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This story contains a small amount of explicit (but not graphic) heterosexual sex as well as a small amount of mildly explicit violence in keeping with the level of violence on the TV show. It also contains a very small amount of what some may consider coarse language.
Some of the characters and background situations in this story are the legal property of Universal/MCA. Any characters or situations not borrowed from the television show belong to me.
This story was completed in July of 1998.
A TIME FOR US
by Theodore Williams (billted)
Professor David Gold sipped a hot cup of black coffee in the descent room as he waited for the others to arrive. His apprehension about the impending expedition was, as always, balanced by an equal portion of excitement. He had been privileged to go on two others -- the founding of the United States and the rise of Hitler -- but this one would be the furthest he or anyone else had ever gone.
He and Scott had arrived early in order to get changed and to have time to mentally prepare before Dr. Shanty (his new boss, the dean of the Mythology department) and the always bustling technical crew arrived. He had finished dressing sooner than Scott and had left him in the dressing room.
The door opened and Professor Scott Chambers walked in, his outfit now matching Davids -- a mid-length tunic tied about the middle. Scotts short, wavy dark hair, dark eyes, and trim dark beard were in sharp contrast with the white tunic. They also contrasted with Davids shoulder length golden hair and gray eyes. Davids light hair and eyes made him in his tunic almost seem like a solid pillar of white. Both men were rather well built, with David being a bit shorter than Scotts six feet, as well as being a few years younger. Each fancied himself looking rather classical in the ancient Greek garb.
David looked at Scott, extended his bottom lip, raised one eyebrow, and slowly nodded. You wear it well, he said.
I know, replied Scott with a grin.
David laughed a bit and, scrutinizing his own tunic, said, No pockets.
Who needs pockets? replied Scott. Weve got a little money in a pouch, thats all we need. He took a deep breath. Yep, this kind of work separates the men from the boys, as they used to say. No technology except the Lorien pod goes with us. We wont even take a pencil and paper, for crying out loud.
Youre right, agreed David. Just two human beings armed with nothing but their minds, making observations and bringing them back to a waiting world.
They caught each others eye and both snickered at how philosophical they had waxed. David took another sip of coffee.
You, my friend, Scott said, are going to live in ancient Greece for one month. I hope you can do without coffee for that long. He twisted open a bottle of mineral water. Now this stuff, ahhh, I can get this pretty much anywhere and any time. In fact, the further in the past, the better, I imagine. He guzzled liquid from the green bottle.
The ancient Greeks had some form of coffee, didnt they? David asked, seeming a bit worried.
Its our job to find out just what they had and what they didnt have, Scott replied. Welcome to the Mythology department.
This was Davids first expedition for Mythology. He had requested the transfer himself. He had been with the History department ever since he came to the University five years ago. He had certainly relished his work there, especially the expeditions. They were trips into well- documented history, and his job, and that of other travelers, was to scout for nuances that had been left out of the records. (It had proven quite interesting at times, especially on the Hitler expedition. Most of what was known about Hitlers rise was written by the Nazis themselves, who had left out quite a few significant, unflattering details.) But the trips, his and those of others in the department, had begun to take on, for him, an almost predictable quality. He had envied people like Scott, who worked every day with the unknown. The Mythology departments job was to gather data that separated myth from fact, legend from reality. Who could trust the reliability of the ancient writings? With Loriens development of the time pod that bore his name, modern man could find out for himself what really took place in antiquity.
Yeah, this is the place where the real research gets done, isnt it? mused David.
Dont kid yourself, chided Scott. Its all important. What you did with History -- clearing up supposedly documented events -- thats the stuff that has real impact on us here and now in 2085. Everybody knows the ancient scrolls are three quarters bunk, but people accept as fact the more recently recorded history. Exposing the garbage in those writings -- that makes a difference. He took another gulp of mineral water and changed the subject. So hows your ancient Greek?
I think Id call myself fluent at this point, David said. I guess Id better be.
There you go, kidding yourself again, Scott said, not looking at David. You know what the worst part is about learning dead languages? Its that we dont know squat about how real people talked. Weve studied textbook ancient Greek, gathered from all the scrolls weve found. But itll take a little time to pick up conversational Greek, and we can only do that when were back there. He moved as though he might drink again, but changed his mind. Really, that kind of language data is one of the most valuable things we gather when we go back so far.
Did you have that problem on the King Arthur expedition? David asked.
Oh yeah, Scott answered. You cant imagine how different English was a thousand years ago. Professor Baermer and I were a little unprepared. She picked it up a little faster than I did, but I eventually got it. He laughed. We nearly got ourselves killed. Our accents made some people think we were Saxons.
Were supposed to blend into the woodwork, David half-jokingly accused.
We eventually did. Scott paused to see Davids concerned expression. Dont worry, Dave, nothings been changed. Youre still here, arent you?
Yeah, David chuckled, but should I be?
The theoretical discussion was never continued, for both men became aware of the sound of approaching voices down the hall.
Stand tall, young man, Scott said in a pompous voice. Dr. Shanty apprrroacheth!
Along with the techies, David added. I guess this is it.
Looking forward to the T.I.? Scott asked with a smile.
Yeah, I cant wait, David answered with deadpan sarcasm.
Scott referred to the sensation which had been given the deceptively innocuous label of Temporal Inertia. Any traveler would insist that T.I. really stood for Terror Inside. In contrast to the mild sickness felt in an accelerating space shuttle as ones internal organs are left behind a bit, in a Lorien pod, during backward acceleration in time, a traveler actually pre-dates his own internal organs by a few seconds, producing the distinct feeling that he has none. A few daredevil types claimed to enjoy it, but no-one who had ever experienced it believed them.
The door opened. Dr. Shanty walked in first. David, Scott, you both look great! she exclaimed as she eyed their outfits.
Good morning, Denise, said Scott. Thank you. We think so, too.
David chuckled at Scotts quip. Dr. Shantys seriousness about her work yet informal attitude toward personal interaction was a dichotomy that he found endearing.
The dean now turned toward David. Well, are you ready to join the ranks of Mythological Investigators, trekking into the unknown? she asked with a feigned air of mystery in her voice.
As ready as Ill ever be, he answered with a smile.
The technicians began to file in. There were five of them. It took two to carry the pod. A Lorien time pod looked very much like a twentieth century police body bag, about seven feet long, and wide enough for two adults to fit inside. It was manufactured for one trip and the return. The destination was hard-coded into internal circuitry.
While they were setting up, the dean took the time for a last minute briefing. She directed her remarks primarily to Scott. Remember, now, the main things youre going to observe: myths regarding the gods, and the legends of the Great Warrior Woman.
Xena, muttered David.
Youve been doing your homework, Dr. Shanty noted. Yes, as near as we can make out, thats what the scrolls call her. There are conflicts, of course. Some writings depict her as a merciless warlord, others as a heroic champion of the weak. Is it all just stories? Is it two different women? We dont know. Thats your job to find out, if you land in that vicinity.
That was a big if. Landing in ones chosen time was hardly an issue when traveling back one or two hundred years. A traveler could usually land within an hour or two of his destination. However, as the descents had gotten longer, it became clear that the accuracy of the pod decreased as the length of descent increased. When Baermer and Chambers went to investigate the King Arthur legends, they landed twenty years from the time they had anticipated. New calculations had projected the margin of error for the current expedition at two to three hundred years.
Presently, the technicians announced that they were ready for descent. The pod lay open, resting on its stand, which resembled a sofa with its end lifted forty-five degrees off the ground.
I guess this is it, David said flatly, trying to conceal nervousness. He and Scott climbed into the pod and reclined side by side. It was close quarters, but these things were unbelievably expensive to manufacture already. There was no way they would make them larger simply so travelers would have room to stretch.
Above all, remember to just blend in, Dr. Shanty said. She grew more serious. Dont affect anything. You understand how important that is. It becomes even more important the further back you go.
Scotts reply matched her tone. We understand, Denise.
She continued. The pod is designed, as usual, to search for an area of dense forest. Its unlikely that anyone will be around to see you materialise. Her voice relaxed now. Good luck, guys. See you in a month.
A technician zipped the pod shut, hiding the two travelers from view. A loud buzzing noise grew as the equipment was brought to life. The buzz crescendoed as the pod took on a glow, then faded from view, leaving behind a shimmering ghost, which itself soon disappeared.
The dean of Mythology brushed back her bangs and stared at the empty stand for a moment, then watched as the technicians put the equipment into stand-by mode. An abandoned cup of coffee and bottle of mineral water sat on the nearby table. The technology developed fifteen years earlier by one Robert Lorien now sped two University of Chicago faculty members on the longest thrill ride ever.
Ouch! complained Gabrielle as another tree branch scraped against her cheek. She pushed the branch aside only to find that yet another was waiting behind it to accost her forehead. Xena, tell me again why we have to make camp here? I cant help thinking how nice it would be if we actually had room to stand up.
You know how I like my privacy, Gabrielle, Xena answered. Were so close to Theopolis, and with the festival of the gods going on, its crawling with people around here. No-one will bother us in a thick part of the forest like this. She took another look at the bard, ducking to avoid more branches. Dont worry, she said. Theres a small clearing just ahead. Thats where well camp for tonight.
A few minutes later, they reached the clearing. Well, this is more like it, Gabrielle said as she stood straight and stretched out her arms. She looked up at the thick tangle of branches overhead. I guess it would be too much to ask that we could see the sky.
Well just stay here for one night, OK? Xena said.
Thats one night too many. But hey, its alright, Gabrielle said with a hint of but you owe me in her voice. The bard liked her privacy as well, but she preferred open spaces. In very honest moments, she was forced to admit to a touch of claustrophobia.
Xena took their things from Argos back and the two began to clear out a space for sleeping on the foliage-covered ground. Darkness was quickly falling and here, where even the light of the moon had trouble reaching, darkness would be very dark indeed.
They spread a wool blanket on a flat enough piece of ground and readied another to cover with. >The air was quiet and filled with the sweet odor of greenery. It was also a little stifling as far as Gabrielle was concerned, but that mattered less and less as her weariness set in. They were both glad for a chance to sleep. They settled in to the gentle sounds of crickets and various other forms of forest fauna and anticipated drifting off.
There was a slight buzzing noise nearby. Great. A beehive. Thats all we need, remarked Gabrielle.
Just leave them alone and theyll leave you alone, Xena said.
Dont you know thats just a myth? replied the bard.
The buzz grew louder -- louder than a hive a bees should have sounded. Argo made a disturbed noise. Xena sat up and looked in the direction of the buzz. Gabrielle, she said.
What is it? Gabrielle questioned, annoyed and still wishing she could fall asleep. She looked at Xena and saw by the faint, disrupted light of the moon that her eyes were fixed and noticed that her face seemed lit by another source. Her gaze followed Xenas. About fifteen feet away, where the buzzing was coming from, and it was now quite loud, there was a shimmering on the ground -- enough to light up their little clearing a bit. Argo was growing increasingly restless.
The glow and the sound began to fade as a large object began to take shape, which itself carried its own faint glow. As the object became more solid, the two women were as unable to recognise it as they were the formless shining. It seemed to resemble a giant placenta, about seven feet long and four feet wide.
Xena and Gabrielle just stared for a while, but when it began to writhe slightly, they stood and Xenas hand went instinctively to her chakram. Her grip tightened when the placenta began to open and slowly, two figures sat up from the inside. Presently, Xena could see that the figures were two grown men. They spoke softly to each other in a language the women didnt understand, which surprised Xena a bit. She had been exposed to countless languages and was fluent in several but this language sounded like nothing she had ever heard before.
The men stood and Argo made another sound, which seemed to startle them. They noticed the horse, then a split second later, saw the two women. They uttered a few excited syllables. They apparently were not expecting to see anyone, and were clearly not pleased by the turn of events.
The warrior and the bard continued cautiously watching as the two strangers continued to speak nervously to each other in the unknown language. Xena, are you thinking what Im thinking? Gabrielle whispered.
What are you thinking? was Xenas reply.
After a moment, Gabrielle said, I think weve just witnessed the birth of gods.
Thats possible, Xena said thoughtfully. Whatever it was, I get the feeling we werent supposed to see it.
Now Gabrielle noticed that the two men were looking at them, as if wondering how to handle the situation. I dont like this at all, she said, not taking her eyes off the men. She took a quick glance at the chakram with Xenas hand wrapped around it. Sic em, Xena! she said quickly.
Gabrielle, you dont just sic gods, if thats what they are, Xena chided. Especially gods you dont know. Theres a difference between courage and foolishness, and that would be just plain foolish.
Gabrielle sighed. Wheres Joxer when you need him? she lamented.
Lets just try to find out more before we jump to conclusions, Xena said as she relaxed her grip on the chakram. Then she added, but be careful.
Xena began slow, cautious steps toward the men, never taking her eyes off of them. As she walked, she re-hung the chakram on her belt, and extended her hands, palms outward, in front of her. The taller of the two men mirrored the gesture of peace, followed by his companion. Soon, Xena and the taller man were close enough to focus into each others eyes. It seemed that these two meant no harm. Just the same, she kept her arm tensed and her attention focused in case fighting should suddenly become necessary.
Who...are you? she asked, slowly and deliberately, hoping the strangers understood some Greek.
The men looked at each other with confused expressions. Xena assumed they did not understand and was beginning to try and think of a way to communicate with them, when the shorter, sandy- haired one broke the silence.
We...are... he began clumsily.
Are you gods? Gabrielle asked as she started to step forward. Xena shot her an admonishing glance.
Yes, yes, gods, the tall man piped in. That is what...we are. The shorter one looked at him as if surprised.
Xena turned to Gabrielle. I wanted to hear their answer, with no coaching from us, she whispered.
Sorry Xena, but what else could they be? the bard asked, staying focused on the shorter man, whom she now noticed was quite handsome. Arent most gods?, she thought. What are your names? she asked them.
The short one spoke. I am David. He is Scott.
There was a brief silence. David, Xena whispered to Gabrielle. Thats an Israelite name, isnt it?
Yeah, Gabrielle replied. But Israel is into that One God thing. Why would this kind of god have an Israelite name? She paused for a moment. And Ive never heard a name like Scott.
Not only that, Xena continued. Ive never heard of a god so clumsy with Greek before.
She turned her attention back to the men and approached closer, her hands still extended. Scott followed suit, walking slowly forward until the two were close enough to touch. He turned his palms upward and Xena put her hands on top of his, clasping them. He looked into her eyes and smiled disarmingly, and she did the same as she took a step closer.
In an instant, her hands were no longer holding his, but had found just the right spots on his throat. With the sudden smack of flesh against flesh, Scott was on his knees.
Xena was about to direct her comments to Scott, but as David rushed forward to aid him, she decided to address David. She spoke calmly, but rapidly. Ive cut off the flow of blood to your friends brain. Hell die in sixty seconds unless you tell me the truth about who you are.
Alright, alright, I will tell you! David said desperately, speaking as quickly as he could, but still obviously fumbling with the language. We are not gods.
Thats a good start, Xena said, folding her arms.
We are ... travelers, David continued, the pitch of his voice rising. Travelers from your future.
Xenas arms remained folded. She said nothing. Her piercing stare remained fixed on David.
It is true! Please! he begged. He looked toward Gabrielle, who was now standing at Xenas side. Please!
Gabrielle looked into his eyes. There was something there -- something that didnt fit. Sure, his travelers from the future line sounded twice as fishy as the story about being gods. But if he were continuing to deceive, and indeed meant them some kind of harm, he wouldnt be the type to be so honestly desperate about the life of another. And that was what his eyes told her -- that all bets were off if only his friend could live.
She touched Xenas arm and spoke softly. Xena... I dont know what he means, but I dont think hes lying.
Xena cocked an eyebrow. She saw Gabrielles eyes fixed on Davids and wondered if perhaps the passions of youth were clouding the bards judgment. But she also did not wish to kill and, seeing that the men were unarmed, she decided that for the moment, she and Gabrielle could handle any tricks they might attempt.
With a lightning-quick motion, Xena released Scott and he slumped to the ground in relief. Well hear you out ... for now, she said.
After hearing their fantastic story, Gabrielle almost wondered if she had been wrong to plead their case with Xena in the first place. But she knew she wasnt, for she could not escape Davids eyes. They spoke not of innocence, for innocence is involuntary. Rather, they spoke of chosen honesty.
Neither could David escape her eyes, and of this he was frightened. Not only were they excruciatingly beautiful, but they seemed to be a window to a soul so deep in its integrity, he could barely fathom it. He wondered how much he should trust his own trust in her. He knew he would tell this young woman truth -- even truth she should not hear -- with little thought to the consequences.
So youre telling us that neither of you is actually to be born for another three thousand years? Gabrielle asked, her mind reeling with the concept.
That is right, David answered.
So then, everything that will happen, a thousand, two thousand years from now, has already happened?
Not exactly. It has happened for us, it has not for you.
This all sounds like a lot of double-talk, Xena said suspiciously. But if its true, it would explain how you just materialised out of nowhere.
We are sorry about that, Scott said sadly. You were not supposed to observe our appearance.
That was an accident. And you are correct. There is no reason you should understand or believe these things. After a pause he said, But whether you believe them or not, it is most important that you tell no-one. We beg you.
Xena looked at Scott for a long moment. Throughout her life, she had had to develop sharp skills of character judgment, though she was often in the habit of first assuming the worst. It was usually safer that way. But now she could see why Gabrielle had intervened before. Both men had the look of persons with nothing to hide -- a look of well-worn sincerity.
Why is it so important that we keep it a secret? she asked.
Its important that we leave things as they are, Scott said, beginning to feel more comfortable with the language. We wouldnt have told you who we were, except that you saw us arrive, and, well, you threatened our lives.
Sorry about that, said Xena, eyes shifting, but I didnt have much choice. I dont know what its like in your time, but here and now, you have to watch your back all the time.
Scott said, I understand. Im sorry I said we were gods. We didnt expect to see anyone right away and it was the only thing I could think of.
Xena looked at her companion. Yeah, thanks to Gabrielle, she said. The bard looked annoyed at the mention of her faux pax.
Gabrielle. Thats a beautiful name, said David. She smiled and looked nervously toward her feet. David turned to the warrior. I do not... dont, he corrected himself, I dont believe weve had the pleasure.
Im Xena, she said.
Upon hearing her name, the two mens eyes widened and they looked at each other incredulously.
When they looked back at Xena, there was a healthy dose of fear in their stare.
Youre Xena? Scott said.
The same Xena called The Great Warrior Woman? David chimed in.
Ive been called a lot of things, Xena said. Now it was she who was incredulous. Youve heard of me? Three thousand years from now?
Um... sketchy tales, Scott answered. What remains of ancient writings. Both he and David were tense now, shifting as they sat.
Gabrielle looked at them for a moment. She could tell that something had changed. Whats the matter with you two? she finally asked.
Well, David began, then looked at Xena, some of the stories depict you as... well... rather...
Ruthless, Scott interjected. Angry, even murderous. They both now looked as if they were ready at any moment to fight, or run, for their lives.
Xena and Gabrielle smiled at each other and at the inside joke. Xenas smile contained a hint of regret and Gabrielles an equal portion of compassion. The two then turned toward the men. Dont worry, Xena said. Those stories are part of my past.
Havent you read anything about her mighty good deeds? Gabrielle asked.
Yes, David said, calmer now, but we hardly could know which to believe.
Believe those, she said. Those stories are the real Xena. She looked at the warrior with admiration. Xena stared into the darkness, trying to deny a determined tear its right to exist.
Scott was watching her, then instinctively realised she would rather he didnt. You two were about to get some sleep when we ... interrupted, he said. David and I had better get going and find a place to wait the night out.
Xena woke from her reverie. Wait, she said, and the two men obeyed. Its not safe to wander around out here in the middle of the night, especially if you dont know where youre going. Youd better stay here.
David and Scott looked at each other. Thats very kind of you, Scott said. Well just sleep right over here. They staked out a spot about ten feet away from the women.
Yes, you will, Xena replied, somewhat sternly. David and Gabrielle caught each others eye inadvertently and smiled.
They all reclined, each on his or her own piece of the earth. The air was perfect -- no coverings were required. Four travelers, each from a different place and time, some not completely sure whether they should trust each other, all tired of distrust, closed their eyes and succumbed to the touch of Morpheus.
David woke with a terrible start to the smell of pan bread cooking. He quickly looked around, as if in fear, then tentatively relaxed, having remembered where he was.
Whats the matter? Gabrielle asked as she tended to the frying dough. Having a bad dream?
I ... I dreamed that ... he faltered, still coming to terms with the fact that it had been a dream. I dreamed I went back to my own time ... and everything was all different. The world was this horribly dark place. And ... I found out that everyone was under the power of some ruthless world dictator. And then I saw the dictator. And ...
Let me guess, she said wearily. It was Xena.
No, David replied. The face was ... my own face. I mean, he looked just like me.
He watched as Gabrielle skillfully kneaded more dough for the pan. Breakfast, he now noticed, smelled wonderful. The scent was quickly removing the chill from his spine that the dream had caused. In times not long before mine, he mused, one of the most valuable traits in a woman was considered to be her cooking ability. Men always talked about wanting to marry a good cook.
Its not much different now, Gabrielle replied. Is it different in your time?
David thought for a moment, then laughed, Not really. Its just that nobody says it out loud. Gabrielle laughed too, and the sparkle in her emerald eyes made him forget his fears, dream- induced or otherwise. There was enough light squeezing its way through the trees to show him that her beauty, as he had noticed it the night before, was little more than a shadow of the true picture.
What other reasons do people get married in your time? she asked.
Well, he answered, just like any time, probably -- sometimes they see something in each other that they just cant define. But its so wonderful that they never want to take their eyes off each other.
Hmm, answered Gabrielle absently. A few seconds of silence later, she looked up from the dough to notice that David had been staring at her, smiling. Cut it out, she laughed, then looked away, though she could scarcely conceal the attraction she felt toward him. Is there more to your name than David? she asked.
My name is David Gold, he said.
It fits, she thought as she noticed his golden hair shining in the sparse sunlight. Now it was she who found herself staring.
Xena sat up suddenly, startling Gabrielle from her reverie. Am I the only one around here who wakes up calmly? Gabrielle asked indignantly.
Sorry, Xena said. Im not used to waking up to the sound of voices lately -- unless Im being attacked.
Its alright, the bard waved her off. Breakfast is almost ready.
Wed better wake Scott, remarked Xena.
No need, came the voice of a man stretching. Im here. Scott rubbed his eyes. He stopped in his tracks when he caught sight of the warrior, who was standing now. She was statuesque, and even having just awakened, breathtaking. The contrast between her dark flowing tresses, alabaster skin, and deep azure eyes was one that he found difficult to look away from. But there was more than that. In those eyes was a melding of strength and softness such as he had never seen before, or even imagined could exist.
Paint a portrait, she said. It lasts longer.
But its not nearly as ... he began, but stopped short. It was difficult to resist commenting on her beauty, but he wasnt sure she was the type who would appreciate flirtatious small talk. He suddenly felt self-conscious. To his relief, Gabrielle announced that it was time to eat.
Though the pan bread was a staple for the warrior and the bard, the ersatz gods could not remember ever tasting anything so good. They eagerly devoured more than their share.
After breakfast, as the four were cooperating in clean-up efforts, Gabrielle brought up the festival of the gods in nearby Theopolis. I love those festivals, she said to David. There are a million things going on at once. Its so much fun.
Scott overheard and piped up, That does sound like fun. Then to David, Theres probably an awful lot of valuable information there, too. About the culture, I mean.
Yes, Im sure there is, said David. Can I talk to you a minute, Scott? Scott looked a little bewildered as David took him aside. Listen, dont you have to check over the pod or something? Id really like to spend some time with Gabrielle.
What are you talking about? asked Scott nervously. You cant get ... involved with her.
Youre in danger of becoming a part of history!
I know, I know! David whispered. Ill watch myself. But I just ... need to spend time with her. Have you ever felt like that about anyone?
Sure I have, but ... Scott began.
Well, I havent, finished David, until now. Trust me on this, Scott. Look, Ill be sure to get all the information I can from the festival, OK?
Your mind will be on the festival? Scott asked cynically.
Im a historian, just like you, David answered almost angrily. I can do my job. Its just that I cant pass up a chance to ... I dont even know. I just know I want to be with her -- to know her.
Alright, Scott sighed. But do you actually expect me to be able to stop Xena from going?
You may not have to, David said, looking in the direction of the two women and eavesdropping on their conversation as he began to make his way toward the far end of the clearing.
Dont you have to groom Argo or something? Gabrielle was saying. Come on, Xena. Youre not that crazy about these festivals anyway.
Thats not the point, argued Xena.
Then what is the point? asked Gabrielle, her fists on her hips.
The warrior princess hesitated. Never mind, she said, turning away. You go ahead.
Xena, Gabrielle pleaded, dropping her confronting stance, aware that her friend was hurt.
You wanted me to stay, Im staying, Xena said, with little emotion. Then she added, Ill still be here when you get back.
The bard looked at her for a moment, then slowly turned away, moving toward David. As she and David headed in the direction of the shore, she took one more look back, then was gone.
Kids, said Scott with dismay.
What? Xena said, suddenly remembering that she was not alone.
Those two, Scott replied. I guess some things dont change no matter how many centuries go by.
Uh huh, Xena grunted. The ironies of history held little interest for her at the moment. So do you have to do something with that ... machine thing of yours?
I suppose I should check the tether generator, he said. Then in response to her questioning squint, Come on, Ill try to explain how it works.
Xena shrugged and began to approach the pod. She supposed it would do her good to have something to occupy her mind right now. As she walked, she could feel Scotts gaze upon her and it made her uncomfortable.
Theres not much to see, visually speaking, Scott said, then quickly glancing at the warriors long legs, about the pod, I mean.
Xena rolled her eyes.
Theres all kinds of stuff to make it work tucked inside the walls, Scott continued. But one of the most important parts is this, he said as he pushed open the pod to reveal a small silver box.
The man who invented this machine discovered that each of us is held to our own time by a kind of invisible string. He called it a tether because he found out it had some slack in it.
What does that mean? Xena asked.
It means we can go into the past and keep the tether attached. But we need this to do it, he said, pointing to the box. It keeps us attached to our time. Just a little, we can actually feel it holding us ... right about here. He pointed to near his navel. If it gets turned off, the tether to our own time will be broken, and this time, here and now, will grab us. The natural tether to this time is stronger than our artificial one and it cant be broken. Wed never be able to re-attach to our own time. Wed be here to stay for the rest of our lives.
How does it get turned off? the warrior questioned.
This pad here, Scott explained, senses certain peoples fingerprints and responds to them. Even I or David cant turn it off.
Xena thought for a moment, then wondered, If it got turned off, why couldnt you just go to your own time, then break the tether to this time?
Youre picking this up quite well, Scott observed, raising his eyebrows. The simple answer to that is that tethers cant extend forward. Nothing can go into its own future. So once we got stuck here, we could never go back. This would be our home. He paused for a moment, looking at the pod. So you couldnt, say, come back with me -- which is too bad.
Xena didnt ask why it was too bad, but Scott seemed to pretend she did.
Because its pretty cramped in there, he said, then turned to look at her. It would be a lot more pleasant ride with you than with David, he grinned.
Scott, listen, Xena said with a soft but serious expression, you seem to be ... I just need you to understand that Im not interested, OK?
Scott was only slightly stunned by her bluntness. OK, he said, trying to hide his disappointment.
After a few seconds, Xena said, Why dont we go and gather some more wood for a fire tonight.
Sounds good, said Scott, and began to follow after her.
She stopped for a moment. And Scott, she said in a warning tone, and when his eyes acknowledged her, I wont tell you nicely again.
He smiled and bowed his head slightly. All at once, he realised that he had never in his life respected anyone as much as he did this enigmatic warrior.
Xena, he began, Im kind of glad that you and Gabrielle saw us arrive. Its good to have someone in this time we can talk to directly. It makes it easier to get information. He paused. And ...
And what? Xena asked suspiciously.
He looked straight at her. Its good to have a friend here, he said.
The warriors brow relaxed and a slight smile crossed her lips. Come on, lets go, she said, and the two disappeared into the woods.
Near the pod, there was a rustling of branches and a sleek figure emerged into the clearing, tossing back a lush mop of platinum blonde hair. How neat! she cooed. So the WPs got herself visitors from the future. The goddess of love eagerly inspected the pod. And the tall ones such a good teacher.
The sun shone from high in a cloudless sky as Gabrielle and David continued their trek to Theopolis. With every step, their feet sank into the white sand of the beach, making their legs ache.
Maybe we should walk closer to the water, David suggested. The sand will be firmer there.
Good idea, agreed Gabrielle. Why didnt you think of it earlier?
Im not the only one with a brain here, he teased. Or is being a sidekick the only thing youre cut out for?
Ill have you know Im a bard, she countered with a laugh. A writer and storyteller. I can have everyone in a tavern on the edge of their seats like that, she said with a snap of her fingers.
Really, he said, and now the teasing left his voice. What kinds of things do you write about?
Oh, anything thats interesting, she replied. Like, I write about different peoples heroic exploits, especially Xenas. Or I write stories about the gods. Those are interesting to a lot of people. The gods can be pretty colourful.
You talk as if you actually believe the gods exist, said David.
Gabrielle gave him a puzzled look. What do you mean? Of course they exist. Look at the world around you. Look at the sky. Look at the beautiful sun Zeus made to shine on us today.
But have you actually seen the gods? David asked. Or have you just heard and told stories of them?
We wouldnt mind seeing a little less of them, as a matter of fact, she said. Most of them are pretty petty, concerned only about their own interests. Except for Hercules. Now theres an example of what a god should be. Of course, hes only half god.
David stopped walking. Wait a minute, he said. You mean to tell me youve actually seen Hercules? You know him personally?
Well, I dont know him all that well, the bard answered. But, Xena, now thats another story. From what Ive heard, she knows him extremely well. She added with a casual smile, Apparently, he unchained her heart.
Are you sure about these gods? he asked as he began to walk again. I mean, could they be magicians or something fooling everybody?
Not from what Ive seen, Gabrielle said. Everybody knows of the gods. Why are you asking things like this? Are you telling me youve never encountered them?
Gabrielle, David said, trying to choose his words carefully, knowing this was one of those moments when he was going to tell her more than he should. Where I come from, no-ones ever seen the gods of Olympus. And if anyone said they did, theyd be dismissed as a crackpot. Our society has for centuries assumed that they never existed -- that they were just made-up stories.
It sounds like a terribly repressive, dark time, Gabrielle said sympathetically. Of course, maybe its just as well. The fear of the gods is no picnic. Theyre always sticking their noses in where they dont belong, and theres nothing we can do about it.
David was silent, incredulous -- then suspicious. It occurred to him that perhaps he was getting carried away. Maybe she was the most wonderful woman he had ever met, but she was still a part of this time -- and though she may be quite intelligent, she was still subject to some of the same ignorant notions as anyone else here. He would have to check out the business about these gods.
Well, there are a lot of people who believe they did exist, he went on, but that they werent actually gods -- they were ... visitors.
Visitors? What do you mean? the bard asked.
Visitors, like me. Only not necessarily from the future. Maybe from another world.
I still dont follow you, said Gabrielle.
Another world, repeated David. Like this one. Only far, far out in the sky where you cant even see it. They would have come here in ships that could sail tremendous distances across the sky. Like Scott and I, they would have machines and things that you wouldnt understand and so, if they wanted to, they could easily make you believe that theyre gods.
Like you tried to do? Gabrielle said with a crooked smile.
We were just trying to maintain a disguise. But others might have different reasons. So they could make you do what they want you to. So they could have you as toys to play with. Now David became aware of just how many beans he was spilling. In his minds eye, he saw Gabrielle leading a revolt against the gods, armed with this new knowledge. Gabrielle, he said, please remember that its very important you dont tell anyone about me and Scott, or about the things we tell you.
I know, youve said that before, she said. Why? Why is it such a big deal?
Because were just supposed to be finding out things, he answered. Were not supposed to change anything. That would mess everything up. If different things happen because I was here, that can cause a cascade effect. The differences three thousand years from now could be unimaginable.
Your dream, she said. You dreamed of a scary, dark world that was completely different from your home. Youre afraid youll cause change, and it will be bad.
I guess so, he answered thoughtfully. Time seems so fragile. Sometimes I wonder if we should be doing this at all.
Nonsense, argued Gabrielle. If youd never come here, youd never have met me. And youd be much worse off for it, she said as she playfully poked him in the chest.
Davids face relaxed into a smile. Ill go along with that, he said, and the two continued on toward Theopolis, which was now only about a half mile away.
That ought to build a good fire, Scott said as he set down his pile of wood on top of Xenas. He slapped his hands together a few times to get the bits of bark off. Nice, dry wood.
Weve got to be careful not to let the fire get too big, said Xena. If it gets out of control, we could have a forest fire on our hands.
Only you can prevent them, Scott said offhandedly.
What do you mean by that? Xena asked.
Oh, oh, nothing, Scott stammered. Just an expression Ive heard. Whats for dinner?
Gabrielle usually handles that, the warrior answered, then added with mock bitterness, but we cant ask her. Shes busy.
Scott glanced at her sideways and smiled sympathetically. Youre pretty used to having her around, arent you?
Shes very special, Xena sighed. But obviously, Im not the only one who thinks so.
Shell be OK with Dave, Scott tried to assure her. Hes a caring, down to earth guy.
The warrior looked off into the distance. Beautiful, she muttered to herself. Scott looked at her, puzzled.
All at once, the relative silence was shattered by the sound of a thunderclap that seemed for all the world to have occurred just a few feet away. What the ... thats strange, Scott remarked. Theres not a cloud in the ...
He stopped upon seeing Xenas determined stare. He followed the direction of her gaze and saw a man standing at the edge of the clearing dressed in a worn leather shirt with no sleeves. About his waist was a girth of armour. He was not an extremely large man, but Scott had never seen anyone quite so solidly built. He exuded a somewhat frightening air of arrogance and power.
Hello, Ares, Xena said with a slight sneer. What are you doing here?
Why, Xena, replied the god with mock congeniality. I would think youd be happy to see me. You and I have meant so much to each other in the past.
Xena silently folded her arms.
Ah, Xena, said Ares as he walked closer. Your arms say no no, but your eyes ... he leaned in to look more closely at her face. Well, your eyes say no no, too. But I know theres yes yes somewhere in that warriors heart of yours.
Xena, whats going on? Scott finally asked. His instinct was to try and protect her from whoever this was, though he knew that would not be necessary, let alone possible.
Nothing, Scott, the warrior replied, never turning her gaze from Ares. I can handle this.
I see you have company, Ares said, noticing Scott for the first time. Maybe I should go and come back another time.
Hes just a friend, Xena said. But maybe you should go and not come back another time.
Ares now turned to Scott. Allow me to introduce myself, he said with a nonchalance that seemed somehow threatening. Im Ares, god of war.
Ill ask you again, Ares, Xena said, not waiting for a reply from Scott. What are you doing here?
The god of war turned back toward the warrior. Opportunities, Xena, he said, stepping still closer to her. New opportunities left and right for you and I to join forces once again. And Im thinking of it especially now. The festival of the gods is a great time for new beginnings, dont you think? Leaving behind the mistakes of the past, moving on into the future.
Ive been trying to do that for a long time, Xena said. Trying to live down the reputation I gained while I was working with you.
Youve got it backwards, said Ares. Leaving my side was the mistake. That miserable half- breed excuse for a god poisoned your mind. Listening to Hercules, that was where you went wrong. But you can leave that behind you now and join me. Im forgiving, Ill take you back. He reached out and gently caressed her shoulders. We were an unstoppable team, Xena.
Xena looked at her shoulder, her eyes following Ares strong hand as it slowly traced the curve. Her face slowly turned to meet his piercing gaze. Gods hes handsome, she thought, but she stopped herself before her eyes gave away the maybes that flashed, if only for a moment, through her thoughts.
Sorry, Ares, she said flatly. You may never change, but I have.
Of course, Ares sarcastically droned. You work to help people now. You prevent wars instead of starting them. Youve been far too influenced by that blonde bubblehead you pal around with.
He took his hands from her shoulders and she felt a slight sense of loss -- a feeling which she could scarcely even admit to herself.
By the way, Ares continued, where is the little trollop? I just noticed how quiet its been since I got here.
Its really none of your business where Gabrielle is, Xena said. Maybe she just disappeared. And now she glared pointedly at him. Maybe you should, too.
Ares folded his arms. Maybe Ill go find her, he said. Maybe I can persuade her to talk some sense into you. And with that, the god of war silently disappeared in a brilliant flash of light.
Xena raised an eyebrow and slowly turned in the direction of Argo. As she passed a motionless Scott, she stopped and, lifting a finger to his chin, gently shut his slackened jaw. Flies will get in, she said, and continued on, more intently now, toward the mare
A small crowd of onlookers backed away with fascinated caution as flames shot from the mouth of the fire eater. Just call me the god of fire! he declared to laughter and applause.
A short distance away, Gabrielle said to David, Ive seen Xena use that trick a dozen times. The two turned and walked in another direction. In fact, she kind of over-uses it, she mused. Just a little.
The bard looked around in delight, seeing that this day had everything she loved about festivals, and more. It was not surprising. Various towns had various feasts and parties honouring individual gods, but little rivaled the Theopolis Festival of the Gods, an all-in-one celebration of the love-hate relationship between mortals and the residents of Mount Olympus. The streets were filled with jugglers, merchants, magicians, daredevils of every kind ... and storytellers. Gabrielle usually managed to, if only for a time, become a part of the hubbub herself. She would often find a tavern which was, for the moment, quiet, and would have no difficulty in gathering patrons around her and engrossing them in some tale of adventure or other. Perhaps today she would too, for she longed for David to see her in action. Maybe later, she thought. For now, it was time to simply enjoy the festivities, and her company.
Whats with that guy over there? David asked, pointing to a man dressed in blue from head to foot.
Gabrielle began, Hes dressed as Poseidon, god of ...
The sea, David finished, his eyes still fixed on the costumed man.
I guess youve heard of him, said Gabrielle. Hes one of the more petty, mean-spirited gods. The two walked closer. Look, hes selling little replicas of Poseidon. At a tidy profit, no doubt.
I wouldnt mind getting something to eat, David said, suddenly noticing that, thanks to the long walk, the satisfying effect of the pan bread had finally worn off.
You should have no trouble finding something, Gabrielle replied. I dont suppose you brought any dinars with you.
David pulled a few coins from his pouch and showed them to her. Are you talking about these? he asked.
You did bring money, she said. Thats strange. I mean that money hasnt changed in all that time.
Actually, it certainly has, replied David. We didnt really bring much. We werent supposed to be wealthy. We just needed enough to buy food and maybe shelter. Ancient money like this is far too valuable in my time to allow Scott and I to take a big pile of it.
Well, youll easily be able to fill your stomach here, Gabrielle said, waving her hand about her.
You might even find something thats almost as good as my cooking.
David smiled broadly. He was having the time of his life, and it wasnt because of the entertainment or the plethora of culinary delights or the grand opportunities for cultural research. He appreciated all those things, of course, but the real pleasure was in being with Gabrielle. He surmised that having her by his side would make even a season in Hades domain seem like a stroll through paradise.
Their process of deciding just how to begin their midday meal was cut short by a flash of light behind them, which was strangely noticeable even in the bright sunlight, accompanied by the brief, but intense sound of a rushing wind. They, along with the rest of the nearby crowd, turned to see an imposing, leather-clad figure standing in an open area, surrounded by an entourage of rag-tag warriors.
Ares, breathed Gabrielle.
So hes dressed as the god of war, muttered David. What other gods do people ...
Gabrielle cut him off. No, David. That is Ares, she whispered. The gods do occasionally visit these festivals, but not very often. Whats he doing here?
What? said David in a normal voice which, he noticed, was quite audible over the hush of the crowd. Gabrielle gestured to him to lower his voice and he continued in a whisper. You mean to tell me this is actually one of your gods?
Yes, she answered. Thats Ares -- god of war.
David looked at Ares for a moment. Youre sure of this? Youve seen him before?
Yes, of course Ive ... she began, but stopped when she noticed that Ares was looking in her direction.
The god, his cronies behind him and his eyes fixed on Gabrielle, began to walk toward them slowly. David suddenly found himself consumed with the excitement of discovery, that superseded any fear that might have threatened to paralyze him. He slowly strode out to meet Ares, staring with both amazement and suspicion.
David! What are you doing? Gabrielle whispered loudly while taking his arm in an effort to stop him.
Dont worry, Gabrielle, he said. I just want to talk to him.
Giving him a confused look, the bard let go of his arm, and he continued walking.
When David and Ares came to within a few feet of each other, Ares suddenly noticed that something was blocking his path to Gabrielle. He looked down into the eyes of the time traveler.
Who are you? Ares demanded, disdain and annoyance written all over his face.
The question is, who are you? David said as he curiously looked the war god over.
I think you should get out of my way, Ares said, while I still consider you trivial enough to allow you to live.
Ares, god of war, David said with a slight smile. Or would you prefer that I call you ...Mars?
Ares paused for a moment, curiosity now replacing annoyance in his eyes. Youre obviously a well-traveled man, he finally said.
Gabrielle, who was within earshot, quickly strode forward. You have no idea, she said with a mischievous smile. David gave her a warning look, but his eyes betrayed the fact that he was pleased by her admiration.
Ares attention now turned back to the bard. I dont have time for this, he said. Ive come here for one reason. He nodded to his henchmen, and before she had time to raise her staff in defense, they had closed in around Gabrielle, taken her by both arms, and taken the staff.
What are you doing? she demanded, struggling for her freedom.
I just wanted your attention, Ares answered, walking slowly toward her. I want you to convince Xena of where her true destiny lies. In other words, to undo all the damage youve done.
Xena is on the path of her destiny, Gabrielle replied. The path of redemption, of using her strength to help people.
Now, see? said Ares, gesturing toward her with exasperation. Youve been feeding her just that kind of garbage for way too long now. Mr. goody-god Hercules started all this, and you just keep the ball rolling.
I wont tell Xena she should join you, Ares, retorted Gabrielle. Shed never believe I really meant it anyway.
Yeah, yeah, Ares droned, making the shape of an opening and closing beak with his hand. I knew youd say something like that. Although, I am surprised you said it in so few words.
Anyway, maybe just the fact that I have you will be good enough to convince her.
She wont join you, Gabrielle said with a bitter laugh, shell hate you.
There are a lot of different roads to Xenas destiny with me, Ares replied. If I can help her experience true hatred again, thats as much of a good start as anything.
David, seeing the captivity of Gabrielle, had been filling with a hatred of his own, and chose that moment to attempt to lunge at Ares. Two of the warriors, who were not occupied with Gabrielle, wrestled him to the ground with a thud.
Ares, distracted by the noise, turned in the direction of the men and breathed an exasperated sigh. Whats going on? he demanded.
He tried to come at you, Lord Ares, one of the warriors answered.
And you think I need you to protect me? Ares asked rhetorically. He looked at David for a moment. Stand up, he finally said.
David stood and brushed himself off, never taking steely eyes off of Ares.
It takes both guts and stupidity to try to tackle the god of war, observed Ares. Its very sweet and all that you wanted to protect your girlfriend. Im sure shes touched. But as I said before, Ive got business to take care of, and my patience with you is running out very, very quickly.
David took a step closer to the god, staring intently into his eyes. He was still slightly out of breath. I know what you are, Ares, he said softly, but with conviction. I know what you all are.
Ares raised an eyebrow, then narrowed his gaze. He looked directly at David for a long moment.
Then he said in a very low voice, Let her go.
The warriors holding Gabrielle looked at each other with confused expressions. My lord? one of them said.
Ares looked quickly in their direction. I said, let her go! he commanded.
The henchmen complied. Gabrielle shook and flexed her arms. Thats better, she said, though she had to admit to some confusion herself.
Ares pointed at David and after a pause, said, Kill him instead.
David started to run in Gabrielles direction, hoping that the two of them would be able to escape. But one of the goons stuck out a foot and tripped him, causing him to fall into the arms of one of the others. The warriors were excited now. They had hoped theyd be able to kill someone. Their excitement was spreading and the hush of the crowd was rapidly evolving into a roar.
Gabrielle took advantage of the confusion to retrieve her staff from its captor. She hit him in the knees from the front, ensuring that he would be unable to join the fray for quite some time. The one that held David, she hit in the spine, causing him to let go, then directly over the head, causing him not to take hold again.
David, now free, whirled on the one who had tripped him and punched him squarely in the jaw.
It was a well-landed punch, but unfortunately, had little effect on the seasoned warrior. The warrior seized David by the throat with his left hand and drew a sword with his right. Gabrielle was continuing to hold her own with the others, but was far too busy in that pursuit to help David. The warrior raised the sword high and prepared to bring it down upon Davids neck.
The warrior felt a sudden jolt upon the sword, after which it felt much lighter. When he examined it, only the merest stub of a blade remained. He looked around for an answer. His confusion ended as he saw the chakram returning to Xenas hand. The milieu again grew silent.
He knew her well, as did all but the greenest of warriors. They had all either worked with or against her at one time or another. Xena! he called out with a confident laugh. How do you catch that thing without cutting those lovely hands to ribbons?
Its all in the wrist, she shouted back. Here, try it! She hurled the deadly circle in his direction. A look of panic materialised on his face as he frantically ducked. He could swear it plucked one of his hairs as it whizzed by. It ricocheted off two trees, after which it headed back in Xenas direction and was adeptly intercepted by the hand of Ares.
Xena raised an eyebrow. I figured Id find you here, she said to the war god.
Please dont play with my men, Xena, he said to her. Unless, of course, you want to join them. Then you can play with them all you want.
You leave my friends alone and Ill leave yours alone, she calmly replied.
Ares paused for a moment. Youre a very lucky woman, he said, throwing the chakram back with blinding speed toward Xena, who caught it with a sneer and a flick of her wrist. Putting his hand to his chest, he continued, There arent many for whom the god of war has a soft spot. But hear me, Xena. Id watch out for that guy if I were you. He pointed toward David. Hes way too big for his britches. And I hope you know hes got his eye on Blondie. He approached the warrior princess and gently touched her face. Id hate to see you lose everything.
Dont you have an argument to start someplace? Xena said, using contempt to hide from herself feelings she knew were better suppressed.
Ares glared at her, and without flinching, stepped back, and silently disappeared in a flash of light.
Xena looked around at the warriors who were now temporarily without a purpose. They all looked at her, fearing what she might do next. Boo! she blurted out, and they all scattered with lightning speed. She smiled cynically. The crowd, though fascinated by the events, were fickle, and soon returned to their previous level of milling about.
David walked up to Xena. Thank you. You...uh...saved my life.
Come on, lets go, was her reply, as she mounted Argo. She looked around from atop the horse. I just got here and Im tired of it already.
David then noticed Scott standing a few paces away, staring catatonically at nothing in particular. Even David could see the irony as he, who had just had a brush with death, walked up to Scott and asked Are you OK?
Scott continued looking into the distance as he answered. I said, Can I come along? She said, OK, hop on, but itll be a rough ride. We must have done a hundred miles an hour. He turned to look wide-eyed at David. On a horse!
Lets go, old man, David chuckled. Youll be alright. Scott stumbled a bit as he began to walk, but it wasnt long before he and the others were on the road, headed for camp.
Argo carried Xena as she led the band of four from the rear. Gabrielle kept pace near Argos nose and the time travelers walked in front, under Xenas watchful eye.
So ... the gods, began Scott, speaking softly to David.
Seems that theyre ... uh ... real, continued David.
Yeah, Scott conceded. I dont think either of us expected that.
It makes you think, you know, David said. Like weve been looking at ancient writings all wrong. Anything we run across that we dont understand, we dismiss as fiction. We try to make everything fit our view of the world.
Yeah, said Scott, I guess thats pretty arrogant, alright.
There was a pause. Then David said, So, are you thinking ... aliens?
What else? Scott answered. We have to gather more data, but offhand Id say that this is going to blow everybody away. A lot of books are going straight down the tubes.
I know some books that will be making a comeback, David said.
The two men looked at each other. Von Daniken, they said simultaneously, and they both laughed.
At that moment, Gabrielle caught up with them and walked alongside David. You were great back there, she said to him. Scott instinctively knew it was time for him to fall back and walk with Xena.
What are you talking about? David answered Gabrielle. You, with this thing, he said as he fingered the staff. Remind me never to get on your bad side.
Gabrielle laughed and looked at the ground.
Xenas not the only one who saved my life today, David continued. About all I did was get myself in trouble and punch a guy, which hurt my hand more than his face.
But the way you stood up to Ares, said the bard. That was amazing.
Id just as soon not too much is made of that, David said, looking concerned.
Why? asked Gabrielle.
I dont want to get to be some kind of hero, he answered. Im supposed to blend in. He turned to look at her. Not be significant, remember?
Too late, she said with a smile.
What do you mean, too late? David asked.
Youre already significant to me, answered the bard.
David smiled at her crookedly with narrowed eyes. He reached out and took her hand, and the two walked on, slightly less aware of their surroundings than before.
A few paces behind, Scott and Xena looked at each other. Scott rolled his eyes and made a mock gesture of sticking his finger down his throat. Xena smiled for a moment, then returned to gazing with melancholy eyes at the couple walking hand in hand.
Okay, I want you to tell me what you think of this, Gabrielle challenged David and Scott, after a dinner of freshly caught fish. Scott and Xena had caught several whitefish earlier that afternoon and Gabrielle had easily converted the pile of sea life into a delicious meal. Xena had mused to herself that though Scott was no warrior, and his horsemanship left something to be desired, he showed a good deal of promise as a fisherman.
What is it? asked Scott.
Its a kind of after-dinner drink, answered the bard/cook. Ill show you. We take beans like this and grind them up between two flat rocks. Then we take the ground up beans and soak them in hot water for a while. She poured some hot, dark liquid from a kettle. Then, we drink the water, she continued. We dont have it that often. The beans are on the expensive side.
As the aroma began wafting toward David, he stared in wide-eyed disbelief. Gabrielle handed him a cup of the brew. Coffee, he whispered reverently as he took the cup and raised it to his face, breathing deeply.
Scott chuckled softly as he watched his friend savour the miracle. Xena handed Scott an empty cup and motioned toward the kettle. Thank you. I believe I will, he replied to her silent offer as he reached to pour himself some.
Is it ... OK? Gabrielle asked David after his first sip. David put down the cup, took the bards face in his hands, and kissed her squarely and firmly on the cheek. Ill take that as a yes, she said, smiling warmly.
Scott took a sip and looked at Xena. Dont even think about it, she said with the hint of a smile. With a look of feigned innocence on his face, Scott backed away and raised his free hand as if to show he was unarmed. Xenas smile grew slightly as she turned away.
It had been almost three weeks, twenty days to be exact, since the historians unconventional arrival at Xena and Gabrielles campsite. After the incident with Ares at the festival, Xena had somewhat grudgingly insisted that David and Scott stay with them, and the men had agreed, having realised the unanticipated dangers that were present. The spot that the women had planned to occupy for one night had turned into a permanent home for the duration of their guests stay.
Over the days, Xena had grown to enjoy Scotts company and even regard him as a friend. True, he was often disheveled, slept too late in the morning, and seemed to find humour in far too many things. Still, she could sense the respect he had for her, and she had come to feel that she could trust him, and it was only this trust that had allowed her to share stories of her past with him on several occasions. It was easy to feed his hunger for knowledge about the times in which she lived, but sometimes he wanted to know about her own enigmatic personal history. When she told him of her deeds as a warlord, he had sensed her sadness and regret and had chosen those moments to make no jokes, no quips.
Gabrielle and David had fallen into a pattern of taking a long walk on the beach every evening after supper. At Davids request, Gabrielle would always bring one of her scrolls and read it to him by the light of the sunset. Then, when it got too dark to read, they would simply talk and enjoy being together. As the days had passed, they each found that their feelings for one another did not pass, and neither had taken the time to give those feelings a name, let alone decide what to do about them.
What story will it be tonight? David asked after he had finished his cup of the beverage.
Its later than usual tonight, the bard answered. I dont think Ill bring a scroll. Theres not much light left. David indicated no objection.
They bade goodnight to Xena and Scott, knowing they would likely return to find them already asleep. Xena, as usual, said nothing, but when Scott offered a cheery Have fun, kids, she glared at him sullenly.
Whats your problem with those two? Scott asked Xena after the younger ones had gone. Im the one who should be concerned -- you know, the whole history thing.
You wouldnt understand, she answered as she began to brush Argos hair -- something she often did when she wanted to think.
Try me, Scott said, a compassionate smile carved into his bearded face.
Sorry, not this time, she said without looking at him.
Scott laid a hand on her shoulder for a moment. OK, he said softly, and dropped the subject.
If there was one thing he had learned about Xena, (and actually, there were many things), it was that when she said she didnt want to talk about something, she meant it. And he had learned it well, which was something Xena appreciated about him. They went silently about various evening chores, each taking quiet comfort in the others presence.
The sun had completely set by the time Gabrielle and David emerged from the woods. The moon was clearly visible now, directly overhead and quite bright, illuminating the two walking hand in hand.
I knew an Israelite named David once, the bard was saying. She looked at David. He looked a little like you. Do you think you may have any Israelite blood?
Almost all of my blood is, David answered.
Really! Gabrielle remarked. Do you believe in what they call the One True God?
I dont believe in much that I cant see, said David.
Hmm. So Ive noticed, said the bard, remembering his skepticism about the Olympian gods.
How did you end up meeting an Israelite? he asked.
Xena had to help him fight and kill one of her friends, Gabrielle sadly replied. A giant named Goliath.
No! shouted David, almost laughing. Now youre joking! It wasnt that David!
I take it youve heard that story too, she said.
Its one of our most cherished tales, but theres no Xena in it, he answered, sounding a little cynical.
I know. It took some doing, but she made sure of that.
David smiled and shook his head with amazement. Did you know him well? he asked.
A little, she answered. I thought I might get to know him better, but ...
Then I found out he was engaged, you know. She paused for a moment. I hate when that happens.
David felt a sudden twinge of jealousy. To think that if circumstances had been slightly different, his own distant ancestor might own the affections of this beautiful bard. Come to think of it, if that had happened, he himself might have been a descendent of Gabrielle!
Youre not, are you? Gabrielle asked, looking at David.
What? he replied nervously.
Youre not engaged or married or anything, she said with a smile.
Oh, oh, yeah ... I mean, no! No, Im not. He looked into her eyes and was very glad he was neither married nor her great great grandson. And what about you? he asked, half-joking.
No, she said, then sadly looked straight ahead. I was married once, though.
Really? David said, sounding surprised. What ... happened?
He was killed. No, he was murdered -- in cold blood in front of my eyes -- the day after our wedding.
David was silent for a long moment as he marveled at her. She was far from an innocent. She had been through so much and continued to press on, virtuous and strong. Im sorry, Gabrielle, he finally said, putting his arm around her shoulder. She quietly slipped hers around his waist and leaned against him. They continued walking in comfortable silence for quite some time.
See the moon, David? Gabrielle finally said. I have this idea... The bard had an insatiable hunger for truth and, knowing that David came to her with the accumulated knowledge of a hundred generations beyond hers, she often told him of her notions of how things worked and asked him how close she was. I think the moon has something to do with the tides, she continued. I noticed that when the moon is low on the horizon, the tide is low too. So I figure that the moon must be like a huge sponge. When it dips into the sea, it absorbs some of it, and so the tide goes out. Am I on the right track?
Hmm? David said, his mind appearing to be elsewhere.
Am I right? Does the moon cause the tides?
Um... yes, as a matter of fact, it does, Gabrielle.
I knew it! said the bard excitedly.
David always found her thirst for knowledge immensely appealing. But tonight, he didnt feel much like talking about science. Tonight, he cared little about the moons influence upon the tides. It was enough that its bright, silvery light shone on Gabrielle, making her look like ... well, like Gabrielle. And as they walked alone on the vast beach, he could not imagine anything more appealing than that.
Look at this, David, she said, stopping to bend down and pick up a strangely shaped flat rock. Ive never seen a stone like this. Its shaped a lot like a ... a dove. See?
David inspected it as she showed it to him, and agreed that it indeed looked a bit like a dove.
Im going to keep this, said the bard. I like the dove as a symbol.
In my time, it symbolizes peace, David said.
Its the same thing now, Gabrielle said, a little surprised. She held the stone between two fingers, looking at it. You know, I like to believe that just one person can make a difference in the world. If more people thought that way, maybe things would be different. If more people would fight for peace ... She stopped for a moment and laughed softly. I know that sounds kind of strange -- fight for peace.
I love you, Gabrielle.
Where did that come from? Never mind, he knew where it came from. He did love her. He knew it. But he had not intended to tell her. He had to leave in ten days, never to see her again! What kind of relationship could they have? What was it about this woman that seemed to repeatedly make him speak without thinking first?
His contemplation was interrupted when a wonderfully soft pair of arms wrapped around his neck, and the sweetest mouth he could ever imagine tasting engulfed his in a kiss that was so deep, it left little doubt that she shared his feelings.
As they kissed, he relished her with all of his senses. Her scent, her taste, which were only equaled by the feel of her skin, her lips, her tongue, which were rivaled only by her flawless beauty, which in turn was surpassed only by the inner beauty that had been drawing him closer to her each minute since the day they met.
The kiss softly ended and they looked into each others eyes for a long moment.
This is where I always wake up, David said, almost in a whisper.
What? laughed Gabrielle as she stroked his golden hair.
Ive had this dream about you a hundred times, and I always wake up right after the kiss.
With a crooked smile, she said, A hundred times? Youve only slept about twenty nights since youve known me.
Yeah, well, he said as they touched their faces together, I was counting daydreams.
Gabrielle laughed a little. Then they kissed again, this time more intensely. With their arms wrapped tightly around each other, she could feel the fire of his love for her with every movement.
As he caressed her hair and her shoulders, she kissed his ear and whispered his name. She moved slowly down his face, softly caressing it with her lips, stopping for a long while at his mouth, then continuing to his other ear. As she kissed it, she whispered that she loved him. They held each other even more tightly than before. They expressed their love in that way for a long time -- standing in the moonlight, kissing and touching each others faces, necks, lips, hair. It was David and Gabrielle and the sand and the sea and the sky. It seemed as though the very heavens were created just for this time.
At some point, Gabrielle felt a further passion burn within her. She pulled away from his arms just slightly. With the gentle roar of the sea in her ears, she stared deeply into the loving eyes of the man who had attempted to assault the god of war to protect her. She felt overwhelmed with love, with desire, with trust. She slowly unlaced and removed her blouse. Then she reached over and began to undress him.
Gabrielle, he said, pulling her to him. Gabrielle ... He made a desperate attempt to fight the flames of his own desire. Gabrielle, wait ...
What is it, my love? she sighed dreamily as she kissed his chest.
Gabrielle ... what were about to do ... As he felt her body against his, he could barely manage to speak. I ... I cant do it.
She stopped for a moment, then smiled as she brushed her midsection against him. I think youre underestimating yourself, she said softly.
Thats not what I mean, he said with a little smile, then grew serious again. I mean that I cant take the chance. He pulled away from her just enough to allow him to think clearly. If you were to bear my child, it could be disastrous.
She gave him a puzzled look.
Dont you see? he continued. I could go back to a world filled with thousands of my own descendants. Who can tell the enormous changes that could mean?
A look of realisation slowly came to Gabrielles face. Now I really know what your dream meant, she said. You saw your own face, your own descendant, as a world dictator. You were imagining the worst that could happen.
David nodded. Yes, that my own children would ruin everything.
She again looked into his eyes and saw even more strength than she had seen before. If his desire were anything like hers at this moment, to deny it must have been no easy task. She wanted him now more than ever.
My golden David, she said with an understanding look. She pulled him close and kissed his ear and, stroking his hair roughly, whispered, Theres more than one way to skin a cat.
Though neither had the slightest interest in feline pelts, they did go on to prove that there was also more than one way for two lovers to enjoy each other.
For the rest of the night, everything seemed meaningless to the traveler and the bard, except each other. No touch, no caress, no kiss seemed to be enough to completely express their love or fulfill their desire. Each new contact was like a new taste of paradise, serving only to make them hungry for more. Their love was a fiery chariot that not even the gods themselves could hope to stop. They took each other over the edge of ecstasy several times, their sweet groans of pleasure gently mingling with the relentless whispers of the Aegean Sea.
Finally, they lay together in the sand in a half-sleeping embrace, sharing a light kiss occasionally. David lay on his back, holding Gabrielle while she rested her head on his chest.
The waves were beginning to move up the beach a little. As they rolled in, they would lightly touch Gabrielle and David. I like how that feels, Gabrielle said as she wiggled her toes in the water. David stroked her hair and kissed her forehead and she nuzzled closer to his face.
See those stars right there, she said, pointing at the night sky. Xena and I once noticed that they look like a big ladle. Theres the handle, theres the bowl. See it?
The stars wont change much in just three thousand years, he replied. We call that the Big Dipper.
Whats so funny? asked David.
Its just that its such a simplistic name, the bard answered. I thought you were supposed to be so advanced. You couldnt come up with a better name than Big Dipper?
David wrinkled his brow and tousled her hair with mock indignation. She leaned on him again and they pulled each other still closer as the warm waves washed up on them.
In the shadows a short distance away, the odd curl of platinum hair was catching the moonlight. Aphrodite sat cross-legged with her chin in her hands and sighed dreamily to herself as she stared at the couple on the beach. Now thats what I call love -- from the inside out. I havent seen two people do it so passionately since... She pondered for a moment. Come to think of it, I dont think Ive ever seen two people do it like that. She put her arms around herself as though she were caught up in the passion. And they didnt even really do it, she giggled.
She silently stood up, unseen by the couple. Those two deserve a chance at a really lasting relationship, she said as she brushed herself off. Is anyone else going to do anything? Oh, no. Its up to me, as usual. Ah, well. I love my job, I really do. And with that, the goddess of love vanished in a dim, discreet flash of light.
Gabrielle was watching the moonlight as it sparkled on the water. Lets stay and watch the sun rise, she suggested.
I like that idea, David said. He didnt want to ever leave where he was, lying there, holding her.
It tortured him to think that in not many days, he was leaving -- forever. He continued to stroke her long, strawberry blonde hair. I wish that ... he began, then abruptly froze.
Please dont stop, Gabrielle begged, feeling that his hand no longer ran through her hair. What do you wish?
Gabrielle, somethings wrong. His face wore a look of confused panic. Im not sure ... He suddenly gasped as his hand shot to his abdomen. The tether! The tethers been cut!
What are you talking about, David? Gabrielle asked, becoming very anxious herself. Whats wrong?
We have to get back to camp -- now! was Davids answer. Ill explain on the way. The two hurriedly dressed and headed back into the woods at a brisk pace.
The sun began to peek over the horizon, despite the fact that, for Gabrielle and David, watching it rise in each others arms would apparently have to wait for another day.
You did what? Scott angrily demanded.
I turned off that machine of yours that makes that string thing that keeps you guys connected to the future, Aphrodite replied in a nonchalant sing-song. I heard you explaining about it to Xena.
But how did you ... no-one can ... he sputtered.
Oh, please! Im a goddess. Your little security thingies dont mean anything to me.
Youre a goddess, Scott repeated with deadpan cynicism. He looked toward Xena.
The warrior slowly nodded. Thats Aphrodite, goddess of love.
Scott leaned his forehead wearily on one hand. He should have known better than to doubt. He looked up at the smiling goddess. He thought that if he had had to imagine what Venus would look like, she would certainly be it. He had to admit it, though this was the very woman who, with a twitch of her nose or whatever, had just made it completely impossible for he and David to ever get home. And speaking of David, where was he?
Apparently, the question had also occurred to Xena. What have you done with Gabrielle and David? she asked Aphrodite threateningly.
What have I done with them? Not a thing, dear, was the goddess reply. Now what theyve done with each other -- well! Thats a different story! She shivered with delight.
At that moment, David and the bard emerged into the clearing. Despite the emergency, Gabrielle seemed more than a little embarrassed at having been gone all night. Xena looked at her with vacant eyes.
Scott! called David, a bit out of breath. The tether!
I know, I know, said Scott, already tired of panic. Its been cut. He pointed with his thumb at Aphrodite. And theres your girl. She did it. The goddess of love!
David looked at the goddess in disbelief. This was ridiculous. He had come here not even believing the gods existed. His first encounter with one had threatened to end his life, now this one seemed as though it would change his life forever.
He turned again to Scott. How could she possibly have done it? he asked.
Oh, please, Scott mocked bitterly. Shes a goddess!
The four mortals sighed simultaneously, which was followed by an uncomfortable silence.
Hey! Aphrodite interjected. Whats everybody so bummed out about?
David looked at her. Why did you do it? he pleaded, his face full of confusion and despair.
Why? Why? she repeated. Why, I did it for you, loverboy. And for you, she said to Gabrielle. She leaned in close to the two of them. You guys were amazing out there. You could almost teach me a few things.
The two lovers suddenly felt as though they were naked right then and there. Do the gods watch everything you people do? David asked angrily.
Only when its going to be really really annoying, answered the bard.
Anyway, continued Aphrodite, I thought you two deserved a shot at lasting happiness together. And you wouldnt have gotten it with this time thing working the way it was supposed to -- whisking you off, never to return. No, that would never do.
David sat down on the ground and sighed. He didnt know what to think or feel. He desperately wanted to stay with Gabrielle and yet he knew he had a job to do. Until now, he was sure of who he was and where he was from. Now he was an anonymous figure in his own distant past, which had suddenly become his present.
Aphrodite walked up to Xena. You know, it did cross my mind that if you had a little extra time with Scotty ... she began, but stopped when she saw Xenas menacing glare. I should have known better, conceded the goddess, hands on her hips. Whew, is it getting colder? Or is it just that Im standing next to something frigid?
The warrior drew her sword and, with a fierce cry, mercilessly slashed at Aphrodite. The blade passed cleanly through her, doing no damage.
Take it easy, Xena. I was only kidding, said Aphrodite with a careless wag of her head. Methinks thou dost protest too much. Then she giggled, One of the Muses taught me that.
They need to go home, Aphrodite, Gabrielle finally said in an attempt to get back to the matter at hand. Reverse what youve done.
No can do, sweetie, the goddess replied. With their rope to the future cut, they belong to now. Even I cant change that. I learned that from Scotty, too. She flashed a smile and a wave in Scotts direction and blew him a kiss.
Scott rubbed weary eyes full of exasperation and regret. I dont believe this, he muttered.
Aphrodite stepped away from Xena into an area of her own and spoke as a celebrated hero accepting her accolades. Well, youre welcome, she declared. Xena drew her chakram and hurled it at her with a fierce grimace. Now, now, Princess, the goddess chided, shaking her finger. Make love, not war. She then vanished just as the weapon was inches from her nose. It continued its travel, bouncing off three or four trees, then returning, as usual, to Xenas waiting hand.
If shes supposed to be the goddess of love, why do I hate her so much? Gabrielle rhetorically asked.
Both Scott and David were completely aghast. Maybe Xena and Gabrielle were used to things like this, but the travelers were not. They were far more accustomed to predictable destructive forces. Scott finally spoke. Theres got to be some way out of this -- some way to fix it.
Not by what you told me, Xena said. You said nothing could break a natural tether.
Why does everyone have to pay so much attention to everything I say? he lamented angrily.
Look, theres no need to panic, Gabrielle said. Well come up with a solution. It may take some time, but we will get you connected to your machine so you can go home. We always find some way of doing what needs doing, dont we Xena? No matter how long it takes.
The warrior raised a doubtful eyebrow. As Gabrielle thought of David, she couldnt deny that a part of her hoped it would take quite some time.
Weve got ten days, David softly said.
The bards brow furrowed. What do you mean? she asked.
Ten days to find a non-existent solution to an impossible problem, Scott droned. No big deal.
What are you two talking about? Gabrielle persisted.
The pod itself is still working, and its still tethered to the future, David answered. The women looked at David, eyes widening as they absorbed his simple statement of fact. In ten days, that pod is going home -- with or without us.
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