THIS TIME AROUND
The guy driving the " cab" - I think that's what he called it - wants us to pay him, but I don't have any money.
We've been driving around for about an hour because I didn't want anyone to trace the explosion to us. He threatens to call the " cops" but I think I've already had enough of them today, and I'm sure they've had more than enough of me. I ask the driver as politely as I can manage if there's anything else he'll accept as payment. He leers suggestively at my partner, and I reach through the window and grab his ear and twist.
" I'm sure you can think of something else, buddy," I say to him in that tone of voice.
He looks at me again, and starts to retort, but apparently thinks better of it. I guess some things haven't changed.
" Let me go, damnit!" and he calls me a few choice names I'm not sure I understand, but I think I get the idea.
" Quit looking at her like that and I will." Another twist.
" Just get out!" he yells.
My partner, of course, decides to pipe into the conversation. " Is there some way we could get in touch with you later, when we do have the money?" She glances around the back seat of the cab, and sees a little clear dispenser with small pieces of paper smaller than the size of my palm. The little papers have a picture of the driver and some script that I can't read. She takes one out of the dispenser.
" Just go!" he yells again, and I let go of his ear.
" Fine," I say, and nudge my partner with my arm. She opens the door, and out onto the street we go.
So, now we're standing on some street I don't know in some town I've never heard of in an era I'm not supposed to be in, but here I am. I don't have any memories that I can truly claim as my own. I don't remember being born, because that bitch Alti recreated me from some of my own hair from over two thousand years ago (I'm still trying to get my brain around that concept). I don't remember living this life, because I just woke up this morning to find myself fully grown but without a family or a village to call my own. And I remember very little of the woman beside me accept that it feels perfectly natural for her to be here, even though I don't really know her at all.
She turns to me. " Well, Xena, now what?"
I wish I knew.
She's not answering me. Well, at least she let go of the driver's ear, and let it go at that. I was afraid she was going to break through the glass, and then break through him.
She's got a temper, this woman I am somehow connected to. I've seen it several times this day, and I think I'll probably see it again. So I find myself compelled to step between her temper and its latest victim just to keep the peace. I look down at the little parchment in my hand. I suspect that it will lead me back to this man so we can pay him. I don't recognize any of the letters - I don't recognize anything I've seen this day except her - but I guess I'd better learn. I think I've got more patience than she does.
" Well," I say, looking down at myself, " I think the first order of business should be some new clothes. What do you think?" We are not blending in at all. She's still head to toe in the dark leather outfit, and I'm getting a chill from the evening air against a lot of revealed skin.
She pulls me to the side of the street, behind a few large green containers that come to my shoulders. " What?"
She motions me to be quiet, then points up the street. I see more " cops", two of them, on two-wheeled carriages. They're not looking at us, but I don't want to spend any time talking to them, not after the day we've had. I lean with my back to her. That feels more normal than anything else that's happened today.
Her voice, low and deep, floats to my ear. " I think you're right. We'd better find something less - conspicuous."
I lean to one side so I can look up at her. " Do you have any idea where we might find some clothes? Or for that matter, where we are?"
Again, she doesn't answer. So, I'm somewhere I don't know, with no possessions or means to help guide me, with a woman I don't know at all who doesn't know anything either.
Well, I can honestly say I know her about as well as I know myself.
Things are really different this time around. Of course, it wasn't really me last time, it was someone else, who was just like me, but if I think too much about all that, I'll go nuts. And who needs that?
At least I'm not alone. Gabrielle's here, with me, just like last time, though that wasn't really her, it was someone just like her - aw, here we go again...
I guess I'd better just stick to basics. Food and shelter seem like a good place to start. Oh, and clothes, because right now, we do not blend in around here.
Quick inventory check. No money, unfamiliar weapons, no allies, no home ground. I can't read the local language, though I can thankfully speak it. There are some things I do know, but I can't explain how or why I know them. I knew how to find Gabrielle when they had her locked up. I knew how to break her out. I didn't think about how frightening it was, how I didn't know anything about my surroundings, the people or the places. I just knew I had to get to her, and get her out of wherever they were holding her.
I knew I had to get us out of Alti's clutches. And I knew that we needed to get away from those people who - well, built us, for lack of a better phrase. They didn't seem like the kind of people I wanted answers from.
I know how to defend myself, and I know I can defend her. Now that I think about it, she can defend herself, and me, so for now, we make a pretty good team. Neither of us has any idea where we are. I think I heard someone say Los Angeles, but I'm not sure how far that is from Greece.
It's late afternoon, and the air is thick with some haze I can't identify. There are " cabs" everywhere, of different shapes and colors. The streets are littered with trash and scraps of discarded clothes - this place is worse than Athens after the Festival of Dionysus. There are so many different kinds of people; I can't identify them all, though I'm not sure my frames of reference are entirely relevant. I've heard at least three more languages since we've been walking along this street, and I can't speak or understand any of them.
The only things I have to trade are the leathers I'm wearing and the weapons I've managed to collect. Frankly, the chakram is the only thing I want to keep, so everything else can go.
I ask a few people who seemed to be camping on the sides of the street where the nearest trading station is. The first two look at me like I've lost my mind, which I can't really dispute, but the third says something about a " pawn shop" nearby. So, Gabrielle and I are headed off to do some trading.
An hour later, and our circumstances seem to be improving. Luckily, the shopkeeper had no qualms about the questionable origin of my weapons, though I think he got the better part of the deal. I couldn't really argue with him. So, he took the " guns" and the makeshift sword, and I got a nicer sword out of the deal, along with a little cash and a full-length leather coat that hides the sword and the leathers I'm still wearing. Gabrielle wanted to keep her sais, even though they're not really functional. I couldn't really argue with her. I felt naked without a sword.
He didn't have much in the way of a selection for clothes, so he suggested a costume shop down the road. It's not great, but it might just buy us some more time to blend in. Soon, I've traded my leathers (which I'm told are from some TV show, whatever that is) for something the guy behind the counter calls a " Trinity" costume, complete with some dark eye coverings. Gabrielle is wearing a " Han Solo" outfit, which has a dark waist coat with matching leggings, a light colored tunic and a pair of boots the guy had on hand that fit her pretty well. She tucked her sais into them, rolled up the sleeves on the tunic, and left the coat unbuttoned. I think she looks great. She just raises an eyebrow and shakes her head.
One task down, food and shelter to go.
We find a little vendor near a place called Hollywood Boulevard. I have been listening to what people say a little more closely, and am learning about this city we're in. It seems to be easier for me to talk to people, so that's what I'm doing. Xena has found a nearby table, and sits there scowling, keeping an eye on me. Like I've forgotten how to order food.
The vendor has a little display with pictures of the food available. I smile and point to an item. " Um, how much for four of those? And something to drink for each of us?"
" Four tacos? Two cokes? Six sixty-five, with tax," he says, with a thick accent I can almost understand. " Okay?"
I hear my partner groan something about fixing it ourselves at that price, but I smile and nod. " Sounds great."
I turn around. " You figure out how much that is from what we've got?"
" Yeah," she grumbles. " Here's a ten. Don't forget the change."
I shake my head. I may not know much, but apparently the evil sorceress decided to give my brain simple addition and subtraction. Thank the gods.
A few minutes later, we're eating our tacos like it's the first meal we've had - which isn't too far from the truth - and sipping our cokes. I think I like the drink.
" Two down, one to go," I say. My outlook has improved dramatically now that I've eaten something. " Any ideas for a place to sleep? See any inns?"
She answers without looking at me. She's always looking around us, at people nearby, as if she expects an attack at any moment. Well, after the day we've had, I can't really blame her. " Yeah, I've seen a couple, but I'm not sure I'd want to sleep in any of them."
" Well," I say, finishing up my second taco, " it's full dark, but there's plenty of torches - er, lights - lit around here, and we can see pretty well. Shall we keep walking around until we find a place? I'm not really tired yet."
She slurps the last of her drink, and stands up without saying a word. I guess that's my answer. I've got a few questions for her, but it doesn't seem like the best time to ask her anything.
It's after midnight.
We've been checked into this - inn, though that's too grand a description - for about half an hour. I told Xena I'd take first watch, though I'm not sure it's necessary, but I don't really want to argue with her.
She's in the smaller room with the door closed, getting cleaned up. There's only one light on in this only slightly larger room, with one mid-sized bed, a small table the lamp sits on, the chair I'm sitting in, and across the room, there's an open cupboard with a dark shiny box with knobs on it. I'm curious about that thing; it looks almost familiar.
It took us awhile to find this place. Turns out we need some sort of identification to stay in most of the better inns, so we had to head back to the seedier part of today's route. The innkeeper gave us a room for the night, despite our lack of identification, for a fee which made Xena twitch, but we really don't have a choice. Neither of us wanted to sleep outside. This place isn't the cleanest, but I guess I've seen worse. Wait - I guess I haven't.
I shake my head a bit at that thought. My mind has been going around in circles, trying to isolate which memories are real and which were fabricated by that sorceress. So many things that run through my mind seem as if they're real, but they are from things that happened so long ago by a woman who lived and died, so I can't be her. I have to be someone else.
Well, at least I've got something to think about while I'm on watch tonight.
The bathing room door opens. " See anything?" She steps out, her coat and weapons in one hand, a towel in the other. Her hair is wet, and hangs back from her face.
For a moment, I can't breathe. She is beautiful, and I can't quite explain the feeling that moves through me as I watch her. I feel warm, almost too warm, but there's a chill that runs up the back of my neck. I blink with a start.
" No, it's pretty clear out there." I'm lean back in this very worn chair, with stains of questionable origin, and I look out the window again. " I haven't seen anyone worth looking at twice. A bigger cab came in a few minutes ago with some kind of long wagon attached to it, but the driver just parked it and went into one of the other rooms." Then I laugh. " I also saw a rather loosely clad woman disappear in a room with some older guy, and I think she'd have no trouble finding work at Meg's old place."
She laughs with me, then we both stop when we realize what I've just said. Neither of us really knew Meg, and she's long dead. This is weird.
" Anyway," I say in a softer voice, " get some rest. I'll wake you in a few hours."
It takes her awhile to fall asleep, but now, instead of keeping an eye on the lot outside, I find myself watching her.
The bedcovers seemed too scary to both of us, so she's stretched out on top of them, her long leather coat covering her for the most part. Some of her hair, still wet, has fallen across her face, but I can still make out her features through the strands of dark hair.
I wonder why I feel so drawn to her. Is it just because of these - well, these memories; I really need to find another word, because that one's not right. Is it because my mind recognizes her that I feel compelled to stay with her, or is it something that's really mine that pulls me? There were times today when I felt the fear begin to overwhelm me, but then suddenly she'd be there, right next to me, and everything would be fine. The world still makes no sense, but as long as she's next to me, I feel as if I'm somehow sane.
Clones. That's what Alti and her minions called us. I don't really know what that means, but it seems so preposterous that someone created us from strands of hair. Still, what other explanation could there be?
Maybe, I'm from this world, but my memories have been erased and somehow replaced with these images I've been shown. Of course, that seems just as crazy. And there's something about the pictures I see in my head that ring true; they feel right, even if I can't explain them. It's as if part of me was there for each of them. I remember how I - she, that other me - felt.
And I remember the love she had for Xena.
I look over at the bed. She's still in the same position, unmoving, breathing so slowly I can barely hear her. One hand is loosely tucked around the chakram, and her sword is propped against the wall next to the bed. Her brow is furrowed a bit, even in her sleep. I stare at her lips until I catch myself doing it, and look back out the window
I think what I'm feeling is just residue from that other life, because I have to believe those feelings aren't mine. If they are, then I'm not real. That woman is long dead, and I can't be her anymore. She doesn't fit in this world. I'm no bard, no poet, no warrior. I am a copy, but I can't be the same person. I was literally born yesterday, and if it weren't so frustrating, it would be funny. I don't have any parents; I'm not from Potideia. I was never married, never raped by a crazed demigod; I never bore a child. I was never crucified, never queen, I never killed anyone. And I never loved Xena, so I don't need to stay with her. I can find my own way.
Which makes perfect sense. Until I turn and look at her sleeping.
Then the answers I've found fade into the dark around us, and the questions remain.
I wake up, and it's still early. There's a clock on the little table next to the bed, and it says it's four o'clock. Great. Now I can tell time. Guess things are looking up.
Gabrielle fell asleep in the chair. I guess we really don't need to keep watch, but I'm a little worried about the cops tracking us down. Lot of good it'll do us if we both get locked up. We've got to get out of town today.
I sit up, rub the sleep from my eyes, and damned near cut open my face with the chakram until I realize I'm holding it. I don't know if I can get used to this, but I guess I really don't have a choice. I put the weapon down on the bed, and stand up to stretch. I can reach the ceiling, and some of the crumbly stuff comes away in my hands.
I look back down at Gabrielle. The room is dark, but I can make out her features clearly from the light of the street lamps outside. I keep thinking of her as my partner, because that's how I remember her, but I know it's not really accurate. This woman was created just like I was, with pieces of herself from centuries ago. I shake my head. This is all nonsense. I don't know this woman at all, just like I don't know this world around me.
But I have to make my place in it. I don't know how to do that, but I surely can't run around trying to be some kind of warlord or hero. Why should I? Just because that's all my brain can remember? Well, I don't trust those memories. They aren't mine. I've never hurt or killed anybody, and half the things I remember turn my stomach. The dreams I had this night were filled with dark and painful images I'd just as soon not remember. And I see no reason to act as if I'm carrying around the guilt of things I've never done.
So who am I? Should I even call myself Xena? People are going to think I'm patterning myself after some woman from some story, based on scrolls from a time no one remembers but me, and I don't even trust what I remember.
The frustration of it all is getting to me. I'm practically shaking from it. I don't know what to do.
None of my memories are filled with this kind of indecision. So, there's the biggest difference between the Old me and the New me. The Old me knew what the hell she was doing. I don't have a clue.
Gabrielle moans in her sleep. I look, and realize she's dreaming. Hope hers are better than mine. The way she's sitting in that chair doesn't look comfortable. She's going to have one Tartarus of a neck-ache when she wakes up.
I walk over and touch her shoulder. " Gabrielle." Should I even call her that? Oh, I don't know. Still, she doesn't budge. I shake her again. Her eyes open just a bit, but I don't think she's really awake.
" Why don't you go lie down?" She gets up and moves blockily to the bed. " I'll take over watch." She lays herself down, and is instantly asleep.
I sit down in the chair, and take a quick look outside. All clear; nothing's moving. That's good. I think we should head out early, but I'm not sure where we should go. Well, maybe Gabrielle will have an idea or two.
I could strike out on my own, but there's an ache inside when I think about leaving her. I don't know if that's real or if it's just my memory-induced imagination. I've got to figure out a way to separate these thoughts before they really trip me up. Maybe we can go our separate ways once we get out of the city and out of harm's way.
I hear the rustle of fabric, and look over to see Gabrielle curling in on herself. Guess she's cold. I close the distance between us, and cover her with my coat. It's big enough that it looks like a leather blanket over her, but she takes a deep breath, and nuzzles into it. Her blond hair brushes against her brow and cheek, small tendrils moving with her exhaled breath. I catch myself reaching to brush it out of the way, but continue the movement, and it's soft against my fingers as I move it from her face. My skin touches hers and she moves her face against my hand, a ghost of a smile apparent even in her sleep.
Suddenly, my heart is pounding in my ears. I move away from the bed, turn my back to her, and stare out the window.
If I'm not the old me, then she's not the old her. So how come being close to her ties me up in knots?
The frustration returns. Guess it's never far away. So, what does the new me know how to do?
My eyes turn to the sword next to the bed.
Before my eyes open, I realize I'm awake. I'm warm and comfortable, and I smell leather. And I hear a rhythmic rush of breath that seems familiar.
When I do open my eyes, I can't help but gasp.
There's not much open space in this room, but Xena's created more. Somehow, she moved the bed farther across the room, with me on it, and cleared the table and chair out of the way. The clock says it's almost 6:30 in the morning, and there's just a touch of daylight spilling into the room. Right now, she's doing some sort of close quarters sword drill, and the sight of it takes my breath away.
She's wearing the same clothes from yesterday, minus the eye coverings, and she's coated in a light sheen of perspiration. Her eyes are nearly closed, and her hands and body move slowly, as if trying to remember where they should be. She stops and starts her movement, a pattern of four or five strikes, then she stops, retraces her movements a little faster, then moves slowly on to another sequence. I can see that she's concentrating, and doesn't know I'm watching her.
And I can't help but look, and I notice my reaction to what I see. It's all of a sudden very hot beneath this coat, but I don't want to move. I don't want her to stop once she sees I'm awake, so I decide to suffer.
Gods, she's beautiful. I don't care who she was or who she's supposed to be. I don't care about any other questions that rattled my brain half the night. All I know is what I feel now, because that feeling is really mine. It's not some memory someone else put in my head, and even though those memories are flashing through my mind very clearly right now, I don't want to see them.
I want something of my own.
And with that thought, my body seems to take over of its own accord. I sit up slowly, pushing her now too heavy coat away from my body. She stops her drill and looks at me, and I hold her eyes with my own. Her mouth opens to say something, but when she really looks at me, the words freeze unsaid. I take off my coat, and stand up.
She standing there, breathing a little harder than normal, her sword seemingly forgotten in her hand. I walk over to her, and stand close enough to touch, but I don't. I look in her eyes, so clear and crystal blue, bluer than the skies I've seen in this world, and I reach up to touch her cheek. She still says nothing, but her eyes grow darker, and suddenly I just know.
I lean up to kiss her, and feel her return the kiss. Memories try to cloud my mind, but I push them away. They don't belong here. The kiss grows, and sensations rush through me that I could identify if I wanted to, but I don't. Both hands now, sinking slowly through her hair, and her free hand is wrapped around my waist, pulling me closer.
I guess we agree.
I'm losing track of time. Just a moment ago, my hands were in her hair. Now they caress her back, across the slick material of her strange tunic, and one hand finds the fastening at the back of her neck. I draw it slowly down, and now my fingers stroke slightly damp skin. She moans. I think I do, too. I don't care. I feel her unbutton my shirt, and soon we are both standing, breast to breast, in the middle of the room, her sword at our feet, looking in each other's eyes.
" I -" she starts, then falters.
I shake my head. " Don't say anything. Unless you want to stop, I don't want to talk about it right now."
She smiles, and shakes her head. She leans her head down to kiss me again.
Later, both of us naked on the bed, my cheek pressed against the soft expanse between her breasts and her navel, I close my eyes and breathe in the scent of her. My fingers sink into her for the first time, and I sigh. She feels so good I could cry. I dance slowly within her, her thighs are pressed against my shoulders, her hands in my hair, and she moans everything but my name. I don't want to hear it. I don't want anything from before to interrupt. This moment is mine, is ours, right now. I move faster, and feel as if I'm going climax before she does, just from the way I'm touching her.
She clutches my hair tighter, and I push into her slowly, but harder, until I feel her peak beneath me, hear her cries in my ears, her breath coming so hard now that her chest moves my whole body, and I look up to see her looking at me, her eyes wet, a small smile on her face.
This is real.
I have no idea what prompted her to get up and kiss me, but I'm glad she did.
I don't remember what it was that I started to say to her. Doesn't matter - it flew right out my head when I saw how she was looking at me. There was a directness in her eyes that surprised me, and I knew what she was going to do before she did it. And I wanted her to.
Something in my stomach dropped when she touched my cheek, and much to my surprise, my heart soared when my lips met hers. I pushed every thought from my mind. And I didn't think of anything else until I lay beneath her, shaking uncontrollably, trying to get my heart to slow down.
She's looking up at me now, her chin resting atop her wrist, her hand splayed over my hip. She's smiling, but there are tears clouding the green of her eyes, and I think I understand. I don't want to say anything to ruin it, but I have to show her she's not alone.
I pull her up to kiss me, and roll her over onto her back. For a moment, the memories assail me. Do I remember how to touch her? I know I did before, but -
No. No, that wasn't me, and this isn't about them, this is about us right now. I let the indecision fade away. I may not understand the world around me, or my place in it, but if I'm going to start somewhere, it may as well be the only place that feels right. With her. I can try to deny it, because it doesn't make any sense, but she is the only thing besides that sword and chakram that somehow belongs with me.
I claim her kiss for my own, touch her skin like it's sacred, wanting to reach her soul with mine. I don't know anything else but this moment. And something within me is driving my movements, something without thought, some instinct, that moves me to kiss slowly and passionately from her neck to her hip. With a deliberation I am amazed to possess, I wrap my arms around her thighs, and drink and feast on her as if I have nothing else to live for.
Maybe I don't.
Her movement wakes me, and I see that it's late morning. Her hair is a tousled blonde mess, and I run my fingers through it with a smile. She smiles back. This is good.
I kiss her, and it comes more naturally the more we do it. I'm okay with that.
She pulls away after a few moments and just stares into my eyes. " Um," she begins finally, and I smile again. " Maybe we should talk about all this?"
" Hmm," I say, " maybe you're right." I take a deep breath and start to speak my thoughts on the matter, but a loud growl from her stomach interrupts me. She blushes.
" Or maybe I should go get us something to eat," I laugh. She joins me.
" Yeah, I think that's a good idea." She gets up slowly. " I think I'll get cleaned up while you're gone, okay?"
" Sounds good," I say distractedly, because I'm watching her walk around the small room naked, picking up her clothes as she moves towards the bathing room. Well, the clone-builders did a good job there, I must admit. " We're supposed to be out of here by one. I think we've got enough time to eat here."
" Great!" And she disappears into the bathing room.
After a minute or two, I hear the water start, and I decide to get moving before I start thinking too much.
A little while later and I'm outside, walking the nearby streets looking for something cheap that isn't made of horseflesh. I see more cops driving around in their cab, but they don't see me. I wonder how long it'll take them to track us down. Hopefully, longer than it'll take us to disappear.
There's a little tavern across the road. A couple of guys outside give me the once-over, but apparently think twice about saying anything to me. Inside, it takes me a moment to adjust to the gloom, but after I do, I see there's pretty much nothing to worry about. One older guy is sitting at the bar, nursing a large ale, and the bartender is watching some picture box mounted on the wall. He looks up at me. " Mornin'."
" Yeah, you got any food?" I ask as I walk up to the bar.
He looks at me strangely. " Menus right there in front of you."
I look down at a clearly covered parchment. No pictures this time. I'm gonna have to learn to read this script. " Yeah, well, what's good?"
" Burgers are ok."
" Fine. I'll take two, and two cokes."
" To go?"
" Um, sure." I watch as he heads back towards what is presumably a kitchen. I sit down on a stool, and look around, but my attention is drawn to the picture box. It shows some guy who is more pretty than handsome sitting behind a desk of some sort, but it's the picture behind him that grabs me.
" ...and local police are still on the lookout for two women who escaped custody yesterday in North Hollywood. Citizens are advised to treat these women as armed and dangerous. They are described as being costumed like the characters Xena and Gabrielle from the television show 'Xena: Warrior Princess'. One is about six feet tall with dark hair and blue eyes, the other is about five and a half feet tall with blonde hair and green eyes. Any information can be phoned in to two-one-two-five-five-five..."
The bartender returns. I wait to see if he recognizes me, my hand slowly moving towards the chakram under my coat.
" Here's your cokes. Burgers'll be another minute," he says, and walks back to the kitchen.
So far so good.
My brain is racing so fast, I almost slipped and fell in the bathing closet. That would not have been good.
I can't believe how good I feel. I can't believe I made love with her. It felt strange and perfect and new and like coming home and I don't know what we're going to do now, but I sure hope we do that again.
Alright, Gabrielle, slow down. First things first. Put your clothes on.
I like this outfit. I don't know why it's called a Han Solo costume, but it's comfortable and functional, and these little pockets everywhere are a great invention. I have to find a way to hide my sais, or I'm going to have to get rid of them altogether. It doesn't look like people walk around with weapons here, but I don't want to give them up.
Now clean and dressed, I'm looking out the window to see if Xena's on her way back. I don't see her yet, so I turn back to the room, and my eyes are drawn to that shiny box in the corner. Wonder if I can figure out how it works. That ought to keep me occupied until she gets back.
A couple of moments later, and a loud voice comes out of the thing, and makes me jump. I fiddle around with the knobs and the voice gets quieter. Soon a picture matches the voice, and a man is talking to me.
" ..advised to treat these women as armed and dangerous. They are described as being costumed like the characters Xena and Gabrielle from the television show..."
Oh, great. I watch a little more, then take another peek outside. No cops. That's good, but I bet we can't stay here long. Xena will probably want to leave the minute she hears about this.
The man on the screen says he'll be right back, and a woman comes on and begins talking about her hair. One minute it's blonde like mine, the next it's a kind of red color. Hmm, there's an idea.
She's followed by a guy in a strange hat. " I'm Cal Worthington, and this is my dog Spot!" He starts talking about a whole lot of cabs behind him, but he calls them cars. I better tell Xena about that, too. We'll never blend in if we don't call things by their proper names.
I spin one of the knobs around, and it changes the faces in front of me. I stop when I see a man sitting in a room with several shelves of books behind him.
" The Oxford Press versions of these texts are available at the Los Angeles County Library's central location at..."
There's a knock on the door behind me, with a pattern I recognize from before. I guess that's how I think of things now: before, meaning a few thousand years ago, and now, meaning since yesterday. Well, whatever it takes to keep me from going crazy.
I open the door for Xena, who steps inside and locks the door behind her. " Guess the word's out about us," she says, and she begins unpacking food onto the table.
" So I saw," I respond, pointing to the box and reach for a drink. I hope it's a coke.
" Yeah?" she looks over to where another man is talking about books now. " I see you got the picture box to work."
We commiserate over lunch. I think we should go to the library and see what we can find out about this world we live in. She thinks we should get out of town first. I don't see any point in leaving yet - if we don't know where we are, we certainly won't know where we're going.
" What about the cops? They're going to catch up with us if we don't move quick."
And slowly, piece by piece, a plan begins to emerge.
It's after dark here at the library, and it looks like we are evenly laden with good and bad news.
The good news is that we have a better idea of where we are, we're learning how to read a language we already know how to speak, and we've got some leads on some free places to sleep until we can figure out how to get out of town. We know a little bit more about this strange world around us, we have more options in front of us than we ever imagined yesterday.
The bad news is that we have no money in a world where you need it to get by, the cops are looking for us, and this place is about to close.
And we are far and away from the Greece we used to know.
Some of this we already knew from Alti and her little toads. I just didn't want to trust their word. Now we know for sure. It's going to take a little more effort than I thought to get us out of town, so we've decided, for the time being, to see if we can find a place to lay low until we raise some money.
" Well, the nearest shelter is about twenty blocks from here," I say as I look up from a map of downtown Los Angeles. Gabrielle is looking at a book that teaches kids how to read. Her hair is shorter now, and dyed a dark red, so now she looks nothing like the cops have been describing on the televisions. " What do you say we crash there tonight and come back here tomorrow morning?"
She smiles at me. She's been doing that all day, and it makes stomach drop every time. " Sounds good. Although, from what we've been able to find out, I don't think we'll get a room together."
I smile back. " Well, that's a shame."
" Xena!" she blushes, and my smile only fades a little as her exclamation brings a thought to mind.
" Listen," I start, and sit up straighter in my chair, " do you really think we should keep those names?"
She looks surprised, but I continue. " Everyone thinks we're just copying that show, and I don't know about you, but I'm not that person anymore. I'm just a copy, and I don't know if I should keep the name of someone I'm not." The darker dreams from last night are making my skin crawl.
She reaches across the table and touches my hand softly before pulling back. " I know what you mean. I've been thinking the same thing. But, for better or worse, that's who we are. Maybe we are just copies, but it's still us." I guess I look skeptical because she continues in a stronger tone of voice. " You and I both know we're different. We know that who we are now is up to us, but I don't think we can just pretend that the old Xena and Gabrielle never existed. I still have my memories of before, and while I don't think they should run my life now, I don't want to just get rid of them. They're all I've got." She looks around, then realizes we're the only ones left in here. " I may have problems with who or what I am, and I know you do too. But I can't just call myself something else - it doesn't feel right."
Her eyes search mine. " I know what I felt this morning, and that was real. So why can't we make lives for ourselves, and make our names real for us now?"
It's a strange and convoluted logic, but I have to admit, she makes sense.
It's been a few days, and things have settled down a bit. We still have no identification, and I'm not sure how we're going to conquer that particular hurdle, but at least we're blending in better.
It's late afternoon here at the shelter, and I'm finishing up the laundry for the children's rooms. Xena left early this morning with one of the women who works here, to try to track down some part for one of the cars - no, vans - that the shelter has here. Xena says she wants to see how they work. I think she just likes things made of metal.
We still haven't figured out what to do to make money, but I feel good that we're helping out here. I'm surprised that there are so many women and children who need shelter, but I'm glad they have a safe place they can come to. I feel guilty that Xena and I are taking up beds that would be used by folks who really need it more than we do, but Xena pointed out that we don't exactly have another option at the moment. She's got a point.
" Hey, Jane!" It takes me a minute to realize someone's talking to me. " Your friend's back, and it looks like she picked up a new toy." One of the shelter volunteers is smiling at me. Xena and I decided that while we'd keep our names with each other, perhaps we should adopt temporary ones until we get out of Los Angeles.
" Thanks!" I finish folding a few threadbare towels, then head for the back of the building, where there's a small parking lot for the shelter's vans.
And there I find my partner, and now I can honestly say that's how I truly think of her. She's sitting in the back of an open van-like carriage called a truck, with her hands tinkering with a large metal frame of some sort.
" Okay, Mary," I say to her, with a twitch of a smile, " what in all of Athens is this?"
She looks up and her blue eyes are twinkling. " It's called a motorcycle frame. Some guy at the junk yard said I could take it off his hands for nothing."
" And what's a motorcycle?"
She stands up in the back of the truck, and wipes her greasy hands off on her jeans. She traded the Trinity outfit for something less attention grabbing, something called a T shirt and a pair of jeans. I don't know why they call them pairs of jeans when you can only fit one person in them, but no one asked me.
" It's like a two wheeled carriage, and you ride on it like a horse."
Ahh. That explains it.
I look around to make sure we're alone. " Hey, we're alone."
She looks up and smiles, then leans over the side of the truck to kiss me. Her shorter hair tickles my face. I cut and dyed mine, but she just cut hers to just above her shoulders, and since she ditched the leathers (well, she kept the coat) she really does look different. I just enjoy the kiss for a moment. We haven't been alone since leaving that awful motel three days ago.
I take a moment to catch my breath, then look at her new carriage. " How can you ride it if it doesn't have any wheels?"
She scowls. " It will."
I just shake my head. " So, any ideas on how we're going to get out of here?"
She leaps over the side of the truck, lands in front of me, and gives me another quick kiss. " Actually," and her smile returns, " yeah, I do."
She walks inside without another word. And of course, I follow. I guess I'd follow her anywhere.
Hope she doesn't figure that out.
A few weeks ago, I drew my first breath in this crazy world, but I think things are slowly looking up.
The old man, Mac, who runs the junkyard where I got my motorcycle, needed some help around the place. He didn't seem to mind that I didn't know what I was doing at first. I think he doesn't want to admit that he's too old to chase off the young punks that are always trying to steal stuff from him, and intimidating the little brats seems to come naturally to me. Still, I have to admit that I'm picking up things with these cars and machines pretty quickly. We've worked out a deal that includes parts for the 'cycle and lodging in a little trailer out back. It's not much, but Gabrielle likes it and that's all that really matters.
Of course, I didn't tell her that.
She's got a part-time job at the shelter, and she spends a lot of spare time at the library, but I think we're making headway. Both of us are reading English now, though she's further along in some stuff than I am.
Gabrielle has been watching the news and reading the papers, and no cops have come knocking. That's good. I only kicked a few guys around at the station that day. I didn't permanently hurt anyone. I don't think I've got it in me.
At least, I hope not.
We haven't talked a lot about what we want to do with our lives. I mean, the bigger picture. That just seems too huge right now. We're still trying to separate ourselves from who we were, so we're taking things one step at a time.
Mac has figured out that we're running a little outside the boundaries of the law. He caught me doing drills early one morning, but he didn't ask me any questions. He's helped us get some basic identification, so we might be able to get around a little better. I don't want to hurt anyone, but I'm not above breaking a rule here and there. It seemed to bug Gabrielle a bit, but she can't argue with results either.
" Yo, Mary!" she hollers at me from the back of the yard. " Supper's done."
Yo? She's getting the hang of the local language a little too well, if you ask me.
I toss my wrench down, and wipe my greasy hands off on a rag. " Whatever you say, Jane," I say, even though she can't hear me. These names crack me up. She got them out of some kid's book.
I can smell supper as I get closer to our little tin hut. Ooooh, lamb.
" I think I've got the bike running," I say to her after supper. " We've got a few hundred dollars stashed. You want to head out for Barstow next week?"
She sighs. " Sounds good. I'm starting to like it here, but I don't want to push our luck." She looks down at her hands for a minute. " What about after that?"
Now it's my turn to sigh. " We've talked about that, Gabrielle. I don't think we should make any long-term plans."
" I'm not thinking of plans really, just a path we might take."
" You mean the helping people thing again? You sure about that? It's tough enough trying to help ourselves."
" Xena, I'm not asking you to do anything big and dramatic. You don't have to take over Iraq or anything." She chuckles. " But didn't it feel good to help out Mack and some of those women at the shelter?"
Well, she's got me there.
" All I'm suggesting is that we do what we can when we can. That's not too much to ask, is it?" She smiles that little smile at me, and I'm pulled into those green eyes. Again. " Come on, Xena. I've even got an idea of a good place to start.
" Hmmph." That's as much as I can agree to. I can't let her think she's won this easily.
If she figures out how much she has me wrapped around her fingers, I'm doomed.
" Come on, Gabrielle! Let's get going!" I'm revving the engine on the motorcycle, but she's taking her sweet redheaded time. " The day's a-wastin'!" I think I picked that one up from Mack.
I hear a slam, and I look up. " Alright! I'm coming!" And there she is. She's wearing the Han Solo outfit again. We finally saw the movie last week at the shelter, and I got a kick out of the cocky captain. I see some parallels. Naturally, Gabrielle disagrees, and says I have more in common with a stubborn swaggering smuggler than she does. I don't know what she's talking about.
She's got a mid-sized backpack with spare clothes and supplies, and a modified side pocket to hold the new sais I got her. I've got some stuff loaded in saddlebags, and I built a special add-on for the sword. You can't even tell that's what it is if you're more than a few feet away. She climbs on the bike behind me, and wraps her arms around my waist.
" Have you named this thing yet?" she says loudly in my ear.
I clear my throat and answer without looking at her. " Argo." Zeus, I can feel the blush moving up my face.
She laughs lightly and squeezes me. " Hey, when are we gonna get me one of these?"
I just shake my head.
Last night, we made love, then talked late into the night, and made love again. I don't have any more answers than I did when this all started. All I know is that she's the only thing that makes sense to me.
And if that's the only answer I find, I think it just might be enough.
I'm standing outside a pay phone. I know Xena's nearby; I can hear the low roar of the motorcycle. I think she's prepared to ride in and save the day if things get out of hand. I don't think they will.
Ten minutes later, a cab pulls up to the curb. I open the back door and sit down, but I leave the door open, with one foot on the street.
" Where to?" He looks over his shoulder at me. He doesn't recognize me. That's just as well.
" Um, about a month or two ago, you gave a ride to a couple of women who couldn't pay you. You remember?"
He turns completely around to get a good look at me. " Hey! Yeah, I remember." He looks like he's about to get vocal about it.
I interrupt him before he has a chance. " Well, I wanted to say thanks and give you this." I hand him a bill through the little window. " I told you I would." I smile and get out of the cab.
I walk away, around the corner, then pause to make sure he leaves. Xena was worried that he might call the cops, but I'm guessing that a hundred dollar bill will buy his silence on the matter. I watch him drive away.
A few seconds later, I hear and feel the rumble of the bike pull up beside me. I turn to look at her.
" Feel better now?" she asks me. I can't see her eyes. She kept the dark glasses she got that day, and her hair is tucked under her helmet. But I can see the ghost of the wry grin she's trying to hold back.
" Yeah, I do." I shoulder my pack, and climb on the bike behind her. Once I'm squared away, I squeeze her around the waist. " Let's go, partner. This thing won't drive itself."
She shakes her head, and I can feel her laughing. Things still don't make much sense, but at least I'm building new memories, so I don't have to rely on the old ones.
And I've got her. That's all that really matters to me.
The end...for now.
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