Gabrielle of Potadeia, daughter of Bacchus, stood in the neon illuminated window of a fifth floor walk-up tenement apartment. One arm was across her chest, the opposite hand resting over her mouth as if she'd just come across a horrible mess. What she was looking at was Loren, her soon-to-be ex lover, sleeping fitfully on the bed a few feet from her in the stifling heat.
Godsdammit! The honey-haired blonde pressed her knuckles harder against her lips in frustration. How the hell do I get myself -- us -- in these situations time and time again? When will I learn? She sighed with a deep, heartfelt regret as she turned from the figure on the bed, trying to suppress the ache in her groin that had been only marginally soothed by the ice-cold shower she'd taken earlier. Closing her eyes, she relived the evening for the hundredth time.
Said goodbye and I meant it too
Wanted anyone in the world but you
Gabrielle chuckled acidically as she recalled her pathetic, indignant flight thirty years ago at what was, in retrospect, a minor, even innocuous, drug induced extra-curricular fling. Hell, Gabrielle had even been in the room at the time. And it wasn't as if she hadn't abandoned her lover for years on end, let alone just one night, at various times over the millennia.
Lost my mind
This time it had been thirty anguished years she'd spent away from Xena, eventually abandoning a husband and child in Paris to make her way back across the Atlantic with every intention of groveling her way back into her lover's arms.
But returning stateside to her beloved Manhattan and throwing herself at the mercy of her extremely violent, scorned warrior turned out to be much more daunting than it had seemed from thousands of miles across an ocean. The bard from Potadeia had been on the receiving end of Xena's temper once before, when she'd been the cause of the warrior loosing a loved one. Even though she was returning herself to Xena, something she could never have done for Solon, she was in no hurry to offer her body up for the trauma of Xena's emotional rage. Even if she felt like she deserved it.
So she'd settled in Soho and waited for the warrior to find her, in her own time. And find her bard, the warrior did.
Can't wait to get you back
Back under my skin
She'd begun the song, the dance, with her back to the audience and the congas pounding out a rhythm which only two in the club could claim to have heard in it's place of origin -- a Greek Amazon village over two thousand years prior. As she sang, Gabrielle knew that every eye in the place was riveted to her. But she was only dancing for one pair of fragmentary blues.
The bard-slash-chanteuse tipped her head back, moving one hand slowly, sensuously down her neck, sweating in the midsummer heat of the unconditioned apartment. She began to move, swaying to the drums in her head, her feet taking her through a muted version of the Amazon seduction dance Xena had taught her. It had been the performance of a lifetime, she knew when she had spun around and was almost skewered by brilliant blue parallel lasers. She could no more take her eyes from those of her ancient love then she could stop singing; stop dancing; stop breathing; stop loving the woman for whom she had ostentatiously displayed herself this evening.
The woman who wasn't the person now thrashing about on the bed, obviously having a nightmare.
Gabrielle briefly -- very briefly -- considered running out into the night, going to her stubborn lover and pounding on the door, begging for forgiveness. After the show earlier in the evening, the third time the ancient warrior had come to see the Amazons perform, Gabrielle was certain Xena had come to whisk her away, demand she return to their Upper West Side condo. Possible even provoke a confrontation with Loren.
Instead, as the band had moved their equipment backstage, she'd found herself curiously alone in the dressing room, a tall unmistakable figure emerging from a shadowy, cluttered corner.
"Xena..." she'd began, lunging toward the one person she was weak with need to touch, to taste, and to feel.
"Wait... shhhh..." The warrior had dodged the smaller woman, one hand palm outspread defensively in front of her and the other index finger pressed across full, ruby lips. Xena watched her lover transform, hazel eyes deepening to a roiling, mossy green ringed with red while thin lips pulled back to reveal elongated canines. The warrior grinned evilly. "Hungry, arentcha?"
"Xena..." Gabrielle growled menacingly, a hint of a plea, as she advanced on her lover much as she'd stalked Loren earlier in the evening.
The warrior's supernatural hearing discovered her bard's racing pulse and her heightened olfactory senses overwhelmed her with the desperately missed scent of spring and sunlight (now heavily masked by cigarettes and liquor, but still discernible) that was uniquely her Gabrielle. Thirty years of nonconjugal separation crashed down on Xena's chest, making her wheeze. The intensity of Gabrielle's Hunger -- gods, she could almost feel the teeth piercing her skin. The overwrought rawness of both their needs.
I can't believe you left me, Gabrielle. For so long! It was too much. The warrior needed time to focus her anger. And whatever was to happen between them, their first physical interaction in three decades, had to be on the warrior's terms. In a safe space. Come home, love.
"It's too much..." Xena choked out, backing toward the door.
"Don't go," the bard hissed, her eyes rapidly filling. "Please."
And she was gone.
Gabrielle shook herself from the reverie a second time as Loren called out, still riding Morpheus dark mare. Making her way over to the bed, Gabrielle shook the brunette bar manager gently awake.
"Lo," she called out soothingly, "it's okay. Just a bad dream."
Loren's eyes flew open at the bard's touch and she scrambled back against the wall looking around the room wildly.
"Yeah, honey. Just a bad dream." She stood up and began straightening the covers, most of which had ended up on the floor due to Loren's thrashing.
"Shit. That was so fucking bizarre..." Loren began.
"What happened?" Gabrielle prodded, trying to sound concerned, trying to keep her extra long canines from being seen in the artificial light, and trying to keep her hormones from screaming "XENA!" audibly.
"Shit, hon. It was like some cheesy syndicated tv show, a buncha women in leather bras and grass skirts dancing around a fire. I was like some crazed warrior woman with a helluva tittie job and eyes like those zombies in The Night of the Omega Men..."
One of Xena's favorite movies, Gabrielle mused. Xena loved Charleton Heston. And Clint Eastwood. Those lone, badass warrior types. Gabrielle started to grin, then looked up as Loren continued, deciding that a smile was extremely inappropriate.
"You were there," Loren's eyes hardened. "You and your Mystery Date," she went on, eyes now cold. "And I was shooting fire out of the ends of my fingers at you two and some really hot blonde."
One week later.
A lithe, honey-haired blond stood crooning under a spotlight on the small stage of Club Feral, stroking her bass like a long-lost lover.
There must be a way
To bottle your essence
Like MacCallan eighteen
On a cold winter night
You scream out my name
Let me bottle you up
Keeping us tight til the day
There must be a way
For us to get closer
Spreading you out
Like silk lingerie
Or my favorite oil
The way your tongue moves
Across every inch of my skin
There must be a way
To keep you inside me
Between the sun and the moon
My heart and my soul
Every breath that I take
I want you all over
I want you all over
All over me
Gabrielle, currently lead singer and bassist for the Amazons, finished the last song of her set to wild whooping and applause. The Amazons were becoming the biggest draw for Club Feral, a dive bar in downtown Manhattan. After finishing the second new song in as many weeks -- the orchestration flowing from the other Amazons, once again, with otherworldly precision -- Gabrielle exited the stage to take her customary post first set pee. However, instead of a much needed couple of minutes alone, another hit of junk and bladder relief, the blond chanteuse found her hips pressed bruisingly against a porcelain fixture as her lover of over two thousand years slipped stealthily into the bathroom, pulling the bard against her chest and wrapping her in a vice-like grip.
A white-hot jolt of pure-grain pleasure shot from the Gabrielle's groin to her toes, then straight up into the back of her mouth, convulsing her throat and rattling her molars. She almost drooled.
"Come home," the dulcet voice of her lover vibrated against a recently nibbled earlobe.
"Yessss," Gabrielle hissed, her eyes wide as she watched the hypnotically erotic vision of Xena ravishing her neck in the mirror over the sink.
"Tonight." It wasn't a question. A hot, wet tongue scorched the whorls of a bardic ear.
Sweet Artemis... Gabrielle's knees began to shake as she forced her eyes to stay open, playing voyeur to her own seduction, studying her trembling fingers as they reached up to tangle in silky midnight tresses close to her lover's scalp. "Yessss," she hissed again, turning her face toward the questing tongue, her lips burning with a fire only Xena had ever been able to quench.
And received an almost chaste kiss on her temple.
The bard blinked her eyes open rapidly, not sure when they had closed, and met glacier blue globes in the mirror. Gabrielle blinked again, this time in disbelief as Xena's broad, leather jacket covered back retreated through the door.
"Bu... Bu..." Gabrielle sputtered. Her knees finally gave and she pressed a hot, flushed cheek against the cool sink. Her teeth ached excruciatingly. Her high was wearing thin. And she wanted Xena. Now. Goddamn warrior.
"Arrrrrrrrrrggghhhh!" was the anguished howl that forced it's way from Gabrielle's, throat, echoing throughout the basement of Club Feral.
A goddamn warrior grinned as she stepped out into the sweltering Manhattan moonlight.
This is so not the time for this discussion. The bass player stood in the front room of Loren's fifth floor tenement apartment. An old, practically shredded leather backpack was slung over one shoulder. She was still in her jeans and white linen shirt from the show, but had donned a pair of Armani shades. It was nearly 2 am, but behind the mirrored lenses Gabrielle's irises were a dark, bloody red ringed with mossy green. She clamped her canines together powerfully, almost puncturing her own lip.
"And don't tell me this ain't the time for this. It ain't never the time for this." Loren was postured defensively in front of the door trembling with apprehension. She knew that if she let Bri leave now there would never be another chance for them. For her. "Where you going?" she demanded through clenched teeth.
Gabrielle turned her back to Loren, fighting the animal in her that wanted to tear the young woman's throat for keeping the Hungry immortal from her Xena; from satiating a three decades Hunger for immortal blood. She breathed deeply, trying to find the mysterious, wild-child bass player who should be handling the scorned bar manager instead of the dangerously blood-obsessed daughter of Bacchus.
"Please, Lo," she growled, fighting animal instincts which insisted that her soon-to-be ex was a perfect appetizer. "I have to go."
"It's her. It's that ice queen at the club," the desperate woman spat. She'd always known Gabrielle would leave her. But she'd thought they'd talk about it, be nice. Be friends at least. Definitely not that Bri would throw herself shamelessly at another woman in front an entire club -- her club -- full of people, then pack off like a bitch in heat. That tall, gorgeous, mysterious bitch had flirted brashly with Gabrielle throughout the entire evening. "That's where you're going. Who you're leaving me to fuck."
Watching the pale stillness of Bri's form across the room, Loren sensed she was approaching a dangerous line. She was reminded of an unsettlingly eerie moment the week prior when the small woman had practically stalked her backstage, circling Loren's tall form stealthily, roiling eyes roving hungrily up and down the bar manager's body. She was sensing that feral, supernatural energy here. Shivering, she dropped her gaze just as she'd done before, but this time clamping her teeth together resolutely. She was not ready to give up her lover of five years. And she wouldn't -- not without a fight.
She couldn't let Bri just walk away without acknowledging they had meant something to each other over the last half decade. A fifth of my life I gave to this woman and she's dumping me like tired trash. Unh unh. Loren wanted her piece too. The taller woman started as she saw Gabrielle suddenly straighten and tense.
"Who the hell is she, Bri?" she growled quietly when Gabrielle remained still.
Gabrielle tried to remember why she'd come back here after the show. Eventually, yes, there were a few odds and ends she would need to collect. But the daughter of Bacchus had been separated from the daughter of Ares for far, far too long. Every fiber of Gabrielle's being burned with anticipatory lust. Gods I'm Hungry. She moved her tongue slowly and deliberately over elongated canines as visions of Xena's naked flesh danced in her mind, then cocked her head in slight puzzlement. She sniffed the stifling air of the unairconditioned apartment and turned, gazing blankly at her soon-to-be ex-girlfriend as if from a great distance.
"Xena..." she began distractedly. There it is again. It was like a scratching in her brain, calming her as she concentrated, her brows scrunching together as she tried to let it come.
"Zena? Who the fuck is Zena, Bri? I mean, you said it like 'Cher.' Like I'm supposed to know who this bitch is."
Splendid? No, that isn't right. Spain? In Spain? Splain? Splainin. Splainin. Gabrielle fought the grin pecking insistently at her lips. Obviously Xena had not lost her sense of humor. And she was calling her lover of over two millennia to come home.
Goddamn warrior. I'll show you who's got splainin to do...
"You aren't even fucking listening to me, are you Bri?" Loren said. She'd seen Gabrielle trying not to smile and her chest turned to ice, her blood cooling instantly in her veins. The woman she'd stupidly hoped to spend the rest of her life with was, in fact, leaving. Without even so much as a goodbye.
Loren's mind did a double back flip, a couple of twists and then a full gainer as the weight of impending loss and loneliness threatened to mangle her in the parallel bars in her mind. She wanted to understand the bits and pieces of the past few weeks that were now jumbled together as she finally began an honest assessment of their most recent time together. Time which she'd wanted to believe was bringing them closer.
But in reality, things had been getting progressively worse. Certain events stood out: the seemingly dangerous but breathtakingly beautiful woman who'd been showing up in the club for weeks was one. Second, Bri's intermittent heroin habit had now become a full blown addiction. Unfortunately, it hadn't translated into a Loren addiction, as the over-enabling bar manager had hoped. Instead, Gabrielle was having increasingly violent mood swings -- the stalking thing was scaring Loren shitless. And more frequently, after a show, they would fight and Bri would leave, returning sometime late morning looking haggard, withdrawn, but somehow satisfied.
Sudden comprehension made Loren's head ache. They've already been
together. How could I have been such a punk?
Damn. Everything started going downhill when Mystery Date showed up. Her mind did another full gainer. But you're mine, Bri. She hasn't been there for you. She could never love you like I do. The silent pleas were intermingled with images of Mystery Date's perfect visage as she'd watched Gabrielle perform. Under My Skin. As if I'll ever forget that one. Whatever had passed between the two as Gabrielle had undulated across the stage, never taking her eyes off... Zena... that was real. Something Loren would never share with Bri.
"You aren't even here..." Her lips trembled as she watched Gabrielle's angelic face settle into a tranquil, whimsical smile. Peering at the mirrored frames from watery brown globes, she tried to accept that her Amazon was gone. She moved mechanically toward the window, then turned as bile burned the back of her throat, tears racing down the angled planes of her cheeks. Long, sun kissed locks disappeared down the hallway. Bri hadn't even stopped long enough to close the front door.
Run, Gabrielle, but you can't hide. You can't hide from a god...
The thought pounced upon her unbidden as a seed planted in her unstable mind, even before Loren's birth, finally found the proper environment to send it's first greedy roots out into the fertile field of her genetically inferior amygdala, hippocampus and cerebral cortex.
The door was slightly ajar when she arrived but sensing no danger, she stepped into the foyer, closing and bolting the door behind her as she dropped her backpack onto the mosaic tiles of the entry hall floor. Hmmmm. Wonder if she changed anything? She began removing her oversized shirt but quickly changed her mind as her skin broke out in goose bumps. It was sweltering outside and the perspiration on her body was quickly drying, making her pale skin cold and clammy. It couldn't have been more than 65 degrees inside.
She removed her shoes, as she and Xena always did in their homes, and lined them up against the wall next to a pair of size 10 steel-toed black Doc Marten's. Figures, she grinned, padding quickly down the long hallway to the far end where she could see a dim light beckoning from the library.
Slipping between the sliding doors, Gabrielle gasped, sucking in the artificially cooled air. The magnificent figure of her lover was reclined lazily in the chair to the left, her chiseled profile barely illuminated in the firelit darkness. One long, lean, leather covered leg was thrown casually over the arm of the chair while slender fingers wrapped around a snifter of golden liquid.
She grinned inwardly at her lover's flair for the dramatic -- especially when seducing a particular bard. Gabrielle's eyes quickly took in the rest of the room, then returned to the vision before her as she realized that nothing in the room had changed since she'd left. Two walls were lined, floor to ceiling, with books. Their matching deep red leather, overstuffed chairs were still placed in front of the fireplace -- a small intricately carved wooden table between them. That's new. She probably made it herself.
Gabrielle moved swiftly around to stand between the fire and her lover, dropping quickly to her knees not daring to look into the warrior's face. Too soon. If I see her eyes I'll lose it. Her teeth ached excruciatingly as she knelt between her lover's knees, gently pulling a wayward limb down so that both of the warrior's bare feet were planted on the woven rug covering the aged oak floor. Gabrielle placed one hand on each of Xena's feet, massaging the smooth, warm skin as she pressed her face against her lover's thigh, breathing deeply of the spicy combination of leather and myrrh that had always been her Xena.
Slowly, she moved her hands up, squeezing muscular calves, revelling in the scent of the warrior's arousal until each hand grasped the top of a well muscled thigh. She felt a shudder ripple through the tall, sinewy frame and her hands began to tremble.
Control, bard. You want to remember every second of this. Control.
Suddenly, large, callused palms and fingers were in her hair, on her face, coaxing her Hungry gaze upward. And even though Gabrielle could scarcely discern the pools of blue she knew were focused intently on her face, she could feel the Aegean depths swirling around her, robbing her of air. The bard struggled to breathe, sure she was drowning.
Xena pulled her mutinous lover up into her lap, trembling, unable to wait any longer to end their agonizing separation. To taste, touch -- to feel the other half of her soul. She also knew that Gabrielle needed to Feed before they could get slightly less intimately reacquainted, and was betting that time spent in foreplay would proportionately increase her lover's Hunger and the warrior's blood loss. She definitely wanted to be conscious for this sweetest of reunions.
The bard struggled insincerely, losing herself in the onslaught of sensation and stimulation, wanting this moment to last. But Xena's superior strength won out and Gabrielle found herself straddling her lover's lap. The kiss was desperate, hungry, each taking mouthfuls of the other, struggling to breathe without breaking contact. Xena's tongue slid dangerously over Gabrielle's elongated canines again and again, nearly sending the bard into mindless rapture.
"Wait," Gabrielle husked, pulling her lips back slightly. "Slower. I'm too Hungry, Xe. I don't want to hurt you..."
Hurt me? Hah! Xena growled, undeterred. "Been there, done that," she rumbled, again claiming Gabrielle's lips with her own. Xena had long known that their thirty year separation had been far more painful than anything physical Gabrielle might inflict on her, Bacchae appetite notwithstanding. She purposely raked her tongue against razor-sharp teeth, releasing a warm gush of blood into the bard's mouth.
Gabrielle was lost.
A soft groan coming from somewhere beneath her and above her head, a spasmodic yanking of her hair, and the twitch of a thigh between hers brought her quickly back to reality. She slowly unstuck her cheek from the chest it was pillowed on, raising her head slightly and managing a broad, if painful, grin.
Gabrielle was deeply asleep underneath her. Completely underneath her, Xena realized as she pushed herself gingerly off to one side, hoping the bard hadn't sustained any permanent rib or pelvic damage from the warrior's considerable weight. In response to the movement, the small hand in her hair jerked reflexively, burrowing deeper while the other tightened it's grip on a muscular buttock endeavoring, it seemed, to move Xena back into her previous position.
The warrior pulled herself up onto one elbow tugging the sheets away from Gabrielle's unconscious form. They'd managed to move from the hard wood of the library floor, back down the long hall and into their bed. Frowning, Xena scrutinized Gabrielle's emaciated frame, the jutting hipbones and clearly visible ribs. You're too thin, love. Much too thin. She placed one hand at the top of the bard's thigh and traced a gentle, reverent path across smooth skin, up the sunken abdomen to still-firm breasts. But holding up damn well for two thousand years, hnh? As her fingers moved up to Gabrielle's chest, Xena closed her eyes and breathed deeply of the distinctive scent of their lovemaking, tracing the achingly familiar features of the bard's face with gentle touches. Finally, she rested an index finger on Gabrielle's lips, only to feel a feather kiss on it's tip.
"Hey," Gabrielle croaked, her throat raw from overuse, a warm wave crashing over her as she recalled the reason for such wanton abuse of her vocal chords.
"Hey yourself," Xena croaked back, her throat equally raw. Despite her aches, she couldn't resist pressing her swollen lips against those of the bard, who immediately opened her mouth inviting further exploration.
As sore tongues encountered, the kiss deepened and Xena felt an unwelcome fire building, incredulously, in her now painfully throbbing groin. Gods. Just take me now. I can't still be aroused. Xena pulled ambivalently away from Gabrielle, flopping exhaustedly onto her back allowing the chilly air to finally dance between them, cooling their sweat-sticky skin.
A few moments passed as they both reflected on the previous day. Gabrielle had arrived around 5 am. They'd fucked each other senseless until late morning, when Xena had had the foresight to send Gabrielle to the bedroom while she retrieved Gatorade, water, a baguette and fruit from the kitchen. Then they'd made gentler love for the better part of the day, falling unconscious with exhaustion late in the afternoon. The sun had finally set on the sleeping lovers and Xena glanced over at the clock on the nightstand.
"Jesus," she blurted.
"You alright?" Gabrielle said, retangling her hand in the long, raven tresses, finding herself more than a little anxious to not be touching her lover. This is going to be weird. I bail on her, stay gone for thirty years. Now I'm going to be stuck to her like a limpet for some indeterminate amount of time. Why do I put us through this?
"No," Xena snorted, teasing. "I feel like I've just had my ass kicked by Najara times ten and I'm sure to be anemic for the next week. At least." Xena never had forgotten the crusader who'd almost taken Gabrielle from her. And who'd given her a thrashing that was still memorable two millennia later.
"Gods," Gabrielle muttered, beginning to tear up. "I'm sorry, Xena. I..."
Hearing the sincere worry in her lover's tone, Xena mustered the energy to turn her head and was immediately despondent for her lack of tact as a tear wound it's way down Gabrielle's sunken cheek and into her elf-like ear.
"Hey, hey now," she whispered, turning carefully on her side and pulling Gabrielle against her, wincing silently as she enfolded the now sobbing bard into her arms.
"Oh..." Gabrielle squeaked painfully.
"Sorry. Hey. We're both exhausted. I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I didn't mean that the way it came out. I'll be fine. You know that. We'll be fine..."
"Physically..." the bard managed.
Xena was too tired to think but also too tired to sleep, she discovered as Gabrielle finally quieted.
"Xena," Gabrielle began. The warrior started. She'd thought Gabrielle had fallen back to sleep. "There's something I need to say..."
"It's hardly been 24 hours, Gabrielle. We've got plenty of time to talk. After we've eaten. After we've slept. And after a nice, long Jacuzzi..."
The bard smiled against the warm, soft skin of Xena's neck at the thought of a hot, wet, naked warrior, then pulled herself gingerly up until their faces were even, staring intently into her lover's eyes. "But I have to tell you something."
Xena's stomach knotted and her head swam. She was sure this was something she wouldn't hear well right now, in deference to her low red-blood cell count. She's pregnant. She's in love with that Loren person who looks kinda like me. Ares is back. Joxer...
"I love you, Xena. More than my life. I've behaved like an absolute ass and I'm going to make it up to you."
The bard seemed amazingly recovered from her recent bout of piteous despair. Thank the gods. Xena blinked into the twilight waiting for the other shoe to drop. Seconds passed. It didn't. "But..."
"No buts," Gabrielle leaned forward and placed a soft, intensely loving kiss on the side of her mouth. "I'll never love anyone," she kissed her again, this time on the forehead, "the way I love you. And I'm going to prove it." Sitting up cautiously, she stretched, grimacing as her back popped all the way from neck to buttocks in an unsuccessful attempt to realign itself. "Aaaah fuck." She rolled her head around, eliciting softer clicks. "But like you said -- after we eat and rest and hot tub. And after I pee."
Xena diffidently watched the bard disappear into the bathroom, then rolled to her back sighing heavily. She never, ever doubted her love for Gabrielle; nor Gabrielle's feelings for her. But the bard, every hundred years or so, would have some emotional crisis which more often than not, ended in separation. And when they reunited the bard always seemed to be in some trouble. That's why she'd been waiting for the "but" after Gabrielle's declaration of love.
She allowed her eidetic memory to scan the patrons of the bar, the staff, the rest of the bad. The girlfriend -- ex girlfriend! -- was certain to a problem. There was something not-quite-right about the woman. The way she never took her eyes off Gabrielle, the way she was constantly fidgeting -- especially when other people touched the lead singer. Wait a minute, I just described myself. The warrior chuckled.
Okay seriously. There's something else there -- something just isn't right. She's going to be a live one. I can feel it. I'd like to say we've met her before, but after two thousand years we've probably met everyone before.
The warrior sighed again, mentally placing the dispersal of her weapons throughout the apartment. She hadn't walked the streets armed with more than her glock in almost ten years. A wicked grin teased her lips as she did a mental inventory of some of the new knives, guns and spy-gear she'd acquired over the past three decades.
She shook her head, trying to dispel the darker thoughts and focus on the situation at hand. I can't stop her leaving me because she's unhappy or upset. But if that slip of a kid bar manager does anything to hurt Gabrielle, or the other Amazons, I'll kill her.
After Bri left she had blacked out for long moments. She could not recall how she got from the front room to the fire escape outside her tiny bedroom window, a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and Gabrielle's heroin stash in the other. She was very clear, however, about deciding to shoot up for the first time in her life. Very clear about the painful prick as the needle punctured the vein in her right forearm. And precisely clear as to the sweet euphoria that followed and the new friend she'd acquired after that. A low, melodious voice that had always tickled her subconscious finally rendered itself sharp* and distinct with the aid of the junk.
The voice had a lot to say about amazons. Amazons and Gabrielle. About masks and queens and the bar manager's rightful place among the Amazons. As it was revealed to Loren Melinda Clark on that fateful summer day.
Loren. Hmmm. That's not really an amazon name, is it, Sweet?
How 'bout Melinda?
Not bad. I'm Velaska. Verrrry pleased to finally meet you.
I like that. Velaska.
Just between us. The other amazons would be jealous if they knew you had a real amazon name.
Right. Just between me and you. Velaska.
And you are going to rule the amazons with Gabrielle at your side...
Yes, love. You didn't really think you were cut out to be middle management in a bar for the rest of your life, did you? I mean, really. With my training and your birthright, we can rule... manage... the Amazons straight to the top...
They never did give me props for bringing in the Amazons in the first place. They're our biggest draw. Put CF on the map. Those grrls are going to be big. A Virgin rep was in here last week asking about them...
They'll never give you your due, Melinda. You'll have to take it. Just like you'll have to take back Gabri... Bri... From that meddling slut of a warrior. She's the one who... delayed... us... before.
Slut bitch. She's gotta go. She can't stop us this time.
Ah ah ah, love. First things first. We need to pick up some supplies...
They were in the kitchen, buck naked, Gabrielle astride Xena's lap in a sturdy oak chair next to an elaborately carved oak table that the warrior had made herself. They were feeding each other stringy pieces of reheated Ray's cheese and mushroom pizza, left over from the night before, between teasing, greasy kisses.
"What do you say we head back to Paris for awhile?" The warrior murmured, nuzzling a bardic ear.
"Yeah right." Gabrielle giggled, tickled and distracted by Xena's tongue.
"No, seriously. I've been in this hell hole for half a century now, love." Actually, New York City was one of Xena's favorite places to live. But she was more than ready for a change of pace. Especially if it meant distancing herself from the last thirty years of anguished separation.
"Well, I can't go back to Paris for at least another fifty..." The bard sighed petulantly as she pulled her ear out of the warrior's reach and pressed her forehead against Xena's chin. There was so much they needed to talk through but Gabrielle wanted more time just to be with her lover.
The warrior arched a suspicious eyebrow.
"Don't ask, don't tell, Xe." She could see the sculpted facial feature in question in her minds eye as she pushed thoughts of her abandoned family away from her conscious mind.
"Well then how about Amsterdam? Or Dar Es? We haven't been to Zanzibar in ages and I really miss fresh Tamarind juice and those little fish cakes we used to get at the harbor..." And I got a bad feeling about your ex, love. It would be so much easier if we could just clear the continent for a couple of centuries.
"I can't leave now. The Amazons are really taking off. I couldn't let them down by bailing now," Gabrielle began, already knowing Xena was right but unwilling to just abandon her friends in what could be the beginning of a very lucrative career for them.
"You do it to me all the time." Ouch. Where did that come from? Damn...
Gabrielle stiffened in Xena's embrace even as the taller woman pulled her closer, whispering apologies in her lover's ear.
"I guess I deserved that," Gabrielle exhaled after a few minutes. Still, she felt sucker-punched. "Xena, I..."
"Ummmm, we don't need to start this now. Not now, okay?" Her voice was rough. She wasn't yet ready to reexamine the despair she'd experienced, an unprecedented disillusioned depression, when Gabrielle had left her this time. After the last comment had slipped unwittingly out of her mouth, she was poignantly aware of how fragile their reunion was. How raw she was and would be for awhile. And that it would take time for any healing to begin.
She needed space. She needed to get out.
The copious amounts of fresh immortal blood that Gabrielle had ingested the night before helped clear her body and mind of the junk. At least to the point where she could recognize that Xena's calm demeanour belied the anxious lines of tension in the warrior's face. And while she wasn't clear on what precisely they meant, she knew that leaving town was not to be argued at this point.
"Alright. I'll break it to them tomorrow and start helping them figure out if they want a new lead..." She began, trying to keep the dejection from her voice. Trace and Cat were excellent musicians and together they made some great noise for a three-piece punk band.
But Xena came first. It was the least she could do. "I mean, I was going to have to get out pretty soon anyway." She pulled back slightly, watching her lover's face. The barely furrowed brow began to speak volumes to the bard, who fell back on two millennia spent mapping out just such subtle signals of Xena's moods. This was not good.
We'll go, love. As soon as I talk to the Amazons.
Xena and Gabrielle, of course, had friends that knew about them and their ways. And there were times when someone would recognize them -- someone they hadn't seen in fifty years -- and a scene would ensue. More often than not, mortals refused to believe their own eyes so the secret of the immortals was never in real jeopardy. As long as they kept to themselves and out of the public eye.
Gabrielle and the Amazons were headed straight for superstardom.
"I mean, what was I gonna do? Get famous? Plaster my face on cd covers worldwide? Win a Grammy?" Gabrielle chuckled, hoping to lighten the mood by painting an image for Xena of them as rock stars. "I could be your Tommy Lee, you could be my Pamela Anderson?"
Xena immediately laughed out loud as she imagined them doing videos. "I'd rather be Tawny Kitaen, if you don't mind. Or maybe we could start our own gig. You be my Captain, I'll be your Teneille," the warrior managed after a few minutes of guffaws from deep in her belly. She pulled Gabrielle's face down and kissed her loudly on the lips. "Thank you for that, love. If it's any consolation, you sound fantastic. You've got this punk rock metal thing down. And you are incredibly sexy on stage, love." Xena closed her eyes as she recalled sitting in Club Feral watching the honey-haired woman undulate across the stage. Gabrielle was simply mesmerizing.
"Really?" Gabrielle prodded as she leaned into what she had meant to be a teasing kiss. Instead, Xena coaxed it deeper as she conjured herself watching her lover from the morass of people, their eyes burning into one another's souls. Her hands tangled in Gabrielle's hair as she pulled their lips together harder, bruisingly at the image of ravishing the bard in the basement after she'd done her new song.
All over me. Oh yeah... mused the bard. That heated exchange in Club Feral's bathroom had been their first physical contact in three decades. Sheesh. Xena had gotten under Gabrielle's skin way before they'd acknowledged one another in the bar, then all over her before they'd even touched. And those lyrics had flowed out of her so smooth and easy, like Tupelo honey. How was she going to top that?
"Really." The warrior finally responded as they separated to breathe, ratcheting down their intensity as they were both well aware of the still delicate condition of they physiques. "You know, Gabrielle..." There was a telltale twinkle in Xena's eyes.
"I know. I know!" Big, extremely dramatic sigh. "As per usual, I've probably put my foot in it. She's not going to take this well. And I suspect she's a bit unstable..."
"Gee, I'd never have guessed you'd date someone reasonable or somewhat sane..."
"Hey. You're the biggest maniac I know."
"But I'm your maniac."
"Mmmm. Yes. Yes you are, warrior."
Under My Skin. All Over Me. Fire Next Time. Definitely. Take me to bed, or lose me forever, warrior.
Xena stood with her most precious bundle cradled in her arms, and moved toward the bedroom, trying not to wonder if their bruised and aching bodyparts were ready for another round.
"I'll talk to her tomorrow after practice," Gabrielle murmured against her lover's lips.
Still, in a small, quiet place in her brain, she knew Bri was never coming back. Knew that that Zena person was undeniably Bri's better half. There was something simply right about them, a wholeness she would give anything to feel for herself. She'd hope someday Bri would come around. That she'd look up one day out of those emerald eyes, smile that smile that was only for Loren, and just say, Alright, Lo. Then they would exchange rings, have a big party, and settle down.
Ain't gonna happen, Loren Mel. Let her go.
Her sane mind wanted very much to do this, to get on with her life. After all, if Bri had a soulmate, there had to be someone out there for Loren, too, she reasoned. So she'd paged Ernie, Club Feral's owner, to give her two weeks notice. Then she gathered up all the scraps of paper, letters, poems, anything Bri had written to her -- even the damn grocery lists -- over the past five years, and dumped them into the bathroom sink. She pulled their pictures off the fridge, out of the mirror edges, out of the battered silver frame on the nightstand, and placed them with the small pile in the basin.
Which brought her to where she was now, struggling to let go calmly, coolly and collectedly before Velaska showed up and started talking about how to get Gabrielle back.
She made it sound so wonderful, burningly deliciously.
But she don't love you, Lo. Never did and you know it. Let her go.
Loren's hand shook as she forced it to tip the can further and further, waiting for the pungent scent of the fuel to sting her nasal membranes. She wasn't sure she was ready to do this. She'd cleared the few clothing and shoe items of Bri's out earlier, shoving them down the garbage shoot into the incinerator. She figured that if Bri asked about her stuff, Loren could at least explain that away as a fit of rage. But to deliberately burn Gabrielle's poems and letters, small pieces of paper that she knew held part of her ex-lovers soul -- this was going to be a statement. There would be no going back from here, even if there was some small snowball's chance in hell that Bri wanted to work something out. She heard a small splat of liquid dripping on paper and blinked up at her image in the mirror.
Nononononono ohhh please nooooo...
Loren was crying. Velaska always came when she cried.
Frantically, she turned the can completely upside down, shaking it hard while her normally simple one-handed manipulation of the zippo turned into a small production. With a grateful sob, she put the lighter to the paper in the sink the instant a flame appeared. A corner of a script-covered paper napkin caught and began to burn. Slowly. Loren stared at the sink in disbelief, then at the can of lighter fluid.
She'd forgotten to pop open the top.
Carefully, calmly, she placed it on the shelf below the mirror and pocketed the Betty Page, then wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands.
No, no, no, Love. Don't get rid of that stuff just yet. You'll get her back. I promised you, didn't I?
Shut up, Velaska.
My, aren't we salty tonight? Come now, Melinda. Let me show you how I used
to build big fires with the Amazons...
To be concluded in "Fire Next Time"
*For an excellent short story about how drug-induced sharpness, please visit Sharon Bowers' website at http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Workshop /6715/Sharp.htm
© Nommo, 1999. e-mail comments or not to email@example.com
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