1) I don't own Xena and Gabrielle. If this story were true, no one would own them. <g> However, they are currently the property of Ren Pics, and other sundry companies. No copyright infringment is intended.
2) I'm not a scientist. Don't blame me if you build a time machine and it doesn't work. <g> Tapert's does, and that's all we need know.
3) There is violence in this story. It's Xena, so you can expect more than a papercut or two.
4) There is no sex in this story. (stop whining.) It does, however, deal with a love relationship between two women. If you don't like that idea, then please read something else.
5) Rob Tapert is a real person (so they tell me) and he's probably nothing like I portrayed him. I thank him for playing the part, though -- it just wouldn't have worked without him. <g>
I'd been drinking with a group of friends the night before, so the phone call from my editor came as a real shock.
"Hey, Tanner? Get your ass out of bed and down here -- like twenty minutes ago!" He slammed the phone down and I listened groggily to the dial tone.
I groaned as I rolled out of bed.
Earlier that week I'd written a controversial piece on the head of a big corporation and it was supposed to run that morning. I figured that was what all the excitement was about. Maybe the guy had complained, and I was going to be in really big trouble. Words like "fired" and "lawsuit" kept rolling around in my head as I showered.
By the time I got to the paper I was hot.
I was ready to fly off the handle, and really scream my lungs out at my boss. He'd promised that the paper would back me, even if the guy flung lawsuits at me. Now, I was betting they were pulling back.
And I had a real bad feeling my follow up stories had been nixed.
Leo's secretary looked up with a smile as I entered the office, but quickly lowered her head when I growled. She just pointed at the door, and I burst through, already drawing in breath to start yelling.
I stopped short when I noticed that the whole team was there -- every investigative reporter on staff was in Leo's office.
Okay, so maybe it wasn't just about my story.
"What's up? Something big happen while I was partying last night?"
Leo pointed to an empty chair, and I took it.
"Nice of you to join us, Canly." He shook his head. "How the hell you got the story on Krusher and his cronies in the building commission, I don't know. The Mayor was on my tail early this morning, wanting to know your sources."
"Good thing I didn't tell you, eh?"
"Right." He tossed a folder at me, then motioned to Tom Winstead who was sitting across the table from me. "Give your stuff for the follow-up stories to Tom. He's gonna do them. You don't have to give him the source of the info, just enough of your background stuff so he can follow the reaction."
I stared at Leo. "What the hell -- I'm not doing the follow up to my own story?"
"You wanna give me a goddamn good reason why not?"
"Sure. You're too hot right now. I got half of city hall that wants to talk to you, and Krusher threatening to pull every piece of advertising if I don't print a retraction. If I can keep your name out of the aftershock, you might not end up dead or in jail. Got it?"
I frowned. "Leo, we knew the fallout was gonna be big, but --"
"Yeah, well, it's bigger than what we expected. You're off it." He sat down. "Besides, there's a new story I want you on. And I think it's gonna take all your people skills to really get the inside scoop."
"Right. And that is?"
"Look in the folder."
I picked it up and opened it, staring at a picture of two women I'd seen on t.v. I remembered one of them was some kind of storyteller, which was the only reason I'd watched the show in the first place.
I flipped through more photos, and read the announcement that we'd all seen a couple years before, on how Renaissance Pictures, from New Zealand, had discovered a trick in television viewing. They'd found a way to actually go back into the past, and broadcast the events. While this unique discovery had mainly been used for historical analysis, someone had discovered the story of a warrior and her bard, who wandered the land doing good deeds in an attempt to make up for the warrior's sordid past. The two characters, who were actually living people in ancient Greece, had agreed to allow their lives to be produced in the late 20th century as a tv show called Xena: Warrior Princess. For the first two seasons nobody had clued in to the fact that they were watching real life rather than a fantasy -- until someone from Ren Pics let the secret slip out. Before then, the show had attracted a small number of viewers -- now it was the hottest thing on t.v.
"Okay, yeah, so I've watched the show a few times. And up until a few weeks ago I was a fan. So what?"
"So, why aren't you a fan anymore?"
"Cause Gabrielle fucked up, that's why. She threw her staff in a river, and won't defend herself or anyone else. It was a stupid move, and I'm pissed off about it. So?"
"Well," Leo leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head, "it seems like there're a lot of people up in arms, so to speak, about what the girl did."
"Woman," I corrected automatically.
He rolled his eyes. "Woman. Anyway, there were protests outside the Ren Pics offices. So, this producer guy, Tapert, he decided to see if Gabrielle would be willing to talk to fans and tell why she did what she did."
"Really. And this effects me, how?"
"She said she'd only talk to a few people. Tapert suggested reporters, who could then tell the rest of the world. She said fine." He grinned at me. "You ready to go to ancient Greece?"
I just stared at him. "What the fuck? How did I get this ridiculous assignment?"
"Oh, easy. Tapert chose a small group of papers and tv stations from around the world. This was one of the four. I was told to choose a reporter -- and I thought you should get out of town for a little while." His grin widened. "And out of time, too, it seems."
"Oh, lucky me." Sarcasm just oozed from my voice.
What do you pack for a trip to Ancient Greece? I had no idea. I figured shorts and t-shirts were good enough, and maybe boots instead of tennies. After all, the invitation Leo had handed me said we'd be spending a few days with the bard, and maybe with Xena as well. Pack light, it said, and be sure to bring first aid stuff.
None of that bothered me. I was still pissed I wasn't going to do the follow up on my own story.
There were eight of us actually taking this little excursion. There was a t.v. crew from CNN with a female reporter and a male camera man. The woman looked excited, the guy looked scared. There was another crew, this one two men from China. I wondered if they were really looking to interview the bard, or if they wanted to get more from Xena on what had happened to Ming Tien.
The rest of us were all newspaper reporters. I recognized Liz Rogers, from the London Times, and Jack Pierce from Los Angeles. Rogers was a straight woman who hated the show, and I figured she'd probably ask more questions about Xena and Gab's relationship than she would why Gab had suddenly become a wimp.
Jack would just try to bed one or the other -- I could always hope Xena would run him through.
I didn't know the last member of our party -- she was a black female reporter from New York. She was quiet, just watching what was going on. I figured, though, that if anyone was going to ask the bard tough questions it would be her.
"Well, Tanner Canly. How are you?" Liz had somehow made it over and appeared at my elbow. I'd been trying to avoid her since I'd gotten there.
"I'm good, Liz. Yourself?"
"Good. I suppose you, being a dyke yourself, are going to be asking whether or not they're sleeping together, right?"
I winced. "No, Liz. As it's been said before, there's something in the relationship for everyone. If you want to think they're straight, go right ahead."
"Oh, don't worry, I don't just think they're straight, I know it -- and I intend to prove it."
"Well, good luck to you." I turned from her, but she put her arm around my shoulders.
"Tanner, do you know who she is?" She pointed at the reporter from New York, who was leaning against the wall, sipping from a bottle of water.
"No. Do you?"
"Oh, yeah. Her name's Reggie Sandoval, and she's from the Village Voice. Supposedly, she was married -- but there's also a rumor she's bi." She smiled. "Someone to keep you company on the trip."
"Right." I watched as she walked away, going to stand next to Jack. I shook my head in disgust as the two of them started flirting heavily.
Well, I thought, maybe they'll both annoy Xena -- and it will suddenly be a much more pleasant trip. I grinned at the idea.
We were introduced to Rob Tapert, who was the executive producer of Xena, and the one who would work the controls on the little machine which would take us back in time. He seemed alright for a Hollywood type.
"It's great to see you all here. I hope you read through the papers we sent to your editors -- don't want there to be any surprises here." He looked around the room at each of us, frowning when he saw the pumps Liz was wearing. "Ms. Rogers, you are planning on changing those shoes, correct?"
"No. They're really very comfortable, Mr. Tapert. I'm sure I'll be fine."
I could see Reggie Sandoval roll her eyes.
"Actually, Ms. Rogers, I'll have to insist that you change. We were very specific in our instructions. Sneakers or boots of some kind."
"But I don't own and tennis shoes, and all my boots have high heels. I'm sure, Mr. Tapert, that I'll be able to walk just fine in these. Really."
Tapert glared at her, but after a moment he sighed. "Fine. But if you get yourself in trouble out there, don't say you weren't warned."
He consulted his list then nodded at his assistant who started handing a set of papers to each of us.
"I will remind all of you that you are not entering t.v. land. It is not a set, it is real, and we don't know what is going to happen. Remember that Xena is in charge the entire time you are in Greece. You will spend approximately one full day with her and Gabrielle, and will accompany them as they go from the north towards Amphipolis. Once you reach Amphipolis, you will wait in the tavern there until I come to get you. You will have plenty of opportunities to speak to Gabrielle, and I encourage you to do so -- but be warned: Xena's not happy, and if you try asking her questions, you might get a chakrum up your ass."
Everyone kind of laughed. I chuckled, myself. I'd already decided to stay away from the Warrior Princess. I have a bad habit of saying things at the wrong time, and figured that, if I wanted to watch her put Liz or Jack on a spit, I'd better keep my distance.
"The papers you're being handed are disclaimers, acknowledging that you heard everything I just said and are aware of the fact that this is live, not made up, and that you will not hold Ren Pics or anyone else responsible if you are injured after you get to ancient Greece. If the time machine flubs up and you end up trapped between then and now, we'll pay for it, of course, but if you end up taking an arrow from someone, then it's not our fault." He chuckled, but didn't get a response that time.
"You need to initial each of the pages, and sign the last one. Once you've done that, you can grab your one bag, and step up to the door." He pointed to a silver door at the back of the room. "We'll take your disclaimers as we let you into the machine."
I read through the pages and then initialed and signed. It was a big choice for me: stay and possibly get lynched by Krusher, or go to ancient Greece and maybe end up with an arrow in me.
We each got ourselves situated in the small room. There were a couple benches lined up -- Tapert explained that this was the same thing they used to send Tech crews back to film the adventures. Once filmed, the tapes were brought back to the present, and reworked for camera angles and such. Ren Pics was a real pioneer in the industry of live history t.v.
Somehow, I got stuck on a bench next to Jack. I really hated this guy -- I mean, what can you think of a straight guy that hits on you, and when you tell him you're gay and you've got a girlfriend, he says to bring her along?
And I no longer had a girlfriend, which, for him, made me straight.
I just kept thinking of Xena's nice long straight sword sticking out from his ass......
Now, don't ask me about time travel, cause I really don't get it. All I know is there's this thing called a space/time field, and to pierce that field you needed to use a continuum drive. What the continuum drive does is beyond me, but you could use it in two different modes, either active or inactive. If you were using the inactive drive you could watch history up close, get right into the scene, but you were held in some type of bubble thing, and therefore not visible to the people you were observing. Active drive, which was the invention of Ren Pics, allowed a traveler to interact with other people -- which is what we'd be doing.
So, Tapert entered the coordinates, and closed the last door. He punched the "go there" button as he called it, and suddenly my stomach ended up dropping into my shoes, while my head tried to jam itself in between my shoulder blades. After a minute of that, everything seemed to reverse, and I could feel my insides trying to climb out my ears.
We landed with this kind of jolting thump. Part of my tough self image demanded that I stand up and pretend it didn't bother me, but I stopped when I saw that even Tapert appeared to be affected. I was really glad I had waited when Jack stood up next to me, and promptly keeled over.
It took about a half hour for everyone to get back to normal, and even then Jack still had this dazed look on his face. The two chinese were looking decidedly green around the gills. I don't know how I looked to the others, but I noticed my hand was shaking as I reached down to take hold of my back pack. Only Reggie appeared undisturbed.
After making sure everyone could stand without passing out, Tapert opened the door, and we walked out into the forest clearing. It looked a little familiar, and I realized this was someplace I'd probably seen several times on the series. I knew I was right when I saw this really crude sign that said, "Laurel, 2 leagues." I shrugged and snapped a picture of it.
There was a horse coming down the path towards us, and we all naturally fell silent. It was an awesome sight, to see the Warrior Princess herself on top of Argo, the bard peeking over her shoulder. I glanced around to see the camera crews as amazed as everyone else -- they hadn't even lifted their cameras. So, I lifted mine and snapped a picture.
This seemed to galvanize everyone else. Tapert stepped forward to meet his two stars, and Pierce followed, close on his heels. Behind him was Liz Rogers, and the camera guys were flanking all of them.
I hung back, figuring that there'd be time to ask questions at some point. And even if there wasn't, that was okay, too. I still wasn't sure I wanted to be here.
Reggie hung back, too. She glanced at me, then nodded towards the others and rolled her eyes. I grinned back and nodded. We waited 'til Xena had gotten off the horse before we approached.
It wasn't until we were up close and listening that I realized I understood what she was saying. I figured Tapert or someone would play interpreter, cause we sure didn't know Greek, and they couldn't know English very well. I was surprised as hell when I realized that she wasn't speaking English, and yet I could still understand.
Reggie noticed my surprise and came up next to me.
"The language thing. It's a time/space Paradox. Whatever is the most common language at the time period and place you're visiting, that's the language that your brain comprehends. Nobody understands it -- which is why they call it a paradox."
I nodded. "Right. If you don't understand something, give it a name and it's easier to accept."
She took a step back, and I leaned in a little, trying to hear what was going on.
"--in the direction of Laurel. It shouldn't take me long, and I should find them still on the road."
"Wait -- you're just taking off and leaving us?" Liz sounded shocked as she stared at Xena.
"Look, I'm not the one you're here to talk to anyway. Gabrielle will take you to Laurel. It's not that far, and I won't be gone long."
Xena growled, and Liz shut her mouth with a snap.
Jack puffed out his chest and took a step closer to Gabrielle. "Don't worry, Xena. I'll help protect the group 'til you get back."
She stared at him for a moment, then turned to the bard. "I swear, just a few candlemarks. Okay?"
"It's fine, Xena. Don't worry."
They were the first words the bard had spoken, and I immediately knew I was gonna love doing this interview. It wasn't just the beautiful face, but that voice! Soft, and lyrical, and all I could think of was ways to keep her talking......
Tapert told all of us that he'd see us in Laurel, and he climbed back into the little machine. It looked, from the outside, like a little plaster covered dome. We heard the engine start, and watched as it faded from view.
Xena swung up on Argo.
"Alright. I'll be catching up to you soon. Gabrielle will take you to Laurel. She's in charge. Anyone gets out of line, or doesn't do what she tells them to, you'll face me when I get back." She glared at Jack, and I just knew I was going to get to watch him dance on her sword.
But she turned the horse around, and headed off at a gallop.
Jack put an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders. "Don't worry, you're safe with us." He squeezed, and then began to pull her off in the direction the sign was pointing. Liz and the camera crews followed them. Reggie and I stayed by the signpost waiting.
"Um, Jack, is it?"
"Yes. Jack Pierce."
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Jack. But," the bard paused, and twisted slightly to get out of his grasp, "where are you going?"
He looked puzzled. "To Laurel."
"Well, no. Laurel's the other way."
"But the sign was pointing this way."
I glanced at Reggie, who was shaking her head. There was a smile on her lips.
"Right. But, I put that sign there, when we were trying to head a giant off from Laurel. We wanted him to go the wrong way."
He stared for a moment. "So...."
"So, Laurel is the other way, Jack." Gabrielle smiled at him, and I had to admire her patience with the man. "This way. I'll show you."
She started walking back towards the sign, smiling at Reggie and I who were still standing next to it.
I swear she winked at both of us as she walked by.
It was a long walk, but the terrain wasn't too bad. For us anyway. Reggie and I hung back, watching the camera guys fall over each other trying to get the best shots of the bard. Jack, who got over his embarrassment very quickly, was once again trying to get an arm around Gabrielle. She pointed out to him that the cameras couldn't get good shots of her if he did that, and he, being conscious of cameras himself, pulled back a little.
Liz, it seemed, was having trouble. The heels on her pumps would sometimes sink into the softer earth, and she had to yank her feet up to get them out of the dirt. Reggie and I were trying really hard not to giggle whenever it happened.
Finally, with Liz beginning to swear in a loud voice, and the camera men beginning to come to blows, Gabrielle called a halt. Laurel was still a good couple hours walk, she said, but it would be better if we rested, and got a fresh start after some water and food. Everyone nodded. Jack dropped to the ground, but tried to look tough and macho when the bard turned back to him. We could hear her sigh all the way back where we were.
Gabrielle sat down and looked through her bag.
"I don't suppose any of you hunt, do you?"
I chuckled, and Reggie just grinned.
"Hunt? You mean, like, for little animals?" Liz looked aghast.
"Rabbits and the like, yes."
Jack puffed out his chest again. I swear he's got an air pump hidden in his stomach or something.
"Well, I used to hunt deer, but I think that would be a little much for this crew."
She smiled sweetly at him, but as she turned away we could still see her face, and I tried not to laugh as she mimicked Jack's self important expression.
Reggie pulled a couple bottles of water out of her pack, and offered one to me without a word. I took it, and offered her one of my granola bars.
Gabrielle offered slices of apples and bread to everyone, then pulled out a block of cheese to give everyone. Reggie and I declined -- we were only going to be here a few hours, why should we take the food she and Xena would have to replenish?
Obviously the others didn't feel the same way -- Liz led the rounds asking if there was more. Pretty soon, even the cheese was gone, and the water as well.
With a sigh, Gabrielle picked up the empty water skin and headed for the stream we could hear rushing past us on the other side of a stand of trees. Jack blocked her way.
"I'll get that. You just wait here, and I'll be back in a jiffy."
"Right." She watched as he disappeared into the trees. "Please don't go far, Jack."
He didn't answer, and Gabrielle sighed.
She sat down on a log and began to re-pack her things. Liz, now fortified with the bard's bread and cheese, approached with a smile on her face.
I groaned. Where was Xena when you wanted her to kill someone?
"I wanted to ask you a few questions."
"Well, that is what you're all here for. Go ahead." She smiled at Liz. "I suppose you want to know about my staff?"
Liz shook her head. "No, no. I'm interested in something much more important." She sat next to the bard on the log, and leaned in close. "You know, of course, that there is a group --" She looked up and me and Reggie -- "a small group of fans, that believes you and Xena are-- hmm, how shall I say this?"
Gabrielle was eyeing her warily. "Yes?"
"Well, they think you and Xena are more than friends." She winked and gave a slight motion toward Reggie and me. "Much more."
Gabrielle nodded. "We are more than friends. We're best friends."
"Right. I knew that." Liz slid a little closer in. "But they think you're more than best friends. Now," she chuckled, "I know that's not true. I know you and Xena's relationship is very decent and clean. But they," Liz paused, "think it's rather dirty."
The bard put on a confused look for Liz, but even I could see that she was acting. "They think it's dirty? That's absurd. Xena and I bathe quite often."
There was a snort of laughter and I looked up to see Reggie with a hand over her mouth. I bit my lip hard to keep from joining her.
"No," Liz was becoming exasperated. "No, Gabrielle, that's not --"
There was a shout from Jack, and then he came bursting through the trees. I hoped for half a second that Xena'd found him and was about to come out of the bushes with her sword raised.
Unfortunately, the upraised sword following him was being held by a man -- and there were plenty of others behind him.
I don't remember a lot of the battle. It was rather quick and decisive. Gabrielle refused to swing at the men, and instead tried to simply dodge them while yelling at all of us to head for the trees. Liz was sitting and screaming. Jack grabbed a tree branch and swung it -- only to hit himself in the head. Joxer couldn't have done any worse.
Tabitha, the female reporter from CNN had fainted. Her camera man, Toby, was using his camera as a weapon, swinging it at his attackers. He kept his back against a tree and actually took out a couple of the raiders. But he finally got a sword across his arm, and it didn't take long for him to go down after that.
The Chinese camera crew were standing together, both bending over trying to protect their camera gear. When someone thrust a sword at them, they actually said fine, but don't hurt our stuff.
Reggie and I put our backs together and began edging out of the small clearing we were in. Gabrielle had gotten free and was using her powder pip to send smoke all over the place. She got two raiders confused, and they hit each other with their swords in the middle of the smoke. Gabrielle turned and started racing towards us. Reggie and I had almost reached the trees.
Then this big guy came up behind Gabrielle and looked like he was going to cleave her skull with a battle axe. I took a step forward and yelled, "Gabrielle, duck!"
This pain suddenly blasted through my head, and I fell. All I could do was blink as Reggie finally dropped the branch she'd been wielding, and knelt down beside me. The last thing I saw was Gabrielle being forced down beside us. Then the pain took over and I blacked out.
I came to with my head in Gabrielle's lap. Reggie was holding a cloth to my head and talking quietly. I groaned and tried to sit up, but she held me down. I didn't argue -- it felt like my brain was trying to leak out my ears.
"Tanner, lie still. You've been injured." I wanted to say, no, really? But I didn't think I could make my mouth form the words.
I could hear shouts and laughter nearby, and the sound of men getting drunk. I finally got my eyes to focus, and I could see a set of crude wooden slats behind Reggie.
"Where the hell are we?" I whispered.
I blinked. "That's not good, is it?"
"No," Gabrielle said, "not good at all."
It took me a little while, but I eventually got myself into a sitting position. Reggie kept an arm around my shoulders to hold me up, and Gabrielle helped me swallow some water. It tasted brackish, but it was cool and wet, and I swallowed it without a word.
"So, what do we do?" I asked them.
"We wait." Gabrielle sounded very firm. " Xena will be able to track us. She'll get us out of here soon."
"Against all these guys?" I asked.
She smiled, and her green eyes lit up. "These guys are punks. They're wannabees. Xena has more dangerous groups for breakfast."
"Oh, right." I nodded. "What am I worried about? No sweat. We'll just wait for Xena."
Reggie just raised an eyebrow and looked away.
"Where are the others? Are they alright?"
"They're in different cages. Jack, Toby and the guys from Chin are all in one. Liz and Tabitha are in another. From what we've seen, everyone's pretty much okay," Gabrielle said. "You took a blow to your head, and I think Jack's arm is broken. Toby's got a bad slice, but they let me sew it up, and it should heal alright."
"And Liz?" I didn't know why I was asking.
"In shock, her and Tabitha both."
I nodded, but put a hand to my forehead, deciding not to do that again.
We sat quietly for a few minutes, me leaning on Reggie, and Gabrielle watching the slavers through the wooden rails. I could tell that the sun was going down.
"Weren't we supposed to be in Laurel by now?"
"Yes. Quite a while ago. Which is why I'm sure it won't be long until Xena finds us."
"Right." Reggie leaned to the side and pulled a tiny notebook out of her back pocket. There was a half pencil with no eraser stuck through it's spiral binding. "Might as well do this interview now, don't you think?"
I grinned, and Gabrielle laughed.
"Good a time as any, I suppose," she said. "What would you like to ask?"
Reggie concentrated for a moment. I don't know if it was the concussion I had or what, but the little line that creased her forehead was so cute I wanted to touch it.
"Okay, I'll be blunt. A hell of a lot of people want to know why you gave up your staff."
"I'm one of them, " I mumbled.
She sighed. "I knew it wasn't going to be very popular, but I had to do it. I'm really tired of the violence."
"Who isn't? But don't you think that sometimes you have to stand and fight for what you believe in?"
"In a verbal sense? Absolutely. I've always believed that you shouldn't let people walk all over you. But that doesn't mean you need to use a weapon."
"What if the person trying to walk on you has a weapon?"
"Then you need to try and reason with him or her -- let them know that you care about them and you're not going to hurt them, but you are going to stand against their violence."
Reggie was tapping her pencil against her chin. "So, you would try to reason with someone coming at you with a sword?"
"Well, first I'd try to avoid the sword. But then, yes, I'd talk to them."
"And love them," I said.
"Exactly. The way of love, as Eli calls it."
"Right. Love them and blow smoke at them." My head was still pretty fuzzy.
She sighed. "I think the powder pip works very well."
"Yeah, it worked really good today," I said.
"I'm sorry, Tanner. I wish I could have stopped him."
"Yeah. A staff would have come in handy for that. Wonder where yours went?" I snapped my fingers. "Oh, yeah, you threw it in a river. Oh, well."
Reggie had one eyebrow raised, and was looking back and forth between me and the bard. Gabrielle was just looking at the ground.
Her voice was very soft. "I wish I could make people understand. I don't know that I can explain it well enough to make sense. Eli explained it to me, and I thought....." She shook her head. "I just don't know how to explain it better than to say violence is wrong."
I shook my head, gingerly. "Violence may be wrong, but sometimes it's necessary. Sometimes it's the only way a good person can stop a bad person from doing harm."
"I agree," she said softly. "I just can't do it anymore."
We listened for a few minutes to the sound of drunken laughter. The sun wasn't even set yet, and the slavers sounded like the crowd in my neighborhood after the bars close.
"Reggie, can you understand what I'm saying?"
I looked up at Reggie as she thought about the question. Finally she nodded. "I can understand a little bit, I guess."
It was my turn to raise an eyebrow. "You agree with her decision?"
"No," she said. "But I think I understand it a little." She shifted, and made herself a little more comfortable, which wasn't easy in our cramped quarters. "I've always had the gift of wonderful role models in my life, and one of them was Audre Lorde. One of the sayings I learned from her was 'the master's tools will never destroy the master's house.' I truly believe that. If we're going to change the world it will happen in a completely new way that nobody ever thought of."
I nodded. That had always been something I agreed with.
"What does that have to do with non-violence, though?" I asked.
Gabrielle spoke up again. "Violence has always been the way the world has changed in the past. Warriors, and armies, and battles. But all that ever did was trade one tyrant for another. One master for another. It never solved the problem."
"And what do you see is the problem?"
As she looked up at me the light was reflected in her green eyes, and they shone from both inside and out. "The problem is that people don't love each other enough. It's time we change that."
Reggie nodded. "You could be right. Love may one day change the world."
I looked from one to the other. "But it hasn't yet. Gabrielle, we can both tell you, this love kick doesn't work at this time. It won't make any lasting change in this world. It's just going to get you killed."
She shrugged. "Maybe. I've always known it was a possibility."
"They why do it? Especially since you now know from us that it won't change anything."
The bard looked thoughtful. "Well, for a couple reasons. Number one, even if you tell me that love doesn't affect anything in the three thousand years between your world and mine, I must do what my conscience tells me is right. And two," she smiled, "the way Robert explains this time thing, nobody really knows what's going to happen. I mean, he says the written records of this time period are few and far between."
"Which is one of the reasons everyone loves the show -- it gives us a taste of a historical era we know very little about," said Reggie.
"Right. Which means that my non-violence could make a difference."
I sighed in exasperation. "We just told you --" She held up a hand and I stopped.
"I know. In your world, love hasn't changed anything. Or so you say. But that may not be true." She turned herself a little more towards us. "What if somewhere here in my world there is a young man thinking about joining a warlord's banner -- and eventually wanting to become the warlord himself? What if this man, who has a violent streak in him, suddenly is confronted by someone who shows him that love is much more powerful than a sword? And he begins to think about the people he loves, and the people who he would be hurting? Could it be that it will be enough to change his mind, and perhaps keep him from being the most ruthless warlord ever?"
"And what if I'm the one who's supposed to change his mind? But I listen to you, and I don't follow my heart, and I don't teach him what I'm supposed to? Rob says we can't change history, but what if I suddenly did change? Could it be that he would become the warlord, and half the earth's population would die in bloodshed?"
Reggie and I stared at each other and then looked back at Gabrielle. She looked between the two of us several times, and then sighed.
"When I gave up my staff, it wasn't because I thought all the violence in the world would stop. I just didn't want to take part in it anymore. And maybe show myself as the conscientious person I am. Why is that so wrong?"
Reggie shrugged. "I don't know that it is. I think people just weren't expecting it."
"And they liked watching you fight." I leaned my head back against the bars, raising the water skin to my lips.
"They liked watching me fight?"
I nodded as Reggie answered. "Yeah. There are people who watch the show just to see Xena kick someone's ass."
The bard looked stunned. "That's sick."
"Yeah, well, people in the twentieth century can be pretty bloodthirsty, Gabrielle. It's not a very loving place."
The three of us were very quiet, just watching through the wooden slats as the last of the light faded away. It began to get a little cold, and we huddled together to stay warm.
I was starting to doze off a little when I heard angry shots, and this whistling sound. I looked over to find Gabrielle grinning.
"'Bout time, Xe," she whispered.
A minute later, the whistling came closer, and something clanged against the door of our cage. Gabrielle pushed it open, and crawled out. I followed her, with Reggie behind me.
The battle between Xena and the slavers had been even shorter than the one between us and them. All of the men were laying about Xena's feet, either unconscious or holding certain body parts. As I watched, Xena stuck a hand up and caught the chakrum.
She looked at Gabrielle.
"I can't leave you for even a minute, can I?"
We finally got to Laurel, and the innkeeper there put us up for the rest of the night. Everyone seemed too tired to argue, and even Liz simply nodded, dropping onto a pallet in exhaustion.
It turned out that Jack's arm was broken, and Xena had to set it and splint it. Jack almost passed out, even though Xena had blocked the pain for him. He said it was the grinding of the bone that got to him. I could understand that -- it got to me, and I was like ten feet away.
Liz had been uncharacteristically silent the night before, but in the morning she seemed to recover, and she was once again pestering Gabrielle. She finally asked about their sleeping arrangement and the bard threw up her hands and walked away.
Reggie and I just grinned at each other.
The bard agreed to be interviewed over breakfast. As we thought, there were questions from the Chinese team about her role in the downfall of Ming Tien. He had been somewhat of a tragic hero in their history, and learning that he was really evil, and that Xena killed him, nearly caused rioting in the streets.
They pestered Gabrielle about it for so long that Xena eventually growled at them. They pulled back and went off to hide.
Then they found out their camera had been broken, and didn't record anything the bard said. They yelled at each other 'til the warrior ordered them outside.
Jack and Tabitha asked questions about the non-violence stuff, and we all listened again as Gabrielle tried to explain why she chose the 'way of love' as she called it. I still didn't quite get it, but I could see that this was something she felt really strongly about. So, I just listened, and didn't interrupt.
"But don't you think that one single person standing up is just going to be ignored, and probably killed?"
"Well, maybe. But the point is that one single person that refuses to take part in violent resistance can inspire others to do the same thing. And once you have enough people saying no, then you have a movement -- and that could change the world."
"You know of course," Tabitha said, "that in the three thousand years between your time and ours, that violence has changed the world more than love has."
Gabrielle looked thoughtful. "So I'm told. But, how do we know that's true?"
They all looked up at her and waited. Reggie slid an arm around my shoulders.
"I mean," she continued, "someone might have used their love to change the heart of one person, who in turn changed the world by not becoming a monster." They were all thinking about it, I could tell.
So was I.
"So, even if your world is no better than this one, you can't tell me that you know for a fact that at some point love did not become a factor in shaping the future. You don't know, one way or the other."
She was right. I hated it, but she was right.
Jack shook his head. "So, you believe that maybe dying because you won't defend yourself, is going to stop someone from becoming a monster?"
Gabrielle sighed. Reggie and I looked at each other. He wasn't getting it.
I wasn't sure I was either, but I was trying.
I took a seat next to Tabitha and looked at the bard intensely. "Gabrielle, are you expecting that eventually Xena will follow your path on the way of love? Are you looking for her to someday put down her sword and become as nonviolent as you are?"
She looked at me thoughtfully, her hand curled under her chin. For a moment, she bit her lip, then opened her mouth. Her eyes were on someone behind me and I could feel the warrior's presence.
"Tanner, I would never ask Xena to lay down her weapon. She has chosen the way of the warrior, and if that is her road, then I accept that for her." The bard lowered her eyes and met mine. "But, eventually? I think she will. I think Xena will find peace, and love, and give herself the chance to explore that side of her own soul."
"Will you encourage her to do this?" I asked.
"Yes. I will pray for it with everything I am."
I was about to ask another question, but was interrupted by Xena.
"Alright, that's enough. We have to meet Rob. Everyone get your gear and go outside. I'll walk you to the clearing. It's not far."
Jack and Tabitha gathered the few things they had. Reggie picked up her backpack. Mine was gone, having been burned by the slavers the previous evening.
Gabrielle stood and followed us to the door. Reggie put an arm around my shoulders, and I slid mine around her waist.
Liz was watching us with disgust plain on her face.
"Does anyone have any other questions?" Gabrielle asked.
I groaned as Liz pointed to me and Reggie.
"Don't you find that disgusting?"
The bard looked confused. "What?"
"That. Them. You know, the two dykes."
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "Dykes? What's a dyke?"
"They are! Those two," she waved her hand at us.
Tabitha had the decency to slip out the door, pulling Toby with her. Jack wasn't nearly so polite. He leaned against the wall and watched.
"Do you mean Reggie and Tanner?"
"Yes. Doesn't it just disgust you?"
"Why should they disgust me?" Gabrielle appeared genuinely confused.
"Because their lesbians! They love women -- have sex with other women for heaven's sake. Just -- disgusting." She gave a fake shudder. "I'm so glad I can tell everyone that you find it as awful as I do."
I looked at Gabrielle -- and took a step back. The gentle bard was gone. This woman had fury radiating from her eyes.
"What I find disgusting," she said as she took a step toward Liz, "is the way other people presume that they have the right to judge and condemn. Especially when the very thing they're condemning is the very thing that this world needs. Love between women is no different than love between men, or between men and women, or between women and men." She took another step towards Liz, who backed up. "Love is love, and if you decide to limit it to one way, or one kind, then you doom the human race to extinction -- because love is the only force that ever made anything happen. Maybe if people like you weren't so damn worried about who's sleeping with who, and what gender each of them are, things in your century wouldn't be nearly as bad."
By this time she'd backed Liz into the corner on the other side of the door. Suddenly she reached for the latch and yanked the door all the way open. It banged against the wood directly beside Liz's white face and wide eyes. Then the bard disappeared outside.
Reggie and I looked at each other and broke down laughing.
It was so perfect.
We all trooped through the woods near the inn to where Tapert was waiting with his stupid little dome. He was tinkering with it when we got there.
Xena called to him, but he was too busy cursing about something to pay her any mind. She waited a moment, then walked up behind him and yelled his name.
He swung around and nearly belted her with a rubber mallet. Gabrielle covered her eyes.
"OH -- uh, hi, Xena." He grinned. She glared.
"Is everyone ready?"
"Well, unfortunately the machine isn't."
I swear you could hear a leaf fall from a tree fifty paces away.
"What?" Xena growled.
"Heh, see, there's this valve near the proton distributor that's not working right -- and without all five valves, I can't take everyone back."
Xena put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Well, fix it."
"I tried. I need a new valve."
She sighed and shook her head. "Are you telling me you can't take these people home yet?"
"Well, I figured the weight ratio -- I can take all but two. Then, after I fix the valve, I can come back and get whoever's left."
Xena didn't seem especially fond of the plan, but she nodded.
Liz, still white from her encounter with the bard, quickly stepped forward. The Chinese duo got on board. Tabitha and Toby.
Jack grinned. "I'll stay. Reg, why don't you go?"
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow at Xena, who grabbed Jack by his collar and the seat of his khaki shorts, and threw him into the machine.
"Right." Rob entered, then leaned out before closing the door. "I'll be back in a jiffy."
We watched the machine dissolve into nothingness.
Gabrielle turned to us. "So, do you have enough for your articles?"
"Absolutely," I said.
"I wish I could read them."
I shrugged. "No rule says you can't. We'll have Rob bring them back. Right, Reg?"
"Sure." She grinned. "I just can't wait to see what Liz writes."
I couldn't help but laugh. Gabrielle blushed.
"What's so funny?" Xena asked.
"Liz spent this whole trip trying to ask Gabrielle if you and she were sleeping together. She was positive you weren't. Then, when she said something about love between women being disgusting, Gabrielle let her have it."
Xena shook her head. "Stupid woman. Of course Gabrielle and I are not sleeping together."
I heard Reggie's jaw hit the ground at the same moment mine did.
"You -- you're not?" I whispered.
"No." She turned to walk away. "What we do doesn't involve sleeping."
Before we could pick up our jaws, she was gone.
Gabrielle was laughing so hard she couldn't stand up straight. The three of us were soon rolling on the forest floor, unable to stop laughing.
We finally got control of ourselves, and we sat down with our backs against a fallen tree. Gab sat between us, and we waited silently for Tapert to come back.
"You rely upon Xena for your safety, right?"
"Especially since you put down your staff, right?"
"Well, who's going to defend Xena if something happens, and she can't fight?"
She studied her hands. "That's a good question."
"Do you have an answer?"
"No." The bard sighed. "I keep asking myself that as well. I know what I've decided to do puts her in a great deal of danger." She shook her head. "But I can't do anything else right now."
Reggie patted her knee. "Whatever happens, you two will be okay. I have faith."
We were still just sitting there, when Xena came back up. She was running, and the three of us jumped to our feet.
"Gabrielle. There's a small band of Amazons across the river -- I think they're looking for you. We need to go find out what's happening."
"Why would they be looking for me?"
"I don't know -- but they look like they're in a hurry."
She whistled, and Argo came trotting up. Xena swung up into the saddle and held an arm out for her bard.
Gabrielle gave Reggie and I each a quick hug. Then she took the arm, letting Xena lift her into the back of the saddle. She waved as the two of them took off.
Reggie and I looked at each other. It was the first time we'd been alone together.
She smiled. "How's your head?"
"Okay." I looked down at the ground. "So, you work for the Voice?"
"Yeah. And you work for that Boston rag, right?"
"We could meet in New York for drinks sometime."
I smiled at her and nodded again. "I'd like that."
We were quiet for a moment longer, neither of us sure what to say. Finally, Reggie cleared her throat and spoke again.
"So, what are you going to write? Is the bard doing this as a publicity stunt, or is she serious? If she's serious, do you think she's crazy? Or does she really think she can change the world by not striking anyone, even in defense?"
At first, I didn't answer. I just sat still hearing Gabrielle's quiet voice talking about love changing the world.
"I think," I said slowly, "that the bard is right that love will someday change everything. And that it's kept the world from becoming an even worse mess. However," I shook my head, "I also think that Gabrielle is in for a rude awakening in the not so distant future. Love may conquer all eventually -- but it's not a shield against swords or arrows."
Reggie nodded. "I think I'm going to portray her as the tragic hero -- trying to do the right thing -- and bound to fail."
We just stared at each other until the dome reappeared.
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