"...Unit thirty-two, dispatch. We have the suspect. Requesting an ambulance to the corner of Bryn Mawr and Frontage."
David saw the red glare through his eyelids. His eyes fluttered open.
"Easy, big guy," a voice said calmly. "You look like you've been through a lot."
The image of a police officer with a tan uniform and a wide, flat brimmed hat slowly faded into view as the flashlight beam moved out of his face.
"Stu?" David mumbled groggily. "What's up?"
Stewart's dark eyes assessed David quickly and expertly. He shook his head.
He was a younger man, about David's age and at least a head shorter. He knelt before David, his police uniform perfectly pressed and neat. His deep dark blue eyes stared critically at him.
"I can't believe you're conscious," Stewart said. "What the hell happened?"
A second officer, standing several feet back looked at the big man nervously. "Shouldn't we be taking him into custody?" he asked. His right hand was hovering near the butt of his pistol.
"Relax Frankie," Stewart snapped back. "I know this guy." He looked apologetically at David. "Rookie."
David smiled weakly and tried to sit up. "I won't hold it against him," he mumbled as he rolled forward in an attempt to rise and almost fell over.
"Easy, easy," Stewart caught him. "Just wait for the ambulance, man. You aren't going anywhere."
"Just get me back on my feet," David whispered. "Just get me back on my feet."
"Come on, Dave," Stewart protested.
David ignored him, reaching up to grab the rusty edge of the dumpster. He slowly, and unsteadily hauled his body vertical, leaning against the wall. Half way up, he felt Stewart's arms wrap around his waist and assist him.
"Thanks," David said, his head against the rough brick.
Stewart looked up at him. "Can you remember what happened?" he asked.
David fought through the haze in his mind, trying desperately to think clearly. He shook his head to try and clear the cobwebs. This only initiated a piercing pain in his skull. Of all the times to get a migraine.
"No," he said drunkenly. "I remember the engine on the Valk running hot. I slowed down, then something popped." David frowned. "I think someone hit me?"
"Clobbered you's more like it," Stewart said. "The IDOT boys are shoveling what's left of your bike into a bucket."
"How'd you wind up out here?" The rookie asked suspiciously.
David looked at him, still riding high. "I-" he managed to mutter as he saw the flashing red lights that indicated the ambulance arriving. "I don't know?"
He looked down at Stewart, completely confused. "Did anyone get hurt?" he asked.
Stewart's gaze went neutral. "Get checked out first," he said. "We'll talk later."
"Stu!" David said sharply, though the sound of his own voice made him wince in pain. "Did anyone get hurt?" he finished more quietly.
Stewart placed David's arm over his shoulder and helped him out to the ambulance.
"One person is dead," he said grimly.
The EMT's stepped out of the ambulance, forgoing the gurney when they saw the leather clad man being assisted to the back of their vehicle by the police officer.
David let himself be lowered gently onto the rear bumper of the vehicle. The EMT's carefully helped him out of his thick leather jacket and began going over him.
He winced when the young lady held a pen light up to his eyes.
"Christ!" He muttered. "How bright do those things get?"
"Just relax," She said softly. "You might have a concussion. Did you lose consciousness at any time?"
"He was unconscious when we found him," Stewart offered. "He also seems disoriented."
"Thanks for not saying drunk," David mumbled.
Stewart smiled. "Hey, man. I know you. You don't drink and ride. You never have."
The woman checking him over nodded and took David's helmet from him. She inspected the surface for scratches or cracks. Frowning, she then examined David's head carefully.
"Wait a second," She said curiously. "There's no sign of impact."
"I don't think I hit my head." David offered.
The EMT looked at David carefully, feeling his arms and checking his legs for any indication of discomfort. When she found none, she looked at David again, this time with surprise.
"Can you describe exactly how you're feeling right now?" she asked.
David thought for a few seconds and realized his mind was slowly clearing. The second EMT placed a small cup in his hand. "Drink this," he instructed.
David sipped the contents, discovering it to be only water.
"I'm a bit hazy," he confessed. "Like coming down off a heavy buzz. Kind of like feeling like my whole body is tingling, but heavy at the same time, like my weight doubled or something?"
The young EMT nodded and stood back. She looked at the two uniformed officers and shrugged.
"He's not drunk, or under the influence of narcotics," she said finally. "He's coming down off of an adrenaline surge."
"He's what?" Stewart asked.
"It's the crash after a 'fight or flight' response." The EMT explained. "Situations of extreme stress can cause it."
"I think having a car run up my ass would qualify," David said, sipping at the water and feeling the haze finally begin to clear. He felt tired. More tired than he could ever remember feeling in his life. His whole body still seemed to be moving in slow motion.
"Or being thrown from a vehicle," The EMT finished for him. She looked down at him critically for a moment. "We'll take you to the hospital and get you checked out, but I think they'll just send you home and tell you to get some rest."
"Well," Stewart said regretfully. "After the hospital, I'm afraid I need to take you in to the station for questioning."
"Why?" David asked.
"You know that sword you had mounted on the side of your bike?" Stewart replied.
"Well, its sticking out of the chest of the guy who was driving that car," Stewart finished.
David looked down at the pavement and then nodded his head. "Okay."
Alti paced about the room in a rage.
"How could you have left it behind?" she screamed. Her eyes bulged and her fingers curled into talons as she looked at the two of them.
"It was all we could do to get you out of there before the police arrived," Mr. Finch protested with his usual calm tone. He sat composed, one knee folded carefully over the other, his fingers tented before him, eyes cold and calculating. "Bernadette. You really must learn to control yourself. You accomplish nothing this way."
"Shut up!" Alti roared. She stood over him, her gaze wild, breath heaving. "You and your infernal courtesy! You are useless to me!"
"Bernadette," Mr. Finch began, but Alti grabbed him by the throat and bodily lifted him, pinning him against the wall.
"Stop calling me that!" she screamed. "I am Alti! Do you hear me? Bernadette is gone!"
She let him drop to the floor as small tracers of energy flickered between her fingers.
"Both of you get out!" She hissed. "I have work to do!"
The two men quickly withdrew, leaving Alti alone in the room.
The Shamaness paced back and forth for a few minutes, just letting her anger simmer beneath the surface. Her patience with the way the modern world seemed to function had been completely exhausted. She needed results and she needed them quickly.
Her only opportunity to become permanently housed in this pathetic reincarnation would arrive in just over five days and she needed to find the Chronos Stone in order to guarantee that. With the loss of the amulet, she had no viable way to secure her destiny.
She needed something that tied her to the strange man on the motorcycle, or, better yet, to Gabrielle.
She stopped pacing as a plan began to formulate.
"Of course!" she sighed, and a cold smile crept across her face. Gabrielle was the key. She was out of time. Out of place in this world, just like Alti, only she was not a reincarnation. She was real. She was displaced in time and that would make her different from the modern swarms of people in this world.
Granted, she had no idea if her plan would work, but if it did, she could home in on that irritating little bard like a homing pigeon, and none of these diversions that her benefactor could produce would stop her.
She stopped again, remembering the recent encounter with the strange figure. There had been something about him as well. Something in the strange aura of energy that surrounded him. It was more a feeling than anything concrete, but she knew that he, also, was different in some way. This unknown man was tied to her errand.
She settled down on the floor, sitting cross legged and closed her eyes, forcing her mind to delve into the unknown. The memory of that failed chase slowly coalesced in the back of her mind, and she played the entire sequence of events, searching for any detail to aid her.
It was an old trick, one of the first she had learned. Begin able to recall a memory and examine it from different perspectives. The memory became a solid reality again, one that she could move about and control at will.
She saw his face, chiseled and rugged, with long hair and short scruff around his lips. His dark eyes turned to look at her as he realized that Gabrielle had spied them. The apparent anger in his eyes changed to something more subdued.
The three of them had mounted their vehicles and shot away from them when they understood that Alti had been present.
Alti zoomed through the next few minutes of the chase until she found the spot she wanted.
"Christ lady," Carlos had said. "This is a Chevy, not a Lamborghini."
She then watched with impotent fury as the large yellow machine shot another burst of flame at her car and sped easily away from her.
The silver one, now carrying Gabrielle also followed suit moments later. She saw her quarry move swiftly and inexorably away with effortless ease. She heard her own cry of rage.
All that remained was the last man on his motorcycle. His head moved up and down, then back to look at them, and back down again. His left hand dipped down and drew out something. She caught a subtle metallic shimmer as the street torches whisked by overhead.
Again she froze the images and moved to stand beside the man on his machine. It was a blue and white conveyance, slightly larger than the previous two. As she studied it, she noted the small red light glowing on the central console. She smiled.
"So," she said, crossing her arms. "This one's engine was not healthy." She kept her position, relative to him and continued the events, watching as he drew a sword from beside his saddlebag and hugged it next to the left side of the motorcycle, waiting.
Then his vehicle seemed to stop, and the car roared up behind him, impacting the left front end. The man was thrown. No! Not thrown! He had leapt into the air, spinning like an acrobat. His left hand wheeled around and she watched the sword! The image froze, and she studied this image carefully.
The man's aura had changed, subtly, but distinctly. He was filled with an energy that should not have been possible for these modern men. It was an energy that he had tapped into. The energy of the universe around him. He, also was a shaman of some religious faction, though she knew not which deity he followed. His deity was actively protecting him in this moment, giving him the unnatural strength to accomplish this task.
She let the memory play forward slowly, watching as her opponent finished his maneuver, releasing the weapon with uncanny accuracy. She saw the blade punch through the clear glass windscreen and stab into Carlos's chest, watched his body convulse as the car careened towards the side of the road. She turned her head and looked out the back window in time to see the man accomplish something that should not have been possible.
He landed squarely with a force that should have pulverized the bones of his body into jelly. Again she stopped the image and studied him.
He knelt on one knee, just as he had landed. One arm was touching the ground to steady him. She could see the back of his leather coat. The design upon the smooth surface. The image of a dark knight on horseback, charging through a mist with a host of skeletal servants behind him. Above and beneath the image were two words.
Zombie Squad. And much smaller, on a painted scroll were two lines of verse.
"I know no beast that has but some touch of pity.
Yet I have none and therefore am no beast."
The helmeted head turned slowly, deliberately, to look through her and she saw his eyes, dark and filled with unnatural ferocity, then the image went black as consciousness had left her.
That was it! She had her link to this man! She may not know what order this "Zombie Squad" was, or which deity it followed, but she could discover that, given time.
No. The time was too short. She needed something else. Something more defined. Something she could send her spirits to home in on. She played the memory back a second time, watching for anything else she might use. And this time, she found it.
She focused her attention on Gabrielle, astride as she had moved from his machine to the second one. She wore a simple, unadorned black leather coat, modern denim pants, and sturdy black boots, but her aura was different. It shone white about her.
If she were conscious, she would have cackled with delight. Her aura was completely different from the other forms around her. It was a beacon in the darkness. That last candle in the window of hope. A candle that she could now extinguish.
She saw something else as well. The back of the jacket on the other figure, with the words "Zombie Squad" Also painted upon it in a different way. The image of a tiger's face, half bare of flesh stared at her with one green eye before it was obscured by Gabrielle's body.
She slowly returned to consciousness, feeling the inept Professor within her clawing for reality.
"Sit down and watch!" She taunted. "See the potential that you've wasted!"
Alti blinked and stood up, breathing deeply as she became corporeal again.
In retrospect, she realized that this simple meditation would not have worked a few days ago. Nor would the energy she used to wield so freely been evident as it was in her burst of rage with Finch. The closer she got to the supreme moment, the more her power grew.
She smiled again, and the smile grew to a slavering grin and then a loud cackle.
She stepped out of the room and moved to the next door.
"Finch!" She barked, pounding on the closed door with her fist. "Get moving, we have work to do!"
The door opened and Mr. Finch stepped out, his clear eyes showing no sign of fatigue.
"Yes?" he asked coolly.
"Where's Alex?" Alti demanded.
"Alex has chosen not to continue his association with us any longer," Mr. Finch said easily. "As that was his emphatic position on the matter, I was forced to terminate his employment."
"I see," Alti nodded, and she recognized the slightly sated look of a satisfied killer in Finch's icy gaze. "Pity."
"Yes, I was most disheartened," he shrugged casually. "Ah, well."
"I need to find out everything I can about something called "Zombie Squad." Alti ordered.
"Very well, Bern," he stopped and smiled coldly. "Alti." He finished.
He opened the door for her to enter and then settled down in front of Carlos's laptop.
He logged on and typed in the search parameters. The tiny image at the top right corner began to animate, indicating an active search.
The computer beeped a response after only a few seconds and Finch looked down at the screen.
Mr. Finch scrolled down the long list of possible sites and frowned.
"There are many references to a group of Zombie Hunters, whatever that means," He said as his eyes scanned the information. "A comic book site, several music sites, something about a paintball training camp. He continued scanning the dozens of references. Then his eyes lit up as he opened a web page designed for a motorcycle club. The page had everything he needed. Names, dates, images, events, everything they needed except an address.
One of the smaller options showed "Custom Bike Awards." He clicked that and read aloud.
"As is his style, Crazy Johnny came up with another show stopper at the Midnight Tour Custom Bike Show, and nearly got arrested for it. His modified Suzuki GS1000, dubbed the Motorpsycho took first place in people's choice, and also nearly took the hair off the closest judges when he fired up his latest modification. A fuel fed flame-thrower and sparkplug apparatus that he had installed in the oversized tailpipes. It almost caused a stampede when the flames reached a length of over twenty feet, and set one of the concession stands on fire. Way to go Johnny!"
Beneath the lines was the image of the offending vehicle. Alti grinned broadly as she looked down at the same garish yellow monstrosity that had nearly immolated them earlier that evening.
"That's the one," she said. "Find out where they are! I want names and places of residence. Where they like to go? How many of them are in the order? Everything!"
"Of course," Finch replied. He was also smiling as he clicked on the small box beneath the "Sign Our Guestbook" flag.
He typed a few characters in and then pulled up the IP information about where the computer that held the site was located.
It was done in a matter of a few minutes and the two of them were on their way.
Gabrielle paced back and forth down in the main garage of the clubhouse, her mind lost in thought. She looked about her at all the strange and wonderful items that lay or hung within the place. The thirty, or so, motorcycles resting patiently, waiting for the owners to return. Her eyes fell on one of those machines, dark red and sitting quiet in the corner.
David's other motorcycle.
She walked over to it slowly, watching as the reflection of light moved across the smooth surfaces. Her heart was heavy with regret as she recollected the previous days. In the short time that she had been in this place, she had become rather fond of all the members of the Zombie Squad, and David in particular. They had made her feel at ease, well as much at ease as she could feel, given the circumstances, and David seemed to go out of his way in an effort to make the entire transition as painless as possible, including her as much as he could in everything that was going on. They had accepted her in the end and hadn't asked too many questions. They had respected her privacy in the matter she was sent here for, and indeed, none of them seemed to know about it or care.
Her mind drifted again to David. The image of those deep thoughtful eyes flashed in her memory, recollecting the vision before she arrived in this place. The words of the Stygian Witches suddenly rang in her mind with more relevance than she had given them credit for. Words that, at the time, had seemed a simple taunt now carried a new and more powerful weight.
"Seek the Valkyrie. It carries the sword of the dispossessed one. He shall be your ally."
"More than an ally."
"He will be the closed circle."
Gabrielle contemplated those words for a long time, her hand slowly caressing the mirror smooth magenta surface of the motorcycle. The mood of the building was dark and subdued. Not like when she first arrived. Even the buzz of the strange-lighted tubes seemed more dismal, like a low groan instead of a melodic hum. She suddenly felt as if she were being watched. Her eyes turned about the room, seeing the various headlights of the motorcycles all seemingly turned towards her, half expecting, half filled with grim determination or hope. It seemed that, if the human element could grieve for the missing member of their family, this collection of machines was doing the same for one of their own. Man and machine alike, all part of one large family. She thought back to the time when she and Xena, along with Argo would travel the land. Argo, tall and majestic in her pale beauty had been as much a mode of transport for Xena as she had been a friend. Two thousand years into the future and beings like Argo had been replaced by beings like these.
It was the type of company that reminded her of her life with Xena, now so far away. She felt a tear roll down her cheek and it surprised her. Glancing up at the closed door to the main room, she noted the silence. There was no laughter, no strange music, and no sounds of joy to be heard. Her mind reached out to try and touch something of the energy in these strange machines. She was startled when she felt a response.
"It's usually only the coven that speaks with us," a soft echoing female voice seemed to say.
Gabrielle turned and saw a single figure standing near a workbench, where David's motorcycle had been sitting a moment before. Gabrielle was suddenly aware that she had inadvertently placed herself into a trance state. This surprised her, since the last time she did this, she had been trying to face Alti in the dream world. That had taken a full-blown ritual and all the necessary accoutrements. She suddenly remembered the taste of the stag's blood. It was palpable, as if she had just done it again.
She opened her eyes again and beheld the stranger. She was slender in build, with long fiery red hair and a deep red tint to her skin. She wore simple black leather vest and coat, and rich black leather pants covered her long, athletic legs. She stood poised with her hands on her hips, appraising Gabrielle with pale yellow eyes, like crystals.
"What are you?" Gabrielle asked, hearing her voice echo around her.
The other woman smiled and leaned back against the workbench.
"I'm Rose," she said. "And you are Gabrielle, aren't you?"
Rose smiled and nodded. "Yeah, David and I were talking about you last night."
Gabrielle frowned. "He spoke with you?"
Rose nodded. "He always speaks to me while we're riding. He had a lot on his mind, so I take him for a spin, maybe an hour or two, and I help him work through whatever it is. We've covered over sixty-five thousand miles, and God knows how many issues in the last ten years."
She smiled smugly and then nodded. "Oh, I never got to introduce myself last weekend," she said apologetically. "Nice to finally meet you."
Gabrielle was unsure of this spirit. "I don't remember seeing you before?"
Rose laughed, genuinely amused. "David and I brought you here, sweetie."
Dawning appeared on Gabrielle's face. "You're," she stammered, not sure how to put it.
"Think of me as his guardian angel, if that makes it easier for you." Rose said easily. "Just like Bullit, there is Derek's."
Gabrielle turned and saw a slender olive skinned woman in a silver bodysuit lounging patiently on the lift where Derek's silver Hyabusa had been resting. She rolled over, catlike and stared at Gabrielle with clear crystal eyes. She smiled hungrily.
"Hey there," she said in a soft melodic voice similar to the sound the machine made when Derek twisted the throttle. "I hope I didn't frighten you too much tonight? My man loves to go fast with me." She let out a satisfied sound that might have been a purr if it didn't sound so metallic and mechanical.
"What are you?" Gabrielle asked, turning back to Rose.
Rose smiled. "Call us, Spirits of the Open Road, if you like?"
"We like it," Bullitt agreed, now lying on her back and looking up at Gabrielle with a smile.
The door opened with a soft squeak, and Debbie emerged. She looked down at Gabrielle and smiled comfortingly as she came down the steps. Gabrielle blinked, and when she looked back, the silver Hyabusa and the magenta Honda were back where they had been. In the crystal orbs of the headlights, though, she suddenly felt them looking at her.
"How you doing?" she asked.
Gabrielle only suppressed a shudder and turned away from the bike. "I'm alright." She muttered. A grim smile played on her face. "You'd think I'd get used to this by now?"
Debbie came up beside her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "We don't know he's gone," Debbie said. "Believe me, Shakespeare can take care of himself. I've seen him get thrown from Rosie, here, and laugh about it when he landed."
"Why do you call him that?" Gabrielle asked. "Shakespeare?"
Debbie smiled and sat herself down on a large black motorcycle parked nearby.
"Cause that's who he is to us," she said. "All of us get nicknames here, the bikes too. They're a part of who we are."
She gestured to several bikes and smiled as she reminisced.
"Over there is the Motorpsycho," she said and she gestured to the large yellow beast now sitting quietly in front of an even larger tool box. "We call her owner "Crazy Johnny" because he is. He's just out of his mind sometimes." Then she pointed out a beaten old Yamaha covered in dust. "That there, is Slut," she smiled. "Because that bike has been ridden hard by everyone in this crew at least once, and dumped just as often. That was my old man's ride until recently." She patted the handlebar of the bike she now sat on. "This is the Mistress," she finished. "Steve's new bike."
"Mistress?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yup," Debbie grinned a little wider. "Cause she's the only other lady that my husband gets to ride."
Gabrielle looked at Debbie for a moment and then the laugh burst from her, washing the sadness away for a moment.
"And of course," Debbie gestured over to the silver Hyabusa and the red Honda. "You've already met Bullit and Rosie."
"Yeah," Gabrielle said. "I never knew anyone could go that fast."
"Like a bullet," Debbie said. "Her owner's got the same name, because that's what he likes to drink."
"Bullet?" Gabrielle asked.
"Coors," Debbie corrected, then she whispered. "It's a black thing, or at least, that's what Derek says."
"But aren't these only machines?" Gabrielle asked. She looked back at "Rose" as if fearing she may have just insulted someone.
"Oh no," Debbie replied. "These are much more than that." She pointed over to another large bike, similar to the Mistress, but a deep magenta color.
"That, is The Lady," Debbie said. "Gary's bike, or "Dad" as we like to call him. That bike has kept him alive for a few years. Even brought him home safe when he was too drunk to stand up. No one knows how, but it happened. He just stumbled over to her, got on, and she brought him home."
Gabrielle turned back to David's bike. "This one is very special to David, isn't it?" she asked, beginning to understand.
"Ah," Debbie said proudly. "Rosie. Absolutely."
Gabrielle let her hand fall tentatively on the hand grip. She could feel the energy within the machine, like a living essence, and suddenly her encounter of a moment before began to make sense.
"Spirits of the Open Road," she whispered in understanding.
"It's short for "Rose at night, or something," Debbie said, uncertain for the first time.
"Her name is Rosylinda Iluminos Nocturna," A weary voice said from behind them. "It means, "Rose of the Moonless Night". I named her as a sort of sister to Ophelia, the Rose of May, in Hamlet."
Debbie only nodded her head and smiled a knowing smile, while Gabrielle turned and saw David standing beside another man dressed in a light jacket and dark brown slacks.
Gabrielle ran over to him and hugged him fiercely. David let out a tired grunt when she impacted him and then wrapped an arm around her.
"What's this?" he asked with a tired smile. "You miss me, or something?"
She looked up at him and opened her mouth to speak, but David quickly and subtly shook his head. Then he turned to the newcomer. "Gabrielle," he introduced. "This is Stewart. He was kind enough to give me a lift back."
"Least I could do after the twenty questions session," Stewart smiled. He shifted , and Gabrielle caught the glint of metal on his shirt beneath the jacket. She may not have been familiar with much in this time, but she knew an emblem or crest when she saw one.
Then she looked up at David, and suddenly punched him hard on the shoulder.
"Don't ever scare me like that again!" she said angrily.
David looked down at her in surprise and suddenly saw the look in her eyes. They were big and bright, filled with a sudden longing. It seemed in that moment that a sudden attraction became palpable to everyone in the room. Gabrielle opened her mouth to say something, her eyes wet around the rim, as if she were recovering from some ancient nightmare. She lifted her hand towards his face, stopped. Her mouth opened to speak, but no words came out. She glanced around at all the faces in the room. Even the myriad of motorcycles seemed to be watching her with expectant, glass eyes.
Then, suddenly awkward, she turned and quickly excused herself.
Debbie watched her retreat and smiled, leaning back on the Mistress. She looked at David knowingly.
"Well, Shakespeare," she said. "I think she likes you."
David winced and rubbed his sore shoulder. "Really? What gives you that idea?" He also felt a sudden and overwhelming urge to follow after her. He forced his eager feet to stay put.
Debbie's grin widened. "How hard did she hit you?"
David feigned laughter and turned back to Stewart. "Thanks for the ride," he said.
"No problem," Stewart shrugged. "Just call me if you remember anything. They'll need to keep the bike impounded for a while, until the investigation's done."
"Not a problem," David nodded. "I understand."
Stewart nodded and smiled, looking at David carefully for a moment and then he nodded to Debbie and departed.
Once he was gone, David turned to Debbie and sighed. "I think everything needs to come out on the table now. Don't you?" He settled down on Rosie and patted the tank lovingly. "I'm glad you weren't out there with me tonight, baby. It wasn't pretty."
Debbie nodded. "I think they're ready, and I know Gabrielle's been dying to tell someone who she really is."
"Even though you already know?" David asked.
"I have a few ideas," Debbie nodded. "Shilah and I have talked, and we are in agreement. We'll wait till the rest of the regulars leave, and then we'll talk. In the mean time, you need to make an appearance and get a drink. You look like you could use it."
David smiled and trudged towards the steps. "You have no idea."
Debbie watched him go before she drew out her cell phone and dialed a number. The other end clicked.
"Shilah?" she asked.
"Hey Debbie, how are you?"
"Fine, fine," Debbie replied. "I think you might want to come out here tonight. It's all coming out."
"Okay," Shilah replied. "I'll tidy up a few things here and see you all later."
Once the initial enthusiasm and relief died away, the rest of the Squad slowly filtered out, each was heading for their respective homes. It suddenly occurred to David that he had not been to his own home in over a week, having spent every hour at the clubhouse, or on the road with his new found friend.
He leaned wearily against the bar, cradling his glass of Southern Comfort between his fingers. The pungent smoke from his lit cigar rose and writhed in the gentle breeze from his breathing. His mind wandered back over everything that he had experienced over those past six days and a smile began to play at his features.
"Whatever she is," he thought. "She's not a boring guest." He took a puff off the cigar and relished the taste. "Nope, not boring by far."
He glanced over towards Gabrielle, deep in discussion with Debbie. Occasionally, Gabrielle or Debbie would look his way and Debbie smiled that annoying "I know what you're thinking" smile.
What was he thinking? He pondered that for a long while. She had suddenly burst out of nowhere and basically attached herself to him and his extended family in rapid succession. She had done this by being - what? Genuine? Yes, genuine would be a good word. Though she had said very little about who she was and where she had come from, she had managed to quell suspicions while still not saying anything of import to any of them.
What was it that she had said that first night? That she suspected she had been placed in that particular place at that particular time because she was supposed to meet him.
"Well," he mused. "That's a might bit convenient." Perhaps too convenient? Something else to ponder later.
His thoughts turned inward, more self searching as he began to evaluate his own feelings. Again his eyes turned towards Gabrielle and that stupid smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Yes, he was fast becoming fond of her, if "fond" could be considered the right word. Of course there were, as always, the baser issues. Gabrielle was young and attractive. She had a way about her that was naturally mysterious and very alluring. It had been that initial allure that he had struggled to ignore, simply out of respect for the circumstances. Initially, he thought she might have been some poor girl who had been abandoned on that road, or maybe fleeing from an abusive relationship. Now, there was something else entirely at work, though he didn't understand what it was. Over the last couple of days, he had begun to notice that he was also preoccupied with thoughts of her. And then the incident at the bar. His initial reaction had not been one of anger, or frustration. No, he had been concerned for her well being. Had she been injured? Killed? Had he lost someone that he barely knew, but was already quite comfortable around? Then his thoughts just before the chase. He wanted her out of that situation, and it didn't matter what the cost to himself could have been. He had been overcome with a need to protect her from whatever that crazy lady had wanted. All he knew about that was: it could not have been good. There had been a genuine fear in Gabrielle's eyes when she spied Alti coming up the sidewalk.
David had seen the woman as well, lean and savagely attractive in her own way, but her eyes had been nothing more than dark, lifeless pits.
Alti. Who was she and what was her connection to Gabrielle? They were obviously familiar with one another?
He suddenly remembered the amulet in his jacket. He fished it out and studied it. It seemed like nothing more than a gaudy crystal necklace. It was old, and the metal work, though exceedingly intricate and pleasing to behold, was tarnished with the passing of years, maybe even centuries. Still, it didn't seem like anything important. For all he knew, it was worthless to him. However, Ares had insisted that he take it from the unconscious woman after the crash - why? What was it for? What did it have to do with Gabrielle? For that matter, what did Ares have to do with Gabrielle? There was another little variable in the equation, and all of it was centering around this mysterious young woman that he hardly knew. He remembered their conversation in his dream walk. Ares had said very little about her after his initial council about what she would say, but everything in his demeanor and manner had suggested that he was intensely interested in her. Yet another why?
And what was that with the hug and then the punch in the shoulder back down in the garage? He had seen the look in her eyes. There had been genuine concern about his well being, that was plain enough. Any half hearted moron would have been concerned for anyone given the circumstances of those events. But there had been something more to it. Something deeper in her eyes which she quickly covered before bolting up the stairs and back into the safe anonymity of the rest of the squad. Now, instead of pelting him with questions about what had happened, as she usually did about a myriad of other things that they all took for granted, she was keeping a discreet - no, more than discreet - distance from him.
He looked back over at the two of them, sitting across a low table from one another. Debbie's bemused expression had been replaced by one that was more serious. It was a sympathetic and understanding expression. She was listening to Gabrielle speak and hovering on every word, like a Doctor, sifting through information in order to arrive at a particular diagnosis.
He also noted Gabrielle's expression. She was nervous, even worried. There was a hint of sadness and resignation in her expression, and an almost pleading in her eyes as she spoke. Her body language was one of quiet, internal torment. She looked over at him again as she spoke and saw him staring at her. She saw the genuine concern, as well as curiosity, in his gentle gaze.
She merely smiled softly and turned back to Debbie.
Debbie placed her hands over Gabrielle's and leaned closer, whispering something to her in a matter-of-fact way that had made her a popular mother of confession for so many of them.
Gabrielle listened and then shook her head, only to have Debbie press her hands gently but firmly on hers again. She said a few more things and David could see the emotion touching Gabrielle's face. There was suddenly a deep sadness about her that seemed to dim the lights in the room slightly. He could feel a heartbreaking sense of loss emanating from her in that moment.
He began to feel like he was prying into matters that did not concern him, and he turned back into his own contemplation. Suddenly, the amulet glowed faintly. One of the four clear pointed crystals shone briefly with a faint radiance that would have been missed if it were not for the dark color of the bar's surface. At the same moment, the green central crystal pulsed slightly with its own internal fire.
The rear door of the club house opened and in walked Shilah, her long dark hair fluttering in the cool breeze that rushed in with her.
David smiled in surprise as he quickly slipped his little trophy back into his jacket.
"Hey," he smiled. "What are you doing here?"
"Debbie called me," Shilah answered easily as she slid her rotund frame onto the stool next to him. "She said that she had some things to discuss with us tonight?" She shrugged, but David already knew that Shilah was holding back.
Shilah looked over at Gabrielle and Debbie, rising from their private conference and approaching them. Gabrielle had a nervous look in her eyes as she stared at him.
"I think our new found friend here, will need to tell us most of it." She smiled.
Shilah rose from the stool and stepped up to meet Gabrielle. She extended a hand.
"Hello," she said.
"Shilah?" Gabrielle asked. When the other woman nodded, Gabrielle continued.
"You're the Shamaness that Debbie said was coming here tonight?"
"One of them," Shilah replied evenly. "Though, at the moment, you seem to be surrounded by them."
Gabrielle looked back at Debbie in surprise. The thin woman only shrugged and smiled warmly.
Then Gabrielle looked at David, sitting there with his drink in one hand and smoldering cigar in the other.
"You?" she asked him, eyebrows arched.
"For the last ten years," David replied. He raised his glass in salute and drained it. "Though I'm not as proficient at some things as Shilah and Debbie here."
"David's strengths are in other areas," Shilah said, smoothing over the self recrimination. "He has a natural ability to Dream Walk, and is very good at absorbing and controlling energy."
"Along with being an exceptional seer," Debbie added. "Considering that he was not born into this practice."
Gabrielle looked at the two women and then back to David with wonder and a new respect in her eyes.
"Is that how you survived the crash?" She asked.
"Crash?" Shilah asked suddenly. She looked at Debbie. "You never said anything about a crash."
"It wasn't anything big," David said, hoping to get out of this subject.
"Wasn't anything big?" Gabrielle repeated. Then she looked squarely at Shilah.
"The last I saw of him, he was sailing through the air as Derek whisked me away." She looked at David again. "Almost got himself killed because of me." She finished, her voice softening with a touch of sadness, or perhaps regret.
David casually let a wry smile pull at his lips.
"Well," he said, puffing his cigar again. "I can think of worse reasons."
"You can fit what's left of his new Valkyrie in a shoe box," Debbie continued. She fixed her eyes on David. "From what Derek and Gabrielle described to me, you should be dead, Shakespeare. Or, at the very least, in the hospital."
Shilah's eyes fixed on David intensely, and she seemed to be reading him.
Finally David threw up his hands in surrender. "Fine! Fine! I had a little help!" He stepped around the bar and refilled his glass.
"From whom?" Shilah asked suspiciously.
"Wait a moment," Gabrielle said suddenly. "I think it would be better if I started this. After all, I was the one that ended up getting all of you involved in the first place."
Gabs, baby," Debbie said kindly. "We were already involved in this long before you showed up."
"What we're missing, is what I suspect you've brought with you," Shilah nodded. "Shall we sit down and talk?"
Gabrielle looked up at David, who merely nodded and reached behind him, grabbing the half empty bottle and following the three women around to the overstuffed sofa.
At that moment, three more individuals stepped into the room.
Katrina, Jesse, and Tommy.
"Downstairs is all set," Tommy said easily. He sidled up to the bar and reached over, helping himself to a beer from the cooler. "Whenever everyone's ready."
"You too?" Gabrielle said, her jaw dropping.
Tommy slapped the top of the beer bottle against the edge of the bar and caught the small cap as it flipped up in front of him. He smiled.
"Kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it?"
"There have always been men in the arts of Shamanism," Shilah said easily. "Though women were by far the majority."
"I still prefer the term 'witch'", Tommy interjected. "When I think of a shaman, I picture a skinny, bald, little old man living in a cave and dressed in a loincloth." He looked down at his massive frame. "Not a pretty image."
David smiled as he settled into a seat. Much to his surprise and relief, Gabrielle sat down next to him and waited while the others situated themselves.
After everyone was settled, an uncomfortable silence fell as all eyes fixed on Gabrielle.
She, in turn, seemed to study them for some time as if deciding if they were worthy of her confidence. Finally, she took a deep breath and began.
Once she began, she did not stop. They all talked for what seemed like many hours as she related her life tale concerning her and Xena's adventures. She had encountered this strange and wonderful companion in the summer of her seventeenth year and had begun journeying with her faithfully over the next five years. It was a tale of high adventures, filled with growth, humanity, and the entire scope of human experience. The two friends had shared life and death together in a way that most people never even dream. Her tale stretched across the ancient world, filled with men and creatures of history and legend. It seems that the majority of the myths and legends of the classical era were actually true.
Gabrielle described in great detail how she and Xena both had regular interaction with the Gods of the Greek pantheon. Ares, in particular, seemed to have an almost obsessive desire for Gabrielle's friend and mentor. Later, he began to develop a fixation on Gabrielle herself. The young bard poured out her heart. She left out nothing and the gathered coven became more entranced with who and what she had been, and was.
When she reached the end of her first five years and spoke of being lost in the ice for twenty five more, however, Jesse had to stop her.
"Let me understand this." She said suddenly. "Both of you slept in the mountain for over twenty years?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Twenty five," she said. "By the time we awoke, Eve had grown up to become Livia, the Champion of Rome, and one of the most dangerous women in the known world. She was the adopted daughter of Cesar Augusus."
"Look," David said, thinking he might have finally caught her in an elaborate hoax. "I've studied ancient history. Now, I am by no means a scholar, but I think someone with a past like this Livia, would have warranted some mention, other than your scrolls."
Gabrielle shrugged. "The Roman society frowned on women in positions of power to begin with. When Eve chose to abandon her way as a soldier, the Roman Senate probably had all record of her removed from their history, much in the same way Xena was never mentioned in the goings on around the world at the time. We were always in the background, but the two of us never really got any credit." She shrugged. "Didn't matter, though."
"I think it does," Shilah said. "The two of you live at a time when history was being made. Legends walked around, larger than life and just as powerful. If you had a part in shaping those events, then it's only fair that you be mentioned."
She paused and stared at me for along time. A smile spread across her face and suddenly, she gave a short laugh.
"I don't think anyone has ever said anything that nice to me," she said. "Thank you."
"Seriously," Tommy added. "The two of you spent the better part of your lives, travelling in a world that makes Detroit look like Candyland."
David seemed more philosophical. "It's no exaggeration to say that your actions framed the world we live in today. You two were – are remarkable."
"For a long time," Gabrielle said, looking down at the mirror smooth finish on the table thoughtfully. "I thought that my life had been meaningless. As much as Xena taught me, I could never be as great as she was. When she died, I thought that was the end of it. Then her spirit stayed with me all the way up until," she stopped.
David could see a fresh pain reawakening in her eyes.
"Please?" Shilah asked. "It's alright."
"Even after Xena passed, her spirit stayed with me," Gabrielle started. "I don't know if she chose not to go to the Elysian Fields, or maybe she was simply waiting for me to join her before she went?" She shrugged.
"About a month ago," Gabrielle continued. "She came to me in a dream."
It seemed that even her face paled at the memory.
"It was terrible," she said. "She looked so sad. She told me that something was coming and I was needed to help stop it. She said that I was going to go somewhere that neither of us had ever been, and that she wouldn't be able to follow me."
"I've never really been on my own," Gabrielle shuddered. "Even after Xena died, she was always with me, until now."
"I can understand how that might be tough," Katrina said.
Shilah leaned forward intently. "Did Xena say what was going to happen?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "Not really. She didn't have a lot of information. All she said was that I had to go to a New World and stop Alti from returning."
"You mean that shaman woman that messed with Xena's head long before you met her, right?"
"Gabrielle," David said. "You told me that Alti was dead. You said Xena killed her about the same time she found out you were still alive after that whole lava pit thing?" He was careful not to mention Hope by name. "And then, tonight, you said you saw her here, in this time?"
"I know," Gabrielle nodded. She held her hands up in a helpless gesture. "Alti's somehow found a way to use the Chronos Stone to regain her physical form."
"Chronos Stone?" Jesse asked. "What's that?"
"A friend of mine, Autolicus, found it a long time ago." Gabrielle explained. "He said that it allowed him to move through time."
"So, Alti used this Chronos Stone to jump ahead, before she got killed the first time and, what, try and pick up where she left off?" Tommy asked.
"That's what I thought, at first," Gabrielle nodded. "But that's not quite it."
"Oh?" David leaned on his knees. "Do tell?"
"The Chronos Stone has other properties," Gabrielle explained. "During certain times, it can actually reverse time for an individual, or individual souls. A certain conjunction that occurs every couple of thousand years, or so. During that time, a soul might be able to use the Chronos Stone to return to the land of the living."
"But you recognized Alti when she showed up outside the police station tonight?" David asked. "That tells me that she's already achieved what she wanted."
"Not precisely," Shilah said thoughtfully. "In effect, this whole situation proves the theory of reincarnation. Everything lives and dies, only to return as something else in a new life. Alti may not be completely flesh and blood, but she could have possessed her most recent incarnation."
"It makes sense," Debbie nodded. "The energies between Alti's spirit and her current incarnation would be enough alike for her to take control, maybe even wrest it from the current incarnation permanently."
David looked at the two of them and then sidelong at Gabrielle. "See? The experts."
"Wait a second," Jesse piped up. "That doesn't make any sense. This spirit of Alti is from the past. That same spirit would also be inside her current incarnation, right?" She was fumbling for a word, her hand rolling in front of her.
"Wouldn't that be a, um, a, oh what's the word?"
"Paradox?" David offered.
"Yeah!" Jesse nodded. "Wouldn't that create a paradox, or something?"
"I would think so," Katrina nodded. "You can't have the same spirit twice over."
"Unless you have a tool that makes it possible lying about." Shilah said knowingly.
David nodded, and then the realization hit him. "The Harmonic Convergence!"
Gabrielle frowned. "What?"
"It's a solar event that last took place around twenty five hundred years ago, give or take," David explained as his excitement began to build. "It's an event when all nine of the main planets in the solar system come into a specific alignment."
Gabrielle nodded. "Where I came from, they called it the Joining of the Heavens!"
She stood up and began pacing back and forth. "Alti must be planning to use the stone to return to life, here, during your Convergence!"
"How would she do that?" Asked Tommy.
"She would need to blend both incarnations together into one complete being. One with the ancient knowledge that's been lost, and the modern knowledge of her current incarnation. She would need the stone and an open portal to draw energy from. She would be drawing on the very essence of the universe to make the transition."
"Portal," Tommy mused as he sipped his beer. Then he remembered. "Portal." He exclaimed with a knowing grin. "A ritual to seal the breach!" He looked over at Shilah. "That's what you meant!"
"You've been saying for weeks that you have everything ready, but you didn't know exactly when to set it up!"
"What are you talking about?" Gabrielle asked.
"For the last few years," Shilah said. "We've been waiting for it to arrive. We know something bad is going to come as a result of this Harmonic Convergence, and we were planning on doing a ritual to try and minimize the damage! If we know when that portal is going to open, then we can seal it before Alti makes it into this world!"
Gabrielle was looking at her and the first glimmer of hope kindled in her eyes.
"How did you find out about all this?" David asked. "Who told you?"
"The Stygian Witches," Gabrielle said. "They said they would put me in the right place, with plenty of time to prepare for Alti and reclaim the Stone. They also said I would meet someone with knowledge that would help me."
Everyone's mouths dropped open in surprise.
"Stygian Witches?" David asked. "You consulted the Stygian Witches?"
"Yes," Gabrielle nodded.
"Three blind old women who share a crystal eye, Stygian Witches?" David continued. "The ones that told Perseus how to kill Medusa, and then tried to eat him because they like taste of human flesh, Stygian Witches?"
"How do you know about them?" Gabrielle asked in surprise.
David smiled and looked around the table at the others. "Remind me to rent the movie, Clash of the Titans before the end of this week." This elicited soft chuckles from the assembled crowd. Then he looked back at her. "How did you get out of there, once they told you what you needed to know?"
"It wasn't easy," Gabrielle replied, but she refused to elaborate.
"So," David said. "We need to deprive Alti of the energy she needs to make the change. If we do that, what happens to her? Here and then?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "I don't know."
"When is the event supposed to happen?" Shilah asked.
"The Witches said I would have until the full moon," Gabrielle replied.
"This coming Saturday," Katrina added. "Halloween night."
"Well, sounds like Halloween's on steroids this year," Tommy sighed. He leaned back and looked at her. "So, You think we could do it?"
"Do what?" Gabrielle asked.
"Shut Alti down before she gets into this world?" Tommy said.
"I don't know," Gabrielle shrugged. "It would take a shaman of great power to do what you're suggesting. I know I couldn't do it on my own."
"But you aren't on your own anymore," Debbie said with a smile.
Shilah nodded. "Gabrielle. Covens all over the world are going to be performing rituals simlar to mine this full moon. Even if they don't know exactly when to do it, we'll still be able to draw on all that energy to stop it."
"Which reminds me," David said suddenly as he fished inside his jacket. "I think this might be handy."
He fished the amulet out of his pocket and held it up. Gabrielle and the others all gasped in astonishment.
"David," Shilah asked as she reached out and took the amulet from him. "Where did you get this?"
All eyes turned to him and he suddenly felt the desire to jump on Rosie and ride off into the darkness for a few hours. He shrugged nervously.
"Ares suggested I take it," he finally said uncomfortably.
"Ares!" Gabrielle stood up and looked down at him. "What do you have to do with him?"
"Whoa!" David blurted, his hands rising in surrender. "Nothing! I got nothing to do with him! He just sort of started popping up right after you arrived." He looked at Gabrielle. "In fact, it was right after you became fluent in English."
Tommy, seated across from them smiled and chuckled under his breath.
Gabrielle looked at him in surprise. "What?"
"I'm sorry," Tommy said, still grinning. "But when you're as into this as we are, you tend to notice otherworldly intervention when it hits you broadside like that. I just figured that the others didn't notice anything, so I kept my mouth shut."
"We've all known he's been following you around since you got here." Shilah said. "Even though I haven't been involved directly, I could feel the energy of his movements where my students are concerned." Then she looked sternly at David. "Even though I didn't expect one of them to confront him directly, I can't really say I'm surprised."
"For the record," David said, now feeling a bit defensive. "He confronted me. I didn't go looking for him."
"That's not the point," Shilah chided. "He got to you. Somehow he found a way."
"What did he give you?" Debbie asked.
"My ass," David said, now really defensive. He got up and took the bottle, walking toward the bar. "If we hadn't come to an understanding, they would have brought my carcass home in a body bag tonight!"
"Is that what you really believe?" Shilah asked evenly.
"You weren't there, Shilah!" David shot back. "That car rammed up my ass and would have spread me like a cheap coat of paint all over that road if Ares hadn't helped me! That's what saved my ass tonight! Not anything I did!"
"But why you?" Tommy asked. He shifted his bulky frame to look back at David.
David refilled his glass, placed the bottle of whiskey back on the shelf, turned and shrugged.
"I have no idea," David replied. "All I know is that he popped up one night, told me that Gabby, here, isn't exactly from this neck of the woods – duh - and we should all listen to what she has to say. After that, we had a little discussion about my survivability." He stopped suddenly.
Shilah looked at Gabrielle. "Well, we already know that Gabrielle is special, here. Did he give you anything useful?"
"You mean, besides Buns of Steel?" David asked, fishing for a beer bottle before he returned to the table. He set that bottle in front of Tommy and stood behind the sofa.
"Look," he continued, regaining his composure. "I don't know why he picked me out of everyone here, or what that thing is," he pointed at the amulet, sitting on the table. "Or how that thing works. I have no idea what Ares wants with me or what's going on."
"Um," Gabrielle said quietly. "That's probably my fault."
Jesse grinned. "Which part?"
Gabrielle looked over at her and smiled grimly.
"Ares has been a problem for me since long before Xena died." She said. "He seems to think he can use me for some end or other, though I've never been able to figure out what."
"What did he offer you?" Shilah asked her.
Gabrielle held her hands out helplessly. "He didn't say. He only said that he might want something earlier. When I get back home, but I don't know what that could be?"
"That's interesting," David added, seating himself again. "He told me to leave you alone when it came down to it." David shrugged again. "He said that you were the only one who could stop Alti, which was why you had been sent here."
"Well that just sounds lovely," Katrina said. "She drops into our laps and we can't help her."
"Alti was one of the most powerful shaman's I've ever seen." Gabrielle admitted. "If I'm the only one who's supposed to face her, I can't imagine that I'll win."
"So we're supposed to keep you alive long enough to get killed by this Alti character?" Jesse blurted out, clearly offended by the implications. "Here you are, help her out until it's time for her to take one for the team? That's a crock!"
"We can't just sit here and do nothing!" Katrina added.
David listened as the argument grew. His own thoughts pulled him inward and the voices faded into the background as his own conscience began to roar. He looked over at Gabrielle, sitting like a condemned person, resigned to her apparent fate. He could feel something building up within him. It felt like a wave of fire, only it wasn't rage or fury, though the expression of it was very much like rage. He sat and stewed as he watched the others speaking aloud, but he never heard a thing.
His gaze settled back on Gabrielle, siting quietly, completely still, lost in her own thoughts. Or perhaps just plain lost?
He stood up with a suddenness that brought the whole table to startled silence and he headed towards the door to the garage.
"Hey!" Tommy called after him. "Where are you going?"
"I need some air," David said hoarsely.
"Well, you ain't getting it on two wheels," Tommy ordered. "Keys." He held out his hand expectantly.
David opened his mouth to argue. Instead, he reached into his pocket and drew out the keys to his bike, tossing them onto the table with a clatter. It was a deliberate snub at Tommy, one that he took gracefully.
"I'll walk," David growled, and he stumped out of the room.
Shilah watched him depart and felt the waves of energy wafting from him like an actual breeze.
"Excuse me," she said firmly. Everyone fell silent. She looked at Gabrielle. "Wait a few minutes and then follow me out in front of the barn."
"Why?" Gabrielle asked.
"Just trust me," Shilah said with a smug smile. "I know that look." She rose and followed after David.
"Ares always says that," Gabrielle commented doubtfully.
Shilah found David pacing up and down alongside the front of the barn, his cigar clenched tightly between his teeth. He paused when Shilah emerged.
"What are you doing?" Shilah asked.
David sighed. "Contemplating fresh meanings for the statement "helpless as a baby", why?"
"You seem a bit distracted, that's all," Shilah answered smoothly. "Want to tell me about it?"
David's intense stare fixed on Shilah for a moment, and then he shrugged.
"It seems that I'm destined to watch people I care about be taken from me," he finally said.
Shilah leaned back against the wall and folded her arms across her chest.
"This isn't about Gabrielle," she said. "This about Lizzy, and about you."
"So what if it is?" David shot back. He resumed his pacing. "Nine years, Shilah! Nine! And then the cancer hits and I have to sit there and watch her just – wither away to nothing! She weighed seventy pounds when she finally went! Seventy! I could lift her off the damn bed with one arm!"
David slumped back against the wall and sighed. "And there wasn't shit I could do about it."
"It wasn't from lack of trying," Shilah said gently. "It simply wasn't meant to be. I thought you understood that?"
"Understood, yes," David retorted. "Accepted, no. At least, not gracefully."
He waved his hand up towards the interior of the building. "And now, this!"
"Gabrielle," Shilah said.
"Yeah," David replied. "Another person that I'm fond of, and she's about to get whacked!" He drew a vehement hand across his throat. "And I'm not supposed to do anything about it? It's bullshit, Shilah. Total bullshit!"
He smiled grimly. "I've got enough money to live the rest of my life any way I want to, but its cost me everyone I loved. What the hell kind of trade off is that?"
He took a long drag off the cigar and sighed. "I must be the only son of a bitch that can have this much dumb luck in one lifetime." Then he looked at Shilah and there was a hint of desperation in his eyes.
"You aren't lost," Shilah replied. "But I think it's time for you to stop hiding how you truly feel."
"About?" David asked.
"Gabrielle," Shilah said in motherly fashion.
"Oh Christ," David exclaimed. "Between you and Debbie. What the hell are you two doing?"
"David," Shilah said gently. "I love you to death. You're like another son to me, but Lizzy's been gone for six years now. You need to move on. Perhaps that's the reason Gabrielle was sent to us, here, in this moment. Have you ever considered that?"
"Look," David continued. "As a full blooded, card carrying, paid up Hound Dog, I have, but as much as it would be nice, I doubt if anything could ever happen between us. I accept that."
"But a part of you still wants it to," Shilah fixed him with a stern stare.
"Not anymore," David said automatically and then he saw the expression on Shilah's face. It was the one she always had when she knew he was trying to lie.
"Well, fine," He finally admitted. "Yes, I think it would be nice, and yes I am curious, and yes, I have thought about it. And YES, I do like her, and YES I find her incredibly attractive, and YES, I AM A MALE! I AM LOW BY NATURE AND GENETICALLY PROGRAMMED TO THINK THIS WAY!" He shouted the last bit at the top of his lungs, hearing his voice echo in the nearby trees and then he looked back at Shilah, his annoyance spent.
"Is there anything else you'd like to know?" He finished with feigned civility.
"So," Shilah said quietly. "If she were to offer herself to you, you would accept?"
"Yes!" He said and then quickly. "I mean, no. I mean, I don't know. It depends on the circumstances! Ah dammit Shilah, what does this have to do with anything?"
"You have to be completely focused if this is to work. You cannot be distracted by anything." Shilah said seriously. "Right now, you are distracted. VERY distracted."
"Oh, come on," David replied. "It's kind of hard not to be "distracted", Shilah. I like talking with her. I like the sound of her voice or the sound of her laugh. She's got a great smile." A realization began to set in and his voice dropped in astonishment. "I've gotten used to having her around." He finished quietly, as if that final admission had made everything jumbled in his heart and mind fall right into place.
"Go on," Shilah said. "Tell me why you haven't said anything to her?"
"Oh, give me a break," David groaned. "I just met the girl for crying out loud! I don't want to come off like a lovesick puppy, or worse, like I'm trying to take advantage –" He stopped when Gabrielle stepped out into the cool evening moonlight.
David closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. "Shit. How long have you been standing there?" He asked Gabrielle.
"Long enough," Gabrielle said softly.
David whole face turned a brilliant crimson color. He had never been so embarrassed in his life. He fixed Shilah with a dark stare.
"This was never going to be about the Convergence, was it?" He asked his mentor. She merely smiled and shook her head. "This was a setup."
"Yes," she said. "This was about dealing with distractions and getting everything out in the open. Just the way you like to handle everything else in your life. Up front, no bullshit."
Shilah smiled as she moved towards the open barn door. "Well, it's all on the table now?" She arched her eyebrows and smiled.
"That was wrong on so many levels," David said angrily. "You know that?"
Shilah merely shrugged. "I'll leave the two of you alone now. I think you have a few things to discuss."
David looked at Gabrielle. She, in turn, stared back at him. Neither one of them said anything for a long awkward moment.
Then they opened their mouths and spoke at the same time, stopped, started again, stopped again, and laughed nervously.
"Christ," David rubbed his head. "I feel like I'm back in High School, asking a girl to the prom."
Gabrielle smiled. "What's a prom?"
"Its kind of a dinner and dancing session for wannabe grownups," David replied.
Gabrielle smiled and nodded. Then her face sobered. "Thank you." She said.
That statement surprised David.
"A lot of things," Gabrielle said. "For not leaving me on the road that night. For saving my life tonight. For not trying to take advantage of me when you found me. It means a lot."
David shrugged the compliment away. "It was nothing."
Gabrielle saw the pain in his eyes for the first time. "You loved her very much," she said knowingly.
David smiled grimly. "Yes I did. I still do. We met, fell in love real fast, and never fell out of it again. No one in the whole bunch of us was more surprised than I was when it didn't end."
"Why?" Gabrielle asked.
"We were so different," David said. "I was this big, leather bound biker, working the door at a local bar, and she was this little well-to-do girl from a fine upstanding family. We were worlds apart." He held his hands up helplessly. "Somehow, we just – " he brought his hands together, lacing his fingers. "I don't know how it happened? It could have been that first night; it could have been a month into it? All I know is that we loved each others company."
David slid down to the ground and stared out into the mass of tangled trees. "I can't remember having a conversation like those for years," he looked up at her suddenly. "Until you showed up."
David suddenly looked away. "I just don't want to get so wrapped up in you, and then discover I was only looking for a ghost. Does that make any sense?"
Gabrielle settled down next to him, leaning her head against his shoulder.
"Yes, it does," she said. "I don't want to get attached either, just because I'm on my own for the first time in my life."
"Scary, isn't it?" David mused.
"Gives me the woodies," Gabrielle replied.
David paused for a moment, and then laughed out loud.
"Willies," he corrected her. "It gives you the willies."
Gabrielle frowned in confusion and looked up at him.
"Then what's a woody?"
David laughed again, feeling the tension ease in waves. "I'll tell you some other time."
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