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Intellectual Property Disclaimer: The characters mentioned in this story from "Xena: Warrior Princess" are the sole property of MCA/Universal, Renaissance Pictures, and their creators. No infringement upon anyone's copyrights is intended. The use of these characters in this tale is for personal enjoyment only. Characters unique to this story and the story itself are all mine. Copyrighted August 15, 1997.
Content disclaimer: This is a work of alternative fan fiction. If the notion of women expressing physical love for one another bothers you, then please read something else. This story has it all: sex, violence (graphic), and but no rock-n-roll. All comments and critiques are sincerely welcomed at email@example.com.
Confusion disclaimer: This story is the sequel to "The Hitch Hiker". Several references are made to Kristo's "Body and Soul". I suggest that you read both of these stories, otherwise this one won't make as much sense.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Kristo for letting me borrow her character and story elements. And to Raven for editing these ramblings.
THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE
by Bongo Bear
Part 1: Alex and Friends
I used to have this horrible character flaw: an overwhelming desire to give everything I had to people who didn't deserve it. This desire made me dependent because what I thought was love was just lust and promiscuous because I still was looking for love.
Starting in my college years, I had one relationship after another, none lasting longer than a few months. In each case, both the men and the women I thought I loved left me. Actually, I drove them away with my neediness. The irony was that the more I needed, the less anyone wanted to give. After a few years of empty relationships, I just stopped wanting any more. I numbed myself to the need until I thought it was gone.
Meeting Alex changed all that. I met her while en route to a writers' workshop in Vancouver. My luggage made it there, but I missed the flight. Alex approached me and suggested that I fly to a different destination that was within driving distance of Vancouver. So, I hitched a ride with her. A heavy snow storm stranded us in her vehicle, forcing us to stay overnight together in the pine forests just south of the Canadian border.
In the short time we spent together, she accomplished the impossible. She filled the cold emptiness in my heart. She made me warm and whole in a way I had long forgotten. I was so far gone that I never realized that love was even missing until Alex offered it to me freely. Without my asking or demanding, she gave me a gift in the purest sense. She revealed to me a secret that set our destinies into motion.
Alex eventually persuaded me to move my job as an architect up to Capilano, a hilly, tree-lined neighborhood in North Vancouver. I worked out of a comfortable home studio and Alex had her professorship at the University of British Columbia. We pooled our savings and bought a bungalow with an excellent view of the Burrard Inlet and the night lights of downtown. We renovated the house together to make it our home.
We converted the sun room into a small library. On lazy weekends, I liked to hide out among the stacks of books and randomly read a novel from my collection. Alex often found me with a book laying face down on my chest while I snoozed in the warm sunlight like a fat, happy cat. She'd stroke my belly to wake me as if I were indeed a silly feline.
We built a screened-in section to the back porch below the balcony. The high ceiling gave me plenty of head room to practice with my sword. I've been a student of the blade for a few years. By nature, I'm usually very gentle and a little shy. But the sight of flashing steel, the heft of a razor-sharp blade, and the sound of a sword whistling through the air calls to something, to someone deep within me. The smooth, suspended hard wood floor provided a springy surface that protected my joints for rougher play like sparring. Alex regularly challenged me. It felt wonderful to have a partner to spar with, to love, and to share a home.
Life was good. Very good. All things considered.
One, well actually two, things that I needed to adjust to were the presence of our other house mates. We do have a rather unusual living arrangement. It's all because Alex is a descendant of Xena, a reformed warlord. She, by all accounts, could crack nuts with her thighs. I'm descended from Gabrielle, Xena's Amazon bard and lover. She's Xena's kinder and gentler better half. To add a bit of complexity, I'm also descended from the warrior. Of course, that makes Alex a distant relative. Very distant, I hope. Anyway, as descendants, we are the occasional vessels for our ancestors. Alex has carried Xena's soul for several years. I only recently took in the bard.
At the most inconvenient times, Xena would take over Alex. She would butt in during conversations, when we were making love, or even worse, when we were preparing dinner. That ex-warlord should never have quit her day job. How can anyone screw up spaghetti? Naturally, Gabrielle would pop in, not wanting to miss any of the fun. That was actually a good thing because she'd usually step in and rescue dinner. She was the only one who could tell Xena that a double handful of garlic cloves in pot of marinara sauce was too potent for us mere mortals. Though, there was one time when she decided to hang back and let Xena handle the entire meal. Gabrielle must have thought that I don't appreciate her enough.
It's such a strange feeling to have your consciousness placed aside like a book on a shelf, then to have it brought back again just as quickly. Of course, Gabrielle understood my conditions and would let me know what was happening. She never abused my body. In fact, she often pampered it with long, hot bubble baths, followed by sensual massages expertly done by Alex or Xena. I'm quite sure that she enjoyed the pampering as much as I did.
I asked Alex once what it was like for her. Xena also kept Alex awake, but she was more presumptuous than Gabrielle. She would exercise to exhaustion and leave it to Alex to deal with the sore muscles. Or she would watch those stupid World Wrestling Federation matches while drinking Molson's Dry. I don't know which Alex hated worse, the Masked Marvel or that nasty beer. Alex much preferred a single malt Scotch, straight up, over any beer or ale. On the plus side, Xena knew more than a entire library of dusty old tomes about Greek warfare. She shared every bit of that knowledge with Alex. She practically wrote Alex's doctoral thesis on the Trojan War.
We're one big happy family.
Part 2: Sentencing Phase
I watched the morning news while getting ready for work. In between sips of coffee, I listened to Tom Brokaw describe the Timothy McVeigh trial in Denver. The trial itself was over and Tim McVeigh was guilty as sin, to no one's surprise. The sentencing phase came next. When I heard that he was to receive the death penalty, I was overjoyed. My brother worked only four blocks away from the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. He survived, thank God, with a punctured eardrum and superficial cuts from flying glass. 168 other people weren't so lucky. I honestly believed that death by lethal injection was too good for McVeigh. Death by hanging, firing squad, drawing and quartering. Any of those would be a just punishment. Gabrielle was completely appalled.
That night we had the biggest fight of my life. Normally, I can only communicate directly with her when I'm dreaming. She and I met as equals in the dreamscape, neither one of us actually controlling my body.
"How can you be so vindictive? Your brother never died," she screamed at my face.
I yelled back, "That son of a bitch is the worst mass murder in the history of the United States. He got his day in court and now he'll get what's coming to him! It's justice."
"It's murder. It's murder whether the king orders it or a some brutal warlord."
"Oh, cut it out with that ancient history crap. It's the Nineties. We've got courts of law. Elections."
"Gwen, the desire for and consequences of revenge have never changed. The satisfaction of revenge is fleeting. The regret lasts a lifetime. Just ask Xena."
"What he did was wrong. If he's not put to death, what protection do we have from some other nutball terrorist with a truck full of fertilizer and diesel? Everyone would live in fear for their lives."
"So it's fear that's motivating your desire for revenge?"
"No, justice," I said.
"Can you tell the difference?" she asked with a sense of remorse that went deeper than our argument.
Sensing her darkening mood, I tried to defuse our little spat. I said, "Gabrielle, this is just political sparring. You know, sport debating. I have no real personal stake in what happens to McVeigh."
"Actually, it does matter. Alex and Xena chose you because of your bloodline. It's also critical that you have certain values that are in line with my own."
"Isn't it enough that you share my body. Now I have to change my values and my beliefs to suit you?"
"Do you really believe in spilling blood if the reason is just?"
"Yes, I do," I said.
"Yes, for revenge and for self-defense," I said with finality.
"Then I can't stay." Gabrielle faded from my dream. When I woke up in the morning, I was alone.
Part 3: Working It Out
For the first time in months, there was no one else but me bouncing around in my head. Even when I'm conscious and in control of my body, I can still feel Gabrielle's presence. When we're getting along, she's like a warm blanket that I can wrap around me for comfort. When we argue, she's like a throbbing migraine in the front of my skull, ready to split open and leap out like some ancient Greek goddess. Athena, I think. But today, it's just a hollow, empty feeling. I could shout and hear the echo in my mind.
Alex stood on the balcony, drinking her orange juice while watching the ships pass back and forth through Burrard's Inlet. I approached her from behind and wrapped my arms around her waist. She turned in my arms and returned the hug. "Rough night, huh?" she said sympathetically.
"Yeah, that little twerp can be so....so frustrating! I don't know how Xena puts up with her. I guess true love puts up with all kinds of nonsense."
"Despite Gabrielle's faults, whether she acknowledges them or not, Xena loves her and always will. I'm sure you two will work something out. It just takes time," Alex said.
"Do you love Xena? I mean she's a part of you," I asked.
"You're right; Xena is now a part of me. If I love her, it's because I've learned to love myself. I accept the person I am and so does Xena. Eventually, Gabrielle will accept the person you are."
Thinking about love and being loved sent a desire for intimacy through me, but I didn't know if Alex was in the mood. So I gave her my best big, brown-eyed puppy dog look. "I have all this tension in my shoulders that needs relief. Would you give me a back rub?"
"There's no need for that; I'm on your side," she laughed, seeing right through me. "What I think you really need is some strenuous exercise. How about we go downstairs and go at it for a couple rounds? Let me finish this and I'll meet you downstairs. En garde!" She poked me with a forefinger in the ribs.
"That's an excellent idea!" I said excitedly, although that wasn't quite the exercise I originally had in mind. "Meet you in a couple." I rushed back to our room and changed into sweatpants and a tank top. I made my way downstairs to the screened-in porch. I could hear Alex pacing back and forth on the balcony above. Then the sounds of her footsteps faded as she walked back to our room to change.
I warmed up with a few kata until Alex showed up. I studied kendo, Japanese-style fencing, for a few years and was informally training Alex so I could have someone to practice with. Xena was very supportive of that effort since she enjoyed the sparring as well. In the modern world, she had few opportunities to fight with swords. Kendo was perfect for her. We put on our protective head gear, gauntlets, the leather thonged aprons to protect the groin area, and finally the breast plates. She and I selected our shinai, the swords made of bamboo staves, and addressed each other.
We squared off and tested each others defenses. Alex tentatively probed my right side, my weakest side, but I was able to parry her blows easily. In a completely unexpected move, she attacked quickly, moving to my left and immediately scored a hit on my side. I backed up then launched myself at her head, scoring the point twice with a double hit. Still within arm's length, she shoved me back hard. I stumbled and toppled backwards to land right on my butt. She immediately jumped in, knocked the sword out of my hands, and pressed the tip of her sword to small leather flap protecting my throat.
"If this sword were of steel instead of bamboo, you'd be dead by now." That was Xena, not Alex. No wonder she beat me so easily.
"Dammit, tell me next time you pitch hit for Alex! If this fight were for real and I thought you were anyone else but Alex, I wouldn't be holding back," I growled.
"You were holding back? Don't you know that in a real fight, holding back could get you killed? Any battle is won or lost before the first blow is struck. All other things being equal, your attitude determines the outcome!"
"I don't want to hurt Alex. She's still learning. In a real fight I'd kill to protect myself and the ones I love. That's why Gabrielle and I aren't on speaking terms today. You should know that by now."
"Yes, I know of your disagreement. You seem very sincere about your beliefs. To be honest with you, I agree with you. Though, revenge will bite you every time. You really do need to control your temper. One day it will be the end of you," She helped me to my feet and handed my sword back to me. "Let's go again. This time for real." She smiled at me wickedly as we squared off again.
I didn't hold anything back and managed to win the next round and the round after that. By the fourth, round, I grew tired. That's when Xena handed my ass back to me again. I managed to win by scoring points. Many of Xena's strikes did not qualify as points; but if we had been fencing with live blades, Xena would have carved me up like a turkey. Any hit with a real blade draws blood. Actually, I don't mind her besting me; I learn so much from her. She's the best there ever was and probably ever will be.
Part 4: Three's a Crowd
That night, Gabrielle took up temporary residence in Alex's head. The fit was tight and Alex was not happy at all with the arrangement. Three women in the same head just asked for trouble. They bitched like harpies all night long in Alex's dreamscape.
"Aren't you overreacting? Gwen has never lost her blood innocence. It's hard to find someone who has these days. Generally, those who have killed end up in jail. I haven't seen the inside of a prison in ages," Xena said.
"I know her mind. Under the right circumstances, she would kill someone and live to regret it later. Blood innocence defines who I am as a person. My soul would be poisoned by her warped sense of values."
"You may be right about her willingness to kill," Xena said, remembering the sparring match. "Even so, you're judging her too harshly and for something she hasn't even done. I've killed when necessary," Xena protested.
"And you've atoned for it. Gwen doesn't believe atonement is needed if killing is for a just cause," Gabrielle countered.
"Well, you can't stay in here forever!" Alex butted in. "You're just going to have to change her mind. Or change your standards. Frankly, the moral ground you stand on gives everyone else nose bleeds. Xena has got her faults, but she knows it. You, Gabrielle, on the other hand, are *too* perfect," Alex leaned into Gabrielle's face, snarling, "You're impossible to live with!"
"ENOUGH! Both of you shut up!" Xena broke up the fight, holding the women apart by the scruffs of their necks. Alex and Gabrielle hung there, silently glaring at each other. "Alex is right. Gabrielle, you can't stay here. You two would drive each other mad. The last female Covington is Gwen and your host must be of your bloodline. Since there's nowhere else to go, you will have to work this out."
Gabrielle yanked herself free from Xena's grip and said defiantly, "Don't you mean 'we'?"
"Of course, I'll support you," Xena responded, slightly miffed that her loyalty was questioned. "Do you have something in mind?"
"Blood innocence is a quality that isn't appreciated until it's threatened or it's gone." Gabrielle tapped the end of her nose with a forefinger as she pondered her choices, "I wonder if Janice Covington is still alive. She killed that vile little man, Smythe. She would be, what, 80 years old now? Gwen and I should pay her a visit."
Part 5: The Gallery
"Oh, come on. Don't you miss me?" Gabrielle bounded happily back into my dreamscape. She conjured up a big, soft chair, then plopped herself down into it. She held her chin in her hands and propped her elbows on her knees all the while grinning at me mischievously.
I ignored her and went back to work on a vellum. Even in my dreams, I'm swamped with projects. In the real world, all the drawings are drafted on a computer with a trackball or mouse. But in my dream world, I do it the old fashioned way with a mechanical pencil, compass, triangles, and tee-square on a high drafting table.
Gabrielle lolled her head against the back of her chair. Her long strawberry-blonde hair spilled over the head rest. She tucked her legs underneath her as she made herself comfortable on the oversized cushion. She casually looked at the three portraits hung on the walls. What she saw piqued her interest. Pushing herself out of the chair, she went to examine each one more closely.
She first approached the reclining nude of Alex, which I delicately rendered in pen and ink on smooth, creamy parchment. The only colors were the muted rouge of her lips and two splashes of soft blue water color in her eyes. The effect was startling. Alex, with her gentle enigmatic smile, stared straight out of the frame, creating the illusion that her eyes followed the viewer around the room.
The second portrait was of Xena, defined from the waist up on a rough canvas with simple, bold strokes of charcoal. Her breast plates were twin swirls of brassy gold ink and her eyes were the same blue as Alex's. Like my lover, her eyes scanned the entire room. To soften Xena's fierce visage, I gave her a goofy, lopsided grin.
The final drawing was a self-portrait in acrylic matte. The painting, a study in earth tones, was like a sepia photograph with little artistic interpretation. Chocolate brown eyes lightly flecked with gold peered out of a smooth oval face framed by shoulder length brown hair. Unlike the other portraits, my eyes did not look straight ahead, but down and to the left as if I was trying to remember something. My expression was impassive, maybe a little sad.
Gabrielle finished her tour of my gallery and strolled over to peer over my shoulder. "Whatcha doing, Gwen?" I had drawn a 3D-perspective of a guillotine mounted on a platform. I just finished sketching a female figure being led up the thirteen steps to her death. As Gabrielle watched, I penciled in her face on the condemned woman. "Looks like some unresolved hostility there, dear," she observed dryly.
"It's a hint, 'dear'," I said with as much sarcasm as I could muster.
"You got the eyes all wrong. Mine are sea-green. See?" She put her face very close to mine. I went cross-eyed trying to focus on her nose.
"Why are you back here? Are you here to kiss and make-up?" I asked hotly.
"If that's what it takes," she said just before she planted a sloppy wet one right on my lips. I pulled back with a disgusted look. I clutched my compass, ready to stab it into her black little heart.
"Bleah! I hate it when you do that." That stupid grin never left her face. "You walked out on me. Do you really think that making nice-nice is going to make me forget that I'm not *worthy* of your presence? Hey," I grinned at a sudden realization. "You've got nowhere else to go, do you? Alex kicked you out, didn't she?"
Gabrielle's expression turned serious. "That's right. I need you and you need me, whether you care to admit it or not."
"Is my attitude about killing acceptable now?"
"No, I'm going to convince you otherwise," Gabrielle said with more confidence than reality dictated.
"I'd like to see you try, little bard." I stood up and pushed away from my drafting table. I waved it away and replaced it with a tall, leather office chair and mahogany desk. I gestured to the chair across the desk. "Have a seat. I want to know exactly what you have in mind. Then we're going to sign a contract." I sat down in the leather chair, set my elbows on the desk, and steepled my long fingers.
She told me of Janice 'Mad Dog' Covington. She said that I was not her direct descendant, but that we shared a common bloodline nonetheless. Janice had killed a man to save herself and her friend, my grandmother, Melinda Pappas. To illustrate her point, she recreated a scene from over 50 years ago in the corner of the room. "She looks just like you," I told Gabrielle.
"Our appearance is about the only thing we have in common. Watch." Smythe had just severely wounded Janice with a gunshot near her heart, then foolishly taunted her by admitting he killed her mother, Rosalind. Drawing strength from her anger, Janice gained the advantage in their struggle and broke his neck with her bare hands before blacking out from the blood loss.
"So this little problem has come up before," I observed.
"No, Janice was never a host for me. I was still in the Elysian Fields during that time. I'm convinced that Janice regrets killing Smythe."
"How can you tell? From what I just saw I don't blame her for offing Smythe. I would have done the same."
"That's the problem. You would!" Gabrielle said impatiently.
"In the dreamscape, you can create anything you want. How do I know that what you showed me really happened?"
"Are you saying that you don't believe me?" Gabrielle asked defensively.
"Let's just say that you have a biased view. I want to hear it from Janice Covington in person. Do you know if she's still alive?" I asked.
"Yes, she's in a nursing home in Seattle."
"Well, that's only a few hours away. Let's see her this weekend. Now, about that contract." I told her that I would reconsider my position, if she were willing to do the same. I told her that it was unreasonable to expect me to accommodate her all the time. Our relationship required a little more give and take.
"Do you expect me to sign my name in blood?" Gabrielle asked, grinning like an idiot again.
"If that's what it takes," I said as I fingered the sharp points of my compass. Surprisingly, she agreed to my terms. She stood up to leave, explaining that she needed to talk to Alex. I told her that she could come back any time. I left the chair she created in place for her return. As she left my dreamscape, I looked at my portrait. I could see the beginnings of a smile.
Gabrielle returned to Alex's dreamscape like a triumphant conqueror. Alex noticed a bandage on her thumb. "What's this?" Alex asked as she held Gabrielle's injured thumb in her hand.
"Oh, it's nothing; just a prick."
Alex gave Gabrielle a doubtful look, but dropped the matter. "So when do you move out?"
"In a hurry to see me leave?" Alex cocked an eye at her and nodded. "Gwen will let me move back in any time. I just wanted you to know that we'll be seeing Janice this weekend."
"By the way, did you know that Gwen is quite adept at expressing herself graphically? Her dreamscape portraits of us are quite revealing. From what I saw of your portrait, Alex, she loves you deeply, probably more than she even realizes." Alex blushed a little, feeling the emotion radiating from the bard.
"Xena, I think she finds you intimidating." Xena raised an eyebrow meaning 'Of course, she does. Everyone finds me intimidating.' Gabrielle continued, "But she knows your fun side, too. She's given your portrait a big silly grin."
"And what does her portrait of you reveal, Gabrielle?" Xena asked.
"Oh, let's just say, she's still a little upset." The bard described the sketch of her being led to a guillotine.
"And you thought she lacked a sense of humor!" Alex quipped. "She's not serious, but she is letting you know how she feels."
Xena interjected, "She's so much like you, Gabrielle."
"Not really, I'm a storyteller and an author. Gwen just dabbles in the written word; her prose is too mechanical and stiff." Gabrielle said with the disdainful voice of a professional judging the work of a rank amateur. "Don't get me started on her poetry ...."
Xena raised her hand to silence the catty bard. "Each generation interprets our legacy in it's own way. Gwen's spin just happens to be visual. She's just as sensitive as you, even though she can't say exactly what she feels. Alex is precise and passionate in her academic pursuits." Alex smiled at Xena's compliment. "Not unlike me in my pursuit of the art of war."
Part 6: Family Ties
Just before dawn, I woke up after an exhausting night wheeling and dealing with Gabrielle. It was nice just to roll over in the morning and snuggle up with Alex. I loved what she wore to bed, which was nothing at all. Unless it was freezing outside, we always slept in the nude. She was still asleep and lying on her side, facing away from me. I scooted over and spooned my body behind hers. Her long, dark hair tickled my nose, so I sneezed and accidentally on purpose woke her up.
She rolled over to face me and tucked my head underneath her chin. She wrapped her arms around me, holding me tight to her bosom. I could feel from the rhythm of her breathing that she was relaxing back into sleep again. So, I kissed the hollow of her throat and followed the graceful curve of her neck up to her ear, where I whispered, "Morning, love. Let's get the day started."
"Uh uh, let me sleep," Alex moaned quietly. She adjusted me like a teddy bear to get more comfortable. I pulled away from her slightly. She opened her eyes briefly, wondering why her stuffed animal wasn't cooperating. I gently coaxed her onto her back and laid myself over her body. The apex of my legs fit snugly over her thigh. I pressed into her as I kissed her, more passionately this time, on the lips. I parted them with my tongue and tickled the tender flesh within. I knew when her desire started to burn off the sleep that fogged her mind for she began to return my affections. Her hands drifted down my back and cupped my bottom. She urged me up her body until she could take my breast into her mouth. As she began teasing the nipple in earnest, my breath grew more ragged and halting, and the wetness began to flow, and then the phone rang.
Brrrnngg! I ignored it. Brrrnngg! Go away, we're *busy* here! Brrrnngg! "Go ahead and answer it. It could be important," Alex sighed. I angrily reached over and snatched the receiver from its cradle. "It's five fucking thirty in the morning! This had better be pretty damned important....what?" I heard that familiar voice, "oh, hi Mom."
"Now dear, I know it's early and all, but that's no way to talk to your mother."
"Yes , ma'am."
"I didn't raise any daughter of mine to talk like trailer trash."
"Mother, your elitism is showing."
"Back talk! Well, I never..." Maybe you should.
"Mom, Mom, I'm sorry. Why are you calling?"
"I'm at the airport."
"In Seattle?" I said, sounding hopeful.
"No, Vancouver." Oh, shit. Might as well get it over with.
"Do you want me to come pick you up?"
"Kind of you to offer, dear, but I'm taking a cab. I should be dropping by in less than an hour."
After I hung up the phone, I leapt out of bed and threw a robe on. I tossed Alex her robe which landed over her head. She pulled it off, looking a little perturbed. "Hey, don't take it out on me just because your mother called."
"She'll be here within the hour. I've got to get this place cleaned up."
Alex looked amused as she calmly got up, put on her robe, and strolled into the bathroom. I raced around the bedroom, picking up stray bits of clothing, underwear, and some of the more embarrassing toys. I stuffed everything into the dresser drawers. I was gathering the dirty dishes and cups in the living room when Alex came in. She was brushing her teeth and pulling on a low-cut V-neck sweater at the same time. I looked at her imploringly, "Help me out here." She gave me a wait-a-minute sign. She wore nothing on the bottom. When she returned, she was fully dressed. "Load up the dishwasher. I've got to get cleaned up and dressed." By the time the last dish was put away, I heard the door bell ring. Tucking my white shirt into the waist band of my jeans, I answered the door.
"Your hair is still wet, dear. When was the last time you had your hair done?"
Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. "You're looking great, as always." Gesturing to Alex, who stood behind me. "Mom, this is...."
"Alexandria! It's been years since I've seen you. How's your daddy?"
"Fine, Helen." Alex embraced my mother and kissed the air next to her ear.
I stood there dumbfounded with my jaw slightly a ajar. "You two know each other?"
"Of course. Don't you remember the family reunion twenty years ago? Alexandria is your cousin. Several times removed, I believe."
I stared at Alex, trying to remember when I was only nine years old. I vaguely recalled a sandy haired girl riding a pony at a birthday party. Was that Alex? Her hair was much darker now and I knew it was natural, unless she took dyeing her hair way too seriously. Apparently, it darkened as she grew older. My eyes were hazel until I was three, so it could happen. Why didn't Alex say she knew my mother?
I steered Mom to the living room and sat her down on the couch. "Mom, let me fix you some coffee. We've got great gourmet coffee in Vancouver." I said straining to smile.
"The coffee's better in Seattle, dear. But I'll take some anyway. Make mine black with sugar. Lots of sugar." I didn't lose the smile. I'm getting better at humoring her.
While she occupied herself by not so subtly searching under the cushions for signs of poor housekeeping, I grabbed Alex and pulled her into the kitchen. I stretched my neck to look around the corner. Mom was now inspecting the coffee table for dust and cookie crumbs. "Why didn't you tell me you knew my mother?" I whispered angrily to Alex.
"I didn't think it was important," Alex said as if that little detail was truly trivial. I started to turn red. What else does Alex or anyone else think is too unimportant for me to know? "Now, Gwen, calm down. Your mother is here and she likes me. That's all that matters."
"Yes and why is she here?" I asked. "She doesn't usually drop by like this unannounced. Her upbringing wouldn't allow it."
"Well, umm, I invited her over to help with Janice," Alex said with a contrite look upon her face. Now the truth comes out.
"Why would I need 'help' with Janice? All I'm going to do is visit the old girl and get her to reminisce about the past."
"Janice doesn't know you from Adam. Or Eve for that matter." Alex chuckled at her little joke. "Janice was like a favorite aunt to Helen. She can give you two a proper introduction."
"If Mad Dog Covington was so special to Mom, why didn't she mention her when I was growing up? I don't remember anyone talking about any Janice or Mad Dog at all."
"There's a lot you don't know about your family. Now, let's get back to your mother before she starts snooping around the bedroom." She handed me the serving tray with the coffee and sugar.
"Alex, grab a beer out of the fridge for me."
"It's only seven o'clock in the morning. A little to early for a drink, don't you think?" Alex said cautiously.
"If I'm going to be spending the entire day with my mother, a beer is exactly what I need," I said to Alex. She knows me too well; she handed me a shot of Scotch instead.
Part 7: Road Trip
Mom, Alex and I all packed into the car and hit the road. Alex and Mom had caught up the with news about their respective branches of the large Pappas family tree. During a lull in the conversation, I asked Mom a question. "Did Grandma Mel ever mention anything....unusual....in our family history to you?"
"Why do you ask?" A sudden realization came over her. "Don't tell me, Xena or Gabrielle is in your body? Am I right?" Mom said. I'm going to have to build supports under my jaw because this was the second time today Mom has shocked me silly. "Let me guess, you've got Gabrielle and Alex has got Xena. Whatever you do, dear, don't go around telling just anyone that ghosts live with you!"
"Mom, did Xena ever, you know, visit you?" I asked tentatively.
"No, I wish she had. Momma was the only one to have that privilege. Did I ever tell you that Momma and her best friend Janice Covington went back in time to ancient Greece?" She proceeded to tell the story the rest of the way to Seattle. I decided to stop asking any more questions. I just couldn't handle the answers.
Part 8: Janice Speaks
"So this is my daddy's wild oats," said the wizened old woman lying in bed. This was Janice Covington. I barely recognized her after seeing Gabrielle's image of her in my dreamscape. Her once hazel eyes were clouded with cataracts. She could barely see the light much less my face. "What brings you here, little oat?"
"You remember me, Helen Pappas Covington, don't you?" Helen asked. "And this is my daughter, Gwen." She gestured to me at her side.
"Of course, I'm not senile!" Janice exploded. I grew concerned that she'd have a stroke if we upset her any more.
"Well, Helen told me about how you and Melinda went back to ancient Greece and killed a man, Smythe. How do you feel about what you did?" I asked.
"Glad I did it. I had to because that son of a bitch tried to kill me and he would have killed Mel if I hadn't done him in first! He killed my momma. He deserved to die at my hands. 'Sides, where would you be if I hadn't done what I did?"
"I wouldn't be."
"Exactly. You're a smart girl. But why did you come all the way down here to visit an old woman and ask a *stupid* question like that? You know the answer already."
"Yes, I knew the answer, but a mutual friend of ours had to hear it from you."
"My advice to you, little oat, is trust your gut instincts. I don't give a hoot what our 'mutual friend' thinks. Who ever the hell that is." I could sense Gabrielle's growing chagrin. I couldn't help but smirk.
Part 9: Prior Restraint
Mom and Alex slept while I drove us home to Vancouver. Their heads lolled back against their headrests. Mom's mouth fell open and she began to snore. I chuckled at the incongruity of such a refined woman whose snores could rouse the dead. Alex seemed to sleep through all the racket without stirring.
The car behind us followed awfully closely. I could see the driver in my rear view mirror. He wore dark sunglasses, not something normally needed in the perpetually overcast Pacific Northwest. I sped up to put more distance between us. He kept pace. I sped up again, then tapped my brakes to drop a few more hints to back off. He kept pace again. This guy was getting on my nerves. I turned around in my seat to give him the bird when he slammed his car into my rear bumper. The impact threw my head against the head rest, then forward into the steering column. The air bag instantly inflated, cushioning the impact. Alex and Mom were buckled in, but they too were thrown forward from their seats. The guy's car was still pushing mine. I steered it to the side of the road as best I could with the air bag in the way.
Enraged, I jumped out of the car to confront the other driver. Alex was right behind me. I figured that she let Xena take over from here. Good, I needed her. I motioned to Mom to stay in the car. "What the hell do you think you're doing? You could have killed us!" The other driver opened his car door and stepped out. He didn't say anything. It took me a minute to see the gun in his hand. I hoped that Xena saw the weapon too. She's fast, but not faster than a bullet.
He told to us to hand over our money, watches, anything of value. I reached into the car and pulled out my purse. He told me to toss it to him. I threw it at him as hard as I could. As it caught him in the face, his gun went off. It missed me but hit Xena, who was charging up from behind me. I whirled around and saw the blood covering the side of her head. She collapsed to the ground, unmoving. I knelt by her and checked for her pulse. It was weak, but still there. I couldn't tell from all the blood how serious her head wound was. The last thing I remembered was an explosion of pain in the back of my head, then blackness.
Gabrielle's shouting at me again. I can't understand what she's saying. Something about waking up. All I wanted to do is sink back into that warm darkness. She's shouting again. I'm fed up with her disturbing me, so I sit up to tell her to shut up.
"Finally, you're awake. You've got to get out of the dreamscape and back into the real world. The bullet grazed Alex's skull. She's lost plenty of blood but not enough to be life threatening. Xena is staying with Alex to keep her from going into shock. Helen's okay; but she's pretty much paralyzed with fear and she's tied up anyway. She's no help to us at all."
"Where are we?" I was not bound in any way. I guess the highwayman thought I was too helpless to bother.
"We're by the car. The highwayman is going through it for something else to steal. He's got the trunk open."
I left the dreamscape and entered the conscious world. I cracked open my eyes to mere slits so as not to rouse his suspicion. Remaining absolutely still, I scanned my surroundings. As Gabrielle said, the trunk was wide open and I was laid out by the side of the car. The highwayman's head and shoulders were ducked into the trunk. He was rummaging through the junk back there. I jumped up and slammed the hood of the trunk down on his neck. I wanted to hear his spine crack, but I don't think I threw the hood down fast enough.
He crumpled into the trunk, but recovered quickly. I raised the trunk for another slam, but he pulled out, grabbed me by the front of my shirt and slapped my face hard with the butt of his pistol. I tasted blood in the back of my throat. Weakened by the injury to the back of my head, I just barely fended off his attacks. I raised my arms uselessly in front of me. The next blow to the crown of my head drove me to my knees. I felt the flash of pain as another strike broke my nose and blood poured over my lips and chin. I didn't feel the rain of blows that came later.
Part 10: Choices
"The police report said she was pistol whipped. My God, what a mess," the night nurse said. Gwen's face was beaten black and blue and literally broken in several places. Her jaw was fractured and her nose broken one way, then the other. The orbital bone of one eye splintered and sent tiny shards into her frontal lobe. On top of all that was the severe concussion from the blow to the back of her head. The shock of the damage shut down her conscious mind and put her into a coma.
The highwayman, taking what he wanted, left the women by the side of the road. Helen worked herself loose from her binds, dragged Alex and Gwen's unconscious bodies into the car and drove them to the emergency room.
She alternately held Gwen's hand and then Alex's. Alex came out of unconsciousness within the hour. What Helen didn't realize was that it was Xena talking to her. Looking at the damage to Gwen's face, she broke down in tears. "Will she survive?" Xena asked between the sobs.
"The ER doctor says that she's in a deep coma. There's still some brain activity, but even if she comes out of it, she'll have suffered brain damage. No one knows how bad. Reconstructive surgery will fix her face, but her mind...." Helen cried into Xena's shoulder as she lay in her bed. Alex's mind slipped back into unconsciousness again as Xena left her and entered Gwen.
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle, where are you?" Xena shouted into Gwen's darkened dreamscape. The bard appeared in front of Xena. She looked so forlorn, so guilty. "Alex will be okay. The bullet just grazed her head. But Gwen's in serious trouble. The scans say that her brain is still active, but the areas that control her breathing and her heartbeat, are working when they shouldn't be. Is that your doing?"
"Yes, she should not have recovered like she did to the initial concussion. I pushed her back into consciousness to save us."
"Gabrielle, I'm not a healer, certainly not in this day and age. But I don't think she can survive without you here. Look at the dreamscape; it's falling apart."
Xena and Gabrielle looked around them. The portraits were melting away. The desk and drafting table were lying in pieces on the floor and slowly fading. The conscious mind that built the dreamscape was deconstructing, dissolving into random electrical impulses. Only Gabrielle's intervention brought the necessary organization that prevented total collapse.
"Gabrielle, if you stay here, you could be drawn into the same darkness where Gwen is now. She's dying."
"I can't leave her! It's my fault that she's hurt so badly."
"What do you mean? You brought her into consciousness to save us. That was the right thing to do." Xena was confused; she didn't understand what the bard was saying.
"When Gwen attacked the highwayman with the hood of the trunk, she didn't do it with killing force. I made....made....her hold back."
"You did what!? Gods, why? Just to prove your point?" Xena screamed.
"I couldn't let her kill that man. I just couldn't," the bard said softly.
"It wasn't your choice to make! Gwen was defending herself, defending us." Xena's voice broke with grief. "Now *you* have to make a decision. Do you stay and animate her body or do you leave so her soul can be set free?"
Xena couldn't believe Gabrielle. She shook her head in sorrow and anger. She looked at the person who was her best friend and lover. She wasn't sure who she saw any more.
Chapter 11: Decision
Gwen and Alex stood on the balcony of the house overlooking the Burrard Inlet. They had a clear view of downtown, free of the usual haze. Alex turned at the sound of feet clad in high heels climbing up the wooden stairs. The realtor had returned with the closing papers for the house.
"You're very fortunate that the buyer is so desperate for this house. The renovations you made raised its value and yielded you a tidy profit," the realtor said cheerfully, ringing up the commission check in her head.
"That's nice," Alex said, without emotion. The realtor's smile faded as she sensed her client's lack of enthusiasm. Perhaps they're selling because of some personal tragedy, she thought to herself. Being a good business woman, she did not pursue personal matters with her clients. She was just friendly enough to win their confidence and to make a sale.
Alex signed the papers and passed the pen to Gwen. She signed it, though her signature was a bit shaky. "I've been ill," Gwen tells the realtor.
"Of course." Satisfied, the realtor packed away the documents in her portfolio and said, "Be sure to call me when you're ready to move out. I need to do a final walk through before the buyers move in. See ya." She waved goodbye and let herself out.
Alex looked worriedly at Gwen, "Are you, okay? Do you want to lie down?"
"No, no, I'm fine. It feels so strange leaving this place. I mean, it's great that the architectural firm gave me unpaid leave to recover. But I'm not sure moving to Denver is the right thing to do."
"Gabrielle," Alex said, dropping all pretense that Gwen could speak for herself. "It's your idea to take Gwen back to her roots. To try to re-establish the associations she made as a child so she could come back to us. Her roots are in Denver."
Alex stroked Gabrielle's face to draw the tension away. The plastic surgeon did excellent work. The surgery almost completely restored Gwen's normal appearance. Her features identified her clearly as Gwen Covington, but there was an asymmetry that didn't exist before. The nose was slightly askew; but one would have to stare intently at it to really tell. A thin white scar ran from the back of one ear, across the very top of her forehead, just under the hair line, and disappeared behind the other ear. As long as she wore bangs, no one could see that her was face re-built from shattered pieces.
"May be I will take a nap," Gabrielle yawned. Alex led her downstairs to their bedroom. They already disassembled the bed frame, so all they slept on was the mattress on the floor. Alex wrapped a protective arm around Gabrielle as they settled in for an afternoon nap.
Gabrielle entered the dreamscape quickly. Xena followed not far behind. The bard walked over to the gallery and straightened the pictures on the wall. The portraits did not look the same as before. They resembled the works of Dali, not the precise strokes of an architect cum artist. The faces were grotesquely distorted, but recognizable, indicating a slight improvement. Gabrielle managed to halt the mental deterioration and stabilize the dreamscape.
In the physical world, she bent to the relatively easy task of keeping Gwen's body healthy and strong. The more difficult task lay before her in the immaterial world of the mind. Gabrielle still felt the dim spark of consciousness that was Gwen. The portraits and the furniture in the room were the symbols and constructs of Gwen's mind. There were other symbols in other rooms. Gabrielle had to unlock the doors to each one, but she had no keys.
Gabriellle concluded that if she could restore portraits and the other details of the room, the mind that created them would be restored as well. She sorely lacked her host's skill in the graphic arts. She wasn't sure if she could capture the spirit of the original paintings. The relatively short time she knew Gwen made the task even more difficult. Would she be recreating Gwen in her own image, or would the real personality come out on its own? She had so much to learn. So much to do.
She leaned on Xena for support. Gwen was only 29; she could potentially live a long, healthy life as the walking dead. Gabrielle forfeited her own life to become Gwen's caretaker. She set aside her own ambitions and desires to care for her host's needs. She had to do what Gwen feared most: she took over her descendant's life completely. As long as the possibility of Gwen's recovery existed, Gabrielle would gladly pay the price of innocence.