Disclaimers are in Part 1
The warrior speaks...
"Oh Gods, Xena! Yes!"
Her cry echoes into the night as her body tenses and rocks with a powerful climax. Her fingers dig into my shoulders, but I don't feel the pain. After a few moments, I feel her hold weaken, and her body go limp.
As she sinks into my welcoming arms, panting and flushed with pleasure and exertion, I feel a sense of joy that I have never before experienced. I hold her close to me, wanting to feel the warmth of her against every inch of my body. Her chest ripples with her heavy breathing, and her moist warm breath tickles my neck. My own breathing is strained, too, from taking her to heights she has never before experienced. I am aware of the arrogance in that statement, but I know it to be true by the look of sheer rapturous wonder on her face.
My big, callous fingers feel somehow inappropriate as I gently brush the damp strands of hair out of her face. As if sensing my thoughts, she catches my hand in hers and kisses it. "So gentle," she murmurs as she strokes it softly.
I wrap my arms more firmly around her, and feel her respond by snuggling closer. Her hand idly wanders along my neckline and collarbone. I can feel my pulse beat clear and strong against her fingertips. "You feel so soft," she whispers.
I place my hand over hers. "If I catch you saying that where anyone can hear, you're history, bard," I rumble deep in my throat and give her a quick tickle in the ribs. Her whole body ripples with her giggle.
She props herself up on an elbow to look at me. Her smile pierces my soul. Slowly, tenderly, she places a small kiss on the corner of my mouth before settling back down against me. Very soon her breathing evens out as Morpheus eases her gently into his realm.
For me, however, there will be no sleep for now.
The writer's study, 11:00 pm...
Lilli licked her lips. She re-read a passage. Looked at Isabelle. Cleared her throat several times. "Whoa..." was all she said.
Isabelle tried to sound nonchalant, but failed. "Why, is there something wrong?"
"That's what I'd like to know," Xena drawled, arching a brow. Isabelle glanced at her with a harried expression. Xena, seated in her usual spot against the wall at the back of the study, had remained rather too still as Lilli read through the story, her lips curled in a tiny, unreadable smile. When she caught Isabelle's eyes, a warm smile lit up her face momentarily, startlingly.
"N-nothing. I guess," Lilli stammered, a flush creeping up her neck.
"Nothing?" Isabelle's own raised brow uncannily mirrored the warrior's.
"Well.... somehow I'd have expected your warrior to hook up with a more.... welll... Gabriel-type person."
"Gabriel??" Xena cried, going from unreadable and benign to exasperated indignation in the time it took to jump to her feet. "Zeus give me strength, or I swear I'll pummel that twerp to Tartarus and back." Her sword came whisking out of its sheath in a smooth motion.
"Well, I really don't think Xena would appreciate a gender change of her partner. As you can see, she loves Gabrielle just the way she is," Isabelle said with a warning glare in the warrior's direction, who just glowered darkly at the young woman.
"You know, I think you're going overboard a little here. It's just a story, Isabelle, but you keep talking about that warrior hussy as if she was standing here with her sword drawn."
Isabelle took in Xena's towering form, and the angry glint in her ice blue eyes. "A hussy, am I," the warrior growled dangerously.
"I was just beginning to like her, and now you.. she... I mean," Lilli spread her hands. "You write her as an oddball."
"Oddball??" Xena's voice took on an almost hysterical pitch. In spite of herself, Isabelle had to chuckle. Bet no-one's ever called you these things in your hearing before, she thought in wry amusement.
"Come on, Lil, drop it. It's a plot point."
But Lilli had the bit between her teeth - and the spurs of a somewhat homophobic bringing-up to drive her forward. "I still don't get it. Pair them off with a couple of decent men. Hercules was a Greek hero, right? How about this: Hercules traveling with a friend, meeting the warrior and her bard wench, they get together and have a good time, the four of them. Whaddya think?"
The young woman winced as Xena's sword whistled towards Lilli's head in a powerful downward stroke. The blade passed harmlessly through the length of her body. She thought she saw her sister flinch and shudder slightly, as if taken by a sudden chill. "One more word," Xena hissed, "and I swear I'll put the Pinch on the little chit." She was practically frothing at the mouth.
"Um... Hercules and Iolaus are from a different story," Isabelle said weakly.
"I don't know why she's being such an ass about this," Xena rumbled, putting her sword away and frowning. "From the glaze in her eyes when she read it, she was enjoying it well enough. Maybe it's just hitting too close to home, eh? Make her tell you to her face that reading it didn't get her all ho-"
"Enough," Isabelle hissed through clenched teeth.
Lilli turned in her chair to look at her sister. "What was that?"
"Nothing. I had something caught between my teeth," Isabelle offered, trying hard to ignore Lilli's doubtful look. "And by the way, I didn't notice you scream in outrage and yell blasphemy while you were reading that love scene." She looked up to see Xena's satisfied smirk. "So it can't have been that much of a shock for you." She crossed her arms, curious about the answer she would get.
"Uh.. hey, it was very well written, I'll give you that much," Lilli answered, and scratched her neck.
"Uh, huh," Isabelle agreed, "turned you on, huh?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Lilli said quickly, but her deepening blush betrayed her.
"Come on, admit it... you're fascinated every bit as much as I am. Wouldn't have been half as exciting if it had been Xena and, say, Hercules. You can-"
"Did you have to bring that up?" Xena cut in. "That was long ago." The writer gave her an apologetic grin.
"You're being silly, Isa, and you know it," Lilli replied sullenly. "What are you grinning at, anyway?"
"Me? Oh, nothing I... nothing at all."
Lilli gave her sister a look. "Is, I don't know what happened while I was away on that trip, but ever since I'm back, you've been... weird. I mean, you've been staring at empty air and behaving just like there was someone standing there, you're talking about this warrior chick as if she was real... " She waited for a reply, and when Isabelle just kept looking at her, she continued. "Well, at first I thought you were trying to make fun of me, but now I'm not so sure... And your writing! Not saying it's not inspired, but..."
"Oh, why can't the twerp just drop it," Xena mumbled to herself.
"She's right, you know," Isabelle told the warrior, "I've certainly found my mu- Oh my god!" Mortified, she clapped her hand over her mouth. But the damage was done.
Xena squeezed her eyes shut. "Sorry," she whispered. "Gods, I'm so sorry."
Isabelle looked from Xena to Lilli. They were both looking at her with pained and confused expressions. She herself did not know whether to be more angry at the warrior, for not keeping quiet, at herself, for letting her guard down this badly, or at her sister, for that condescending, pitying look she was getting from her.
She tried to swallow the lump that threatened to block her throat. "Well, since you already seem to think I've lost my marbles," she said tonelessly, "I guess it won't hurt to tell you."
And so she did. She spilled out the whole story from the moment the ghost warrior had first appeared in her study, how she had come to Isabelle's rescue in the alleyway, and how Xena had told her the story of her life for her to write down. She did not mention the little incident in the Redwoods, however. Lilli listened in stunned silence.
"And you say she's here in the room with us?" Lilli asked finally, when Isabelle had finished. It was obvious that her younger sister believed her to be clear out of her mind. Not that Isabelle could blame her.
"Yes. She's standing there beside the computer. When you called her an oddball earlier, she ran you through with her sword." She sighed, and cast a despairing look at the tall woman. Xena, however, somehow looked just as helpless as Isabelle felt. The young writer could not help thinking that it looked incongruous in the stoic warrior. It made her want to giggle hysterically.
Lilli traced her fingers over the keyboard. She picked up the mouse, twirled its cable between her fingers. She examined it closely. Finally, she spoke, but she did not look at her sister.
"Isa... have you thought about... seeing somebody? I mean... getting professional help?"
"No." Isabelle said firmly.
"Isa, you do realize you have a problem, right? I mean, come on, an invisible friend? That's for little kids who don't get enough attention from their parents."
There was some truth in that. It was just close enough to the memories of her own childhood to sting. But Isabelle ignored the remark. Xena was no imaginary childhood companion!
"Lil, think about it. You said yourself I've changed. I've changed because she made me look at things from another angle, and because I've had insight into a soul that's so different from mine that I could never have made it up." She paused, and glanced at Xena, who was now leaning against the desk and staring out of the window, her face expressionless. The only indication that she was even alive was that telltale twitch of her jaw muscle.
"Do you really think I could make a character come to life in a story the way I did with Xena? I'm not much of a writer, let's face it. All my stories so far have just been flat and boring. But not this one, Lil, because I had help. Because she gave it depth." God, Lilli, please believe me!
Lilli, however, looked doubtful. "Isabelle, sometimes inspiration just strikes. It can happen without help from anybody. And I know you have talent. But this is just... ridiculous!"
Isabelle was well aware of how ludicrous it must sound to anyone else. If only she had proof! "And when those thugs attacked me, do you think I would have had a chance in Tartarus against them? I have no idea how to fight, you know that. If she hadn't helped me, I wouldn't be standing here arguing with you."
"And just how did she do that, if she's a ghost? Did she go and beat them up, the way she ran me through with her sword? Listen to yourself, Isa!"
"Well, for once, she believed in me, which apparently you don't," Isabelle said sullenly. "I would have let them have their way with me, if she hadn't popped up and told me to fight."
"Well, then maybe we have it," Lilli said excitedly. "You were under severe emotional strain, and this was your way of dealing with it. So your subconscious made the warrior appear, and made you start defending yourself. And since it was such a traumatic experience, your mind still plays tricks on you."
"Nice theory, Ms. Freud." Lilli's condescending tone irritated Isabelle no end. "But a couple of things are wrong with that. One, Xena was there before that. Two, that doesn't explain why I suddenly knew how to fight. Well, nothing really explains that, I guess," she amended quietly.
There was an uncomfortable silence. Presently Lilli said, "Isabelle, you know I love you to bits, but I still think you should go see a therapist. It's really no biggie these days, a lot of people-"
"I said no! I'm not mad, and I'm not seeing a shrink, forget it!"
"Oh fine, have it your way."
Isabelle's voice dripped with venom. "Just leave it alone, okay? I never should have told you. I could have known you wouldn't believe me."
"Don't 'sis' me, Lilli! I think you'd better go home now."
"Go! Please! I'll talk to you later. Just leave me alone." She added as an afterthought, "and maybe you'd better find someone to go to L.A. with you. I'm not coming."
"But..." Lilli's shoulders slumped as she got up from the chair and started for the door. She looked a question at the other woman.
"I mean it, Lil, please. I'll talk to you when we've both settled down, okay?"
"Okay, Isa. Listen, I'm sorry..."
She sighed. "Yeah. So am I."
Dejected, Lilli gave Isabelle a quick hug, and left.
Isabelle sank down onto the couch in the living room, and began staring at a blank TV screen. She felt the ghostly presence before she saw her, but she did not look up as Xena hesitantly approached her.
"Isabelle..." the warrior said softly as she knelt down by the couch.
"You've done it again," Isabelle said with quiet reproach. "That's twice now, after you promised you wouldn't."
"I'm sorry. Really, I am. I don't know what got into me. But she treated you like a baby, and the way she talked about Gabrielle... I just got so angry."
"I noticed," Isabelle said tonelessly, with an image of that sword cleaving Lilli in half. She shuddered.
As if guessing the writer's thoughts, Xena said with a tiny smile, "I knew I wouldn't be able to touch her when I passed my sword through her." Her grin broadened. "But it made me feel better."
Isabelle made no reply, just continued staring sullenly into nothing, which wiped the grin right off the warrior's face.
"You've got a right to be mad," Xena said quietly.
"Nice choice of words," Isabelle murmured bitterly, still not looking at the tall woman, who was clearly at a loss.
Xena ran a nervous hand through her dark hair, and scratched her neck. "Listen Isabelle, I'm not good at this... I... Oh Hades, I didn't..." She paused. "Anyway, I wish this had gone differently."
"Yeah, so do I," the writer said curtly. She picked up the remote, and the TV buzzed to life. Without really looking, she started flipping through the channels.
Effectively dismissed, a dejected warrior got to her feet and faded out.
Only then did Isabelle let the barely contained tears fall. Soon they turned into hysterical sobs that went on until she heard the National Anthem playing as that particular channel went off the air for the night.
The tears were still flowing, though, as she switched off the TV and went into her study, where the computer was still running.
Xena, having squatted in her customary spot by the wall, flowed gracefully to her feet as she entered, but Isabelle pointedly ignored her and sat down at the desk. Her stomach was roiling from anger and hurt and all that crying. She wasn't even sure who she was angry with - herself, Xena, Lilli, or just the world in general.
Maybe her sister was right. Maybe she really was imagining Xena. In that case, she really did need help.
"The Lord help me, I'm a basket case," she murmured, as she idly clicked the mouse across the screen, and soon opened the folder where the "Warrior's Tale" resided. After considering the icon for a moment, she took a deep breath, and hit "Delete".
"What's a basket case?"
Even though she knew the warrior was there, the sound of Xena's low voice made her start.
"I am, for still talking to you. A lunatic. A nut. Talking to an invisible warrior friend that only I can see. What does that sound like to you?"
"Like the crazed ramblings of a madwoman?" Xena offered. Her feeble attempt at humor was lost on the writer, however.
Isabelle buried her face in her hands and groaned. "God, and I'm still doing it! Why did you have to come to me, of all people? Why won't you go away? All you do is get me in trouble."
The warrior was silent for so long that Isabelle almost thought she had left again. "I came to you, of all people, because you need me, even if you don't know it yet. I can't tell you more than that." She paused to clear her throat. "And if you truly, truly wish me to leave you, I will have no choice but to go."
A slight tremor in her voice made Isabelle look up into blue eyes gazing at her with a guarded expression.
"So, do you?"
Isabelle opened her mouth a few times, angrily, but she could not make the words come. Finally, she sighed and shook her head.
Xena relaxed visibly at that. Her eyes fluttered closed as she released a breath she must have been holding for some time (her thoughts on the edge of hysteria, Isabelle wondered what a ghost was doing breathing). It was a measure of the warrior's relief that she allowed herself this moment of weakness.
An instant later, she was her calm, composed self again. "I don't think you're crazy, Isabelle," she said with a half-smile. Her voice had that low, tingling quality again that never failed to make the younger woman's stomach flutter. Isabelle returned the smile with a shaky grin of her own. Their eyes locked for a timeless moment. When the writer finally blinked, her pulse was beating a mad gallop against the skin of her throat. She cleared her throat and in a nervous gesture pushed her unruly bangs back from her brow, surprised to find a few beads of sweat there.
"By the way, what was that you did on the computer just now?" the warrior asked her.
"I deleted the... Oh no!" She spun in her chair to look at the screen, a colorful curse escaping her that brought a startled grin to her ghostly companion's face.
There, on the screen, a requester window was patiently awaiting her answer.
• Confirm Delete
Are you sure you want to delete WARRIOR.DOC ?
Weak with relief, Isabelle hastily clicked the "No"-button before leaning back in her chair. "God, I sure am glad you interrupted me when you did. I was about to do a really stupid thing there."
Xena shrugged. She had learned not to bother asking about details concerning the things Isabelle did on that machine. "I'm here to keep you out of trouble, after all," she said with a straight face.
The writer turned and shot her a somber look. Xena looked back at her, pure, cherubic innocence written all over her face. It was so out-of-place in the fierce warrior that Isabelle burst out laughing and forgot all about the cutting remark she had been about to make.
"Well now," the warrior said presently, "if you're not too tired, I believe we have a story waiting to be written." Her tone was casual, but there was a silent plea in those blue eyes that Isabelle somehow found herself unable to ignore.
"Well, I think I'm good for another hour or so. Let's get working."
The radiant smile she got for an answer almost made the writer forget what she had been angry at the warrior for.
The warrior speaks...
She is sleeping like a baby in my arms, and I find myself wondering as I hold her close what I ever did to deserve such trust.
I have indeed been gentle with her, more than I ever thought I could be. I know I have been far from gentle with my consorts in the past. But this is so very different. I have made love quite a few times, and yet she makes me feel inexperienced. The way she responds to my slightest touch, the way a mere brush of her fingertips makes me tremble with need, is both exciting and a little frightening. This from one who supposedly does not know fear.
She brings out a side in me that I did not know I had, and it feels right. I may be rougher with her in the future, because it is my nature, and indeed it almost seemed that she would have wanted me to. But not before I make sure she is ready for that. I will not risk the trust she has placed in me.
My hand idly toys with a strand of her silky, honey-colored hair as I watch her sleep. She looks younger, when all the hard lines that life at my side has put on her youthful face are softened by her peaceful slumber. Now only the tiny creases around her eyes remain, a testimony to her ready smile. I brush my knuckles across her cheek, unable to keep myself from touching her soft skin. Far from waking, a tiny, contented smile curves the corners of her mouth as she snuggles closer with a little sigh.
I wonder if she has any idea how much she has changed my life.
I still cannot quite believe I am not dreaming. But this is better than anything my dark mind could come up with, I am sure. She is so wonderful. She is the one who can make my soul complete. All I have to do is let her.
I squeeze my eyes shut and clench my jaw. I cannot. Not yet. I need more time.
The writer's study, way past midnight...
"I think this is coming along real nicely," Isabelle mused as she saved the file. She also made a backup copy on her hard drive, and another one on disk, just to be on the safe side.
The paragraph had taken longer to write than usual, because Xena would speak a few words, then trail off and just sit there with a dreamy expression until Isabelle nudged her back into the present with a wry grin. Later the ethereal warrior had gotten to her feet and approached the young woman's chair, where she now sat on the armrest, one arm draped over the chair's back, watching the writer's fingers flit across the keyboard.
From then on, it had been Isabelle's turn to trail off. The closeness of the ghostly shape had made her fumble with the keyboard, and she had repeatedly had to go back and correct typos, or rewrite whole sentences because she just couldn't seem to fit the words together properly. She had grumbled under her breath and scowled furiously every time she had hit a wrong key. At the same time she could not help hoping that the warrior would stay right where she was because having her there just made her feel nice inside. Even Xena's knowing smirk whenever their eyes met hadn't been able to dampen that.
She turned to smile at her insubstantial friend. "Well, I think I'm about ready for..." Something in the warriors eyes made her forget completely what she had been about to say. She cleared her throat as once more the butterflies claimed her stomach.
"I can't get over how much you're like her," Xena whispered hoarsely. She reached up a hand to brush Isabelle's hair, who closed her eyes at the tingling almost-contact. A shudder ran through her.
"Cold?" the warrior murmured softly.
Isabelle swallowed again. "Not really," she breathed, while her hands fumbled with the mouse to shut down the computer. "But I think I'll go to bed."
"Okay with me," Xena said as she watched her young friend flip the power switch and get to her feet.
Before she turned off the light, Isabelle paused at the door and looked back at the warrior, who was still sitting on the armrest of the chair by the computer.
"I'm really upset with you," she told Xena in a quiet voice. She wasn't sure why she said it at all. Probably just to convince herself. Somehow, the steady, luminous blue eyes meeting her gaze made being angry almost impossible. And it certainly wasn't anger that was twisting her guts into knots now.
"And I really am sorry," Xena said, just as quietly. She popped out, and reappeared an instant later by the writer's side, making the young woman jump.
"I hate it when you do that!"
"Sorry," Xena said with a sheepish grin, and scratched her neck. "I figured as long as I was getting you upset with me, I might as well be thorough about it."
Isabelle had to laugh, some of the nervous tension draining from her. "That's right. You're not one to leave a job unfinished, are you," she teased.
The warrior took a breath. Her smile looked just a tiny bit forced for an instant. "No, I guess not."
They stood there looking at each other uncertainly for a while, until Isabelle said, "Well, um... good night, Xena."
"Yeah. Good night, Isabelle," the warrior said softly, touching her fingertips to the young woman's cheek, letting herself feel the deep connection and the electric tingle.
Isabelle smiled. Then a silly mood took her, and she suddenly had to giggle. "Good night, John-Boy," she said, and giggled even harder at Xena's thoroughly puzzled expression.
"Never mind, Xena," she told the ghostly woman, still chuckling, "I think I'm losing it. See you tomorrow, huh?"
The tall woman nodded, though she looked doubtful. She was still shaking her head in puzzled confusion when she faded slowly from view.
Still smiling, Isabelle washed up and went to bed. She could not help that feeling of having passed up some big chance.
For what must be the thousandth time, Isabelle kicked off the covers, skin damp with sweat. It was just too darn hot! Restless, she tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable.
Usually she went to sleep lying on her side facing the wall. But with her black eye, that position was uncomfortable, as the bruise began to throb with a dull ache as soon as it touched the pillow.
Frustrated, she rolled onto her back. The cooling sweat on her skin gave her goose bumps, and she groped for her blanket.
As she lay there staring at the ceiling, eyes wide open, she watched the flicker of light from the traffic below, and listened to the various noises of nighttime in the big city that drifted up through the partly open balcony door. Sounds that she heard every night, but she had never realized they were so loud! And she could have sworn the lights were flickering brighter, too, just to annoy her further.
"Damn," she muttered as she flung back the blanket once more and flopped onto her belly. She closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe evenly.
Xena was doing something to her, but Isabelle couldn't put her finger on it. Her mere presence made her feel like a high school girl.
A high school girl with a major crush on the captain of the football team.
It was ludicrous!
And it was also quite true.
Every time she saw those incredible blue eyes before her mind's eye, her pulse quickened, and her stomach became infested with butterflies.
"Might as well face it," she murmured to herself. "I'm nuts. But it feels so... right."
Sighing heavily, she rolled onto her side, to find herself looking into that set of steel blue eyes for real.
Isabelle almost jumped out of her skin.
"For Chrissake, Xena! Don't do that! You scared the dickens out of me!"
"I'm sorry," the warrior said, but a quirk of her mouth gave her the lie. The woman was becoming entirely too fond of these little pranks!
"Can't sleep?" Xena asked softly.
Only now did Isabelle notice that the warrior had exchanged her leathers and armor for a blue silk gown that matched her eyes and set off her tanned skin beautifully. The shimmering fabric fell loosely about her lithe body, suggestive of rippling muscle underneath. The low neckline revealed enough cleavage to make any mouth water. Isabelle cleared her throat. What was she thinking!?
"Looks like I'm having a little trouble relaxing," Isabelle admitted. And you're certainly not helping any in this outfit, warrior, she thought wryly. "But what's with you? You look... different."
Xena shrugged. "Oh, that? I saw one like it on the TV thingy. Do you like it?"
"Yes, yes! It's... very nice." Way to understate, Isa!, she thought dryly.'Nice' isn't in it. More like 'drop dead gorgeous'!
The warrior grinned that crooked half-grin that Isabelle found so attractive. "Sort of reminds me of the time I had to pose as a princess. Boy, did I feel out of place in that dress! But I sure feel a lot more...exposed in this." She ran her hands over the fabric to straighten it.
The writer laughed nervously. "No, you're fine. Just fine. It's not like your normal apparel isn't sexy, too." Oh my God, did I just say that out loud???
Xena actually blushed!
"I don't know why I'm feeling so self-conscious," she murmured. "I've done my share of seducing, and I certainly wasn't wearing high necks when I did it." She took a breath. "Well, do you want me to help you relax, so you can go to sleep?"
Their eyes met, and Isabelle's stomach turned somersaults. The funny thing was, if she hadn't known the warrior better, she would have thought Xena was just as nervous as she was herself. "Not really," she breathed, before she quite knew what she was saying.
From the look on Xena's face, that was exactly the answer the ghostly warrior had been hoping for.
She slowly extended her hand as if to touch Isabelle's, but stopped short. Instead, she whispered, "Come here," as she took a step back and spread her arms.
Dazed, Isabelle rose from the bed and closed the distance to the warrior until they stood face to face.
"So, you've never done it with a woman, have you?"
Isabelle, suddenly breathless, shook her head. Xena stepped into her, their bodies only a hair's breadth apart. "Let me show you", she breathed.
Isabelle swallowed hard. "I'm not sure... Anyway, I thought you couldn't touch me, so how do you...?" She let that trail away.
"There are ways to do this that don't involve touching, Isabelle", Xena whispered suggestively.
Isabelle found herself unable to look into eyes burning with barely controlled passion. Instead, she dropped her gaze shyly to the ground, just in time to see the sky blue gown drop in a puddle around the Warrior Princess' ankles, and disappear.
"You are so much like her, it hurts", Xena murmured huskily, "Down to that little bashful grin that always drives me crazy. Now, look at me!"
Hesitantly, Isabelle complied. "You're beautiful!" she gasped before she could stop herself.
Xena's hands reached for her, hovered just shy of her cheeks. The tingle of the ghostly touch was almost painfully pleasant. A giddy warmth spread through her and washed in a shock wave to the pit of her stomach.
"Come on, let me look at you." A low, insistent whisper from Xena that made the writer shudder to the core, "take off your clothes for me!"
Little spots started dancing before Isabelle's eyes as she did as asked, hands shaking so hard she had to try three times to undo the buttons of her pajama top. After that, the young writer's last coherent thought for a very long time was that she was about to make love with a ghost. A woman ghost. And that she wouldn't be able to stop herself even if her father walked in on her right that minute. And that she didn't give a damn. She must be even crazier than she thought.
Later that night - much later - as she lay on her bed, utterly spent, Xena asked her, smiling, "Well, do you still think this is - what did you call it? - Unnatural?"
Isabelle laughed softly. "No. Oh god, I never thought I could feel this way. I mean, no-one has ever... I can't believe what you did to me! And you never even laid a finger on me! I don't think I want to know what it would be like if we could actually touch each other."
"Don't ever think this was one-way," Xena replied softly. "And I DO know how it could be..." She flashed Isabelle a warm smile.
The writer turned suddenly serious. "Doesn't it bother you? I mean, you and me, and Gabrielle..."
Xena silenced her with an ethereal finger to her lips. "You ARE Gabrielle. If I hadn't been sure before, I would be after what we just experienced. You're her, there's not a doubt in my mind. I could never have come to you at all, otherwise. And it wouldn't have felt so...right. It was meant that we get together again."
"Yeah. That's really romantic, isn't it?" Isabelle said dreamily, "If only it could be more...real." Then she realized what she had said, "I'm sorry, Xena. Of course it was real. It's just..."
"Hush. I know what you mean. And believe me, I want it to be real for you, too. I'll just have to find a way."
And somehow, Isabelle knew that she would.
The warrior speaks...
Never before has anything like this happened to me. I am weak like a kitten where she is concerned, and yet I have never felt so strong.
I am idly going through the pages of this journal, and it strikes me that its very existence is testimony enough to the changes I am going through because she has come into my life. A warrior such as I, who has never had a talent for expressing anything with words, a woman of action, groping, struggling to put into words that which she cannot even fully grasp!
I am sure the Gods are getting a good chuckle out of this.
I have kept the journal's existence from her, for I do not think I could take her laying eyes upon my feeble attempts at expressing myself, her, whose colorful narratives have held me captive for hours on end. I cannot bear the thought that my writing might not find her approval. I would hate for her image of me to be thus flawed. I feel terribly silly admitting this even in the privacy of these pages! But there it is.
I give a start at a sound close behind me. So engrossed have I been with my journal - and with my daydreams - that I never heard her approaching. I can feel the heat rising to my face, unsure how long she has been standing there watching me.
I know I must have been wearing the silliest grin.
Worse, the question begins nagging at me whether I would have heard an enemy approach just now, if I would have been able to react quickly and efficiently to protect us. I cannot continue in this way. It is not safe for us. But what can I do?
"Hey," she says softly.
Hades, the mere sound of her voice makes me shudder with longing! Without haste, I put the pages back into my pack and start rummaging, pretending to be looking for my whetstone. I hope she can't see my hands shaking, they feel as if they might drop that pack any moment.
"Hey," I reply, giving her a weak smile.
I am sure my voice is shaking so hard that she must know instantly the turmoil I am in, but she gives no sign of noticing anything out of the ordinary. At least I still seem to be able to conceal my emotional weaknesses to some extent. Even from one who knows me as well as she does.
"I've been down by the lakeshore," she tells me, a twinkle of barely contained excitement in her eyes, "and guess what I found there?"
Calm returning quickly, I put down my pack and smile up at her from where I am crouching. "I'm sure you're going to tell me," I say.
"Aw, you're no fun," she says, that twinkle never leaving her eyes.
In a fluid motion, I get to my feet and turn around so I am now standing in front of her, close, before murmuring softly, "Is that so?"
"Yes, that's so, Warrior Princess," she whispers, and once again her voice sends pleasant little shivers to the pit of my stomach.
That slight brush of her fingers on my arm as she turns - she makes it seem like coincidence. She is playing with me. I am more than happy to let her, and I follow her willingly. I wonder what she has come across this time. She is so excitable. It's quite fetching.
Although bubbling with excitement, she turns briefly and puts her finger to her lips, before leading the way through the bushes towards the lake. She is getting rather good at moving silently; I am impressed. I follow her, smiling to myself, fairly glowing with quiet pride.
And then, arriving at the edge of the woods, I see what has her so excited. It is a doe and her two fawns, come out into the open to enjoy the early morning sun. Despite our efforts, she must have scented us. She is looking our way, but she makes no move to escape, or warn her young, who are frolicking in the tall grass, doing clumsy kicks and capers that have my little bard grabbing on to me with suppressed delight.
Some of Gabrielle's excited wonder must have rubbed off on me, for I am finding myself lost in the magic of the moment, when under most circumstances, I would have seen these three as just another potential meal. My perceptions are changing, and I like it.
I gently pat the hand that is clutching my arm. She beams up at me, and I smile.
Slowly, steadily, in the days to follow, Isabelle found herself more and more living in one reality and existing in another. And just as gradually, her difficulties in keeping the two apart grew. More than ever, the warrior's tale captivated her, pulled her in. At times it was hard to tell if she was the bard or the writer, so deeply was she drawn into the story that Xena was telling her. She almost felt as if she should remember those moments herself...
Since that passionate night, Xena seemed to have become even more protective of her, hovering in sight almost constantly everywhere Isabelle went. It wasn't that she actually interacted with her - embarrassing moments like the incident in the Redwoods did happen, but rarely. Much to the young writer's chagrin, however, they had a knack for occurring at the most inconvenient times.
Her tendency to talk to thin air was becoming a constant source of amusement at work, so much so that her co-workers were starting to call her "Elwood" in reference to the famous play "Harvey" by Mary Chase. She started to step lightly, and avoided looking the others in the eye. Anything to avoid drawing attention. But it did not always work.
At the same time, though, the warrior seemed to have withdrawn some part of herself, as if scared at having gone this far, this fast. She had not mentioned their passionate lovemaking again, and Isabelle could not even think about bringing it up without that feeling of running into some invisible barrier around the dark, ghostly woman.
This did not help her crumbling relations with her sister very much, to put it mildly. They argued often, and Xena was always quick to put in her two cents, which did not make the situation any better.
But faithful Lilli, convinced that her big sister needed her now more than ever, and equally certain that Isabelle was slowly losing her marbles, refused to be daunted. She began to hover to the point of annoyance, until the day Isabelle exploded at her and almost bodily threw her out of her apartment.
During all this, however, Isabelle had no sense of "losing it". She merely felt that a certain ghostly warrior was complicating her life something awful, in more ways than one. Yet she would not have traded the experience for anything.
And then, just when she thought she finally had things back under some semblance of control, disaster struck, in the form of a voice mail on Isabelle's answering machine.
"Hi, it's mom. How are you, hon? You haven't called in ages. You know, dad is going on a business trip to the East Coast next week, so I thought I'd drop by and spend a few days at your place if that's okay with you. Let me know, okay? Love you. Bye."
The young woman rolled her eyes. The last thing she needed now was her overprotective mother, not with an overprotective ghostly warrior around, that only she could see, and an overprotective and severely put out younger sister who was sure Isabelle wasn't playing with a full deck.
But she couldn't very well tell her mother not to come, because, ah, that ghost warrior was not too keen on strangers, and didn't she want to visit her son, Jonathan, instead? But then Jon and his roommates at UCLA were hardly the place for a woman of mother's caliber.
Besides, she did get on well with her mother, mostly. If only it wasn't for this terrible sense of foreboding...
With a sigh, the blonde woman accepted her fate, glancing at the silent warrior, who was once again glued to the TV. Cartoons fascinated her beyond reason, especially "The Mask", although she rather tended to laugh in the wrong places. She also had a tendency to avoid the news, for some reason. She always asked Isabelle to change the channel whenever a they were being aired.
Xena sensed Isabelle watching her, and flashed the blonde a quick, absent-minded grin, before returning her attention to the flickering screen.
Isabelle shook her head and smiled. The warrior had about two thousand years of so-called civilization to catch up on, but she seemed to be adapting fine. TV, Radio, appliances, she seemed to be taking in stride in most cases. Car rides still held a morbid fascination. But she was eager to learn, and full of questions about any new thing she saw. Her quick mind caught on readily enough, and Isabelle found herself enjoying the chance to teach the dark warrior about this world.
Much to Isabelle's amusement, it annoyed Xena no end that she lacked the substance to try out those microwave dinners that the young woman was so fond of. The fact that a full meal of meat and vegetables could be prepared and sit steaming on your plate, without shooting a single arrow, or building a fire, and in a matter of minutes, never ceased to amaze her, even after Isabelle had explained some of the magic behind it.
She stood there watching Xena's rapt face for a while, thinking how much that woman had come to mean to her. Then, taking a deep breath, she spoke.
"Yes, Isabelle?" said Xena, without looking up.
"We may be having company soon."
"Oh?" Now the warrior turned her head, and fixed her with that set of blue eyes, that Isabelle somehow felt she had known forever.
"Yeah. Mom wants to come visit."
"Uh huh, of all the times... I really don't need this right now."
"Why, what's so bad about your mother coming to see you?"
"For one thing, I have an invisible warrior staying with me that only I can see. You've managed to embarrass me with Lilli, with my coworkers and just about everybody else I know around here, I shudder to think what will happen when you have to be around my mother for several days."
For a moment, it looked like Xena was going to give an angry retort, but then she just looked away with a pained expression, and said nothing.
It was with extremely mixed feelings that Isabelle awaited the arrival of her mother at the train station a few days later. Xena had promised to keep a low profile, but Xena being who she was, Isabelle doubted whether the warrior even knew the meaning of that expression.
Today was another fog-filled, wet day, as if the weather was determined to match her lack of enthusiasm at the impending visit. The heavy mist consisted of droplets that were not quite large enough to actually be considered rain, happily seeping through clothing and defying the umbrellas some people were bravely, uselessly, holding over their heads.
In the mist, the headlights of the approaching train looked like an eerie, disembodied thing floating silently closer. The grinding screech of the brakes came almost as a shock when the engine shuddered to a stop and the doors flew open with a sneeze of pneumatics and a whoosh of hot air.
As the people poured out, Isabelle scanned the crowd, hoping against hope that she had come here in vain. Her shoulders drooped when she saw the familiar figure of her mother weave her way through a mass of people mostly taller than herself. Just as well Xena had agreed to stay home, she was nervous enough already.
Heaving a sigh, she put a smile on her face and barged forward to meet her mother halfway.
"Hello darling," her mother greeted her as she pulled her into a hug. And then, in that annoying way mothers sometimes have when they have not seen their child in a while, Mrs. Barnes pulled back, held her daughter at arm's length, and looked her up and down. "You're pale, and you've lost weight," she accused. Before Isabelle had a chance to roll her eyes and grumble a reply, she added. "But it's so good to see you again, Hon."
Smiling, Isabelle picked up her mother's suitcase and led the way back to the car.
"So, um, mom... how is dad?"
Isabelle only half listened to the latest news from home, just enough to know that everything was fine. Nothing much new had happened, but then, nothing much ever happened out there. She and Lilli had gone away to live and work in the big city because they both had been bored out of her minds, but lately, Isabelle found herself missing the peace and quiet of the countryside, sometimes.
It was not a long drive back to her apartment, and it seemed to pass even more quickly with Isabelle fretting over what was going to happen once they got there. Maybe her mother wouldn't notice anything out of the ordinary. She almost laughed out loud at the thought.
Her thoughts wandered to the ghostly warrior waiting for her back home. The days to come would be... interesting, to say the least. She shuddered a little, picturing all sorts of utterly embarrassing scenarios. But then she had to smile as suddenly a vision came unbidden to her mind of the fierce, taciturn woman skipping through the meadows back home, with daisies in her hair and a smile of pure bliss on her face... She giggled and shook her head. Then, realizing her mother had stopped talking, she turned her head to catch the other woman's extremely puzzled look. She felt the blood rush into her ears. She was doing it already, and Xena wasn't even here!
Mortified, she cleared her throat a few times. "I... uh, it's nothing. I just remembered something funny, is all."
Her mother raised an eyebrow, but did not comment.
They rode the rest of the way in silence. This visit was off to a bad start, thought Isabelle with a sinking feeling.
The flickering of the TV greeted them when Isabelle opened the door to her apartment. Xena was lounging on the couch, her legs crossed casually over one armrest, her head propped against the other. Boots and bronze breast plate sat stacked against the back of the armchair. Considering the warrior was used to the ascetic life of constant travel on horseback, she was adapting remarkably well to the comforts of the 20th century. Isabelle smiled and shook her head.
The electrocuting incident did not seem to worry Xena much anymore, although she always insisted on watching cartoon channels, of all things, whenever Isabelle left her alone for any length of time. And as soon as the news came on, she nervously asked for a channel change. Some time, Isabelle would have to ask the warrior about this. Maybe Xena just wasn't ready after all to face all the scary facets of modern day life.
Now, however, she had other things to worry about...
"Dear, do always leave the TV running? Such a waste of energy!"
"I, er, forgot all about it. I was running late, mom, didn't want to miss your train or anything."
Her mother just gave her a flat stare. On the couch, Xena was twisting around to face her, an identical look on her face.
Isabelle wasn't sure whether to laugh hysterically, or start crying.
The real trouble started on the second day. And, as big trouble often does, it started in subtle ways.
In the morning, Isabelle gulped down her coffee and hurried off to work, leaving her mother to her obsession with cleanliness (she had not asked to have her flat cleaned twice a day, but she wasn't going to complain, either), and Xena to do whatever it was ghosts did when they were not hovering around people or criticizing one's writing.
Today, as she had several times before, Xena materialized beside Isabelle's chair when her attention was focused on the latest work assignment, startling the young woman nearly out of her skin by suddenly speaking close to her ear.
"Your mother is driving me nuts," she said in a clipped tone.
"Don't do that," Isabelle hissed with a glance at Hank, who was on the telephone with the sales department, caught up - she hoped! - in a discussion about release dates. He was the leader in the recent 'make-fun-of-Miss-Barnes'-campaign, and he really did not need more fodder for his quips.
"She is rummaging about the place like a maniac," the ghostly woman complained, ignoring Isabelle. Do you know how creepy it is when people walk right through you all the time? And that wet cloth is really disgusting. Do you know how many hairs there are on your bathroom floor? They snag my armor, for some reason."
"Well, can't you just, like, fade out?" Isabelle whispered urgently, never taking her eyes off her co-worker. He didn't seem to have heard. "And I can't help it if I loose hair, it happens," she added sullenly.
Xena sighed, and put on that too patient look that always accompanied her attempts at explaining her ghostly state. Isabelle, however, suspected long since, that Xena really did not know all that much about it herself. There were too many holes and contradictions in the little the warrior would speak of at all.
"I can fade out, but that doesn't mean I'm gone," the warrior said. "I am capable of being either where you are, or where you live. I can't go any place else. You know that." For a moment, a strange expression flitted across her face, but it hardly registered with Isabelle, who was too anxiously watching Hank to pay much heed.
"Yeah yeah," the young woman murmured.
"How much longer will she be here? She gives me the jitters. Goddamn woman can't sit still long enough to finish a cup of coffee. It's making me nervous." After a pause for effect, she added, "You don't want to be around a nervous warrior."
Isabelle cleared her throat. "It's only four more days, Xena, so just give her a break, okay? She's not a bad sort."
"Maybe not, but she's been treating you like a child. I don't like that."
Isabelle had to smile. "Yeah, I know, it gets to me, too. But I guess when you really think about it, I am her child."
"Whatever," said the warrior. "I do know that I don't want to be alone with her." She had such a look of desperate pleading on her face that Isabelle's shoulders sagged in defeat.
"Well I guess you can stay here, but keep quiet, for God's sake. And don't touch anything." She didn't realize she had made a bad joke until she heard Xena's mirthless snort.
She barely bit back an answer when she realized Hank was no longer on the telephone. How much he had caught, she had no way of telling, but he was watching her, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
That evening, after her mother had gone to sleep, she sat down with Xena to work on the Warrior's Tale. But, even though she treasured those moments, they were getting more and more strained as the initial thrill of working with a ghost faded, and the two women began to know each other better. Oh, she loved the warrior to bits, but sometimes the woman was just so... insufferably arrogant!
"So you ran up the wall, gave the three of them swift kicks in the nose, vaulted over them and knocked out two others, all during that one jump... Yeah, right. Gimme a break."
Xena dropped into a light crouch. "You want a demonstration?" she snarled.
Isabelle drew back involuntarily, before she realized the ghostly woman was, of course, bluffing. She hated to think of what a solid warrior might have done, had her temper been aroused. But that move was of course impossible. It had to be.
"Come on, Xena, nobody can do tricks like that. You've got to admit it's a little far-fetched. I thought the last bit was overdoing it a bit, catching an arrow out of the air, and all those back-flips. But this ..."
Xena gave her a look. "You wanna write this or not?" she asked crossly. Isabelle drew up her hands in a placating gesture. "Okay, okay. Just asking."
The warrior speaks...
I land smoothly, half of our attackers taken care of. I hate it when these young chaps think they should have a go at me just to make a name for themselves in the scrolls. At least this lot has had enough sense not to try and take me and my bard on singly. Those who try that do not usually stay on their feet long enough to call out their challenge.
I have not killed any of these bumbling fools since Gabrielle joined me; they are young, and most learn more from an encounter with me than they have bargained for. No, I only kill when I feel I must, now. Even then, those gentle eyes, looking at me in that sad way whenever I do, are almost too much to bear. We never talk about it much, though. the time just never seems to be right for it.
Of the men who attacked us, the five who have remained standing are fast losing their nerve. I can tell by the way their sweating hands clutch their weapons until their knuckles turn white, and by the surreptitious glances passing between them, which they probably think I am not aware of.
I shoulder my sword and give them one of my looks, that Gabrielle has become so fond of describing in detail in her stories. Although, sometimes I admit I find myself wishing it was even half as effective as her scrolls claim.
In this case, though, I need not worry. The boys get the idea and quickly drag their downed comrades out of our sight. It might have been the 'look', but then again, maybe it was that evil leer that I cannot seem to keep off my face when I get to beat people up.
"Well, how's that?" Isabelle leaned back with a smile.
Xena scowled. "That's not the way Gabrielle would tell the story."
The smile died on Isabelle's face. "What's wrong with it? I've always told it this way, you haven't complained before."
"Yeah well..." Xena chewed the inside of her cheek. "Just occurred to me, is all."
"I'm NOT Gabrielle, okay? Will you get off my back already?"
"Fine." The warrior turned her back and crossed her arms.
"Fine." What was with the woman lately? She had become more and more unreasonable when it came to that story.
Presently, Xena spoke, softly. "What's wrong with you, Isabelle? I haven't seen you this touchy before." She still had her back turned.
"I have been touchy?" Isabelle flared. "When you're the one who's been jumping all over the place behaving like a bear with a sore tooth. And you wonder why it's getting my back up? When you keep picking at my work without telling me what to do better? When I keep making an idiot of myself in front of people, because of you? Is it your time of the month, or something?"
Xena whirled to face her and drew a breath to speak. Her face looked too smooth, except for a twitch in her cheek, her eyes seemed too large. However, the warrior had no chance to make a reply.
"Isabelle, you are yelling at a blank wall and gesticulating at empty air. And you seem to be losing the argument. Is there something I should be worried about?"
Isabelle turned to see her mother standing in the doorway, looking sleepy and dishevelled. Her face started burning furiously. "I'm just acting out a scene," she improvised. She looked back at the warrior, but Xena had vanished.
Things were just as bad as Isabelle had feared, if not worse. The more she tried to appear casual, or struggled to ignore the ghostly presence who did not particularly like being ignored, the more closely she felt her mother watching her, measuring. Isabelle shuddered to think what might be going on behind those uncomfortably probing eyes.
The fact that her mother sometimes seemed to know her better than she knew herself did not ease her worries one bit.
Quite the contrary, that evening, when they were sitting in the living room watching sitcoms and sipping hot cocoa - with one ghostly warrior's nose hovering perpetually close to one cup or the other, a wistful expression on her face - her mother asked abruptly, "Isabelle... are you a lesbian?"
The younger woman choked and very nearly sprayed cocoa all over the coffee table.
"Why... why do you ask that?" she replied, gathering her composure. Xena sniggered.
"Well, Lilli told me about that story you are writing, and she..."
"You spoke with Lilli about me?" Isabelle was incredulous.
"Well," her mother said, scratching her neck, "I hadn't really heard from you in a while," she said uncomfortably, "I... I was worried about you." When Isabelle drew a breath to reply, she continued quickly. "And from what she tells me, I have a good reason to be."
Isabelle's gaze flicked to the warrior, who suddenly found a blotch of cocoa on the table immensely interesting.
"Why, what did she tell you?"
"Well, she said you'd been acting strangely lately, and that you were writing this... this story about... about two women." She paused, swirling the cocoa inside the cup before draining it. "So... are you?"
"Are you?" Xena echoed her.
Isabelle shot a covert dark look at the warrior before speaking. "I'm not sure."
"Not sure?" Xena leered. "Well, I'll say..."
"Oh, quiet, you," Isabelle muttered. She was fully aware that her mother was watching her sharply, but somehow, something had snapped. She just didn't care. She was just... angry. She saw Xena bite her lip.
Rounding on the warrior, she grated, "You keep doing that! But you promised, Xena!"
A brief, pained look flashed across Xena's face, but it was gone so quickly that Isabelle was not sure she hadn't imagined it.
"Honey, are you okay?" her mother asked, watching her.
Isabelle did not take her eyes off the ghostly presence. "Yes, I..."
"Why don't you tell her the truth?" asked Xena quietly.
"You've got to be kidding!"
"Well, look at her, she's already convinced you've got a problem, so what have you got to lose?"
"I guess you've got a point..." But she looked doubtful.
Worried, her mother grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her around, facing her "I said, are you okay?"
"I would be," Isabelle snapped, "if Miss 'Too-Funny-For-Her-Boots' here wouldn't keep making an idiot out of me."
"Oh, just my invisible warrior friend," the young woman replied with sudden, icy calm. "I take it Lilli hasn't told you about her? Mom, this is Xena, she's a Greek warrior. Only no-one besides me can see or hear her, you see." Smiling sweetly, she ignored her mother's dropping jaw. "Xena, say hi to my mother."
"YOU and your bright ideas," Isabelle mumbled on the following morning, as they sat in a cold, stark room waiting to be called into Mrs Branigan's office.
A psychiatrist! Her mother was dragging her to a psychiatrist. That was all she needed right now. What on earth was she going to tell the woman?
"Well, you didn't have to listen to me, did you?" Xena mumbled without looking at the young woman. "Not like you ever do," she added in a lower tone. She was drawing little patterns into the palm of her hand with her dagger, scratching the skin without actually drawing blood.
"Would you mind not doing that?" Isabelle grated. "I'm nervous enough as it is."
"What, honey?" said her mother. Then she did a double take, opened her mouth once as if to speak, but decided against it.
Xena, meanwhile, gave Isabelle an unreadable look, and started cleaning her fingernails instead. Isabelle rolled her eyes and, scowling, made a throat-cutting motion with her hand. The warrior shrugged apologetically.
Both the warrior and her mother got up to follow when Isabelle's name was finally called; however, the assistant told her mother firmly that the doctor was seeing her patient alone. Her mother protested, but finally sat back down, indignant and mildly sullen. Xena, however, followed along unhindered. Isabelle was not sure she was so happy about that, but after all, it was Xena who had gotten her into this fix, she might as well try and see what a shrink might have to say about the ghostly warrior. The invisible ghostly warrior.
What to do? Should she tell that doctor about her mysterious companion, running the risk of being certified nut case of the year? How far could she trust these people?
Finally, she decided to go with the truth, as much of it as she knew. After all, things could not possibly get any crazier, could they?
How wrong she was.
"What? Don't start on me again! You know darn well that I... I will do nothing of the sort, and you know it. Now get out of here and let me finish this thing here, will ya? I... Oh yeah? ... Fine. Be that way."
Gail Branigan was at a loss. She had gone through Isabelle Barnes' family and medical history several times, and found nothing out of the ordinary - normal childhood, no indication of abuse or serious injury, in school a fair student though always considered a dreamer, and somewhat of a loner.
It seemed she had passed through high school effortlessly, except for repeatedly being chastised for writing stories during class. She had gone through college and university with similar ease, and was now an established software engineer in a renowned enterprise. It had to be the most boring and mediocre biography Gail had ever seen. No drug history (except for cigarettes), no brain or neural diseases.
Nothing to merit her present condition.
And yet, there it was. Isabelle Barnes was sitting in front of the psychiatrist, deep in heated argument with... an invisible warrior woman. Clad in dark armor and armed to the teeth with knives, a sword and something called a shakra, or whatever. Ludicrous. But inventive, she had to admit. And the young woman did have a way with words. Gail thought she could imagine this warrior standing there in a menacing posture- utterly ludicrous.
And it had all started with a simple question about the story the woman was working on.
Considering the intrepid warrior kept up a constant stream of comment throughout the session, Isabelle held on to her temper for a remarkably long time.
However, by the end of it she found herself facing a rather shattering prospect. With things getting just slightly out of hand between Xena and herself, Gail Branigan unsuccessfully trying to calm the seething young woman, and a sudden slap that landed on entirely the wrong cheek, Isabelle eventually found herself in a straightjacket without quite recalling how she had ended up there. Xena, giving her a hunted, mortified look and mumbling something about having caused enough trouble for today, had faded into thin air, after watching a doctor plunge an enormous syringe into the writer's arm with rather more pallor in her face than one would expect from a former warlord.
Thus abandoned, Isabelle's last thoughts as the tranquilizer kicked in were centered on the possible ways to make a ghost utterly miserable.
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