Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle and Xena's trusty horse Argo are the sole property of MCA/Universal. No profits gained, no infringement, no offense is intended. I had a little time on my hands during the LONG and may I add, torturous re-run weeks. Hey, it was better than booking myself into the local Casa de los Wackos!
A Teensy-weensy warning: This story, although not terribly graphic, contains scenes of an intimate and questionable nature between cool persons of the same sex. If this is illegal in your state or you are under 18, run screaming for the hills!
This is my first try at fanfic and like any unpolished creator I'd love to know what you think. Send feedback to: AHladis@aol.com
All you impudent folk out there who waste time sending prank e-mails will be sent straight to Tartarus! I have good connections in low places.
Part 5: The grand tour
B.L lingered a lot longer in Jenny's room than she originally planned. Watching her patient fall asleep wasn't as bad as she thought. No one ever requested her to stay with them before. Jenny did. B.L knew her personality was on the cold side. Jenny clearly cared less.
Edna glided in a short time later to check on her daughter. Discovering the nurse sitting next to Jenny's bed surprised her.
"Well! Hello there."
"Mrs. Brooks," Nurse Goldsmith said nodding acknowledgment.
"I had hoped she'd be awake for a while. How long has Jenny been asleep?"
B.L looked at her watch.
"Nearly an hour."
"You must've stayed till she dozed off."
"That was awfully nice of you Miss Goldsmith," Edna stopped talking for a few moments seeing the uncomfortable attitude B.L showed at hearing her thanks, "I know Jenny can be a handful. Don't pay any attention to her unsubtle remarks. The joking keeps up her spirits. She hasn't offended you, has she?"
B.L's thoughts floated to Jenny's slim fingers running over her face. That hadn't really bothered her. It simply shocked her a bit, that's all. She couldn't remember the last time anyone tried touching her so casually.
"I'm glad to hear it. Wouldn't you like to take a break? I could make some tea and bring it up."
Nurse Goldsmith found it difficult adjusting to the over friendliness of Jenny and her mother. For the two days prior to Jenny's declining state, Mrs. Brooks bent over backwards to make B.L's stay a homey one. Edna's easygoing chitchat almost made her feel like a member of the family. Definitely a foreign sensation.
"That's not necessary, I can make---"
"It's no trouble at all. I'll be back in a jiffy."
Edna dashed out of the room before the nurse could decline the offer. B.L refocused her attention on Jenny. She slept soundly, her chest rising and falling without a hint of distress.
'Just a matter of time, ' she thought pensively.
Nurses have had to deal with death for ages. It was just another piece of her vocation puzzle. There is no room for sentimentality.
'No. That is a waste of time. '
Another case always followed. No emotional ties. It was better this way.
Edna stood quietly holding a tray at the open door observing B.L's demeanor. She sat motionless, staring down at Jenny, concern invading every inch of her face. Edna could hardly believe her eyes. This woman, this icy fragment of finely chiseled marble, actually displayed a compassionate side. It seemed a shame to break up the moment.
Mrs. Brooks smiled and backed out slowly; waiting outside to give B.L the privacy she needed.
Jenny didn't know how long she lay there staring up at the irregular cave ceiling. She must've counted the hundreds of craggy bumps for hours. As hard as she tried Jenny just couldn't make herself sleep.
'A bit over stimulated, no doubt!' she voiced under her breath.
She kicked off her blanket opting instead for the outdoors then this torture. Through thick greened woodland daylight appeared, slowly brightening with each passing minute. Jenny walked a little way from her cheerless shelter and all it contained, to where the short clearing immediately ended. Whichever direction she looked, there was nothing but trees, trees and more trees.
Xena would be awake soon. Then they'd be Hecate bound. Terrific.
'Hecate's sacred grove might as well be on the other side of the moon,' Jenny thought to herself, 'and I'm stuck wandering about with Miss Congeniality.'
She wondered how long her stay in this zoned-out place would last this time. Strange that she didn't feel in the least bit tired. Jenny felt great physically. Emotionally? One big jumble.
Sunshine started peeking through the trees with a little more intensity. A few birds here and there warbled their daytime tunes. The air was heavy with the moist odor of saturated freshness....
"We'll be on our way----"
"AAAAAAAHHH!!!" Jenny almost jumped 10 feet in the air.
"What is the matter with you?" Xena said unruffled, fastening on her complicated gear.
"MY GOD!" Jenny held a hand to her heart breathing hard, "Don't sneak up on me like that!"
"Pack up the blankets, I'll do the rest."
Xena went back inside the cave to collect their things. Jenny followed her in.
"And a good, good morning to you too Xena dear."
Xena totally ignored Jenny's sarcastic jab. As a matter of fact, she said very little while she loaded up Argo. Xena was on an important mission. Nothing else mattered.
Edna heard B.L rise from her chair and move across the room. She could walk in now that the quietly intense episode was over.
"Here we are. I don't know how you take your tea, so I brought all the fixings,"
Edna announced cheerfully, setting her tray down on a small folding table.
B.L poured herself some tea, while Edna went over to Jenny. She brushed a hand gently across her cheek. Her skin was cool, ashen in color. Jenny's eye sockets were deeply sunken in. Dark shadows ringed around them.
Her daughter looked awful. As bad as anyone terminal could. Mrs. Brooks didn't give a damn. This was her baby, her dear little girl. As long as Jenny breathed she was still her child, and even after that as well.
Edna turned to find B.L studying her from over a teacup. Nurse Goldsmith quickly looked away.
"You like my Jenny, don't you?" Edna said smiling, with a hint of sadness there.
B.L picked up the large teapot and poured herself another cup without answering. She then poured a cup for Edna.
"Milk?" B.L asked holding up the cow shaped creamer.
Jenny folded the blankets as small as she could get them. She then proceeded to tie the bundle to the horse's saddlebag; just the way Xena showed her. Nothing else to do than to wait for Xena to return from fetching more water.
Jenny pushed at the warm campfire ashes with a long twig. A few moments from the night before flashed across her eyes. Xena gripping onto her during the storm, Jenny making her laugh. Xena almost seemed...likable (?).
"As brief as that was," she said aloud, tossing the twig over her shoulder. It landed at Xena's feet.
"We have to make our way to the sea. Ready?" Xena inquired grimly, taking Argo's reins.
"As I'll ever be. Lead the way, General Sherman!"
Xena scowled for a second then decided not to ask what foolishness Jenny was talking about.
They made their way southwest through that dreadful maze of serpentine shrubs and exposed tree roots. It seemed even more tedious to Jenny than the last time, especially since her traveling companion acted rather distant most of the way.
"Hey Xena, how much longer do I have to take this?"
"We are headed in a different direction. Naturally this forest would appear lengthy."
"I'm not talking about our wee stroll through Jurassic Park. I'm talking about you being so damn quiet. It's driving me nuts."
Xena stopped walking and turned to face the thorn in her side.
"At last! I am the one tormenting you. The Gods must like me today!" Xena threw up her hands in frustration then steadied her sudden little eruption, "When I need to talk, I will. I must stay focused on the problems we may or may not encounter during this journey."
"Why keep the fun stuff to yourself? Maybe I'd like to know what we're in for."
"If I tell you, you might change you're mind about going," Xena kneeled down briefly to check on one of Argo's back legs.
"Honestly Xena, do I look like the 'squeamish' type? I told you and your friend inside me that I'm into this thing for the long haul."
Xena stood and walked up to Jenny.
"It is quite possible that neither one of us will make it to Hecate's shrine alive," her beautiful eyes that matched the sky were deadly serious.
"Bummer. Those are some pretty crummy odds," Xena started turning away when Jenny took her hand, "--but, I'd be facing worse things in my hometown than all of Caesar's troops put together."
Jenny placed her other hand over Xena's and smiled. Xena stared down at her enclosed hand, then into Jenny's eyes.
"There is a point of no return. Before we reach it, I will warn you."
"I think I already passed that when we met."
Xena removed her hand from Jenny's friendly grasp. She picked up Argo's reins and headed once again into the emerald obstacle course. Jenny followed close behind trying to keep her footing in the ever-increasing challenge of the underbrush.
"Yes please, just a drop," Edna said smiling.
She was used to B.L not wanting to answer personal questions, though it didn't stop Edna from asking them. B.L handed out the hot cup of tea then glanced at her watch.
To Mrs. Brooks, Nurse Goldsmith seemed a peculiarity, like something you'd find at an old-fashioned sideshow. She didn't smile, and, on the whole, she wasn't very sociable. The woman walked the earth as a lovely empty shell. Edna really felt sorry for her.
'The poor dear must be half starved for affection, " she hypothesized quietly.
Edna didn't believe in shilly-shallying around when it came to expressing one's emotions and perhaps expected too much from those that couldn't. She thought that simple kindness would win over the coldest of hearts.
B.L saw to Jenny's i-v and was now resting with her tea in the other chair that stood at a more discreet distance.
"How does she look to you?"
Edna knew the answer; she wanted to hear it from the nurse.
"Mrs. Brooks, I am not a Doctor," B.L said impatiently.
"Yes, I feel the same way," Edna didn't acknowledge the tone, only what lay underneath, "I don't kid myself my dear, I know Jenny's condition is bad. It's just that I feel so damn useless."
"All you can do for her now is love her" B.L answered silently to herself. She took a long sip from her cup and sat staring in Jenny's direction.
Mrs. Brooks returned to her daughter's side. She sat by her bed watching Jenny's smoothly serene breaths. There suddenly appeared a thin smile turning up the corners of her mouth.
"At least her dreams are pleasant," Edna said quietly.
Jenny lagged behind a bit. Being completely exhausted she could barely keep up with the seemingly never tired Xena. Stupidly she raised her wrist to eye level out of habit to read the time. Clearly, digital watches hadn't been invented yet. It gave her faltering feet a good reason to skid out from under her. She flopped forward rapping her head hard on the ground. Like the day before, Jenny laid sprawled out and motionless.
Xena heard the upset and quickly came to her aide.
"Are you all right?" she said stooping down next to her.
Xena turned Jenny over carefully. This time there was no smart comeback to irritate the grim warrior. Jenny was out cold; a small cut trickled blood just above her eyebrow. Xena ran to get a water skin and immediately began bathing the injury. She sat uneasily dabbing the young girl's head that rested in her lap.
'Ridiculous child' she thought to herself, 'Why were you chosen to help me?'
Xena patted her cheek gently, trying to wake her.
Jenny's eyes fluttered open adjusting their blurry view on the beautiful woman hovering above her. Then she winced in pain.
"Damn!" she said rubbing her head.
"Just what were you doing?" Xena asked rather bluntly.
"Oh nothing really," Jenny, attempted to rise, "I suddenly decided to launch into my tap dance routine. Obviously, I messed up on the 'buck and wing'."
Xena had a mystified look on her face.
"Trying to interpret your speech pattern is like wading through neck deep quick- sand."
Jenny's unexpected airy laughter irked her crony.
"Now that we've thoroughly amused each other, I would like to continue on," Xena said angrily, "You'll have to go the rest of the way on horseback."
"Ya see? I knew you liked me a little," Jenny said, still laughing. Xena fumed inside, but said nothing.
Jenny didn't quibble about riding. She let Xena help her into the saddle and off they went once again. What a wonderful view! Jenny only rode for a short time, tucked behind Xena. Up front was the best place by far. Well...she did have to duck every once in awhile. No matter, it was better than walking through twisted shrubbery.
Xena hopped over each barrier in her way with graceful ease. How Jenny admired this stolid being. There wasn't any hardship she wouldn't face for her friend, Gabrielle. Speaking of which, Jenny hadn't heard or felt Gabrielle's presence since her last blackout.
'Gabrielle must be lodged deep inside my subconscious. I hope she isn't poking her poetic nose into my private folders."
An almost imperceptible reply piped up inside her thoughts:
'No Jenny dear, I would never do that."
Just as instantly, it vanished.
"We're nearly out of the forest. See up ahead? The trees are thinning out."
Xena's relieved excitement mirrored her own. They seemed to have wandered aimlessly for hours. Her warrior comrade, evidently, knew where she was going.
"Thank God! I've never hated anything as much as this death trap."
Xena helped Jenny down making sure she was hidden away from sight before leaving.
"I'm going to survey the area up there. Stay here quietly till I come back."
"Xena?" Jenny called softly.
"Be careful. Okay?"
Xena nodded, then advanced slowly through dense wood. Upon reaching the narrow opening, she immediately heard voices in the distance raised in argument. Dropping down, she crawled closer to the racket. Louder grew the men's shouts as Xena crept across the ground. Cautiously, she raised her head...
In the meantime, Jenny stretched back and closed her eyes for a moment. Sleep soon washed over her.
Part 6: Somewhat Indisposed
"Mom?" She waited in silence, "Please, can anyone hear me?"
Jenny woke up in the middle of the night, weak and terrified to be thrown into darkness again. She slipped off her bed accidentally knocking over the i-v stand sending it crashing to the floor.
"Don't move, let me help you!" B.L shouted in alarm.
Nurse Goldsmith had rushed to Jenny's room flipping on the strong overhead light. She found Jenny in a highly agitated state standing weakly with the i-v tubing stretched as far as it could go. Carefully, B.L lifted the fallen stand and then helped Jenny back into bed. She checked to see if the needle pulled out during the incident. No, everything looked fine.
"Panicking is hardly a solution," B.L said calmly sliding Jenny's blankets under her. She glanced down at her patient not really expecting a reply.
"Any snappy suggestions?" Jenny's eyes blankly strayed in the direction of B.L's voice; there was definitely a touchy tone to her question.
"You've got to save your strength. Wasting it with impulsive outbursts retards the recovery process. I presume you wish to recover?"
"Oh please! Who're you kidding? Spare me the standard litany Binnie Lynne, I'm not in the mood," She paused feeling a little sicker than usual, then sent another dart at B.L, "But if it makes you sleep better at night, more power to you."
She was a little taken aback by Jenny's flare-up.
"My welfare isn't at issue here."
Jenny heard the irritation in B.L's voice.
"Listen...I'm sorry. I know you're only trying to do your job. Let's talk about something else, what do you say?"
B.L exhaled through her nose.
"I'll take that as a 'yes'. Bring over a chair," Jenny's temples throbbed.
The nurse pulled one up close to Jenny's bed, semi-ready to return the Ping-Pong balls that were sure to be served at her head. Jenny's hand fell easily upon B.L's arm.
"Do you believe in the significance of dreams B.L? Or are you a die-hard scientific kind of a gal?"
"Some people attach a certain amount of weight to them. I don't subscribe to that school of thought. Dreams are merely the subconscious mind taking over the body during a state of repose."
"Are you always so clinical in everything, or is this an act?"
"I am simply being realistic. Dreams do not control one's life."
"You'd think otherwise if you could see where I've been these last few days. My dreams lately are as real as.... well...as real as we are right now."
"Have they unsettled you, these images?"
"Yes and no. It's one of those things you hear a lot of lately. I've been having serial dreams."
"Are they nightmares?"
"Not exactly. Whenever I re-enter that world I'm on an unbelievable journey with a fascinating individual. Most of the time it's anxiety provoking on many fronts. The situation is just too complicated to explain in any detail. Don't your dreams ever make you feel a bit troubled?"
"I've usually forgotten them when I wake," B.L hesitated for a moment, "Whether I remember or not, dreams do not influence my life, they don't affect me in the least." B.L answered flatly.
"You must be a real cut-up at parties. Sheesh!"
B.L answered with another sigh.
"I'd bet anything that you operate on little or no merriment in your life," Jenny waited then continued, "It must be a real challenge being saddled with that light-hearted name of yours. Why not ease up a little on the murk? One might enjoy your company more."
Jenny's hand still rested lightly on her arm. She hadn't removed it and B.L didn't pull away.
"It plainly amuses you to probe and make sport of me. I suppose I court that response because of the way I am. I'm not good at the art of clever conversation, yet you insist on engaging me in it. Do you do this because I'm at a disadvantage?"
"I've annoyed you again."
Jenny surmised correctly, once more, she made a pest of herself. B.L glanced fleetingly at the small hand lightly grasping her arm. It had lain there so gently; she accepted the naturalness of the gesture permissible.
Jenny reassuringly patted her.
"You've been a real sport putting up with my nonsense," Jenny searched around for B.L's hand, "And here I am, forgetting how sweet you were to me yesterday afternoon," Jenny found her target then held onto it tight, which wasn't very tight at all, "Thank you for...everything."
The warm smile on Jenny's lusterless face proved too much for B.L's reserve. An age-old sensation beat at her diaphragm then burned its way agonizingly up into her throat strangling B.L for an instant. It climbed ominously through her brain and rested just behind her cold blue eyes.
"There's no need to thank me," she heard herself say, studying the fragile hand holding hers.
For a second B.L thought the unwelcome feeling was a false alarm. Then the miniature dam shook at its foundation. What had been barricaded for so many years burst apart with one heart-rending look from this young woman. Tears assembled quickly, maddeningly opposing her steely authority.
"What's the matter?" Jenny felt her solemn attendant tense up.
"I'm a little tired."
B.L tried slipping out of Jenny's grasp.
"Hey, something is wrong. You suddenly sound funny."
Jenny wouldn't let her hand go. B.L was desperate to get away.
"I must have a slight cold, it's nothing. I just need to take an aspirin."
Before she could stop her, Jenny reached out to touch B.L's forehead, a natural response to check for a fever. She missed and caught the side of her face instead.
"Geez, sorry, I'm such a klutz lately..."
Jenny stumbled on the real trouble. B.L was more than upset; there were tears?
"That must be some cold," Her wet cheek twitched beneath Jenny's fingers.
"I will regain control...momentarily."
And she made a great effort to do just that but lost the battle at every turn. Jenny inched closer to B.L sliding an arm gingerly around her.
"What are you doing?" said B.L in a shaky voice.
"I'm making an attempt to comfort you. It would be a lot easier if I could see. How about trying to cooperate a little? This is getting pretty difficult without your help."
She let Jenny pull her into a generous embrace. At first B.L felt rather foolish allowing an extremely ill patient to console her. After all, she was the healthy one acting so completely unprofessional!
"There. See, it's not so bad now is it?"
Jenny's words, though kindly, stabbed at B.L's heart. This unfortunate girl was trying to help her through a silly moment of emotional feebleness. A gush of tears poured out of Nurse Goldsmith's eyes, shallow breaths gave way to a wave of sobs. Jenny held her till she quieted down, and a while after that.
Then the door slowly swung open.
"Oh dear! I'm sorry--"
B.L leaped out of Jenny's arms and rushed quickly passed Mrs. Brooks and out of the room.
"I heard voices, so I thought it was okay to come in," Edna said slightly perplexed.
"Don't worry about it mom."
"What's the matter with her?" She walked slowly to Jenny's side.
"She's having a bad day."
"Well, I suppose the poor dear is tired out. She looked dreadful."
"I think I made her cry. I didn't mean to."
"Really? I never thought it could be possible. Nurse Goldsmith is so...she's.... I can't think of a good enough word to describe her!"
"Yes, that's it exactly! I'm sorry to say it's been difficult to be friendly. She's so serious about everything."
"B.L doesn't know how to say good-bye. I worry about the both of you having to look after me. "
Edna hated Jenny's fatalistic moods. They seemed to be circling her all the time now. She chose not to cite her for it.
"How come you're up?"
"Xena went to scout out the open terrain. I fell asleep, *POOF* I'm back here in all my pathetic glory."
Jenny didn't want to tell her mother the whole truth about how scared she was and the terrible fatigue still plaguing her.
"Ahhh, the dream woman. Have you taken my advice on how to treat her?"
"Yeah, fat lot it does me. Xena is only interested in the safety of her little buddy stationed inside my body. Once we get to our destination I have no idea what will happen."
"You're still on that trip with her?"
"Funny isn't it? I also found out she has a phobia. I'm sure she hates that I know that about her. She avoids me more than ever now."
"Just try not to make fun of her too much. I know how you can get carried away kiddo."
Jenny felt a greater aching in her head.
"Mom? She said in a weary tone.
"Yes dear?" Edna took Jenny's hand.
"Promise you won't get pissed off with me, okay?"
"Must I?" Jenny nodded, "Fine. What is it?"
"I want to let go."
Pissed off? She saw the certainty on her daughter's face. It frightened Edna horribly; a sense of dreadful urgency squeezed her insides. Jenny's ache magnified.
"Honey, you don't mean that? What's hurting you? I'll get you to a hospital---"
Jenny gripped at her mother's hand weakly.
"I'm so worn out mom. I love you to pieces, but I can't go on this way."
"This is crazy! You're sounding like some stupid soap-opera!"
"Yeah, you're probably right," she said very softly, "I think I heard it on 'All My Children'. Sometimes those corny lines come in handy," Jenny smiled.
"Always the smart-ass, aren't you!"
Jenny massaged the right side of her head; a tingling sensation flowed down her body.
"Hey, I never leave home without it," she paused, "Mom...I don't feel right..."
A glassy look appeared in her eyes, and she tried to smile again. Edna grabbed the phone off its cradle and started to dial 911.
"I'm calling for an ambulance. Hang on sweetie!"
She never felt so tired in her life. Every inch of her body seemed to get heavier and heavier. The numbness in her face made it hard to talk.
"Where are you mom? B.L?......Gee, I hope I have...enough...brownie points to bribe St. Peter...." her voice, barely a whisper, trailed off.
"Jenny, you can't give up. Not now dammit!"
Jenny's head felt like it was going to explode. Bright streaks of light scratched across her eyes. For a split second Jenny saw her alarmed mother's face then sank into velvety blackness.
"Jenny, wake up!" Xena's forced words rang in her ears.
"Hmmmm? St. Peter? Oh.... Hi honey. I took the long way around, I hope I didn't keep you waiting." Jenny hazily answered. Xena raised an eyebrow.
"It's about time. Didn't you get enough sleep in the cave last night?"
"Umm, nope. I was too busy counting bumps," she said stretching.
"Never mind. How's the outside looking?"
"There were some drunken men arguing in the road. Harmless enough. They're gone now."
"Great! So we can get out of here, right?" Jenny said starting to get up.
"Not so fast. It's nearly dusk, we'll start out early in the morning."
"Super! I get to stay a night in purgatory. I can't wait!"
Xena unloaded a few things then took off Argo's saddle.
"We won't be able to build a fire. The underbrush is too dense," Xena handed Jenny a large piece of dry rabbit.
"Even better. For a minute there I thought we'd really be roughing it."
Xena unfolded the blankets and laid them side-by-side on the flattest area she could find. Jenny sat on one, mournfully chewing her dinner. The prospect of spending a night in the ugly dark woods filled her with dread. Xena glanced at Jenny; a rare amused expression graced her features.
"You're not afraid, are you?"
"Ha! Me? Not in the least!"
"Very good. Then there's no reason to have our blankets so close together. I see that you have things well in hand."
Xena proceeded to drag her bedding a short ways off. Jenny wanted to kill her. She knew Xena was playing and she didn't like it.
"Thanks a lot. I suppose this is my queue to beg you not to move so far away?"
Xena smiled, waiting calmly with her head tilted to one side.
"My, how funny we are today," Jenny smiled back, "Okay, you asked for it," she folded her hands in prayer, "Pretty please don't leave me in the dark all alone, oh wonderful, most beautiful warrior-type lady?"
Xena's smile melted away. Her grim determined manner took its place.
"It'll be dark soon," Xena said bringing her blanket back over, "We might as well settle in. I'd like to get started before the morning breaks."
She quickly took off her fighting garb then laid down on the thin woolen weave. Xena didn't waste any time turning away with her back to Jenny.
There she was, left to her own devices. Nobody she knew ever switched moods as fast as Xena did. It'd been kind of nice seeing Xena relax her glum side for a few minutes. Now it was like old times; the sad Xena resurfaced.
'She must be thinking about Gabrielle.'
Jenny stared at her motionless comrade while overhead drab evening clouds gathered one by one in the sky. Crickets peeped back and forth to each other, a low rustling of creatures found their way to homes burrowed in the ground, a grunt sounded in the distance.
'Did I just hear a frog?'
Jenny maneuvered a little closer to Xena. She spread the extra blanket around herself then placed the other half onto her dour travel pal. Ever so gently, she leaned her head against Xena, comforted from all the repulsive crawling things and the darkness. Jenny only wished that she could somehow force Gabrielle out again to ease Xena's infinite loneliness---as well as her own.
Edna was near hysterics just before B.L burst into the room. She ran over to Jenny, opened an eye, shined a pen light into it, and repeated the procedure for the other eye.
"GOD! MY GOD IS SHE DEAD??!!"
"Mrs. Brooks, you need to calm down. It isn't helping matters to lose control."
Edna always thought that when the time came for Jenny to pass on, she'd be well prepared for it. No, she was like everyone else.
B.L checked Jenny's pulse then grabbed the phone from Edna's hand.
"Mrs. Brooks, I'm perfectly able to hear. You must stop shouting. Jenny isn't dead, she has lapsed into a coma."
"WE'VE GOT TO CALL AN AMBULANCE! WE'VE GOT TO GET HER TO THE HOSPITAL!"
B.L gripped Edna by her shoulders.
"Please try to listen to me. Jenny cannot be moved. I'm going to elevate her head a little, and then I'm going to call Dr. Newurth. Nothing can be done until a doctor sees her."
Doctor Newurth was the very first specialist to see Jenny.
Edna composed herself and stayed out of Nurse Goldsmith's way. B.L gently raised Jenny's head making sure it was propped up correctly so it wouldn't fall over to the side.
"Please, can't I help in any way?" Asked Edna, nervously wringing her hands.
"Yes. Bring me a bowl of ice water and a washcloth."
B.L really did need those things, but it was easier if Mrs. Brooks stayed out of the room while she called the doctor.
Edna raced downstairs to the kitchen. Closets flew open; ice and cold water tumbled into a large blue mixing bowl. She grabbed a washcloth then ran upstairs. Just as she entered Jenny's room, B.L was hanging up the telephone.
"Dr. Newurth will be here shortly," she said taking the items from Edna.
B.L placed the bowl of ice water on a table, dipping in and wringing out the washcloth then folding it length-wise. The happy little cartoon chicks covering the cloth caught B.L's attention. She stared at them then looked over at Edna, and then stared at the comical print on the washcloth again.
"Sorry, that's all I could find," Edna said peevishly.
B.L suddenly lit up! A lovely smile splashed across her normally stern face. As she pressed the way-too-cheery cloth lightly to Jenny's head she started to laugh. Edna walked over suspiciously.
"Is everything all right?"
B.L continued laughing while she held the cloth neatly in place. Mrs. Brooks knew it had nothing to do with idiotic cartoon chicks. It was the incredible irony of it all. When she quieted down some tears glittered in her eyes, just enough so that Edna noticed.
"You've answered my question you know," Edna said, half-smiling.
"You do like my Jenny, very, very much indeed."
B.L timidly reached for one of Jenny's limp hands and enclosed it in hers.
Part 7: Portage Pilot
Jenny slept soundly. Yet she never left Xena's side, not for her bedroom in her own time-line that's for sure. Why didn't she wake up in her bed?
Jenny had a mild little dream about extremely cold ice cream. Was it the evening, or was it coming on early morning? Jenny had no idea. The pitch black of the forest unnerved her. It reminded Jenny of what waited for her back home: illness...death?
'I don't want to go home, but how can I stay here? What am I going to do?'
Being given no real choice in the matter made things worse. Big self-pitying tears rolled down her face. She wallowed in this weird dilemma, alone and unhappy for quite a while. Two strong arms appeared seemingly out of nowhere surrounding her in a snug embrace. Jenny half expected Xena to start saying things in her sleep again. Instead, a gentle hand pet at her hair uncertainly.
"Shhhhh, calm down now. Nothing's going to hurt you," came the familiar voice whispering very close to her ear, "I'm here."
Held fast to the other woman's body, Jenny could hardly move.
'Can Xena actually be awake?'
Only the continued soft caressing of her hair made it so. It didn't make any difference that Xena got the cause of her upset wrong, Jenny needed the closeness bad. The fact that Xena understood what is was like to be in turmoil, given all she's had to bear, this wounded person could still reach out to another. It made Jenny feel welcome for the first time to this extraordinary land and to its most conspicuous resident.
Lying curled up in Xena's arms, Jenny allowed herself to drift dreamily into the sheltering warmth of her tenderness.
A few oddly colored birds flitted to and fro above the slumbering pair, twittering excitably to one another. Xena was first to wake. She watched Jenny sleeping in her arms then smiled to herself.
'She's not so bad...when she's quiet.'
But time was wasting in idle thought. The sky had already started to brighten up.
"Jenny, it's time to go," Xena said sitting up with Jenny still in her arms.
"Why are people always waking me up?" she answered opening her eyes a little,
"Hi there," she said sleepily staring into Xena's placid face, "What's up?"
"You're not, obviously. Come on, I thought you couldn't wait to get out of these woods."
"True, but that was before," Jenny's wide grin surprised Xena.
"Before I realized the woods aren't so scary after all," Jenny winked at Xena.
"Must you always be so...so...?"
"Witty?" Jenny offered.
"That is not the word I wanted to use."
Jenny folded up the blankets once again and stood by while Xena saddled Argo. Something a short distance away caught her attention. A bunch of mushrooms grew in a neat patch under a decayed tree root.
"Hey look, mushrooms!"
Jenny dashed over to the nice little clump of her favorite treats. She gathered up as many as she could then emptied them into the saddlebag. Jenny brushed off one of them and handed it to an unimpressed Xena.
"Go on, try it," Jenny said popping a whole one into her mouth.
Xena took a dainty bite and made a face.
"I guess it's an acquired taste," Jenny said in a posh English accent.
Xena shook her head and packed away the blankets.
It didn't take long to leave the confines of the oppressive forest. They had only been about thirty yards from the outside world. As soon as Xena made sure it was safe, away they went down the road, Jenny riding, Xena walking warily ahead.
"Ah, the open road. What a pleasure to be outside again! Freedom! Fresh breezes! Excellent company! What more can a girl from Brooklyn ask for?"
"I thought you said you were from New York City," Xena said blandly without turning around.
"I'll have you know, Brooklyn is in New Yawk. Some might go as far to say that it IS New York."
"I see. So you're from one of the larger villages of the main city."
"Umm...yeah, you could say that."
"And I suppose you entertained people there too?"
"Tell me, are village idiots well paid for their service's?"
Xena turned around briefly to catch Jenny's reaction to her question. Jenny wasn't quite sure if she had just been insulted.
"It's up to you Mrs. Brooks. We can set up life support right here for Jenny. Moving her to a hospital really wouldn't make a difference."
"What is the possibility that she might regain consciousness?"
Dr. Glen Newurth exchanged a quick glance with B.L.
"The odds aren't good. I'm sorry Mrs. Brooks," he laid a sympathetic hand on her shoulder, "Jenny's life signs are weakening. Wouldn't you like to make her comfortable at home?"
Those last words played over and over in Edna's head. Jenny had wished to die at home. She said so many times. Going against her wishes now would be pointless.
"Very well doctor, make the necessary arrangements. Jenny will remain here."
"Miss Goldsmith is to be retained?" Edna nodded, "Good. B.L is quite a capable nurse, you are very lucky to have her."
Edna smiled over at B.L but she was engrossed in getting the room cleared of unnecessary items. Life support machines do take up space.
Xena and Jenny were traveling a long time on that deserted, dusty road. After miles of wild flowers and rolling hills, the excitement of 'the open road' became rather mundane. Argo's steady gait turned up the loose dirt forming a little cloud behind them. Xena stopped near a narrow stone sign covered with writing Jenny couldn't make out. It was a good a place as any for a water break.
"What's all that mumbo-jumbo mean?" Jenny said pointing at the sign.
"It says that a seaport named Olympia is the next town. How is your injury?" Xena gave a water bag to Jenny.
Jenny touched the cut above her eye.
"Fine, it doesn't hurt," Jenny took a few sips of water and handed the bag back to Xena, "How much further?"
"Not that far. I spotted seagulls in the distance," she took a long sip.
"The sea...groovy. What happens once we get to it?"
"We go on it," Xena hung the water bag's handle around the saddle horn.
"Forget I asked."
An ugly thick white tube hung out of Jenny's mouth. Part of it was taped in place against her jaw then looped next to her bed. A soft 'whooshing' noise came on in two-second intervals and a steady beep sounded in the background.
Edna moved a wisp of hair out of Jenny's eyes.
"That's better," she smiled down at her daughter, petting her face, "Hey kiddo, sorry about the 'Yankee's hat. They wouldn't let me put it on you."
Edna turned her attention to B.L.
"What time is it?" Mrs. Brooks asked in an excited tone.
"It is almost four o'clock."
Edna ran over to Jenny's stereo system and turned on the radio.
"... Okay folks, here is a special request from Edna Brooks to her daughter Jenny." a cheerful voice announced, "Saddle up pilgrim," said the DJ imitating John Wayne, "We're-a-doin' the cow-cow boogie!"
B.L watched Edna closely.
"It was one of her favorite silly songs, maybe she'll hear it." Edna said, turning up the volume a bit.
The beeps seemed to pick up speed for a moment then settled back into their usual rhythm.
Clumpity, clump, clumpity clump. Argo was making a pretty good walking beat. Jenny decided to break up the monotony, in her own special way.
She took a deep breath and started to sing to herself....
"Out on the plains down in Santa Fe
I met a cowboy ridin' the range one daaaay
and as he galloped along
I heard him singin' the most peculiar cow-boy-song!
It was a ditty
he learned in the City:
Xena slowed down.
"...Get a-long, get hep little doggies!
---you'd better be on your way!
Get a-long, get hep little doggies!
As he strutted on down
the old fairway,
Singin' the cow-cow boogie
--- in the strangest way:
Xena ran ahead a bit.
"...He sang a cow-boy-song
it's just too much
he's got a knocked-out western accent
--- with a Harlem touch!
He was raised on locoweed
he's what you call a swing half breed..."
Xena came barreling down the road at top speed toward Jenny.
"...Singin' the cow-cow boogie
--in the strangest waaay!
"Hmmmm, I'm sure I left out a line or two-ooo--OOOF---"
Xena flew forward. Cupping her hand over Jenny's mouth she yanked her rudely off Argo.
"Soldiers are coming!" she whispered harshly.
Barely managing to pull all three of them into the bushes in time, a small garrison of soldiers came into view from the top of the next hill. They were the most frightening and remarkable sight Jenny had ever seen. Xena pulled her flat down just as the troop was about to pass by. Noisily their shiny armor clanged and clattered quite near, then disappeared again over the next hill.
"Wow!" Jenny sighed, "What a History lesson!"
"The less we see of that, the better. We can't take Argo any further."
She unfastened and removed Argo's saddle.
"Will she be okay out here all alone?"
"There's plenty of grass to eat and she'll find water," Jenny looked skeptical, "I've done this many times before. I know what I'm doing."
"You're not expecting to come back from our little crusade, are you?"
"I don't want Roman soldiers to happen upon her hoof prints," she said burying the saddle under thick brush.
Xena quietly packed up two bundles for the trip. They were to carry two water supplies apiece as well.
This sudden light travel and Xena's casual brush-off of her question had Jenny worried. She never considered failure to be an option in her dream world. Letting their only means of escape go to frolic in the woods seemed like a terrible idea. Jenny kept the opinion to herself even though it gnawed at her. Xena had switched into an encore of determined mode; Jenny wasn't about to start splitting hairs.
"We'll be back for you girl," Xena said petting Argo's long neck and urging her to leave.
She said this loud enough for Jenny to hear. Was it for her benefit? Was Xena trying to convince Jenny or herself that they would return?
Travel from here on out was slow and methodical. Xena said very little wanting only to give her full attention to any perils ahead of them. Jenny stayed fairly quiet herself; observing Xena's guarded actions caused her to be more on the serious side.
"Listen..." Xena said pausing in the road.
Jenny strained to hear something but all she heard was an occasional birdcall.
"I don't hear anything."
Xena turned to Jenny, her amazing blue eyes blazing.
"It's the sea!"
Late into the night, a series of even beeps and artificially pumping oxygen were the only things that broke the silence. Edna sat upright but slumped over a little in deep sleep. B.L's chair rested next to Jenny's bed on the opposite side.
This was the part of her job that she hated: The deathwatch. More so because this time things had taken a sharp detour that B.L never expected. She loved Jenny.
It didn't make sense, these feelings she had for her patient. B.L found it difficult to fend off such inappropriate thoughts.
'I must be insane. The woman is dying... it is as if I'm dying with her.'
B.L's existence in her own little gray world was all she knew. Nothing could touch her there. Then she meets this playful, totally exasperating person and her whole empty life magnifies to unbearable proportions.
She leaned over and planted a kiss on Jenny's bloodless cheek. B.L wanted to scream and shake her. She wanted to beg Jenny not to die. What good would that do? It almost seemed that some cruel joke had been played on the both of them.
But wait a minute! B.L gave no thought to one critical point. There was no way of knowing if Jenny ever felt the same way about her.
She closed her eyes.
They stayed huddled behind an old storage house, sandwiched between a bale of something very rancid and a large pile of broken wagon wheels. A bit beyond that stood a long dock.
"So this is Olympia. Tell me we're moving along soon," Jenny said holding a hand over her nose.
"We have to wait until it gets a little darker. If there's a sentry on duty I can deal with him easier."
"What are you planning on doing?"
"There is a small sailing craft moored at the end of that dock. With a little luck we can take it and be far away before anyone notices that it's gone."
Xena reached into the saddlebag and took out the last two pieces of dry meat.
"Here, you're going to need it," she said handing the food to Jenny.
Jenny watched Xena eating with extreme interest.
"How can you eat with that stench in the air?"
Xena calmly gazed into Jenny's eyes.
"You learn to do a lot of things...on a battlefield."
Jenny swallowed hard in her throat.
"If its all the same to you," she said wrinkling her nose, "I think maybe I'll leave this for later, eeeech."
Xena leisurely finished her meal then took a sip of water.
"We have to make our supplies last. I doubt if there's anything useful stored on that boat."
"I know diddly squat about boats."
Xena gave her 'speak in a language I can understand' look.
"I don't know a thing about boats," Jenny translated.
"Can you swim?"
"Good. Drowning wouldn't be pleasant."
"Why am I not comforted by that remark?"
"Don't worry, I'll teach you all you'll need to know."
"Where'd you learn how to sail a boat?"
Xena calmly gazed into Jenny's eyes again.
"You learn to do a lot of things...when you're a galley slave."
"Hmmmm, there's definitely a familiar train of thought here."
Xena peeked over the mountain of wheels and quickly kneeled down.
"It's time. Stay here," Xena climbed swiftly over the debris and left in a flash.
Time passed slowly. The splish-splash of water lapping onto the pilings pacified Jenny's stressed nerves somewhat. She knew Xena would be just fine, but waiting for her to come back was awful.
'I wish she'd hurry up! I don't know how much more of this I can stand.'
At least the wind shifted so that the terrible odor wasn't quite as bad.
'Thank goodness for God's little mercies!'
She leaned against the old building and tried to relax. Jenny's mind was filled with what she had to face in her world as well as this imaginary one. She missed B.L and mom, but not enough to want to go back there. Once again Jenny wondered why she wasn't returning to her time zone. Just yesterday she was in her bed at home feeling horrible. She started fiddling with her hair then looked down at herself--the picture of health.
'It's taking Xena an awfully long time to knock-out a couple of guards.'
Jenny anxiously gathered their belongings and made her way around the stack of wooden wheels. She heard something rattle nearby. Xena came running up to Jenny from out of nowhere.
"I thought I told you to wait?" she said angrily.
"I got worried, so sue me!"
"Come on, we must hurry!" Xena said grabbing a bundle from Jenny.
They both raced down to the dock. The small sailboat, as Xena said, rocked quietly against the heavy planking at the end of it. Xena helped Jenny aboard first, quickly untying the boat, then jumped in after her.
"Sit here and hold the tiller steady!" she said pointing to a horizontal rail.
Jenny did as she was told. She held the smooth wooden arm still while Xena pushed them away from the dock. Dashing to the mast, Xena started tugging on a rope to raise the sail. The little boat floated them swiftly away from the pier and further out to sea. Climbing up the pole, she fiddled with more ropes.
"Pull the tiller to the right," barked Xena from the top of the mast, "slowly!"
Jenny eased the lever carefully to the right, the boat moved left.
"Hold our course!"
Xena climbed down and secured the end of the boom rope to an iron ring. A brisk wind caught the sails; they fluttered then billowed out. Now the boat really sped through the waves.
"My God! I LOVE THIS!!! "
Xena smiled at her excited shipmate.
"If the wind picks up speed, we'll arrive at Charybdis by tomorrow afternoon. Hecate's grove isn't too far from it."
"I like the sound of that already."
Jenny spoke those words, but she didn't really mean them.
"I'll take over from here," Xena said placing her hands on Jenny's, "You need to rest."
"How can I sleep now? I'm too crazed to sleep!"
Jenny reluctantly gave Xena the helm.
"It's easy, just lay down and close your eyes."
"Okay, but I'm not tired."
Jenny fluffed up a thick tarp left lying open on the deck. She stretched herself across it and glanced over at Xena. The strained look on her face concerned Jenny. She hadn't noticed it before.
"I'm still here."
"How long do you suppose 'til those guards wake up?"
"You mean they won't for a while?"
"I mean they won't wake because I had to eliminate all three of them."
Jenny tried to think of something to say, but for once she couldn't. Xena focused her eyes on the miles of black silky water ahead. Anything to forget the images of those three slaughtered men back at port.
Part 8: The Languid String
Edna woke up with a start. No it hadn't been some terrible nightmare. Jenny lay very still in her bed; the same sickening gray pallor covered her face. The nurse sat half-awake in a guest chair next to her.
Eyes rimmed in red and bloodshot, B.L gave a pretty good impression of being ill herself.
"Have you been up all this time?"
B.L nearly jumped out of her skin. Her attention was so fixed on Jenny she didn't realize Mrs. Brooks had awakened.
"I'm sorry my dear, I didn't mean to scare you," said Edna rising then moving closer to nurse Goldsmith.
"Quite all right," said B.L straightening herself in the chair.
"No change I see."
Edna moved a bit nearer, attempting to chat up B.L.
"Nurse Goldsmith, do you have family? Friends?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Well, in all the time you've been here I've never seen you use the telephone for personal calls."
"I haven't made any personal calls. Nor do I expect to."
"It is a bit curious."
B.L tried to contain her dislike at being probed. In her heart she knew Mrs. Brooks meant no harm. She seemed more interested than nosy.
"Is there a reason for your question?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact I do have a reason," she said smiling, "I want you to feel free to talk to me about anything, my dear. You've been looking as though you need a friend. I'd like to be your friend, if you'll let me."
Edna extended her hand out to B.L to shake. It was obvious where Jenny got most of her more agreeable attributes. Between the two of these women, B.L never felt so much at a loss, nor so warmly received--anywhere. Her duties were all anyone ever expected of her.
She put her hand in Edna's.
"Thank you," B.L said quietly, "I think I'd like that."
"Good," she said readily shaking B.L's hand, "I really hope you take me up on it. I know Jenny would've wanted the same thing."
B.L let go of Edna's hand and looked into her amiable brown eyes. It wasn't only good manners that prompted Mrs. Brooks to offer an ear to bend. It was genuine kindness Edna wanted to share.
B.L turned away, once again starting to lose her iron command over frayed emotions. Edna put a hand on B.L's shoulder, squeezing it a little to let her know it was okay to cry if she wanted to.
"Mrs. Brooks..." B.L started to say.
"I wish... I wish Jenny would come back. I do indeed---for your sake, I mean."
Edna gently took B.L into her arms. The downcast woman showed no resistance.
"She can't honey. Maybe Jenny's in that imaginary land she always talked about. I hope it's better than this," Edna paused, "Ha, listen to me rattling on so calmly! I'm the one who went nuts yesterday morning. You kept such a cool head. Impressive."
"You're her mother. You love Jenny, it is to be expected," B.L said tearfully into Edna's sleeve.
"And what about you? Your feelings, right now, don't count I suppose?"
Nurse Goldsmith didn't give Edna's inquiry much thought.
"Oh for God's sake woman!" Edna said pulling back to look into her eyes, "You couldn't be more off base," Mrs. Brooks wiped at B.L's tears, "Of course they matter! You're flesh and blood like the rest of us honey," B.L leaned her head on Edna again, "What started out as just another job, isn't one anymore, is it?"
B.L tightened her hold on Mrs. Brooks.
"Sometimes I think I can hear her saying something to irritate me. Jenny delighted in doing that," B.L smiled a little, "Then she'd turn around and be so...."
Nurse Goldsmith was unable to finish her sentence coherently.
A hard splash of water onto the deck woke Jenny unceremoniously. She glared up at Xena through wet strands of hair.
"Sorry about that. It's been rough sea for hours. I don't think a storm is coming."
"You have no idea how happy that makes me," Jenny said pushing back her soaked locks.
The sky appeared rather overcast, but Jenny could make out a thin sliver of land to their right.
"Say, we have come far! Is that land?" Jenny asked excitedly.
"Yes, it's Hesperia. We'll be reaching Charybdis soon."
"Umm, that story about the whirlpool and its monster is just a myth, isn't it? Heh, heh, heh?"
"You've heard of them, have you?" Xena delayed answering for effect, "It's not true," Jenny sighed with relief, "Only when there's a raging storm does the pass prove to be treacherous. Sailors tend to invent tales to scare superstitious competitors away from pirated vessels."
Jenny got up and stood holding onto the ship's mast. The stiff wind blew through her hair, her sleeves flapped in the breeze. Their small craft cut cleanly into each wake like a blade. Speeding along at such a great rate made Jenny feel so alive.
"Wouldn't you like me to steer for a while? You look really frazzled."
"No, the high waves are too precarious for you to handle."
"Okay then, at least let me cover you with something."
Xena was shivering terribly from the constant spray of seawater and the cool wind. Jenny unfolded a blanket then put it around Xena's shoulders.
"Damn! Your skin is ice cold! Don't you ever ask for help? What're you trying to do? Kill yourself?"
Those were the kind of questions that had no ready answers. Jenny rubbed Xena's frozen arms gently until they were warmed up enough to her satisfaction.
"There. Next time, wake me if you need something!"
"Thank you, mother," Xena smirked.
"Laugh all you want to lady. Somebody's got to look after you. Lord knows you won't!"
Jenny briefly touched Xena's hand then quickly went about the business of finding something to eat. Rummaging through the one saddlebag, all they had were three handfuls of mushrooms and that one piece of very hard dry meat from the night before. The water supply fared better. A whole barrel full of it sat tied to a corner of the deck.
"Eat," Jenny said passing the meat to Xena.
She gratefully ate it while Jenny popped a few mushrooms into her mouth.
"How can you stand those disgusting bits of mold?"
"Mmmmm, food of the God's!" Jenny neatly chewed on the soft white cap.
"That's a matter of opinion."
The landmass loomed ever nearer. Pockets of greenery along its coast came into view. Jenny loved this little adventure. All too soon it would come to an end. As she looked out at sea, she experienced a vague feeling of unreality. This was new. Even though intellectually Jenny knew from the beginning she had to be dreaming, everything seemed incredibly real--up till now.
'Strange that it should change today, ' she said to herself.
"What are you thinking about?" Xena asked casually.
"Oh, this and that, nothing important," Jenny lied.
"You seem troubled."
"Hey," she said changing the subject, "Do you know what some smarty-pants poet is going ta say about a city in Hesperia many years from now?" Jenny asked animatedly.
"I can't begin to guess," said Xena eyeing Jenny skeptically.
"See Rome and die! Cute huh?"
"I don't understand. Why would I die?"
"It's like this: Rome is so gorgeous that it'll bowl you over. Get it?"
"Let's skip that. Has anyone mentioned anything about, 'The beauty that is Venice, the glory that is Rome'?"
"Ah, are you referring to the Venetians? Great fighters. Bad tempered losers."
"Oh boy," Jenny rolled her eyes.
Weathered houses dotted the shoreline of the widening landscape. If anyone spotted them, Jenny supposed they looked like any other fishing vessel on the sea and would probably be ignored. Xena didn't seem concerned.
"You know something, even though it's far away from here I always wanted to see Venice. Maybe I will before it sinks."
"And would that be an occasion to die as well?" Xena asked smiling.
"Geez, I hope not. I'd never get the chance to do what I've dreamed of doing my whole life!"
"And what might that be?" Xena asked and just as quickly regretted asking.
"To have a blast on the Grand Canal. I want to waltz in Venice!"
Jenny began to recite in an exaggerated style:
'Waltzing in Venice with you
isn't so easy to do.
If you should take one more step then you oughta,
you will be doing the waltz on the watta.
Oh what joy could ever compare
with waltzing in Venice with care?
What a thrill when the waltz is a fast one
Knowing each step may well be your last one!
Both leading in Venice,
Intriguing in menace
--is waltzing in Venice with you!"
Xena sighed deeply.
"You are the most peculiar person I've ever met in my life."
"The customer's always right'!" Jenny said shrugging her shoulders.
"Very, very strange," Xena said pulling the lever to the left.
Now they were sailing very close to the huge body of land jutting out into the ocean. Jenny sat on the other side of the tiller, helping Xena to steer. The waves had calmed down somewhat as the boat rounded into an enormous bend up ahead.
"Damn, I feel so tiny! It's beautiful!"
Charybdis cut through the vaulted cliffs on either side of their dwarfed sailboat. The loud roaring noise within gave these intimidating surroundings a surreal effect.
"This is where Ulysses and his men were almost swallowed up by the whirlpool," Xena said as she untied and swiveled the boom to the left.
"Do you know any other quaint stories like that?"
"Okay then, tell me about Hecate."
"She is a deity who haunts graveyards and crossroads. Hecate has mysterious power over life and death. Medea, daughter of King Aetus, was her most powerful high priestess."
"Oh, isn't she the chick who married King Jason and then bumped off their kids?"
"The same. Legend has it that she offended Hecate by abandoning her for Jason. Medea's children were the price."
"This Hecate sounds like a real winner. Are we sure we want to see her?"
"The tales depicting her as evil are numerous. There's only one way to find out if they are true."
"Call her up on the telephone?"
Xena narrowed a steely gaze at Jenny.
"We must meet with Hecate face to face."
Fortune had been on their side. So far. Hades apparently overlooked Gabrielle's absence; Xena kept most of her old ghosts at bay, and Jenny.... well, Jenny was busy being Jenny.
A massive rolling wave came from behind and tossed their craft out of the chasm into open sea. Xena steered them once again as close to land as possible. The boat hugged the coastline in a swift straight path to Avernus. Jenny wondered whether she should suggest that they rest or just leave it alone.
B.L picked up a silver-framed photograph of Jenny and another woman laying face down on a small desk. They were both smiling and obviously were familiar with one another.
"Quite attractive," B.L remarked flatly.
"Yes," Edna said as she joined B.L to look at the picture, "Jenny was very active in sports. She was so beautiful until...," her thoughts wandered off.
"Who is the girl with her?"
"That's Terry. They were together for a number of years. They fought all the time, I'm not sure over what, so the relationship ended."
"Is she aware of Jenny's illness?" B.L said handing the picture to Edna.
"Yes, but Jenny sent her away. Terry's in Los Angeles now. She as good as paid for her fare."
Edna placed the framed photo in an upright position on the desk.
"I don't understand," B.L had a puzzled look on her face.
"Jenny thought that Terry only wanted to stick around because of her illness. In the end Terry respected Jenny's last request. They said their good-bye's and that was it."
"This was more than simple friendship."
"Yes. They were a couple," Edna said matter-of-factly.
B.L moved off to check on Jenny's machines and their connections.
"We must get to our destination before nightfall. Hecate isn't approachable in the daylight hours."
"But Xena, you haven't slept for almost a day and a half. Wouldn't it be a good idea to rest for two hours?"
"I can't rest. Not when we are so close."
Xena had that desperate look on her face. Short of death there wasn't anything that would stop her. Ever since Xena heard the sounds of the ocean, she became hell-bent on getting to Hecate's grove.
"You just look so awfully tired. I'm worried about you."
Jenny touched Xena's hand. Xena smiled darkly.
"Have you ever loved someone so much that they feel like a part of you?"
"I thought I had, at one time, with Terry. We loved each other, but our personalities clashed. It became impossible for the both of us to breathe the same air."
"That is not so with Gabrielle and me. It's a bond that I can't describe. She's my reason for living, she means everything to me."
"Wow, that's a heavy number. I guess I haven't met my reason for living yet."
"Now you understand why I can't stop, not even to eat."
The sun dropped low on the western horizon setting the sky ablaze in bright orange and red. Xena instructed Jenny to steer the boat towards land while she climbed the mast to lower the sail. Gradually they drifted onto a sandbar bringing an end to the long voyage from Olympia.
Jenny got out first as Xena passed the bundles to her and carefully climbed out of the boat as well. They walked somewhat unsteadily up to the shore until their legs adjusted to firm ground.
The view was none too pretty. All the trees looked dead in the direction they were going. Xena took Jenny by the arm halting her in mid-stride.
"Jenny, our journey is nearly at an end. I want to tell you something.... this is harder for me then I thought," Jenny waited patiently for Xena to continue, "I don't know what is going to happen in this place, all I can say is thank you from the bottom of my heart."
'Mine too,' said the soft voice in Jenny's head.
Jenny graciously smiled at Xena then leaned over and kissed her cheek.
"I believe there's someone here who wants to say hello," she closed her eyes.
Jenny stepped far back into her mind granting the long awaiting passenger full access to her body. A stir of facial expressions spread across Jenny's face. When Gabrielle opened her eyes she saw Xena standing in front of her.
"Xena!" she said throwing her arms about the woman she loved more than life itself.
They embraced for a long time without saying a word. Xena was the one to bring them back to the task at hand.
"Hecate's grove is just through those trees. Come, let's go speak to her."
Hand in hand Xena and Gabrielle walked into the quickly darkening woods in search of the gloomy sacred clearing dedicated to the goddess of the night.
Lake Avernus: A vaporous circular body of water filling an extinct volcano crater. High banks surrounded this desolate pool while Mt. Vesuvius, black and ominous in the background, cast a long shadow over the water.
The grove had long since overgrown with low hanging vines. Only a partially visible statue of the goddess sat somberly waiting for followers to bring tribute.
"We have arrived," said Xena solemnly.
Gabrielle nodded to Xena to start the ceremony. Xena ignited a thick branch then jammed the other end into the soft earth. Gabrielle walked up to the sacred sculpture and held her hands up in front of her.
"Great Hecate, daughter of Tartarus!
Great Hecate! Hear me!
I am sent by Persephone,
to humbly request an
audience with you!"
The crater rocked with a thunderous explosion. All at once, a woman draped in mourning garb carrying a beautiful golden torch burst from the ink colored liquid. She stepped onto the embankment sweeping her torch in long strokes. The effect was one of searching for the presumptuous human who dared to speak her name.
"Who summons me? Speak mortal!"
She towered haughtily over the duo, gazing coldly down at the smaller of the two.
"My name is Gabrielle and---"
"So!" Hecate interrupted, "You are the youth whom Persephone dotes on! She has informed me of your plight," she turned her attention to Xena, "You! Come forth warrior!"
Xena took a step into the bright light cast from Hecate's torch.
"You have kept us well engaged in our toil for many a year. Dare you ask a favor of me bearing arms to my shrine?"
Xena kneeled down, drew her sword, and laid it on the ground before her.
"This metal has taken life, yes, and saved many others. Yet it had not the power to save the one life I held so dear: Gabrielle's," Xena looked into Hecate's grim face, "Have you the power to bring her back to me?"
"NO! I will not bring her back to you, insolent creature! I shall bring Gabrielle back to herself."
Hecate pointed her torch at the earth. A blinding bolt of white-hot light shot straight down and formed itself into the shape of a woman.
"It's me!" Gabrielle gasped in amazement.
"Not so. It is an empty shell waiting for an occupant. Prepare!"
With that she aimed her torch at Gabrielle. There appeared a glowing mass being drawn from Jenny's body. It molded into a ball suspended in mid-air. Jenny fell lifeless to the ground.
Xena screamed, rushing forward to catch her friend. She gently cradled Jenny in her arms.
"JENNY?" Xena screamed again, patting her face gently.
Hecate guided the ball of energy into the inanimate body lying on the ground. It quivered and squirmed for a moment. Gabrielle opened her eyes to find Xena hysterically trying to revive Jenny. She immediately ran to her aide.
Gabrielle took Jenny from Xena.
"Oh Jenny," she said tearfully to the mute face, "What have I done?"
Her body started to slowly shrink from its former healthy robustness. Globs of golden hair fell out into Gabrielle's hand. Xena held onto the both of them tight, tears gathering in her eyes.
"Why is this happening?"
Part 9: The Graces
An overpowering urge to gag gripped the back of Jenny's throat. Shadowy images of her bedroom came into view a little at a time. She tried to talk, but something was wedged firmly down her esophagus. Jenny couldn't move. It felt as if her whole body had become paralyzed. She kept hearing a constant noise.
Jenny's mind wandered in and out of consciousness. She had no idea where she was, part of her didn't care, the rest of her tried to hang onto a fragile sense of reality. Confused memories clashed with dreams.
'Great Hecate.... Goddess of night.... remove the colors from our sight...red is gray and yellow is white, but we decide which is right...and which is illusion...'
"Please tell us why she's dying!" Gabrielle called to Hecate.
"This useless girl is the price I demand."
"What?? Persephone said nothing of this to me. She said you owed her a service. Jenny carried me here inside her. She doesn't deserve death for helping us!"
"SILENCE!" The goddess's booming voice shouted, "Very well, the girl will have life once more, if you are willing to give up yours."
Gabrielle started to get up. Xena grabbed her arm.
"Take my life monster! It's of no use to me without my friends."
Xena stood quickly, her teary blue eyes defiantly glaring at the angry goddess.
"BOLD MORTAL, YOU HAVE SEALED YOUR FATE!!"
She raised her torch to strike the upstart. Xena didn't flinch a muscle; she remained rooted to the spot. Gabrielle laid Jenny down and stood by her friend.
"Take all of us, Goddess. At least we'll spend eternity together, that much you have no control over."
Hecate lowered her fiery torch, instantly it cooled to a blue-green shimmer. An almost benevolent expression appeared on her face.
"Noble mortals, you have been deemed worthy of all consideration I can bestow. Persephone has instructed me to assist you in any way I can."
"The Gods and their little secrets--"
"--Caprices," corrected Gabrielle.
"Yes," Xena said smiling at her dear friend, "caprices. You don't care what you put us through as long as you can make us suffer. One day we won't need you Gods. Who will you torture then?"
"Probably each other," Gabrielle offered.
Xena walked back to where she left Jenny. A terrible deathly change had come over her. Thin and pale, Jenny laid very still in a heap. Xena lifted the crumpled body up into her arms then carried it to the waiting goddess.
"If you are truly a Goddess of her word you will help this girl," Xena said insistently.
"Please Great Hecate. Don't let her die," Gabrielle begged."
"I am at your command."
Hecate held her arms out at their sides. All four vanished instantly.
B.L was left alone to tend Jenny while Mrs. Brooks was out grocery shopping. She walked up the long staircase that led to Jenny's room with another tray of ice water and a hand towel. The daily ritual of taking care of Jenny had really taken a toll on B.L's sanity. Seeing her slip away by the hour kept B.L in a constant state of anxiety. Edna seemed to have resigned herself to her daughter's condition and was doing quite well under the circumstances.
She entered the room quietly. Jenny's eyes where slightly open. B.L dropped the tray she was holding and ran to her bed. For an awful moment B.L thought that Jenny had died. She hadn't. The beeps were sounding in the background, very weak, but it was music to B.L's ears. She nervously caressed Jenny's emaciated cheek. Jenny shifted her gaze slowly to her nurse's face, a feeble smile played around her mouth.
"Jenny?" B.L said, her voice trembling badly, "Can you see me?"
Jenny winked up at her.
"My God!" Tears filled B.L's eyes.
She picked up Jenny's hand then placed it against her wet cheek. This tiny thing she held was so cold and frail, yet it still managed to squeeze hers back.
The beeps started to grow weaker; Jenny's irresistible essence drained little by little out of her body.
"No... Please," she took Jenny's face between her hands, "Jenny...don't go, I love you."
B.L watched as her patient with the maddeningly exasperating personality gently passed away. One long agonizing beep rang harshly from the device monitoring Jenny's pulse.
Nurse Goldsmith, the consummate professional, got up and turned off the machines. She then removed the long tube from Jenny's throat and straightened up the room. Finally when pulling the covers up to the young woman's chin, B.L fell across her body sobbing bitterly.
An elliptical porthole silently opened up in a corner of Jenny's bedroom. Three figures, unseen, unexpectedly found themselves in a strange chamber crowded with metal boxes and weird looking furniture.
Xena arrived empty armed, which startled her briefly until she caught sight of one of the two woman's faces in the room.
"Where are we?" Gabrielle asked as she walked around.
"We are many years into the future. This is the girl's homeland."
"Can they see us?" Xena inquired softly.
"No. I have seen to that."
"She must be someone important to Jenny," Gabrielle said, touching the other woman's shoulder.
B.L raised herself slowly from Jenny and wiped at her eyes.
"She looks a lot like you Xena!"
Xena moved closer to the woman. She did look like her. Xena turned to face the goddess.
"Hecate, why was Jenny chosen to carry Gabrielle's spirit?"
"You are their past lives rejoining each other. This girl possessed a means to your friend's transport. Simply put, Jenny is a Gabrielle of the future. In this world it is referred to as 'Reincarnation."
"An interesting concept. I like it. So basically you're saying that none of us really dies and we get to live again in another person's body," said Gabrielle examining a few objects in the room.
"Yes, though you would have to wait. Many generations may pass before you reappear."
"How many times will Gabrielle and I meet again?"
"In all---twenty seven."
"Which one is the happiest?"
"Gabrielle, I think we should leave the unknown to fate."
"Sadly that is not a thought shared with this time line. They shall become so obsessed with immortality that a great number of impostors posing as seers into the past and future will empty many a purse in their wake."
"Ah! So the prophets will make profits!" Gabrielle said merrily.
Hecate and Xena frowned at her.
"Did I just say that? Forget I said anything."
"What of Hades? Has he discovered Gabrielle's absence?"
"Hades had become greedy. Gabrielle was only meant to be wounded, not killed. Persephone has informed Zeus of his actions. You'll not hear from him until your allotted time comes."
"And Jenny, was she meant to die in her world?"
"No. Her illness was created to aid another. This other mortal is you warrior, in the future. Now, I must finish what I have come here to do."
Without allowing her to take in this information, Hecate quickly stepped passed Xena and briefly placed a hand over Jenny's head.
"Our work is done. It is time to depart from this world to ours."
Hecate was about to spread her arms wide when Gabrielle suddenly spoke up.
"Just a second, I'll be right back." She ran over to Jenny.
"Thank you Jenny, we'll never forget you," Gabrielle kissed her cheek, then ran back to Xena, "Okay, everything's cool, let's go."
Xena had an 'oh no' expression on her face. As Gabrielle put her arms lovingly around Xena they vanished.
B.L sat quietly clutching Jenny's baseball cap for a long while. She was unable to do much of anything else. Her entire being was so overcome with grief she could hardly move.
'Come on, pull yourself together! Some stranger shows you a little comfort and you lose your equilibrium when she dies? This isn't you!'
It was no use. She covered her face with her hands and cried some more.
"Hey! What does a dame have to do to get a little service around here?"
Afraid to look up, B.L stayed in her chair terrified that some horrible apparition of her twisted mind had shown up.
"Go away! You are not real!"
"Woman are soooo fickle. One minute they're tellin' you they love you, the next they're throwin' you out!"
B.L peeked through her fingers. Her hands fell away from her face and her mouth dropped open. There was Jenny sitting up in her bed! Not a pale sickly Jenny, but the Jenny she saw in the photograph!
B.L gradually got to her feet then slowly walked over to where the ghost sat. She reached out with her shaking hand and poked Jenny's arm. It was real.
The room started to spin, that's the last thing she remembered.
Dumped in the middle of the road, their meager belongings resting nearby, Xena and Gabrielle looked around, then at each other.
"She could've left us a little closer to home. Look at that sign, it's two days away!"
"Remember what I've always said about the Gods Gabrielle. They still want to play with us a while longer," Xena said picking up one of the bundles.
"I'd gladly entertain them Xena, as long as I'm by your side."
"Whatever floats your boat! Come on, I'll race you to find Argo!"
With that Xena ran laughing into the ugly dark forest. Gabrielle quickly picked up the rest of their things and ran after her.
"Hey! Wait for me!"
B.L found herself on the floor being fanned nervously by Jenny.
"This isn't exactly my forte' lady. I'm a little rusty at first aid."
"Oh God! I wasn't crazy, it really is you!"
B.L sat up and peered at Jenny closely. She touched her long blond hair, petting it here and there in amazement.
"I don't understand any of this. I must be dreaming," her eyes welled up with tears.
"I've received a second chance at life Binnie Lynne. Share it with me."
B.L threw her arms around Jenny bringing her into a gentle kiss that deepened with each passing moment.
Slowly the door swung open.
"B.L do you suppose that----" Edna stopped in frozen shock.
"Hiya mom! What's for dinner?"