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Dimension of The Heart - Conclusion


CHAPTER SEVEN -The Art of Time Sliding

I pulled up in front of the guesthouse and proceeded through the lobby. The desk clerk called out as I passed. "You feeling better, dear?"

"Oh, yes, much better. I just needed some food and coffee. Thanks for asking." I spoke without stopping and hit the stairs to the second floor. I entered my room to find that maid service had changed the bed and left clean towels in the bath. I locked the door, threw my keys on the dresser and found a comfy chair to sit in. The feeling I had experienced in the bar with Sam was becoming stronger. I knew this was the key to jumping so I closed my eyes and relaxed.

I felt the now familiar sensation of moving. It was a little like riding a rollercoaster backwards and blindfolded.


There was a voice speaking to me. Faintly, at first, as if in a dream. Then it became more concrete. I felt a hand on my shoulder shaking me.

"Liz...speak to me. Liz...Liz are you with me? Please, say something." There was panic in the bardís voice.

I opened my eyes to find myself on the ground with Gabrielle kneeling beside me. "Gabrielle?" I said weakly.

"Oh, thank the gods youíre all right. You scared me to death." She helped me into a sitting position.

I took a quick inventory of my person. Apparently clean clothes and bodies couldnít make the trip. I was in the same dirty apparel as before. I touched the wound on my arm and found it very fresh and sore to the touch. Guess healing didnít travel well either.

"What happened, Gabrielle?"

She looked at me for a moment in wonder. "I thought you might tell me what happened. We were standing one minute and the next you collapsed into a heap. You were barely breathing. I didnít know what was happening."

"How long?" My curiosity was mounting.

"Maybe half a candlemark....Iím not really sure. I was too concerned to time the event."

"Amazing." I said and slowly got to my feet.

"Thatís all you can say...amazing? I was worried sick and all you can come up with is amazing?"

"Iím sorry. Tell me exactly what happened. The last I remember is that you were about to kiss me. That was the last thing wasnít it?"

"Well, I was going to kiss you but you dropped before I had the chance. A simple Ďnoí would have sufficed. "She gave me a hug around the waist and a quick peck on the cheek. "Now tell me what happened. We can talk as we walk. Itíll be getting dark soon and Iíd just as soon not be on the road tonight. The village of Daedalius isnít much further."

I looked at my friend and pleaded, "Do you think I could get cleaned up ? I feel really gross."

"That wonít be a problem. The local inn has some rooms with a private bath. Xena and I have stayed there and the innkeeper always makes sure we get one. Besides, you still owe me, remember?"

"Oh, yeah thatís right. Iím at your beck and call." I was feeling much better already.

"So, Iím waiting...spill it."

"Ok, from what I can tell there is method in all this madness. You said I was out maybe half a uh... candlemark? I did travel to my time but was there for nearly a day. I thought that maybe I remained conscious in both realities, but apparently that isnít the case. I didnít see it before because the first night it happened here I was asleep. And so were you."

Gabrielleís curiosity was definitely peaked. "So what happens if you are walking around in your time and you shift? Do you just fall out with no one to look after you?" There was a gentle caring in her eyes that made me want to be near her.

"I suppose that could happen but today I got a signal that it was about to occur. A kind of tingling in my gut that got stronger as the shift neared. I think Iíll at least be able to warn you the next time...if there is a next time."

"So where is your Ďotherí self right now?"

"I locked myself in a room so I wonít be disturbed." Thinking silently, ĎAnd to keep the paramedics from jump-starting my heart.í Ooh...that could be a real shocker.

"Thereís something else. While I was in my time, I kept hearing this voice talking to me. At first I thought it was you but it wasnít. This person...woman...knows whatís going on and even teased me about it. Iím sure sheís at the bottom of all this. "

Gabrielle turned and came close to me. "What did this woman sound like?"

"Itís kinda of hard to describe. She kept calling me things like Ďsweetcheeksí and Ďbabycakesí. She had this really mischievous laugh and spoke in very hip verbage. If I didnít know better, Iíd say she was from my time."

"Oh sheís from your time all right...and mine." Gabrielle had this look of irritation on her face.

"You know who this is?" My full concentration was on her. "Well, as you told me Ďspill itĎ"

"It can only be one person...Aphrodite." She quietly answered.

Incredulously I echoed, " Aphrodite?...the goddess of love, Aphrodite?... tosser of The Lovers?"

"My, you catch on fast. Yes the one and the same. The question is why? She has done some pretty weird things in the past but this is new for even her. We need to get to Daedalius and talk to Amoria. There are some real serious implications involved here."

I donít know why this should stun me but it had. "Gabrielle, just how serious is this? Am I going to be shifting back and forth from now on? I donít think I can keep my sanity together for much more of this." There was an urgency in my questions that wasnít lost on her.

Gabrielle drew close to me and took my face in her hands. "Liz, try not to lose it on me now. There is a logical answer and solution to all this...even if Aphrodite is involved in it up to her Olympian butt. Weíll sort this out...trust me."

Without hesitation, she brought her lips to mine in a prolonged embrace. I felt the blood begin to race in my veins and a galvanizing in my core. I returned her advance with a fire Iíd not felt or wanted in a long time.

We held each other tightly and slowly parted from our kiss. Gabrielle looked at me with an impish smile on her lips. "Well, this is a good sign...youíre still standing and conscious. Yes, this is good...very good."

I was still trying to calm my heart, "Oh, yes...this is very, very good. Please, may I have another?"

She gave me a quick kiss on the forehead and said, " Oh, I think I can arrange that but we need to get to the village. You ready to find the answer to all this?"

I nodded and we continued down the road. I knew there was more than one answer waiting in Daedalius.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT - Daedalius

We entered the village shortly before dusk. It was small but well laid out. There were merchant shops on either side of the central path. A livery stood at the entrance of the village. I could hear the neighs of the horses housed there and the sound of a smith working an anvil. The population was busy going about their lives and hardly noticed our entrance. I wanted to explore this place and wished I had my camera. I repressed a chuckle and thought, ĎI could see it now. Snapping photos and scaring the hell out of everyone. Iíd probably be strung up as some sort of sorcerer. But then again, this is a time when the gods are interactive beings. I might be mistaken for a goddess or something."

Gabrielle interrupted my internal observation. "I need to find Amoria and make arrangements for our lodging. You think you could stay out of trouble for a while?"

"I think I can manage that. Any customs I need to know about?"

"I donít think so. Just try not to have one of your seizures in front of them. Theyíre likely to think you possessed and do something weird. Iíll be back shortly." She gave my hand a squeeze and made her way through the crowd.

"Well, Iím on vacation so maybe Iíll browse the shops." I turned and began scanning the storefronts.

There was all manner of goods and services represented. Food vendors were hawking their various selections. Hmm...I should have asked Gabrielle for an allowance. I was ravenous. I searched my pockets for anything I could use for barter. I pulled the contents of my pocket out to examine my net worth. ĎPretty pathetic Ď, I thought. I had three quarters, a credit card, and one stick of gum and some lip balm. I didnít think I could parlay any of this into sustenance so I suppressed the gnawing in my stomach. I unwrapped the gum and popped it into my mouth.

 

I decided not to torture myself and veered clear of the food stands. I found myself in front of some sort of jewelerís shop. This looked interesting and I stepped inside. The shopkeeper wasnít in sight but I knew he or she wasnít too far away. I made sure that I didnít act suspicious. "Thatís rich, Liz ", I mumbled to myself, "As if I look like I belong here."

Out of the back of the shop a womanís voice spoke, "Do you see anything that you like traveler?" She stepped into the light to reveal herself. She was maybe in her thirties but it was hard to tell. Life seem to exact a heavy toll on these people.

"You have many beautiful pieces here. Are you the artisan?" I was standing before a number of crystals hanging from a rod.

"For many of these I am. The metal worked goods are my husbandís handiwork. You find the crystals to your liking?" She was sensing a sale.

"I have a fondness for them but Iím just browsing right now. " Seems that retail sales were the same in any time.

"Well, let me know if you need some help..." and she receded into the shadows.

Without looking up, I absently said, "Thanks, I will." My eye had caught the sparkle of one of the crystals. I lifted it free of the rod and held it to the light. It was almost translucent and had a color of light emerald. It reminded me of Gabrielleís eyes. I was lost in gazing at this piece and didnít notice Gabrielle entering the shop. She was almost on me before she spoke.

"Thatís very beautiful. It would look nice on you." She placed a hand on the small of my back and reached around to hold the crystal in her palm.

"Well, it seems that I left my dinars in my other pants " I placed the crystal back on the rod. Changing the subject, I asked Gabrielle, "Did you find Amoria and can she help me?"

She placed an arm around my shoulder. "Yes, I found her and briefly told her all thatís happened since you first arrived here."

Impatiently I asked, " And what did she say ?"

"She thinks that the gods are at work here...or more specifically...a goddess. She needs to see you in person to be sure. Feel up to an interview before we call it a day?"

It was clearly my call and I didnít hesitate, " Letís do it."

The bard beamed. "Great...follow me. "


We left the shop and about midway through the village we entered a rather plain looking structure. The furnishings were modest and there was some sort of stew bubbling over the open fire. My hunger pangs returned with a vengeance.

A raspy voice spoke, "This be the one, eh? She donít look much like a time traveler. Are yer sure this be her?" There was mischief in her tone.

Gabrielle smiled and brought me closer to the voice. "Yes, this is the one. Amoria this is Liz...Liz...Amoria. "

A rather large woman with soft features appeared. She took my hand in hers and bade me to sit with her. We settled before the fire. She looked directly into my eyes and went straight to the meat of the matter.

"Child, how long have you been dead inside?" She was direct and to the point. I was stunned and couldnít speak. I looked at Gabrielle and could see my pain in her eyes. There were tears forming in her eyes. She wanted to help me but couldnít. I would have to do this myself. I made one half-hearted attempt at denial.

"I donít know what you mean." The words werenít even out of my mouth before Amoria grabbed me by the shoulders.

"Child, you listen to me now." Her face was inches from mine." The fact that you be among us should be aítelling you something. I canít help you if you lie to me...and yourself. You think about it." She released my shoulders and I felt my face turning red with embarrassment.

My control began to waiver. A lump was forming in my throat and I wanted to run.

Reading my thoughts Amoria nailed me. "Runniní wonít do yer no good traveler. Yer must face your demon...embrace it...take away itís power over you." Her face softened and she took my hand in a motherly way. "Just tell me what you feel."

I took a deep breath and began, " I donít think I feel anything. Iíve been, in your words, dead for a long time. I just donít care anymore. Iím not sure exactly when this happened and I have no idea how not to be this way. Can you help me?"

"It not being my place to fix you...you must do that yourself. But this much I can tell yaí the goddess Aphrodite is at the bottom of this. She be the one you have to settle with."

My mouth fell open. "I have to settle this with...Aphrodite? In person? You mean she really exists?"

"Oh, she be real enough. Tomorrow you and your friend go to her temple. All will be settled tomorrow." She stood and tended the cooking stew. The interview was over and I was more confused now than before. I threw a terrified look at Gabrielle. I was on the verge of totally flipping out. Gabrielle moved over to me and wrapped her arms around me. She sat quietly rocking me for a few moments. To break the silence she turned to Amoria, "That sure smells good."

Without looking up she offered, " You be liking to stay for supper then?"

"Oh, yes, that would be wonderful. Weíve had quite a day and weíre both famished. Right, Liz?"

All I could muster was a nod. My stomach took up the slack with a very audible rumble.

Gabrielle winked and said, "I take that as a Ďyesí then."

 

We sat before Amoriaís fire and consumed large quantities of her stew. Gabrielle inquired about the local happenings and answered Amoriaís questions about her travels. She seemed unaffected at the prospect of having the great Xena in her village in a few days. Guess if you can read minds whatís the big deal of a warrior princess coming to town.

After several hours we prepared to leave. Amoria gave Gabrielle a balm to tend my wound. I thanked her for her kindness and we walked out into the night air. The moon was full and it softly bathed Gabrielle. She was incredibly beautiful. It was just as well that she couldnít read my thoughts.

"So, where are we staying tonight?"

"Iíve made arrangements at the local inn. We have a private room with a bath. I thought youíd like that. You said something about cleaning up. Still in the mood?"

"For a bath? "

She playfully swatted me on the butt. "Youíre some piece of work, Liz. Weíll start with the bath."

The inn was near the middle of town. As we neared the entrance, Gabrielle quietly took my hand. A little jolt of electricity went through me.

 

CHAPTER NINE - Embracing the Demon

The inn was filled with mostly men of the village. They were gathered in small groups here and there. Some were standing at the bar talking and posturing. Men were the same everywhere I supposed. As we entered the room some of the closer groups turned to stare. Not a man in the place made a move toward us. Guess they were familiar with Gabrielle and her usual traveling companion.

Gabrielle guided me past the bar to a narrow stairway.

"Our room is upstairs and to the back of the inn. The noise from below should be minimal."

She mounted the steps and I followed her to the top landing. The room was at the end of the small hall. We entered the space. Gabrielle closed the door and placed the locking mechanism in place. It was the first time since my arrival that I felt completely safe.

The room was small in a cozy way. There were oil lamps softly glowing at various locations. There was a simple table and chairs. On the table was a bowl with fruit and nearby a vase with flowers. Against the longest wall was an elevated sleeping pallet piled with soft blankets and animal furs. Directly across from the pallet was a large wooden tub. I walked over to it to find it filled with very warm water. I placed my hand in the liquid to test the temperature.

"I hope it meets your approval. I asked the innkeeper very specifically to have the bath ready when we arrived. The flowers were my touch." Gabrielle said shyly.

I was moved by her attention to detail...especially the flowers. "Gabrielle, itís lovely. I canít remember the last time a woman gave me flowers. Thank you."

She almost looked uncomfortable. "I thought you deserved a little TLC. Youíve had a hard day."

That was an understatement. Right now I was bone weary, dirty and mightily confused.

Gabrielle was busy putting her things in a pile near the pallet. Quizzically she pondered, "What did Amoria mean by you having to face your demons?"

I sagged in the nearby chair and placed my head in my hands. I was very near tears...some from fear and some from dread. "Iím afraid of what she meant. I mean if it has to do with how I feel inside...well...I donít know how I can magically change that. And I donít think itís possible in one day..."

Gabrielle finished my sentence, "Because it took you such a long time to get where you are?"

I looked up at her. She was resting on the edge of the pallet gazing steadily at me. "Are you always so perceptive? It must be one on the things that Xena loves about you."

"Well, of all the things that Xena loves about me...this particular trait isnít one of them. She finds it quite irritating because..."

"Because you cut through the crap and force her to deal with the truth?" I completed her explanation.

"Yeah thatís some of it. She doesnít like examining her feelings...but sheís getting better at trying."

"I think thatís due largely to you, Gabrielle, and your devotion to her. You are her link to unconditional acceptance and love. You are a pure spirit and I imagine itís hard for her to deal with that at times."

Gabrielle was blushing, "How do you know these things about Xena and me? Some of this has only transpired in the privacy of our thoughts. You are the one who is perceptive, Liz."

I wanted to tell her I had it all on VCR tape...but why spoil the moment. Besides I just didnít have the energy to explain it.

Shifting the direction of conversation, I asked, "How am I to conjure up Aphrodite tomorrow? I know very little about goddess protocol."

"I donít think that will be a problem. Aphrodite loves to blow her own horn. And since this is a stunt of huge magnitude, sheíll be there donít worry. Sheís beautiful...but shallow. No more stressing over this tonight. I thought you wanted a bath. I certainly do."

With that last phrase, Gabrielle began to undress...right in front of me. How did she expect me not to stare at this?

In thought I told myself, ĎOk, Liz, youíve undressed thousands of times in the locker room in front of total strangers. This is no different...well except Gabrielle isnít some frumpy housewife...and this isnít the Y locker room...and...and ...oh God...this is way different!í

"Liz? You gonna to stand there all night? Címon, the waterís great." Gabrielle was stepping into the tub and wanting me to join her. I swallowed hard and began to strip my filthy clothes away. I reached under my sleeve and removed the soiled bandage from my arm. I stepped out of my shoes and pulled my socks off. Next I unzipped my jeans and slid them, and my underwear, off in one fluid motion. I was about to pull my tee up when I noticed Gabrielle at the edge of the tub. She had her arms crossed and was resting her chin on them. She had this knowing smile on her lips.

"Enjoying the show?" I asked trying to sound like I do this everyday.

"I guess you could say that. You have great legs. " She was open and direct.

Silently, I congratulated myself on the hours spent praying at the squat rack and the thousands of miles logged on the bike. "Thanks", was all that passed my lips. As I pulled my tee over my head, I wondered what she would think of the rest of me. I got an immediate answer.

"Oh...wow...youíve got some body there, Liz. Xena would be jealous. "

As I lowered myself into the water I said, "I thought you said Xena wasnít the jealous type. "

I settled myself on the tub ledge near Gabrielle.

She smiled slyly and moved close to me. She whispered as if not wanting to be heard, "I think she might make an exception in this case."

"Well then itís a good thing sheís not here right now, huh?" I playfully splashed a palmful of water in her direction. What ensued was an old-fashioned water fight with lots of laughing and head dunking.

We settled back after exhausting ourselves in play. I was still trying to catch my breath from all the laughing. Gabrielle was inching closer to me and was staring intently at my chest. Innocently she asked, "What is that?"

Without thinking, I replied, " These are breasts. Women grow them when they get older."

"Silly, I know what those are...I meant this. " She reached out and caught the coral piece in her hand bringing it slightly out of the water. "Itís very unusual. Is it from your Key West?" She was almost on top of me.

"Uh-huh. Do you like it?" I said in a distracted tone.

"Yes...and I like the necklace too." She pulled on the necklace drawing me to her. Instinctively, I placed my arms around her waist and brought my lips softly to her own. My body was awash in sensation...oh...so much sensation. I felt the sensuousness of her erect nipples against my skin. It was like fire on my soul.

Gabrielle held me very tight and deepened our kiss. I felt her tongue exploring my mouth. Her hands ran down my back and rested on my ass pulling me into her. I could feel the hardness of her abs and the softness of her pubic hair against me... such a dichotomy of sensations. I felt a shiver run through me settling at the core of my desire. I pulled back from the kiss and looked in her eyes.

Sensing that something might be wrong, Gabrielle asked, "Liz, are you all right ? Youíre not going to fall out on me are you?"

"No. I donít think so. Itís just that...well...itís been so long and ...I...uh...I...I donít know what Iím afraid of."

She took my face in her hands and spoke lovingly to me, "Are you afraid that your heart will free itself? Liz, itís ok to feel again...to release the demon that holds you. This is what Amoria was talking about. Youíre just going to have to trust me on this. Do you trust me?"

How could I not? With a certainty that had been missing most of my life, I gave her my answer. "I hardly know you yet I trust you more than anyone in my life. You are very beautiful, Gabrielle, and I want this with you...I need you...please."

"You donít have to plead, my handsome woman, I too want this...with all my heart."

She stood and lifted herself out of the tub. Gabrielle turned and held out a hand to me. I took it and came out of the water. She placed a towel around herself and then one around me. I stood for a moment looking at this unbelievable woman. I lifted the necklace from my neck and placed it on Gabrielle.

She looked surprised and started to protest. "Liz...I...I...couldnít take ..."

I placed a finger to her lips. "Shhhh...I want you to have this. If Amoria is right, and we get to the bottom of this tomorrow, I may just disappear. I want you to have something concrete to remember me by."

She offered no further protest. I reached out and placed one arm around her waist and the other lifted her feet from the ground. She held on to my neck and gave me a wet kiss on my lips. I started toward the pallet with my precious charge. So intent was I on her I forgot that I had to step up to the pallet. I realized it as we were tumbling to the mound of furs. Bodies and towels went flying. We landed in a heap and in uncontrollable laughter.

"Well, so much for chivalry," I squeaked out, "Iím a little out of practice."

Gabrielle was lying fully exposed and still giggling, " Thatís ok...Iíll give you 10 points for technical difficulty and 9 for artistic impression. You lose a point for dropping the towels."

We convulsed in laughter again... tears rolling down our faces. Finally, we gained control and laid side by side...our eyes caressing each other. Our communication had moved to one of a non-verbal nature...our eyes, hands and bodies soon to transmit all wants and desires.

I was lying propped up on my left side looking at her my head cradled in my left hand. I reached over and traced a line down her body. With the barest of pressure I started at her face...the back of my hand brushing along her cheek to the softness of her neck. Gabrielle closed her eyes and took in a sharp breath. I lingered just a bit at the seductive hollow above her breasts...my finger lazily exploring the area toying with the piece of coral. Her nipples were hard with excitement and I couldnít resist moving my hand over them. I just barely touched the erect tip with the palm of my hand. A shudder ran over Gabrielleís body and her hips rose slightly.

Gabrielle spoke without opening her eyes, "I thought you said you were out of practice. It doesnít feel like it."

I leaned over and took an erect nipple in my mouth...my tongue flicking over the top of it in a torturous embrace. I definitely had the bardís attention. She let out a little cry. Her hand caught the back of my neck pressing my mouth firmly on her breast.

I removed my lips and continued teasing her nipple with my finger. Deliberately I said, "Being out of practice doesnít mean Iíve completely forgotten everything."

In a voice becoming harder to be heard, Gabrielle whispered, "Iíd say that your memory is just fine, Liz."

Teasingly I added, "Gee, I hope I remember where all the parts are."

Gabrielle opened her eyes and lustily said, "You know Liz, sometimes youíre too funny for your own good. She placed her hand on top of mine. "Just in case youíre lost, let me help you." She moved my hand across the hardness of her abs and into the fine hair above her swollen desire. She shifted her legs apart and tried to plunge my hand between them.

I caught her hand in mine and stopped the advance. She protested with a writhing of her hips and a whimper from her lips. " Lizzz...pleeezze...this is torture. "

"My dear... the torture hasnít even started yet. Itís been three years and I plan on taking my time with you. You will just have to deal with it...unless.." I left the rest hanging in the air.

Gabrielle was looking at me now with a hot intensity in those green eyes. "Unless what?"

"Unless..." I took her hand and moved it between her legs to the wetness I so wanted to touch. I could feel the dampness of the surrounding skin as she began a slow rhythmic stroking of herself. My hand became an extension of her own.

"Oh, gods, Liz...youíre driving me crazy. Please let me come." Her pace was quickening and she was in danger of hitting that crest.

"Oh...no you donít. You know youíre a very impatient woman. Has Xena ever told you that?"

Desperately she confessed, "More than once."

I stopped her self-ministrations, removed her hand and shifted myself on top of her...my right thigh between her legs pressed against her wetness. I now had full body contact with her. My building desire betrayed itself on her skin with my own wetness bathing her leg.

"You know patience is a virtue and I thought you to be a virtuous woman. Was I wrong?"

Gabrielle looked up at me with eyes on fire. "I suppose I could wait if you think you can." She began tracing the outline of my lips with her fingers. I could smell the heady aroma of her sex on them. I reached up and took hold of her hand. I put her fingers in my mouth...one by one...tasting that delicious essence. I was driving myself crazy with desire. I wanted the source.

ĎSo much for patience, Liz Ď, I thought. I kissed her full on the mouth, my tongue parting her lips and dancing across her own. Her hips were grinding under me and I was on the verge of coming myself. ĎNot yet, Liz...control..í, I reminded myself.

Poor Gabrielle was almost out of control. I could sense it in the urgency of her movement and the sweat forming on her body. I slowly moved down her body, kissing every inch of skin along the way. As I neared the source of her fire, I lingered in her soft bush, placing little kisses around the outline. Gabrielle opened her legs inviting me in. I parted her lips with my fingers and without further delay placed my mouth on her hard clit. She was so aroused, I thought she might climax right there. I knew she wanted to but I also knew we were now engaged in a battle of wills. She wasnít going to just give herself...I would have to take her.

The taste of her sent a wave of emotion through me. Gabrielle had her hands on my head pulling me into her as her hips rode up and down. I ran my tongue around the swollen flesh pausing to lightly flick across the top of it. Just as I would sense her approaching explosion, I darted elsewhere. I repeated this pattern again and again. With every pass, she neared oblivion. It wouldnít be too much longer before control would be gone...for both of us.

Gabrielle pleaded in earnest, "Please...Iím begging you...let me come...oh please Liz." Her words trailed off.

I could refuse her no longer...and I couldnít refuse myself. I had just barely been able to inhibit my own orgasm. I wanted more than physical release. I wanted to openly give myself to this woman without fear. I placed my tongue on her engorged member again...and this time did not veer off. My fingers slid inside her and her readiness surrounded them. We were locked in a place where time didnít exist any more. I felt the subtle change inside her and a pulsing wave began deep within her body. I was so connected to Gabrielle that my fingers and tongue were extensions of my own desire. I could feel what she was feeling. For a second I knew what it was to be Gabrielle. All the passion...purity of soul...devotion and unconditional love. We were no longer two souls but one united in a primal exchange. Something shifted within the very fiber of my being. It lasted for just a second before her orgasm triggered my own. I desperately tried to grasp it as the room fell away. It was too late...we disappeared into the abyss. I barely heard her call my name.


I donít know how long we held our embrace. Time seemed to have no meaning. My first awareness came in a gentle hand stroking my face. I slowly emerged into solid form to find Gabrielle holding me. My face was streaked with tears and I felt as if darkness had been excised from my heart. I looked into the face of my exorcist to find it also filled with tears. I weakly reached up to wipe them from her face.

"Gabrielle...are you..." I was having difficulty forming a complete sentence "...all right?"

She pulled my face to her breast...holding me even tighter. "Iím not sure...I mean yeah Iím all right...I think..."She was trying to describe in words what we had just experienced and couldnít. It must have been very disorienting for the bard to be speechless.

I lifted my head and gently kissed her lips. " I know, Gabrielle...I know. "

We wanted to talk about the experience but a heavy sleep was overtaking us. I barely had the blankets pulled around us before we entered the realm of dreams. It would have to wait until morning.

 

CHAPTER TEN - Mighty Aphrodite

I reached out in a semi-sleep state and instinctively searched for her. My heart sank. I knew she was gone and we had so much left unsaid. I wanted to cry out with abandon at the unfairness of all this. Resigned, I rolled on my back and slowly opened my eyes. Sitting on the edge of the pallet, gazing intently at me was Gabrielle. I gigantic smile broke my face and my heart was overjoyed. I hadnít shifted.

It took my eyes a few moments to fully come into focus. Gabrielle leaned over and gave me a loving kiss. "I donít think Iíve told you that you have the most incredible eyes, Liz. They are almost as blue as Xenaís." She added, "Good morning."

Gabrielle was dressed and I was completely naked under the furs. I wanted to level the playing field but I knew we had much to do today.

"Thank you. Being compared to Xena is a complement and good morning to you." I sat up on the pallet pulling the blankets up with me.

A look of amusement broke out on her face. "Why, Liz, surely youíre not going to go modest on me? I mean after what we shared last night."

I took her hand and brought it to my lips, gently kissing the palm and inside of her wrist. "This," gesturing to the covers, "has nothing to do with modesty. If we start this again, weíll miss our date with Aphrodite. Believe me there is nothing more Iíd rather do than make love to you again. Besides, youíre up and dressed. Whatís a girl to think?"

Looking at her clothed self, Gabriele conceded, " Yeah...right...I suppose it does say something...but not what you think. There was something I needed to do this morning. You were sleeping so soundly I couldnít wake you. Forgive me?"

I smiled at her saying, "There is nothing to forgive my queen, " making a reference to her Amazon status. "Guess I should get dressed, huh?"

I threw off the covers and stepped from the pallet in all my bare beauty. I strolled over to my clothes and donned them. They were still dirty but I really didnít care anymore. There was more to contemplate than dirty clothes. I used some of the balm that Amoria had given us on my arm and covered it with a clean bandage.

Gabrielle was still sitting on the pallet...staring. I laughed out loud at the sight.

"Well, thatís a first for me." I said still snickering.

Confused she responded, "Whatís a first?"

" You staring at me. Iím flattered."

"Itís that you remind me of Xena in so many ways. You are physically beautiful and strong. And you have those eyes. This is so weird." She was honestly taken by the imagined similarities.

"You want to know what I think ...rhetorically speaking? I think that you really miss Xena..." pausing slightly I said in an earnest tone, "...and Iím sure that she misses you, too Gabrielle. Itís ok to feel...remember?"

She smiled and nodded in agreement.

"So...just where is this temple and how do we summon Aphrodite?" I was having mixed emotions about finishing this. Part of me...the irrational part...wanted to stay in this time. My left and right brain were having a struggle. I knew in my heart, which would win...I just didnít want it to. I pushed this internal spat to the side. "Guess we should get going."

Gabrielle was having the same conflict. It was evident in her less than enthusiastic reply, "Yeah...guess we should get going."

We stood for a moment quietly looking into each otherís eyes before walking out the door.

It was mid-morning and the village was alive with merchants, buyers and sellers, townís folk bargaining for goods, children playing in and amongst the vendor stalls. We silently strode out of the village not looking back. A few minutes passed before she spoke.

"Liz, can I ask you something about last night?" Her tone was almost reverent.

"If you donít, then I will."

Gabrielle was serious, "Liz, this isnít funny...I need to know something."

I stopped walking and gave her my full attention. "Iím sorry. This whole thing has me pretty freaked out. What do you want to know?"

She looked like she was searching for the right words. Finally, she began. "After we... well you know... after we..."

I interrupted her struggle and completed her thought, "You mean after we went ballistic or whatever that was. Is that what youíre talking about?"

Her face reddened slightly, "Well, thatís not how I was going to describe it...but itís close enough. I need to know what you felt. Please, itís important. "

I took in a deep breath, "Gabrielle, I donít know how to describe what I felt. Youíre going to think this strange but for an instant I was you. I felt your love...your trust...your devotion...the unconditional depth of your soul...your passion. It was like I could see all of lifeís wonderful possibilities through you. Compared to what Iíve been existing in it was a revelation of an immense magnitude. I was one with you and felt you give me part of yourself. I donít know how else to describe it."

"And that is why you were crying?" she asked.

"Uh-huh...they were tears of joy, Gabrielle. And I have you to thank for that."

I moved close and wrapped my arms around her giving her a passionate kiss. Slowly we parted and I looked deep into her eyes. I had a question of my own to ask. "That wasnít the only reason you had in asking...was it? Now tell me why you were crying."

She was trembling slightly and I held her tighter. "Liz...I felt the same thing with you...only it was the deep disappointment...the futility...the lack of love in your life...the grieving and despair. I wanted to console and comfort you...to let you know that I loved you and there is always hope. I wanted to give this to you. When I felt you open up to receive this gift I couldnít stop the tears. Mine were tears of joy too. "

We knew something more than sex had intervened in our lives. How was still beyond me. Aphrodite was the key.


The temple of the goddess of love was not as impressive as I thought it would be. I was expecting some really grand structure but it was a small stone building of ordinary proportions. Having never been to a temple of a goddess, I probably should have reserved judgment until we entered.

"Sure doesnít look like much. Are you sure this is the right place?" I was scanning the area for some indication that this was the right place. I donít know what I thought I was going to find. Maybe a sign...oh I donít know. This was just one more improbable piece of the whole.

Gabrielle was becoming all business, "Oh...this is the right place...trust me. Címon letís go inside..." she hesitated, "...and Liz, this time let me do the talking...ok? Please, no inciting the goddess of love. Understand?"

"Iíll try." I said weakly but I knew in my heart that I had a very large bone to pick with her highness. I just kept this part to myself and followed Gabrielle into the temple.

We stepped from the bright sun into an amazingly beautiful room. The floor was polished marble of a pale pink. Iíd never seen a color quite like it. There were fresh flowers in huge vases on either side of the room. Scented oil lamps filled the temple with a very distinct musky odor. It was very intoxicating and relaxing. I was having a hard time keeping my thoughts from returning to the events of last night. I shook it off and caught up with Gabrielle. We were nearing the focal point of the room. A lifelike statue of a woman stood near the center of the space. At its feet were numerous scrolls, flowers and tokens of silver and gold. I walked completely around the statue taking in the detail and beauty. Even in stone, the goddess was incredibly stunning.

I broke the silence, "Guess thatís Aphrodite, huh?" Gabrielle rolled her eyes and I answered my own question. "Yeah, of course it is...sorry. What do we do now...just wait for her to appear?"

"Patience, Liz, I have a feeling we wonít have to wait long." In a voice that rang through the temple, Gabrielle called out, "Isnít that right Aphrodite?"

I thought Gabrielle was losing it talking to the statue. She stepped back slightly pulling me with her. What I thought was just a ray of sunlight on the statue began to expand. In an instant, the room was ablaze in very bright light. The stone had become a shimmering entity. I couldnít help being somewhat in awe. It wasnít everyday that a goddess materialized in front of me. Gabrielle, on the other hand, was taking it all in stride. The intensity was almost too much to keep my eyes on. I finally relented and shielded them from the searing light. When a marked decrease in the brightness occurred I once again peered in the direction of the statue.

To my sheer amazement, the gray stone was now of a pale alabaster hue. It had begun to take on life. The light left as quickly as it had begun. In its place was a living, breathing woman. No...no...thatís not exactly right. She defied anything Iíd ever seen. She was the goddess of love and I was definitely staring. She was almost wearing a diaphanous gown of the palest rose tint. Her full breasts were just barely contained.

"Wasnít that entrance just totally awesome...or what? Sometimes I amaze myself."

I was startled at her voice. I looked at Gabrielle and whispered, "Thatís her, Gabrielle, thatís the voice I heard."

She put her hand on my arm to calm my excitement. " I know...now just relax."

Aphrodite was ignoring us and picking through the scrolls at her feet. "This is so boring...another petition for a love spell. When will these losers get it together? They expect me to fix all their little spats." She was reading the scroll, rolled her eyes and tossed it over her shoulder. "Hmmm...not in your dreams." She let loose that impish laugh I had heard in my time.

She continued speaking, "Now if those petitioners had half the passion as you two..."

She had turned and was talking directly to Gabrielle and myself. "Well, I mean was that not just the most intense scene last night or what? Like Iíve seen it all but that move at the end sweetcheeks...radical. How did you...?"

Gabrielle and I looked at each other and felt very self-conscious. Almost in unison we yelled, "Aphrodite!"

The goddess was taken aback at the thought of a mortal yelling at her. "Hey, chill...I am the goddess of love... I see this stuff all the time...well almost.."

Iíd had enough of this and stepped forward. Gabrielle couldnít believe her eyes...again. She just let me go. I spoke directly as if I spoke to deities all the time. "Are you responsible for all this, your royal worship?" I was very condescending in my tone. I wasnít sure how far I could push her and cared even less.

Aphrodite looked at me and in a self-congratulatory tone replied, "Well, totally and a bitchiní time Iíve had too. Not too rational but...hey... it has some form...huh?"

Gabrielle and I shot a look at each other and recalled the phrase.

"Déjà vu girls? Sorry, I was just a little tampering with your consciousness. Hope you donít mind."

This time Gabrielle spoke, "Well as a matter of fact we do mind. You canít go around screwing with peopleís lives like that...goddess or not. So cut to the chase, Aphrodite and tell us whatís going on. Why did you yank Liz to this time?"

"Hey...I did what I had to do. Itís all the big guyís fault in the first place...not mine. You think dragging you all over time is a fun gig for me?" Aphrodite was looking in my direction.

"The big guy...you mean Hercules?" I was looking at Gabrielle for confirmation.

She suppressed a laugh, "No...not a big guy...the big guy...you know...Zeus."

Aphrodite chimed in, "Jeez...catch up already. Youíre not very with it are you?"

I was becoming more irritated but was smothering it nicely. "Well, if I had known I was going to end up here..." I made a sweeping gesture with my arm... "I would have boned up on my mythology."

"Mythology? Babycakes do I look like a myth to you?" Aphrodite was resting in a very seductive pose near one of the flower vases.

"Excuse me, but we donít have a lot of Ďgoddess of loveí temples where I come from."

She retorted, " And thatís exactly why you are here."

Visibly agitated now, Gabrielle stepped in. "You two stop! Liz...be quiet and sit down...now! Aphrodite...spill it!"

Aphrodite casually strolled about the room, "Hey, just chill. Anger is such a buzz kill. Ok hereís the deal. Ever since the Herodius and Caspia thing Zeus has had wind blowing up his skirt. Seems he had a boner for Caspia and I ruined his good time. Anyway he knew he couldnít make me change my mind... so he did the next best thing."

From my perch I interjected, "He call the fashion police on you?"

"Liz! Iím warning you. Another outburst and youíre waiting outside." Gabrielle was in control of this sideshow at the moment.

"Pretty cranky isnít she blondie? So anyway he threatened me with some backwater love patrol for eternity. Total bummer. I need to be where the action is...not places like Poteidaia...dragster city."

Gabrielle was irked, " Hey! Watch it sister. Thatís my home youíre trashing."

"Yeah...yeah...whatever. So I cut a deal. Every 50 years for 500 years I agree to take his challenge. If I win, The Lovers stay in the sky...if I lose, they get to be mortal again and he gets to boink Caspia. Personally, Zeus wouldnít know a real challenge if it bit him. I havenít broken a sweat in 450 years. I mean the man has no imagination. So the thing is, after 500 years, heís off my case and no more butting into my arena. This was to be my last confrontation with him...so he went out of his way to make it difficult. "

Aphrodite focused her attention my way and continued, "He gave me until your 50th birthday for you to believe in love again. Is he hung up on increments of 50 or what? So I thought Ďpiece of cakeí...no prob. That was three years ago."

Gabrielle interrupted the goddess and turned toward me. She had this look of total disbelief. " I canít believe it!"

"What...that Iím 50?" I asked.

"No...that itís your birthday and you didnít tell me. When? " She looked hurt.

"I suppose officially just after midnight last night. Sorry, I didnít think it was relevant." I was feeling a little guilty here.

Not used to being ignored, Aphrodite butted in, "Excuuuse...meee...can I finish here? You girls can be all pouty later. So like I was saying...that was three years ago. The solution was simple enough. Get you hooked up with a pure spirit...let you experience that...and bingo...Iím home free and that wrinkled shyster is off my case."

"So why did it take you three years...lost your touch?" I was pushing the envelope here.

"You know you probably need to take a vacation...would do your attitude a lot of good. No, I didnít lose my touch. I thought even you might be offended with an interaction with a two-year old. That happens to be the cut off for purity of spirit in your time. After that itís jaded city. So my only option was to bring you here."

Drawing the obvious conclusion, I said, "So you hooked me with Gabrielle?"

Aphrodite shook her head and laughed. "As if. You think she would be my first choice for this gig... no way."

I was very defensive about Gabrielle, "Well, if you had done your homework, you would have know that she was the only choice."

"Yeah...thatís what the tall chick told me too."

Gabrielleís ears picked up. "What tall chick?"

"Oh you know...dark hair...blue eyes...your lover...hello..."

"Xena? Are you talking about Xena? She knew about this?" Gabrielle couldnít believe this.

"Well...duh...who do you think talked me into using you. She was my first choice...not you...but she convinced me that you were the one with the purity of spirit and soul that this job needed."

Gabrielle was livid and on a tear, "So what ...she just loaned me out? She is in such big trouble. This is so typical of Xena. She never asks...she just does. First there was that incident in the cave and my new fabric. Ok...so we were trapped and she made a torch ...but she could have asked. And then there was the thing with my parchment and her potty break. I canít believe this...no offense Liz."

I was about at my ropes end with all this, "No offense taken, Gabrielle." I turned my attention on Aphrodite.

"So let me get this straight. Feel free to stop me if I miss anything...oh and try to keep up. Ok, Zeus has a thing for Caspia...and you probably do, too. You get all pissy that neither Herodius or Caspia is impressed. To save face you turn them into cosmic matter and station them in the heavens. Now Zeus is pissed and forces you to play out a 500 year game...which you are closing in on as the big winner. But he throws a kink in the game...me...because he knows the likelihood of you succeeding is small. This is due to the cynical nature of my world. How am I doiní so far?"

"Right on...continue."

"So you decide to bend the rules. You bring me here and have me meet Gabrielle. Who, by the way, is also an unwilling participant in all this. You cast some sort of spell on both of us. We end up in the sack and you think thatís the endgame?"

Aphrodite sat for a minute for dramatic effect Iím sure. "Oooh...and you were so close to getting it right. You made a wrong turn at the spell thing. No spells stud muffin. I simply put you two together and removed some obstacles...you did the rest. Iím a goddess...not a miracle worker. Fill her in Gabs...Iím late for an orgy. Pardon the pun, but those things can get out of hand without proper supervision."

I refused to let her just leave. "Thatís it? You think you won because I had sex with Gabrielle?"

For the first time Aphrodite looked stern. "Iím going to tell you this once. Both of you know that it was more than just sex. You felt that shift within you. Now you can deny it or cut the crap and get on with the rest of your life. At any rate, Zeus is satisfied...Iím satisfied...and you should be. But itís your life and you mortals spend too much time choosing to be miserable. Lighten up. Go home and try to start a new trend...you might like it." Her face was softened.

I knew she was right. I did feel different inside. I mulled it over briefly and opted for acceptance, "Well, when youíre right...youíre right. I donít necessarily approve of your tactics though. Letís not do this again. Are you cool with that? Guess I should thank you. Maybe Iíll get a temple thing going again in my time."

Aphrodite smiled and gave me a wink. "That would really rock...take care Liz. Gabby...my love to Xena. The woman does something for leather, doesnít she? "

"Hey..." Gabrielle didnít get any further.

Aphrodite became bathed in a swirling light spinning faster and faster around obscuring her form. When the light returned to normal the statue was stone again and the room painfully quiet. Gabrielle and I were left standing looking at each other. I thought to myself, ĎI didnít ask her how to get home.í A voice echoed in the temple, My bad babe...you can go home whenever." Then silence.

I finally broke the numbing quietness. "Gabrielle, I donít what to say." I wanted to say something profound but my mind was a blank. "Iím sorry for this mess."

"Well, Iím not and you shouldnít be either. Aphrodite was right about there being no spells. Even the gods canít make you do something thatís not already in our hearts. Do you know what Iím saying?" She had her hands on my shoulders sending a quiver through me. Leaving was going to be difficult.

I tried to lighten the mood. "Guess you have a thing or two to settle with your warrior, huh? "

"Oh, you can count on it...but once I look into those blue eyes all will be forgiven. I canít help it. Life is just too short to be angry. "

"Thatís a point Iíll take with me." For the first time I was speaking in terms of leaving. It caught both of us by surprise.

"Guess you have to leave soon..." She was fumbling in her satchel. "...I want you to have this. It was going to be a good-bye present but now it can be a birthday present. I like that much better anyway." She pulled the emerald crystal from the bag and placed it around my neck.

I was stunned. "When did you..."

"Oh, this morning while you were still asleep. I wanted you to have something to remember me by too." There was a tear forming in those green eyes. I felt a lump tightening in my own throat.

"I donít want to leave...but three would be a crowd...you know...Xena."

"Oh, Xena...yeah I guess it would be a little cramped." She spoke almost sadly.

I tried to smile, but it was difficult. "Well, Iíve learned one thing from all this...and you. Anything is possible. I think a certain bard once told me that."

"Yeah...sometimes I talk too much for my own good."

"Gabrielle, everytime I feel love and trust, I will think of you. It sounds trite but thatís how I feel. Thank you." I paused for a second, "Now I wonder if I should click my heels together and recite ĎThereís no place like home?í " I really didnít want to proceed but we had finally come to good-bye.

Gabrielle gave me one of those ĎI donít know what youíre talking aboutí looks.

"Never mind. I think Iíd rather have you hold me and kiss me good-bye. Would that be all right with you?" I now had tears forming in my eyes and dancing down my cheeks.

"That would be more than all right, Liz." She hesitated a moment, "Iím going to miss you."

I looked in those eyes for the last time and in my best ET impersonation I said, "Iíll be right here." And placed a finger to her forehead.

No other words were spoken. She placed her arms around me and we embraced in a passionate kiss. I could sense her love and caring for me. More importantly, I could feel myself giving that to her. This was the real miracle. Before I could open my eyes to gaze upon her I was in that tunnel spinning backward and forward into my life. Good-bye, Gabrielle.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN- Happy Rebirthday To Me

I felt the sensation of her touch slowly dissolve around me. I was speeding through space and time.

Slowly, my physical awareness became more solid. I sensed I was sitting in the chair of my room. I opened my eyes to darkness around me. I hadnít thought about leaving a light on. It was night but what day was it? I tried to stand but was disoriented and slumped back into the safety of the chair. This felt very different from the previous trips. I knew in my heart that I was home to stay. I put my hand to my lips and felt the damp remains of her kiss. Part of me felt a huge emptiness...a longing. I sat in the dark and just let tears wash my soul with a deep cleansing lave.

Iím not really sure how long I sobbed but it was a while. Funny...I felt all the emotions connected with losing a great love. And it was all right. My heart felt alive again. I reached up to place a hand over that beating enigma. I felt the crystal that Gabrielle had given me. I was overjoyed it had made the journey. That meant that she retained the coral I had given her. Some of life is fair after all.

Once again I attempted to stand and did much better this time. I wandered over to the dresser to find my watch. The time was eleven in the evening and the day was...my birthday. I hadnít missed it. I went into the bath and turned the light on. God, what a mess greeted me. I had the worldís dirtiest clothes on. The slashed sleeve of my tee bore witness to my fight. The bandage was still on my arm. I was giving some thought to keeping these as proof that I wasnít crazed. When I looked in the mirror and saw the crystal I knew I wasnít crazy. It would always be a reminder to me. I threw off the grimy clothes and took a long shower. It was my 50th birthday and I wanted to celebrate. I knew just where to go.

I toweled off and inspected my wound. It was almost healed. I wouldnít have to redress it. I put on my best faded, holey levis and a tank. The crystal rested softly between my breasts. In contrast, the wound on my arm gave me a little touch of roughness. I gave my new countenance a Ďthumbs upí and left the room.

It was a beautiful Key West night. Soft warm breeze coming in off the Atlantic. My ride to The Dunes was quick. I could hear sounds of laughter and music coming from the deck. I parked the scooter and made my way around back. There was a pretty large crowd gathered. The music was jamminí and there were couples danciní..drinkiní..and dininí. I neared the gated entrance to find Rolf, the bouncer, standing with his arms crossed blocking my way. Guess he hadnít quite forgotten last year.

"Hi yaí big guy. How yaí been?" I was trying my disarming charm first.

He seemed unimpressed. " And where do you think youíre going? I thought I made myself very clear last year."

I could see that charm wasnít going to work so I tried bargaining. That might work here. "Look, Rolf, Iím really sorry about last year. Couldnít we just call a truce? Iíll behave...I promise." I was as close to him as I dared. He was a very big guy with no sense of humor.

Without warning he snagged me by the arm and held me tightly. He began dragging me up the steps to the bar area. In a deep coarse voice he said, "Thereís just one thing I have to say to you, Liz."

I tensed because I knew a payback was coming. Sheepishly I asked, "What is it?"

"This is for all the trouble you put me through last year." He spun me around to face the bar. As he did, a chorus of "Happy Birthday" rang out. Melinda was standing in front of the bar. She was leading the patrons in one of the worst renditions of it Iíd ever heard. When the final chords had been splintered, she gave me a hug and Rolf a high five.

"Were you surprised?" she asked handing me a glass of champagne.

I took a long sip and said, "That would be an understatement. How did you get Rolf to let you do this?"

"Oh, honey, it was his idea." She lowered her voice," You know he really likes you. Last year he was about to punch that guy himself. You saved him the trouble...and his job."

I had a devilish look in my eye. "So...he owes me one then. This is going to be a good week...whatís left of it. Thanks Melinda. Youíre the best." I gave her a hug and quick kiss.

I looked on the bar and there was a huge cake adorned with 50 candles. I laughed at the sight of the sheer number. Melinda came up behind me and leaned close to my ear. "You know, we almost didnít have a cake big enough to hold them all." She playfully tousled my hair.

I watched as Rolf started lighting the bonfire. "Yeah? And what will you do next year?"

She thought for a moment. "Guess weíll start consolidating...you know one big candle for every decade..." She was looking at the blaze starting on the cake, "That way we wonít need a fire extinguisher."

"Oh...very funny." I said.

Rolf was summoning me over to the cake. "Címon Liz, blow these out before the fire department gets here."

I made my way to the bar...took in a deep breath and blew away. I got most on the first try and completed the task with the next short burst. The extinguished candles were swirling smoke around the bar area. I waved my hand over the cake to disperse the cloud. The patrons gave me a hearty round of applause. I graciously bowed in thanks.

I retrieved my champagne and stepped back from the bar. "Ok...donít be shy. Cake for everyone. Come and get it."

The waitresses and waitrons began slicing and handing out the cake to the milling throng. Slowly the music took over and couples were migrating to the dance floor again. I sat down at the bar and scanned the immediate area. Melinda was behind the bar now and refilled my glass. My actions werenít lost on her. "Did you lose something...or are you looking for something ...or should I say someone?"

I took a long sip of the bubbly liquid. Naw...just lookiní." I was looking for someone...Sam. I donít know why I thought she would actually be here. But that was ok. I didnít take it personally. I mean I didnít exactly give her a positive indication back at Tra La Laís.

Melinda was eyeing me like something was out of place. I caught her and said, "What are you looking at? Didnít I get all my clothes on?"

My voice startled her concentration. "No...in fact you look marvelous. You did something to your hair, right?"

I laughed and thought, ĎYeah I dragged it through time and had a little one on one with The goddess of love. Works wonders for your split ends.Ď Instead I offered, "No...hairís the same. Maybe itís this." I held out Gabrielleís crystal "You know accessories make the woman."

She reached out to touch the piece. "Oooh...thatís beautiful. Where did you get it?"

I held the crystal in my hand, gazing at its beauty. Absently I said, "It was a gift from someone far away."

Melindaís attention was diverted by thirsty patrons at the bar. She gave me another refill and spoke before darting off. "Weíll have a little talk after this place closes...all right?"

I nodded and she began fulfilling the wishes of the masses. I slid off the stool and walked to the end of the dock overlooking the Atlantic. Well-wishers along the rails offered congrats on my half century of life. I rested on the railing quietly sipping my champagne. The sky was pristine...a full moon hung suspended high in the night sky. There was a gentle breeze and I let it flow over me. I gazed up to see The Lovers still outlined in the heavens.

Out loud to myself I said, "Hereís to you, Herodius and Caspia. For without your love I wouldnít have found my heart again." I lifted my glass in a silent toast. "Hereís to you, Gabrielle." I was lost in my thoughts and didnít notice the approaching figure.

"For someone of your age, you look pretty good." the voice behind me observed.

I turned my head toward its direction to find Sam smiling at me. She had a glass of champagne in her hand. "The bartender told me this was your poison tonight." She was really beautiful bathed in the moonlight.

"You didnít tell me it was your birthday." she added in mock disappointment, "My feelings are hurt."

A little smile formed at the corner of my mouth, "Youíre not the first one to point that out to me today."

"I wanted to get that drink for you but I see you already have one." This time she did sound genuinely disappointed.

"Oh, donít worry...the night is young. Youíll have your chance. "

She lifted her glass toward me, "Hereís to you, Liz... happy birthday." She took a slow drink and gazed at me. "Did you do something to your hair? You look different."

It caught me off guard and I spewed champagne over the railing. I was laughing and trying to breathe at the same time. When I had regained my composure, I said, "No...Iím sporting a new...uh...outlook."

"Well, it looks great on you." She had inched closer to me. The smell of her perfume mixed with the salt air in a delicious concoction. "I hope I wasnít too late in getting here. You did say you would be late...right?"

I was leaning on the rail mesmerized by her. All I could get out was a weak, "Yes..."

Sam placed her glass on the rail and totally invaded my personal space. "If I had known it was your birthday, I would have brought you a present so..." She was standing within inches of me, "....this will have to do for now." She took the glass from my hand and placed it along side hers. She touched my face so lightly I couldnít tell the difference between her hand and the breeze. "You have the most amazing blue eyes. Anyone ever told you that?" A response wasnít needed. She brought her lips to mine and kissed me with the fire of desire. I returned her unspoken request with a newfound passion. My heart had found a new dimension of possibility.

From the heavens The Lovers watched over us and a very distinct voice echoed, " Bitchiní..."

 

EPILOGUE - PART ONE

We spent the rest of the week investigating each otherís likes and dislikes. We took long walks down Duval window shopping during the day. At night we celebrated the sunset at Mallory Square... made love in the moonlight and kissed in front of more than one nuclear family. I wasnít Ďin loveí with her but I was definitely Ďin likeí with Sam. Hey...one step at a time. We found many interests that were similar and some that werenít. The most heated exchanged came when we Ďdiscussedí her being a southern...lesbian...Republican and myself being a rigid...straight ticket...Democrat. Well, no one is perfect. And it did leave us plenty of room to spar...not as direct as a six-foot staff...but not as dangerous.

We left Key West on different flights from the same gate at the end of the week. We had phone numbers and addresses. I knew that we would see each other again...I felt it in my new heart.

My puddle jumper left the ground almost at sunset. As we gained altitude, I looked down on the island. It was slowly becoming just an indistinct dot on a blue-green palette. I couldnít take my eyes from the window. I wanted to see it as long as possible. It had been the site of a most memorable birthday and vacation.

The trip to Miami was quick. I boarded my flight to Atlanta in plenty of time and settled into my seat. I fell into a dreamless sleep before we left the ground. In what seemed like a moment, I was nudged awake by the feel of the planeís descent. I had slept the whole way. I waited until the 747 stopped fully at the gate. I really wasnít in a hurry to enter the real world. I gathered my carry-on satchel and strolled off the plane. As I exited the gate a familiar voice greeted me.

"Lizzz...yoo-hoo...over here." Roger was frantically waving to get my attention. As if I or anyone else could miss him. I waved back and cleared the ropes to embrace him.

"Come here and hug me you silly queen." I said affectionately. He gave me a bear of a hug that even surprised him.

Holding me at armís length, he appraised my tan. "Not bad...not bad at all. Here honey turn for me "

I did the best imitation of a model on the catwalk I could muster. He was delighted. "Oh, work it girl."

"Ok, youíve had your fun...enough already. Letís get out of here." I hooked my arm through his and began guiding him past the slower traffic.

He stopped dead in the middle of the concourse. ĎNot again...í I was thinking

He was staring. "My God, Liz, you look fabulous. Did you do something to your hair?" He stood for a moment left arm crossed supporting his right elbow...thumb and finger resting in thought on his chin. "No...thatís not it. You look positively radiant." I could almost see the light bulb over his head go on. "Oh...my...God...you got laid didnít you? Ooh... details...címon spill it."

I couldnít keep it in any longer. "Well, if you must know...yes...I had an encounter. But more than that I actually met Gabrielle."

He was drawing a complete blank. Who?"

"You know the TV show...Xena:Warrior Princess and her Ďfriendí Gabrielle.? The one all my friends watch and then we discuss whether they are or arenít. Well, I met Gabrielle."

Roger let out a shriek of excitement. "You mean you got laid by an actress? Oh...Iím going to faint. "

I let him go on for a bit. "No, Roger I met the real Gabrielle...not the actress."

He raised an eyebrow and took me by the elbow, "Sweetie, just how many margaritas did you have last week?"

I laughed heartily. "I know this sounds really off the wall...but indulge me here. I have a most amazing story to tell you."

He rolled his eyes as only a queen can and inquired further, "Sure...but did you meet anyone from this reality?"

I could tell he was humoring me. "Oh, yeah, I met one of those too."

"Well...purrr-raise the Lord... finally. Now thatís something I want to hear about." He was doing his best Tammy Faye for me and everyone else on the concourse. For clarification he asked, "Then this will be an all-nighter?"

"Oh...definitely", I said reaching up to caress the crystal.

 

EPILOGUE - PART TWO

Gabrielle felt the physical dissolution of Liz. She opened her eyes to find herself standing alone in the temple. It was very disorienting and a little scary. She did a slow inventory of the area...hoping that Liz was still there. She wasnít. A huge ache grew in the center of her chest. She wandered outside the temple and sagged to the front steps. Placing her head in her hands, she cried. These were tears of loss and joy. It seemed impossible to be feeling two such diametrically opposed emotions at once but she was. She let them come unrestricted and uncontrolled.

"Miss, are you all right?" One of the villagers had ascended the temple steps finding Gabrielle sobbing.

Gabrielle lifted her tear-streaked face toward the voice. " Iím fine... really."

"You donít look fine. Are you sure? Is there anything I can do?" The peasant woman sat down next to the bard. She placed her arm around her shoulder and rocked her in a motherly fashion. Gabrielle accepted her kindness.

They sat for a while like this without speaking. Slowly, Gabrielle began to gain control. She sat up away from the woman. "Thank you for your caring. Iím feeling much better now...really."

The woman looked into her red swollen eyes and decided she was telling the truth in spite of her looks. She stood and prepared to enter the temple. Before leaving, she said , "Donít worry, dear, Iím sure Aphrodite will answer your petition." With that she disappeared into the bowels of the temple.

The mention of Aphroditeís name galvanized Gabrielle. "Yeah...right. Gods... how could she do this to me...and to Liz? Why couldnít she have just told me?"

She was envisioning Xena, her love and companion, plotting with Aphrodite. It was making her mad...really mad. She stood and walked down the steps. She spoke to the air in front of her, "This is going to be really bad for you Xena. Donít even think about using those baby blues on me this time." Confident that she could hold this anger till Xena arrived, she headed back to the village.

Gabrielle took the long way back to Daedalius. She needed some time to process her feelings. She found a shaded area near a running stream and sat down. The therapist was in and the session began.

"Ok, Gabrielle," she said aloud, "Letís go through this."

Sensing some woodland entertainment about to commence, a group of birds fluttered to a log near her.

Gabrielle noticed the contingent and smiled. " Good...I need some outside advice. What would you do?" The birds chirped excitedly. She took this as an answer. "Thatís exactly what I thought. Xena had no right just offering me to Aphrodite...right? I mean I am right arenít I? "

The feathered group adjusted their seating arrangement. Gabrielle peered at them waiting...

Sensing some fowl disagreement, she defended herself. "Oh, I suppose you donít think I have reason to be pissed at Xena? I know the end result was noble but itís just the principle of the thing. Ya know what I mean? "

A gray squirrel joined the panel. Gabrielle acknowledged the new member. "Hey, come on in...join the discussion. I need a third party opinion." The squirrel sat up on its rear end and eyed the bard. Gabrielle watched the squirrel and continued. "You probably think Iím over reacting donít you?" She answered her own inquiry, "Ok...so maybe I am just a bit but I donít think Xena should get off scott free. Do you? "

The squirrel jumped off the log and scurried up the nearest tree. He sat on a low branch and began vocalizing. His bushed tail punctuating each phrase. The birds left the ground and winged to various points in the sky. Their cacophony dying as they became specks in the sky

Gabrielle was alone once again. " Fine...go ahead and leave. Seems I canít get anyone to hang around this week." She rose from her spot and continued her dissection. She thought back to the morning that Xena left to meet Hercules. "I bet she wasnít even going to meet Hercules. This whole thing bites the big one."

It was late afternoon when Gabrielle re-entered the village. She made her way to Amoriaís abode. She entered the door to find the seer waiting for her.

"The traveler be gone then?" She spoke the obvious. " And ye be troubled and angry?"

Gabrielle was* angry and it was not sitting well with her. "Well...yeah...you could say that. Did you know about this too?"

"I know many things young bard..." Amoria sensed the hurt in Gabrielle, "...yes, I knew of this." She went straight to the seat of Gabrielleís anger. "You be upset with your warrior for keeping this from you?"

Sarcastically she replied, "Gosh...and I thought you wouldnít notice "Her voice became louder and she was near tears. "Of course Iím upset. Xena and I are supposed to trust each other. What am I to think about that now?"

Amoria was even in her reply, "The trust still be there child...itís the anger ye must deal with. You should know this didnít just happen to you alone. Your warrior has also suffered. It is because of that mutual trust Aphrodite was granted access. This was not easy for her to do."

Gabrielleís eyes were full...again. "Why didnít she just tell me?"

The question hung in the air for a moment. Amoria looked her gently in the eyes...as she had done with Liz...and said, "This be a question only your warrior can answer. But know this...life is too short to be angry."

Gabrielleís own words rang in her ears. It was true that no matter what had happened over the last few days...the reasons or motives...life was too short and precious to waste on petty anger. She of all people knew this having seen Xena die before her and then be resurrected.

"Youíre right, I suppose..." Gabrielle was returning to a calmer state, "... but Iím still going to give her a piece of my mind...just because."

"Youíll do what ye have to young one. Now...go...your warrior be here soon." Amoria turned from Gabrielle and began addressing her chores.


Gabrielle returned to the inn to see the innkeeperís young son leading Argo to the stable. Xena was here. Her heart began racing. It had only been a few days but it seemed like a lifetime. She admonished herself, "Just calm down Gabrielle...remember youíre still pissed...ok?" She knew her body would betray her at the first sight of her lover. She walked into the inn and scanned the tables. Seated in the back was Xena calmly sipping on a mug of port. Surely she knew that Gabrielle would be overboard with all this...but she seemed very collected.

Xena caught sight of Gabrielle and motioned for her to join her. There was even a hint of a smile on her face...she couldnít help it. Gabrielle took her time walking across the room. She was trying to assemble some dialogue in her head. Finally she was standing before her warrior. Xena finished her sip of port before looking up. The late afternoon sun was streaming in through the upper level windows casting indiscriminate rays around the bar. One of them sliced directly across Xenaís face. Gabrielle was looking directly into those eyes. They were made even more electric by the sun reflecting off them. She felt weak in the knees and thought, "Oh...this is so unfair. It had to be the eyes."

Xena interrupted her internal dilemma, " Well, are you going to stare or sit?" She waved for the barkeep to bring a cider for her irritated lover.

Gabrielle pulled the chair out and sat down directly across from Xena. Her arms were folded in a defensive manner. She couldnít wait any longer. Her resolve was slowing ebbing away. Taking a deep breath, she started in on object of her displeasure. "Xena...I canít believe..."

The warrior held a hand up to quell the onslaught. "Gabrielle, listen to me for a minute. If youíre still feel the need to vent afterward then Iíll gladly let you go off on me. Okay?"

The barkeep delivered the cider. Gabrielle took a long drink before answering. "All right...but this better be good."

"Fair enough." Xena scooted her chair closer to the bard. She placed her hand on Gabrielleís arm coaxing her to give up the defensive posture. The touch of her hand sent a small jolt through Gabrielle.

Looking into her incredible green eyes Xena began. "You have every right to be upset with me. Aphrodite approached me a number of days ago with this proposition. She wanted me to interact with this woman..."

Gabrielle interrupted her, Liz...her name is Liz...or was...or will be...this whole time thing is just too confusing."

Xena let her finish before continuing. "Anyway, I told her that I couldnít...that the only reason I believed in love at all was because of you. That I didnít possess the optimism or purity of heart to pull this off."

"Is that when you volunteered me?" Gabrielle asked trying to sound indignant.

Xena took her hand and absently ran her fingers along Gabrielleís palm and the sensitive area on her wrist. The bard was beginning to have a hard time concentrating.

"Well, not at first. She did ask who my choice would be? I knew what she was getting at and I didnít like it at all. As you know, I have no great love for any god or goddess. The idea of being manipulated by one just sticks in my craw. But I have to say that Aphrodite made a very convincing case."

Gabrielle was losing the need to yell at Xena and was intrigued by the story unfolding before her. Once a bard...always a bard. "So...what was her case?" Gabrielle had taken Xenaís hand in her own...fingers entwined.

"Aphrodite reminded me what my life was like before you...the darkness...despair...the hardness of my heart. She told me that your pure unselfish love for me had allowed my soul to live again. She was right and I had to admit that you had been instrumental in my own redemption."

" Thatís when you suggested me, right?" Gabrielle was caught up in this unfolding tale.

Xena smiled at her lover, "No...not then...but close. I told her that you were indeed the only person capable of turning this womanís...Lizís life around. But I wasnít sure I could let you do it. So I laid out some ground rules. I told her that she wasnít under any circumstances to use a spell on either of you. Also the intent and purpose had to remain clear and pure. The role of free will was to be invoked. The whole thing must evolve honestly."

"And thatís when you offered me for this Ďjob?í " Gabrielle was running her fingers across Xenaís forearm to the bend of her elbow. The warrior was now having difficulty paying attention.

"Yes...thatís when. I made up an excuse to leave you for a few days. Thatís one of the reasons I was staring at you that morning. It was very hard for me to leave knowing what might happen..." Xenaís voice trailed off.

"What did you think might happen?" Gabrielle went about answering her own question. "That I would fall madly in love with her and leave you?"

Xena lowered her eyes at doubting Gabrielleís commitment.

Gabrielle squeezed her loverís hand tightly. "Xena...you have my heart...now and always. Donít you know that?"

Xenaís eyes were misty and looked into the bardís face. "Yes...I do know that...but Iíve never willingly put you in the arms of another woman before. And Aphrodite has been known to break a promise or two. Ultimately, I had to trust, without reservation, your love for me." Xena closed her eyes and a tear gently made itís way down her cheek. She returned Gabrielleís squeeze in like form.

Gabrielle sensed how difficult this was for Xena to express. She did know, without a doubt, that she loved her and that Xena would lay down her life for that love. No more need be said.

Gabrielleís anger was all but gone. She shifted gears. "Xena, why didnít you just tell me what was going on? I could have handled it."

Relieved that the conversation had taken a different path, Xena let go a hearty laugh. "Well, first of all, for this to work neither of you could know...thatís where the free will thing came in. Besides you know you canít keep a secret. You would have gone about the Ďtaskí of helping Liz and it probably wouldnít have worked."

Gabrielle feigned shock, "Hey...I can too keep a secret. Remember your birthday? I kept that a secret. "

"Gabrielle, this was a little bigger than a birthday surprise. Besides itís a moot point. So do you still want to yell at me?"

Yelling at Xena wasnít what Gabrielle wanted to do. "No...you know Iím really not the yelling type. But youíre not off the hook just yet. Itís going to take me a day or two to work on this. "

"Thatís fair enough. Is there anything I can do to make up for all this?" Xena had a very good idea but wanted to hear it from Gabrielle.

"Well, for starters, you can promise youíll never do this again."

"Ok...I can do that. So how Ďbout taking a nice hot bath and let me give you a massage? Itís the least I can do considering." Xena wanted to take Gabrielle in her arms this very minute. Being this close to her was beginning to be a sublime torture.

Gabrielle looked dismayed. "Oh, Xena, I forgot about the bath. Iím sorry." She frantically looked for the innkeeper.

Xena put a hand on her shoulder and said, "Donít worry, love, Iíve taken care of it. " She helped Gabrielle out of her chair... placed her arm around her most beloved and kissed her deeply. "Iíve missed you." Xena whispered placing a kiss just below Gabrielleís ear on the softness of her neck. "I love you...and I want you, now."

They started for the stairs and the upper chamber. Xena spied the black coral around Gabrielleís neck. She lifted it from between the warm breasts of the bard. "Whatís this?"

Gabrielle looked at the piece, "Oh, thatís from a place called Key West."

Xena raised an eyebrow and sighed, "And I suppose there is a long story about all this that you will feel compelled to relate. An all-nighter perhaps?"

Gabrielle gave her a seductive smile. "Only if you want it to be. "

Xena bent close to her ear as they ascended the stairs. "Oh...definitely."

 

The End?


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