by Joseph Connell
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle (whether dead, reincarnated or otherwise), Janice Covington, and Melinda Pappas belong to Ren Pics and MCA/Universal. "Immortality" as presented here, along the Watcher Society and Darius, belongs to Davis and Panzer Productions. The rest are my own creation; feel free to use them as you wish, just don't kill them without letting me know first, eh? I need time to notify the next of kin.
This is a bit of fanfic based in Redhawk's 'Infinity' altverse, where Xena is an Immortal in the vein of "Highlander" and Gabrielle died two thousand years ago of old age. This particular encounter takes place approximately nineteen years prior to the canon story "Only One" and twenty-five years after my own story "Tyger, Tyger". I would define it as an alternative piece as that's all I write, though don't expect any orgies or erotic scenery. No violence to speak of either. Sounds boring, I know, but just wait.
Dedication: to Redhawk, the Creator; Llachlan, my Confidant; Katrina, my Guide; Malea, my Anam Cara; and Kristian Fischer and Protek, who challenge as they inspire.
April 17, 1979 - Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The weather had taken an appropriate turn for the worse by the time the funeral party gathered at the cemetery. Ugly, bloated clouds rolled in from the Atlantic, a humid wind accompanied them, making the air hot and damp. It reminded Xena of the Amazon, when she would as often as not have to chase the children in-doors before they were all caught in the downpours and possible mudslides.
No such danger here. Just herself, the headstones, and (in her opinion) entirely too few mourners for the deceased.
She held to the outskirts, her dark pants suit and raincoat blending with the small crowd. The priest read through the last rites, looking all the while like he was drinking lemon juice as he read, while the mourners stood in respectful and semi-respectful silence. The few children fidgeted, but otherwise stuck close to the adults and gave no reason for scolding.
Xena endured it all - wheezing, veiled contempt in the voice of the so-called priest, the distracting fidgets of the children, the sticky air and threatening sky - mind focused solely up the one she'd come to honor.
The coffin was lowered, the ceremonial clumps of earth tossed by each of the attendees in turn, with Xena herself being last in line. She gathered up as much of the fresh soil as possible and let it fall. A gentle rain of earth upon the polished pine laid in the ground. A single yellow rose accompanied the dirt from her hand, landing amid the four already there and waiting patiently to be covered over.
She looked up and examined the marble headstone, the first drops of rain making a poor substitute for tears that refused to come.
Janice Antigone Covington
April 15, 1912 ~ April 14, 1979
Daughter, Scholar, Partner, Mother
"...Shall We Meet Those We Love Again."
How long she'd simply stood there, the building rain soaking both her clothes and chilling her to the bone, was impossible to say. Certainly long enough for the groundkeepers to fill in the grave, it seeming as if she merely blinked and suddenly there was no more hole yawning before her. Time had long ago ceased to have any meaning for her, to her. Immortality tended to do that to one's sense of priorities, making it easy to delay the unpleasant or the difficult. Made it easy to ignore obligations.
Made it easy to wait until an aged archaeologist had died before going to visit her.
Xena felt herself go utterly numb not from the weather, but from the realization of her own cowardice. She had known of Covington and her work since the early fifties, and had done everything from quietly channeled funds for her digs and research to greasing dozens of palms to keep her and her's safe. And every year was the promise to herself she would go to the archaeologist and...what? Declare herself? Regale her with tales of everything from the times of Rome to the fall of Camelot to how the last vestiges of Amazon culture were wiped out by a boatload of Christian Crusaders to Covington herself had featured prominently in a dream she'd had while living in the rainforests?
The notion made her chuckle, bitterly, at the looks she was certain the archaeologist would have given her.
"I'm just the descendent of a useless sidekick." Covington's words, nearly four decades old, still rang in Xena's ear like a cursed tape loop. Would she have believed anything the Immortal could or would have told her? The anger and self-loathing she'd head come from those rosy lips, that voice that both was and was not Gabrielle's, could have twisted anything as to render it meaningless.
Knowing this left Xena angered nearly beyond measure. Not at Covington herself, but at the twists of fate that had left her so shattered that she could only rage against herself. Perhaps it was just as well that they had never met. Xena suspected she would have discovered too much and taken the sword to quite literally everyone who had ever slighted her heart's twin.
Tears still refused to form, never mind fall. The rain made its visit brief and merciful, sprinkling only for a few minutes despite the threat of the sky still blustered. The Immortal remained where she stood, as unmoved by the elements as she was unable to move away from the graveside. The silent marble of the marker stone screamed at her in accusation.
Her first thought at hearing this was Damn strange thing for it to call her. "Coward" would be more appropriate. Her next was that it had come in the form of a question, spoken quietly and in utter disbelief.
The third, which made her snap out of herself and look quickly to the source of the voice, was realizing what had actually been spoken. Mother?!
The young man backed up a pace, clearly startled by the sudden movement even though he was well beyond arm's reach. Xena realized, somewhat to her shame, she'd instinctively tensed for battle, crouching and snarling in preparation. She quickly relaxed both her stance and expression, studying the still shocked visitor with as great attention as he studied her.
For an instant, the Immortal was certain she had been transported back in time, the perfect visage of a dead man standing only paces from her. Perdicus?
"Forgive me," he was saying, though Xena was some moments comprehending the words. When she did, she could barely contain the sneer the was instinctive. Two thousand years after the fact, and he wants forgiveness? He can...
Those thoughts and rage died with the next words. "You looked...for a moment...like my mother."
This, needless to say, left Xena's sails thoroughly deflated and at the mercy of the emotional currents the man's voice excited. No, not Perdicus, she saw now. The farmer never had the sort of confidence and certainty to stance this one did. There were physical differences as well, this man being both taller and leaner than the stocky boy-man from Potidea. His hair was a cut in a serious almost military style, at odds with the shoulder-length mops favored by most youths. His own suit, charcoal black, was a double-breasted European cut, and so lacked the flaired trousers and wide lapels that stubbornly held out as fashion these days. His eyes were at once kind and suspicious, gazing at her with deep blue eyes at once familiar and not.
This man was a stranger to her. Even so, she felt no threat from him, and relaxed the infinitesimal tension in her shoulders and back at his words. He stepped forward, extending a hand and a small smile. "Henry Pappas."
"How do you do," Xena replied, taking the offered hand in her own, her hand steady despite the residual shakiness to her muscles, the rush of memory colliding with the present slightly draining.
Pappas's smile cooled at her not offering a name in return, but shook her hand all the same. Releasing the hand and drawing back a pace, Pappas asked "Were you a student of Jan's?"
Xena turned and looked down once more at the stone, the letters fairly screaming up at her. "No. I saw Doctor Covington speak once several...several years ago."
"Hmm, odd." Pappas murmured. She could hear a faint accent to his words, a Dixie twang softened by years and schooling. "I thought she'd stopped lecturing back in the fifties." She felt his eyes focus on her profile, attempting to gauge her age by appearances. She kept her eyes cast downwards, not daring to meet his, lest he see the many eras reflected there. After about a minute's silence he ventured to ask "Were you a friend of the family's?"
Xena simply shook her head, then turned to walk away. She didn't want to be having this conversation, any conversation, with this man. With anyone. Ever.
She looked for something else to take interest in, to tune out the unfamiliar man who stared at her. The marker beside Covington's caught her eye and held it. She swiftly recognized her error, but couldn't force herself away.
Melinda Evangeline Pappas
June 1, 1910 to April 14, 1970
Beloved Beyond Measure
"In This Life and All Those To Come..."
Her sight clouded for a moment with memories of phantom voices and faces, all coming to her in feverish dreams deep in the jungle, leaving her swaying in the wind. Pappas' voice suddenly came from directly behind. "Ma'am? Are you alright?" The aching sincerity could have been Gabrielle's, and the hand placed on her shoulder was too gentle for the soldier's face behind it. Xena could only nod and hunch her shoulders against the non-existent wind.
Her eyes flickered between the markers, the last lines giving voice to her most secret, desperate hope that had kept her life from ending at the end of an enemy's blade. Had they known, these two? Did the bard speak through them, reminding her of a threat made so long ago, spoken only half in jest?
Pappas' had removed his hand, though he remained as steadfast as before. "Did you know my mother?" A small downward tilt of his chin directed her to the marker stone once more.
"You ask a lot of questions," Xena returned, putting as much venom as she could into it, which wouldn't have been enough to kill a flea. Looking up she saw the man shrug and give a small smirk at her effort. She tried to hate him for it, failing miserably.
"I'm an anthropologist. Its what we do." Xena couldn't help the smile, a real one, which crept in at the old joke between herself and her bard. He returned it, silently relieved at this change in demeanor. "We have a small reception at the chapel. Join us?" Pappas looked as if he could have bit his tongue, seeing the hesitation which immediately clouded her eyes and no doubt fearing he'd driven her into bolting away.
Tempting as the prospect was, Xena's uncertainty lasted barely a single heartbeat. She'd promised herself she'd find and see to Gabrielle's children decades ago, hadn't she? Wasn't it long past time for her to actually do so? She met Pappas' eyes full on and nodded, gliding gracefully around him and towards the cemetery's small shrine.
Harry Pappas stood there for a moment, surprised and uncertain himself, before moving to follow her. It proved a bit of a struggle, catching up to such long strides. He swiftly (and to the warrior's secret pride) proved equal to the task, and was soon leading the way.
The chapel was originally Methodist in construct, though it had since been stripped of its denominational uniqueness and become more generic. A tribute, Xena supposed, to the polyglot that was American culture. Then again, she remembered the history she'd studied so meticulously upon her return nearly thirty years ago, and wondered if said culture didn't deserve being overthrown by the various movements she'd witnessed (very few of which she'd taken part in) since then. Strife certainly had his day back in the mid-sixties, here in the South and in Europe.
The main chamber was silent, the crucifix looking down on the altar and rows of chairs beyond giving the warrior too many memories to do more than follow Pappas in a respectful silence. The body may heal, but the soul remembers every wound inflicted, be they made with a sharpened blade or a hammer blow to the legs. Pappas led them to the side, away from the shrine and into the rectory. There were no more than a dozen people, three of whom were tired looking children who made no secret of their boredom, milling about in small clusters about the room. Scattered chairs and a low table, its top covered with framed photos, most in black and white, were the only furnishings. Subdued conversations among the mourners was a gentle murmur bouncing off the otherwise bare walls and warming the small room.
Pappas himself peeled off to join one of the larger knots of people in the far corner, headed it seemed by a woman with one of the children in her arms. She wore a tailored suit matching Pappas', into who's arms she delivered the dozing child before turning back to the earnest looking trio she was speaking to. Her back was to the rest of the room, leaving Xena to wonder at her sense of déjà vu that gripped her right then. She was of aware of many eyes suddenly upon her, conversation pausing momentarily as she passed. Not wishing to be too much a distraction, Xena made her casual way over to the picture table.
Even knowing what awaited her there, approaching with both silent dread and strong longing, it took all her strength not to collapse at the sight meeting her. She gave no outward sign of the screams issuing from her soul right then, save her shoulders clenching for an instant at the sight of the first photo. From within every frame and every photo, all three dozen and more of them...
Gabrielle stared up at her.
There were few smiles amid the images, the background of most being some stretch of desert or jungle or other wilderness. The subject often looked harried and scowled towards the camera. Her eyes, eyes Xena knew would be a beautiful blend of hazel and emerald, were hard and uncompromising. Her clothes were as rugged and ragged as the woman herself, a too-familiar leather jacket, fedora and bullwhip in sight.
There was another in several of the photos, particularly the later ones in color. A taller woman, with long raven hair and pale blue eyes, who fairly towered over the archaeologist. And how did I get there? was the warrior's first thought at seeing herself in those stills. Looking closer, she saw the devotion between the women, betrayed in their eyes and relaxed manners, a thing long absent from her own eyes and life. She remembered her host's words and the name on the older marker. Melinda Pappas, I presume? There was unusual bitterness in her silent voice as she picked up one of the color photos, one picturing the two women seated on a green lawn behind a great antebellum mansion, small children in both their laps and slightly older siblings playing at their elbows. The bright summer's day was but dim twilight compared to their beaming smiles.
Her heart constricted and became inert, an acute pain in her breast at the sight. She felt dizzy and removed from herself, steeling herself against the weakness in her knees. She would not faint here, Hades be damned! Nor would she break down into tears or begin screaming or...or...
Xena set the photo back in its place on the table and turned around, intent on leaving before she embarrassed either family. She promptly found her escape blocked by a dead woman, who gazed at her with deep sapphire eyes and a curious expression. "Jay-sus," she murmured, her own accent more pronounced than Pappas', himself standing at her shoulder and looking mildly embarrassed at her blasphemy. She glanced back towards him before returning to her, the disbelief in her eyes wrestled down as she extended her hand. "Helena Covington," she said, her head upturned just slightly to meet the warrior's eye in open challenge.
Xena took the hand entirely on automatic, reeling at hearing the bard's voice once more, capable only of staring at the younger woman. She was her mother's nearly-perfect twin, save for the eyes and the height, of course. Her head reached above the warrior's shoulder, though she was still shy a few inches of being her equal. Her hair, a darker shade of gold and lacking the strawberry highlights which should have been there, was cut to a bob just above her shoulders, framing her face so elegantly as to make her ancient namesake jealous.
Covington herself was openly staring in return, no doubt wondering at her own drawn and strange features. The warrior felt herself studied with the intensity of bug under a microscope, unconsciously straightening herself as a soldier might for inspection. Sapphire met the sky once more and the younger woman asked "We've...never met before, have we?"
"No," Xena shook her head, a trace of regret in her voice. "I'm sorry, but no."
"Hmm." Covington looked her up and down again. "Incredible."
Keeping a firm grip on the sleeping child draped over his shoulder, Pappas leaned down and whispered quietly in her ear. "You're staring, Covington. Quit it." It would have been lost to anyone else's hearing, save for her's. She managed to keep her face neutral, giving no sign of having heard, though it was a small struggle to do so. Laughing aloud in the face of someone who's mother had just passed on was bad manners in any era, even if they did suddenly look comical in their embarrassed blush.
Pappas straightened and grinned at her. "Please forgive my sister. Her manners sometimes dessert her, not unlike her mother."
Covington half-turned on him, keeping her in the corner of her eye. "Look who's talkin', Mr. 'Let's-Shock-the-Ministers-and-Pretend-ta-be-Married," she grinned in return, poking a solid finger into his the stomach.
"Yes, but who's idea was it in the first place?" His face was a study of innocence, even as he nudged her with his shoulder.
Xena herself kept an admirably straight face, the fascinating dynamic between the two sending her thoughts drifting back to her own household and the brood she and Gabrielle had reared. Ah, Terris. Were you and your siblings nearly as much a handful as these two? To her shame, Xena realized she hadn't so much as thought of their children in centuries, never mind addressing them by name. A single tear gathered in her eye, the weight of her centuries of neglect of their children settling on her shoulders as never before.
She realized the two had fallen silent and were gazing at her again. Wishing to stave off questions she didn't dare answer and could never refuse, Xena turned to the photo of the women and children that had attracted her attention earlier. "I take it the small ones are you two?" she asked, pointing to the photo.
"Ah, yes," Covington smiled fondly. "That was taken in 1951, right before..." Her smile promptly faded, some unpleasant memory surfacing and dampening her mood. Pappas likewise quieted, the same thoughts clearly written in his expression.
Seeing this, Xena spoke softly "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to dredge up painful memories."
Covington waved this away. "It's alright. Ancient history." Her voice was tight with emotion, belaying her words. She seemed to reach for words which didn't wish to come. "Our mother's went through a bad time around that time. Harry and I were too young to understand much of it, and our absentee siblings there won't talk about it." Her voice took a trace of bitterness at this. "They never forgave..."
"Each other?" Xena offered.
"Themselves." Covington's eyes hardened. "Even when they...got back together...they never spoke about it."
"Your mothers were...involved...then?" She already knew the answer, wanting to see the pair's reactions more.
Both regarded her in open challenge. "Is that a problem for you?" Helena Covington growled as dangerously as any wolf defending pups, mate and den. Her brother, despite being only an inch taller than her, actually seemed to tower over the both of them, expression equally dark.
Before yet another apology could be offered, a new voice quietly and respectfully interceded. "Dr. Covington?" The speaker was a man of middling height, brown hair starting to gray and dressed in a three-piece suit of dark blue. His stance was confident, though distant, clearly wishing to speak yet equally prepared to walk away. Xena subtly moved herself to the side, assessing the man quick for any threat or danger he might offer. Finding none, she was surprised when he extended his hand to her. "Richard Armistead," was his introduction, politely shaking her hand in a deliberately loose grip.
"Pleasure," Xena purred, matching the man's polite-if-disinterested smile. He turned once more to Covington.
"Forgive me for interrupting," Armistead said, his accent one of clipped English befitting a New England upbringing. "About the Foundation's offer?"
All three gave the newcomer their full attention, though his eyes were for Covington alone. "Yes, Mr. Armistead?" Helena's voice was equally calm and respectful, though its edge was still there, ready to lash out. "What news?"
"Mr. Byron himself made our position clear to the University. The funding will only be provided under one condition." Helena's raised eye-brow bade him continue. "That you or your brother lead the excavation."
"Quite a condition," Harry said mildly, as one might when given evidence the Earth truly was flat.
"Indeed," his sister agreed. "I'm surprised Mrs. O'Donhugh didn't..."
"I'm afraid Elisabeth has fallen...rather ill lately." Armistead looked saddened in saying this, as though having to accept an unpalatable truth for the first time. "Young Jonothan is trying to take her place as best he can, but it's a struggle for us all."
Xena choose that moment to quietly disengage herself, grateful that attention had been shifted from her and reasonably confident this stranger presented no threat to the siblings. At least, she tried to, only to have Covington address her, blue eyes darting between herself and Armistead. "Forgive us talkin' shop like this. Y'see, Harry here is an anthropologist, and I'm an archaeologist. And we're in the middle of setting up an expedition to the Agean." she said by way of explanation.
"Following in our mama's footsteps, as it were," added Harry Pappas, more than a touch of pride to his words.
"Much to the dismay of Chapel Hill University, who would rather forget about our parents entirely, despite the obscene amounts of money Harry's mama pour inta the place."
"To say nothing of the prestige Hel's mother brought to certain academic departments, who otherwise woulda shriveled up an' blown away years ago." Xena raised an eyebrow of her own, pleased at hearing the smugness in the sibling's voices. Such pride in both mothers spoke well of the deceased, and left the warrior to wonder how much she had missed for her cowardice.
She was clearly not the only one listening raptly to this rendition of past accomplishments. Armistead was equally attentive, though more with an analytic look to his eyes, turning the words spoken over in his mind so to shake loose some hidden meaning within them. He seemed oblivious to her scrutiny, keeping his eyes on the siblings and looking expectant. This intensity seemed completely out of place for so relaxed a manner, leaving Xena mildly confused and curious. She was unwilling to divide her attention right then, however, and settled for observing him as surreptitiously as possible.
He seemed to study her with equal care and caution, as she caught him occasionally glancing her way out of the corner of his eye. These glances were measuring, looking her up and down without the least amorous interest or intent. More akin to those she'd witnessed in previous eras, in bazaars and slave auctions; the taking stock of merchandise, judging its quality against the price asked, nothing more. Xena wasn't sure whether to be insulted or angered at such a thought. Nor did she spend the time examining it.
Her real interests right then lay in the siblings' next words. "Well, its a generous offer, Mr. Armistead." Covington said. "What was the university's response?"
Armistead smiled at some personal memory. "They said they would...consider...the offer,. Carefully." The siblings shared a knowing snicker between them, Xena find herself fighting a quick skirmish with herself to keep from joining them. All the while Armistead seeming not affected in the least, though his eyes danced for a moment, flitting over them all. "A pity your mother's sources couldn't be contacted," he continued smoothly. "It would make matters so much easier for us all."
Covington simply shrugged. "Damned if I know where she was always getting the money. Hell, I don't think even she knew where it came from."
Her brother again rolled his eyes and whispered "Helena! We're in a church, remember? One that isn't in ruins!"
She gave him a genuinely puzzled look and asked "So?"
Pappas colored a dangerous shade of red, his response cut by the amused Immortal watching this. "I take it you aren't new to these little hiking trips, Dr. Covington?" Xena asked, equally curious to learn as much as she might without risking too much of her own anonymity. She'd begun mentally calculating how much money she could funnel to them through her off-shore accounts and European representatives. More than enough to meet any shortfall, she was sure, and then some. It had been far easier with their mothers back in the late 50s, money flowing freer between Europe and the States in those days. Pity she hadn't known about the personal problems the pair had been going through, otherwise she'd have attached the same conditions on it as Armistead here.
Covington nodded, taking the child from her brother and cradling her closely. "Yup. Been doing digs almost since I could walk, while poor ole Harry here's had his nose stuck in a book." Pappas gave a long-suffering sigh and cast his eyes to the very uninteresting ceiling. Grinning wickedly, the blonde added in a lower tone "I think he's a bit jealous o'my travels, y'know?"
Xena nodded sympathetically, a familiar complaint in the old days among her children, young and old. The child Covington held suddenly opened her eyes, hitting the warrior full force with an adoring gaze made of deepest emerald, ringed by a hazel rainbow. Her throat suddenly closed tight, tears at last stinging her eyes. She glanced at her watch, needing to be away from this place...from these children...before she began blurting names or weeping like a fool...or worse...told them...
She somehow got her voice to work coherently, saying "I'm sorry." Whether she was offering belated condolences or apologizing for her departure, she wasn't sure. She then turned and managed to walk back the way she'd come as calmly as she'd arrived, ignoring the stares directed her way once more, especially those upon her back. Her calm was pure façade, however, centuries worth of denied emotions and longing all chipping away her brittle control.
Up to then, until the child looked upon her, she hadn't realized how brittle her control was. The emotions alone threatened to choke the life from her.
Xena, Lion of Amphipolis, Immortal victor of thousand battles and as many duels, fearless and proud, ran as though chased by the endless hordes of the Underworld the instant she'd stepped from the chapel. She disappeared quickly into the gathering night, leaping over marker stones and dodging the occasional obelisk, not stopping until she reached her parked Mustang.
She all but tore the door open, throwing herself inside and slamming the door shut. Sitting there for a moment, Xena was the picture of serenity despite the tears now beginning to stream from her eyes. The picture shattered as she let loose a snarl and proceeded to pound her open palms into the steering wheel until the skin was cheery red and both wrists stung from the abuse. Broken sobs rattled through her as she rested her head on the wheel and felt into the internal pocket of her coat.
Her sight cleared enough to clearly make out the two women in the photo, the tots on their laps. They were all happy, as well they should be, and embraced by the summer's light. Her cowardice shamed her once more, bringing new tears to her eyes, and not simply for having kept her distance from them all these years. It had been a wholly unconscious act, slipping the picture from its frame and secreting it into her pocket, the tricks taught her by Autolycus and practiced to smooth perfection in the centuries following serving her well.
No doubt the family would miss it, and no doubt they would try to seek her out, despite the small fact she'd managed to avoid giving her name. And if they did manage to find her, well...
Xena shook her head, refocusing on the present and upon the image in her hand. A moment of a past she by all rights should have shared and celebrated with her descendents. A moment lost to her, as were the countless others she had let slip by, cowering in the shadows behind the throne or the jungle, pretending all the while she could dance the Princes of the world on strings or simply ignore the past.
Pretending that she could forget a promise extracted one warm morning after a restless night of painful labor.
Promise me, Xena..her bard demanded quietly as their newborn youngest nursed. Promise me they won't be alone. That you'll teach them to be strong and brave.
"Oh, love," the warrior murmured across the ages. "They learned all that on their own." She gazed long and hard at the picture once more, throat closing against the sobs she couldn't let out.
"I promise I won't leave them. Not again." Whether this was to the recent or long dead didn't matter. She coughed and wiped her eyes clear, quietly swearing "Not ever again!" Stowing the picture carefully back into her pocket, she started the engine and put the car into gear. Her mind was already leaping ahead to the coming morning as she wove her way out of the cemetery, compiling lists of phone calls to be made and options for funding the siblings work. To say nothing of setting up a few blind trust funds for their children and ways to keep tabs on them all. A daunting task, particularly if she wanted to keep at arm's distance.
"Maybe I should apply for a P.I.'s license." The idea struck her rather funny, making her chuckle a bit as she reached the cemetery gates. She was gripped by a full belly laugh by the time she'd pulled onto the road leading out of town. It was a long time before she could stop laughing.
The figure who had been crouching in the shadows near the Mustang waited until its taillights could no longer be seen before straightening. He was a non-descript man, a fact which served him well in his chosen work, dressed in a dark suit and raincoat. An umbrella was hooked over his left arm, his right hand sunk deep into his coat pocket. He shivered a little from the last several hours of waiting, all of them long and cold.
He withdrew his hand from the pocket, revealing it was clutched about a handheld tape recorder. Smirking at the though of how tedious his work must have been in previous eras, long before the advent of audio and visual recording, the man hit the 'record' button with his thumb and spoke into the device. "April 17, 1979. Ten-fifty, p.m.. Looks like Holdstein was right. Xena of Amphipolis attended Dr. Covington's funeral, as predicted. Will trace her license plates tomorrow. Shouldn't be too hard."
Switching off the recorder and dropping it back into his pocket, the man took a moment to rub the tattoo - a blue circle, elaborate runes along its border and two joined white arrows bisecting it - on the inside of his right wrist. Damn thing always itched when damp air hits it, he mentally complained, wishing the Society's leadership would join the twentieth century and let its recruits have the damned tattoo put somewhere less conspicuous.
Grumbling, the Watcher made his way back to his own vehicle, parked on the far end of the cemetery.
He didn't see Richard Armistead standing only fifty feet away. Nor did he hear the gray-haired man strike a match and apply it to his cigarette before he, too, hurried on his way.
Xena managed to calm herself by the time she reached her motel on the edge of town. There was nothing particularly notable about the place, which was precisely why Xena had chosen it. Simply two stories of eight single bed units, each with a cramped closet set into one wall and a still more claustrophobic bathroom attached, and a small shack of an office nearby. A way station for travelers like herself, nothing more and nothing less.
There were a few other cars in the front lot, though no lights were visible in any of the other units. This suited her fine as well. She parked the convertible and killed the engine, sitting there a moment before gathering the long, slim case from the passenger seat and headed for the stairwell. She'd taken a room on the second floor only out of necessity, those on the ground floor all having been taken or unavailable.
Nothing had changed in her room since leaving earlier, not that she was expecting trouble. She hadn't felt a Quickening in years, which left her wondering if there were any others left besides herself and Darius, off in his Paris church. And it wasn't as if she'd left anything worth stealing behind. The lock rattled a bit as she worked it and the door swung open.
Only a darkened, anonymous room was there to receive her.
Xena didn't even hear her snort of disinterest. She reset the lock and turned on the lamp. Even the soft, warm glow it gave off failed to make the room anything more than four cold walls and a few pieces of uncomfortable furniture. The keys were tossed onto the woefully small nightstand, sliding nearly to the edge, and the sword-case went on the bed along with her coat and jacket.
She'd sharpened the blade that morning, so rather than go through the usual nightly ritual Xena reached into her overnight bag and pulled out a bottle of Jim Bean and a shot glass. Unscrewing the cap, she poured herself a full one and threw it back without even tasting it. Another followed. She poured a third, but paused halfway to her lips.
Instead she turned to the wide window behind her and raised the glass. "To you, Jan. Sorry I never knew you. Or Mel." She had her drink, then set the glass next to the bottle, feeling a pleasant buzz from the whiskey. She killed the lamp and proceeded to undress for bed, knowing it would be a busy enough day come morning.
Her last thought before drifting off was the hope she could get through this one night without her dreams being full of a baby's crying voice, or without waking to tears in the middle of the night. She hadn't had a single decent nights sleep in nearly nine months.
Xena closed her eyes, and dreamed.
Richard Armistead pulled into the motel parking lot, killing his lights put leaving the engine on. He'd arrived just as the silhouette of the tall warrior in the window raised her arm, then reached to the side and turned out the light. He looked over at her Mustang, squinting to see the license plate, quickly memorizing the numbers and letters. He then settled back and considered his options.
They hadn't expected her to attend the funeral, and certainly not to strike up a conversation with either Covington or Pappas. Oh, they'd known for years exactly who had been channeling funds into Covington's digs, always more than could ever be needed, the excess used to send young Helena and her siblings to Harvard. Still, the warrior keeping her distance had left Nathaniel and Elisabeth puzzled, and the rest of them scrambling to keep up.
And now, here she was again, appearing as if by magic.
Armistead sighed, not certain how this news would be received. Nathaniel was getting on in years, as was Daniel and the rest. Hell, he wasn't any spring chicken, either, and he was busy enough looking out for all their businesses. And it wasn't as if Jonothan and company could go chasing after her, not without literally loosing their heads.
Shaking his head, Armistead re-lit the headlights and put the car into gear. They could track her easily enough now, between the plates and the siblings. No point in worrying too much about her. They had all the time they'd need now to decide what comes next.
This comforting thought in mind, Armistead swung his car back unto the road, the night soon swallowing him whole.
April 21, 1979
The newest arrival, only four days old, was already the envy of the maternity ward. Not simply because she was among the most beautiful the nurses had ever seen, but because she was also among the most well behaved. She never fussed about eating or going down for naps. She stared at everything around her with wide green eyes, studying the nurses and other infants with something akin to awe, never failing to smile and wave her tiny fists in their direction.
A few of the nurses expressed concern for her, however. Her father, a sour-faced executive type, had been adamant about the name given her over his wife's protests. He hadn't even held her for more than a minute, looking all the while like he'd been hit with a stink bomb, before bundling her off to a nurse and retreating to the hallway.
The duty nurse, a matronly looking woman with kind eyes, checked the infant's chart as she lay in her bassinet. "You're leaving us soon, little one," she murmured. "I'll pray your guardian angel finds you soon."
The infant shifted as though hearing her, contentedly sucking her thumb and reaching out with her free arm to her side, as if trying to cuddle beside someone. It brought a smile to the old woman's face as she tucked a blanket around her small body.
The nurse then turned and hung the chart on its proper hook, beneath the infant's nametag with its unique legend:
For everything which dies, something new is born. - ancient proverb.