Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle belong to someone else. They were just used for a wee little bit. Honest, no harm, no foul and both are still safe and sound. <g> As for the rest of the story, no disclaimers needed. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Nicki Billingsly stared at the glass enclosure before her, awed by the site of the famous Liberty Bell. If she looked directly behind the bell she could see the entrance to Independence Hall, the birthplace of our nation. She sighed and gave herself a moment to take in the historical significance.
History had always been her passion, leading her to become a professor at the University of Cincinnati. This was her first trip to Philadelphia and she planned to take in as much of it as she could. But first, she had something to take care of. A glance at her watch reminded Nicki that she had only another half hour before her appointment.
Virtual Vacations, LLC was located in a house a few blocks from Market Street. The house was said to have once belonged to one of the men who printed the first copy of the Declaration of Independence. Nicki took her time walking the couple of blocks to that house, enjoying the unusually warm weather, despite it being the middle of December.
She stepped in through the side entrance that bore the company name in gothic lettering on a frosted window. The lettering was raised and looked like it had been hand painted. Nicki gently touched the letters before opening the door and stepping into the warm reception area.
"Welcome to Virtual Vacations!" A young blonde woman stepped from behind a low counter to greet Nicki as she stepped in. "My name is Lisa. Can I take your coat?"
"Sure." Nicki removed it, feeling a slight chill as she adjusted to the warmer temperature of the inside. "I have a 2 p.m. appointment."
"Of course. You're Nicki Billingsly, right?" Without waiting for an answer, Lisa placed Nicki's coat in a closet then hurried to the counter. "I have all the paperwork right here. Just need you to sign a few things."
"Like what? I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to do here." Nicki took the offered clipboard, glancing down at the paperwork. "My sister gave me this trip for an early Christmas present."
The blonde smiled knowingly, as if she were used to first timers. "That's okay dear. Just take a look at the papers and sign them for me. I'll get things ready for you. It'll all be explained to you in a few minutes. Okay?"
Nicki nodded and took a seat on one of the plush chairs in the waiting area, while the blonde disappeared through the door. The paper work was nothing more than a few standard liability forms. She wasn't entirely sure why she needed to worry about being injured, but figured the worst that could happen would be that she would leave without doing anything. Her sister's money wouldn't be completely wasted, since Nicki had a two-day stay in the city. She figured she'd just spend the time doing some more sightseeing.
It only took a few moments for Nicki to finish the paperwork. She placed the clipboard on the counter and as if she'd be watching, Lisa came back into the reception area. "All done?" Nicki nodded. "Great. Follow me."
They walked through a single door, down an unremarkable hallway and stopped at a set of double doors. Lisa turned to face Nicki. "Now, one thing before we go in here. It's the only rule we have and you need to be clear on it. Okay?"
"The rule is that you can leave at any time. No questions asked. If you aren't happy with us, we'll refund your money completely. Okay?"
Nicki nodded, feeling better now that she knew her sister's money wouldn't be wasted. Lisa smiled and pushed open the doors, letting Nicki walk in ahead of her.
The room was twice the size of Nicki's classroom at the University and easily large enough to accommodate a hundred or more people. Her eyes slowly swept across the expanse of the room, finding several unusual objects scattered about, each one bringing a twinge of familiarity to her. It was then she realized each object had a significant meaning in history.
Several flags adorned the length of one wall. Below them was a replica of the Alamo. Along another wall were several sets of armor with swords and various weapons hanging behind them. The third wall displayed a depiction of Kokopeli and several other ancient Native American drawings. It was like an eclectic museum with displays from around the world.
Her gaze shifted to a row of chairs in the center. They reminded her of old fashioned barber chairs, except that each one had a bank of computers along the right side and a neat stream of wires attached to the headrest.
"This room...it's amazing."
"Thanks. We like to give each guest a real sense of the adventure they're about to embark upon." The blonde directed her to a chair in the center of the room. "Would you like to take a seat?"
Nicki settled into the chair, surprised at how comfortable it felt. It was like the chair molded itself to fit her body. "Nice. So, is this the part where you tell me what this place is about?"
Lisa chuckled. "Sort of. I'm actually going to show you. It's kind of hard to explain." She reached behind the chair and handed Nicki a helmet. "Put this on."
Nicki turned it over in her hands. The helmet looked like something out of a World War II movie. It had two wires coming out of the top and a visor that came down over her eyes. When she put the helmet on, the visor fell down instantly, putting her in complete darkness.
"Now, I want you to lean back and relax. Just concentrate on your breathing."
"Is this going to hurt?"
Lisa's hand rested lightly on Nicki's shoulder. Her touch was reassuring. "Not at all. I promise."
"Okay." Nicki felt she could trust the woman and closed her eyes.
There was some music in the background that she couldn't quite discern. She felt her eyes open on their own as the symbols for male and female floated in front of her line of sight. The two symbols seemed to dance around in the air before melding together to form one complete symbol. It reminded Nicki of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince and she giggled.
Once the symbols were joined, streams of red and blue swirled around them. The colors were fluorescent and as they met along the edges of the symbol they became purple, settling there as if to highlight it. The background turned yellow, bringing out the symbol even clearer.
A moment later it transformed into what, at first, looked like a cross. The very tip of it was shaped like an arrow and Nicki could eventually make out the N at the point. North. It was a compass.
The compass began turning, the South end now pointing up. Nicki watched, fascinated, when the compass began spinning in an east-west direction, finally coming to a dizzying stop.
Everything went blank again for a few seconds before Nicki was able to see her surroundings.
Instead of the colorful symbols floating in front of her, Nicki found herself outside. The smell of sulfur was strong, almost overpowering. She could feel the heat of fire nearby, but couldn't make herself turn to see it. Instead she seemed to be following along as if watching a movie, though her body was able to sense its surroundings.
She was running through the field that she now realized was the place of a battle. A sword came at her at a surprising speed, but another blade deflected it seconds before she was decapitated. It took Nicki a moment to realize that she had wielded the weapon. Or was it her? She could see everything, but she couldn't control her movements. All of her senses seemed to be on alert—tasting, smelling, hearing the sounds of battle around her as she fought her for her life.
Another couple of strikes and finally the fighting stopped. She had disarmed her opponent and the man had fled. Nicki found herself looking around the battle scene. She stopped at the visage of a young man standing on a hillside. There was something striking about this young man, but Nicki couldn't quite get her mind wrapped around what it was.
Her historian's eye noted that the armor and crest the young man wore were distinctly French circa the early fifteenth century. As she moved closer to the hill, Nicki's breath caught in her throat. It wasn't a young man on that hill—it was a girl. She didn't look much older than sixteen or seventeen. Nicki felt her hand rise in the air and heard the words, "Jeanne d'Arc en vie longue! Jeanne d'Arc en vie longue!"
"Long live Joan of Arc," she whispered, barely able to believe it. "That's Joan of Arc!"
The vision slowly faded, replaced again by the compass as it spun into the male/female symbol. The symbols broke apart, becoming two again, then all went black.
The visor was lifted and Nicki blinked her eyes to allow them to adjust to the sudden light. The first thing she focused on was Lisa's smiling features. "Did you enjoy the ride?"
"That—that was amazing! I could see Joan of Arc! I was there...in the battle." Nicki sat up, her eyes alight with her enthusiasm. "Can I go back? Can I do that again?"
"Whoa, slow down there." Lisa laughed and placed the helmet on a hook behind Nicki's chair. "Of course you can do it again, but where you go is up to you. According to our records you've got two hours here. That was just a short trip so you could get an idea of what you're in for."
"I could smell everything, hear all the sounds of battle, see everything like I was seeing it through my own eyes, but I couldn't look where I wanted to. Why not?"
"Because it wasn't your eyes you were looking through. You were seeing the battle through the eyes of one of Joan's soldiers."
"I was one of her soldiers?"
"No. You were seeing and experiencing the battle through him. You weren't actually him." Lisa sighed. This was always the hardest part to explain. "You were in his mind, able to feel, smell, see and hear what he did. But he was still in control of what's going on. It's like you're just along for the ride. Nothing more. You get to experience history as it's being made, but you can't control it."
"Affectively protecting history from being changed."
Lisa winked at her. "Exactly."
"I'm telling you it was Brian Wilson." Both women turned to see two people enter the room. The first one, a petite brunette woman, was adamantly arguing with her companion. "He's the one that died."
Her companion, a taller woman with long ebony hair and intense black eyes was shaking her head. She was obviously taunting her smaller friend. "I haven't heard anything about Carl Wilson. Could have been him."
The brunette stopped and sighed. "You're impossible. Carl and Dennis are very much alive. Dennis' kid sings in a group with a couple other girls. I don't remember the name—"
"Wilson Phillips," Nicki supplied, trying to supress her smile.
"And what about Al and Mike? Are they still around?" The taller of the two winked at Nicki.
"Of course. I still can't believe you don't know which one died. I thought you liked the Beach Boys."
"Actually," Nicki spoke up again and immediately felt her face flush when those intense eyes landed on hers, "Dennis Wilson is the one that died. He drowned in 1983—on my birthday."
The brunette's face scrunched up in thought before she turned to Lisa. "Is that right? Was it Dennis?"
Lisa nodded. Unable to control herself anymore, she burst into laughter, joined by the brunette's friend and finally the brunette herself.
"I hate you both," she declared through her giggles.
"Regina, you just hate being wrong." Those dark eyes were on Nicki again as the tall woman gracefully crossed the room. "Hi. I'm Danielle."
"Nicki." She accepted the long, slender fingers, feeling a tingle of electricity when their hands touched. Nicki was sure she held that hand a little too long, but Danielle didn't seem to mind. "This is my first time here," she blurted out, having no idea why she needed to share that bit of information.
"Ah, then welcome." Danielle swept her arm around the room. "Amazing, isn't it? The former owner had an incredible taste in historical artifacts."
Finally able to tear her gaze away from Danielle, Nicki took in the room fully, taking a moment to check out each artifact. Her eyes fell again to the wall of flags. "That first flag...it's Spain, right?"
"Yep. The one next to it is France, then Mexico—"
Nicki grinned. "Ah, the six flags of Texas. I should have guessed. The one next to the Texas state flag...that's the one that flew when Texas was a Confederate state."
Danielle nodded. "Exactly. It's the flag of the Confederacy. The one next to it, of course, is the US flag. You know your history."
A blush was heating her cheeks again. "I should," Nicki looked up at Danielle, "I'm a professor of history at the University of Cincinnati."
"Wow. Looks like you've come to the right place, then." Danielle smiled, the gesture making the edges of her eyes crinkle in the most adorable way.
Nicki sighed, then hoped she wasn't being too obvious with her staring. "Well, this trip was a gift from my sister, but she knows me better than anyone. I shouldn't be surprised."
"So, would you like to get started?" Lisa asked, gaining Nicki's attention again.
"Sure. Um, how do I pick where I'm going?"
"Just name a time and place in history and I'll make sure you get there. I can't guarantee who you'll be, but you'll still get to see what's going on."
Nicki nodded, looking around the room for ideas. She heard a snicker from her left and turned to see Regina settling into one of the chairs. "You could always be one of the seven dwarfs."
"With a smile like that, she'd have to be Happy," Danielle winked at Nicki before settling into her own chair."
Regina rolled her eyes at her friend. "I'm gonna be Sleepy watching you make goo-goo eyes at her."
Danielle blushed and Nicki found the sight pleasing. "Are you turning Bashful now?"
The brunette turned her dark eyes to Nicki and grinned. "That all depends—"
"Aaaachooo!" The sneeze startled the women, who all looked over at Lisa. "Excuse me. Guess I'll be Sneezy on this little journey."
Regina laughed. "Better than Dopey over here," she pointed to Danielle.
"Watch it, Doc!" Danielle poked her playfully in the ribs.
The smaller woman squirmed to get away from the long fingers. "No fair! You've got longer arms."
"You better be nice to me."
Regina stuck her tongue out when Danielle settled back in her chair. "Now you're just being Grumpy."
Lisa tapped Regina on the head as she started out of the room. "Okay, enough playing around. You three need to set your destinations so I can get this rolling."
"Yes, ma'am." Regina and Danielle chorused like two petulant children, making Nicki giggle.
Danielle leaned over to Nicki and whispered, "Figured out where you're going yet?"
"I've always been interested in what Cincinnati was like during the Civil War. I thought I'd start there."
"Good idea." Danielle winked at her. "Maybe I'll see you there."
Nicki blushed and Regina groaned as the three women donned their helmets and settled into their chairs, waiting for Lisa to begin.
This time Nicki found herself disoriented as she opened her eyes. She didn't remember seeing the Prince symbol or the spectrum of colors, just total darkness before opening her eyes to a winter wonderland. She shook off the sudden sense of foreboding and took in the view before her.
It looked like a life-like version of Santa's workshop. People hurried by in all directions, most of them carrying gifts, as if in a rush to get something finished. She could feel a slight chill, but was otherwise comfortable walking down the long, snow covered sidewalk.
The walk was uninterrupted ending at the entrance to a large barn. A red mitten appeared in her line of vision and opened the right side door and walked inside. Light slowly brightened the room.
Nicki could smell the hay and felt herself building up a sneeze. She tried to hold it back, but only succeeded in making a snickering noise.
"Thanks." Nicki froze. Who had said that? Could the person she was inside hear her? Lisa said it was impossible...but how?
"We're both in here." The voice was more familiar this time, and most definitely feminine. Nicki had gotten the impression that the person she was "riding" with was a man.
"Um, who exactly is 'we?'"
There was a slight chuckle. "I'm Danielle. It seems you and I managed to get put into the same head. Not sure how that happened though."
"Oh." Nicki considered this for a moment. "Is this a bad thing? And how can I hear you?"
"I'm not sure. It's never happened before." Danielle was silent for a moment. "Hey, does this guy think he's Santa Claus or something?"
"Why?" Nicki focused again on the scene before her, having not paid much attention to it before. "Oh my. Is that Dasher?" She saw that each of the reindeer had its own stall and a name plate on the door.
"And Dancer and Prancer...wow. Real reindeer." Danielle laughed. "Cool. I had no idea...look. It's Vixen and Comet."
Nicki was smiling, though her companion had no way of knowing. "I always wanted to see these reindeer when I was little. I wonder if this guy actually hooks them up to a sleigh?" Currently "Santa" was standing in front of Cupid.
"You ever wonder if the guy that named these reindeer meant to name one after a Greek god?"
Nicki shrugged inwardly, not seeing any point in correcting Danielle. Cupid was actually a Roman god. "I don't know. But the one next to him was named after a group of cannibals." They both snickered when they saw the "Donner" name plate.
"Wonder who Blitzen is named after?"
"Heh. I'm still wondering about Vixen." Nicki wished she could see Danielle, it was so hard to know if the other woman was enjoying their light flirting.
There was silence for a moment before Danielle said, "Well, maybe when we're done here we can discuss that name a little further."
Guess that answered that question. Nicki grinned. "Are you flirting with me?"
"Good. I kinda like it."
"Good." The warmth heard in the purred response sent shivers down Nicki's ethereal spine.
Needing to calm down a little, Nicki turned back and watched as "Santa" started putting harnesses on the reindeer. "Cool. He's gonna—"
The scene before them suddenly went black, as if the lights had been turned out. Danielle gasped, "What's going on?"
Lisa worked frantically at the console, her fingers flying across it in a state of panic. "I can't believe this. This is impossible!" She kept shaking her head, as if that action would correct what she was seeing.
It didn't, of course, and she continued to go through the scenario over and over in her mind. Never, in nearly ten years of operation, had this type of problem occurred. It was theoretically impossible for two clients to occupy one mind. But that was exactly what had happened.
Lisa checked both monitors, noting that both Danielle and Nicki's vital signs were stable. There was a brief fluctuation in Nicki's heart rate, but it stabilized as quickly as it appeared.
"They have to be aware of what's going on."
"Who has to be aware?"
Lisa spun around in her chair to find her business partner, Dale, standing in the doorway. "I've got two clients occupying one mind."
"That's not possible." Dale took the seat beside Lisa and maneuvered his fingers around the console. It only took a couple of minutes for him to confirm what Lisa had said. "How the hell did that happen?"
"I'm not sure, but the more important thing is how to fix it."
"Get them out."
"Dale, if I get them out they could die."
"No, that's not what I meant." Dale brought up a series of images on the screen. The images were of some of the destinations other clients had traveled. "If we keep changing where they are, take them from mind to mind, eventually we should be able to get them separated and bring them back."
"And just how long do we need to keep hopping them from head to head?"
Dale shrugged. "As long as it takes. Set each one individually for a different location, but keep them in the same place."
Lisa shook her head. "I don't think I follow you."
"Set them to go to the same point in time, but into different minds. Eventually it should work to get them separated."
"And if it doesn't?" The skeptical look on Lisa's face drew a slow, deep breath from Dale before he responded.
Both women felt dizzy as the world began to spin around, though neither of them could see where they were going. It took a few moments before their equilibrium was restored.
"Danielle are you still here? Are you okay?"
"I feel a bit woozy, but yeah. I'm okay. You?"
"Same." Sighing in relief, Nicki let her eyes focus on a new scene before them. This time the sun was shining brightly and she could feel the warmth of it on her skin. There was a distinct smell of popcorn and hotdogs as they walked along a dirt path.
"Where are we?"
"I think—" Nicki went silent as she listened to the sudden roar of a crowd. They had been looking down at the dirt, but now they were looking up and out at the crowd around them. "We're in a baseball stadium."
"Really? Which one?"
Their vision swept the crowd, whose cheering was almost deafening. "It seems familiar." Nicki held her breath, not sure she could believe it until another person came into their sight. The back of his white jersey had his name in large, bold, red letters. "Perez."
"Oh my god! It's the Cincinnati Reds. Tony Perez played first base." She held her breath as the man's gaze—she now figured they were with a man again—moved to the other members of the team. Standing beside Tony was second baseman Joe Morgan. "Amazing."
"What year is this, do ya think?"
"I'd guess the mid-70's. As soon as I see the rest of the lineup I'll be able to tell ya." The man moved into the dugout and grabbed a clipboard from the wall before sitting down. At the top of the paper was the name, Pete Rose, third. "Oh man, this is sooo cool! We must be inside Sparky Anderson. He was the manager of the Big Red Machine."
"Who is that guy at short? He looks familiar."
"That's Davey Concepcion. He played his entire career with the Reds."
Danielle let out a short, warm laugh. "Is there anything you don't know?"
"About the Reds? Probably not." Nicki smiled through her reply as the pitcher, Gary Nolan, stepped up to the mound. The catcher was none other than number five, Mr. Johnny Bench. Her childhood hero. She remained quiet as the outfielders ran to their positions. Ken Griffey, Sr in right and Cesar Geronimo in center. The last player on to the field was George Foster, who headed into left field. "Danielle, this is incredible. These are the guys that won the first World Series title as the Big Red Machine. These are the greatest players to ever set foot in Riverfront Stadium!"
"So I've gathered."
"Not a baseball fan, huh?"
Danielle almost wished Nicki could see the smirk on her face. "Not unless they're wearing white jerseys with black stripes and Joe Torre is calling the shots."
"Ew! You're a Yankees fan. Boo hiss."
Danielle's laughter was contagious and soon Nicki was laughing with her. "Guess we need to go to a baseball game sometime."
"Are you asking me on a date?"
Nicki didn't even hesitate. "Hell yeah."
"I was hoping you'd say that." Both women felt a warm glow within their souls at what might happen between them. Before they could continue...
The scene went black again, twirling both women in a vortex of nothingness. It seemed like forever before the world was righted again and they could focus on what was before them.
"What is going on? Is this how it always goes?"
"No. Something has to be wrong...I'm guessing that Lisa is trying to separate us so she can bring us back."
"Why not just turn off the machines?"
Danielle hesitated in answering. "Because if she turns off the machine while we're linked, it could kill us both."
"I—I never realized it was so dangerous." Nicki's voice was barely a whisper.
"It isn't, under normal circumstances. But this has never happened before. She's probably trying to switch us around hoping to fix the problem. Don't worry, okay? Lisa knows what she's doing. She's one of the original designers of the program." Danielle waited, hoping to re-assure her, but Nicki didn't respond. "Trust me."
Nicki soaked in those last heartfelt words and hung on to them like a lifeline. "I do. But what do we do in the meantime?"
"Enjoy the ride. Looks like we've hitched along with Indiana Jones this time. You're the historian...why don't you explain to me what we're seeing?" Nicki could hear the enthusiasm in Danielle's words and decided to push back her fears.
"Okay." Nicki concentrated and let her mind's eyes focus on the wall they were currently in front of. "It looks like an Egyptian hieroglyph. That first one, the largest of the men, that's Amen-Ra. He was the king of the gods."
"What is he holding? Looks like a couple of tablets."
"I'm not sure. They could be idols or something." The man, who Danielle and Nicki decided to call Indy, moved along the wall as if searching for something specific. "I can't read the glyphs. He's going too fast."
A chuckle reacted to Nicki's slight whine, "You can read ancient writing too? Wow, am I going to be dating my 'own' Indy?"
In a sheepish voice, Nicki replied, " I..uh...sorta do it for a hobby. I'm not an expert and definitely no 'Indy'."
Nicki sighed in relief when Danielle let the tease go and continued with their conversation.
"I wonder what he's looking for."
A finger came into view and trailed along the edges of what appeared to be a woman. Her mouth was open and her face was contorted in anger. "She looks like she's cursing someone."
"Maybe she's mad at her husband."
"I don't think so. She seems to be cursing at the guy kneeling in front of her."
"He's kneeling to worship her and she's pissed off?"
"I guess so. Maybe she doesn't see any honor in—" Nicki stopped when Indy moved back to Amen-Ra and the tablets. "Oh shit."
"I can hardly believe this...it's incredible."
"Nicki, share please?" The confusion and impatience could be heard in Danielle's voice.
"Oh, um sorry. It's just that—those tablets. Anything ring a bell with you about tablets?"
"That they're made of stone maybe? Break easily?"
"And have Ten Commandments written on them."
"Ten Commandments? That's impossible. The Egyptians never—"
"That we know of." Nicki interrupted and then watched as Indy moved further down the wall to a depiction of someone being killed. "See these glyphs are telling the story of the Ten Commandments. That woman there—on the end. She's being stoned to death while a man watches. I'd bet it's her husband and she committed murder. Or maybe adultery? And the guy over there—the one with one hand—"
"Exactly." Nicki grinned internally as Indy moved to another section of the all. This one was harder to read, the glyphs barely visible. He gently touched the edges, bringing his torch as close as he could. The picture was of a man with no tongue. "Looks like he was lying."
"But what is that last one?"
Nicki turned her attention to the depiction of a man, his eyes gleaming as he watched another man gathering what looked like bags of gold. In a drawing directly below that one, the same man was having his eyes poked out by red-hot irons. "Um, guessing it's covetousness. Looks like he was coveting his neighbor's wealth."
"Wow. You think this is all real? That the Egyptians knew about the Ten Commandments?"
"Could be. It's just a description. I can't tell if they were trying to say to live by them or not."
"But if they knew about them, it could mean they had the ten commandments before Moses did."
Nicki considered that for a moment. "Or it could mean that the ten commandments were shared with all the gods in an attempt to unite everyone under one deity."
Danielle sighed. "You're really an optimist aren't you?"
"I try to be. In history, there's always more than one possible explanation. Just imagine finding out 'exactly' what happened in history, and not just from books and artifacts. The possibilities are endless. "
"I'm learning this. I'm also learning how cute you are when you get excited about something." The tenderness with which Danielle said this helped Nicki not feel so embarrassed at her outburst but she was sure her checks would be red if the other woman could see them.
"Oh no." Nicki felt the movement just before the blackness enveloped them again. "We're on the move."
"It still not working, Dale." Lisa leaned back in her chair and sighed. It felt as though they had been at this for hours, when in fact it was only late afternoon. "Their vitals are holding steady, but I'm worried that if we keep this head hopping routine up that one or both of them is going to be affected."
"It's a chance we have to take." Dale made a few more adjustments as another idea came to him. "I think I know what might work."
Lisa sat up straighter. "I'm listening."
This time the world came into focus sooner, settling both women into a small room with a mirror along the entire length of one wall. A bar was connected to the mirror, about waist high.
"Dance hall?" Danielle offered.
"Looks like it. But who are we this time?"
"Maybe it's no one famous."
"Maybe." Both women were quiet as their person walked in front of the mirror. His dark locks came into view before the deep brown skin of his face became visible. There was a hint of a beard around his chin, but Danielle would have recognized him anywhere.
"Savion Glover. He's the greatest dancer of the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. I saw him when he debuted on Broadway. He's phenomenal."
"He's tap dancing." Nicki giggled with delight as she felt the whoosh of air and the adrenaline rush of his quick moving feet. He was working his way effortlessly across the dance studio.
"Amazing. I'd have to say this is as much fun as when you saw your baseball team."
"Well, I'm glad you're enjoying it." Nicki smiled when he stopped and began doing a few ballet steps. "Looks like he's just getting warmed up."
"Or he's teaching a class." Danielle had spotted a group of young girls in the reflection of the mirror and now they all began to clap. "How cute."
"Who knows how to square dance?" Savion asked, looking out at his audience. Two young girls raised their hands and he lead them out to the center of the room. He nodded toward a man in the corner, who began calling out the moves of a simple square dance.
The girls, both dressed in white leotards were giggling as they tried to follow the moves, mostly succeeding in getting their feet tangled up as they went.
Danielle and Nicki were laughing as well, enjoying the little girls as another pair tried their hand at swing dancing.
Savion was apparently giving the girls a taste of various dances and soon had a group of them doing a polka. When the laughter had died down a bit, he chose one of the taller girls to waltz with.
Nicki took note of the look of adoration on the girl's face and mentioned it to Danielle.
"She's got it bad."
"Oh yeah. Ya know," Danielle let her voice drop a bit, softening her words in a seductive tone, "I believe I've seen that look on someone else's face recently."
"Hmm." Nicki smiled at the thought and pushed her normal shyness away. "I believe you're right." Getting back to their host, she focused her attention on the activity in front of them as Savion lined the girls up for a line dance, that quickly turned into a two-step competition between two of the older girls.
"They really are adorable."
"I'm just waiting for a war dance over who gets Savion."
Danielle laughed. "How about the hustle?"
"Nah, I think I'd rather tango...with you."
"Ooo, I love a woman that's willing to dance." Danielle snickered seductively. "We could always try the twist...it could get interesting."
"Whew! It's getting hot in here."
They both laughed again, enjoying the moment as the class of little girls started doing their own dancing and running around.
A bass started up and Savion got moving to the even beat of it, his tap shoes providing a rhythm of their own.
"Damn. That man can make music with his feet." Danielle sighed. "I trip over my feet when I dance."
Another man joined the first with a snare drum, upping the tempo. Savion easily sped up his pace, moving around the studio with the ease of a natural born dancer.
"Same here. Guess that would make doing the twist kinda awkward, huh?"
"Maybe." Nicki smiled wistfully to herself before getting into the rhythm as the maracas and cymbals were added in. She watched as a young woman took up the rhythm on a pair of drums that were balanced on three-legged stands. "What is she playing?"
"Oh, that's the timpani. Cool sound, huh?"
"Yeah. Really makes you feel the beat in your chest. Does this guy take a band wherever he goes or what?"
"He might. Look, that guy has a xylophone."
Savion had stopped his movement while a few more instruments were being set up. Along with the xylophone, a woman stood just to the left of the rest of the band with a set of chimes. "He's got the whole percussion section here."
As the music started up again, Savion picked up one of the littlest girls...she was maybe four years old...and twirled her around the floor with him as he tapped out a light routine with her. Her little face glowed and her eyes never left his as they danced around to the beat of the music.
"She's so precious."
Danielle nodded, even though Nicki couldn't see her. "She is. But this kinda reminds me of that odd talent show that was on, I think in the 60's. They would have these weird people doing weird things—this must look weird. She barely comes up to his knees."
"Are you talking about the Gong Show?"
Nicki rolled her eyes. "These two would have won. No way someone would have hit that gong with them dancing."
"Probably. Just reminded me of it. You know, I can play the tambourine."
"Sure. I insisted my mom teach me when I saw Davy Jones playing one."
Nicki laughed again. "You had a crush on Davy Jones?"
"Yup. Didn't every fourteen-year-old?"
"No. But I did have a crush on Angie Dickinson."
They were still laughing when Savion joined the impromptu band, taking up the triangle. Apparently not satisfied with that particular instrument, he headed for a set of bongos and happily provided more beat as the entire class of girls continued their dancing.
"Let's go dancing," Nicki suggested suddenly.
"Um, didn't we just discuss this. Neither one of us can dance."
"So? At least we'll have fun."
Danielle was agreeable to that. "And we'll be together."
The sound of sleigh bells could be heard, but neither one of the women could see anyone ringing them. The sound got persistently louder and was accompanied by an immediate darkness that seemed to surround both of them like a shroud, shutting out the sound of the bells...and the world.
Nicki was first aware of being wet. Very wet. She opened her eyes and screamed when she realized she was under water. She flailed her arms and legs, but nothing seemed to be working. She was sinking rapidly, then felt herself being lifted by powerful arms that quickly propelled her to the surface.
She was sputtering for air and just as suddenly landed on a cool grassy hill. Beside her was the most beautiful woman she'd ever seen. Pale blue eyes gazed down at her with concern as she continued to cough up the water.
"Yeah," she heard herself answering and finally realized it wasn't herself at all. She was on another 'ride.' Nicki wondered what happened to Danielle, as there was no reply when she queried the darkness.
"What in Hades were you doing?" the beautiful woman asked, her eyes narrowing, though Nicki could sense she wasn't really mad.
"I—I was fishing."
"In the middle of the river?"
"I was trying to fish like you do."
"Gabrielle—" There was a protest on those perfect lips, but it died as she looked upon the woman in front of her. "C'mon. Let's get you warmed up."
"You're not mad at me, are you?" Gabrielle asked as she was lead into their camp.
"Nah. But next time let me know where you're going, okay?"
"S-s-sorry Xe-Xena. I didn't realize it was so d-d-deep."
"I know." Xena motioned for her to sit down and Gabrielle did so, immediately feeling the warmth of a blanket draped around her shoulders. The heat of the fire was already working its magic.
"Gabrielle!" A woman with curly brown hair came running into the camp, closely followed by two other women. Each one wore a lot of leather that Nicki noticed left plenty of skin exposed. The curly haired one stopped so suddenly that the other two nearly ran into her. "Gabrielle—we heard you yelling and—"
"Looks like Xena beat us to it," the dark haired one behind her mumbled.
"Hi Ephiny, Eponin---aaacchhooo." Gabrielle ran a hand under her nose. "And Solari. Thanks for coming after me, but I'm fine."
Ephiny brushed her curly locks back and eyed her friend carefully. Nicki could see the concern in her eyes, but when her gaze shifted to Xena, she seemed to relax. "Okay. We'll get back to our camp."
"Thanks." This came from Xena and seemed to surprise them all. "I'll get her warmed up and she'll be good as new."
Ephiny smiled, winked at Gabrielle, then ushered the other two Amazons out of the camp, ignoring Eponin's protests as they went.
Gabrielle chuckled. "It's good to know I've got so many protectors." Nicki watched as Gabrielle's hand reached for Xena's larger one, closing tightly around long fingers. "But I'm even more glad to know that you're the one that's got my back."
"Always." Xena brought their linked hands to her lips and placed a gentle kiss across Gabrielle's knuckles. "Where you go, I go."
"I've heard that before." Gabrielle was smiling.
"I love you, bard."
"And I love you, warrior." Gabrielle's eyes locked with Xena's for what felt like an eternity. Nicki could almost feel the connection between the two as they moved closer together. A second before Xena's eyes closed, Nicki was sure she'd seen a glimpse of familiar dark eyes looking back at her.
Xena's lips met Gabrielle's in a kiss that sealed their connection and let their soul's meld together as one.
Nicki felt tears come to her inner eyes, her vision getting blurry for a moment. As it began to clear she saw familiar red, blue and yellow swirls, the splitting of the male/female symbol, then darkness.
She held her breath for a moment, almost afraid to open her eyes again. When she did, she found Danielle looking down at her.
"Are we back?" Nicki asked, her voice barely a whisper.
Lisa removed the helmet and placed it on the back of Nicki's chair. "Yep. All back, safe and sound."
"Back in our own heads?"
"Yes. Back in your own heads." Lisa stepped back as Nicki sat up. She was a little shaky at first and Lisa had to put a hand on her arm to steady her. "Okay?"
"Yeah." Nicki looked over at Danielle, who was being helped by a young man. "Who's he?"
"That's my business partner, Dale. He's also the guy that brought you two home."
"Thanks, Dale." Nicki smiled at the young man, who seemed a bit embarrassed at the praise.
"Always looking out for our customers. Gotta keep 'em happy."
"Yeah, well, I want a refund," Danielle groused, though Dale knew she was only teasing. "And a free session next time."
Lisa stepped in before Dale could comment. "You'll get both. Now, you two take a few minutes to rest while Dale and I get some paperwork finished." Lisa ushered her partner out the door, despite his protestations.
Danielle slowly got to her feet and came to stand in front of Nicki. "That was one helluva ride."
"You can say that." Nicki also stood and found herself just inches away from Danielle. "When they finally separated us...when we were, I mean, were you—"
"Yeah," Danielle breathed, leaning closer to Nicki. She was so close that her warm breath brushed lightly against Nicki's lips, giving her goose bumps. "I was there."
"I thought so." Nicki's breathing increased as the lips got closer. "I—"
"Shhh," Danielle let her lips lightly touch Nicki's, feeling the other woman's response to her nearness.
Nicki's hand found itself reaching up to pull Danielle in closer as their lips met again in a deeper kiss that lasted a lot longer than before. When they parted, both needing air, Nicki was smiling and there was a twinkle in her eyes as she extended her hand to Danielle. "Shall we?"
"Where you go, I go."
They both laughed at the familiarity of the line as Danielle took Nicki's hand and lead her out the door.
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