at Gabrielle's head without a thought, without flinching. And don't blame it on instinct either, you could have easily just knocked the sais out of Gabrielle's hands instead of DICING HER SKULL!!! And then you feel a little guilty about it...and proceed to drag her on her face out of that burning hole while you cradle Eve. What is wrong with you??? Is the love you had for her so weak Eve's presence could so easily shake it."
Xena brought her hand back at this last remark to deliver a jaw shattering punch, and the younger woman, for her part, jutted out her chin, daring the Warrior Princess to give it to her. Brenna was terrified but determined to see this out, one way or another. But just as it seemed that she would be welcoming the painful realm of unconsciousness, Xena simply dropped her arm and scowled.
"I don't have time for this, I've got to find Eve and return your miserable self back to your own world. I'm leaving."
And with that she began to walk to the village. Her body and spirit seemed to have lost some of their legendary strength, as her head bowed slightly and her back hunched in what Brenna took to be sadness or despair.
"Look inside you, Xena! Reach out to the other half of your soul..." the shorter woman pleaded before the warrior woman sprinted out of sight.
Gabrielle still sat in her chair, drying her tears for some time after her two companions had left. Tapping her fingers idly on the wooden table, she tried to sort out her thoughts.
Why am I really here? I should be there with Xena, helping her look for...'our' child. Hah! What a joke! It's not like she ever saw anything past Eve when we became three in this family. Somehow, I stopped being her light and simply became her shadow. Gods, I miss the times when we could just share a thought and not be afraid of getting into an argument. I miss comforting and being comforted when things got too hard to take. I miss making love in the cool night air, watching her eyes glow as she undressed me and I undressed her.
I miss my best friend.
All at once Gabrielle became tired of crying, of feeling sorry for herself. One of them had to say something for them both to work it out, and it was obviously not going to be a stubborn, blue-eyed warrior. The amazon queen stood up, and with decisive movements set off on foot to find her soulmate and their guest.
It's time...she thought grimly, as she walked out the door.
"Well this is nice, yup, can't beat these lively colors..."
The temple was dark with heavy blue and black draperies covering the walls, windows and doors. High above Brenna's head was a small skylight of sorts letting in just enough of the sun's rays to watch where she was stepping. At the entrance there had been a placard with a set of symbols indicating who the temple was dedicated to. Too bad she couldn't read ancient Greek.
Fortunately, there was a torch hanging in a room close to the entrance, so she proceeded to light all the available candles for a better view. That done, she returned the torch to its spot and proceeded to get a better look at the place.
Wow, stone and wood sure go a long way in this time period. I feel like I'm in a grave, it's so cold. Aren't there usually offerings or flowers adorning places like this? A prayer scroll or two for the devout? This place gives me the willies...
More than a little spooked, she walked down a long corridor towards the next room. On either side of her, the walls were covered in murals depicting famous stories in history. She could see Jason proudly holding the Golden Fleece, battle scenes from the Trojan War, even Hercules had his own corner; his well-known deeds pictured neatly in order.
Oh c'mon, don't tell me there's nothing about Xena in here? Xena... Brenna stiffened at the recollection of their earlier conversation.
...You used to be my hero.
Putting away the empty feeling for later, the writer cautiously pushed open the doors to find a huge altar with carvings of monsters, nymphs and heroes in the stone. White marble and alabaster surrounded her, and the room was bathed with an eerie blue light streaming in from yet another opening in the ceiling.
The writer knew her mouth was hanging open as she took in the beauty around her, and silently wished she had brought her notepad and pencil to the past. This was too wondrous an experience to forget, and she hoped that she could absorb every detail to describe it later in a story.
Hmmph, not that there may be too many of those if things continue to be as they are with my favorite warrior women and this show. This show...am I tapped into it somehow or really witnessing a historical site? All of this is really beginning to make me dizzy, not to mention nauseous.
Without warning, the heavy door she had just entered from slammed shut and before Brenna could turn back to open it again (and run for her life,) she noticed swirls of white smoke emanating from the altar.
"You...you're behind this?"
It was almost nightfall and Xena's mood had changed from extreme rage to extreme fear. Not a sign of Eve had been found and she would be forced to search the surrounding towns and forest for her. She felt miserable, as Brenna's words had struck a nerve and she had been made to see something that she had been running away from since she and Gabrielle had come back to life. At first she had tried to brush it off, telling herself that the young writer didn't know the two women at all, and never could comprehend the complexity of their relationship. But then Xena realized she herself was having a hard time understanding it.
After leaving Argo at the tavern stable to be cared for, she took a walk to a quiet part of the village and absently sat on the edge of a lonely stone well. The draw bucket, having been recently used, allowed little droplets of water to fall into the dark spring from which they had been taken. The 'pueet, pueet' sound echoing against the wall and giving Xena a hard time concentrating on her thoughts. But those were louder, clearer and more disturbing than the drips themselves.
What have I done, love? Was I really so dense that I couldn't get my heart to reconcile with my mind? Hades, I knew that things were quiet between us, but I never realized how much I've been hurting you. All I've thought of was my selfish pride and instead of giving you - giving us the family we wanted, I counted you out. Do you even love me like you used to? I died with your name on my lips, but it's been forever since I've spoken it from the heart.
Propping her elbows up on her knees, Xena rested her head on cupped hands under her chin. She sat there for some moments, staring straight ahead into the distance. The local women who had come for some of the well's sweet liquid turned back, some afraid of the quiet warrior, others simply leaving her alone in her musings. Finally, a light hand rested on Xena's right shoulder.
"Hey," the quiet, familiar voice intoned.
"Hey yourself," Xena responded, turning her face to meet green eyes with a small smile.
"Is Eve around?" Gabrielle asked quietly.
The taller woman frowned a little and looked down at the soil at her boots. "No, she isn't here. And Brenna hasn't come back from her search...I don't think she will."
The bard's eyes widened a little as she took in the information. "What happened?"
"She tried to tell me something important - and I almost ripped off her head. Probably too full of anger and guilt because she was telling me the truth about...something."
Silently, Gabrielle sat on the well an inch or two away from Xena. She tried to keep her expression neutral, unsure if her friend was going to say anymore about it.
Biting her lower lip as she collected her thoughts, the Warrior Princess turned to her companion and looked solemnly into her eyes.
"Gabrielle...we're overdue for a talk aren't we?"
The blonde woman looked down at her hands resting in her lap without saying a word.
Xena began again. "There are so many things I want to say to you, so many things have happened...." she paused to clear her throat.
"There are so many times where I've treated you like the child you used to be those 5 years ago. I tried to convince myself that I was only trying to protect you, but in reality I was thinking about how I could get Eve out of the trouble she was in. I hardly spared a moment to realize that I was losing you too."
Gabrielle's lower lip quivered slightly, and her hands shook a little, but she didn't say anything.
"I knew I was pushing you away. And I knew that things were no longer the same between us. Do you remember, standing outside of Cleopatra's gates in silence? I was too busy feeling sorry for myself, for getting Antony killed. I felt even worse knowing that I had actually been attracted to him, and used him to complete the mission."
She gently used her right hand to lift Gabrielle's chin and could look her in the eyes. They were clouded in sadness and confusion, steadily breaking Xena's heart.
"But do you know what I feel guilty of now? I betrayed you, Gabrielle. Plain and simple. I forgot that someone I loved was watching me sell myself to Antony, to Ares, to the notion that I could have my way through any means necessary. Even if it meant hurting the person I love best in all the world."
Tears slowly started to roll down the bard's cheeks. It seemed there would be no end to them! She shot Xena a questioning look. Where was she going with this? Then, she saw it.
Xena was crying too.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. I've really messed up every moment that we've had together since...since we were given that second chance at life. And I almost lost you again to my own stupid panic. I look at my hands in the mornings and again I see blood! Your blood oozing from your beautiful face after I slashed it with my fucking chakram!"
Here, the ex-warlord took the still-shaking hands of the woman before her and raised them to her lips, gripping them tightly. Icy blue eyes held verdant ones in supplication.
"Gabrielle, you've become everything to me. You are a strong, brave woman who can take her own chances and make her own decisions without having someone like me around to hurt you. If you want me out of your life, I'll go. I don't want to lose you, but I want more for you to see my faith in you, like you've always had in me. I love you, Gabrielle."
The blonde woman bowed her head momentarily wracked with sobs, the warrior still holding her hands. After a few moments she lifted her hand again to look at her best friend.
Her voice was strained and deep as she finally spoke. "And I need YOU more than anything else on this earth, can't you see that? How could you ever think I want to be away from you? Not for a day and certainly not forever. I love you Xena, I love you..."
The force of their confessions left a tangible aura in the air between them. Nothing else existed but their love, and it would be strong enough to see them through anything. No more lies, and no more misunderstandings. They both knew what they needed, what they had ALWAYS needed.
They both wiped away the other's tears with tender caresses and then silently gazed into the pair of reddened eyes before them. Finally, they met each other halfway in one powerfully renewing kiss. There was not a hint of lust, but of pure love flowing from one soul to the other in a blissful wave of forever. Two hearts beat as one as they were once more united in their bond. Both deepened the slow, soothing exploration of lips and tongues as they wordlessly promised themselves to each other once again, just as the day they first realized they had fallen in love, in the dreamscape.
Eternity seemed to pass before they separated and held each other in a powerful embrace. Catching their breaths and exhaling with sighs of contentment and relief.
They could face anything now.
I should have brought that notepad...
Brenna looked uncertainly at her guests, whom she knew all too well from watching a few crucial episodes of X:WP.
The first was a small girl in a dark cloak with a wholly somber look on her face, the second, a young woman with curly hair tucked in her own dark robe, and the last, an unbelievably old woman slightly hunched as she faced the writer. All wore quiet, expressionless faces.
Straightening up, Brenna decided to speak to the unearthly visitors, the strangely calming blue light making them glow in spite of the shadows.
"Is it too much to ask you what's going on? I knew there was a reason for all the crazy things that have happened to me but I never figured beings like yourselves would get involved."
The Fates responded, dividing their sentences equally between themselves as they floated upon the altar.
"We were called upon by a mortal of this age..." said the child.
"...Seeking to recompense us for a favor," said the woman.
"And so in granting a boon, that debt was repaid," finished the crone.
Aww geez, I forgot that you can't get a straight answer out of these three. Oh well, on with 20 questions...
"Let me see if I'm getting this, you helped someone out and in order to settle things between you, YOU honored the MORTAL'S request? I would think that if someone owed you a favor, you wouldn't do any more for them until they returned it."
Their reply was quick and just as vague.
"The boon asked of us fulfilled a greater purpose than the mortal was aware of."
"It was fulfilled because its importance surpassed that of this time..."
"...And proved vital to the preservation of the future."
Brenna scratched the back of her neck nervously, and continued. "What do I have to do with this boon? Did you call me to this age? Why?"
This is gonna be good...
"You were summoned to be the thread that would hold two pieces together."
"To keep intact a powerful and important force."
"To insure the progression of a better world with the strength of the heart."
Hmmmmm. I know there has to be a metaphor in here somewhere. And why did I get stuck with this kind of responsibility? Ughh, welcome back migraine and dizziness, it's been awhile...
Before the student could ask any more questions, the heavy doors behind her opened and a young woman entered the room. Her (brown?) hair was tied back in a fierce ponytail; her clothes were a drab and unassuming color of gray. Her expression seemed a mixture of frustration, guilt and welled up sorrow as she briefly looked into Brenna's eyes.
The warrior formerly known as Livia looked from the three immortals swaying easily on the altar to the leather-clad brunette, then back again. She quickly dismissed the writer's presence and turned to address the Fates, who still wore the peaceful and unreadable expressions they had first appeared with.
"What news do you have of the helper from the future?"
"Aaaaah, I think that would be me," Brenna said softly as she tapped Eve's shoulder.
Xena's daughter whirled and looked at the other woman with suspicion and evident disbelief. "You? You're no older than I am and you don't look as though you have any great power or knowledge with which aid us." Her voice was cold and taunting, reminding Brenna once more why she hated Eve so much in the series.
Well, that and she killed subtext.
"Her role was not to use unearthly force for good..." said the small girl, addressing Eve.
"...But to use a common force with unlimited power..." said the young woman.
"...To change a bleak future. She has succeeded," finished the crone.
"Your debt is repaid," all three intoned as they quickly faded away in hot, white light.
Eve slowly kneeled to the floor before the altar, staring at the now vacant space that the Fates had occupied. She seemed to be in total shock.
Just when it seemed that the moment couldn't get weirder, Xena and Gabrielle chose that exact moment to walk into the room, the huge doors creaking open once more to let them in.
"Eve!" the Warrior Princess cried out. She rushed to the still and silent figure on the floor, helped her up and enveloped her in a warm embrace.
Ech. Family reunion.
For her part, the bard turned to Brenna with one elegantly raised eyebrow and a questioning glance. The student's mouth went dry at the gesture and she fought to clear her head of distracting thoughts. Time enough for that later.
"Brenna, what's going on? Why is Eve on the floor?"
"Don't look at me, I STILL have no idea what just happened. All I know is that I tried to get a straight answer out of the Fates..."
"The Fates?" Xena asked in astonishment. "They were here? What did they want with Eve?"
By now the limp figure in her arms had returned to reality and tugged on the ex-warlord's arm to get her attention.
"Let me explain mother, your...friend knows as much about this as you do."
Eve now had her audience, as the other women stood silently awaiting an answer.
"It's like this. Ever since I came to live with you and Gabrielle I've noticed the strange way you act towards one another. I know you're best friends and I assumed lovers as well..." Here Gabrielle turned bright red. "...But I also noticed that you were keeping your distance a lot, hardly speaking to each other at all, and trading interesting looks. I could see fear, uncertainty, sadness - and it was driving me crazy. "
The young woman turned to face the bard. "As you know, The night that we nearly died and the death of the gods was upon us, I had been reading from your scrolls. I've BEEN reading them ever since, by candlelight each night. What I found were amazing stories about love, sorrow and hate between the two women who love me the most, stories about a journey between soulmates."
Over her shoulder, Xena smiled across the room at Gabrielle. Brenna's eyes widened.
I missed something didn't I? Kiss and make up already, did you ladies?
"My heart ached to understand why I COULDN'T see that connection between you," Eve continued. "I didn't want to bring it up with either of you and I had no one else I could trust. During the night, while you followed your usual night routine, I snuck out of the house to get some air and have a walk to clear my mind before bed. Before I knew it, I had reached the village and then the temple. I knew most of the gods were dead, but I had no idea whose temple it was, and walked in hoping perhaps that it was Aphrodite's so I could ask for advice. As soon as I entered I knew it wasn't hers, but I was still curious to see who was worshipped there. So I explored and eventually found my way into this room, the large doors shut on me, and when I turned around...there they were."
"Wait a minute." All eyes turned to look at the young writer. "Where do I fit in all this?"
In a soft, tired voice the ex-roman warrior spoke again. "I'm getting to that. When I saw that it was the Fates who dwelled here, I naturally fell to my knees. I remembered from one of Gabrielle's scrolls that it was they who had given my mother the idea on how to fake your deaths, ultimately convincing the gods to leave us all alone. So I thanked them and asked if there was someway to repay them for saving my life. Somehow, they saw into my heart and knew that my soul hurt for mother and her true love, so they hinted that they could, and would help their two souls to find each other one again. Not just for me, or for them, but because Xena and Gabrielle's lives are vital to how the future plays out."
The bard seemed to catch on before Brenna or Xena could get a word in. "You mean, they were referring to our lives yet to be lived, our karmic cycle?"
"Yes, Gabrielle. In order for hundreds of lives to be saved in the centuries to come, your life HAD to be intertwined for always with the Warrior Princess. Separately, they told me, you would be lost and without focus to the tasks to be set before you. But together, you would always be unstoppable in the quest for the greater good. That's why it was important to find a way to appeal to your hearts, and to your souls to keep you from losing the bond that was needed to prevail. So in granting me the desire to see you reconciled, I also gave them reason to create a shift in time and to bring back someone from the future to help you find one another again. In that way, I got what I wanted, and my request allowed for them to fulfill their mission and to make things even."
Brenna rocked her weight on her heels with restless energy. That's it! That's the kind of thing I need for one of my stories! I'll call it 'Soul Eternal'. No, wait, 'Karmic Crescendo', uhhh...
"But that still leaves one thing unresolved," Xena pointed out, "How does Brenna get home? If her purpose has been served than why can't she go?"
Eve rested her back against the altar and idly crossed her right leg in front of the other. "I don't know."
The student looked down at her small, booted feet in silent shock.
That means no more online chatrooms, no more message boards, no more 'Sailor Moon' reruns, no more chocolate ice cream....*Gasp* No more spoilers!!!!
"Are you OK? You just got really pale." The Amazon Queen started rubbing the writer's back in soothing circles, effectively focusing her thoughts elsewhere as she practically purred in contentment.
Xena just lifted an eyebrow.
Before anyone could react, the strong white light was back and swirling around both Brenna and Gabrielle. It's intensity more painful than before.
"XENAAAA!!!" the blonde cried out as she began to disappear.
"I'VE GOT YOU GABRIELLE!!!" her lover shouted against the sudden gust of rushing wind in the room.
All 3 disappeared before Eve could reach out to grab them. At first she was filled with fear, but then realized that if this was how their friend from the future had gotten here, they would probably come back the same way soon. Shrugging her shoulders, the young woman opened the large doors leading out of the room, pausing only once to look up at the altar.
"Thank you..." she whispered, and quietly shutting the creaking doors behind her.
When the short brunette finally regained her senses, she noticed that she was back in her own room, exactly as it had been when she had left it. She also noticed that she and her warrior companions were all lying on her light brown carpeting in a heap.
With Gabrielle lying fully on top of her.
Well now, this is worth coming home to! Can we be unconscious just a few minutes longer?
It was not to be as the bard quickly regained her senses to find blissful brown eyes inches away from her face. With a blush, she quickly got up and helped both her lover and her friend get up.
"Was it just me or was the return trip even more painful?" the writer commented, stretching her back.
"Let's just be glad we got here in one piece again," Xena said, smiling somewhat shyly at Gabrielle. Brenna noticed the look and grinned. Things were back to normal and she was raring for Season 6 to begin.
"We want to thank you for everything you've done for us," the small blonde smiled as she walked up to Brenna and gave her a big hug. For her part, the young woman melted in the embrace and pulled back to beam at her companions.
"You had it all the time in your hearts, guys. It just took Eve and I an extra push to get you there. I'm glad you've settled your differences and I hope you are complete with each other forever. I feel lucky I got to come along for the ride."
The bard reached for something that was tucked up alongside her left sai and smoothly extended her arm, offering it to Brenna.
"I meant to give you this before our whole run in with the Fates. It's not really much of a thank you present, but I wanted you to have it just the same."
It was a simple gift, a small and empty rolled up scroll. The writer was ecstatic and a tear came to her eyes.
"It's wonderful Gabrielle, you have no idea how much this means to me. It's great, and it smells good. I don't know if I'll ever have the heart to write in it, but I'll keep it close to my heart."
She then noticed that her computer monitor was still on.
"Shit! We left the Internet running for..." she consulted the black wall clock above her desk...allowing her eyes to bulge out and her jaw to drop in disbelief. Five o Five??? We've been gone FIVE minutes??? She looked back to comment this fact to her friends but immediately shut her mouth as she saw the scene playing out behind her.
One of them had found and pressed play on one of her oldies tapes, and the sweet strains of Diana Ross and Lionel Richie's "Endless Love" flowed through the room. The warrior and bard were in each others arms, swaying to a sensual rhythm with eyes closed and warm smiles on their faces.
Awwwwww... The student slowly sat back on her bed to watch them for awhile. They probably wouldn't be sent back to their own time for a few more minutes, so she decided to enjoy the time she had left with them. As the song came to an end she found herself lying back and almost falling into a peaceful sleep. She must have fallen asleep for a minute or two because the next thing she knew she was being awakened by Xena's low, amused voice.
"Brenna, what exactly is alt. Fanfiction?"
Author's Note: No cushy green swivel chairs were harmed in the making of this piece although one stupid thug got the business end of Gabrielle's wonderful gift of negotiation.
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