An Academy Challenge Story: Criss-Crossover Bard Challenge #17
After another disappointing date, Sofia Curtis found herself cruising around Vegas before going home, wondering when she would find someone who could actually hold her interest after a few dates. Sex wasn't bad, but she wanted more. She just wanted someone who was beautiful, sexy, intelligent, with a good sense of humor, who, of course, happened to think those very things about her. Was that too much to ask? Shaking her head, she turned off the inane DJ and turned on her police scanner, suspecting it would be more interesting. She wasn't disappointed when she caught the tail end of a report.
". . . in the vicinity of West Lake Mead Pkwy and South 4th street, a 416 Bravo is in progress."
Sofia glanced at the street sign and felt the familiar rush of adrenaline she got whenever she was going to do her "police thing" as her last date unfortunately made the mistake of belittling.
"Control, this is Detective Curtis, I am four blocks from the 416 Bravo and en route. ETA two minutes."
"Roger that, Detective. Two patrol cars are on their way. ETA five minutes."
"Roger. Curtis out," Sofia said. Turning the red light on her dashboard, she stepped on the gas. Her car hit a few pot-holes, jostling her as she flew up an alley in the industrial section of the city. Her headlights lit up the reported disturbance, which caused her to blink, almost not believing her eyes. But then, she did work in Vegas.
Two men, dressed in Roman costumes were sword fighting with a leather clad brunette, who gracefully deflected the furious strikes and stabbed one man with frightening ease. Sofia somehow knew the other man would soon fall if she didn't act fast. Slamming on her brakes, Sofia jumped out of her car with her weapon drawn, aiming it over her car door. Before she could yell "FREEZE," the dark woman stabbed the second man, who crumbled to the ground. Her belated command drew the attention of the brunette, who looked at her with squinted irritation as she sheathed her sword on her back.
"POL . . ." Sofia continued, but a bright flash and crackling sound stopped her. Instinctively, she ducked behind her door for cover. When she cautiously peered up, the woman was gone!
Startled and angry, Sofia went to the two downed men and growled with frustration. The ambulance didn't have to rush. Standing up, her eyes darted around the alley. Her heart pounded as she carefully approached the most likely hiding place with her weapon at the ready. She tensed, hearing a noise. "Come out with your hands up!" She commanded confidently, though she was still rattled by what she had seen.
"Hey! Don't you point that thing at me!" A crackling voice barked from the shadows. "Do I look like I haul around a sword to you?" The old woman groaned, getting up from her mattress to face the confused Detective, who glanced around the alley with the horrible feeling the murderer and her sword were long gone. "And who the hell's going to clean up this mess?!?" The woman complained, glaring down at the dead bodies in her alley.
"Great," Sofia moaned in frustration as two patrol cars finally arrived.
In the police interrogation room, Captain Jim Brass and CSI Sara Sidle sat across from the homeless woman, who was not pleased with getting yanked downtown for questioning.
"So Miss . . . what was your name again?" Brass asked with a pleasant smile.
"I told that Detective lady, I'm not telling. I didn't do nothing wrong."
"All right," Sara said patiently, "but we have two murders to investigate and would really appreciate anything you could tell us. Would you mind describing what you saw?"
"Well, since you've asked so nicely, sweetie," she said with a genuine smile. Brass glanced at Sara and tried not to roll his eyes. "I was minding my own business sleeping, when I was rudely woken up with all this clanking and yelling."
"Yelling? What did they say?" Brass asked. The woman glared at him.
"What did they say?" Sara repeated, tamping down an amused smile.
"It was more like grunts and war cries," she answered the nice woman CSI.
"War. . ?" Jim started to ask but earned a sharp look from the distrustful woman. Sighing in defeat, he looked at Sara, who finished the question. "War cries?"
"Yeah. Aiyee, Aiyee, Aiyee, Aiyee, Aiyee!" the old woman demonstrated, loudly. Jim and Sara winced at the sudden noise. "That was from that woman warrior."
"Do you know why they were fighting?" Sara asked.
"Did you see which way the woman went after she stabbed the men?"
The question caused the old woman to pause and shift uneasily. "Why don't you ask that Detective lady? She saw what I saw," the old woman said gruffly.
"Well, you might have noticed something different from your position. I'd appreciate whatever you could tell us," Sara said.
After the old woman left, Sara looked at Brass as he got up. "I don't think she liked you," she offered with amusement.
"Hard to believe, I know," Brass quipped as they left the room.
"Sofia," Sara said with surprise, almost bumping into the detective, who had listened behind the one-way mirror.
"Bet you wished you never responded," Jim said with amusement. Sofia smiled weakly.
"Captain Brass?" A uniformed officer came up to them. "You've got a call."
"I'll catch up with you ladies later," Jim said and left for his call.
The uniformed officer paused a moment, looked directly at Sofia and started to whistle the theme to the Twilight Zone and left. Sara frowned and glanced at Sofia, who was clearly irritated. "Are you OK?"
"You've got to be kidding," Sofia said, her blue eyes hard.
"You followed proper police protocol - you didn't do anything wrong, Sofia."
"No? I witnessed two murders and let the murderer get away - in a magical PINK flash for Christ's sake. Either I'm incompetent or I'm crazy," Sofia said, looking down the hall where the uniformed officer left. "Or both."
"You're neither. There's a lot of evidence left to process, Sofia. It will tell us something," Sara said with confidence.
"Yeah," Sofia exhaled, not so confident.
In the CSI lab, Catherine Willows laid out the clothing and possessions of one victim on an evidence table. Nick Stokes was busy with the other victim's items on an adjacent table.
"The clothing isn't flashy, like the costumes at Caesar's Palace," Catherine noted. "Or for a male stripper," she added as an afterthought, getting a smirk from Nick.
"The armor is pretty intricate, though. And the leather pieces - look at the stitching," he said with appreciation, inspecting the material closely. "The sandals have cleats," Nick pointed out, holding up the soles for inspection.
"I guess sandals are a bit better than being barefoot or wearing flip-flops," Catherine said with a smirk. "But sandals? For a soldier?" she said, shaking her head with amusement.
"Caligae," Gil Grissom said as he entered with a folder, getting curious stares from Catherine and Nick. "The Latin term for the soldier's sandals. Cleats were used for treads, similar to a modern day football player."
"Okaaaay," Catherine said, returning her gaze back to the clothing.
"Any luck with the fingerprints?" Nick asked.
"No matches in AFIS," Grissom responded. "Greg is still working on the victim's DNA."
"If they were historical reenactors, they've been at it a while. Look at the dents and scrapes in the armor," Catherine said.
Greg arrived with a heavy sigh. "No matches on the DNA. Have you checked for the murderer's blood on the clothing?" Greg asked. "It's hard to believe she didn't get a scrape in the fight."
"Really?" Catherine's voice dripped with challenge. "Why? Because it's hard to believe a woman could best the men in a sword fight?"
"Uh . . . Because we have nothing and I'm grasping for straws?" Greg responded uneasily.
"I haven't swabbed the clothing yet. Care to help? This is taking longer than I expected and I've got to pick up Lindsay from school," Catherine said.
"Sure," he said easily.
"Great! I owe you one, Greg," she said, immediately leaving.
"I don't think she's keeping count - I could swear it's more than one," he said, picking up the bottle of HemaGlow and squirting once. He immediately got the material to glow - everywhere the spray hit. "Oh man, that's a lot of blood."
"Try mine," Nick suggested.
Greg sprayed a leather strip off of Nick's table, getting a similar reaction. "Wow."
Gil eyed the uniforms with interest. "Well, that wouldn't be unexpected if they were real Roman soldiers."
"Seems to me they were taking the reenacting thing a bit too far," Nick offered.
"Live by the sword, die by the sword," Gil said philosophically, then looked at Greg. "Let me know about the DNA results from the clothing when you're done."
A very tired Sofia sat at her desk, sipping another cup of coffee. She got very little sleep due to the unexpected, time-consuming detour on her way home from her date that plagued her dreams. The supposed simple disturbance turned into two dead bodies and a disappearing warrior. She could feel the other officers' not so subtle stares and occasional snickers. She knew she shouldn't let it bother her, but it did. It also didn't help that she was having difficulty writing the report on her involvement last night. Every time she reread the words, she couldn't help but think she sounded incompetent or crazy. Staring at the computer screen and, in particular, the words "pink flash," she cringed. She had pulled out her thesaurus, which didn't help any. "Fuchsia sparkle" sounded worse. And it wasn't fuchsia- it was fucking PINK. Well, it was at least consistent with the bag lady's description, she considered, her only consolation. Great.
"Sofia, come on. We've got another dead Roman soldier," Jim said as he swiftly walked past her desk, startling the blond detective. She grabbed her blazer and immediately followed.
Jim and Sofia drove to a desert field. "Only one this time," Brass offered, eyeing his friend, who hadn't spoken much in the car.
"Hmm," she grunted. They approached the yellow crime scene tape finding Sara Sidle processing the body.
"Whatchya got?" Jim asked Sara as Sofia lowered her sunglasses and stared at the familiar looking body. She could almost see the dark haired woman warrior thrusting her sword through this man too. But they had no evidence it was the same woman, Sofia reminded herself.
"Another stabbing wound. David's taken the liver temperature. The body has been dead almost four days. No identification or current day items in his possession. Just like the others," Sara noted thoughtfully. "I've finished processing the scene. Maybe we'll get some ID this time," she said, lifting up her kit containing the finger prints and skin samples.
"I wouldn't bet on it," Sofia muttered, taking her sunglasses off as she scanned the area, envisioning the fight. Sara looked at Sofia then Brass curiously. He shrugged.
"I'm going to interview the hiker who found the body," Jim said.
"Do you mind if I hitch a ride to the lab with Sara? I'm kind of curious of what they've found out about the other vics," Sofia said, then glanced at Sara uneasily. "If that's OK with you," she said.
"No problem," Sara said.
"Then I'll see you later," Jim said with a smile and walked towards the officers talking with the witness.
"Thanks," Sofia said softly to Sara.
"Shall we?" Sara said and got a nod. As they walked towards Sara's SUV, they passed two cops who snickered and started humming the Twilight Zone theme, causing a slight hesitation in Sofia's gait, as if debating whether or not to confront her fellow officers. But a cooler head prevailed and she continued on to the SUV and got in.
Putting the key in the ignition, Sara looked over at her. "They are just being juvenile, Sofia," she offered supportively. The irritated detective just nodded and put her sunglasses on. With a sigh, Sara pulled out onto the road.
"Hey, Sofia, Sara," Nick greeted, looking up from his table of evidence as the two women came into the room.
"Anything interesting?" Sofia asked, getting an enthusiastic nod.
"The uniform and artifacts are amazing! The craftsmanship is impressive."
"Any progress on identifying the victims?" She asked, eyeing the table of items.
"May I?" Sofia asked, glancing at the sword with interest.
"Knock yourself out," Nick said with a smile.
Sofia picked it up and eyed it appreciatively. "Hmm. Solid. Balanced. Good, sharp blade. Not a cheap theatrical Gladius."
"Gladius?" Sara asked.
"Short sword," Sofia answered knowledgeably, holding up the example in her hands. "This could certainly do damage," she added.
"It looks like you know your way around a sword. Do you have a collection or something?" Sara asked with an amused grin.
"Actually, I do," Sofia offered, surprising the CSIs. "Well, not what I'd call a real collection, but I have a few sabers and foils from my fencing days."
"You fence?" Nick asked.
"I did," Sofia said, then asked "Did you look for who might have sold the victims their swords? This was made by a real craftsman."
"Grissom is checking," Sara responded. "So, how did you get into fencing?" she asked curiously as she sat on a stool next to the detective.
"Uh . . . college," Sofia said, finally placing the sword back down. Sara's continued curious look prompted her to offer more. "There was this studio in the neighboring town where they taught fencing, stick fighting, and . . . ."
"Did you also learn stick fighting?" Nick asked with great interest, getting Sofia to nod. "Cool. More incentive to keep on your good side," Nick joked.
"It's been a while," Sofia noted with a shrug.
"But - what got you into it?" Sara persisted.
Sofia looked at her, knowing a lack of an answer would prompt even more questions. "A really cute instructor, who was amazing to watch - especially when wielding Eskrima sticks," she relayed, recalling a fond memory with a small smile. "But, I found I was much better at fencing - more padding and fewer bruises."
Sara smirked as Nick chuckled. Glancing at the door, he spotted his supervisor.
"Hey Grissom, have you seen Greg? He was supposed to run the DNA from the vics' clothing. It's been a while."
"He's working it. There are multiple specimens," Grissom said, standing in the doorway.
"How many?" Sara asked with surprise.
"Well, so far, Greg has identified thirty seven separate blood samples on one victim's clothing and twenty four on the other's. He's going to be busy for a while," Gil noted.
"Good GOD, what the hell are these people doing?" Sofia said with frustration.
"Well, if they were real Roman soldiers, that wouldn't be an unreasonable number of separate blood stains," Grissom offered with a shrug.
Sofia looked at him with irritation. "So you think reenactors would try to replicate that particular detail?"
Grissom looked at her, tilting his head. "Some people are very detail oriented."
"Any DNA matches yet?" Sara asked, seeing Sofia grow more irritated.
"No," Grissom answered shaking his head. "But there are over a twenty samples left, who knows?" He offered and excused himself.
"Doc?" Sofia called, entering the cold autopsy room. She smiled, spotting the older man.
"Sofia! I haven't seen you in a while. Let me guess, you're here to see the Roman soldier victims?" Doc Robbins offered knowingly.
"Yeah. And there's a third on its way," she said as the Doc walked over to a cadaver cabinet door.
"Oh? I hadn't heard that," he said, opening the door and pulling out a tray with the first body. Walking to the next cabinet, he opened it and pulled out the second body. "Must be my lucky day to have two lovely ladies visit me," he said with a smile as Sara joined them.
"Doc," Sara said, looking at Sofia, who glanced at her with a small smile, then returned her gaze to the bodies.
"They certainly look . . . muscular," Sara noted, eyeing Sofia curiously.
"Well, if they are trying to be like Roman soldiers, they would probably train like them," Sofia offered absently, then noted "Julius Doe here has a lot of scars." Sara and the Doc looked at her with surprise.
"Julius?" Sara asked with amusement.
"Well, seems more appropriate than John," Sofia offered with a shrug.
Sara smirked, relieved Sofia was able to find some humor in this.
"The number of scars wouldn't be surprising if he were a Roman soldier," Doc Robbins said with a shrug, getting an odd glance from Sofia. "His friend is the same way."
"Would they actually train with sharp swords?" Sofia wondered.
"That might explain the multiple blood stains on the clothing," Sara offered, getting a thoughtful nod from Sofia.
"Some reenactors are obsessed with accuracy," Robbins noted.
"Does Grissom do any reenactments?" Sofia innocently asked, venturing a glance at Sara, who noted the devious glint in her eye. Sara shook her head, begrudgingly amused.
"I don't think so," Robbins said with a shrug, then returned his attention to the bodies. "If there is any bright side to these wounds, the blade was very sharp and cleanly pierced the pericardium and the right ventricle, causing a swift death. If it had been the left ventricle, there would have been a delay in exsanguination. The muscle on the left is thicker and would have partially sealed the wound. If it had been a stomach wound, which would have avoided the ribs and the risk of deflection of the blade, exsanguination would have taken longer, not to mention being more painful."
Sofia eyed him with surprise. "Both victims were stabbed in the right ventricle?"
"Do you think the murderer stabbed them there deliberately? To cause the quickest death?" Sara asked.
"I couldn't tell you," Doc Robbins said. "But it is fascinating that both bodies had the same stab wound."
"Thanks, Doc," Sofia said absently, deep in thought as she left.
"It would make sense to want the quickest kill," Sofia said as Sara caught up to her in the corridor.
"But . . . during a sword fight, isn't there too much chance involved to conclude someone could intentionally land a killing blow as precisely as that?" Sara asked.
"Well, we've got two bodies that would seem to indicate it's possible. And I've seen unbelievably precise fighting with foils and other weapons," Sofia responded thoughtfully.
"Your instructor?" Sara probed, surprising Sofia.
"Yes. And others," Sofia said cautiously.
"I'm not an expert on fighting . . ." Sara prefaced.
"A lover not a fighter, aye?" Sofia joked, making Sara smile self-consciously and Sofia wish she had kept her mouth shut.
"Uh, wouldn't the skill needed to do that with a foil be different than with a short sword?" Sara continued.
"I have to admit, I've never heard of surgical-precision, gladiator fighting in any of my ancient history classes," Sofia said with a sigh.
"Ancient History? I didn't realize that was part of the criminal justice curriculum," Sara asked curiously.
"It wasn't even an elective," Sofia said with a smirk.
"Let me guess, a cute TA?"
Sofia smiled unrepentantly, making Sara shake her head and chuckle softly.
"Did you get an A?" Sara asked.
"Of course," Sofia responded with a saucy smile, causing Sara's eyes to drop uncomfortably. "Hey, I studied my ass off," she offered quickly, not wanting Sara to have the wrong impression.
"He was soooo handsome you had trouble focusing?" Sara joked uneasily.
"Uh, something like that," Sofia said cautiously, then spotted Greg, with an arm-full of files. "Hey, Greg!" Sofia called, causing him to halt and turn towards them.
"Did you know we have another Roman body?!?" He immediately complained, clearly upset.
"Yeah. I processed the scene. He's older than the other two in the morgue," Sara noted.
"I still have a dozen blood samples to process and now another walking blood bath??? That's likely to be at least twenty more!" He said with frustration. "This is like seventy samples!"
"No matches in CODIS so far?" Sofia asked.
"NONE!" Greg said and declared "This is the last time I ever do Catherine a favor," before marching off, down the hallway.
"Where's your report?" Brass anxiously asked Sofia, who winced with worry. Jim rarely exuded anything but calm.
"Why?" Sofia asked, cringing when she looked at her report on the computer screen which showed absolutely no improvement since the start of her shift. She stuck with "pink flash."
"The Sheriff is asking about it."
"Seems the rumors of a pink flash and a disappearing murder suspect have made it to his office. He wants to read it for himself," Jim looked at her with worry.
"Great," she said wearily.
Less than an hour later, Sofia was sitting in front of the Sheriff as he read her report. She thought he was going to speak a couple of times. Instead, he took a long, deep breath and exhaled with slow annoyance, continuing to read. Turning the final page over, he finally looked up at her.
"Do you realize we have a fucking political nightmare on our hands?" he snapped. She cringed. "I know you're not stupid."
"Thank you, sir."
"Oh shut up," he said wearily. Sofia bit her tongue and stared at the floor angrily. "What I don't know is whether you were incompetent or . . . incapacitated in some way," he said, eyeing her critically. "Were you?"
"I resent that . . . Sir," Sofia growled, struggling to keep her anger at bay. She couldn't afford to lose her temper. She was already in enough trouble.
"And I resent the fact that one of MY officers let a possible serial killer go after WITNESSING two murders less than twenty feet away!" He shouted, slamming his hand down on the desk. "Now, I want you to write another report. One that details every fucking minute before you took it upon yourself to fuck up."
Taking an uneasy breath, she responded. "No."
"I will sign a statement saying I was not drunk or under the influence of any substance, but I will not write a report on the details of what I do in my private time," she responded with a calm that surprised herself.
"Am I to understand you are refusing a direct order?"
"Well. Then you leave me no choice. Until I have something that will restore my confidence in you, you are hereby suspended for gross negligence in the execution of your duties. Put your gun and badge on my desk before you leave," he said, dismissing her as he closed the folder with her report in it.
The stunned detective sat unmoving for a moment. When she finally stood, she slowly unholstered her weapon, carefully placing it down on his desk. With a fortifying breath, she removed the badge from her belt and placed the precious symbol of justice next to her weapon. Numbly, she turned around and left.
"Three bodies this time?" Catherine asked with amazement as she walked out to the lab's parking lot with Sara, who nodded.
"Man, Greg is going to spaz," Sara noted, making Catherine smirk.
As Sara drove to the Museum of History, Catherine sighed. "I just don't get it. Why go to the trouble to dress up and then risk your life fighting others?"
"Like in professional wrestling? Boxing, or martial arts matches?" Sara glanced over at Catherine with amusement.
Catherine's eyes narrowed. "So you think it's a sport to them?"
"I don't know. If there is one woman behind all this, it wouldn't seem like a sport."
"What if it's like in the old West, where the best gun fighter is always being challenged?" Catherine offered as Sara pulled up to the museum parking lot.
"Interesting coincidence, dead Roman soldiers in a museum where the exhibit opening tomorrow is of Ancient Greek and Roman artifacts," Sara offered.
"Perhaps this is a good place for them to "shop" for new authentic gear," Catherine offered as she ducked under the crime scene tape with Sara.
Taking photos of the bodies and wounds, Sara noted one appeared different. "Catherine?"
"I see it. The blood splatter is different too. A slash versus a direct stabbing?" Catherine said as she knelt down by a body.
Sara glanced over to the wall, tilted her head curiously, then took a picture.
"What did you find?" Catherine asked, looking up.
"Something hit the wall. Maybe when they were fighting, a sword nicked it. Could be a source of metal transfer."
"Even if it is, it's not going to be as conclusive as a ballistics test."
"Maybe," Sara said, pulling out a plastic bag and a scraper from her kit. "But there might be unique materials in the sword or . . . something," she noted. After a moment, she asked "Did you know Sofia used to fence?"
"She bought stolen goods?" Catherine responded with feigned shock.
"Noooo," Sara said with a smirk. "With swords. A foil, to be exact."
"No, I can't say that I did. Why?" Catherine said as she started to process the fingerprints.
Sara shook her head dismissively. "No reason, just something that came to mind."
Catherine looked up at Sara curiously, then spotted something. "Sara, there's another mark by your elbow, on the pillar."
"From the position of the body and the location of the gashes in the wall and pillar, it looks like . . ." Sara said then stopped as a frown appeared on her face.
"Looks like what?"
"It doesn't make any sense. The wound is a slice made by a very sharp object with a healthy force behind it."
"Earth to Sara, tell me what you're thinking," Catherine said with mild annoyance at Sara's conversation with herself.
"I was thinking it looked like the killer could have thrown something, which ricocheted off the wall, then the pillar, then sliced the soldier across the chest."
"Well, the angles are right," Catherine said, intrigued.
"But it doesn't make sense from a physics standpoint. Picture a boomerang with a very sharp edge," Sara said, walking through the possible flight path of the weapon. "You can initially impart energy when throwing it - but that energy is finite. And every time it impacts something, it loses some energy. It hit two surfaces, making notable marks - losing more energy than if it just bounced. The blade that contacted those surfaces would also have lost some of it's sharpness. But the body was sliced with something extremely sharp with great force. I don't see how the weapon could have retained sufficient energy and sharpness to do the job."
Catherine eyed the path and looked at Sara. "OK. So we're back to sword nicks?"
After a few hours, Catherine and Sara were returning to their vehicle when they saw Jim Brass talking with an animated Sheriff.
"Looks like it's just gotten political. The Sheriff is making a personal appearance," Catherine announced with a weary sigh.
The women couldn't help but hear the Sheriff, who was nearly shouting.
". . . and you better make damn sure she doesn't show her face anywhere near one of these crime scenes, or I'll throw her in jail for obstruction of justice!" he spat, then stormed off to his vehicle.
"Jim? What's going on?" Catherine asked as they walked up to the frowning Captain.
"I tried to convince him we needed Sofia off of suspension to help with these cases, but, well, you heard him."
"Suspension? For what?" Sara asked, shocked.
"Gross negligence of duty," Brass answered with a heavy sigh.
"You've got to be kidding," Catherine said in disbelief.
"For what?" Sara asked again.
"Seems our elected official, the Sheriff, thinks Sofia let the murderer go. He's accused her of either being negligent or . . . incapacitated."
"That son of a bitch," Catherine said with disgust. "She went out of her way while off-duty and this is what thanks she gets?!?"
"When did this happen?" Sara asked neutrally.
"Before we got the call about the museum bodies," he said, getting an upset look from Sara. "I wanted to see if I could get him to change his mind and make it go away," he explained uncomfortably. "I obviously failed. He still has her badge," he said.
Sofia was still numb, staring at the ceiling in her bedroom while listening to the police scanner. She was drawn to it, even if she was only distantly connected to what she loved. When she heard the latest call on the three bodies at the museum, she felt sick with guilt. Did she let that woman go? She kept replaying what happened in the alley, second guessing all of her actions. Was she too slow to save the two men in the alley? Was she tricked by a pink flash that allowed that woman to get away? Did her hesitation cause three more men to die?
With a nagging thought, she got up from the bed and marched into the kitchen, pulling out a Las Vegas map and a pen from a drawer. Opening the map, she placed it on the kitchen table and marked the location of the museum, then the alley, where the two bodies were found, then the desert location with the one body. She noted the numbers of bodies increased and the days between the murders decreased, as did the distance to the museum. Sofia shook her head and started to pace, wondering if the museum was their destination. It certainly looked like it. But why the museum?
Pulling out a phone book, she flipped it open. When she dialed the museum, she got a recording. With growing impatience, she listened to unneeded information on hours and days the museum was open and what special educational events were happening. Finally, she learned something eerily pertinent - the special exhibit that was opening tomorrow.
"Ancient Roman and Greek Artifacts," Sofia repeated aloud, knowing in her gut that was no coincidence. "What object was so important that people would kill for it?"
She pulled out a small black book and dialed a long-unused number. It rang a few times before it picked up. "Hello?" A tired voice answered.
"Barbara? It's Sofia," Sofia said uneasily.
"Sofia?" Barbara asked with surprise, sitting up in her bed, much more awake now.
"Yes. I'm sorry about calling you out of the blue but I could really use some of your researching skills right now," Sofia said with a wince, knowing she was asking a lot.
"You've got it. What do you need?" Barbara responded without hesitation.
Sofia printed out the list of artifacts and Barbara was right. It was large. Skimming through the many sheets, nothing popped out as particularly interesting enough to want to kill for. Though, she had to admit, there were no objects she would kill for.
"Paintings, sculptures, vases, tools, weapons . . . ," she muttered curiously. Perhaps the weapons were the most likely objects the reenactors would covet. But would they kill for them? Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard a knock on the door. Putting her list down on the kitchen table, she went to the door and looked through the peep hole. She hesitated a moment, then opened the door.
"Sara? Don't tell me there's a dead Roman in my front yard I don't know about?" she said, poking her head out the door, looking around.
"I heard you've been suspended," Sara said, ignoring the sarcasm. She was very familiar with avoidance tactics, having mastered them herself.
"Yeah. Fancy that. Come to see if I'm drunk?"
"I came to see if you were OK."
"Well, what do you think?" Sofia said, turning around as if she was a model on display. Sara's eyes drifted over the attractive womanly curves before she realized what she was doing.
"Uh, you look . . . good as always, Sofia," she admitted awkwardly.
"Wow. What an ego boost. Are you going to say I have a great personality too?" She asked flatly.
"Well, I wouldn't say that at the moment. Right now, you're being an ass," Sara said bluntly. "Are you going to invite me in?" she asked.
"Are you sure you want to come in?" Sofia cautioned her. "As you've noted, I'm not exactly fun to be around at the moment. And I'm pretty sure my sunny disposition won't be returning anytime soon."
"Just let me in, Curtis," Sara said, her patience at an end.
"I appreciate the concern but I don't need a baby sitter," Sofia said, receiving a glare from the stubborn CSI, who she knew was not going to accept no for an answer. Sofia sighed heavily and after a silent moment, stepped back. Her eyes dropped to the ground as Sara entered her home. Her head lifted and she asked tiredly. "Would you like a drink?"
"No . . . well, actually . . . a beer?"
"All right," Sofia said, heading towards her kitchen. She returned to the living room with a beer in one hand and a diet Coke in the other. Noticing Sara's surprised eyes on her diet Coke, she felt compelled to note "Just because I feel like getting drunk, doesn't mean I'm going to. Did I pass?" she asked with tired irritation.
"I wasn't trying to insult you," Sara said, taking the cold bottle. "I understand the Sheriff told you to write another report," she said conversationally, then took a sip.
"And you refused?"
Sara nodded. "Brass thinks he'll take you off of suspension if you write the report."
"It's not going to happen."
"Goddamn it, Sara. I shouldn't have to!" Sofia snapped and got up to pace.
"No, you shouldn't. But it would be one possible out."
"Oh no it's not," Sofia countered with certainty. Sara eyed her curiously, waiting for an explanation. Sofia sighed again.
"Why?" Sara asked softly.
Sofia grimaced. She didn't like discussing her private life. But if she couldn't trust Sara with the truth, there was no one she could trust. "Look," Sofia said uncomfortably, "that night I was returning home after a night out with a . . . lady friend. I'm not sure that the Sheriff's confidence in me is going to be bolstered by that fact, considering he's a homophobic son of a bitch."
Without batting an eyelash, Sara responded "There are a lot of people who would be able to help you if he tries to harass you because of your sexuality. It's illegal. But if he makes these absurd allegations against your professional integrity, which you refuse to fight - your friends can't help you."
Sofia sat back down on the couch next to her. Staring at the floor a thoughtful moment, grateful for Sara's support and understanding, she softly said "You don't seemed surprised."
"I just follow the evidence," Sara noted with a small smile, getting a concerned look. "Subtle things," she offered with amusement.
Sofia rolled her eyes. "A CSI would notice the subtle things."
Sara smiled broadly. The smile made her light up, amplifying her beauty, Sofia thought, then returned an amused smirk and shook her head.
"You shouldn't let him get away with anything, Sofia. You didn't have to respond that night, but you did. You told the truth, even though it was difficult. I admire your sense of duty and integrity, Sofia. I admire you. Please don't give up without a fight," Sara said, reaching out and squeezing her forearm.
Sofia fell into the depths of those sincere brown eyes. She had never had anyone support her so completely. Without thinking, the detective found herself slowly drawn in by that confidence and caring . . . and those alluring lips.
Sara suddenly stood. "I should go," she blurted, looking around the room uncomfortably.
Sofia's eyes shut briefly at the painful rejection. Taking a deep breath, she plastered on a smile as she quickly stood. "Yeah. I think I'll go see a lawyer. You'd think I'd have thought of that already."
"It's harder to think through everything when you are emotionally invested, Sofia," Sara said, hoping she understood.
"Yeah," she exhaled. "Sorry for being an ass," Sofia added with a slight wince.
"You've had a few bad days," Sara allowed, glancing at the kitchen. "Going somewhere?"
"Hmm?" The question caught Sofia off-guard.
"The map," Sara noted.
Sofia's eyes darted to the kitchen table, which you could clearly see from the living room. On it was the Vegas map, two phone books, and the stack of paper from the list of artifacts. Damn CSI's! "Well, if you had extended time off, wouldn't you?" Sofia asked.
"I don't . . . take that much time off," Sara hesitantly admitted.
"Me either - until now. Though, I suspect I'll be too busy fighting the good fight to travel," Sofia said with a shrug. "Thanks for the advice," Sofia said sincerely. Sara nodded with a small smile and left.
Dressed in black, Sofia quietly approached the poorly lit loading dock, not wanting to be spotted. She was very careful, knowing from Brass that she was not to set foot anywhere near here. In spite of possible career suicide, she was compelled to see the latest crime scene and get a look at the artifacts herself. She was eerily compelled, even with the words "don't do anything stupid" ringing through her head, echoing the warning her mother would give her growing up. Well, I'm here now, she considered, acknowledging she probably wasn't thinking everything through. She was most definitely emotionally invested.
Sorting through her small kit, she pulled out a tension wrench and lock pick. Turning on her small but powerful flashlight, she stuck it in her mouth and went to work on the lock. After what seemed like an eternity, the tools finally caught the right pins and the lock opened, making her conclude she was better off as a police officer than a crook.
From what Brass told her, she found the scene even without the three bodies and police tape. But actually being there, and even spotting the curious nicks on the wall and pillar, didn't give her any insight on what had happened. With a frown, she migrated to the special exhibit of Ancient artifacts. Maybe seeing the items on that list would help give her some ideas.
Hearing a clunk, she turned off her flashlight and stopped moving. After a few moments, she heard another noise. As quietly as she could, she approached the main display room. Sofia pulled out her personal firearm and pointed it in the direction of the next sounds - a heavy thunk and soft "ouch." It was a female voice, she concluded with alarm. Turning on her flashlight, she called out "Freeze, police!"
To her surprise and mild relief, she did not see the tall brunette in black leather. She saw a short-haired blond woman in a dark red leather skirt and top. But the metal bracers, sais at her boots, and notable muscle tone, indicated she too was a warrior. A warrior who looked like she was caught with her hand in a cookie jar. "Hands up where I can see them," Sofia called out.
"Uh, hi?" the blond said with a wince as she raised her hands.
"Who are you?" Sofia asked bluntly.
"I'm Gabrielle. And you are?" The woman said politely, surprising Sofia.
"Detective Sofia Curtis, Las Vegas Police department."
"Yep. Why don't you tell me what you are doing here?" She asked, finding the wall switch and turning on the lights.
"Ah, it's rather complicated and I'll be glad to tell you all about it - later. I don't have a lot of time at the moment," Gabrielle explained, looking around the room anxiously.
"Make the time. The sooner you start, the sooner you finish," Sofia noted reasonably.
"All right," Gabrielle said reluctantly. "I'm here to find the Torch of Eris," she said, surprising Sofia. That piece was actually on the exhibit list.
"That would be stealing, Gabrielle," Sofia said.
"Not to steal - to destroy," she clarified.
"Destruction of valuable property. That's not much better - and you are also breaking and entering."
"I haven't broken anything," Gabrielle said, then added "yet."
"You wouldn't know anything about the three men who were killed just down the hall here, would you?"
Gabrielle cringed. "Please, I don't have much time. I have to get the Torch of Eris and destroy it before it gets into the wrong hands and brings chaos and mass destruction," she said gravely.
The woman actually seemed to believe what she was saying, Sofia thought, wondering why she hadn't thought to investigate missing psychiatric patients who liked to dress up. "I'm afraid I can't help you destroy property. But you can help yourself, if you help me find the tall woman who I saw kill a couple of . . ." Sofia said, interrupted when a pink flash lit up the room. Before Sofia could react, she felt two jabs in her neck. She fell to the ground gasping, landing next to her dropped 9 mm.
"XENA! You didn't have to do that!" Gabrielle scolded her, kneeling by Sofia, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"She was pointing a gun at you," Xena said defensively, kicking the weapon away from the fallen detective. "I've seen what they can do, even in the hands of an untrained idiot!"
"She's law enforcement," Gabrielle said firmly.
"So is Caesar's army," Xena argued.
"Take the pinch off now," Gabrielle growled, eyeing the taller woman.
"I was going to," Xena said with irritation, jabbing Sofia's neck again.
With a gasp, her hands shot up to her neck. "Oh God," she blurted, her heart pounding at the realization of how easily she was incapacitated by this woman.
"I'm sorry Xena did that to you," Gabrielle said, causing Xena to roll her eyes. "but we really don't have a lot of time. We've got to get the torch before Caesar's men do," Gabrielle said as she helped the unsteady blond detective onto her feet.
"Caesar? As in Julius?" Sofia asked skeptically, rubbing her neck as she glanced at the dark-haired woman mistrustfully.
"I'm afraid so," Gabrielle said gravely, making Sofia frown as she started to wonder if the delusional blond was as dangerous as the tall warrior. But there was just something about this woman that provoked a surprising feeling of trust.
"You two can "chat," while I look for the torch," Xena said tersely, then saw Sofia's eyes searching the floor for her weapon. "YOU," Xena called out, startling the detective.
"Her name is Sofia, Xena," Gabrielle offered, earning an annoyed look and a low growl of irritation.
"Don't do anything stupid like try to stop me," Xena warned, casting a menacing look towards the detective before starting her search.
Comparing the two women, Gabrielle seemed so . . . nice, Sofia observed. And she didn't seem the slightest bit afraid of Xena. "So . . . all this, the dead soldiers and this break in, has been about a torch?" The detective asked, trying to understand what Gabrielle was telling her.
"Yes. The Goddess Eris created a Torch which, when in the wrong hands, can cause countless deaths and much suffering. And that is what Caesar will do if he gets it."
"Why would Julius Caesar want to cause such destruction? He's created a massive empire and invented things like . . . like the newspaper," Sofia offered, recalling her Ancient History course.
"Nothing but trash," Xena snarled as she continued to look through the various displays.
"You don't get an empire without bloodshed," Gabrielle explained sagely, adding. "Caesar only cares for his power. The torch would give him more."
"Did she kill those soldiers to prevent them from getting the torch?" Sofia asked, trying to understand the violence of the last few days.
"Yes," Gabrielle said.
"It's still murder in Las Vegas, Gabrielle," Sofia said.
"If she didn't kill them, they would have killed her."
"Are you saying it was self-defense?"
"I would. Look, Sofia. Xena's no innocent. She'll be the first to admit that. But she has changed for the better and fights for the greater good. That's what we are trying to do now."
"So if you are fighting against Julius Caesar, you must not be from around here," Sofia said conversationally. Gabrielle smiled warmly.
"It always amazes me how hard it is for people of your time to accept time travel," Gabrielle said with honest surprise.
"People of my time? You've done this be . . . ." Sofia started to ask, interrupted by the sound of shattering glass.
"I've got it!" Xena interrupted, holding up the ceramic artifact shaped in the form of a lit torch to show her bard, who smiled.
Sofia noticed how the blue eyes of the frightening warrior softened for the blond woman. Xena even smiled. No wonder Gabrielle didn't fear Xena, Sofia thought. Xena loved her.
Seeing Sofia watching her, Xena's smile disappeared. "Now, let's get this over with," Xena muttered, unsheathing her sword.
Gabrielle's smile also disappeared when six Romans appeared through several blue flashes. "Take cover and let us handle this!" Gabrielle barked at Sofia as she unsheathed her sais and started battling two Roman soldiers who rushed at her.
One Roman soldier focused on the startled detective and lunged at her. Sofia stumbled back, narrowly avoiding his blade. He snarled at the loss of an easy kill and kept swinging his blade at her. She kept jumping back, frantically looking around the floor for her weapon.
Xena dodged a soldier barreling towards her and knocked him over the head with the torch as he passed. He fell to the floor unconscious as she looked at the torch. "Not even a dent!" She grumbled.
Sofia carefully backed up as two soldiers now were interested in her. Bumping into a display, she glanced down and saw a Gladius and, in desperation for a weapon, grabbed it. When the two men lunged again, she managed to sweep their blades away with a block. It wasn't very graceful, but it was good enough, she thought, thankful for her lessons from Barbara as she ducked, scrambling to get out of the way of another attack.
Gabrielle whirled and kicked two soldiers down and made her way towards Xena, who was fighting with her sword in one hand and the torch in another, occasionally clubbing a soldier over the head with it. Each time, Xena would look at the torch with frustration.
"Maybe a direct blow from your sword?" Gabrielle suggested over her shoulder as she deflected two attackers.
"I'm kind of busy using it right now!" Xena responded and spun around with a flair. Disarming one soldier, she ran him through, felling him.
Sofia's adrenaline surged as she managed to dodge and weave and land a few satisfying kicks, even knocking one soldier out cold. But she knew she was in way over her head and had a huge disadvantage - she wasn't trying to kill. She dodged another attack but tripped on the foot of a dead soldier and crashed down to the floor, dropping her sword. Looking up, her heart stopped seeing a blade descending. Before she could say a quick prayer, the descending blade flew out of his hands, struck by a blurry object. With amazement, her eyes followed the object and found a ring of metal in Xena's hand. What the hell?!? Sofia thought, stunned.
"Hold this," Xena said, tossing the torch to Sofia, just before she let out a disturbing war cry and became a tornado of deadly motion. Ducking behind a pillar with the artifact, Sofia watched Xena dispatch her enemies with lethal precision. The scene she witnessed in the alley paled in comparison. Sofia swallowed hard, not sure how to feel at the moment. She had been so sure Xena was a heartless murderer. And if she had seen this display alone, she would have concluded the same thing. But she had just saved her life from these soldiers. And she loved Gabrielle. And oddly enough, that was more compelling, making her believe Xena was fighting for good.
Sofia looked down at the torch, it appeared to be ceramic. A very durable ceramic, apparently. "Hold it out," Xena ordered, startling her inspection. Sofia complied, knowing if Xena wanted to kill her, she'd be dead by now. In an instant, Xena's sword came hurling down upon the object with a mighty force. It contacted and a shock of pain traveled to Sofia's hand, causing her to drop the torch. It hit the ground and rolled to a stop - in one piece.
"Damn it," Sofia said in frustration, getting a smirk from Gabrielle.
"So you believe us now?" Gabrielle asked.
"I can't think of any plausible explanation for what is going on. So I guess that leaves the implausible," she said, earning a knowing smile from Gabrielle.
Xena picked up the torch. "This is really getting on my nerves," she muttered, whacking the torch repeatedly against the wall, then inspecting it, only to find it had collected a few scratches.
Sofia eyes lit up. "I have an idea. I'll be right back." Rushing into the hallway, she stopped in front of a fire extinguisher and grabbed the bottle.
"What are you doing?" Gabrielle asked with great interest as Sofia returned.
"I'm hoping to make the material more brittle by reducing its temperature. If it is more brittle it should be easier to shatter."
"Freeze!" Jim Brass called out, appearing at the entrance of the room with his weapon drawn. Sara carefully walked up behind him with her weapon also drawn, sucking in a startled breath at the bloody room.
"Sara, Jim, if you have any faith left in me. Please. Trust me and let me finish this," Sofia pleaded, looking at her friends beseechingly. They looked at each other questioningly, then silently nodded, lowering their weapons slightly. "Thank you," Sofia said with relief.
After expending the extinguisher on the torch, Sofia tossed the bottle aside and picked up the object. "Ouch. Hurry up, it's cold," she said with a wince. Xena lifted her sword causing Brass and Sara to tense.
As her blade descended, Sofia was suddenly knocked back by a soldier, who tackled her and buried his dagger into her side. After hitting the floor, the torch fell loose. The soldier scrambled to capture the torch as four rapid shots rang out, killing the soldier and shattering the torch. Brass looked over to Sara with surprise as she nervously lowered her weapon.
"Damn," Sofia groaned as she tried to stand with her hand clutching her bloody side. But she stumbled back to the floor blinking, stunned by the pain. Glancing at the shattered torch with some consolation, she looked up to find Sara. Anxious brown eyes stared at the blood oozing from her wound as Sara knelt by her. This wasn't looking good, Sofia thought in resignation .
"She needs an ambulance!" Sara called to Jim, who nodded, already on his cell phone. "Sofia, don't exert yourself. The ambulance is coming. Stay with me."
"Thought you'd never . . . ask," Sofia said, starting to shiver. "Ooooh, I've h. . .heard you g . . get cold . . . it's t . . . true."
"Xena?" Gabrielle asked with concern. "Can you stop the bleeding?"
Xena knelt down and looked at the wound. She shook her head with pain in her eyes.
"Hold on, Sofia," Sara said urgently, holding the detective's hand. "Please."
Sofia looked into Sara's eyes and weakly squeezed her hand. "Good . . . s. . . shot," she said with a slight smile that faded with the light in her eyes. In her last breath, she exhaled "Sara."
"Not again," Gabrielle whispered as tears fell and Xena's head dropped in guilt for having failed yet another noble soul in their damned quest.
Sara numbly brushed Sofia's hair off her brow and whispered to her. "I thought it best if," she paused, swallowing hard in anguish. "I was wrong."
"Sara?" Xena said gently, causing lost brown eyes to reluctantly look at her.
"I'll fix this. I swear," Xena vowed as Gabrielle nodded.
Sara laughed without humor. "How can you fix . . . this?" she said, looking down at Sofia's beautiful face.
"The same way we got here," Gabrielle said, looking at Xena, who nodded weakly.
When Xena got up from Sofia's side, Brass immediately pointed his weapon at her. "Where do you think you're going?" He said, unshed tears in his eyes.
"To fulfill my promise to Sara," Xena said tiredly as she glanced at Sara, who continued to stare at Sofia, tenderly stroking her cheek. When Xena gently took Gabrielle's hand, the room was enveloped in a bright pink flash.
"Are you even listening to me??" Catherine complained, startling Sara, whose head snapped up in confusion. Her cup fell, splashing coffee on the floor. "Sara! Did you scald yoursel. . . hey, where are you going?!?" Catherine asked as Sara rushed out of the break room.
Heading towards her car, Sara dialed a number she had memorized but rarely used. "Answer!" Sara hissed in frustration, feeling herself start to lose it. When she got through, it was only a message. She hung up in frustration and tried Brass' number. After three painfully long rings, she heard his friendly voice. "Hey, Sara. What's up?"
"Is Sofia, with you, by any chance?" Sara said haltingly, struggling to talk through the welling panic.
"No. She left here in a real hurry. Took the rest of the day off." Sara's eyes shut as she exhaled with some relief hearing she was alive.
"Did she say where she was going?"
"The Museum of History, oddly enough," Brass said, the familiar location causing a startled breath. "She rambled on about some Roman Torch. Do you know what's going on?"
"I'm . . . going to find out."
"What do you mean there's no exhibit of Ancient Roman and Greek artifacts?!?" Sofia snapped at the woman at the welcome desk, then took a breath and forced herself to calm down.
"Well, there is," the woman admitted, getting a nod from Sofia, who was relieved she was finally getting somewhere. "But you're in the wrong state. The exhibit is scheduled to be at the New York City Museum of History for the next month. It's not scheduled for Las Vegas."
"Benson," the detective answered her cell, glancing over to the Assistant District Attorney, Alex Cabot, who was grilling the museum's curator.
"Olivia? It's Sofia Curtis," the Las Vegas detective said from her SUV, having hooked up her dead cell to the car's receptacle.
"Hey, Sofia. Long time. What's up?"
"This is going to sound odd, but could you go to the Museum of History for me?"
Olivia paused, looking at the poster for the Ancient Roman and Greek Artifacts exhibit uneasily, then slowly asked "why?"
"I need to know if there is a Torch of . . . ."
"Eris?" Olivia guessed with surprise, stunning the Vegas cop. Olivia saw Alex turn towards her and shrug, shaking her head no. "It's not part of the exhibit," Olivia relayed with relief.
Returning to Olivia's side, Alex reached for the detective's hand, something that she would never have done before. But now, her heart told her to never let go.
"You. . . were already looking for it?" Sofia asked hesitantly.
"Yeah. I don't suppose you had any, uh, unusual experiences recently?" Olivia asked uncomfortably, causing Alex to look at her curiously.
"Would encountering Roman soldiers and two women warriors from Ancient Greece constitute unusual?" Sofia asked with an odd sense of relief. She wasn't alone in her insanity.
"That would be my definition."
"Is it . . . destroyed?" Sofia asked with a wince.
"I thought it was, but . . . I honestly don't know what really happened anymore."
"What if it's still out there?" Sofia said with worry.
"Sofia, do yourself a favor," Olivia said, motioning to the door and receiving a smile and nod from Alex. "Take some time off and leave the Torch of Eris to Xena. She said she'd take care of it and I would be the last to want to argue with her," she said and hung up, receiving a brief kiss from Alex. Smiling, they left arm in arm, passing a frantic woman rushing into the museum, looking around nervously.
Spotting her long-time friend, who was inspecting an exhibit poster, her heart pounded as she ran towards her - no small feat since the stylish Donna Karan suit and Prada shoes were most certainly not designed for running. "JO!" she cried out, startling the people she passed in her mad dash to the detective.
"Geeze, Blair, you trying to give me a heart . . . ?" Jo Polniaczek said, interrupted by a possessed, albeit attractive, business woman, who peppered her face with kisses before breaking down into sobs and desperately clung to her former girls-school roommate, whimpering "you're alive."
"Shhhh, Princess. It's OK. I'm OK," Jo said soothingly, holding onto her tightly. While still confused about what had really happened the past few days, she knew one thing with certainty - her love for the wealthy heiress was very real and she was going to make damn sure she took every opportunity to show her. "I've got you now," Jo said, gently rocking her precious Blair in her arms, prompting an uncertain "you promise?"
Two older women, who had worked closely together for many years, until they hung up their halos to live their separate lives, sat close together on a marble bench. They couldn't help but watch the commotion, which transformed into tender kisses and heart-felt promises.
"Them too?" Kelly Garrett asked incredulously, looking over into smiling brown eyes as she placed Sabrina's arm over her shoulder and snuggled into the warm cocoon.
"Seems so," Sabrina answered with an amused smile that faded when she saw Kelly sigh sadly. "Hey, Kel. What's wrong?" She asked softly.
"I've wasted so much time, Bree. So many years," she said dejectedly, glancing down. Gently, her chin was lifted up to enable Sabrina to look in her eyes.
"It wasn't just you. And if things had been different, you wouldn't have had two beautiful children and I wouldn't have had Dani."
Kelly smiled warmly. "You're right." The comment prompted a smug smile, which Kelly responded to with a playful shove before she returned to the welcoming embrace.
"And just think about all the fun we'll have making up for lost time," Bree added, waggling her eyebrows, causing a big smile.
"That's what I've always liked about you, Sabrina Duncan - the way you think, " Kelly said with a grin.
"Like?" Bree said with a disappointed pout that made Kelly chuckle and lean in for a kiss. "Love," she whispered before bestowing a tender kiss of promise.
Unable to follow Olivia's advice, Sofia dialed her old fencing instructor again. Or was it the first time, she considered with a frustrated groan. As the phone rang, and rang, she paced in her house with a strong feeling that something important still needed to be done. On the other end, someone finally picked up - then immediately hung up.
Sofia frowned and dialed again. After two rings someone answered. "Hello?"
"Barbara? This is Sofia."
"Sofia??" Barbara said with surprise then barked "Do NOT touch the phone again."
"Not you. Helena," Barbara said with a weary sigh for her new, incredibly energetic lover, who was still not tired and very unhappy with the interruption.
"Is this a bad time?" Sofia asked with a wince.
"No, no. What can I do for you, Sofia?"
"I need your research skills again," Sofia said.
"I mean, now," Sofia said with a wince and plowed ahead. "There is an Ancient Roman and Greek exhibition in Las Vegas . . . uh, I mean New York. There's one artifact I wanted to see if it was still listed . . . ."
"The Torch of Eris?" Barbara guessed.
"How . . . ?" Sofia was stunned to learn that Olivia and now Barbara had also been a part of this . . . somehow.
"The exhibit is in Gotham City . . . or was," Barbara said with a perplexed sigh, glancing over at Helena, who ran her fingers over her forearm before tenderly kissing it.
"You're not sure what happened the last couple of days either, are you?"
"That would be an understatement," Barbara chuckled, then quickly grew somber. "But it was very stressful and I thought I had lost someone I loved. I'll never forget that," Barbara said, looking into Helena's loving eyes and freely indulging in a caress of her beautiful face.
"What about the Torch? What if . . . ?" Sofia blurted anxiously, feeling something was still amiss.
"Sofie - I think whatever happened with that Torch, it's over," Barbara said. "You might consider taking some time off and enjoy what you have right under your nose. Life's too short," she said, then snapped. "Get AWAY from the PHONE!"
Sofia had to laugh. "I think I'd better go now. Thanks, Barbara. Take care."
As Sofia hung up, she heard a startling screeching of wheels, quickly followed by a car door slam. Walking to the window to see which neighbor was acting like a maniac, she heard someone run up to her front door. When it burst open, her hand was on her weapon, instinctively pulling it from her holster. Sofia exhaled with relief when she spotted the normally cool and collected Sara, looking frazzled and out of breath, like she had just run all the way from the CSI lab.
"You wanted to see me?" Sofia asked dryly.
When Sara didn't answer and just stood, staring at her anxiously, breathing hard, Sofia grew concerned. Sara normally buried her emotions but Sofia could see them now - raw, jumbled, and bubbling dangerously at the surface.
"Sara, honey. What's wrong?" Sofia asked gently, as if any loud noise would shatter Sara into a million pieces. Receiving no answer, the detective approached her slowly. Within arm's reach, Sara blinked a few times and reached out, touching Sofia's face with her fingertips to collect evidence that Sofia was alive and well. Sofia also reached out, feeling a need to increase the contact as she asked "Sar . . .?"
Sara knocked her hand away in frustration and rambled rapidly. "I went to the Museum - your cell phone didn't work. I couldn't find you! I was there before - but not before now," she relayed, grimacing almost as if the confusion caused her pain. "Then I was sitting in the break room THREE days ago - but it was today," Sara said, shaking her head harshly at the inconsistent information. "I remember . . . I remember processing the soldiers' bodies. I remember you . . . being stabbed. You . . . died," she said with a hitch in her voice as a look of despair washed over her. With great effort, she pushed that feeling aside and frustration bubbled up again. "But it didn't happen. None of that HAPPENED!" She snapped, then her voice grew quiet. "Did it?"
Sofia took too long to answer, prompting Sara to demand "DID IT?!?"
"Something did happen, Sara," Sofia confirmed. "I remember the Roman soldiers and . . ."
Sara winced at the memory. "There's no evidence," she interjected.
"We have memories," Sofia offered, then muttered "as confusing as they might be."
"That's not tangible...that's not enough," Sara growled.
"It seems that's all we have," Sofia countered, then watched as brown eyes started to fill with tears. Without a second thought, Sofia pulled her into her arms. Sara's initial stiffness and mild resistance slowly faded as she melted into the comforting embrace that soothed her anxiety and felt so right.
After a long, wonderfully tranquil moment, Sofia felt a quiet laugh. Pulling back curiously, she saw a very tired, but peaceful look on Sara's face. Her questioning look prompted an explanation.
"I guess I'm emotionally invested," Sara admitted self-consciously as she wiped away a tear. Sofia blinked. With small smile, Sara caressed Sofia's face, causing a smile to bloom.
"That's good. VERY good," Sofia said happily, gently grasping Sara's hand. "Unrequited love belongs in Greek tragedies, not Vegas," Sofia said with a sparkle in her eyes and kissed her palm, causing Sara to smile. Sofia leaned in for a kiss, stopping just a breath away, wanting Sara to set the pace. The feel of Sara's lips on hers and Sara's long arms pulling her into a possessive embrace convinced Sofia that whatever they had just gone through, it was worth it.
"Do you know HOW many times we went through that nightmare?!?" Xena fumed, murderously eyeing the Goddess of Love.
"Now warrior babe, don't go all Vesuvius on me, it was just a little slip of the tongue," Aphrodite offered with a sweet smile, quickly moving behind a chair to put more distance between them. "One teeeenny little letter," she explained, biting her lip as she demonstrated just how small, positioning her thumb and index finger really really close.
"A little SLIP?!?" Xena barked.
"Torch of Eris, Torch of Eros - Anyone could have made that mistake," she said with an innocent shrug, attempting to be cute.
"The Torch of Chaos or the Torch of Unrequited LOVE? Even YOU wouldn't make that kind of SLIP!" Xena blurted incredulously. "How many times did you use us?"
The Goddess winced.
"How many time did you make us watch good people suffer?"
The Goddess cringed.
"How many times did you treat us as pawns in your twisted little love games?!?" Xena spat, anger spewing from every pore. She knocked the chair out of the way as she stepped towards Aphrodite menacingly.
"Gabrielle, do something!" Aphrodite squeaked as she poofed in a pink flash from her spot in front of Xena to appear behind Gabrielle. She placed her hands on the bard's shoulders, using the bard as a shield, knowing Xena would kill herself before hurting Gabrielle.
Gabrielle scratched her cheek thoughtfully and sighed.
"And she lied about CAESAR!" Xena snapped angrily.
"I did not!!" Aphrodite protested. "I sort of let it slip with him too. I knew you needed some motivation. So you were actually battling for the same thing, just like you thought," the blond Goddess admitted proudly.
"Aphrodite, what if he actually got a hold of the Torch of Eros?" Gabrielle asked with concern.
"Well, I . . . I never really thought about that," she said hesitantly, with mild embarrassment. But the rare feeling passed when she smiled brightly. "Because I knew you two would prevail every time!" she declared confidently.
"I'm going to kill her," Gabrielle stated with cold conviction, surprising Xena, who thought she might actually mean it.
"Chow!" Aphrodite blurted and disappeared in a burst of pink.
"I've got dibs," Xena quickly declared, looking around the hut.
"But she's my friend," Gabrielle argued possessively, then looked at Xena, who withheld a smile.
"Well, if one of my friends ever does something like this to us, I'll be more than happy to let you kill them first," Xena offered graciously, taking a step towards her bard, looking over Gabrielle's body appreciatively.
"I didn't know you had friends," Gabrielle said with a smirk as Xena stepped closer.
"I though you were my friend," Xena said feigning hurt, looking down into sparkling green eyes.
"Well, friend. What do you think about us taking that long deserved vaca . . . ?"
Xena kissed her.
High on Mount Olympus, the Goddess of Love sat on her throne and watched yet another pair of women acknowledge what she knew all along - that they belonged together in every way. And as their long-suppressed love finally reached a sweaty, primal crescendo, the Goddess of Love stood up, thrusting her pink pom poms towards the heavens, and shouted with unabashed joy "Score!!"
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