Standard Disclaimer: All Xena characters belong to NBC Universal and RenPics.
Violence Disclaimer: It's Xena, so there's fighting, but only just enough.
Subtext Disclaimer: This is a really short story, so I kept subtext to no more than in the show.
This story won the 2012 Xena 2011 Movie Campaign Facebook page's bard contest. Make sure to “Like” their page at: https://www.facebook.com/Xena2011MovieCampaign
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy my story!
Xena propped her chin on her hand and watched the countryside whiz by at impossible speeds, her own reflection faintly visible in the car's tinted glass. She shifted in her leather seat and turned to the left to catch a glimpse of Gabrielle, who, as though sensing the attention, turned and gave Xena a small smile. She reached over and took Xena's hand where it rested on the seat between them amongst haphazardly strewn manila folders and their contents, papers that told a bit about the world into which they had been thrown. Gabrielle squeezed Xena's hand, and she returned the smile. The world was different, but some things had not changed.
They were en route to some place called North Carolina, which, of course, didn't mean anything to Xena except that she had never heard of it. Agent Chris Feld, the man currently driving the vehicle and the man responsible for acquainting them with their new surroundings had pointed it out to her on a strange, flat, elliptical map, which he said represented the entire world. All of it. And he'd pointed out this North Carolina, and then Greece, which was almost a handspan away. His fingertip had very nearly covered it up.
Xena had stared for a moment, and then she laughed. It began as a humorless and almost soundless scoff, then progressed into an almost hysterical laugh, and finally ended in a sad chuckle, as she collapsed into a chair. Gabrielle had kneeled at her side, confused, her blonde brows furrowed in concern. Xena motioned toward the map, which laid on the nearby table. “At one point in my life, I tried to conquer the world,” she said, wistfully, “And I thought I nearly had.” She shook her head self-deprecatingly, her dark hair falling over her blue eyes, which were glassy. “I was such a fool.” Gabrielle reached up and brushed Xena's hair behind her ear, and felt a larger hand cover her free one, which rested on the chair arm. Xena's voice was low, and held the weight of a guilt carried for many lifetimes, speaking across the centuries that separated her and her former self. “I don't give a damn about the world,” she had said. And it was true.
Xena shifted in her chair again, trying to make herself more comfortable. She removed her hand from Gabrielle's, and tugged at her leg coverings, finding them entirely too tight and stiff. How could anyone fight in these? “What are these called again?” she asked Agent Feld, and saw his eyes flick toward her in the rear-view mirror.
“Jeans,” he said, his voice a little tired. Clones wearing jeans. Now that's a laugh riot.
“I don't like them,” Xena grumbled, mostly to herself.
“I like the top part,” Gabrielle said, admiring the royal blue corded sweater that perfectly matched Xena's eyes. She herself was wearing a green sweater, and jeans. “It's pretty soft.” She chuckled at Xena's displeased scowl.
Xena didn't understand why they couldn't wear the clothes they were used to. Well, she understood, she just didn't agree. Agent had patiently explained why they couldn't do hardly any of the things they were used to. People just didn't ride horses anymore, at least not for transportation. People didn't wander the countryside looking for people to help. People didn't carry swords, not only because they didn't know how to use them, but because they would be ineffectual against some newfangled weapon called a gun, which was apparently a lot more dangerous, readily available, and easy to use. Now that just didn't seem like a good idea.
Though Xena had many skills, those were pretty much the top three, so finding a way to assimilate into this strange future was going to take some doing.
At first, some man wearing a white coat had offered them food and board if they would submit to something called “scientific exploration” including scans of their brains, and if it “really came down to it, invasive surgery.” Xena had overheard that last part, and had grabbed the man by his painfully pale lapels and politely told him that if he wanted to go poking around in their brains she'd go poking around in his and see how he liked it, and then he'd run from the room like his ass was on fire.
So then this Agent Chris Feld had shown up, and told them that he would help them assimilate into society, kind of like people in the witness protection program. They'd looked at each other quizzically, but then he explained, and they'd decided that it seemed to be the best option.
Even though it sounded boring
They had discussed their options, trying to find out what sort of job would be easiest for them to blend into. Xena had mentioned that her mother had run an inn, and Gabrielle talked about her story-telling and leadership skills, so they decided on this small town in this place called North Carolina.
Xena and Gabrielle leaned slightly as inertia pulled at them from the car's turning, and then were gently pulled back into their seats by the same force as the car rolled to a stop in front of a sizable, colonial style house.
“We're here,” Agent announced, as he shut off the engine and opened his door.
The house was situated in a secluded area near the Appalachian Trail. There was a small town perhaps an hour away, and the thick forest and rolling hills gave the sense of isolation. The property was actually very large; encompassing a pasture and a barn where horses were kept, and at its edge a horse trial that led into the mountains.
After they had unloaded their bags from the trunk, the three unlikely companions stood at the steps to the house, admiring the porch, with it's 3 regally situated Adirondack chairs.
What caught Gabrielle's eye was the sign near the front door. It was wooden, and upon it in blue were two mirror image, triangle-body, stick figures, holding hands, and in big block letters the words, Gemini Inn Bed and Breakfast.
Gabrielle got the joke, and shot Agent a wry look. “Very funny, Agent.”
“I thought so,” he said smugly, as he brushed past them, carrying two duffel bags, their only luggage. “And once again, Agent is my title, not my first name. Like King, or Magistrate.” He freed a hand then fumbled in his suit's breast pocket for the key, then unlocked to door and held it open with his foot, motioning for them to go inside. Xena snagged the duffel, letting Gabrielle enter before her.
The small foyer was then crowded as the three stepped inside, Xena and Gabrielle marveling at the uncanny familiarity of their new surroundings.
The floors were a warm wood, which looked well-scuffed with use. Agent Feld flipped a light switch, which illuminated a few sconces, but did not give off an oppressive amount of glare. Xena and Gabrielle had already become familiar with electricity, thanks to their recent encounter with Alti. Even so, it was one of the things Agent Feld had covered in his hasty lessons, including how to use a phone, a stove and other appliances, and the importance of always carrying identification.
Agent Feld dropped the duffel and said with a flick of his head, “C'mon. Let me give you the grand tour.”
Agent Feld had left after giving them his contact information, and their new identification papers. He had also given them a CB radio, with instruction on its use, saying that cell coverage in the area was spotty at best. He was going into town for more food and supplies, even though they had enough for a few days, and would drop back by tomorrow. Included in the stack were two photo-IDs, sporting the names Gabrielle Reed, and Xena Milas. He had suggested that Xena change her first name, but after she had pinned him with a glare that could have felled a rhinoceros at 30 yards he relented, saying that it didn't really matter, because they weren't trying to hide anyway. No one was looking for them.
They sat on a sofa in the living room, quietly absorbing their surroundings. Xena's hand fiddled with a white circular bit a fabric that covered the sofa's arm. What was this called again? Oh. A doily. She lifted the delicate fabric, noting the scattering of tiny holes and indentations. She didn't like it. Carefully, she returned it to its perch, then propped her legs up on the small dark-colored wooden coffee table.
“This isn't so bad,” Gabrielle said, wiggling her toes, which she had extricated from the tiny black shoes she had been given. She'd have to buy some boots. Luckily, Agent Feld had informed them that until the inn became fully autonomous, they would be given a stipend, and they could use a curious flat card to buy things that they wanted.
“It's not,” Xena agreed, studying the room. Beneath the table was a blue and white rug, which spanned almost the entire floor. Opposite them was a large cabinet that seemed to hold tiny porcelain figures. Xena squinted. It looked like they might be hippos in various states of undress.
Moving right along. On the sofa's left were two cozy looking chairs, one of which had a large indentation in the cushion which seemed to indicate that a hefty person favored it. On the other side was another chair that looked little used, and uncomfortable. Behind the chairs was a window, which let in the light from the setting sun, sending orange streaks across the room to tickle their feet. The room was small but not cramped.
“It's not really that diff-” she began, but was startled by a loud noise, like a bell. Her head snapped to look at Gabrielle. “What the Hades was that?” Gabrielle shrugged, then jumped when the noise came again, swiftly followed by a loud banging. That noise she knew.
“The door,” said Gabrielle, rising, and extending a hand to pull Xena up. “That's new.”
“That's loud,” corrected Xena, bumping Gabrielle with her hip in the direction of the hall and the front door.
Xena pulled open the front door, and was immediately pushed aside by a small grey whirlwind. “Goodness!” the intruder exclaimed, “it still looks so nice!” A small elderly woman, even shorter than Gabrielle, pushed her way down the hall. Xena was relieved that her fighting reflexes were as sharp as ever, otherwise she may have knocked the woman into next week before she had determined she was no threat. “Of course I knew it would, but you never can tell! Hugh paid to have it kept up after poor Gladys died last year but good help is so hard to find...” They followed her babbling into the kitchen, where she deposited a lurid, melting yellow cake into the refrigerator, then turned to face them, grey wisps gathering around her crinkled face. She shook her finger in mock admonishment. “Now I know you'll be hankering to try my lemon cake but not until after dinner!” Xena and Gabrielle looked, at each other, then back at her, dumfounded.
The old woman playfully smacked herself in the forehead. “Oh! I forgot to introduce myself. Well, let's just head to the living room and get all the pleasantries over with!” Without waiting for affirmation she did just that, and Gabrielle and Xena dutifully followed behind.
When they entered to living room they were greeted by a young couple, who stood with their mouths hanging open, similarly blindsided.
“Here they are!” the woman continued, unabated. “I ran into these two on the steps. Newlyweds, obviously, wanting to say here! I never caught their names?” Her voice raised in question, and the answering vacuum of silence after the brutal onslaught was deafening. After a moment's hesitation the young man recovered. He was just a tad taller than Gabrielle, and very thin, though dressed in a very nice suit, with more pens than necessary sticking out of a pocket. “Nick Ryan,” he motioned to the small, slightly plump, brown-haired woman next to him, “and Helen Ryan.” He nervously squeezed his wife's hand, clearly wondering if they should cut their losses, and find lodging elsewhere.
“Lovely! Lovely! Sit, sit!” exclaimed the grey-haired woman, motioning to the far chairs. They remained standing, but she didn't seem to notice, and breezed on, this time fixing her ministrations on Xena and Gabrielle. “And these two bought Gladys' place and are going to get it running again! Great woman, Gladys. Had a fondness for hippos, though, I just didn't understand. I made the mistake of telling her I liked them, you know, just to be nice, and she sent me one of those awful figurines, every year for my birthday! When I didn't get one this year I just knew she was dead...”
She didn't notice when Gabrielle leaned over to the couple and whispered, “Don't worry, she doesn't live here.” She gave them a warm smile, and they relaxed, moving to sit in the chairs.
“Thank goodness,” Nick said, wiping his receding hairline with a handkerchief.
The woman prattled on, then took a look at the grandfather clock nestled against one wall and exclaimed, “Oh! I have to go dears, gotta get home before dark, not good for an old woman alone, what with the bank robbery and all!” She bustled past them and disappeared down the hall with a wave. They could hear her voice retreating. “Oh, dear, it's started raining! Thank you! Enjoy the cake! Conversation's been lovely!” The door slammed, meeting them with a welcome silence.
After a beat, Xena turned to Gabrielle and said wryly, “What conversation?”
Helen chuckled, then looked up hopefully. “What cake?”
Gabrielle poked Xena in the ribs, and the warrior playfully swatted her hand. “Don't be mean,” the bard admonished.
Xena gave her a devastatingly innocent look. “I wasn't.” Her eyebrows rose and her face split into an expectant grin. “How about that cake?”
Gabrielle pinned her with a green stare, then relented with a sigh. “After dinner.”
Some time later, the four gathered around the dining table, having finished dinner. Gabrielle had managed to figure out how to use the stove, and had retrieved some raw fish from the well-stocked refrigerator. She had thought it odd that it was already scaled, but it had turned out quite tasty. Conversation had revolved primarily around the Ryans; they had learned that Nick was an accountant, and Helen a schoolteacher, and they had been married for about six months. Helen liked to ride horses, so they had come here to relax and enjoy the scenery.
The dining room was well-appointed, but could hardly be called tasteful. Or perhaps that was the problem. There was too much taste, at least for one particular item. There was a long table that could easily sit twelve people, and a cabinet that held a display of china. That wouldn't have been so bad, of course, but everything was decorated with strawberries. The embroidered table runner was laden with scads of the red fruit, the napkins were similarly afflicted, and the dishes they were using were covered in the stuff. It was confusing, really, because it looked like the fruit was actually on the plate, and Xena had to stop herself from trying to spear it with a fork. Even the upholstered wooden chairs were strawberry-themed.
Gabrielle got up to retrieve the cake, leaving Xena with the amiable Ryans. Outside, rain and wind had really picked up, and a clap of thunder shook the boards.
“I'm glad we're inside,” supplied Nick, patting his stomach. “That fish was excellent. Thank you, Xena.”
“You can thank Gabrielle,” the warrior replied, taking a sip from her water glass. That was new, too. The material was slippery, but she found she preferred it over the wooden goblets she was used to. Now her drink didn't taste like oak. “I only supervised.”
“Xena,” Helen piped up, “that's an interesting name. Is it foreign?”
“Greek,” Xena said.
“I would've thought, with your coloring,” said Nick, who then blushed. Helen gave him a quizzical look, while Xena smiled into her water glass.
“How did you and Gabrielle meet?” Helen continued.
“It's kind of a funny story,” said Gabrielle, returning with the cake. She had put in on a silver platter, as though trying to dress it up, but it just looked like a pauper wearing king's robes: out of place. “She saved my life.” She tossed Xena a grin as she put the platter down in front of her, looking like the cat that swallowed the canary. Or the canary yellow cake.
Xena eyed the cake like she would an enemy. She reached out a long finger and poked it experimentally, then recoiled with a grimace. “You could save mine by taking the first bite.” She turned a sweet smile on Gabrielle, who rolled her eyes as she took a seat.
“I've never known you to turn down a cake.”
Xena poked the offending item again. The cake jiggled, it's neon yellow frosting dripping down the sides. It seemed to flee from her touch, like a mouse from a cat. “I'm not sure this is a cake.” She poked it again. “I'm not sure this isn't living.”
Gabrielle exhaled exasperatedly. “Oh, please, Xena you've eaten-” she began, but was interrupted by a crackling noise that came from the next room.
Xena's blue eyes sparkled as she recognized the source. “The radio!” she said happily, as she sprang from her chair. “I'll get it!” As she moved to pass Gabrielle's chair to placed her hands on the blonde's shoulders and bent down to stage whisper in her ear. “You can start without me.” She reached over Gabrielle and snagged a knife, brandishing it expertly, then offered it to Gabrielle handle first. “You're much better with these things anyway,” she finished, grinning wickedly. Gabrielle feinted at her with the blunt knife, but Xena dodged it, and danced from the room, laughing.
“She's gonna get it,” Gabrielle said, though she smiled, and gestured didactically with the knife. “She forgets I know where she lives.”
Helen and Nick were smiling, pleased by the banter and easy camaraderie they saw between their hosts. It seemed that the warmer Gabrielle brought out a playful side in the naturally laconic Xena.
“So how did she save your life? That sounds like a good story,” said Helen.
“You have no idea,” began Gabrielle, “So these guys were trying to rob me...”
Xena smiled to herself as she heard the low tones of Gabrielle's voice morph into story-telling mode. They had decided to keep details of their lives as close as possible to the truth, to avoid slip-ups. So Gabrielle told the story of their first meeting, with only a few details changed. The men were not slavers, they were muggers, and Gabrielle was an American visiting Greece. Xena happened to come along, and beat up the guys. Xena chuckled at the Ryan's gasps when Gabrielle reached that part.
A flash of lighting illuminated the crackling radio, which had been left in the living room when they had unpacked before dinner. Rain pounded heavily against the window, pouring down it in thick streams. The old light bulbs kept the room only just light enough.
Xena sat on the sofa, and lifted the receiver, pressing the button on the side. All this stuff really was easy to use, she thought. “Agent?” she inquired.
“Xena? Oh, good!” a voice crackled, broken slightly by static. “Glad I caught you.” A pause, then the voice became more clear. “The storm's washed away part of the roads, and some trees are down, so I won't be able to get out there before they clear it, maybe a few days. You've got plenty of supplies, though. You'll be okay?” The crackling stopped, indicating she should respond.
“We'll be fine,” she said, studying the buttons absently, “we've got customers,” she said, almost smugly. “And cake,” she added, propping her bare feet on the table, hoping she could make him jealous. A girl had to get her kicks somewhere.
“Good!” the crackling intensified. “Oh, one more thing-” the static peaked, making her ears hurt with its high pitched keening. She pressed more buttons, trying to make it stop. She gritted her teeth, shaking the radio. Maybe all this stuff wasn't as easy to use as she had thought. In frustration, she banged it against the table, relieved when the noise abated, and she could her a voice again. Xena raised the receiver to her mouth to ask Agent to repeat himself, but paused when she realized the voice coming from the hellish device wasn't his.
It was a man's voice, but more gruff, and hard to understand through the crackling, and the ambient noise from the driving rain.
“-now we'll have to wait to get down the mountain-”
Another voice, also a man's.
“-stop acting so-only split three ways now-your fault we have to hide in this stinking hole-”
The first voice came again. Xena strained to listen against the static, trying to make out the ominous words as the radio lost signal.
“-my fault-you-” Then there was a loud noise that made Xena recoil.
“-crazy bastard!-trying to kill me-” said the first voice.
Then a flash of lightning illuminated the room, casting Xena's sharp features into relief, and the radio experienced its death throes.
“No, wait!” Xena shook it, to no avail. Banging it on the table had helped before, right? So she smashed it down several times, punctuating each blow with a curse, “C'mon, you stupid-piece of-”
She turned her head quickly to avoid shrapnel from the radio that exploded from the abuse, sending bits of metal and plastic around the room. She lifted what was left of it, gazing at it sheepishly. “Crap.”
After gathering the bits of radio into a pile on the table, Xena determined that it was unsalvagable, and wondered what it was she had heard. She had dealt with more than her share of unsavory characters, and there was no doubt that these guys were bad news. She thought back over what little she had heard, trying to piece it together with what she already knew.
She floundered for a moment, then it hit her. Somewhere in that elderly woman's inane babble, she had mentioned a bank robbery. That had to be it.
Xena smiled. And I thought this would be boring.
Xena re-entered the dining room, noticing the rapt attention the Ryans were bestowing on Gabrielle, as she animatedly told them another tale. Mid-sentence, Gabrielle eyes flicked to Xena's in question.
“The storm pulled down some trees in the road, so we're trapped here for a few days.”
The Ryans professed indifference, having decided to stay that long anyway.
Gabrielle caught a wary note in the warrior's voice and met Xena's gaze in silent conversation. Xena's expression told her to wait.
“Hey,” Xena's tone was teasing, addressing the Ryans, “What crazy stories has she been telling you?”
Nick spoke, gracing her with a look of what must have been pure infatuation. “About you, actually.”
Xena's blue eyes flicked to Gabrielle. “You could knock me over with a feather.”
Gabrielle smirked, but said nothing, wondering why Xena was making small talk. She was sure she'd find out in a second. She could practically see the cogs working in that dark head.
“Did you really beat up eight bad guys?” asked Helen, who looked like she didn't really believe it.
“Sometimes she exaggerates,” said Xena, then after a pause, “it was only six.” She saw Gabrielle roll her eyes.
The Ryans laughed, assuming she was facetious, and in pleasure of Gabrielle's penchant for tale-telling. So far they had really enjoyed their stay.
“Hey, speaking of bad guys,” said Xena, her voice mildly interested, “Did you hear about that bank robbery?” She affected a tone that indicated she already knew what had happened, and wanted to gossip.
So that was it. Gabrielle leaned back in her chair to listen, pleased at Xena's clumsy, though successful, attempt at subtlety.
“Oh, yes!” Helen exclaimed, “and they got away, too!”
“They think they're long gone by now,” supplied Nick, taking a sip of his water, and swallowing.
Helen leaned toward Xena and Gabrielle, saying almost conspiratorially, “They killed one of their own, you know?”
“Just makes sense, from a financial point of view,” said Nick, sniffing, “to only split the haul two ways instead of three.”
Xena's eyebrow rose at that, becoming well-acquainted with her hairline. Hadn't the man on the radio said now it was only three ways? That didn't add up.
“Should we be worried?” asked Gabrielle, trying to spur the conversation. Of course, she would never be worried as long as Xena was there.
“I don't think so,” said Nick, “with the road out, we're isolated. It trapped us, but anyone trying to get in'd be trapped too.”
Xena's eyes widened just a little, as she thought about that. The voice on the radio had said they were trapped. That had to mean the others were close by. She turned, trading a glance with Gabrielle.
“We'll that's a relief!” said Gabrielle, a little too quickly, standing up to clear away the uneaten cake, “How about we all get to sleep? It's been a long day.”
The Ryans voiced agreement, waving, making their way upstairs to the room in which they had already stashed their bags.
Xena had insisted that she wait to tell Gabrielle her suspicions until they were alone in their room, so they had both showered and changed into pajamas. They wore matching Nick and Nora creations; Xena's sported cows jumping over moons, and Gabrielle's had sheep jumping fences. Gabrielle thought they were adorable. Xena indulged her, but thought that it was embarrassing for a warrior to wear something like that.
As soon as the bedroom door shut, Gabrielle grabbed the front of Xena's button-down shirt and tugged her forward. “All right, Warrior Princess,” she said, “what's going on?”
Xena motioned for her to sit on the patchwork quilt that decorated the edge of the bed. She whispered, though the sound of the rain would have prevented successful eavesdropping. She told Gabrielle what she had overheard, and also that she suspected Nick of foul play.
Gabrielle thought for a moment before speaking. “Maybe he just got his facts wrong?” she said, hopefully, though she knew that was unlikely. Xena had a keen sense about people, and was almost never wrong. Gabrielle usually wanted to think the best of people, but more recently had gained vestiges of Xena's rational mistrust.
“I hope so,” replied Xena, scratching her jaw. Then she turned, her blue eyes twinkling in the low light. “There's one way to find out.” A slow smirk crossed her face, hesitantly returned by Gabrielle.
Gabrielle and Xena crept into the Ryan's room, noticing the couple was sound asleep. Xena scanned the room, noticing the bags piled against the wall. She pointed, and silently the pair moved toward their quarry.
Gabrielle opened the first bag, a hard-case piece of luggage. She winced as the zipper made a noise, glancing quickly toward the occupied bed. When there was no movement, she completed the motion, revealing the contents.
This bag must be Helen's. There were a few dresses, some pants and tops, a pair of boots which Gabrielle eyed enviously, and several very large and garishly colored bras. Smirking, Gabrielle pulled one a yellow one out and held it to her chest, effectively eclipsing herself. “Damn,” she mouthed, and Xena covered her mouth in silent laughter, then took the garment from her and carefully put it back. She zipped the case, and glanced toward the bed, her eyebrow rising as she saw something poking out from under the dust cover.
Xena went on her belly, and crawled over the carpet to the bed's edge, carefully pulling aside the fabric to reveal a brown leather briefcase. She pulled it out, thankful for the carpet, which made the motion smooth and silent.
Gabrielle crawled up beside her, their shoulders brushing. Xena tried to open the case, then gave up as she noticed the combination locks. She turned one experimentally, glad that the metallic clicking was drowned out by the still present thunderstorm. She tried the case again, with no luck.
Gabrielle shook her head, and angled the case toward herself. She thought for a moment, her tongue sticking out in concentration as she counted on her fingers. With a smile, she bent forward and arranged the locks, the smile growing wider as the case popped open.
Gabrielle pulled it open further, and she and Xena exchanged glances. It was full of little green stacks of paper, which they now recognized as money. Also in the case was a radio, though it was off. That must be why those other guys were talking on one, thought Xena.
With consenting nods, the pair shut and replaced the briefcase, careful to re-scramble the locks. Then the crept out of the room to discuss what they had just uncovered.
Back in their room, Gabrielle began, “It looks like we have a couple of options.” She ticked off a finger. “One. We let Agent know.”
Xena sucked in air through her teeth. “I don't think we can. I smashed the radio.”
“We can use his.”
“Oh. But we have to go get it again.” She smiled proudly. “How did you know that code?”
Gabrielle smiled back, pleased with the subtle adulation. “They said they were here for this six-month anniversary, so I put in their marriage date.”
Xena punched her lightly in her sheep-clad shoulder. “Clever bard. Do you wanna go get the radio now?”
“How I get it tomorrow, while you take them horseback riding?”
“Okay.” Xena nodded. “You know how to use it?”
“I know not to smash it,” Gabrielle said, teasing. Xena rolled her eyes.
“Very funny. What were the other options?”
Gabrielle ticked off a second finger. “Option two goes with option one. We warn Agent, pretend like we don't know anything, and let events play out.” Her green eyes rolled, indicating what she thought of that. She was just exploring all the options.
Xena picked a piece of lint off the cow on her knee. “Please. I'm a woman of action.”
Gabrielle smiled warmly. “I know. Which is where option three comes in. We warn Agent, but ride up into the mountains and find those guys ourselves.”
“Option three please,” Xena said immediately, “I'm in the mood for an adventure.”
“Me too,” said Gabrielle, “but after the storm lets up.”
The next morning, Xena and Gabrielle were in the dining room, setting the table for breakfast. They had just turned to grab the silverware when they heard a metallic click, and Helen's voice say, “Nick what are you doing?”
On instinct Xena dove, pushing Gabrielle down as a shot rang out, and a somewhat attractive strawberry-shaped crystal decanter exploded overhead.
Several more shots followed, as Xena and Gabrielle darted from the room in a crouch, as debris spewed from the walls. They were now in the living room, and heard Nick say, “There'll be no calling for help now. I disabled the radio.”
“Funny, so did I,” said Xena, as she searched for a weapon. Ah. Inside the china cabinet was a plate, with the image of a tap-dancing hippo. She snatched it, just as another shot rang out, going through the glass of the open cabinet door. I won't even feel bad about this. Xena whipped the plate through the air, watching it smack against Nick's forehead, knocking him back. His head bounced against the floor; he was out cold.
Helen was slumped near the wall, whimpering.
Gabrielle was careful to step around the glass in deference to her bare feet. She picked up the hippo-plate. “Nice one,” she complimented the warrior. Shrugging, she added, “Not as good as a chakram, but it'll do.”
Xena chuckled, ducking into the dining room and grabbing a chair. She set it down, then lifted Nick into it. “Hey, help me tie him up?”
“What are friends for?” replied Gabrielle, as she looked around for something to use as rope. She took a tie that was used to hold the curtain, and with Xena's help, tied his arms and legs to the chair.
Xena retrieved another chair, and put it back to back with the one that held Nick. Helen allowed herself to be led into it, muttering, “I didn't know, I didn't know.”
“I didn't think you did,” said Gabrielle, now tying Helen to the chair, “but we've got to be careful. Can't let you untie him.”
Xena wrapped a tie around both their waist, effectively marrying the captives. “At least you'll be spending your anniversary together,” she said with a slight chuckle.
Helen looked up sadly, now apparently resigned to her fate. “What are you going to do with us?”
Gabrielle leaned forward and answered, “I'm going to borrow your boots.”
“Easy, Cinnamon,” said Gabrielle, as her horse slipped on the muddy uphill trail. She patted her mount's neck as the mare regained her footing.
Xena snorted. “Cinnamon is a terrible name for a horse.”
“Oh?” said Gabrielle, raising a blonde eyebrow. “And Argo's a great one?” Her voice was teasing, though, and Xena knew it. They had been traveling up the mountain for some time now, and even though they had found some thick coats in the stable, it was damp and uncomfortable. Also in the stable had been some rakes and shovels, from which they had removed the wooden handles to use as staffs. The banter helped take their minds off the surroundings.
“Yes,” Xena replied with conviction, “Argo was a warhorse, named after a war ship. It was intimidating. Cinnamon is something I put in my tea.”
“Argo used to eat apples out of my hand.”
“In a very intimidating way, I'm sure.”
“Oh, yeah,” Gabrielle scoffed, “her tongue licking my hand was the very picture of ferocity.”
Xena turned, and presented the aforementioned appendage. Gabrielle reached out to poke her with her makeshift staff, but Xena dodged it by making her horse crab-hop.
“Alright, Warrior Princess, what's your horse's name?” Gabrielle asked defiantly, eying Xena's tall grey mount.
“Smoke? How is that better than Cinnamon?”
Xena laughed, despite herself. “He's grey! It's descriptive! And smoke can be mysterious.”
“And Cinnamon can't?” replied Gabrielle, smiling at Xena.
“No,” the warrior replied, with a firm nod. “You can always taste it. Now if it were...” Suddenly she stopped, her mount slipping slightly on the muddy ground. “Do you smell that smoke?”
Gabrielle stopped as well. “Of course I do. He's right next to me, and he's no bed of roses.”
Xena looked over her shoulder, and shot the smirking Gabrielle an amused look. “Ha, ha.” She dismounted gracefully, her long brown coat whipping at the backs of her jean-clad legs. She pulled it around herself, covering up her burgundy sweater.
Gabrielle also dismounted, her too-large boots sticking in the mud. She brushed off her black coat, pleased that her navy blue long-sleeved shirt was unstained.
“C'mon,” Xena began leading the horses through the thick trees. “Let's go follow our noses.”
A few minutes later, the two found themselves looking at a rustic cabin, nestled comfortably in a clearing.
A thin line of smoke trailed from the chimney.
“How do we know it's the robbers?” asked Gabrielle. They'd look really dumb if they barged in on some old couple.
“I don't,” said Xena. “but if it is, it's only two guys.” Xena stepped out from the tree-line, and made her way to the porch. “I think I can handle two guys.”
“You'd know better than I would,” replied Gabrielle dryly, “I've never tried it.”
Xena smacked her on the butt with her staff.
Gabrielle rubbed her backside dramatically, though she was unhurt. “Fine, I'll stop slandering your reputation.” She fell silent as they gained the porch. Voices could be heard from inside.
Xena pressed herself against the wall, near the wooden door. Gabrielle fell in next to her. Together, they listened.
“When is Nick supposed to get here?” said a gruff voice.
“He said he had something to take care of first, but he'd be by today.”
“He won't skip out with our money, if he knows what's good for him.”
Xena turned to Gabrielle, raising an eloquent eyebrow. Gabrielle nodded, and Xena winked in response.
The warrior threw open the door, startling the two men, who were seated at a table. “Sorry boys,” she said, “Nick won't be coming.” A pause, as she chuckled. “He's a little tied up.”
Gabrielle fought the urge to roll her eyes. That's why I'm the bard. Maybe she's trying to kill them with puns. She's never tried that. I know she likes to try new things.
A man with a thick beard stood and lunged for a gun that lay on a nearby sofa. Xena cocked her arm and threw her staff like a javelin. It nailed him in the chest, knocking him down as he fell back gasping.
Xena advanced on him as the other man rushed Gabrielle. The bard tripped him with her staff, them whacked him hard in the stomach with an overhead blow. As she glanced up from his supine form, she saw Xena flipping the other man over, ripping his shirt off and using it to tie his hands.
“Man,” she said, jerking the man to his feet, “they just don't make bad guys like they used to.”
Back at the inn, Xena and Gabrielle sat on the living room sofa, trying patiently to work the radio they had taken from the men's cabin as the three bank-robbers cursed and struggled in their bonds. Helen just sat there, absorbing it.
Xena fiddled with the dials, jumping when she finally got a squawk from the dread machine. “Agent?” she spoke into the receiver.
“Xena?” answered the voice, “I've been trying to reach you! I'm on my way there now!”
Gabrielle leaned over and spoke. “Good. We've got a surprise for you.”
A pause. “Good surprise or bad surprise? And what's all that yelling?”
“Maybe you should judge for yourself.”
“Okay,” came the hesitant response, “See you in a few.”
The man with the beard struggled in the chair he had been tied to, still shirtless. He let out another curse and kicked, accidentally making contact with the also shirtless man in the chair in front of him. The second man cursed, which sent another round of yelling from them.
Xena rubbed her temples. “Can I hit them again?”
“Wait here,” said Gabrielle, as she patted Xena on the shoulder and left the room.
She returned a moment later bearing the uneaten cake. She stepped determinedly toward the first man, plunged her hand into the dessert, and promptly shoved a a handful of the confection into his mouth, silencing him. She then repeated the effort with the bearded man, and ended with Nick, stopping to wipe her hand on his suit.
She plopped down on the couch, smirking. “Better?” she turned to Xena.
Xena smiled, watching the men try to rid themselves of the sticky concoction, only managing to make it stream down their chins and chests.
“Much,” she replied.
Agent Feld mounted the steps, a small grey-haired woman hot on his heels. He really regretted giving Mrs. Henry a ride. She had talked his ear off the entire way.
He opened the door without knocking, and made his way to the living room.
His mouth dropped open as he absorbed the scene. Four people, tied to chairs. Two were shirtless, and all three men had what looked like...cake?...dripping down their faces and chests. Xena and Gabrielle sat calmly on the couch. “Glad you could make it,” said Gabrielle.
He struggled to form words for a moment, then managed, “I hope this isn't how you're going to treat all your guests.”
The elderly woman, Mrs. Henry, pushed in front of him. “Oh my! Is that my cake?! What happened?” she exclaimed, throwing her hands to her face.
“If it's any consolation,” said Xena, addressing her, “we really enjoyed it.”
Hours later, after Agent had left with all of their guests, including Mrs. Henry, Xena and Gabrielle sat on the porch, drinking some lemonade Agent had brought. They clinked their glasses together, a salute to a job well done.
“This isn't as boring as I thought it would be,” commented Xena.
“I was worried about that,” said Gabrielle, taking a sip, “you getting bored. I started wondering if maybe we could find a way to go back.”
“Back to Greece?” Xena thought about that. “I know Ares sent Callisto back in time once. But that was a mess.” She paused, and Gabrielle finished the thought.
“And you'd never ask for his help anyway.”
Xena smiled in agreement, and set her glass down. “Besides,” she mused, “since we're clones, wouldn't there be two of us?”
Gabrielle's eyes widened comically. “I didn't think of that. And with You, Leah, Diana, and Meg, there are enough people that look like you.”
“Maybe we could start a band,” Xena chuckled, then said, “Nope, I'm okay with being here.”
Xena nodded. “How much excitement do we need?”
They both looked up as a long black car rounded the corner and came into view. It rolled to a stop, then the back door opened, and a woman got out. She had long curly blonde hair, and was wearing a tight pink dress. Then a very small dog hopped out of the car, and settled at her heels. The woman shaded her eyes, then began waving excitedly.
Gabrielle leaned forward, sure she was mistaken. “Is that...Aphrodite?”
Xena looked at her, then back at the woman. She said quickly, “maybe she didn't see us.”
“I am, like, so pumped to see you guys!” exclaimed the voice, as the goddess tottered forward quickly on tiny pink heels.
“I think she saw us,” said Gabrielle with a grin. “You just had to jinx it, didn't you?”
Xena shrugged, then pushed out of her chair, offering a hand to help Gabrielle up. She put an arm around the bard's shoulders, and led her down the steps. “Well,” she said, “A little adventure is okay, too.”
The End! Thank you for reading!
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