Summary: Deirdre is a newcomer to the Xenaverse. Phoebe is an ardent fan. What can they learn from the Warrior Princess?
Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle and any other characters from XWP belong to whoever owns them. I know it's not me. I wrote this for the fun of it, not the money (ha!). No copyright infringement is intended; thank you, TPTB, for preserving the bardic tradition. The other characters and the story are mine.
Violence: Nope. Not this time.
Sex, etc.: A little, not very explicit. A LOT about people of the same sex being in love. Please don't be offended; it's really very sweet. But it may be illegal where you live. If so, please switch off, mate.
Language: There are some words in here that you probably wouldn't want to say in front of your mother.
Hurt/Comfort: Some tough stuff here (at least I found it so when I wrote it).
Other stuff: I guess this counts as an uber, if that means what I think it means. Definitely ALT.
Scotty had moved out in March. He must have really wanted to put some distance between him and me, because all he took were his clothes, his books, and his camera gear. He didn't take a single thing we'd bought together, but, since it was my paychecks that bought the stuff, that was only right, I guess. I came home from school and his closet was empty, his bookshelf was empty, he was gone. No note, no forwarding address, just -- gone.
I tried to cry, put on a show of abandoned-lover grief, but I was dry-eyed after a while. We'd only moved in together in September, and while we said we were in love, it got boring pretty fast. Like I didn't know it was going to end up that way. It's mostly my fault; I do get bored with the men in my life, fairly quickly. I mean, the same old exercises, night after night. With Scotty it lasted a little longer. He had that artistic temperament, I guess. Creative. I posed for him, a few times, in the nude, and that was kind of a turn-on. He wanted to take shots of us in bed together, but I drew the line at that -- not that I'm a prude or anything, it was just too gross for my taste. There's a difference between art and porn.
So for two more months of the school year I'd come home, dump my papers on the couch, microwave something, and watch the big screen TV while I graded assignments. Tenth-grade Spanish workbook exercises didn't require that much concentration to grade, and even essays went fairly quickly.
I thought hard about getting rid of that big-screen monster when Scotty left. After all, I paid for it, even though he was the one who watched it most of the time. That was pretty much the way it was -- I worked and paid the rent and everything else, while he went to art school to get his MFA in photography. But that resolution was one with all the other changes that fell victim to inertia.
When school let out I had a lot of time on my hands. The funding for the summer language program had dried up, and for the first time in three years I didn't have a summer job. It was a hot summer from June on. I had a window AC in the bedroom, I was making enough money to live on, I could slip the rent checks under the super's door, and there was the bodega on the ground floor to see to my material needs -- what more could I desire? It got to the point where I didn't even pick up the phone on the rare occasions it rang.
I suppose you could say I was depressed.
TV was my constant companion. Most times I didn't even hunt for anything "meaningful", just let it warm up to whatever station was on or just flick the remote randomly. Chicago has a gazillion cable channels, and I sampled them all, CNN, MSNBC, sci-fi channel, soap channel, cooking channel, wine channel, golf channel (God! How could anybody really watch that stuff on TV? I can't stand golf for real). Comedy, Turner's commercialess movies, conservatives, liberals, public-access whackos, it all flowed by me. And reruns of Xena.
When Xena was a big buzz, when the show was first shown, I never saw it -- two reasons. I was a college student trying to get a degree as quickly as possible, because I had big dreams that wouldn't wait; and I didn't have cable TV at the time. I'd heard about it from friends, but I never wanted to take time from my studies. The OC behavior paid off -- I finished a B.A. in three years. But the big dream of being a translator faded out -- nobody was hiring graduates from midwestern small colleges, even with 3.8 GPA's -- so I took a teaching job in Chicago, Spanish and English comp.
So the Warrior Princess was all new to me when she popped up on the box one morning. I put down the Trib, munched through my granola, and watched every second. I was fascinated. I'd always had a soft spot for history and mythology, I was the only girl in my grade school who played Dungeons and Dragons, and in college I'd made a project out of re-translating the Cid saga. I was a sucker for all that ancient Greek stuff, even though even I knew that the Trojan war and Julius Caesar simply didn't jibe in the same lifetime. It was a story, for Christ's sake. And I knew that Xena and Gabs were getting it on before I ever heard the word "subtext" outside of a literature class.
Gabs was cute with the short hair, but there were some clip shows that showed her with a totally different look, and I realized I'd come in in the middle of the series, and it wasn't just one episode at a time, but a continuous, coherent story. I didn't care. Three eps a day, and I'd be through the whole thing and could watch it all over from the beginning, if the cable station would let me. I didn't mind the subtext; in fact, I thought it was sweet. I'm a sucker for love stories, too, despite (or maybe because of) my own parched romantic landscape. I even thought the Joxer-Gabs thing was cute, which I later learned was heresy among the gurus of fandom.
So here was my life for the summer -- Watch for three hours in the morning, surf the net for fan fiction and new sites, write in the afternoon (I'd been working on a novel for eight months and was about two-thirds finished), and do some free-lance translations for customers who hit on my website. I was tempted to write some fan fic, but I just couldn't beat what was already on the tube. It was campy, it was overdone, it was weird. But it was more fun than anything since B5. Late at night, I'd watch the same eps again. In Spanish.
"Deirdre", I said to myself (out loud, of course), "you are turning into a nutcase." It was okay. Being nuts wasn't anything to be afraid of.
And I was having so much fun. I cried at the lovely poem that Xena gave Gab for her birthday. And those eyes! My God, how could anybody not see it! It all came home with that line to Ares, the one about "the one person I'd planned to spend the rest of my life with" or something like that. That ep stunk, generally, but that one line said it all.
I was settling in for what my cable guide said was the series finale. I'd deliberately avoided spoiler sites for the eps I hadn't seen, and I was full of anticipation. My girls, in their old campfire mode. Northern lights, let's go away...an Asian monk? Interesting. Music, "In a time of..."
Who's that knocking at my door? Damn. It sure as hell ain't Barnacle Bill. It had to be, in fact, was, Phoebe, my neighbor 'cross the hall. I knew no one else in the building and I'd have had to buzz in anybody from outside.
I let her in, all four-foot eleven of her, bright blue eyes, flaming red hair, and no, it was not from a bottle. She had an empty jar of honey in her hand. "Got some?" She asked, and her eyes twinkled. She was one of those "my-body-is-a-temple" types, and she would no more eat white sugar than she would swallow cyanide. But she was also cursed with a sweet tooth. I nodded, waved her to the kitchen, and rushed back into the living room to catch my show. She saw what I was watching -- it was hard to miss, the damn TV was as big as a barn and covered one whole wall -- and said, "Oh my!" with some distress.
She ran into the room, grabbed the remote, and turned the set off. I went ballistic. "What the hell are you doing?!" I screamed, grabbing for the remote while I tried to hold the front of my ratty bathrobe together. Who the hell did she think she was? The taste police? My mother?
She looked at me sorrowfully. "You really don't want to watch this."
"Why the hell not!?" I thought she was maybe one of those anti-gay crazies who are always trying to "convert" the poor benighted perverts. "It's my TV! Turn that back on!" I was thrusting my hands after the remote and she bobbed and weaved in a great game of keepaway. Finally I got disgusted and quit, or maybe was just marshaling my resources for the next assault.
"Have you seen the whole show? All six seasons from the beginning?", she asked, with the air of a doctor who knows why you're going to die but isn't ready to tell you yet.
"No! I want to see this one, now, if you please! " I was ready to kick some ass of my own, warrior princess-style. But Phoebe touched my hands gently, said, "sit down and let me explain." I glared, but something in her eyes made me sit down.
"This is the very last episode. Understand? The very last. There's some things in this ep that will spoil all the rest if you haven't seen them. I know, it was really hard when I watched it the first time. And I'd been with it from the start. Where'd you come in? Did you see the crucifixion?"
"In the snow. Where they both get it. Not the other one in the rain."
"Yes, I saw that. I think I came in a few eps before it. Something about a play."
"You've missed a lot. You should really go back to the beginning."
"You sound like a serious fan."
"Since it first came on."
"So why are you so concerned that I not see the last one?"
"Oh...go ahead and watch it if you want. But I just don't want you to get hurt before you've seen how wonderful they were at the beginning. There really was a lot of change, a lot of growth. But that ending..." She looked as if she was going to cry.
"Look, If it means that much to you, I'll wait. They're going to rerun the whole thing starting today, after these last two. I can wait."
"Look, I owe you something. I was rude, and I want to make it up to you. I'm going to go back to my place for just a minute. Just promise me you won't turn the TV back on. Please?"
She was positively charming as she pleaded. So I promised and she dashed out like Tinkerbelle trying to save Wendy.
Now, Phoebe and I weren't exactly strangers. She was in fact the only non-professional acquaintance I had during the whole Scotty debacle. She had come to sit with me the night Scotty left; she'd seen him loading his car, moving out, and had given him an earful about loyalty and kindness and what a schmuck he was being.
She'd moved in a little after us with a roommate, a beautiful Asian woman named Ling. I never got to know her that well, because she was in some high-powered job. Phoebe was in the radio business, an engineer on a talk show who got laid off when the station was bought out. She was now unemployed, lived on savings and unemployment checks, was looking for another job. The roommate seemed to have disappeared -- I hadn't seen her at all since before Scotty left. I suddenly wondered if Phoebe had lost a lover, too. Obviously, I was subtexting to the max.
I had never talked to Phoebe about my Xena addiction -- sure, I knew that's what it was, but it hadn't started costing me anything yet, I hadn't spent a dime other than the cable bill. Not like dope or booze where you had to blow a wad for a steady supply. Just a few bucks a week for videotape. And, since there were no demands on my oh-so-precious time, I could watch until my eyes turned back into their sockets, if I wanted to.
Little did I know that the nature of my dependency was about to change, radically.
I sat there staring at the black screen, little creepy-crawlies starting to worm around on my skin, my breathing getting tighter and tighter as I tried to imagine what my gals were up to behind that black curtain. I pulled my hand back from the remote, I don't know how many times. I was just getting ready to say the hell with it when Phoebe came in again, without knocking, toting a big plastic storage tub that was almost as big as she was.
A tubful of Xena. Gabrielle, Joxer, Ares. The whole ball of wax. The whole nine yards. The...
Oh, hell. Treasure. The fuckin' mother lode.
Three boxed sets of DVDs. Seven boxed sets of tapes. Magazines. Newsletters. Convention badges. Clip tapes. Even action figurines, still in their little bubble packs, price tags and all.
Great Caesar's ghost. The woman was a fanatic.
I looked up at her as if I expected to see the fires of hell burning in her eyes. She was, after all, taking me up on that high mountain and showing me all the wonders of heaven and earth. All I had to do to obtain pure bliss was to sell my soul to the demon of television.
I plunged in without a second thought.
"They don't have the last three seasons on DVD yet," she said. "The fourth isn't due out till next summer, I think. But I've got all the tapes. The DVDs are much better quality, so you can watch all of the first three on those. But don't read the mags until you've seen the shows. Too many spoilers."
"Me? Are you just letting me have this?"
"Well..no, not for keeps. But you can keep it here if you promise to let me in to get something if I want. I've seen them all a million times. I just want you to have the same experience I had."
"Because you love the show..don't you? I can tell."
"Because you were ready to kill me when I turned it off. You got it bad."
"All right. I'll watch everything from the first show. Okay?"
"Oh, no. You've got to watch the Hercules crossovers first. that's where we get introduced to Xena."
"Hercules? Never saw it."
"Well, I didn't either, except for these three eps. But that's where the story starts. Xena's transformation to good."
"All right. Pop'em in. I'm game."
"You'll love this."
She was right. I did.
We had a Xena: Warrior Princess marathon. Do you know how long it takes to watch one hundred and thirty-seven 45-minute episodes? One-hundred and two hours and forty-five minutes. That's continuously, no sleep, food, or potty breaks. That's about four and a half days. Of course, nobody could do that (although I'm told some have tried, the more fools they). As it was, we spent two weekends and the week in between in front of the tube, watching for about twelve hours a day, punctuated by breaks to heat soup, make sandwiches, raid the fridge for fruit, or take a pizza delivery (whole wheat crust, of course). And sleep, which usually wound up with both of us on the couch, feet resting in the other's lap, Phoebe snoring softly. (I don't snore)*. We completely lost track of time, like explorers inside the arctic circle, when it never gets dark; for us night and day were not only irrelevant but non-existent. The only significance of the clock was when the pizzeria was closed. I told my on-line clients I was on vacation (true). I told the mailman that I was gone for an extended period (partly true). And I ignored my phone and housework, hoping they would go away (not true). And I didn't write a lick.
We kept in shape, too. We held each other's feet for crunches, did Pilates on the floor in front of the couch, and took turns on the bike. All to the athletic displays of the Destroyer of Nations and her Amazon honey.
And we became friends.
During that first week I watched in rapt attention, rarely speaking during the times the show was on. Phoebe respected my virgin status and kept silent; she was enjoying the show through the eyes of a newcomer, reliving her first experiences. We'd occasionally exchange a question, or pass the bong back and forth (Phoebe's list of uningestable substances apparently didn't include mild intoxicants). But after we'd decided to call it a day, there was time before falling asleep to chat and get to know each other. I found out that her radio job was makework; she'd been hired on the strength of her extracurricular work on her college campus station. She was really a -- I gasped -- wildlife biologist. Had a B.S. in it, hours toward a Ph.D., and no more money. Not too many wildlife biology jobs in the Chicagoland area. Not that much wildlife. Other than the two-legged variety, which was closer to my area of expertise than hers.
I asked her why she insisted on staying in Chicago, not go out west somewhere. "Ling," she answered laconically. "But I suppose I could go anywhere, now."
Her brief confession confirmed two things that I had suspected: that she was a woman's woman, and that her love had left her, for reasons I could not fathom. For she was not merely beautiful, in a pixielike way, but she was truly sweet. She had her quirks -- wouldn't eat meat, anything refined, like flour or sugar, nothing with chemicals in it, drank only bottled water of which her apartment had an abundance stacked against the walls, meditated twice a day (yes, even during Xena), and others -- was terribly opinionated, full of energy and bounce, and of course, she snored. But she was kind, tolerant in a way that was not merely passive, but active. She had compassion in abundance. Scotty's desertion finally got to me during Xena's last scene with Marcus, when she must leave him in the afterlife and return to the world of the living; I couldn't hold back the tears and they became a flood. Phoebe turned off the TV, and put her lithe little arms around me, pulled me into her lap, gave me a soft place to land. I cried for a long time, she stroking my long hair, cooing that it was all right to cry, all right to be angry, all right to want to let go. What I didn't tell her -- at the time -- was that I was far more angry at myself than at Scotty, angry because I simply hadn't made the effort to keep him interested. Or anybody else. She didn't insist on knowing the reasons for my sadness, all she needed to know was that here was a person in need of comfort, and she could give it.
I like to think I returned the favor. We came to the final two episodes, the finale that she wouldn't let me see the first time. I knew, from her earlier comments, that she hated that pair of episodes, and I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd gone to her own apartment and let me watch them alone. By this time I'd seen both our heroines die, several times, gone through incredible suffering, and conquer it all. But Phoebe stayed. She stayed through the whole horrible, tragic, bloody thing, and we ended up in each other's arms, crying, as that last sunset fell behind the mountains. I cried because it was sad, a catharsis, in the best spirit of Greek tragedy; Xena had been destroyed by her own fatal flaw, the blood debt she owed to her past. Even her love for Gabrielle couldn't pay that. Phoebe cried for quite another reason.
After the tears had been wiped some, I asked her why she hated that finale so much. She looked at me for a while, her blue eyes still as sapphires, deciding. Finally she said "It reminds me of Ling."
"Why? That she left you?"
"Yes, she left me, but not in the way you mean."
"I'm sorry, Phoebe, I don't..."
"Oh my God."
"She was driving home from downtown, late at night. Her work kept her at her office very long hours. She was driving along Lake Shore Drive when a drunk driver lost control of his car, spun out in front of her, then drove against the traffic, the wrong way. He hit her head-on. She was killed instantly; the car exploded, burned. There wasn't enough left of her to identify. I had to go to the morgue and claim her; her family is still in Taiwan. They didn't come here for the funeral. They'd disowned her."
I did what she had done for me: cradled her head in my lap, let the tears come, held her tightly, surrounded her with warmth. And the tears did come, along with deep, wracking sobs and cries of pure agony. How many times has she done this alone, I thought, in the months since Ling's death, how many nights has she howled her rage? She must be very strong, I thought, to keep the bright, funny, perky personality that I saw every day, with this ghastly scar inside.
I wasn't going anywhere. Our friends in the Xenaverse weren't going anywhere. And Phoebe was going to stay right her with me until she felt whole again.
She woke with a dawn. I wasn't sure how many dawns it had actually been, since I had been in and out of consciousness myself. But I sensed every time she wept, and I woke for that. Finally, with sunlight sluicing through the drawn blinds, she lifted her head, rubbed her eyes, ruffled her thatch of red hair, and...smiled. Smiled, and said "thank you", and put her arms around me. She wasn't crying, and neither was I. We were just trading warmth. I kissed her ear gently, just an affectionate peck. She pulled away from me, looking solemn, and said "I think I'll go now. I need a shower. I'll go over to my place."
"You can use the shower here."
"No...no, thanks. I need clean clothes, anyway. I stink." Her manner was a little distant, a little nervous, a little edgy.
Her smile as she left the room was decidedly not mirthful.
So now I was a full fledged Xenite. I'd seen all the eps, I'd read the fiction, Even contributed an article to Whoosh!, not under my own name, of course. I hadn't been to a Con, but then I wasn't ever much for crowds, and it was inconsistent with my current hermit lifestyle. The only people I saw regularly were Silas, the super, Profirio, the bodega clerk, and Phoebe.
I was rewatching episodes we particularly liked, or ones that she felt had something special to catch. We made a list of our favorite eps, and we'd watch them over and over. The undisputed best on our list was "A Day in the Life", then "The Quest", "The Price", "When Fates Collide", and "Many Happy Returns", which we actually split on, but she conceded that it should make the list because of the great poetry part. We'd spend a few hours in the morning going through the tapes and discs, and then I'd go on-line the rest of the day or write. Phoebe was a voracious reader and would often curl up on the sofa with one of my books when she wasn't out job hunting. We had an easy, understanding friendship, where we could come and go without any questions. At night after dinner we'd settle in for more Xena, often falling asleep on the couch, again.
We'd chat during the eps. Debating which warlord was uglier, which fight was more exciting or more graceful, which Amazons we thought were toughest. We'd long ago established that we had different preferences for the stars. I loved Lucy, Xena, partly because she was tall -- I'm tall, five-ten, but Xena/Lucy would have to look down at me -- and partly because of the brilliant eyes, the haughty bearing. She just blew me away with her poise. Even when she was hamming it up, she was still regal. Phoebe, naturally (she was a contrary, I think), preferred Renee, Gabrielle. When I asked why, she said she'd always had a soft spot for blondes. She smiled at me when she said this, in an enigmatic way. You should know that I happen to be blonde, more Argo's kind of blonde. I came right back at her with the fact that I loved blue eyes. She had blue eyes (as I think I mentioned). We stopped talking about this subject after that.
I looked for signs that her grief was surfacing again, but she didn't show it. She was vivacious and funny, as if that terrible breakdown hadn't happened. But there was an odd change: she wouldn't touch me, and when I touched her she moved away to minimize the contact. I was familiar with something called "touch neuroses", which students under great stress would go through; our school shrink said deep grief could trigger it. It was the best explanation I could think of, and decided to just let her have her space. I was glad to have her in my company, and glad that I could give her mine. That should have been good enough, and it was, almost; but I felt that something was missing.
Now, this next part is a little weird. No. A lot weird. To this day I can't really see it in anything like my regular reality, but I don't have too many alternate realities. I was never heavily into scrambling my brains with chemical assistance or otherwise. I live pretty solidly in this world. A shot of scotch, a glass or two of wine, a couple of beers with a pizza, a hit on a roach to be sociable. Not to say that in my student days I didn't fry my share of brain cells, but surely no more than the rest of the lunatics I went to school with. And they seemed to be carrying a full load of bricks. Mostly.
So riddle me this.
It was pretty late at night -- we'd started to differentiate between day and night again, not because we wanted to, necessarily, but because our bio clocks were already set -- and we were watching one of those eps where Gab starts out by wanting to shop. Phoebe is at one end of the couch, and I'm at the other. She hands the lit bong to me and says "I hate these market scenes. They're just silly."
"What'ya want -- more fights?"
"Well, she is the Warrior Princess."
I was the writer. I had to come to the defense of bard-kind. "It's just a set-up, a way to segue from the world outside the stage to the world inside it. Like Shakespeare's fools, or the tribunes in JC."
"Ya, but... shopping? These guys live out of a saddlebag, for heaven's sake. What do they do with all the stuff she buys? Goofy. I just wish they'd skip them."
"And skip to...what?"
"Whatever's going to happen. Look, here -- Gabrielle gets kidnapped by that chunky thug with the ugly sword. Then he and Xena fight, and she gets that stuff in her eyes-- why couldn't they have just skipped all that shopping crap and got to the kidnapping and the fight? That's the story."
"But it's fun, Phoebe. It gives us some sense that they're real, they have a life."
"Yeah. Just like we have lives. It'd just be good to know when something's gonna happen so you can be ready for it. It hurts when you get dragged out of your regular life for something awful."
Now this is the first weird thing (I know that's a very un-bardlike thing to do) but at the moment she said that there was a close-up of Xena on the screen, her face turned not quite in profile. And as soon as Phoebe said what she did, Xena (Lucy?) turned to face the camera, full face, and I swear to God looked right at me! She scowled as if she'd heard something that she knew was just not right, like Joxer had made an inane remark. Then the action picked up from there.
Phoebe had the remote, and without asking she backed up the disc a couple of frames and ran that part again. This time, no strange expression, no being pinned to the back of the couch by Xena's gaze. We looked at each other and I said, "What'd you put in that bong?" She just shook her head. Finally she said "Maybe it's a shadow on the DVD. Something they should have edited over but just popped through, stayed on screen longer than it should have. It's not there any more."
"Well, I'm glad you saw it too. I'm not hallucinating."
"Unless we both are."
I felt a chill. "Wanna watch something else?"
She agreed with surprising alacrity. "Sure. What?"
"'Quest' is always a good one."
"You are a rank sentimentalist."
"And tell me that kiss doesn't do something for you."
"Pah." She changed discs and we were watching Gab haul that incredibly ornate sarcophagus (it must have taken some ancient Greek coffin crafter five years to build that, and it probably cost a million dinars) through the Amazon forest, and poor ol' Autolycus get palsied around the landscape doing Xena's bidding.
So we watched, and watched, and I'm so entranced by how Gabrielle goes from uncertainty and fear to the decisive, powerful Amazon Queen, then finally realizing she can have her heart's desire again. That development is why I love that ep so much. And we come to the kiss. I'd seen that kiss so many times by now, it's etched on my brain, even though they cut right to Autolycus lip-locking Gabby just as her lips brush Xena's. But this time it was different.
Yeah. Now, you can put this down to the possibility that I was very, very stoned. But you'd have to say the same about Phoebe, and no two people get stoned in quite the same way; and her experience was identical to mine. Yeah.
I'm watching Xena bend over to meet Gabrielle's lips, Gab with her eyes closed, when she pushes Xena away with her hands, pulls back, and hollers "Wait a minute!"
Whoa. Did we get an outtakes track by mistake?
Gabrielle looks around Xena and says "Autolycus, will you just hang for a sec? Just be cool." Then she says to Xena, nodding in our direction, "Will you look at them?"
Xena turns, looks at me (yes indeed!), over to Phoebe, back to me. Gabrielle turns and faces the camera (except she's not facing any camera) and says "How many times are you gonna watch us kiss? Voyeurs! What's the matter with you?" I am as blank-faced as Washington on Mt. Rushmore, and Phoebe's mouth is hanging open like the Holland tunnel. Gabrielle points right at me and says "Yeah, you, Deirdre! Phoebe! Are you paying attention?"
Xena raises an eyebrow, looks down at her little pal, says, "They are pretty pathetic."
Gab looks at Xena, says "Xena, we need to help them," in her best it's-time-for-a-sensitive-chat voice.
Xena agreed. "Yeah. It's time for a little heart-to-heart. After you, my love?"
"No, you go first."
The image of Xena -- what I thought of as an image -- moved toward me, lifted up as if climbing a single step, and then swung a leg over the bottom edge of the TV screen as if she were boarding a ship. She stepped down on the floor and stood right in front of me. Gabrielle followed. There was only about six feet between the front of the TV and the edge of the couch, so the warrior and bard filled up the room. Xena was standing close enough to me to touch, and I could smell her -- a lusty aroma of leather and horses and jasmine soap. The eyes bored into mine. I could only shake my head in pure terror. Finally I gulped out a few well-chosen words.
"I am losing my fucking mind."
Phoebe was trying to crab-crawl backwards over the back of the couch, which might have worked if it hadn't been against the wall. She was white as a sheet, and her freckles looked like someone had attacked her with a brown magic marker. Gabrielle -- or whatever -- was offering a soothing stream of words, something like "I understand, you're scared, don't worry, we won't hurt you, you're perfectly okay." Xena looked at me and said "can we sit down?"
I said "Can you?" When she smiled and nodded (what great teeth!) I got up and pulled in a couple of chairs from the kitchen and they sat down.
I finally got the rest of my voice and brain back, and I asked Xena, "Just who the hell are you? Xena? Or Lucy?" If it were Lucy I could maybe buy it -- she, after all, was a real person, maybe teleportated into my living room by some technology the CIA had learned from aliens or something. But Xena? A fictional character? No. That was strictly cuckoo's nest material.
But that's what she said. "I'm Xena. Lucy let me use her body when we were making the show. She knows so much more about acting. But her body was mine at one time."
"Huh?" was my profound reply.
"Patterns recur," said Xena. "The universe is infinitely varied, but patterns recur."
Gabrielle said, "Transmigration. You don't thing we've been around 2500 years without learning some tricks, do you? We're still on the lookout for the greater good. And right now you two are it."
"What?" I was trying to get beyond one-word ejaculations without much success.
"You guys need to get a life, ladies. You can't live vicariously through us."
"But millions of people do..."
"And when it gets to be a problem, we have to step in." Xena looked serious.
Gabrielle took over. "Look, you're both young, talented, smart. Yet here you sit in this little room, watching the two of us do the same things over and over again. Phoebe, Deirdre, we love having fans. That's why we made the shows, so people could get to know us. But we want to inspire people to live better lives, take control of their lives, know that they can. Any good story should have that as its goal. We want people to be able to cope with the evil in the world, with love and loss and death. Recognize their true selves. We do it in a funny, silly way, but that's still what comes out. You guys got stuck on one note."
"What do you mean, Ga...Ga..."
"Gabrielle. It's really me and I have a name. Say it."
"Gaah...brielle. " I swallowed hard.
"There. Not so hard, was it? Here." She reached her hand out to me, and the other to Phoebe. "Touch me. See? I don't bite, I'm as real as you are. I've just been around longer and know more stuff." Her warm, small hand clasped mine, and I wrapped my long fingers around hers. The Bard of Potidea. In the flesh.
It made things easier, touching her like that. But I still couldn't help wondering what locked ward I was really in and how much medication was coursing through my veins.
I noticed an uneasiness rise in Xena's eyes, and I quickly let go Gabrielle's hand. Don't fuck with the Warrior Princess. Or her sweetie.
Phoebe shook her head hard and I expected to hear Roger Rabbit sounds. "What do you mean, we're stuck?"
Xena took it. "Let me ask you this: are you doing what you want to do, are you where you want to be?"
Good question. "No. I know that. But that's temporary."
"Not as long as you keep glued to the tube, here. Don't you want to do good, change things for the better?"
"I'm a teacher...Xena. I like to think I'm doing that."
"You are. All teachers do, if they're any good. But isn't there more? Aren't there people who could benefit far more from what you can do for them than the rich kids you teach now, at that snooty private school?"
"Xena, they need help too. Just because they're rich doesn't mean they're invulnerable."
"If you know that, and are satisfied with it, okay. But..."
Gabrielle interrupted. "Just don't get complacent. Look for opportunities to do the greatest good for the greatest number. And don't despair."
"Despair? Why should I despair?"
"You like being alone?"
"I mean in your life." She looked at Phoebe. "You've had a horrible, wrenching experience. You hurt so badly. But that can become a part of your life, not the end of it. Do you remember how "Friend" ends?
"Xena dies." Phoebe sought Xena's eyes. "You. Dead."
"No. That's not the last you see. Gabrielle goes on to more of her life. She takes everything I taught her with her."
Gabrielle took Phoebe's hands in both of hers, and this time Xena did not object. "Think, Phoebe. What did you learn from being with Ling?"
"She was the first person I ever truly loved. I was going to love her the rest of my life. I learned what love feels like, being with her."
"And what did you learn from her death?"
"God...I don't...this is awful." Tears welled in her eyes, down her cheeks. She took a deep breath and pulled herself together. "That I can live on without her. That I have strength."
Thought so, I said to myself.
Xena looked pensive, and said, "One more thing. These last few weeks."
Phoebe seemed confused, as if she had been spun around blindfolded in a children's game. She looked at me. So did Xena. She said "You know."
"What do I know?" My stomach was flapping like a grounded fish.
"Why she won't touch you. Why she falls asleep at he opposite end of the couch but can't stay away from you during the day."
This is crazy, I thought. Where are they trying to go? But I did know. I just couldn't say anything.
Gabrielle used her cut-the-crap tone of voice. "Deirdre. Don't be dense. Look at her. She's in love with you."
Phoebe turned her head as if slapped with a wet rag. "Gabrielle...please..."
The bard let irritation show. "You sit here, both of you , saying about Xena and I, 'how can anybody miss it?' and 'What else could they mean?', and you can see how we love each other in everything we do. But you won't see it in each other, real people, you spend hours at a time together and you sit on opposite ends of your sofa watching us. When it's obvious how you feel, both of you." She sighed exasperatedly. "At least sit together and cuddle, for the gods' sake. Xena, I wonder if the invention of television was such a good idea."
"You know, Philo and I had that conversation."
Phoebe spoke, choked with sobs. "I do. I mean, I am. I mean...you're right. But she's not interested in me. She likes men."
Xena arched an eyebrow. "Deirdre?"
"I've been singularly unsuccessful with men. It's my fault. I try to make a relationship go, because I think it's the right thing, but I can't keep it up. It doesn't seem worthwhile. There's no...fire. No energy."
"I don't like to be away from her. I don't like her to be on the opposite end of the couch. Tonight, I wanted to sit down next to her, hug her. But I don't want to intrude. I know she still cares for Ling."
"Does it matter to you, how she feels?"
"Yes. Very much."
"Is she what you'd want in a lover?"
"Yes...oh, hell, I don't know what I want. I want someone to share my life with. I don't care what sex she..he...she...is. It's not about anatomy. It's about heart, soul. It's about a person, not a type."
Xena nodded, put her hand on my arm. "That, I understand. Let me give you some advice. When you do find that person, that other half of your soul, don't hesitate a minute. I did, and it came close to costing me that woman over there. Don't you do that. If you love her, if she loves you, don't let her leave. Make your life exactly what you want, together."
I looked at Phoebe and saw her for the first time. As someone to love, not just to care for, not just to spend time with. Those, yes, but more, too. I won't say I wasn't afraid. But I began to feel a sense of adventure I hadn't experienced since high school. And being afraid was somehow tempered by knowing that I wasn't alone in being afraid.
Gabrielle said to her partner, "Maybe these two need some time alone."
Xena nodded. "Yup. We need to be gone. Ever seen Chicago?"
Gabrielle considered. "Not for a century or so. Might be fun."
I cleared my throat. "'Hem. You might just stand out a little more than you want to. Leathers and Amazon Royal dress aren't that common around here. To say nothing of swords."
"Oh, we've been in this world before. Can't be as bad as New York."
I said, "Why don't you let us get you something a little less conspicuous?" We went into the bedroom while I rummaged through my closet, found a long sundress that fit Xena quite well. I was almost as tall as she, and though she was a bit bigger in the bust, the tight fabric flattered her. Gabrielle found shorts and a top in Phoebe's closet, and I dug up a big athletic bag that fit all their other gear. "Do you have money?"
"No. but we know how to get some. We're not afraid of working for a living. And we don't plan to stay long."
I didn't ask for an explanation.
I gave then some cash, anyway, so they could catch the El or a cab. With kisses and hugs all around, and a promise that they were welcome anytime, they went out the door and down to the street.
I put an arm around Phoebe's waist, and she didn't draw away. "Okay," I said, quietly near her ear. "Did what I think just happened, happen?"
"I think we had a visit from Xena, Warrior Therapist."
"And Gabrielle, Shrink of Potidea."
"How intoxicated are you, right now?"
"Oh, a nice buzz. Not much."
"Was there anything weird in the dope?"
"Nah. Same batch we've been using for weeks. A friend of mine grows it."
"Then, are we crazy?"
"If we are, we both are. One is crazy. Two is a reality."
Silence for a while. I kept my arm around her.
"Is it true?"
"Were you ever going to tell me?"
"No. I didn't think it would be your kind of relationship."
"And you were just going to swallow it and move on?"
"Phoebe, I'm willing if you are. What I said, about not wanting to be away from you -- I meant that. That means if I get what I want, we'll be together. Always. And that means..."
"Do you want to be lovers, Deirdre?"
"If it were up to me, yes. I love you. But that means wanting what you want, doing whatever makes you happy. If you don't want this, then that's what makes you happy and that's what I want."
"You lost me."
"Yes. I love you. Yes. I want to go to bed with you. Yes. I feel like I want to spend my life with you. Simple enough?"
She turned in my arm, and I embraced her with both. She turned her face up and I bent to kiss her. Her lips were like velvet, like silk, but like nothing so much as my lover's lips. The kiss stretched out, and I felt...fire. It was disturbing at first -- a burning in my belly, shortness of breath, my heart didn't seem to beat any more, just thrummed with new energy. It was hard to tell exactly when but we kept trading off; she'd kiss me, I'd kiss her, all the while our lips touching. Tongues, finally, fencing lightly, exploring. She stepped back from me. She took off her short top. She rarely wore a bra; her breasts were small, triangular, firm; she didn't need one. Her nipples were the color of sweet chocolate. I was wearing another of my long, loose sundresses. I slid the straps aside and let it fall. She stepped behind me, unfastened my bra, slid my briefs to the floor as well. Her hands on me ignited me. I turned, held her as close as I could, and kissed her again. Damn, I thought, here I have two degrees, speak three languages fluently, and it's taken me twenty-seven years to figure this out? What kind of idiot am I? But Phoebe's tiny body in my arms told me I was being very smart this time. We pulled back the covers and got in bed. We stayed there until early afternoon.
Now I'm going to do something most fanfic readers hate here, and that's fade to black. Remember I said there's a difference between art and porn? Suffice it to say that Phoebe and I touched every spot that could call forth desire, passion, even the slightest gasp of pleasure. We covered each other with ourselves, and for eleven hours we brought each other to incredible ecstasies. And it was made better by our knowing that this was indeed a first time, that there would be many, many more, happier, better, deeper. We had spent six weeks falling in love and now we spent those eleven hours reaping the fruits of our love for each other.
Thanks to a little help from friends.
Phoebe took me out to dinner this evening, and she put a ring on my finger. It was a surprise; I'll have to get her one, too. She knows a Unitarian minister who performs same-sex ceremonies as a routine, and next Saturday we'll be married. She's going back to school. I've been hired by the public school district, and I've requested a placement at a school on the South Side where ninety-five percent of the students speak Spanish, and only minimal English. It's one of the poorest schools in the city. Gangs, drugs. A challenge. It means a little more money for me, surprisingly. I can support my love through her degree. Then -- I've heard of a couple of projects in Central America, one which builds schools in remote villages that don't have them, and another that buys land for wildlife preserves. Teachers and wildlife people are in demand. The pay sucks, but... The greater good.
I've had to make some adjustments to the new way I live my life. There are some tough aspects, don't get me wrong. You should have heard my mom. But being with Phoebe isn't really a choice; it's the way I am, and it just took me a while to realize it and accept it. She's as necessary to me as air. Some folks are just slower on the uptake than others -- Phoebe knew all about herself by the time she was sixteen. I don't regret all those years I was "experimenting" -- I just regret not having met Phoebe sooner.
We don't talk much about the peculiar episode (that's what we call it when we mention it at all). There's not much to say, really; no analysis can explain it, because we just don't have enough facts. We know it happened, it's never happened again, and that's all there is to it.
We still watch Xena and Gab, but we ration ourselves to twice a week. The rest of the time, we read, she studies, I work on-line or do my own homework. We get out into the community. Right now we're active in a block watch. And of course we spend a lot of time learning about each other, and there's always something new to learn.
If they can be happy together after twenty-five centuries, we certainly ought to be good for a lifetime.
*She does so snore - P.
Return to the Academy