Please see "Clones Alone" Part 1
Clones Alone (Part 4: Conclusion)
"The Air That I Breathe!"
Xena's head was still clearing as Gabrielle wept in her arms. As her thought processes became more lucid, she gave the bard a squeeze and ran her fingers through her hair. "You know, she hasn't been gone that long," she looked down at her. "How far could they have gotten?"
"You mean she could still be here, Xena?"
"Yeah. I need to get up high, above the crowd, and look around."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm thinking a flip up onto one of these kiosks."
"You can't do that, Xena! The police are still around and they'll think you're high on something, for sure, if you do that!"
"I don't see any cops in the immediate vicinity. I'll be discreet. You stay right here where I can see you!," she ordered. With that she jumped up, grabbed the roof of a kiosk and silently flipped herself up on top. She surveyed the crowd from her elevated perch. Cordelia was nowhere to be seen. She turned towards the beach. Again there was no sign of Cordelia. She could see Gabrielle still standing below her. She jumped down and landed at the bard's side.
"Anything?," Gabrielle asked expectantly.
"Nope, nothing. It's like she disappeared into thin air, right along with your vendor."
"Maybe we should split up and search the crowd for her," Gabrielle suggested.
"Oh no!," Xena quickly objected. "We've already lost Cordelia. I'm not losing you, too!"
"Well, then what are we going to do?," Gabrielle asked. "We've got to do something!"
"Got your cell phone?," Xena inquired.
"No. It's in my backpack. I left it in Cordy's car."
"Then we've got to find a phone and call Sunny. She can help us search."
"I'm pretty sure Cordy's phone will be in her bag," Gabrielle said.
Xena unzipped Cordelia's fanny pack and found her phone. She dialed Sunny's cell number. She apprised her of the situation. Sunny agreed to start hunting the streets for signs of Cordelia. "We need to start searching immediately, ourselves," Xena advised Gabrielle. "My guess is that we should head back towards the street. They must've taken her by car. They couldn't have gotten her out by boat that quickly. I would've seen something suspicious towards the water and there was nothing."
"And if we don't find her right away, it's useless, right?"
"Gabrielle," Xena shrugged and answered in a sincere voice, "I don't know." Gabrielle was silent. "C'mon. Let's start looking." She put her hand on the bard's shoulder.
"O.k., Xena," she nodded.
They headed back up towards the street, Xena in her khaki's and black, sleeveless undershirt, Gabrielle in jeans and bare feet, skates slung across her shoulder. They searched the crowded alleys between the boardwalk and the regular city street. They glared into each passing car with suspicion. They peered through store front windows and passed through restaurants. Nothing. Finally, they ran into Sunny on the street.
"This is not good," she said.
"It's horrible," Gabrielle responded. "They were supposed to take me. Why did they take her? This is all my fault! I never should've left her alone."
"You did what you did out of concern for me, Gabrielle," Xena soothed. "Never fault yourself for following your heart. There's no way you, nor any of us for that matter, could've known."
"She's right, Gabrielle," Sunny added. "You can't blame yourself."
"What do we do now?," the bard asked.
Sunny and Xena looked at each other. "Nothing TO do," Xena finally said. "We pick up the costumes Sunny went for, head back over to the hotel and wait for tonight," she said. "And then we save her life!," she added firmly. She placed her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder. "C'mon now, I won't let you down, I promise. Be strong, Gabrielle!"
"O.k., Xena," she said dejectedly.
After they picked up their garments for the evening's ritual, Gabrielle walked a few paces ahead of Sunny and Xena. "Did you call Angel or Wesley?," Xena asked Sunny in a quite voice.
"No," she replied, "did you?"
"No. Angel's going to freak."
"That's a bit of an understatement. Do you think we should call them now?"
"Yeah. Why don't you call while I catch up with Gabrielle, o.k.?"
"O.k.," Sunny agreed.
Xena placed her arm around Gabrielle. Her partner leaned into her and grasped her about the waist. They walked together into the parking lot. Sunny was still on the phone as they approached the cars. "Well?," Xena looked over her shoulder and questioned her.
"O.k., then," Sunny was just hanging up. "Wes wants us back... now," she informed Xena. "I'll take Cordelia's car. You've got her keys, right?"
"Yeah." She flipped Cordy's fanny pack to Sunny. "Hey," she looked down sweetly at Gabrielle, "want to get your shoes?" Gabrielle nodded in the affirmative. They opened the trunk of Cordelia's car. Gabrielle sat down and began to put her shoes back on.
Suddenly, she looked up. Her eyes were flashing intensely. "You want to know what I really want to do?," she spit out bitterly as she pulled on her boot laces entirely too hard. "I want to kick the ASS of whoever took Cordy!" She stood up and clenched her fists. "I mean it, Xena! I won't be denied!"
"Oh, we will, Gabrielle, count on it!," Xena countered as she placed her hands on Gabrielle's forearms and then drew her into an embrace. "Count on it!," she breathed into her golden hair.
"Your backpack, Gabrielle," Sunny said as she proffered the bag. Xena took it from her. "I'll see you guys over there, o.k.?," she continued.
"Look, Sunny," Xena's eyes were filled with emotion as she clung tightly to her bard. "You be careful. We don't need to misplace anyone else. You hear me?"
"Yeah, I hear you,"
Sunny smiled. "And, for what it's worth, thanks for your concern," she said
warmly. Sunny put a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "Don't worry, we'll get Cordy
back. I swear to you."
Spirits were down and agitated all at once as Xena and Gabrielle entered the hotel lobby. Xena surveyed the room and was relieved to see that Sunny had made it there safely. Angel was upon her immediately.
"Xena, what happened?," he demanded.
"I don't know, Angel. All I know is that they've got Cordelia."
"How did this happen? It wasn't supposed to go down like this! They were supposed to grab Gabrielle!," he blurted out in a frustrated fashion.
"Meaning, they were so supposed to take my woman, not yours?," Xena arched one eyebrow.
"Cordelia's not my woman," Angel calmed himself.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Xena advanced with her eyebrow still cocked, "I couldn't tell from your reaction."
"Would you two tell us everything you know, everything that happened?," Wesley asked. "Even the slightest detail may prove to be helpful."
"I need to sit down," Gabrielle ventured. Xena sat down with her on the sofa.
"It's all my fault," Gabrielle began as she shook her head. "We were skating, Cordy and I. She was teaching me how to skate. We TRIED to lose Xena because I was picking up a present for her and I didn't want her to see it."
"You were picking up a present for me?," Xena interrupted.
"Yeah, Xena, it was supposed to be a surprise. So, anyway, we ditched Xena on our skates and made our way over to my vendor. I had forgotten my money in the car, so Cordy agreed to pay. Then I noticed a commotion. I figured that Xena was at the center of it, because she always is, so I left Cordy to pay and that was the last I saw of her or my vendor! They kind of disappeared together!"
"And, Xena, where were you?," Angel questioned in a brusque tone.
"I was on the ground, passed out, getting kicked by the police, as usual," she responded curtly.
"Um, Xena, could you be more specific?," Wesley asked politely.
"Well that's just it!," Xena complained. "I don't know. I was following them and then, all of sudden, I was down on the ground!"
"Tell me, Xena," Wesley continued, "did it hurt anywhere?"
"Well, yeah, my bites hurt like hell! I was nauseous and lost consciousness."
"Oh, this is not good," he intoned. "What else?"
"What do you mean 'this is not good'?," Xena asked.
"That your bite marks hurt, it's not good," Wesley explained. "It means exactly what we've been fearing: that the evil could be already in you."
"But it wasn't like that," Xena argued. "It was more like, well, I don't know, almost like a spell had been cast on me, to keep me away from Gabrielle and Cordelia!"
"Continue," Wesley rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"The next thing I know, the police are on me. I fight them off and then Gabrielle is picking me up. We sit on a bench and a guy gives us water. I start to feel better and...,"
"Whoa, back up!," Gunn interrupted. "You accepted water from a stranger at Venice Beach?"
"This is not good," Wesley said again.
"What's wrong with THAT?!" Xena was becoming exasperated.
"Well," Wesley informed, "if a spell was truly cast upon you, or the evil already in your heart, the water could've been some strange elixir to seal the evil spirits within you."
"Um," Xena rolled her eyes, "or it just could've been a nice man with water, right?," she said sarcastically.
"Well yeah, that's true, I guess," Gunn shrugged.
"So, anyway," she continued, "I start to feel better and we go to look for Cordelia, but she's not there. And neither is Gabrielle's vendor. They both just kinda' disappeared."
"Tell me about the vendor, Gabrielle!," Angel demanded anxiously.
"He was just this guy who made good jewelry. He wasn't from here. He was from somewhere else."
"Where?," Angel pressed. "Can you remember?"
"Um, yeah, a place called Haiti, I think he said," she replied. The tension rose in the room palpably. "What'd I say?," Gabrielle asked innocently.
"We are so screwed," Gunn groaned.
"Haiti is the black magic capital of our world, Gabrielle," Wesley spoke slowly.
"But, no!" Gabrielle protested. "He wasn't like that. He was a good guy. He blessed my gift for Xena with a special magic!"
"This just keeps getting better and better," Gunn said sarcastically as he shook his head.
"May I see what you purchased from him?," Wesley asked.
"No, like I told you, Cordy paid for it," she informed them. "She has it."
There was a silence in the room. A dark sense of despair gripped their hearts. It was as if a loved one had died and the finality of it all was just beginning to dawn on them. Outside, the sun was shining on a perfect September day. Inside, clouds gathered and a misty gloom settled down upon them.
"It's all my fault," Gabrielle broke the silence. "I never should've left her alone."
"It's not your fault," Jinn walked over to her, sat down and rubbed her arm, drawing a pointed look from Xena.
"I can't help but wonder what's happening to her right now, Jinn," Gabrielle looked at her friend with tears in her eyes. "They're 'preparing' her? That should be me! She shouldn't have to suffer in my place!"
"Who's to say she is?," Jinn countered. "How do we know that she wasn't the target all along?"
"Gods, this gripes me," Xena spewed out, "but Jinn may be right. For all we know the one 'close to the heart of the hero' meant you, Angel!"
"You mean that Cordy could be suffering because of me?," Angel asked.
Xena moved her head in a noncommittal way and shrugged.
"If they harm a hair on her head, I will have my vengeance!" His face suddenly turned into the hideous sneer of a vampire as he spoke.
The entire room froze and held it's breath... except for Xena. She sneered back at him and said, "Knock it off, Angel."
"What makes you so brave?," he questioned, vampire face still there.
"I know what it's like to possess a demon in your soul. I also know," she looked down at Gabrielle, "I should say, I've learned, that you don't have to give in to it."
Angel's face returned to normal. There was a collective sigh of relief released around the room. "I won't," he choked out the words, "I won't turn evil, no matter what happens." His expression betrayed an internal battle. "I'll do it for Cordy."
"Well, then," Wes coughed, his voice weak, "perhaps we could focus on why Cordelia was taken. If they are trying to turn you again, Angel, this could be the way they intend to do it. You could also be the warrior they seek."
"No, that's definitely Xena!," Gunn spoke up. "It's always in the feminine: we have 'her', 'she' will open the portal. It's definitely a woman."
Xena turned slowly towards Gunn. "You know what?," she questioned purposefully. "You're the guy with the back alley source who tells us that no harm will come to anyone until this afternoon. This information is crucial in Gabrielle and Cordelia's decision to try and 'lose me'! Why should I believe any other information you have, seeing as your sources are so questionable?! And, by the way," she stood up, "I have not had a good morning. Now, would NOT be the time to get on my bad side."
Gabrielle placed a hand on her arm as Gunn backed up. "Sit down, Xena, please. This isn't helping things."
Xena smirked at Gunn as she returned to her place on the sofa.
"When it's time to go after Cordelia," Fred spoke up suddenly, "I'm coming with y'all. She was always the nicest person to me."
Wes gave Gunn a look and inclined his head towards the office. Gunn followed him discretely.
"Gunn, I'm concerned about this situation," he whispered. "I don't know what to do. Angel is obviously upset, more than I expected, over Cordelia. He's distraught. And Xena seems on edge, too!"
"Yeah, I hear that, they both just snapped in there."
"We need to talk with Sunny and Jinn. I don't want Gabrielle involved, nor Fred."
"I'm with you there," Gunn agreed. "Leave it up to me." He walked back into the lobby. "Yo Sunny, Jinn, get in here! We need to talk!"
Wesley cringed. Gunn perceived his discomfort. "Don't worry, Wes. Look out there! They're all so wrapped up in their own trips, they don't even notice us!"
Wesley looked out. Gabrielle had her head on Xena's shoulder as the warrior whispered to her. Angel was pacing back and forth. Fred had returned to an invention she was working on earlier. "See?," Gunn queried.
"Well, I guess I can't argue with that," Wesley conceded as Sunny and Jinn entered the office. "Listen," he began once all were assembled, "we four need to keep our heads about us. Angel and Xena could turn at any time, Gabrielle's too emotionally involved and Fred, well," he faltered momentarily, "Fred is Fred and needs protection as well!"
"So, you're going to change the plan, Wes?," Sunny asked.
"I was unaware that we even had a plan, as of yet, Sunny!"
"Um, we get our double edged weapons blessed, dress in the garb, show up at the right time, disrupt the ceremony, yadda, yadda, yadda... does that sound familiar to you at all?"
"Oh, yes, but we need to think about the pairings now," Wesley rubbed his brow. "I think it unlikely that both Angel AND Xena will turn. But it is possible. I am uncertain as to the wisest course of action. Should we insist that Angel and Xena go together, just in case one turns bad and the other doesn't? We would have the best possible scenario then: the strongest good against the strongest evil! But what if they both turn bad? Then the two strongest evils are together!"
"Look, let's not take any chances," Jinn advised. "I'll go with Xena, because I'm the next best fighter. Who knows? I might even be better than her. If she turns evil, I'll have the best chance of controlling her! Well of, you know, taking her down, if need be."
"Damn, and I thought I was cold!" Sunny looked at her friend in amazement. "What do you mean by 'taking her down'?"
"Our number one priority has to be getting Cordelia back, safe and unharmed. I would never do anything to hurt Xena... unless she turns evil and becomes a threat to others!"
"I guess that puts me with Angel," Sunny said. "I don't even know the guy. I mean, I staked a couple of vampires last night, but they didn't have souls. I don't want to have to kill something with a soul. What do my odds look like on this, guys? What triggers this Angelus character, anyway?"
Gunn shook his head uncomfortably. "Look maybe neither of them will go evil at all. I mean, it takes something pretty gnarly to change Angel into Angelus! And Lorne seemed to feel that there was hope for Xena. He said that Gabrielle was her salvation. That means she can still fight this thing, even if it's already in her."
"Well, yes, of course there's always hope," Wes agreed. "But we have to look at the worse case scenario and be prepared for any eventuality. Cordelia's life is on the line tonight, Gunn," Wesley looked him square in the eyes, "and Jinn is right. She has to be our number one priority."
"I want Cordy back as bad as anyone! Well," he amended his statement, "maybe not as bad as Angel, judging from his reaction. But, she's my friend. I'll do what it takes to get her back! It's just that we should all be on the same side. I don't want to hear no mess about anyone 'taking down' Xena, or staking Angel!"
"But you, yourself, just said out there that the warrior to be turned was definitely Xena!," Jinn pointed out. "Has something changed your mind?"
"Well, yeah. She is kinda' right about my source being misinformed. We are making a lot of assumptions based on questionable information. So, yeah, my mind has changed some. Plus, she's so tough, so awesome, I kind of dig her!"
"And yet," Wesley interjected, "she remains our greatest concern."
"O.k.," Gunn acquiesced. "But that means I get to go with Gabrielle. Because if anything bad happens to Xena, I want to be there for her, right next to her."
"That's fine, Gunn," Wesley assented. "That means Fred will be with me."
"Uh, there is just one teeny, tiny problem with our plan," Sunny pointed out.
"What's that?," Wesley asked.
"How do we get Gabrielle away from Xena? She will never accept the possibility that Xena could ever do her harm. She'll want to be with Xena tonight!"
"Good point, Sunny," Wes affirmed. He pondered for a moment. "I'll just have a talk with Xena, is all. Convince her that it's in Gabrielle's best interest to be with Gunn."
"You're going to talk to Xena... about Gabrielle?," Gunn looked incredulous. "This a BRAVE man, world!" he called out.
They all smiled as Wesley
adjusted his glasses and blushed.
"Xena," Gabrielle lamented, "this is all my fault."
"If I hear that one more time, Gabrielle, I'm going to lose my patience. Angel," Xena called out, "Angel, quit pacing! You're making me nervous."
Angel stopped and glared at her.
"Look, just in case one of us turns totally evil tonight and allows Lucifer's armies to be loosed upon the world, I would like to have a few moments alone with Gabrielle before that happens." Xena looked around skeptically. "Is there a possibility that there's a room in this hotel where we could be alone?"
Angel stared at her for a moment and then relented. "Yeah, follow me," he said as he bounded up the stairs. He led them to a room and, as they entered, he turned to Xena and said, "Look, I'm sorry I snapped earlier. It's just that there's a lot of things I wish I'd told Cordy, if I'd had the chance, you know?"
"Listen, Angel," Xena touched his arm, "you'll have the chance. We'll get her back. I've already promised Gabrielle we would and I never break a promise to Gabrielle!"
"I just hope you're right," he turned and continued on back downstairs.
Gabrielle was already lying on the bed. "Xena, just come hold me for awhile," she requested.
Xena reclined next to her partner and wrapped her up in her arms. "You know, whatever happens tonight, that I still love you, right?" There was no response. "Right?," Xena asked again.
"Right, Xena," Gabrielle answered despondently.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
"What's wrong?," Gabrielle asked in disbelief. "What's wrong?!" she repeated. She shook her head. "You know how I've always questioned about whether we have souls here or not, right, Xena? Because we're clones and all, right?!"
"Yeah, I'm all too familiar with that one," Xena said as she stroked her hair affectionately.
"Well, this is not exactly the way I wanted to find out for sure! Lucifer coming back after us and my new friend being tortured!"
"Look, Gabrielle, one really has nothing to do with the other, o.k.? Our souls are autonomous of any other time and place. Do you feel my flesh upon your flesh?," she gazed down upon her and ran her hand up and down Gabrielle's arm. "Do you feel our breath intertwined?," she kissed her mouth tenderly. "Do you feel our souls intertwined?" She searched the bard's face for discernment. Nothing was there. "I thought you had accepted the reality of our souls after our discussion the other day. You're always so amazed when I remember your words. Is it possible that you don't remember my words at all?!"
"Xena, just because you tell me something, doesn't make it true. There is only one thing I know for sure."
"A woman who belongs in this time, who belongs in this place, is suffering in my stead."
"I don't think so, Gabrielle. I think old Lucifer has been after Angel this whole time. That's why Cordelia's been taken. She's not been taken because of you. She's been taken because of Angel!" Xena tried to speak the words she thought might best console her friend.
"Oh, Xena," Gabrielle's eyes were filled with tears again, "even if you really think that's true, it's still not right that her life gets cut short because of her vision about us! We're old, ancient relics, from another time. She belongs here."
"How old is Cordy, Gabrielle?"
"Just answer the question. How old is she?"
"Um, I don't know, a couple of years younger than me. Or, maybe, even the same age, I didn't ask her," Gabrielle replied.
"Oh because, you see, I'm sorry... I thought you were going to tell me that you were two thousand five hundred and twenty six years older than Cordelia, for a second there! Like you had all those years of experience and wisdom behind you! When you're really just about the same age, right?"
"What's you're point, Xena? I'm not following you."
"You're both in your twenties, right?"
"So you're this old relic who deserves to die and she is this young thing that deserves to live, just so I got this straight, right?"
"That is not the point, Xena! This IS her time. This IS where she belongs. I am misplaced!"
"Do you love her?"
"Well, I only just met her, but I think I do, yes."
"And if she died tonight, and someone found her genetic strand and cloned her two thousand years from now, and you were there, too (which we both know is possible), would she be of any less value to you?"
"No, of course not!" A look of realization came over Gabrielle's face. "Oh, I think I get your point now, Xena!"
"And Lorne called the tall, dark and gorgeous ones thick headed. I guess he never 'read' the short, blonde and well-endowed!"
"You're saying that, just so long as we are loved and share love in return, we are valued and we belong? So I belong here because I'm loved by you and loved by Jinn and loved by Cordy, right?"
"Well, something like that. Although, I wouldn't have included Jinn. I have a bad feeling about her, Gabrielle. I just don't like her."
"I already know that she reminds you of Najara. But she's nothing like her. It's totally different."
"I'm just hurting because I can't stand to think of what they're doing to Cordelia and how scared she is right now."
"I don't like it either, Gabrielle. But we're powerless to stop it until tonight, understand?"
"Mm hmm," Gabrielle sighed as she wrapped herself around Xena's body. "Just hold me for awhile."
"Hey," Xena kissed her head, "didn't I promise you I'd get her back?"
"You believe in me, don't you?"
"Then all I've got to do is hold on to myself. And if I feel like I'm starting to lose it, going all 'evil-weird' as Cordelia put it, all I have to do is think of you... and it will bring me right back home!"
She held Gabrielle in her warm embrace. They laid together for quite some time, neither of them speaking, neither of them moving, except for a tender hand which Xena would run up and down Gabrielle's back every now and then. Finally they were interrupted by a knock on the door. Xena got up and answered it. It was Wes, Gunn and Jinn.
"Yes?," Xena cocked her head and questioned.
"We need to talk to you, Xena," Wes said, "about tonight."
"Hmmm, you look like a firing squad, but what the heck? Come on in!" She threw the door open.
Gabrielle was sitting up on the bed. Xena sat down beside her. Jinn perched on the end of the bed as Wes seated himself in a wooden chair. Gunn leaned against the doorway.
"Um, Xena," Wes began delicately, "we think it best if you pair up with Jinn tonight."
"Oh you do, do you?," Xena smirked. "Well this must be my lucky day."
"It makes sense, Xena. I'm the best fighter," Jinn replied.
"Meaning that if I go all evil, you can kick my ass, kill me?"
"Something like that, yeah!," Jinn responded in an irritated voice. Then she sighed and relented, "but I really hope it's not going to come down to that."
"Nice to know we have such a high opinion of ourselves, 'Master' Jinn," Xena said mockingly. "You've never seen me 'evil', but if it comes down to that, I don't give any of you much of a chance. I know what I'm capable of."
"That's why we think Gabrielle should go with Gunn," Wesley fidgeted nervously.
"Oh no!," the bard objected. "I'm staying with Xena!"
"Gabrielle," a look of concern crossed Wesley's face, "that's just not a good idea."
"But Lorne said I was her salvation. How can I save her, if I'm not with her?," the bard reasoned.
"I'll keep us close, Gabrielle," Gunn assured her. "If Xena needs you, we'll be close by, I guarantee it. I want to see everyone get out of there alive."
"It's the safest course of action for you, for everyone," Wes looked at Xena, his eyes pleading for her help.
Xena stared at Wes for a long moment. Then she looked down and took Gabrielle's hand. "It is the best plan, Gabrielle. I'll go with Jinn, you go with Gunn."
"No, Xena! I'm staying with you," she asserted firmly.
"Would you give us a moment alone?," Xena requested of the others. "Just wait outside the door for a moment, please?"
"Of course," Wesley replied as he motioned for Jinn and Gunn to follow him out of the room.
"Listen, Gabrielle, I can't do what I need to do tonight and worry about you all at once. Do you understand?"
"And what do you need to do tonight?"
"Oh, um, I don't know... maybe fight the devil?!," she said.
"I've always been with you, since the first time we were together as friends; that innocent, wide-eyed girl at the campfire, at your side, to face evil. What makes this different?," Gabrielle countered.
"Something I can't explain, just trust me," Xena replied.
"Trust is the issue here. I've fought Lucifer with you before. How come I'm not good enough this time? Have you forgotten all we've been through together? You, of all people, know how competent I am!"
"You need to do what I say," Xena replied.
"Ooh, you are making me so mad!," Gabrielle responded vehemently. "You were just talking about love and how love makes us real, valuable, important! What part then, of me, when you were cloned by Alti, did you forget? How much of the 'evil' Xena got cloned?"
"You think Alti cloned my evil self? Now I'm getting pissed off, Gabrielle. Everything I do is for your own good!" Xena was indignant.
"I don't need a care-taker, Xena! I need a partner, an equal partner! I thought we were over this years ago! Alti did clone your bad side, or you would remember that!"
"Then understand this, partner," Xena intoned slowly, "I remember everything! Including my promise to myself to protect you!"
"Yeah, I understand, perfectly. You can't go out and die and have me die with you: too much for your conscience to bear! But let me tell you something! If you die, I DO die with you. My life ends. So you might just as well have me at your side!" Gabrielle's voice was angry and sarcastic, but tears welled within her eyes.
Xena was beyond frustration. "What am I going to do with you?! You never listen to me!"
"That's right, I never listen! I would've thought you might have picked up on that by now. You know, joined the dots, as you say? And just for your information, it's 'connect' the dots, oh ye of many skills!"
"Gabrielle, aaargh!!!," Xena was thoroughly frustrated with her partner. "Just this once, compromise with me! Gunn said he'd keep you close! So what's the problem?"
"The problem is, you say that we're soul mates and that our souls are autonomous of any other time and place and joined together 'forever and always' and then you turn around and try to act independently of me! For my own good?! Like I have no choice! Like you're the big 'decision maker' in this relationship and my opinion doesn't matter? Doesn't work that way, Xena. Can't work that way!"
"O.k., o.k, I'm sorry. Just compromise tonight. Just this one night," Xena pleaded.
"You're scared you're going to turn evil," Gabrielle asserted.
"That's right, I am! It's a battle for my very soul! Are you satisfied now, Gabrielle?!"
"Xena, you make me so mad! Go ahead and go with Jinn! See if I care!" She threw the door open and stomped out of the room. Wesley, Gunn and Jinn jumped back as she angrily walked past them. They hesitated for a moment and then re-entered the room.
Wesley tugged on his sweater nervously as he began, "So, I'm assuming you convinced her of our point of view."
Xena stood with her hands on her hips in a foul mood. "Yeah, I 'convinced' her all right, Wesley. Satisfied?!," she said combatively.
He adjusted his glasses. "Well, yes, I'm satisfied. It's for the best, Xena. It really is." He turned on his heels and retreated down the hallway.
"Xena," Gunn spoke up, "we're selecting our weapons downstairs. You should come join us, o.k.?"
"Yeah thanks, Gunn. I'll be there in a minute. I just need to talk to someone first."
Xena grabbed Jinn's arm as she exited the room. "Just so we're absolutely clear, Jinn, I don't trust you."
"I'm well aware of that, Xena. But I don't understand why you perceive me as such a threat. I've never done anything but try and help you," Jinn responded evenly.
"You mean help yourself to Gabrielle, don't you?," Xena's voice was low and menacing.
"I do care for Gabrielle. But I've done nothing to place myself between you two. And I think you're making the right decision for her tonight."
"Yeah," Xena eyed her skeptically, "why is that?"
"Because she's like a precious, shining star. A light such as hers doesn't come around very often. It needs to be cared for, nourished, protected."
Xena pressed her hard
against the wall, still grasping her arm. Her eyes suddenly filled with tears. Her
voice broke with emotion. "Yeah, well you just remember that she's MY precious,
shining star and I'm the one who cares for, nourishes and protects her." With
that she released her grip and brushed by her out of the room.
"Wow! What an awesome collection of weapons!," Sunny enthused.
"Well, it's in the nature of our business," Wes informed.
"Ooh, I want this one here!," she said as she picked out a sword. "This is beautiful! Already got my stakes," she said under her breath as she winked at Wes.
"Jinn?," Wesley queried as he saw her walking down the stairs a few steps behind Xena. "What's your preference in weapons?"
"I fight with my feet and my hands... um," she seemed distracted, "a couple of daggers will be fine."
"Oh, you're going to need more than that if you want to kill me," Xena smirked as she crossed the room. Gabrielle was sitting on the divan. When she saw Xena approaching, she turned her back to her and folded her arms across her chest.
"Gabrielle," Wes called to her, "you need to select a weapon."
Gabrielle reached into her backpack and pulled out one of her sais. She flung it the full length of the room. It passed by very close to Xena's head and landed so that it stuck neatly out of the weapons case. "I'm good," she said without turning around.
"Whoa!," Sunny and Gunn both looked at each other.
Xena ignored the weapon as it flew past her. "Would've served her right if I had caught it out of the air," she thought to herself.
"No weapons for you or me tonight, huh, Angel?" She gave an ironic smile to the vampire.
"I don't know," he replied. "But from the looks of it, you may need a weapon just to fight you're way past a couple of women in this room."
"I'll survive," Xena said flatly.
"I'm counting on that," Angel responded. "I don't know if I can save Cordy without you."
"So what do you want to know, Angel? Am I going to turn all evil? Look, I just went through this with Gabrielle. I don't have the energy to go through it with you, too!"
"I just want to know, exactly, what Lorne told you, that's all."
"O.k., fine, here it is," she grabbed Angel's arm and led him over to the what used to be the old hotel's check-in desk. "He told me it was a battle for my soul: not your soul, not Cordelia's soul, not Gabrielle's soul! A battle for my soul! Got it? I intend to keep my own soul," she eyed him quizzically, "how 'bout you?!"
"I'm not turning! I don't even know why that came up!," he protested. "I have hope! There is a prophecy which states that I can regain my humanity! I live for that day." He looked down. "But until then...,"
"But until then, you love her without hope. It can never be."
"Thanks for stating it so succinctly." His sad, passionate eyes looked to Xena. "But, I don't know where you get that? Why do you think I love Cordy?"
"I never said Cordy, you did," Xena smiled ironically as she walked away.
"Fred," Wesley's voice called out, "you must choose a weapon if you intend to accompany us tonight!"
"Oh, I already have my weapon. I've been working on it all day, as a matter of fact. It's this little light pistol, that I can tuck right up under my wrist and no one will notice it, until I pull it out," she informed.
"Oh, very well then," Wesley said condescendingly. "It doesn't matter seeing as I will be there to protect you with a real weapon!" He immediately regretted his words and turned to Fred. "I'm so sorry, Fred. That was not like me! I apologize."
"It's o.k.," Fred smiled. "We're all on edge."
"Xena and I need to be armed tonight, Wesley," Angel informed his friend.
"Angel, I'm not sure that's a good idea," he replied.
"Well, I am. Xena, pick a weapon!," Angel said.
"My pleasure," she responded as she picked out a sword.
"I'm just not sure about this," Wesley intoned.
"Let it go, Wes," Sunny addressed him. "She's a warrior. She deserves a weapon."
"Hmmm," Wesley shook his head doubtfully.
"Well, at any rate," he announced somberly, "I think it's time to cleanse our weapons with holy water and speak the sacred words!"
The group gathered together and all weapons were appropriately blessed. The sacred words were spoken over each implement of destruction that was to be judiciously hidden beneath the robes of Tenebrion.
All of this had an unsettling affect upon Gabrielle. She had allowed her sais to be cleansed and blessed before she slipped them into their boot holders. But the ritual disturbed her. She regretted her words earlier in the day about wanting vengeance. She spent the next few hours fretting over this strange practice of 'blessing' weapons, worrying about Cordy and avoiding Xena, while at the same time, longing to make up with her. Finally, she decided to meditate, clear her head and seek guidance.
Xena, for her part, spent the time examining her soul, searching for any trace of the presence of evil. She tried to center, to concentrate, on the task before her that evening. It had been a long time since she had had to go into warrior mode and she needed to be fully focused. She had maintained her routine of drills and practice at their home, it was true. And she often sparred with Gabrielle, testing the bard's newly learned martial arts skills. Ah, Gabrielle, that was the problem! How could she concentrate without resolving this rift with her? "You have to give yourself over completely to your love for her," Lorne had said. But what did that mean? Wasn't it love that made her want to protect Gabrielle? She found herself distracted, trying to catch her partner's gaze. But the bard refused to look at her.
"I have to focus," she told herself. "It's been months since I've been engaged in actual battle. I need to focus!" Meanwhile, her eyes kept drifting back to Gabrielle.
"This is too much tension," Gabrielle spoke up. "Is there any way I could soak in a warm tub for awhile before we go?"
"Sure, we've got plenty of time, right, Wes?," Fred smiled. Wesley nodded his head in the affirmative. "Come with me, Gabrielle. You can use the bath in my room. I have everything you need."
Xena watched forlornly as Gabrielle followed Fred up the stairs and disappeared.
The bard lowered herself into the warm tub. She felt the water caress her skin and carry away her doubts. She knew what she had to do this evening. She knew what she had to say. She drifted off into a place of love and light and felt her resolve grow stronger. She closed her eyes.
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle!," a voice was calling sweetly. She felt a hand gently rock her shoulder.
She looked up to see Fred's face smiling down at her. "Hey, you must've fallen asleep. The others were getting worried because you were in here so long, (even though Xena explained that you probably just fell asleep, because you could fall asleep anywhere, anytime and that you could sleep through anything!). They sent me up here to check on you! It's getting late, Gabrielle. You'd better get dressed now and come join us, o.k.?"
"Oh, Fred," Gabrielle sputtered, slightly embarrassed. "I'm so sorry. I did fall asleep. I'll be right down!" She dressed quickly and headed downstairs.
"Oh, good, Gabrielle," Wesley said as she arrived. "It's time we departed." With that, the group made its way towards the parking lot.
Gabrielle had held her concerns in as long as she could. "You know what makes no sense to me at all?!," she said as they headed for their cars. "To bless weapons, makes no sense to me at all! There is only one weapon in the whole, entire world that matters. It's called love. We stand no chance tonight without the power of love!"
"Meaning?," the group stared at her as they hovered nervously around their vehicles. Only one voice came through to her.
"Meaning?," it asked again.
"Meaning, Xena," she responded to that voice, "that love will out! You'll see before this night is over, that it's all that matters," Gabrielle asserted.
They took two separate cars. Wes and Fred, Xena and Jinn rode in one. Angel, Sunny, Gabrielle and Gunn were in the other. They snaked their way up the winding road through the Hollywood Hills to Mt. Lee in Griffith Park. Not a word was spoken in either car on the way up. They parked above the Hollywood sign.
"O.k., now here's the deal," Gunn began. "There are security cameras and fences here. There will also be an opening in the fence, not visible to the naked eye, which we can find with our blessed weapons. That's our first order of business: find the opening."
"I hope this isn't more information from your sources," Xena voiced.
"No. I told him that," Fred informed.
"And the security cameras?," Wes questioned.
"Once we're through the portal in the fence, the sorcery takes over. It will be like we disappeared. No one will be able to see us," Fred instructed. "But, remember, there can be all manner of witchcraft protecting the fence. Keep your weapons in front of you."
"Well then," Wes said, "let's head down the hill and find the opening."
They proceeded down through the shrubs and dirt. Suddenly, they were stopped by an impenetrable barrier of heat. Xena bounced against it and was repelled. "Aaargh!," she cried as colors flew through the night air at her point of impact and she was thrown to the ground.
"Xena!," Gabrielle cried out and started towards her. She heard a howl and turned to see a pack of coyotes, eyes glowing red and snarling behind them.
"Weapons!," Fred called out in a commanding voice. The sound of Fred taking charge stunned everyone for a second. They turned to look at her and then quickly returned their gaze to the viscous animals behind them. "Now!," Fred called again.
They withdrew their weapons and, to their amazement, passed right through the barrier!
"Damn, girl! You are SO good!," Gunn smiled broadly at Fred.
"O.k., then," Wesley directed, "pair up, fan out and use your weapons to find the opening in the fence!"
Each pair ran their weapons up and down the fence at a different section until finally Angel called out, "I found it!"
The group gathered together for one last time before they broached the fence, began their mission and faced death... or worse.
"O.k. now," Wes said breathlessly, "remember: we separate, infiltrate, disrupt the ceremony in any way we can! Do not make yourselves obvious too soon! Get the lay of the land, observe what is happening. Angel," he turned towards his friend and partner, "do not go directly for Cordelia. We could be defeated if we play our hand too soon!"
Angel nodded his head. "I'll try," was all he said. He was about to pass through the fence.
"Wait a minute!," Gabrielle stopped him. "All of us need to remember just one thing: love! Promise me, all of you, that you will keep love in your hearts tonight! Not vengeance, not hate... love! Agreed?"
Every head nodded in agreement.
"Xena?," Gabrielle took her hand. "I love you. I'm sorry about our fight, earlier. You're everything to me!"
Xena embraced her lovingly. "And I love you. You're everything to me, too!"
"Jinn," Gabrielle took both of her friend's hands, "do not try to kill Xena tonight. No matter what happens, promise me, you won't try to kill Xena!"
"Gabrielle, how can I promise that?!," Jinn looked exasperated.
"Just do!," came the bard's firm reply. "Promise on your friendship to me!"
Jinn sighed. "I promise, for you," she shook her head slowly.
"Can we go now?!," Angel asked impatiently.
"Let's go," Gabrielle smiled.
As they passed through the fence, it was as if another world became visible to them. Whereas, behind the fence, all they could see was the back of the Hollywood sign, now about one hundred hooded creatures appeared before their eyes! Where there had been silence, but for the muffled tones of the coyotes howling behind the invisible barrier, now there was heinous chanting! The unmistakable scent of death assaulted their senses. And in the midst of all this, raised on a platform behind the giant 'Y' in the Hollywood sign, lay Cordelia!
She was chained to the platform by hand and by foot. Her eyes were glazed over and fixed towards the sky. It was impossible, upon mere visual inspection, to determine if she was breathing or not. Only their knowledge that the ceremony required a living sacrifice gave her friends courage as they pulled their hoods over their heads, paired up and split apart. Gabrielle met Xena's eyes one last time as her partner turned and walked away with Jinn. A sense of fear suddenly gripped her! And if it were not for the gentle, silent prodding of Gunn, she would have most certainly chased after her warrior immediately!
She followed Gunn around
the depraved gathering of beings. He held her hand tight. They slowly, carefully
moved towards the rear of the assembled throng. Finally, they were intermingled
with the Satanists and so close to Cordelia, that it was hard for Gabrielle
to resist the impulse to throw herself on top of her friend in a protective
fashion. What she heard next, she could not believe and would not accept!
Xena crept around as close as she could towards Cordelia. She didn't look behind her to see if Jinn had followed. "Hope I lost her," she thought to herself. "I don't care what she promised Gabrielle. She'd try to take me out in a heartbeat!"
But, she hadn't lost
her. The martial arts instructor was still right behind her. As Xena worked
her way into a position to strike, she felt a sharp pain begin to throb in her
neck. "No!," she reeled, "not again!" Then she felt her blood rushing through
her ears. The image of Cordelia seemed to spin away from her as it felt the
very earth had opened up beneath her feet and she became aware of herself
falling into a whirling abyss. "Gabrielle," she heard herself cry out. "Gabrielle!"
Angel had taken off by himself. It was all Sunny could do to keep pace with him. He made his way through the crowd quickly and stood right beneath the platform upon which Cordelia had been chained. He stared up at her, his heart breaking as he gazed upon her prone and helpless form.
"How has it come to this?," he questioned himself. "I knew her in Sunnydale, when she was just a high school kid with an attitude. I never thought twice about her. I was in love with Buffy. When did all this change? How did all this change? She's changed. She's become a woman. And why do I love her so?" He was filled with loathing for those who had done this to her. His face turned vampire and he only felt hate. Vengeance filled his mind.
It was then that he
heard the voice calling inside. At first, just a small whisper in his head.
But it built and built until it was all he could hear: the sound rushing through
his ears. It would determine his course of action that evening. And he was amazed!
Because after all the events of the day and all the promises he had made that
night, he did not expect to have to answer to this one voice echoing through
his being. He could not have anticipated the effect it would have upon him.
It burned inside him and he could no longer resist its influence!
Wesley moved around towards the back of the gathering. He thought about moving in closer, but hesitated as Fred was at his side. He always had to fight hard to keep a grip on himself at times like this. He had had to fight quite an internal battle to become as brave as he was. Years of abuse by his parents had guaranteed that. He had taught himself how to become a man.
When he had first shown up in Sunnydale to be Buffy's new Watcher, he couldn't have anticipated the culture shock he would feel suddenly thrust into an American high school, into American culture. He would never forget Buffy's cold, yet accurate words, when he had offered to support her outside the auspices of the Watcher's Council: "If I need someone to scream like a woman, I'll let you know."
He had tried so hard since then to change himself, to become a stronger person. Yet, he felt, he constantly failed! He was awkward, to say the least, with women. His authority at Angel Investigations was tenuous at best. He still feared rejection on a daily basis. When in stressful situations, such as this, his father still loomed above him, strap in hand, as he cowered beneath the stairs.
Yet, he had willed himself
to become a brave man! He had made a conscious decision to be gallant. And he
would not let his friends down! He fought so hard to keep his father's voice
out of his head. He fought so hard!
"Our warrior is here!," a vile voice intoned. Gabrielle could not believe what she was hearing, what she was seeing! The hooded figure stood on the platform upon which Cordelia was strapped and ripped the mantle, which had been covering her body, from her, exposing her flesh to the wretched crowd. "Our Master's hour is upon us at last!" He thrust a dagger into the night air and Gabrielle could see the moon reflecting off it's sharp double edge.
Xena suddenly appeared beside him. There was a vacant look in her eyes.
"Our warrior is here!," the hooded figure held up her arm.
"No!," Gabrielle screamed.
"Keep love in your hearts tonight," Angel heard Gabrielle's voice in his head as he watched the scene play out before his horrified eyes. "What do I do now? Is she defending us or is she evil?"
"You are a worthless, sniveling bitch!" Wesley tried to drown out the voice of his father. "No! No! Be brave!," he told himself. "Come, Fred," he forced himself to speak. "We must help," he said as he took her hand and led her towards Cordelia.
"Let the bleeding begin!," the hooded figure screeched as he bent down and made a two inch long incision along Cordelia's left side. Her blood began to flow out from the wound. Xena stood as if hypnotized. She slowly began to draw her sword from her robe as one hooded figure gave way to another.
"What's she doing?," Angel wondered. "Should I strike now? I can't take this much longer."
The second hooded figure bent down with the dagger and made the exact same incision on Cordy's right side. He held the knife in the air with Cordelia's blood stained upon it. Xena had totally drawn her sword. She had it poised in the air as if to strike, but she seemed to be moving in slow motion. Jinn was suddenly on the platform behind her. She withdrew a dagger and held it behind Xena, ready to strike!
"No, Jinn!" Gabrielle called out. Jinn saw her face amongst the hooded crowd and hesitated, remembering her promise.
"That's it," Angel thought. "I don't know what's going on here, but I'm definitely not turning evil, thanks to Gabrielle's words! I'm acting now! I've got to act now or Cordy will be lost. Sorry, Xena, but...,"
He was about to jump up on the platform, when Xena hurled her sword towards the 'Y' in the Hollywood sign. It struck something in the air and a small eddy, a rift between worlds, began to open up. The sword ricocheted back in Xena's direction and she caught it with her usual ease. The eddy exploded into a vortex that seemed to suck the very air out of the sky as Xena knocked both Jinn and Angel off the platform with great force and in one effortless motion! Now, swirling behind the platform was a hideous maelstrom of negative energy. The evil assembly bowed adoringly as Lucifer passed through the vortex.
"Thank you, Xena," he hissed. "So nice to finally have you back!"
He was followed by the spirit of Alti. She hovered over Xena. "This was always my plan, dear," she laughed maniacally.
Angel and Jinn lay prostrate upon the ground. Sunny ran to them and drew her sword. She hovered over their bodies in a protective manner.
"No!," Gabrielle screamed. She tried to run towards Xena, but Gunn held her back. "Let me go!," she fought him.
"No!," he said as he held her tight. "You'll be killed!"
Xena became conscious. But it was not Gabrielle's Xena, it was Alti's Xena: evil Xena. She surveyed the crowd of hooded sycophants. No love was in her heart. "Kill 'em all!," she yelled gleefully as Satan's soldiers began to appear one by one out of the vortex. The hooded assembly cowered in fear.
"Let me go, Gunn!," Gabrielle insisted.
"Let her go," a voice spoke as one of the cloaked figures approached them. He removed his hood.
"Antwan!," Gabrielle said in surprise.
"Yes, it's me, little one!," he smiled brightly. "I have thirty of my people here. We must stop this evil! Only you can do it!"
"Me? What are you talking about? I just want to get to Xena! How can I stop this?"
"The bracelet I made for you. It is blessed with a special magic, remember? The magic is the love that you and Xena share. Go to her. Give her the bracelet. The magic will work!," Antwan informed.
"But, I don't have the bracelet, Cordy does!," Gabrielle complained.
"Check your pocket, Gabrielle." Antwan gave her a knowing look.
Gabrielle reached into her pocket and pulled out the bracelet. She eyed it with wonder. "Oh, Antwan! I didn't remember I had it!"
"Waste no time Gabrielle!" Antwan said. "The longer you wait, the more demon soldiers are allowed to pass through the vortex. Go to her now!"
She hugged him. "Who are you?," she asked.
"No time," he complained. "Go quickly!"
"I'm coming with you!," Gunn said as he followed her through the terrified crowd.
Sunny was doing battle with a couple of Satan's soldiers as Angel and Jinn slowly came to. "Angel!," they hissed at her. "We want Angel!" They flew at her with their claws, talons and heinous tongues, sharp as knives. She valiantly fought them off with her sword. As Angel and Jinn became more conscious, they joined her in battle. It was then that Xena turned upon them. Her face was contorted. It was not the face of a demon, but the face of one who had allowed her soul to be taken by Lucifer. Her face was still human, but with all it's beauty skewed into the horrible grimace of hate!
"Angel," she sneered slowly. "Jinn? Time to die! And in your next life, make sure you tell Gabrielle how much I enjoyed her little speeches about love!"
"Why don't you tell me yourself, Xena?!" It was Gabrielle. She had managed to fight her way onto the platform. Xena whirled around quickly to face her.
"This is our chance to free Cordelia!," Wes, who had also made his way up to the platform, whispered to Fred. He began to strike at the chains binding her with his weapon. It was to no avail. "Damn," he complained, "of what are these chains made?"
"Let me try my light pistol," Fred suggested. "That's what I made it for," she said as she began to cut through Cordy's chains with a laser.
Alti once again hovered over Xena. "Go ahead, Xena, take her out!," her voice oozed into Xena's ear. "She always was nothing more than my little gift to you. I knew how much you would enjoy this! Go ahead, take her!"
Xena gazed disdainfully at Gabrielle. She lifted her sword up over her head and was about to strike. There was darkness in her eyes.
"Yeah, go ahead and take me, Xena," Gabrielle stood in front of her bravely. "But first, take this from me!," she said as she dangled the bracelet in front of her.
Xena faltered momentarily as she gazed upon the bracelet.
"This is a symbol of our love, Xena," Gabrielle spoke fearlessly. "It's me, Xena. You love me, not this!" She gestured with her arm at the raging battle surrounding them as she continued to hold the bracelet before the warrior's eyes. "Make your choice, Xena. Kill me now, or choose to give yourself over completely to our love!"
Xena still held her sword in strike position. Her hand seemed to grip the hilt even tighter than before. She raised it up high behind her head, gritted her teeth and screamed a viscious scream! Then she struck her sword down with all its force and smashed it into the ground at Gabrielle's feet. She grabbed the bracelet from the bard's hand and looked at it. "Now, if ever I lose my way, I can take this out and hold it and look at it and know that I am loved by a heart that is pure and true and believe in myself again." The memory of her own words came to her. She shook her head as if trying to clear the cobwebs out.
"Xeeenaa," Alti drew out her name in a prolonged sneer.
"Gabrielle?," Xena questioned, a look of recognition surfacing in her eyes. Xena stared at the bracelet for some long moments. "Gabrielle?," Xena smiled as she fingered the bard's gift. "I love you. And, and you love me right?" she stuttered. Her features seemed to brighten as her demeanor slowly changed. "What am I doing here? What happened?"
"It's just Lucifer and Alti messing with us again, Xena," Gabrielle informed.
"Aaaahhh Alti!," Xena screamed angrily as she struck out at her with her sword. It passed right through her.
"You worthless, meddlesome, little bitch!," Alti shrieked at Gabrielle. "I hate you! I never should have brought you back!"
"Duh," Gabrielle smirked at her.
Alti hissed as she reached out with a cold, ethereal hand and began to strangle the young woman.
"No!," Gunn screamed as he tried to pull hands that had no solid form off her neck. Gabrielle choked and started to turn blue.
Wes had observed what was happening. "Xena," he shouted at her, "throw your sword back at the vortex! You opened the portal, only you can close it!"
Xena hurled her weapon back at the spinning web of evil. It disappeared into the maelstrom. The strange whirlpool kept spinning, but the flow of Lucifer's soldiers into this world stopped. Alti was sucked back up into Satan's head. Gabrielle collapsed, tumbled off the platform and fell to the ground, gasping for air. Xena was quickly upon her.
"Oh Gabrielle, I'm so sorry!," she exclaimed as she held her in her arms and rocked her back and forth. The battle raged around them. Enough of Satan's soldiers still remained to create a major problem, even with Antwan's people fighting against them! The winged, devil soldiers fought with their sharp talons, tails and tongues. Swords clashed with a clanking sound against them.
Angel was engaged in battle alongside Sunny and Jinn. As the evil demons bore down upon them, Sunny would strike at them with her sword. She stood, back to back with Angel, who also struck out at them with a sword. Jinn would fly at them with her feet and fists blazing. She took many cuts, as her daggers kept her within close range of the wicked sharp claws of the demons. She was bleeding quite profusely as deeper and deeper wounds were slashed into her flesh. Finally, Angel saw an opportunity to get to the platform and help free Cordelia.
"Jinn," he called, "take my sword!"
The martial arts master gratefully complied as she then stood back to back with Sunny and warded off the evil ones.
Angel threw off his robe and leapt onto the platform where Fred was cutting through Cordelia's chains. He gazed upon her wounds, momentarily, and then removed his jacket and placed it over her body. Fred had cut through three of the chains and was working on the last one placed around Cordy's foot. "Hurry, Fred!," Angel implored as he wrapped Cordelia up in his arms.
"Angel," she looked him square in the eye, "this takes as long as it takes: no more, no less." She continued with her light pistol. Finally, Fred broke through the last chain.
Angel lifted Cordelia in his arms. He carried her away from the battle towards the fence. He no longer had a blessed weapon, neither did he have the time to search for the opening. He used his vampire strength to burst through the fence, shielding Cordelia's body with his own. He placed her upon the ground and kissed her forehead. He could sense the life within her.
"Love will out! You'll see before this night is over, that it's all that matters." Angel didn't expect to hear Gabrielle's words rattling around in his head again, but there they were! He looked down at Cordelia. "Love will out, Cordy," he said. "What do you think?"
"Angel?," she sighed weakly, barely audible.
He was so surprised to hear her speak that he almost didn't respond. Finally he managed to say, "Yeah, Cordy, I'm here."
"How come I'm naked, wrapped up in your jacket and lying on the dirt?" She coughed and drifted off again immediately.
"Because I kept love
in my heart tonight, Cordy," he answered, even though he knew she couldn't hear
him. "Because I love you."
Xena rocked Gabrielle in her arms. She agonized as she apologized over and over again for having "turned". Gabrielle was still choking, out of breath. Xena was breathing into her mouth when she felt a touch upon her shoulder. It was Gunn.
"Um, Xena, we have a problem," he said as he inclined his head indicating that she should look behind her. Xena glanced over her shoulder. Lucifer was looming directly behind and above her.
"Who are you?," Gunn stammered. "What do you want?"
"My name is Legion!" He stared directly at Xena with hideous, yellow eyes.
"You're name is Lucifer, punk," Xena said as she pushed Gunn out of the way protectively. "But, oh hey, can I still call you Lucy?"
"Take my sword," Gunn offered.
She held the sword with two hands pointed directly at the hellish visage. "Take care of Gabrielle!," she directed Gunn.
"You can't harm me!," Lucifer hissed.
"I created you Xena! I am your sire!"
"Oh, and just how do you figure that?"
"Where do you think this cloning of humans business came from? That was my idea! One of my better ones, I might add. It creates so many moral dilemmas. And I do so love moral dilemmas! They give birth to endless opportunities for me to wreak havoc!"
"Oh, I get it. You couldn't get my soul last time around, so you figure you'll just make it possible to recreate me and try again?"
"You have no soul, Xena. You're a clone, a Xerox copy, a blank page for me to write on. I needed a warrior to open my portal. I had you created for that sole purpose."
"Then why am I still standing in your way?" Xena was defiant before him.
"Only 'The Creator' can create a soul, the One I used to serve, when I was an angel... until I was cast out!"
"Ah, save your sob stories, I'm not interested," Xena replied sarcastically.
"Your genesis was not from above. It originated with me. Therefor, you have no soul! It isn't possible, as I do not create souls: I steal them! You belong to me! You are already mine, a puff of smoke, a mere reflection of my will!"
"Then pass through me!" Xena stood firm as the battle raged around her and the vortex swirled behind her greatest foe. Xena laughed a fierce, menacing laugh. "The way I see it, if I belong to you, we're not even having this conversation. It's your job to steal souls and you'll use whatever means you can to do so! You're trying to trick me, you sneaky bastard! Trying to make me question my existence, question my soul. Nice try, Lucy, but there's no part of my heart that's left open to you now! You can't pass through me, because I bear the mark of 'The Creator' upon me! Love has already saved me and you are powerless before it!"
With that, there was a hideous, malevolent scream as a great rush of hot wind shrieked across the hillside, flattening everything and everyone in it's path. Then silence. It seemed that all the world held its breath. An eerie stillness gripped the night. Xena could make out, in her peripheral vision, the meek forms of formerly fierce combatants, who now cowered and crawled upon the ground. Then, from the sky, came a great flapping of wings. A ghastly serpent had taken flight and bore down upon Xena with frightening speed. She stood firm and lifted her sword to strike it, but it knocked her off her feet and sent her sprawling backwards. The sword flew from her hands. The beast towered above her prone body. Cries and whimpers dotted the hillside as all, good and evil alike, cowered in fear.
Xena flipped up and hurled her body through the air with all her might, kicking the beast with both feet. Again she flew backwards feeling the strength sapped from her legs as she fell. She managed to crawl on her hands and knees. She found a dagger on the ground and somehow found the vigor to hurl it towards its eyes. It caught the knife and sent it back down towards her, grazing her shoulder as it spewed forth filthy bile. A clawed foot scratched her cheek, drawing blood, and then kicked her head violently back, sending it crashing into a rock!
"You will be mine, Xena!," it hissed and slouched towards her. Xena lay stunned and helpless upon the ground. The creature moved in, it's tongue dripping vile venom, as it sought to consume her. Xena felt its shadow pass over her and shivered in the lifeless cold of its touch. She refused to look away as she faced her fate bravely. Then, to her amazement, the repulsive creature stopped. Once again, a ghostly hush filled the air.
"Xena is mine," a calm voice broke the deafening silence. The warrior looked down from the beast's face and recognized the slight form of her bard silhouetted against the heinous monster as it rose above her. She watched in amazement as Gabrielle withdrew the sword she had plunged into the fiend. It staggered backwards momentarily, whether from Gabrielle's blow or from shock, Xena didn't know. It hovered precariously near the opening of the vortex. Suddenly energized by the power of love, Xena took advantage of the creature's moment of vulnerability and hurled herself, with all her remaining power, into its foul body. The beast stumbled back and was swallowed by the pestilent maelstrom.
The devil soldiers disappeared with the beast, so that all who remained of Lucifer's army were the thoroughly over-matched and totally terrified Satanists. They proceeded to disperse quickly, running towards the Hollywood sign or trying to disappear into the bushes. Xena's companions and Antwan's people gave chase.
"Now we're having some fun!," Sunny said to Jinn as she pursued those who had taken Cordelia. "C'mon, let's get 'em!," she smiled. But Jinn lagged behind her friend. She was bleeding too much. She fell.
"God speed, Sunny!," she said as she watched her scurry away. And with her last breath, "Gabrielle...," and then she faded.
Xena, herself, lay exhausted upon the ground, with the same thought passing through her mind: "Gabrielle".
"Gabrielle!," she called out panicked. "Gabrielle!"
"Oh God, where is she?" It was the first time she had ever called upon the one God for anything. "Please, God, Goddess, Creator, whatever you are, help me find her! Please let her be all right!"
She heard a plaintive sigh emanating from a place just a few yards away from her. She got up on hands and knees and crawled towards the source of the utterance. There she found her bard, sprawled upon the dirt and only semi-conscious. She took her love in her arms and kissed her sweet lips. Gabrielle's eyes opened slowly.
"Xena," Gabrielle smiled weakly as blood began to trickle slightly from her mouth. "That thing was so awful! I thought it was going to kill you!"
Xena kissed her forehead and rocked her in her arms. Gabrielle revived a little.
"Did you see me, Xena?," she smiled broadly. "I stabbed it! I took the sword and I stabbed it! But, it was so gross. My arms shook when I did it. It was like the whole sword vibrated. My arms still feel real shaky, Xena, like I touched something icky, evil! I can still kind of feel it: almost as if it vibrated through to my heart! Thanks for pushing it into the vortex, by the way. It probably would have devoured me if you hadn't. You saved my life again! It was just the scariest thing! Did you see me stab it? I'm talking too much, huh?"
"You talk all you want, Gabrielle," Xena smiled and kissed her head. "You're my hero." Tears streamed down Xena's cheeks and dropped upon the bard's face.
"It's alright now, Xena," Gabrielle smiled as she closed her eyes again. "I've got you."
"We need to clear out!," Gunn interrupted their tender moment. "The spell is broken, the fence has been breached, the cops will be here soon!"
"And I know I don't need any of that action, right, Gabrielle?," Xena smiled.
"Right, Xena," Gabrielle smiled back.
Wes and Fred scampered up the hill behind Gunn. Xena and Gabrielle limped behind them. They ran into Angel, standing ever vigilant guard over Cordelia, as they made their way back to the cars.
"And where is Sunny?," Wesley asked as they approached the vehicles.
Last she came. She bore in her arms a heavy burden, her friend, Jinn. Her eyes were brimming with regret. "I found her this way," she said as tears rolled down her cheeks. "She was just lying there," her voice gave way to emotion as she spoke. "Dead."
"No!," Gabrielle cried as she ran to her. She brushed the blood stained hair from Jinn's forehead and kissed her brow. "No! She can't be dead!" Tears streamed down her face.
The police sirens could be heard winding their way up the hill.
"Put her in the car," Angel said. "She's gone, Sunny. Gabrielle, she's gone. I'm sorry, but she's lost too much blood. My heart breaks for you, but waiting around will serve no purpose but to get us arrested! Let's just get out of here!"
"Wait." A deep voice intoned. All were stunned to see the visage of Antwan before them. He stood tall and imposing in his dark, black robes.
"Antwan," Gabrielle smiled sadly through her tears.
"There is life in her yet," he said as walked towards Jinn. Sunny placed her friend upon the ground. Antwan approached her. She raised her hand up in a protective manner towards him.
"Gabrielle?," she looked plaintively towards the bard.
"He's good, Sunny," Gabrielle said. "Let him try."
Sunny backed up as Antwan bent over Jinn. He placed one hand upon her head and another over her heart. A golden light flowed through his hands and dispersed over the length of Jinn's body. Suddenly, she coughed and jerked as her eyelids fluttered. She drew in air violently, as if it were her first breath in some time. He bent close to her ear and whispered something to her. She opened her eyes and gazed up at him in amazement.
"Jinn!," Sunny cried as she fell to her knees and gathered her friend up into her arms. Gunn joined her as he ran his hand through Jinn's hair and kissed her head.
"Hey, thought we lost you, for a moment there!," he smiled. "But not before you teach me all those great moves, right?"
Jinn managed a smile for the both of them. Gabrielle bent and took Jinn's hand in her own. She rubbed it against her face and then kissed it gently. Jinn gazed at her lovingly. "Don't ever do that to me again, Jinn. Do you understand?" Jinn nodded her head weakly and smiled. Her friend smiled back as she kissed her hand once more.
Gabrielle rose and approached Antwan. He placed a hand upon her cheek. "I couldn't allow you to lose a friend, little one!," he smiled brightly.
"Who are you?," she asked in wonderment.
"A friend, Gabrielle," he replied.
"Uh, the police are not going to understand what happened here tonight!," Angel reminded everyone as the sirens grew closer.
"Go now," Antwan said to Gabrielle. "Your friend," he nodded towards Xena, "does not seem to do well with the police. Am I right?"
Gabrielle and Xena glanced at each other. But, when the bard turned back around to face Antwan, he was gone.
"Who was that?," Sunny and Gunn asked Gabrielle simultaneously.
"That was my vendor from Venice Beach," Gabrielle shrugged.
"Get her in the car," Wes instructed them. "We need to go quickly!"
Sunny and Gunn helped Jinn into one of the vehicles. Angel took off down the hill with Cordelia in his arms, Wesley driving and Fred hovering over them both. Gunn drove down the hill with Jinn cradled in Sunny's arms and Xena and Gabrielle in the front seat with him.
"I think we should get her to the hospital," Gunn said. "Sunny, what do you think?"
"Yeah, just to be on the safe side, I agree," Sunny said. "She may need more blood."
"No," Jinn spoke her first words since being brought back from death. "Look how my wounds have healed. I can feel the blood coursing through my arteries! Gabrielle, you must introduce me to your friend. That was a powerful magic! He saved my life!"
"I would if I could, Jinn," Gabrielle responded. "But, I have a feeling that I'm not going to run into him anymore around the beach! That was so strange. I wonder who he was?"
"That was damn strange," Gunn agreed.
"Nevertheless, I'm thankful that he was there," Jinn continued. "And, no, I don't need a hospital. Just get me back to the hotel. If Gabrielle promises to tell me a 'good night' story, I know I'll be fine!"
"Oh, I haven't told
a story in so long!," Gabrielle enthused. "I'd love to tell you one!" She smiled
up at Xena and wrapped her arms around the great warrior as she rested her head
on her shoulder.
As they returned to the hotel, Angel carried Cordelia inside, still wrapped up in his jacket. Gunn carried Jinn, even though she protested, so that she would not have to expend anymore energy. They found intruders in their lobby. Angel glared at them menacingly.
"Um, we checked the internet, and saw an upsurge in activity posted to Satanists websites," Mac said.
"And then we noticed that it was the autumnal equinox," Polly added.
"So we connected the dots and, seeing as we had your address from the business card, decided to come over and see if we were needed!," Lea smiled hopefully.
"See," Gabrielle nudged Xena, "it's 'connect' the dots!"
Xena smiled down at her wryly.
"Oh," Lea remembered to add, "I also ordered in some pizza, just in case anyone was hungry."
"Now, that's something we need!," Xena said enthusiastically. With all the stress and uncertainty of the day, none of them could remember the last time they had eaten. "Thank you, Lea," Xena smiled warmly.
Angel, not needing nourishment in the same form as the others, carried Cordelia upstairs. He cleansed her wounds and bandaged them. He dressed her in one of his shirts, laid her in his bed and kissed her forehead. He sat by the side of the bed, where he would remain throughout the night, holding her hand in constant vigil.
Xena started a fire in the fireplace as the rest happily ate their pizza. The wine flowed freely as they recounted their adventure that night to Lea, Polly and Mac. Finally, Gabrielle stood up and began to recite stories from long ago. Xena smiled contentedly as she watched her bard recount tales from their past and felt at home in this century for the first time.
Finally, as Gabrielle completed the true tale about the "Lost Mariner", exhaustion claimed them.
"I need some rest, now," Jinn informed. "Sunny, will you stay with me?"
"Of course," her friend smiled back sweetly. "Do you have a room for us here, Wes?"
"This is a hotel," he said. "I can't claim superior accommodations, but we definitely have a room."
"For me and Xena, too?," Gabrielle queried.
"For all who wish to
stay!," Wesley proclaimed.
The guests were shown to their various rooms by Wesley, Gunn and Fred. Xena and Gabrielle were taken to the same room they had shared earlier in the evening. And, as the door closed, fell into each other's arms. "You are the air that I breathe," Xena began earnestly as she kissed the bard's head.
"Back at ya'," Gabrielle smiled into her partner's chest.
Xena lifted her friend's face and gazed into her eyes. "I want to kiss you all over and take all your hurt away and then make love to you forever."
"No objections to that last part! But, Xena, I'm not really in pain. I've got a few nicks and bruises, but...,"
"Not that kind of pain, Gabrielle. It's just that you always have such faith in me and there have been so many times I've failed you. I know that I hurt you. And I let you down again tonight."
"Stop right there Xena!," Gabrielle put her hand on Xena's chest and glared at her intently, eyes flashing. "You did NOT let me down tonight! You came back to me. With vampire bites in your neck, with evil venom coursing through your veins, whispering to your heart, with two demons battling for possession of your soul (one of them Satan, no less!), you came back to me! And all I had to do is flash a symbol of our love before your eyes. All their plans, all their preparations, all their nasty work to win you over... undone! Undone by the power of your love for me. Xena, how is that letting me down?!"
"But I never should've changed in the first place. Don't you see that, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle sighed. "Xena, come and sit with me. We need to talk about this." They walked over and sat down on the bed together, facing each other. Gabrielle took both of Xena's hands in her own. "Do you remember what Lorne told you?"
"Yes, of course I do: that you are my salvation."
"And your love for me saved you tonight, didn't it?," Gabrielle reminded her.
"Yes, but Gabrielle, he also said that I have to give myself over completely to you. I thought I'd already done that, but if I had, evil could never have gotten into my soul like that, don't you see?"
"So, are you questioning your love for me, Xena?," Gabrielle asked incredulously.
"Oh c'mon, Gabrielle! You know better than that! It's just that... how can I explain this?," she pondered out loud and thought for a moment. "I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but it's not really about you, Gabrielle. It's about me. What if I always question my worthiness of you? What if I can't ever get over my guilt and doubts. I'll still constantly be putting you in danger, just the way I did tonight. It freightens me, Gabrielle. I'm afraid."
"You're afraid? The fearless Xena, scourge of the Ancient World, 'Destroyer of Nations' and, and... what is it they call you on that show, oh yeah... Warrior Princess!: scared of a relationship, a partnership with the woman she loves? Freightened to be in love with me?"
This was not the response for which Xena was hoping. "No, Gabrielle, you're twisting things. That's not what I meant at all."
Gabrielle calmed down. "Then you need to be real clear with me about what you do mean."
"I only meant that, sometimes I feel, you deserve a better fate than me. Lucifer and Alti would have never come after you, it was me they wanted. So, even in this new world, you're still in danger because of me. I mean, will it never end? Who's next? Is Ares going to pop up and try to mess with us? (You know he's very jealous of you!). I thought that maybe in this reality, I could get past my guilt. But, it seems, I'm still burdened with it. My past sins will never disappear."
"But, Xena, don't you see? It's these very doubts and feelings of guilt which allow the space in your heart for evil to infiltrate! That's what Lorne was trying to tell you. You have to rid yourself of any misgivings about being with me. Let the light of our love run through your heart, your soul, and leave no room for those who would play upon your 'dark side'."
"Yeah, but Gabrielle, everything bad that's ever happened to you, happened because of your relationship with me. You could've had a normal life. I don't know, you could've settled down, raised a family and...,"
"...and have been without my soul mate?," the bard interrupted. "Xena, I made my choices and I don't regret a moment of our life together. I not only left my family, my home, everything I knew, to follow you: I came back after Ares got to you that first time and you hit me. We weren't even lovers yet, Xena, but still, I came back. I followed you to the lake where you swam to the underworld to retrieve Marcus, 'the man I love', as you put it, and I sat there and I waited for your return with unwavering faith: that is the very definition of unconditional love! I followed you to Chin, when you told me not to. I followed you north to the land of Odin and the Valkeries, when you tried to leave me behind! Time and time again, I have demonstrated my fidelity to you! You're not going to lose me because of your guilt. What part of 'we're in this relationship together' do you not understand?"
Xena drew in a deep breath. Tears welled in her eyes. "The part where you still get hurt because of me," she finally managed to choke out.
Gabrielle thought about this for a moment. It was an old argument, an old pattern in their relationship. This just had to change!
"We're in a new century now, Xena. People talk here. We need to talk. We're still running off an old model of our relationship. Throughout our life together, the specter of your past has been hanging over us. This has to end! It's damaging to us! I don't hold any of your past against you, Xena. You're experiences in life are what made you who you are, what brought you to me! And I love all of you: the dark and the light! Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not anxious to live with 'evil Xena', but I don't resent her! When you knew better, you did better. We learn as we go! Anything you think you did to me, I forgive. It's time for you to forgive yourself, Xena!"
Xena looked at her plaintively. "I wouldn't know where to begin, Gabrielle."
"Xena," she began slowly, gently, "I think I can help you with this." Xena's eyes were cast down. Gabrielle squeezed her hands and dipped her head to catch her gaze. She smiled sweetly at her. "Will you give me the chance? Will you promise to listen to me?"
The warrior could never resist her bard when she smiled at her so. "I promise, Gabrielle," she said softly, as she could not help but return the smile.
"Do you remember when we were in the desert and I accidently killed that sweet kid, the one who had washed my feet? Ooh, and I remember, you didn't appreciate it much that he was touching me, by the way."
Xena smiled, not at the memory of Korah's death, but at her own foolish jealousy. "Yes," she said.
"I felt so guilty, Xena. I felt like I deserved the death sentence that they imposed upon me for killing that innocent kid. I reflected upon the changes I had been through because of my life with you. I was doubting my choices and felt hopeless, not worthy of forgiveness. But you wouldn't accept it! You saved me. You told me that there was something in everyone's life that went beyond the 'Greater Good' and that in your life, that was me."
"That's still true, Gabrielle."
"But, I agonized over that, Xena. And my doubts and guilt almost got me killed, remember?"
"All to well. So what's your point?"
"The point is, I did get over it. I relinquished the guilt, because I knew, if I was questioning myself, my doubts could get YOU killed! It was no good for our relationship in the most final, irretrievable of ways. You had saved me in the first place, made it possible for me to be alive to even consider my options! You chose me over the 'Greater Good' and I had to respect your choice. Is it so strange that I would want to do the same for you? When I was talking to Cordelia over lunch yesterday, I was still doubting my soul. She took my hand and assured me that I had a soul. When I looked in her eyes, I believed her. Do you want to know how she did that?"
"Yeah, especially seeing as I thought I was the one who convinced you of that," Xena replied somewhat sadly.
"She said that she could see beauty and truth shining through me. That because she had a soul, she could recognize the one in me."
"And so... ?"
"That person I was, the one who killed Korah, the one who felt such horrible remorse, I recognize in you. And because I chose to get over it and move on and deal with my guilt, I know that you can, too. You have to get over the past and you can! I see it within you. I recognize it. But, there is one thing you have to do before that can happen."
"Respect my choices."
"You are not responsible for the choices that brought me to this point in my relationship with you! Xena, I chose to leave my home! I chose to follow you around! I chose to be your lover! I chose a life I knew would be dangerous... because I chose you! By now, you must know, I would have it no other way. You, yourself, said that I like excitement! You have to allow me the autonomy to make my own decisions and then respect those choices. And the biggest decision I ever made, was to be with you. You just said that I am 'the air that you breathe'. You must look into my eyes, like I did Cordelia's yesterday, and accept that this is true of me, too. You are the air that I breathe! There have been so many times, I'm sure, that I have hurt you, too. It doesn't make me run away because I never want it to happen again. It doesn't open room for doubt in my heart that we were ever meant to be together. We're soul mates. We know this. That means, that whatever responsibility we have in this relationship, we bear it together. Not on unequal terms: you responsible for me, but together, equally."
"So, what you mean is that you have a responsibility for me as well?"
"Um, as I said to Alti tonight... duh, Xena!"
"Just so I got this straight: you're saying that you bear a responsibility for me within this relationship and that I need to respect that you make your own choices and that I was one of those choices and that I, in no way, am responsible for your choices? Right?" Xena looked at Gabrielle with a perplexed, yet hopeful, expression upon her face.
"Well, um... yeah. That's a little convoluted, but basically... yeah! Listen, the whole point is that you might just as well give up any guilt you're harboring about me in this relationship. And, Xena, listen closely, and try to get this through that hard head of yours: if that means I die, I die. If that means we die together, we die together. If that means we live together, loving each other, from time to time... hurting each other: that's what it means! But, 'together', that's the important word here. We exist as equal partners, together.
Xena was shaking her head, trying to take all this in and process it. "I need to relinquish my guilt for the sake of our relationship. Just help me with this one thing, and I know this is stupid, Gabrielle, but... I'm not supposed to protect you anymore?"
"We're supposed to protect each other, Xena. We protect each other, but we also invite each other to grow, help each other with the changes. That's what being in love is all about!"
Xena once again gazed into her partner's eyes. "I'm going to try real hard, real hard," she stated again for emphasis, "to let go of my guilt, my hurt, my pain. You have always been the best thing in my life. I don't want to screw this up."
"You won't," Gabrielle smiled, "I can feel the change already. Plus, I'm here to help you. And no matter what you do, I'm not going anywhere. It's my choice to be in this relationship with you. It's what I want, what I need, what I live for. Do you feel the same way?"
"With all my heart, Gabrielle."
"Then, there's no way, when we work together, that we can fail!," she smiled brightly.
Xena stared at her in amazement for some moments. "There are just not enough words to tell you how much I love you," she finally said.
"And I love you," Gabrielle responded. A few minutes passed before either of them spoke. Finally, Gabrielle found her voice. "So, is your head hurting you?," she asked. "You took quite a nasty blow tonight."
"No, not really... I've taken worse hits than that. Besides, do you really think a whussy little 21st Century rock could hurt this hard head of mine?" They both laughed.
"No. I suppose not," Gabrielle smiled. "But this," her voice changed to one of concern as she gently placed her fingers on Xena's cheek, just below the cut there, "this has to hurt."
"Not now, not anymore," Xena answered sincerely.
They sat upon the bed, with one hand still clasped together and Gabrielle's other hand on Xena's cheek, just looking at each other.
"Your eyes are really blue tonight, Gabrielle."
"Aah, so I'm in the blue eyed mode, huh?," the bard replied sweetly.
Xena didn't respond. She was lost in her lover's gaze and the impossible sensuality of her lower lip. Gabrielle stroked her cheek lightly with her palm. They came together slowly: their lips brushing lightly, tentatively, against each other, as if it were their first kiss. As they drew closer, they could feel each other's longing. Gabrielle began to recline back on the bed as she drew Xena with her. The caress deepened as it became more warm, more wet, yet remained gentle.
"Oh, Xena, make love to me like you did that time on my birthday," Gabrielle managed to get out between nips on her lover's lips.
Xena pressed her mouth fully upon her bard's and felt Gabrielle's body rise beneath her. She made small circles with her lips and tongue along her partner's neck up to her ear. "Gabrielle, that was a present from Aphrodite. I'm not sure I can do it without her," she whispered.
"Xena," Gabrielle smiled, "I know you know a lot more about sex than I do, although you have managed to teach me a hell of a lot...," Xena smiled into her neck as Gabrielle giggled. "But, I think Aphrodite's gift may have been that you can do that every time, if you want to. And it was one of the last things I remember happening to us in that time, before we got cloned, I mean, that was wonderful. And we haven't even tried it here, yet!"
"Well," Xena kissed her lover's ear, "you knew the Goddess of Love a lot better than I did."
"Meaning, I'll give it a shot." Xena raised herself and lightly brushed Gabrielle's lips. "But, just so you know, the reason I haven't tried it here, is because I'm not sure that I can do it." She kissed her again. "I just don't want to dissappoint you, is all."
"Xena, you could never dissapoint me. You are the stuff of which my dreams are made!"
"Hmmm... well, you were talking about togetherness in a relationship before," she caressed her upper lip. "I guess we'll find out tonight," she gently rocked Gabrielle's lower lip between her own, "together."
"Oh, Xena, I am getting out of my clothes so fast!"
"No, no, no, Gabrielle," Xena smiled seductively. "I want you to go real slow tonight, o.k.? And let me help."
"O.k., Xena, whatever you say."
Xena bent down slowly as she kissed the bard's sweet mouth again. She ran her hand over the top of Gabrielle's white T-shirt. She disengaged from the kiss long enough to say, "You are not wearing anything under this shirt!"
"Yeah, um... I guess I left my bra in Fred's room after my bath. I was kind of dressing in a hurry." Gabrielle grinned and gazed into her lover's eyes. She pulled her back down into a kiss.
Xena continued to stroke her breasts over the T-shirt. She could feel her nipples harden beneath the light fabric. She caressed her bard's succulent mouth, taking her luscious lips into her own and feasting upon them. "Mmmm," she finally managed to say, "this is my T-shirt, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Gabrielle smiled as Xena began to kiss down her neck, "and the amazing thing was, it was clean!"
Xena unfastened the button fly of Gabrielle's jeans as she continued kissing her mouth and neck. She pulled the T-shirt out from it's tucked position and reached up underneath to fondle her bard's bare breasts. "Oh, Xena!," Gabrielle sighed as her warrior kissed behind her ear. Xena pinched and kneaded the firm nipples beneath her hand and sucked on her lover's earlobe. She kissed down her neck until she could feel the pulse of her heart beating through her skin. She sucked on this delightful spot with throbbing lips and wet tongue. She reclaimed her lover's mouth and delicious lips; her hands still groping the voluptuous breasts beneath the T-shirt. Finally, Xena unfastened the last two metal buttons of Gabrielle's jeans and slipped her hand down on top of her underwear. She hooked a finger up underneath the crotch of her soft underpants and could feel her juices.
Xena drew her finger back up and slid her hand underneath the panties, slowly past the soft patch of hair and plunged into the throbbing chasm of her lover's wetness and desire. She ran her fingers back and forth, across her engorged lips and then slowly inserted one finger up into her opening. "Xena!," Gabrielle swooned as she reached up underneath the warrior's black leather jacket and dug her nails into her back. The warrior pushed another finger into her. "Xena," the moaning became deeper. Gabrielle's back arched as she lifted off the bed. Xena kissed her forehead, the tip of her nose and then gently kissed the lashes of both closed eyes. She rose up and slowly pulled her young lover's jeans off, effortlessly discarding her boots along with them. Next, she began to remove the young woman's underpants. As she slid them off her hips, exposing her crotch, she paused. "Why, Gabrielle, you're a 'natural' blonde!," she smiled and feigned surprise.
"Very funny, Xena," the bard managed to smile back at her lover as her lids blinked open. Then Gabrielle's eyes turned a deeper shade as she reached up and began to fondle Xena's breasts under her shirt.
"Aah, the blue eyed mode, Gabrielle," Xena sighed.
"Uh huh," was the only response, as hands parted her leather jacket and pulled, not only her shirt up, but the black sports bra beneath it, revealing her succulent breasts to the hungry bard below. "Gimme'," Gabrielle demanded. Xena lowered one of her breasts into her lover's waiting mouth. Her partner immediately began to feast ravenously upon it.
Xena felt the wonderful sensation of her bard's amorous mouth on her: the agility of her tongue, the friction of her teeth, the wet power of her suction. The young woman pulled Xena's breasts together and sucked on both nipples at once. "God, I love it when you do this to me, Gabrielle," she breathed heavily.
Gabrielle stopped her affectionate attentions long enough for her hands to trail down her lover's arms and help remove her jacket. Then she pulled Xena's shirt over head and expertly separated her from her sports bra. She rolled over on top of her love, and as she did so, felt Xena lifting her own shirt up over her head, so that now, she was completely naked. She rested her voluptuous, nude body on top of the warrior and, momentarily, became lost in her impossibly blue eyes as she pressed her bare nipples against the ones that she desired so. She bent down and kissed the lips of the most beautiful face in the world. She squeezed her breasts in both hands and exhaled, "Never forget that you are mine!" She tweeked Xena's nipples. The warrior gasped audibly. "Never forget that these are mine!," Gabrielle continued before she kissed her way down to Xena's breasts. She clasped her mouth over one and fondled the other with her hand.
Xena felt the marvelous sensations, the ones that only this lover had ever given her, undulate through her body. Gabrielle could focus on her breasts all night long, it seemed. It must've been that bard thing. A writer must have great powers of concentration, Xena mused. But, oh, how she loved it! And she loved not only the physical sensations, but Gabrielle's need and desire for her. This was true love! This was true fidelity! "I, so much, have to get over my guilt," she thought, "before it destroys us!" Just then, she felt Gabrielle shift her attentions and trace one hand down her midsection. She released the fly of her khaki's and wasted no time, submerging her hand into Xena's aching, soaked center.
"Oh Goddess! Oh Gabrielle!," she cried out.
"So, how do you like it , Xena?," her love whispered in her ear as she inserted two fingers deep inside her.
Xena moaned. "I like it like that, Gabrielle." She paused and then sighed... "Beautiful."
"I know a way you like it even better," Gabrielle grinned as she made her way down the expanse of the warrior's body, pulling her khaki's down as she went. Xena kicked off her shoes. The bard eased her pants the rest of the way down her warrior's legs and then tossed them to the floor on top of her own discarded blue jeans. She stared at Xena's underwear. "Aah, 'Victoria's Secret'. Xena, I never knew!"
"It is not, Gabrielle! I got these underpants at JCPenney. You know that!"
"But mine WAS 'Victoria's Secret'. I'll bet you thought it was just plain old, soft shiny underwear, didn't you?"
"Well, kind of, yeah, Gabrielle," Xena smiled sheepishly.
Gabrielle smiled back the most beautiful of smiles. "That's one of the things I love best about you, Xena. You don't give in to pretense! You go your own way." She slowly slid her lover's underpants down her thighs. "So... you're a natural blonde, as well," she smirked.
"Very, very funny, Gabrielle! So, are you going to do what you do best, or not?!"
"Oh, yes, Xena. I definitely am," she sighed as she pressed her mouth against her lover's sex. Her tongue sought out Xena's most precious and intimate areas and licked and sucked eagerly. Her hands methodically kneaded the warrior's rounded buttocks beneath her. Then she slowly inserted one finger after another up into her center, until her entire hand slid inside her love, rhythmically swaying with her gyrations.
"Oh, Gabrielle!," Xena moaned. As much as Xena loved Gabrielle's fixation on her breasts, there was just nothing quite like this: the feel of her luscious mouth upon her most private parts with her hand penetrating deep inside her. And then, "Gabrielle, Gabrielle, Gabrielle!!!," she cried. She gave herself over to absolute pleasure as she circled her sex into the bard's mouth. Her partner licked at her juices hungrily as she could just make out the shape of Xena's breasts quivering as she climaxed. Finally, with one last shudder, Xena collapsed against her mouth as liquid spasmed forth from her center. "Oh, Gabrielle," she whispered and sighed heavily. "You've done it again!"
"Hmmm," Gabrielle said as she lifted her head and rested it upon the dark triangle of hair immediately above Xena's sex, "you seem to think this is unusual: a woman streaming juices from her center. I just don't get it."
"Oh, Gabrielle," Xena said as she reached down to pet the blonde head reclining on her crotch, "it is the most unusual of things. It rarely, if ever, happens. That you manage to do this to me so consistently, is... amazing!" She was still breathing heavily.
"See, you know so much more about sex than I do," Gabrielle whispered as she kissed Xena's soft, moist curls.
"Not really," Xena responded. "All my experiences before this, weren't like this. No one has ever taken me where you have!"
"So, what just happened is an unusual thing, you say. Do other women do that, Xena, or is it just you and me?"
"Oh, I know there are other women who experience that same thing. I have done it to other women! But, it is very unusual and it has only ever happened to me with you."
"Why do you think that is, Xena?," Gabrielle continued her questions as she spread herself on top of her lover, resting her head in the hollow of her neck.
"It's because I'm in love with you," Xena replied softly as she stroked Gabrielle's tousled hair, "and I love the feeling of you inside me. It's the most amazing thing to me. I just release completely when I'm with you."
"I sometimes wish I had more experience, so I knew all the things you know, so you didn't have to teach me everything."
"Well, I definitely didn't 'teach' you what you just did to me. That, um, just... happens!"
"Do you wish I had more experience, Xena? Do you ever wish that I was more worldly?"
"Well, actually, no I don't. I like it that I was your first. And I like you, just the way you are. Do YOU regret not having other lovers? I mean, you wouldn't have any problems finding partners, that's for sure. I can think of a few right here in this hotel tonight, who would have no problem spending the evening with you."
"No, Xena, that's not what I meant! I only meant that you've had so many other lovers, so many varied sexual experiences, that... um, that there must be things you miss about that! There must be things... ," she hesitated, "things we don't do, that you miss."
"Gabrielle, listen to me, we've done just about all there is to do. If there's more, I don't know what it is."
"So, I satisfy your needs in everyway then?"
"C'mere," Xena said gently as she lifted the smaller woman up to face her and then held her in a heartfelt embrace. "Gabrielle," she kissed her forehead, "you have always satisfied all my needs: from that very first time, right up until tonight. You're a tactile person to start with. You're always hugging people, for crying out loud! So, you're just physical by nature: you like to touch and be touched. And I, as you already know, find you extremely touchable!" She caressed the bard's forehead again and then lightly brushed her lips. "I have told you before that we are good partners. But, let me clarify for you: you're my best partner, ever. I'm in love with you. Your touch means more to me than anything in this world, except for your love and devotion. I wouldn't trade you for all my past lovers combined!"
"Really, Xena?," Gabrielle smiled brilliantly. "I know you've said this to me before, but considering our conversation tonight, is that what you really feel? I need you to be completely honest and open with me. Don't just say things to please me! I stand strong in the fidelity and committment area, but I, I... "
"You what, Gabrielle?"
"I um... well, the area where I'm not sure is sex. I just can't compete in that arena because all of my sexual experience is with you."
"Do you want to have sexual experiences with others, Gabrielle?"
Xena rolled her eyes and smiled. "O.k., then. Beleive me when I tell you that you are my all time best, greatest lover. I need to get over my feelings of guilt about you, you need to get over these absurd feelings of sexual inadequacy with me, o.k.?"
"O.k., then," Gabrielle smiled back. "Then give me my birthday present, like you did before!"
"Oh, jeez, Gabrielle!"
"You can do this, Xena. I know I'm right about this!"
"Yeah, o.k., yeah, I'll try... even though it's NOT you're birthday!" Xena smiled and kissed the shapely mouth above her. She withdrew her lips and paused for a moment and gazed, mesmerized by the love in the eyes which hovered over her. "Maybe, Gabrielle," she began slowly, thoughtfully, "the reason your eyes seem so blue to me, at moments like this, is because they are reflecting back my love for you." She gently lifted her hand and traced the shape of Gabrielle's face and then ran her fingers tenderly over each lid, gently brushing her eyelashes.
"Yeah, and there's no question about the color of your eyes, Xena," Gabrielle sighed as she kissed her lover on both cheeks and then closed her mouth over the warrior's lips.
Xena did not disengage from the kiss as she rolled Gabrielle over onto her back. She reached for her young lover's breasts and massaged them passionately. How perfect they were! How she loved them so! She began to kiss her way down to them, but Gabrielle stopped her, touching her face and drawing her eyes back up to her own.
"No. The birthday thing, remember?"
Xena rose up as she reached down and parted the bard's lower lips with her hand and pressed her own sex into the young woman so that her engorged core was making direct contact with Gabrielle's. The bard moaned at the feeling. "I don't know how long I can do this, or if it will even work, Gabrielle," Xena whispered. She began rocking back and forth, pressing her wetness into Gabrielle's. Her lover's breasts began to bounce up and down with the motion.
"Ohhh...," Gabrielle sighed as she could feel the apex of Xena's passion grow larger and harder as it pressed against her own. And it was the most amazing sensation, to be sure! But then, the source of her own pleasure grew along with Xena's and they began a carnal dance together, a pulsing symphony that could not be explained within the confines of mere mortality. This was the most erotic contact imaginable: to feel the pinnacle of each other's desire caressing the other's swollen essence. "Oh gods, Xena!," she cried.
"God, Gabrielle!" Xena placed both hands on the bard's shoulders and kept rocking until the overwhelming spasms began for the both of them. She pressed harder and writhed against her lover's throbbing apex more furiously, as they went over the edge: their sex still pulsating together. They both cried out in ecstacy. It was a low, gut wrenching moan, on Xena's part; a high pitched squeal, followed by a deep wail on Gabrielle's. Finally, they lay motionless, except for the occaissional aftershock as their most private parts still remained joined, without speaking, wrapped up in each others arms, for quite some time.
A slow golden light surrounded them and then settled into their hearts.
"Thank you, Aphrodite," Xena offered a private prayer in her head.
"Oh, thank you, Aphrodite," Gabrielle said right out loud.
"Shhh," Xena cautioned as she positioned herself alongside her partner. "Don't call on the old gods out loud!"
"Why not, Xena? Aphrodite was our friend and that was one of her gifts to us."
"I don't have a problem with Aphrodite, it's everything else that comes along with it!"
"You said 'Oh God, Oh Goddess', when you were excited tonight, Xena. Do you embrace the one God now?"
"Yes, I do."
"Why?," the bard whispered, as if the old gods could still hear her. "What happened?"
"Because tonight, after you stabbed the beast, I couldn't find you. I prayed to the one God. The one who created us, gave us our souls, and I found you, safe and unharmed."
"Hmmm," Gabrielle paused as she thought about this for a moment. Most of the old gods had been so jealous and petty and cruel. What she knew of the one God was a totally different image. The one God was about love and acceptance and forgiveness. "Xena," she finally asked, "do you think the one God is male or female?"
"Neither. I'm just glad she's here."
They both smiled.
"I knew you could it."
"Do what, Gabrielle?"
"What you just did to me."
"Oh, I didn't do that alone. You were helping out quite a bit. We did that together."
"Yeah, but you were on top. So you were doing most of it."
"O.k., so you can be on top next time."
"I don't really care who's where, Xena, just so there is a next time. I hope you won't still be scared to try that again."
"I've got to agree, it's a pretty phenomenal feeling: our most special, erotic parts touching, pulsating together furiously, throbbing with an exquisite motion of their own...," she drifted off momentarily. "Um, where was I?"
"You crack me up, Xena," Gabrielle smiled.
"As I was saying, it's not that easy to do. Just getting into position so that we CAN do it, is difficult! And I just don't want to try that and nothing happens. That would be very disappointing. Maybe we should save it for special occasions."
"I want to do that all the time, Xena."
"Now, why doesn't that surprise me, Gabrielle?," Xena smiled at her partner. "You're like a kid with a new toy. You want to play with it until you wear it out. Besides, I like all the things we do together. I like it all."
"I do, too, Xena! But I still want to do that all the time!"
"Hmmm," the warrior sighed and yawned, "I guess we could talk about it later; come to a compromise."
Gabrielle laid her head on her friend's chest and draped her arm around her. "Thanks, Xena."
They were quiet for a long period of time, reclining in each other's arms. "So, do you want to go to sleep now?," Xena asked.
"Oh yeah," Gabrielle yawned, "it's been a long night. And you know all those hurts I told you I didn't have? I'm starting to feel them."
"Well then, I guess this is as good a time as any for me to try out my 'new' ways." She smiled. "I am going to wrap you up in my arms, knowing full well that you CHOSE to get the crap kicked out of you tonight trying to save my soul, not feel guilty about it at all, respect your decision to get hurt... and protect you anyway. How does that sound?"
Gabrielle smiled. "That sounds perfect, Xena!" She was silent for a moment, then thought of the Greek gods and Satan and Alti and began again, "Um, just so we're straight, you'll protect me all night, right?"
Xena wrapped her up in her strong arms. "All night long, Gabrielle." She kissed her sweet head. "My love for you is endless."
The golden light filled
both their hearts and minds as they drifted off to sleep.
In the morning, Angel ventured downstairs to get some orange juice for Cordelia. She had slept through the night and he had decided it was time to wake her, if only for nourishment. God knows when she had eaten last! He was surprised to hear no noise coming from Gabrielle and Xena's room as he passed by. His acute, vampire hearing had picked up such unmistakeable moans of lust and squeals of ectstacy from their room the night before. Although, he wasn't sure it was just HIS super sensitive hearing that could pick up on it. They certainly didn't conceal their passion! It was possible that even the humans in the hotel had heard that last round of love making! And what was it that they were doing in there? In his time as a vampire, he had known many women who chose to be together, both human and the undead. But, he had never heard the kind of unmistakable... he didn't quite know how to put it, even to himself... satisfaction, he guessed, that these two achieved with each other. He had to admit to himself, he had a certain degree of jealousy. He so much desired a relationship like that! Ah, but what could he offer Cordy? She liked human fellows, normal guys. And even if she did like him, it could never be! Unless the Gypsy curse was lifted, or he became human again, it was useless. Yet, he felt jealous. Jealous of Xena and Gabrielle and the great love they had managed to build and maintain, jealous of thier relationship! Why was it so easy for them?
As he continued through the hallway and made his way down the stairs, he was surprised to find that no one was up yet. He walked over to the refrigerator and poured a glass of juice, buttered some toast and made his way back up to Cordy.
He dabbed a damp cloth across Cordelia's face. "Cordy?," he shook her gently as he called to her. "Cordy?"
"Angel?," she finally roused.
"It's me, Cordy. I brought you some juice and made some toast."
"Oh, thank you. I'm so hungry," she said hazily and then drained the glass. "Where am I? What happened?"
"You're at the hotel. What do you remember?"
She laid back down and searched her memory. "I remember skating with Gabrielle," she began slowly. "Then, I don't remember... the next thing I know, I'm lying naked on the dirt with you!"
She eyed him suspiciously. "Angel?," she said slowly. "You still have your soul, right? You're not Angelus right?" She shook her head lightly in an attempt to clear her thought processes. "No, no, of course not. Angelus would never bring me orange juice! But, but...," she eyed him once again, "I'm in your bed. I was naked, I remember that. We didn't, uh...,"
Angel's virtuous soul all at once caught her drift. "Oh no, no Cordy!," he reassured her. "Nothing happened between us!"
"O.k., good," she relaxed back into the pillows. Angel felt his heart sink somewhat at her great relief.
"Then, what happened, Angel?," she asked wearily with her eyes still closed. "And OW! What happened to my sides?," she suddenly became fully conscious. "How did I get hurt like this?!," she said as she pulled back the shirt to examine her bandages. "And where's my underwear? Angel!," she looked at him, suddenly embarrassed, as she quickly pulled the covers back up over herself.
"It's a long story, Cordy."
"Well give me the 'Cliff's Notes' version, o.k.?," she responded.
Cordy rolled her eyes. "The short version, Angel, I'm exhausted."
"The one 'close to the heart of the hero' was you, not Gabrielle. You were grabbed off the street and almost sacrificed to the devil, instead of her," he explained.
"Ooh, and I have this bump on the back of my head."
"Yeah, that's a nasty one," Angel said as he felt the knot on her head.
"Ouch! And it still hurts, o.k.?," Cordelia complained. "It's so strange," she pondered, "I don't remember any of it!"
"That's a good thing, Cordy!," Angel offered.
"But if they took the one who was 'close to the heart of the hero', Angel," she grinned, "that makes you 'the hero'! See, Angel," she nodded her head and smiled brightly, "I knew you were a hero, a champion!"
"Well, thanks, Cordy," Angel demurred. "I um...,"
"But then, I was taken as the one closest to your heart?!," Cordelia interrupted. "What does that mean, Angel?," she mused.
"Well, I um...," he began again, "I love...,"
"Oh, it doesn't matter, anyway," Cordelia continued as if she hadn't heard him. "As I've always said, Satanists are so stupid! They just grabbed the wrong girl!"
"Yeah, that was it,"
he sighed. "They grabbed the wrong girl."
It was almost noon before the guests who had slept over in the hotel that night began to rise. As they made their way downstairs, they were delightfully surprised to find that Polly, Lea and Mac had provided brunch for them.
"You know, I really misjudged you guys," Xena said. "You're all right!"
The three almost wet themselves with pleasure at her words. "Oh, Xena, Gabrielle!," Lea said excitedly, "I knew you'd turn out to be true heroes!"
"Yeah, me too," Polly agreed in her usual expressive manner.
"Well, believe it or not," Xena smiled, "I'm glad we didn't let you down!" She threw her arms around them and squeezed them close to her.
"Wow, Xena's in a good mood this morning," Gabrielle thought. "This is my chance!"
"There's somebody else I think you misjudged here," she said as she inclined her head towards Jinn. Xena rolled her eyes.
"All right then," she smirked at her partner. She looked towards the martial arts master. "Jinn," she began, "I'm sorry. I misjudged you. You almost died last night trying to help us and, well, I'm sorry for how I've treated you and all the harsh words I've said to you." She extended her hand to shake.
Jinn glared at it suspiciously. "I did die last night, Xena," she finally said. "And you are only here today because of a promise I made to Gabrielle not to kill you. I don't think you totally misjudged me! Do you still want to shake my hand?"
Xena hesitated for a moment. Gabrielle fretted at her side. "Yeah," she finally said. "You should've killed me last night. Would've saved a whole lot of trouble! But you kept your promise to Gabrielle. That's something that the woman I thought you were, never would've done. So, yeah, I want to shake your hand!"
They shook hands and Gabrielle breathed a huge sigh of relief. Just then, Cordelia came down the stairs, dressed in Angel's clothes and leaning on his arm.
"Cordy!," Gabrielle cried. She ran up to her and embraced her.
"Gabby!," Cordelia smiled as she hugged her back.
"I am so sorry about what happened to you," Gabrielle blurted out. "That should've been me! I'm so sorry, Cordy!"
"Oh, don't trip," Cordy smiled the most endearing smile any of them had ever seen. "It's like I told you: anyone who would worship the devil is SO dumb! They just yanked the wrong girl! Fortunately, I don't remember a thing, except for Angel holding me naked." The vampire blushed again. "So, all's well that ends well, right?"
"I'm just so happy you weren't harmed!," Gabrielle continued. "I would've never forgiven myself if anything bad happened to you. I can't explain it, but I feel so close to you."
"You know what, Gabby? I love you, too. I do!"
"That means I get more skating lessons later, right?," Gabrielle asked.
"Oh," Cordelia smiled, "skating lessons, surfing lessons... actually, I'm best at skiing! So, you name it! But before then, I don't know why, but I'm feeling the urge for a Martimmy!"
"A what?," several voices chimed.
"Oh, my God, a Martimmy!," she replied incredulously. "You know, from Passions? Doesn't anyone watch soap operas around here? I'm surrounded by heathens!"
"Antwan, Gabrielle, I have to ask," Jinn ventured.
"Just my vendor at Venice Beach, is all that I know, Jinn," Gabrielle replied.
"He brought me back from death! Who is he?," she asked again.
"I don't know."
"That is a good question, Gabrielle," Wes interjected. "Who, or what, was he?"
"If I knew, I would tell you! But, he made magic for me and Xena last night!," Gabrielle responded.
"I'll say," Angel murmured under his breath.
Xena, who also had acute hearing, nudged him gently and smiled. "Oh no, Angel," she whispered, "that's something we do anyway!" She smiled a crooked smile at him and winked.
"Seriously, y'all don't know who he was, Gabrielle?," Gunn questioned.
"No, Gunn, seriously!"
"Wow! Because, that was SO awesome!," Sunny said. "Jinn is my best friend. And he brought her back from death!"
"We could investigate for you!," Lea offered.
"Yeah, well, I guess, any little bit would help," Gabrielle replied.
"I'm on it," Mac said flatly.
"I have the feeling that we'll run into him again," Angel stated. "And, by the way, you did go 'all evil' last night, Xena. Are you going to tell me that you didn't feel that in your soul?"
"Yeah, that's exactly what I'm going to tell you, Angel. I didn't feel it. I examined my soul. And, hey, guess what? I left Satan one little loophole! It was just like Lorne said: I had to 'give myself over completely to Gabrielle'. All this time I have been worried about my responsibility for her, without notice of her responsibility for me! Love means equal partnership! Because I thought of myself, and my need for forgiveness, I questioned my own worthiness of her love. I allowed room for doubt in my heart. That's what Lucifer took advantage of. It's a mistake I will never make again!"
"Hmm, easier said than done, I think," Angel smiled ironically. "Are you sure that's not just wishful thinking?"
"Um," Xena raised one eyebrow, "it just takes a piece of wood to destroy you, right?"
"It's going to take a STRONG piece of wood, anyway you look at it," he smiled.
"Then why not try to stay on the same side? Is that agreeable?," Xena offered.
"Yeah, just so long as you remember whose side you're on: I could use you. You're a great fighter! Just don't go all evil on me again. Because, if you do...," he shook his head.
"And, if you go all evil on me, Angel, like I said, a piece of wood... and I won't even need a STRONG one!"
"Um...," it was Cordelia, "it's not like I care about what you two are talking about, or anything, but I think I've got this Martimmy recipe right this time and I would really like to break up the dull air in here, gotta' problem?"
Angel and Xena looked at each other.
"No problem," they both smiled.
"Good, 'cause we're having a drink! Martimmy time!," she beamed as Gabrielle emerged from the kitchen with a tray full of Martimmy's!
"Oh my God, Martimmy's! I have come at the exact right moment!" It was Lorne, making his usual grand entrance into the hotel.
"Finally," Cordelia smiled, "someone who appreciates my culinary talents!"
"Hey, that guy's green!," Mac elbowed Polly. "What's up with that?"
"Just go with the flow!," Lea smiled at them between gritted teeth.
"Oh, I just had to come! After Xena sang at my club the other night, well, call me a sentimental fool on a sentimental journey, but I just had to know that she was all right! Ah, my sweet sapphic songbird!," he said as he touched the warrior's shoulder affectionately, "I am so glad you're o.k.!"
Xena rolled her eyes over to Angel in a questioning way. Angel shrugged back at her.
"Oh and," Lorne whispered in her ear, "I'm so glad that you and Gabrielle have come to a new understanding of you're relationship."
Xena's mouth dropped.
"Always glad to help!," he announced blithely as he walked away. "Now, I believe someone was talking about Martimmy's when I walked in!"
"You know, Cordy," Angel protested, "you have an awfully big lump on the back of your head. I'm not sure it's a good idea for you to drink." He looked over at Xena, whose mouth was still agape, and inclined his head towards Cordelia and Gabrielle, narrowing his eyes slightly.
"Oh, and um, yeah," Xena took his lead, snapping out of her stupor, "we all know you can't hold your liquor, Gabrielle," she teased.
Cordy rolled her eyes. "Um, mom?, dad?... chill! Football players get concussions all the time and come back into the game three plays later. I know, I was a cheerleader, remember? One little drink isn't going to kill me. And Gabby's going to be just fine."
"A toast!," Gabrielle held her glass up high, "to a new partnership between me and Xena and our new friends!"
Everyone took a glass and raised it and smiled!
"And to our new adventures
together!," Fred added.
"Damn, you just couldn't resist that 'new partnership' crap, could you, Gabrielle?"
"Don't even go there, Xena."
Xena and Gabrielle reclined on a blanket and sunbathed on their deck. It had turned out to be a delightfully warm September afternoon. They loved relaxing in the sun in each other's company.
"I still can't believe you actually shook hands with Jinn," Gabrielle yawned.
"Yeah, well... 'The quality of mercy is not strain'd. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.' ...or receives. I can never quite remember that part."
Gabrielle rolled onto her side and gazed at her partner, astonished. "Xena, that was beautiful! Did you make that up?"
"Nah, some guy named Shakespeare wrote it centuries ago. He's apparently one of the great bards of the English language. You should check him out."
"And just when and where did YOU check him out?," Gabrielle questioned in amazement.
"Um, it may surprise you to know that I have a library card. If I can't find something among old Alti's books or on the internet, I go to the library," Xena informed her. "Oh, I've read lots of things, Gabrielle. There are so many things that have happened since we've been gone: great plays and poems and stories have been written! And history is so horrible and humorous all at once. Although, I don't know how much of it to believe, seeing as I KNOW what Ancient Greece was like and then reading what scholars THINK it was like: they've got a lot of it all screwed up!"
"Xena," Gabrielle shook her head in wonderment, "you never cease to amaze me!"
"Yeah, well the 'many skills' thing takes work, you know, Gabrielle?"
"But when have you been doing all this research? I never noticed," she asked.
"What do you think I do around here while you're locked up in the den writing, or off taking martial arts classes, or experimenting in the kitchen, or gardening... drill all day?"
"I guess I never thought that much about it. I presumed that the only things you cared about here were me and that Harley."
"No. Those are the two things that I love here. But I care about a lot of things."
"Oh Xena, that makes me so happy! I was so worried you were bored here."
"Don't get me wrong, Gabrielle. I still think this century kind of sucks. But I've got to admit, it's starting to grow on me some." She smiled brilliantly at her bard.
They both lay languidly in the sun, without speaking, for some time.
"Does it ever bother you that we live here in Alti's house? I mean, she probably got everything she had here through evil means."
"Nope. The bitch cloned us. She owes us. Besides, we're doing good now. Serves her right if we use all her ill gotten gains for good. So no, it doesn't bother me, especially since we got rid of all her creepy-ass furniture."
"O.k.," Gabrielle giggled. "But, you're not supposed to say 'bitch', you know?"
"Are you kidding me? The word was invented to describe Alti."
They both laughed and then, once again, lay in idle silence.
"So, Gabrielle," Xena finally ventured lazily, "do you really resent all my past lovers? My 'laundry list' of lovers as you put it?"
"Xena, Xena, Xena, you never forget a thing, do you?"
"Well, no, not much. I sometimes wish I could forget more."
"Oh hey, Xena, I'm sorry. How insensitive of me. But we're going to work on that, together, right?"
"Yep. That's the plan. I know, I won't ever forget, but at least I can forgive myself: for your sake, for our sake. Wow, relationships, they're a lot of work, huh? You're not going to, um," she hesitated, "I mean, you're still completely...,"
"Dedicated to you, to us?," Gabrielle interrupted. "In love with you? Always! Remember, don't ever question that! Jealous of your ex's? Well, sometimes. You want to run down the list again?"
"Oh, you know it!," Xena smiled.
It was a game they played. All of Xena's real lovers juxtaposed against the list Xena had in her head of Gabrielle's potential lovers: the people the bard could have been with, if not for her.
"Borias," Gabrielle began.
"I didn't even know what love was back then."
"I was just learning about love. She was more like a teacher. Not an equal partner."
"A momentary lapse in judgment. But a good guy."
"A fore runner for the really special love that was just around the corner."
"Oh c'mon, Ares?! Give it a rest."
"O.k., o.k., um... let me think, I know I'm leaving some people out. Oh! I've got it: Caesar!"
"Now I'm getting mad!"
"All right, but I know I'm leaving out most of your girlfriends!"
"As well you might. Let's talk about you for a second. You may not have a 'laundry list' of lovers, but you KNOW you were a hellacious flirt!"
"I was not!"
"Oh yeah, what about Talus? And then there was, of all things, my former fiancé."
"Hey! I did not flirt with him! He flirted with me!"
"Yeah, well what about Homer?"
"Just a colleague."
"Ephiny, she was an Amazon, after all. You two got really close for awhile there. And I know how you used to dig those Amazons!"
"Uh, excuse me, but the entire Amazon Nation was terrified of you. It's not like any of them would try to steal your girlfriend or anything."
"Najara. That time you left me half dead on the floor. You had all that time alone with her. I mean, she wasn't bad looking or anything. Do you swear nothing happened?"
"Ooh, tough subject. I think you got me there, Xena!"
"I KNEW it! I knew there was more to that than you told me!"
"Now I'M getting mad!"
"Brunnhilda! That girl was head over heels for you!"
"Would've, if I wanted to. Could've for sure. But, as always, faithful to you, Xena, o.k.?"
"Virgil! That time Lucifer tried to change our hearts! I know you had all that time to, well, um... you know!"
"You mean while you were, well, um... you know, with Lucifer?"
"Get off it, Gabrielle! You know I was being used as a pawn by the other angels!"
"Uh huh, whatever you say, Xena. But, just for your own satisfaction, I never 'did it' with Virgil. All you had to do was raise a hand and wave it, seductively, at me. I was under your spell. Virgil didn't stand a chance! Move on!"
"Yeah, o.k., all right, let me think," Xena mused for a space. Finally she popped up with, "Iaolus! You used to really flirt with Iaolus, too."
"Well, I had to do something while you were off with Hercules, didn't I? But it's not like I would go after your left-overs! Besides, he was way older than me, anyway. So that didn't count. Didn't you ever notice I went for the young ones?"
"And that brings me to that weird little guy you almost lost your virginity to when we were battling the Titans."
"Hey, I lost my virginity to you and THAT'S something you'd better not forget!"
Although it was near impossible to make the warrior blush, Xena felt her cheeks turning warm (and she was sure, crimson) at the memory. Oh no, that night she would never forget.
"I lost my virginity to you, too."
"Oh... right, Xena."
"No, really, Gabrielle. I had never really made love before, until I was with you. I didn't know what it meant, until I was with you."
Now it was Gabrielle's turn to blush. Her eyes became misty.
"That's one of the sweetest things you've ever said to me, Xena! That was so beautiful. Thank you!" Gabrielle squeezed her partner in a heartfelt hug.
"Now, don't go getting all mushy on me, Gabrielle," Xena sputtered. But she made no attempt to disengage from the embrace. She held up her wrist and eyed the bracelet that had saved her soul the previous evening. "Now, I have back what once was lost to me!"
"The bracelet, Gabrielle! What a beautiful and thoughtful gift. It saved me. It took me back to that first time we made love and the first time I felt loved by anyone, in that way, I mean. You have saved me so many times!"
"Now who's getting all mushy?!," Gabrielle smiled into Xena's chest.
"Oh, I don't have the words, like you do. I just love you, is all."
"I never get tired of being reminded about how much you love me," Gabrielle said. Xena kissed the bard's head.
"Never doubt that, my love. Never doubt that," she said as she continued to eye the bracelet in amazement.
"Say the poem."
Gabrielle play hit Xena on her arm.
"Ow!," Xena protested in mock dismay. "Harpy!"
"Say the poem that Sappho wrote for us!"
"Oh, that poem! Hmmm, let me see if I can remember it."
Xena scratched her head and then smiled serenely down at Gabrielle.
"There's a moment when
I look at you and no speech is left in me.
My tongue breaks, thin fire races under my skin and I tremble and grow
pale. As I am dying of such love, or so it seems to me."
She kissed Gabrielle again and then smiled. "You mean that one?"
Gabrielle did not respond. She curled herself up even closer to Xena and held her tight.
"The way we are right here, right now... I wish we could stay like this forever."
"Yeah, me too, Gabrielle,