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COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: This story contains the personalities and actions of Xena, Gabrielle and any number of characters from the Xenaverse at large. These entities are the sole property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. They are used without permission. No infringement is intended. Additionally, they are not utilized for profit... just for fun. The characters of a non-Xenaverse stature are the property of the author and may not be used without permission. Conversely, no part of this story may be altered or plagiarized. You may, however, copy and distribute this story for personal enjoyment as long as all disclaimers are intact. Please adhere to these guidelines. Um... donít make me come looking for you.

CONTENT WARNING: Be advised this story contains a description of a romantic relationship between mature, consenting women...(thatís right, theyíre lesbians) some of which is graphic in its wording. If you are not 18 years of age or if this is illegal in the state you reside, DO NOT READ THIS!! The author will not be responsible for any reader Ďsurprises.í In other words, donít send me email whining about ĎEwww... I didnít know there would be lesbian stuff in here!í Youíve been warned!

Additionally, this story contains graphic descriptions of bodily harm and medical procedures. If this is offensive or upsetting, stop right here, and go read something else.

There is also strong language... be advised. Hmm... sex, bodily harm and bad language. By the gods, I like it!

SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGMENTS/SPOILER ALERT: First, thanks go to the women in my life I pressed into service to re-read, critique, and generally question my sanity as I wrote. A special thank-you to my editor for her expertise and for putting up with my flagrant bending of the rules of grammar and punctuation. Seems I may never understand where all those commas are supposed to go.

Secondly, this story contains two characters borrowed from another bardís story and in essence is a huge spoiler for that story. The bard is Georgia and the story is her From Time To Time. This very fine tale can be found at The Bardís Corner... http://xenite.simplenet.com. I highly recommend your taking time to read this. My thanks to Georgia for allowing the use of her wonderful women... hmmm... that didnít come out right. <g> But you know what I mean.

And speaking of spoilers. This tale takes place shortly after Maternal Instincts and The Bitter Suite. There are references to the action in those two episodes. Now, I canít imagine anyone NOT having seen these... but, yaí never know.

SERIES CONTINUATION DISCLAIMER: This story is part IV of the Dimension series. By this time, if you are not familiar with the characters and the previous action, you are definitely going to be lost. I apologize, but hey... itís just the way the fan fiction works. The previous three parts are located right here. For those of you who have persevered, I humbly bow and thank you for reading.

FINAL DISCLAIMER: I really think Iíve covered every conceivable base. But, just in case, this serves as a warning for anything Iíve overlooked. Feedback is always welcome and appreciated. Enjoy.

This story and series is dedicated to all that believe love can find a way... over time... adversity and impossible odds... that soul mates will always find each other. And to the woman I finally found again... if just for a brief moment.


DIMENSIONíS END
By Blue
Vryblueyz@aol.com
© 1998


And Iíd give forever to touch you
ĎCuz I know that you feel me somehow
Youíre the closest to Heaven that Iíve ever been
And I donít want to go home right now

And all I can taste is your sweetness
And all I can breathe is your life
And sooner or later itís over
I just donít wanna miss you tonight

And I donít want the world to see me
ĎCuz I donít think theyíd understand
When everything is made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am

"Iris"
Goo Goo Dolls
From "City Of Angels"

 

Prologue

The dark-haired woman turned fitfully in her bed. The early morning light had just begun to filter into the room. Her two companions, of the four-legged variety, had been awake for some time. They waited patiently for the human to wake... once again to fulfill their need and dishes. Liz rolled on her back and slowly let her eyes open to the waiting day. In a practiced ritual, she felt the space next to her and pulled the free pillow into her arms... caressing it gently like a lover. Brie and RG watched in anticipation. They knew breakfast wasnít far behind this movement. Lord knows theyíd seen it enough to be conditioned to the act. The cats waited for the embrace to end and the signal for the dayís first meal to begin.

Almost painfully, Liz released the pillow. She drew in a deep breath and rolled on her side, looking toward the outer room. The day was going to be sunny and warm. Spring had finally come to Atlanta, but her heart was still mired in the events of the winter. Absently, she ran her thumb over the ring on her finger... a very physical reminder of those events... and of Sam. She knew time was the only thing to lessen the pain, but still she wondered if it would ever stop hurting. Brieís pawing insistence wrestled her free of those thoughts.

Liz sleepily spoke to the animal. "Ok... Iím awake, already. You have such a one track little mind."

Brie was very conversant in Ďhumaní. She quickly responded, "Yeow!" and jumped from the bed, taking a cursory swipe at RG on her way to the kitchen. The older animal skillfully avoided the youngsterís predictable move with casual nonchalance. The solid black beauty threw a look over her sleek shoulder toward the woman sitting up in the bed. Liz swore RG was rolling her eyes at the ceiling. The animal strolled out of the bedroom, tail swishing, ears perked, senses always alert for another ambush.

Liz sat on the edge of the bed letting her body come into sync with her surroundings. The nagging headache was still with her and demanded another dose of aspirin. She ran her hands through her hair and moved her head in such a manner to manipulate her neck. The audible Ďpopí could be heard across the room. Liz slid from the bed and went to the medicine cabinet for some relief... mumbling as she walked. "Gods, I donít need this freaking pain today."

The aspirin bottle was nearly empty, and Liz made a mental note to go by the drugstore. The fact was sheíd had this headache on and off for nearly a month. Today, however, the pain seemed more acute. She popped three of the tablets into her mouth, washing them down with a handful of water from the lavatory tap. She dampened her face and tried to quell the nauseous feeling in the pit of her stomach. It took a few minutes to overcome the familiar warning. She looked into the mirror.

"Liz, you look like hell, dear." She was staring at the dark circles under her blue eyes. "Hmm... not a good look for you." She touched the puffiness with her fingertip. "Yep, time for that call to the plastic surgeon." She smiled slightly and moved toward the kitchen and caffeine.

The cats were dancing and complaining about the lateness of their morning kibble. Liz knew the routine and just ignored the obvious displeasure at her ankles.

"You guys can just give it up... remember, you need me." She poured the food into the bowls and gave the hungry horde some room. Shaking her head in amazement, she commented. "Yeah, I know... starving to death... mere bones held together with skin and fur. Uh... word to the wise. I wouldnít stroll near any restaurants... you might end up on the menu."

Her admonishments went completely unnoticed. Once the food was in the bowl, her usefulness was ended... for the time being. Liz turned her attention to the dripping brew in the carafe. Addiction was a terrible thing... necessary, but terrible. She knew the caffeine would probably escalate the headache into a full-blown migraine. The upside to this was she had medication for a migraine so it was almost worth the journey just to be rid of the sucker. Even with that in mind, this didnít exactly have the feel of a typical migraine. She couldnít quite put her finger on it, so in her style, she ignored the piercing knife in her skull, poured a mug of Columbian and headed for the shower.

She stood under the hot spray for a very long time, letting the water cascade over her scalp and down her back. The physical injuries of the near fatal accident in the Canadian wilderness in December were healed. Even the badly fractured lower right leg had knitted and was almost like new... thanks to a certain warriorís expertise. It was the scar on her heart that was so slow in closing... a bittersweet memory that stayed with her. She knew in time that the wound would heal leaving room for love once again. It wouldnít be today, however. Her immediate goal was simple ... get dressed... have breakfast... meet her clients at the gym... and get rid of this blasted headache.

Breakfast consisted of coffee, a high protein shake and a blueberry bagel. The latter would be consumed between training sessions. After the Canada trip, Liz had decided to expand her love of weight training into a business. She did this in her spare time, right now, but her clientele numbers were climbing. Today she had three enthusiastic clients to put through the paces. She threw the heavy workout bag over her shoulder, grabbed her to-go mug of coffee and exited the loft. The elevator descended to the garage with no stops this morning. A quick walk across the deck put her next to the gleaming Z-3. Since the day was warm, Liz put the top back on the roadster, climbed in and brought it to life. The rumble of the six cylinders filled the cavernous garage with a sweet sound only a speed junkie could love. Liz pulled into the stream of traffic, adjusting her Ray-Bans in the bright sunlight. Normally, she would have taken the long way to the gym, but today all she wanted was to be finished and to come back home. The ride was short and direct.

Liz entered the facility to a familiar greeting. "Morning, beautiful. And who is paying you for torture today?" The day manager, Nancy, was always needling Liz. More than once she had seen the result of the womanís training techniques etched painfully on her clientís faces. It was a very inside joke between them.

Liz smiled slightly. "Oh, you know, probably some incredibly gorgeous, available lesbian with more money than sense." She shook her head. "No, wait... that happens in the movies... uh... I believe Iím training three straight women today whose only priority is to get in that bikini in a month. After that, Iíll never see them again. So, have my victims arrived?"

"Uh-huh. Theyíre warming up even as we speak. They must really love you... damn dedicated lot." Nancyís eyes were twinkling.

Liz smirked, "Honey, at $50 an hour I sure hope so."

Nancy chuckled and watched Liz head for the warm-up area. The three in question were stretching and talking about their boyfriends... their careers... their futures. The conversation was amusing to Liz. With a switch of the significant otherís gender, the conversation could have been coming from a group of her lesbian friends.

"Morning, ladies... ready to hurt?" Liz purred in a playful tone.

The women turned sporting a look of anticipation and dread. "Morning, Liz. Guess weíre as ready as ever. What are we doing today?" The slight brunette, Maria, opted to speak for the group this morning. Waiting a response, the three pulled themselves from the floor and headed for the free weight room, Liz herding them from behind like a Sheltie.

"Oh, I thought weíd do a little back work today. You can never have a strong enough back. Weíll do some new exercises... just so you donít get bored." Liz was trying to block out the throbbing behind her eyes... if she could just last the hour. The group entered the male dominated weight room. Normally, these women wouldnít venture here, but Liz had a rapport with the men that took the crassness out of the room. Actually, it was a respect that leveled the playing ground. Lizís clients felt completely at ease.

Liz picked up a dumbbell for demonstration purposes and found the nearest flat bench. "All right, Iím going to show you the mechanics of the one-arm dumbbell row. Itís very simple and you can do this at home with a heavy book and the edge of a table for support."

She positioned her left knee on the bench... her right foot on the floor. Keeping her back flat, she supported her upper body with her left hand and arm locked on the bench. Her right hand gripped the dumbbell and let it hang loose at her side. She began the verbal instruction along with the physical demonstration. The women stood around their mentor. Liz was starting to feel very ill.

"Ok, the main thing is to keep your back flat... no arching or bowing like a cat... smoothly Ďpullí the dumbbell to a position even with your chest and then down to the starting point." Liz slowly moved the weight as she spoke; her head feeling like it was going to explode. She had serious doubts she was going to last through another rep, much less the hour. She felt something wet on her lip. Her vision was very blurry, and the room noises were becoming muffled. She looked at the bench beneath her. It was spotted in droplets of blood... her blood.


"Xena, do you suppose we can spend a few extra days in the village before moving on?" Gabrielleís question was more of a plea. "Iíd like to catch up with Ephiny and... well... I understand cook has some new recipes for me to try. Pleaseeee..."

The warrior cast a practiced eye toward her lover. "Gabrielle... your stomach leads you around by the short hairs sometimes. Sure... weíll stay a few days...."

Xenaís attention was drawn to movement in the brush just outside the clearing. She made a gesture with her hand to warn Gabrielle and to indicate that she should continue talking.

The bard was very good at this diversion. "Of course, if youíd rather not, we could just stop long enough for supplies and move on. Yíknow on second thought, we probably should just move on through..."

Xena quietly unsheathed her sword and moved into the brush... her steps falling lightly on the ground. She circled behind the target thinking how stupid this person was.

The sound of Gabrielleís voice floated through the trees. "But I will miss sampling the latest from cook. I hear she has a roast duckling that is to die for..."

For a moment, Xena thought the intruder was part of a trap for the person hadnít tried to move to a more defensive position. Her senses told her; however, this soul was alone... for whatever crazy reason. She was almost there... one more branch to silently move aside. She was squarely behind the figure now. She assessed the form for strengths and weaknesses. The person was on all fours and there was no weapon in sight she could see.

ĎProbably a localí, she thought. Even with that in her mind, she kept the sword ready... time for the unmasking. She was nearly standing over the person now and reached with her free hand to snatch the voyeur off the ground.

"All right, you... no more peeping." Xena spun the form around to face her. A look of sheer surprise was on her face. "Liz!?"

Liz blinked and in equal surprise exclaimed, "Xena!?"

Gabrielle had had enough of being the decoy. She moved into the brush at the sound of the warriorís voice and called, "Xena?" She stepped past a covering shrub to see the two women staring at one another.

In a shocked tone, Gabrielle uttered. "Liz!?"

Liz looked at the bard. "Gabrielle!?"

Gabrielle looked to Xena with a very confused expression, "Xena... whatís going on?"

The warrior raised a quizzical eyebrow and shrugged her shoulders. She looked at Liz again. The woman was obviously just as confused.

"Liz, what are you doing here?" Xena asked.

The smaller woman sat back on her heels. She put her hand to her nose, the warm blood covering her fingers. She stared at the red on her hand and in a distracted tone, she said, "I donít know.í

 

CHAPTER ONE

"What do you mean she collapsed at the gym and sheís in ICU?" Randiís voice boomed into the mouthpiece of the phone.

Roger was doing the best imitation of control he could muster. "Thatís all I know, Randi. The hospital called me, and I told them Iíd get in touch with you. She was training some clients and just bit the big one right there. I donít have the details, but Iím on my way to the hospital. Shall I come get you?"

Randi was already gathering her personal belongings, "No... Iím practically there already. Sheís at Piedmont, right?"

"Um... yes... thatís right. Iíll meet you there." Roger hesitated for a moment, "Randi, Iím really scared this time."

"Yes, honey... so am I. But we donít have the full story, so letís save our hysteria for later, ok?" Even in crisis, Randi had a calming effect on the man.

Roger took a deep breath. "Ok... Iíll wait. See you there."

Randi finished throwing her appointment book, cell phone and whatever else she thought she might need into her shoulder case. She exited the cozy confines of her office, stopping at her admin assistantís desk.

"Maggie, clear my afternoon. Thereís been a bit of an emergency, and Iíll be out the rest of the day. If you need to, call me on the cell. Oh... check my appointments for tomorrow morning. I may have to move them."

The efficient, brown-eyed woman took the news in stride. Sheíd been working for the professor for nearly two years and was quite used to sudden changes in schedule.

"Let me guess... Liz, right?" There was a faint smile on her delicate lips.

Randi looked over her shoulder as she moved toward the outer door.

"Uh-huh... who else?"


"What do you remember?" Xena was looking into Lizís blue eyes for an answer.

"I remember having this god awful pain in my head... being at the gym and then I was..." She absently looked around the camp. "... here. There was no warning... no vision from the gods... nada. I just opened my eyes and found myself on the ground."

"What about the blood from your nose? Are you hurt?" Gabrielleís concern was real.

Liz reached up and felt her face for some injury... or soreness. There was none, and the pain in her head was gone. "I donít think so, but I canít recall ever having a nosebleed from outta nowhere. In fact, the only time was when I got clothes-lined going long for a pass."

"Going long?... for what?" The bardís curiosity was insatiable.

"Oh, itís a game. Touch football... very popular with the girls. You see, you have these teams, and thereís this oblong ball... and the object is to get from point A to point B..."

Xena hated it when these two got together. It was positively irritating. "Excuse me... but I think the point is trying to find out why in Hades youíre here, Liz... so we can get you home."

Liz stopped in mid-sentence. "Uh... Xena I donít know how to explain this, but I donít think Iím going back this time. I donít know exactly why Iím here... I just know this is home now."

Gabrielle placed a comforting hand on Lizís shoulder. "Itís ok, weíll find the answer... right, Xena?"

"Yeah, thereís always an answer, if you dig deep enough." Xenaís tone was serious. "Weíre on our way to the Amazon village. You can stay there until we get a grip on this. Ok with you, Liz?"

Liz nodded, "Uh-huh, that will be fine. Funny, I was going to suggest just that."

"See, great minds travel in the same circles." Gabrielleís attempt to turn the situation into a positive endeavor wasnít completely successful.

Xena threw Ďthat lookí her way. "Donít push it, Gabrielle. Liz can stay until...and I emphasize... until we find the answer. Now, I suggest we all try to get some sleep. Weíll talk about this tomorrow."

Gabrielle winked at Liz and moved to claim her bedroll. Already visions of the three of them traveling the countryside were forming in her head. Her words were almost patronizing. "Sure... until we find the answer."

Xena threw Liz a blanket. Settling on the ground near the fire, Liz closed her eyes and ran a thumb over her ring finger... it was bare. Her ring was gone. Somehow, she wasnít surprised.


Roger was pacing the hospital lobby when Randi arrived. He was very good at pacing, turning it almost into an art form. Randi was in her Ďfocusedí mode... also an art form. Together, they were living and moving art. Roger stepped into sync with her as she strode through the lobby, making their way to the bank of elevators. Conversation was terse and clipped, each of them harboring thoughts of disaster.

"Did you find out whoís attending her?" Randi asked as the doors silently closed. She pressed the floor number on the panel.

"Yes, itís Rita Spenser." Roger added, "Sheís actually a client of mine. I furnished her whole house a few years back... woman has verry expensive tastes... and an excellent eye for symmetry and design. I believe you know her, right?"

Randi nodded, "Yes, I do. We met when I was at a fund-raiser last spring. At least Liz has the best neurologist in the southeast taking care of her. The woman is brilliant and the youngest department head in fifty years. I feel relieved that the best is in on this."

In spite of her words, her impatience at the slow moving elevator was verbalized. "Come onnnn.... today...." Finally the lumbering cage stopped, and the doors slid open to the ICU floor. They stepped to the information station.

Roger hated hospitals... too sterile for his tastes... although over the last few years heíd seen quite a lot of them. Seems Liz had this penchant for reckless abandon that astonished even him. Still, he had never gotten used to the antiseptic smell... it annoyed him.

Randi grilled the receptionist. "Weíre here to see Liz Remington... admitted this morning... patient of Dr.Spenser."

The woman entered Lizís name on the keyboard. Without thinking she blurted, "Are you family?"

Roger responded, "Weíre the closest thing to family she has... so the answer is yes."

Apparently, the woman didnít understand. She actually thought she needed to clarify her question. "Are you blood kin? Visitation is limited to immediate family." She looked up from the screen to further Ďclarifyí. "Sheís in critical condition. Her family should be notified."

Roger opened his mouth to protest but was halted by Randiís hand on his sleeve. She calmly looked at him. "Iíll handle this, Roger." There was coolness in her voice that he recognized. He stood back and pitied the woman behind the desk. This wasnít going to be pretty

Rage was just barely under the surface of Randiís voice. She spoke in very precise tones to the unsuspecting woman. "Look...Ms..." She peered at the shiny nametag. "...Ms. Jarmon... Iím not going to stand here and argue the political correctness of what constitutes Ďimmediate familyí in this day and age. If you had the forethought to check the Ďnotify in case of emergencyí entry, we wouldnít be having this inane conversation. Now, I donít intend to waste anymore of my time with this bullshit. Like I stated... weíre here to see Liz Remington... end of fucking discussion!"

Ms. Jarmonís eyes widened, and her skin flushed with embarrassment and anger. She wasnít about to be bullied. "And your name would be?" There was a hint of snippiness in the tone of her voice.

Randi mentally decided to go for the throat... a very unprofessional thing to contemplate. Fortunately, for all parties, Rita Spenser pushed through the double doors from the unit.

Ms. Jarmon looked to the physician for help and validation for her rudeness. She stood and started to plead her case. "Ah, Dr. Spenser, I was about to call you. These people want to see the cranial bleed in 3068. I told them it was Ďfamilyí only and..."

Rita held up her hand to stop the noise and icily stared at the woman. "That Ďcranial bleedí happens to be a friend of mine... not just my patient... and these two are more and better family than you probably have. Now, stop harassing them." She turned away from the desk leaving the woman to consider another line of work.

Roger was the first to overreact. "Cranial bleed? What did she mean by that... is this serious... is she going to be all right?"

Rita put her arms around him in a reassuring manner. "Itís ok, Roger. That was the prelim diagnosis... we donít really know yet."

"Can we see her, Rita?" Randiís blood pressure had lowered enough to speak, but she was near tears.

Rita took Randi by the shoulders, trying to calm her. "Of course you can see her... but I have to warn you... sheís unconscious and has a tube coming out of every orifice... itís not very pleasant looking."

Randi had been through a lot with Liz and had seen her in some very unflattering positions and situations... but nothing prepared her for what she was about to see. Rita entered the room first and dismissed the nurses. Randi and Roger entered and looked at their friend. Roger gasped and was in danger of totally losing it. Randi moved to the bedside and tried to find an exposed part of her hand to hold.

She talked to Rita without taking her eyes from Liz. "Tell me what you know, Rita... all of it."

Rita rested her hands on Randiís shoulders. "911 got a call from the Mid-City Gym this morning about a member who collapsed and was bleeding from the nose. Their first impression was a cranial aneurysm. I was on duty when the call came in. The EMTs took statements from the women who made the call. From what they described, the symptoms were consistent with a blown or leaking aneurysm. When I found out it was Liz, I pulled up her recent history. There was nothing to suggest this was possible. I had done a complete work-up on her after that fiasco in December... she was clean as a whistle. The nosebleed was suspect but not always a true indicator. Her B/P was in the stratosphere... which may have accounted for the bleeding... just why it was so high I donít have a clue. Liz is the healthiest woman on the planet."

Randi continued to gaze at Liz. Her friendís breathing was slow and steady. "Why is she unconscious, Rita?"

"I donít know. Sheís exhibiting all the earmarks of traumatic coma. I have CT and MRI scans scheduled this afternoon but to be honest, I donít think Iíll find anything. Iím afraid only Liz can tell us whatís going on in there." Rita reached over and brushed the hair from Lizís face. "The one encouraging thing is sheís breathing on her own. At least for now we donít have to worry about respiratory complications. I wish I could be more positive."

Roger neared the bedside. "How long?"

Rita knew what he was asking. "I donít know, Roger. She could wake up today... tomorrow... never. Knowing Liz, it will be when sheís good and ready. Now, címon. You two need to let her rest. Sheís in no immediate danger, and Iíll keep you informed night and day."

Roger moved toward the door... he needed some air. Randi leaned over, lightly kissing Liz on the forehead. She caressed her face and whispered, "Where are you, Liz?"

 

CHAPTER TWO

"Where are you, Liz?" Gabrielleís words roused the warrior beside her. Xena opened her eyes to find her lover staring at the space Liz had occupied the night before... it was empty.

"Xena, sheís not here. Where could she have gone?" The concern in her voice was genuine.

Xena sighed and threw the blanket back... depriving her of the closeness of Gabrielle and of her good mood. She mumbled as she scanned the camp. "Sweet Athena, the one morning I want to sleep in and I canít. Damn you, Liz... this had better be good."

Xena was nearly upright when Liz emerged from the brush carrying an armload of firewood. "Xena? I thought youíd like to um... sleep in this morning, so I took on the chore of finding wood for the breakfast fire. See, I do remember some things from my last visit." Liz dumped the stack and smiled at the warrior. Sheíd forgotten how imposing Xena was... even without her armor. Or perhaps seeing her in just skin and her shift accentuated that opinion. Either way, she was gorgeous.

"Gods, Liz... you scared me half to death. You just canít roam around here like you belong... weíve been through that before." Gabrielle was sitting on the bedroll chiding Liz like an unruly child.

"Well, big surprise... I donít have a choice, Gabrielle. In fact, I feel more at home here than in my own dimension. I think Iím supposed to be here, and Iím just too worn to fight the enigma of it all. Just get me to the Amazons and leave me there." There was a closed tone in her voice that indicated she didnít want to talk about this any more. Liz fed the smoldering fire with some dry kindling, bringing it back to life. She needed some light conversation. "Ok... I got the fire started... whoís cooking?"

Xena reached for her leathers and jerked her head toward Gabrielle. "Well, Iím not, so that leaves you, oh queen of the rumbling stomach. And, by the way, Iím really hungry this morning, so could you get a move on?"

Gabrielleís reaction was predictable. "Well, warrior woman, it would help if I actually had something to cook. Uh... I believe thatís your department... so get cracking. Iíll put on some tea to hold me over." She smugly turned from Xena and Liz, confident sheíd had the last word... and for the moment, she had.

Xena strapped on her scabbard, smoothly seating her sword, secured her chakram to her side and turned to Liz who had a curious smile on her face. "Oh, Liz... if you plan on eating, youíll either help hunt or cook. Whatís it to be?" Xena waited for a response, a look of impatience on her face.

Liz considered her options. The choice was easy. "Iím with you, Xena. Iím a much better shopper than cook. Uh... donít I need some kind of weapon?"

The warrior raised her brow. "No... I have just the job for you... trust me."

Gabrielle started to warn her but shook her head instead, thankful Ďthe jobí had been passed on. She called after the two as they entered the thicket. "Try to hurry back... I donít want to be tending this fire all morning."

Liz commented as she and Xena made their way out of the camp. "You know, I donít remember her being so bossy."

"Oh... I let her have that little fantasy. But the truth is, sheís gotten more independent lately. A lot has happened since you were here last... a lot. Right now thereís breakfast up ahead." Xenaís voice lowered and her step slowed. She put her finger to her lips indicating Liz should cease talking and motioned for her to remain still.

Liz watched in amazement as Xena moved through the thick undergrowth without making a sound. ĎHow does she do that?í she thought. Her movements reminded her of Brieís, as she would stalk RG, moving on silent feet, like a shadow in the night. Xenaís form had even blended with the surroundings. It was no wonder she could sneak up on people. She became one with her environment and just as suddenly stepped out of hiding to snare her prey. They never had a chance. ĎResistance is futileí as the Borg would say. Liz almost chuckled out loud thinking about Star Trek Voyager and Seven of Nine in this reality. Gods... this was a mess... yet it all felt in sync. That worried her the most. An object landing at her feet jarred her thoughts. Reflexively, she jumped, her heart exploding with a shot of adrenaline. At her feet lay Thumper... dead as a door mouse. Ok... so it wasnít Bambiís Thumper but a bunny just the same.

"Gods, Xena! You trying to scare me to death here?" Lizís silence was ended and what other prey to be had in the immediate area were warned... end of the breakfast hunt. She looked down at the limp, brown animal. "Aw, jeez, Xena. Didíja hafta to kill a bunny? Couldnít we have had a salad or sumptin?"

"No... we need something substantial, not leaves and grass." The sound of the warriorís voice behind her made Liz jump again. "Besides I thought you were hungry? Changed your mind?" Xena reached down and hoisted the hare aloft by its hind legs, brushing the fur clean.

Liz swallowed hard, trying to maintain composure. "Uh... Iím just not used to seeing my food in this state. I prefer to stare at unrecognizable parts through plastic wrap... you know... where I canít make a connection to a living entity."

"Uh-huh, I see. Well, itís time you came face to face with how it all really works. Now, your Ďjobí is simple. I killed it... you get to clean it." She didnít wait for protest, handing Liz her breast dagger. "Iíll be back at camp. You can leave the innards on the ground for the scavengers. Oh, and save the pelt. Gabrielle can use it for trade." Xena moved off without a further word, leaving Liz with the dagger in one hand, Thumper in the other and a look of panic on her face. The warrior was trying her best not to laugh.

Xena entered the camp, sans Liz. Gabrielle peered up from her spot where she was sitting. She had taken the opportunity of the quietness to start a new scroll. This story would surely be worthy of its own chapter. She was surprised that Xena was alone and a little worried.

"Uh, Xena... where is Liz?" Next she noticed the warrior had come back empty handed. "And where is breakfast?"

Xena stooped near the fire to pour herself some herb tea. Without looking up, she stated. "Both are still in the forest." She took a long sip of the aromatic brew.

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. "Xenaaaa... what did you do? Gods... you didnít kill her, did you?"

Xena nearly spit the tea out of her mouth. But the thought of wasting nourishment made her nearly choke on it instead. "Gabrielle! Of course I didnít kill her, thank you very much. I simply gave her a lesson in what living in this dimension will be like. She needs to see itís not a game. I left her to Ďcleaní breakfast. And I donít expect it will be in any shape to eat, so if you have any of that jerky left, Iíd be eating it."

Gabrielle sighed and her stomach growled in protestation. As she rummaged through the food bag for the tough strip of jerky, she admonished Xena. "You know, you could have waited until we got her to the village. If sheís really not leaving, there will be plenty of time to indoctrinate her. Really... sometimes you amaze me."

"Well, youíre not the only one amazed by Xena." The sound of Lizís voice lilted into the camp. She was standing on the other side of the fire. Her bloodied hands held the dagger and a very naked carcass. "I hope this meets your approval, Xena. Iím sorry I acted so childishly." She handed the hare to Gabrielle to cut up and cook. "Oh... and I think you wanted this, too." Liz tossed the pelt to the warrior.

Xena snagged the skin with her free hand. She held it up, looking for holes. Suprisingly, it was in pretty good shape. "Hmmm... not bad. Where did you learn to dress game?" Xenaís assessment of Lizís abilities was being altered.

Liz explained. "Never learned... well, not officially. At one time I thought about being an animal doctor. I learned dissection in anatomy labs. I just never contemplated Ďeatingí my specimen."

Xena nodded slightly and tossed her the water skin. "Here, use some of this to clean up. Breakfast will be ready shortly."

Liz caught the skin, took a drink and spilled some of the water on her hands. "Uh... I believe Iíll pass on breakfast this morning. Seems Iíve lost my appetite."


Breakfast was a subdued affair. Xena quickly consumed her portion of Thumper and tended to her morning routine. This consisted of checking the edge of her sword for readiness and grooming Argo, speaking to the mare about private things.

Gabrielle absently munched and concentrated on her current scroll. The quietness of the morning was the best time for her to write. It usually was too early for Xena to have irritated anyone into a fight. Now that she thought about it, their life seemed filled with physical conflict of some sort. The recent events were still very fresh and although they had come through the fire, there were still unanswered issues waiting to surface. The surprise presence of Liz would serve to put those questions on the back burner, or so she thought. And what of Liz... what was she doing here again? Gabrielle intended to ferret out that information during the dayís walk. She was confident their friendship would get her to open up. She glanced up from her scroll to see Liz sitting off to the side... apparently lost in her own thoughts. This was somewhat uncharacteristic for the dimensional traveler. Gabrielle wondered what was going through her friendís mind.

"Ok, everyone ready to get moving? Weíve got a lot of ground to cover." Xenaís voice brought Gabrielle and Liz back to their surroundings.

"Uh-huh, just let me finish this thought." Gabrielle had the tip of the pen poised to write, her brow creased trying to get just the right words in her mind. A look of Ďa-haí crossed her face accompanied by a smile, and the words flowed onto the parchment. Liz blinked at the object in Gabrielleís slender fingers.

Liz moved closer to confirm her suspicions. "My, god, Gabrielle. Where in Tartarus did you get a Bic pen?" She took the writing instrument from the bardís hand, inspecting the incongruity of the object.

Gabrielle smiled and retrieved the medium black stylus, holding it gingerly. "Uh... it was a gift from... oh how can I explain this?"

"Gabrielle, this is from my time, and I know I didnít leave one behind." Liz grinned mischievously, "Youíve been entertaining other time travelers, havenít you?" In mock hurt, she added, "And I thought I was special."

The bard was blushing and at a loss for words. She actually thought Liz was upset. "You are special, Liz. This was from... well..."

Liz laughed and relieved Gabrielleís discomfort. "Gods, Gabrielle, Iím kidding... remember, I do that. But still, where did you get this?"

Xena sighed heavily and solved the puzzle. "Liz, a while back there were two women from the future trapped here. Well, one was trapped and the other chose to join her partner and stay here." She peered at the dark-haired woman, raising a brow. "In fact, I think the three of you would get along pretty well. Now can we please get moving?" She turned without another word toward Argo, settling the last of the campís gear.

Gabrielle gathered her scroll and packed it away in her satchel. She hated it when Xena stole her thunder. "Gods Xena, I was going to tell her all about Kelly and Gina on the way today. Thanks a lot for ruining my story."

The warrior mounted Argo and clucked her into movement. She remarked to the grumbling bard. "Yeah... yeah... Iím sure youíre still gonna relate this tale. Come get me when youíre finished." Argo moved off leaving Liz and Gabrielle bringing up the rear... just like old times.

"Ok, Gabrielle... spill. Tell me about these women." Liz knew she didnít have to beg for a long-winded story.

"All right... but only if youíll fill me in on a few things about why you think youíre here again. Deal?" Gabrielle always wanted more information.

Liz complied. "Deal."

The two moved at a brisk pace and Gabrielle related the story of Kelly and Gina.


"And in the end, Gina couldnít bear to be without Kelly, and she had no way to bring her back, so she chose to come here... for good." Gabrielle had gone into great detail surrounding the circumstances surrounding Kellyís arrival... the confrontation with Cantner, his eventual undoing and capture by the Amazons. She told of Xena coming across Gina and bringing her to the Amazon village.

"Oh, Liz, you should have seen the look on Kellyís face when Xena rode in with Gina. It was the most heart-rending thing Iíve ever witnessed. They truly belong together... like Xena and me... you and... " She stopped and wished she could grab that last utterance out of the air. "Liz, Iím sorry... I wasnít thinking."

Lizís step slowed, and she felt like someone had put a knife in her heart. "Itís ok, Gabrielle, really. The funny thing is I believe Sam and I belong together like that too. Weíre just separated right now. Artemis allowed us to see our destinies, and Iím trying to live with that." She sighed, "But itís hard, you know. I still feel her with me, and I miss her so."

Gabrielle placed her arm around Lizís shoulders. "I know you do, but give it some time. She will always be with you. You know that donít you?"

"Yes, my head knows that. Itís my heart thatís having a hard time. As far as I can tell, healing never takes place... we just get very good at doing without, because we have to. Ever since that night in the forest Iíve just wanted to go home."

There was a distant sadness in her voice that made Gabrielle take notice. "But you did go home. Thatís what you meant isnít it?" Gabrielleís eyes looked for an explanation.

"Yes and no... I mean I donít know. Thereís something Iím supposed to do, but I donít know what it is." Liz sounded exasperated. "Something just out reach in my mind. That has to be the reason Iím here again." She gazed into the air in front of her and continued in a soft, distracted voice. "Something I have to do here."


The hum of electronic monitoring devices provided beeps and other assorted noises to the ICU ward. Many of the patients were on respirators and the rhythmic Ďwhooshingí sound filled in the background. Lizís cubicle was filled with every monitor known to modern medicine. Her input and output was meticulously recorded... her heart... pulmonary function... even the electrical activity of her brain was being put out on little thin sheets of paper... squiggly lines... peaks... and graphs. Everything that she was physically was taped to her chart in a very orderly collection of paper. It was her subconscious and alternate reality that couldnít be charted... and that is where she really was. Only a slight fluctuation in her heart rate, and the EEG indicated she was functioning and still processing. She was tied to her other self with a very thin, tenuous line.

In a corner of the antiseptic room two figures looked on with interest. Both exuded powers beyond comprehension... very dark power... two sides of the same coin... Ares and Callisto.

The evil goddess moved about the room taking in the technology, and just as quickly dismissing the significance.

"I really donít see how this pathetic mortal will bring Xena to her knees. Sheís a friend with those two on the other side, Ares. Youíve made a mistake... this isnít going to work." Callisto peered at the IV drip, turning her head in a curious manner. She attempted to interfere with the drip, but even with her goddess status, she had no power in this realm. She sighed in disappointment.

The dark god smiled and shook his head. "That, my dear Callisto is exactly why this will work. This woman is expendable in our... my plan. You just have no patience or vision... trust me."

 

CHAPTER THREE

Liz and Gabrielle had slowed to a leisurely stroll... Liz was completely taken by the story Gabrielle had told, and the bard was anxiously waiting for Liz to enlighten her as well.

"So, let me get this straight. Kelly was trapped here when that Cantner idiot shattered the keypad... essentially trapping both of them. And then she argued to save his miserable life even though he had murdered Arla." Liz moved her head in disbelief. "I donít think I would have been so magnanimous. And then Gina just took a leap of faith and stepped through the portal to find Kelly? Amazing women... will I get to meet them?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "I donít think they are in the village right now. Too bad, I think the three of you would have plenty in common. Oh, well, maybe later. Now... you promised to fill me in as to your presence here. Iím waiting."

Liz was moderately disappointed she wouldnít get to meet Kelly and Gina. But she wasnít going anywhere anytime soon so it still might happen.

"Gabrielle, I donít know why Iím here. And Iíd rather not dwell on it right now. Iím sure the reason will come crashing down on me sooner or later." The truth was she did have an idea why she was here, but telling Gabrielle would only serve to upset the bard. And as far as Liz was concerned it was out of her control, so why struggle against the Fates? She tried to steer the conversation away from the obvious. "How much further to the village?"

Gabrielle would let it go for now. "Weíll be there by late afternoon probably. I suppose we could try catching up with Xena before she completely leaves us, huh?"

Liz quickened her pace. "Good idea. Wouldnít want to piss her off. Not after all thatís happened lately." She threw a look at Gabrielle waiting a response.

"What do you mean by that? You know about... uh... all that stuff? How?" Gabrielle was sure the recent trials werenít widely known.

Liz waved her hand in the air. "Honey, itís all over the known world, trust me... I know all the details. In fact, I know a few things you donít." The last part dangled like a carrot before a horseís nose.

Gabrielle drew along side of the teasing woman. "And just what in Hades do you know that we donít?"

Liz kept her eyes on the path ahead of her. She knew sheíd made a mistake by alluding to knowledge of the future. It was so hard holding it in. Besides, perhaps it could be altered by her presence here. The best she could hope for was to put the bard off. "I canít tell you... not yet anyway. Letís just say you two arenít done yet. All in due time... I promise."

"Liz! Please... tell me... I donít want to wait." Gabrielleís plea was falling on stone ears.

"Ah, it seems you and I have the same problem... we hate waiting. Gabrielle, a very good friend once told me her philosophy concerning anticipation. She said that waiting was good... it would make me appreciate life that much more. I never did understand that because itís possible to wait too long. Just as you might want to wait for a piece of fruit to age to perfect ripeness, there comes a point when itís past consumption. It has spoiled and you have lost the opportunity to taste its sweetness. All is wasted in anticipation."

"I can see both sides of that argument. Waiting for the exact moment takes a lot of skill and observation. But, on the other hand, you can let the optimum time pass... uh... like right now. So... you gonna tell me or not?" Gabrielle was sure Liz would open up now. They were very alike on this point.

Lizís pace slowed. She peered at the bard, her heart wanting to warn her of the coming events, but her character overrode the temptation. She sighed. "I canít reveal the future to you. The coming events will have to unfold as the universe dictates. What I can tell you is to live life to the fullest, everyday. You never know when it will be your last. Donít go one day without telling the one you love how much you care about her. Donít let anger separate you... put it behind you... focus on the love. It will be your salvation. Sam taught me so much in the time we had together. Some of it I didnít understand, much like you, but you will... just as I have come to know. Now, Címon, letís catch up to the warrior of yours."

Gabrielle thought about Lizís comments. She didnít want to dwell on the ominous tone of her warning, preferring to focus on what was in front of her. In a few moments, the two were nearly upon Xena and Argo. The warrior looked with a practiced eye at her lover and then at Liz.

"Well, did she tell you every little detail? Oh... silly me, of course she did. And now you can tell the story of Kelly and Gina."

Liz smiled, knowing Xenaís fondness for kidding Gabrielle. It was good to see some of their old interaction. She had been afraid everything would have changed. "Oh, she gave me the full meal deal. Some things never change."

Gabrielle reached and swatted Liz on the arm. "Hey... I thought you were on my side? See if I tell you any more stories."

Liz looked askance at the bard, "Gabrielle... you know thatís not a threat. Your nature wonít allow you to keep a good story untold."

The two chuckled like sisters... obviously comfortable with one another.

The invisible forms of Ares and Callisto watched from a distance.

Xena and Argo sensed their presence. The warrior tensed and quietly turned in the saddle, scanning the area. Liz and Gabrielle were too busy trading licks to notice Xenaís movement. She knew something was there, but couldnít see it. She opted to urge the two women on foot to move along. There was no sense alarming them... just yet.

"Hey, will you two stop behaving like children and címon. Iíd like to make the village by dark," the warrior called trying to mask her concern.

Still in the fits of laughter, Gabrielle waved a hand. "Ok...weíre coming. Gosh, Xena, whatís the rush?"

The warrior played her ace. "Iím hungry... arenít you?"

Ah, the key word... food. Suddenly Lizís stomach reminded her that she hadnít eaten. That was enough to put a lively jaunt in her step. Both she and Gabrielle started walking in earnest, passing Argo on the path. Xena threw one last glance over her shoulder and brought up the rear. As they rounded the next bend out of sight, the god and goddess materialized.

"Ares, you have lost your mind. Did you see how chummy those two were? I thought I was going to be sick. Thereís no way that woman is going to betray Xena and her disgusting little friend." Callisto had tunnel vision when it came to Xena and Gabrielle.

Ares rolled his dark eyes and tried to explain the subtleties of his thought process. "Now, I didnít say anything about betrayal... did I? Besides, weíve been down that road and it didnít work." He closed the distance between himself and Callisto. In a very low, seductive voice, he continued, leaning close to her ear. "No, what I had in mind is much better. Xena is going to have an active part in destroying this little tag team. Using this Liz woman, Iím going to place Xena in a no win situation. It wonít matter what her decision, she will lose... they all will lose. You and I, dear, will be the big winners." His fingers traced the jaw line of the demented goddess causing Callisto to recoil in disgust. She slapped his hand away like the pest it was.

"I donít care how you do it... just get on with it. Iím tired of waiting." The last of her words hung in the air as she vanished. Only a sulfurous smell stayed. Ares rubbed his fingers together in the empty air. Gods, the woman excited him. He felt certain once the plan was executed, Callisto would be more receptive to his advances. After all, he was the god of war, and all evil resided beneath him. He was the architect of death and destruction. Callisto was uncontrolled rage.

He laughed out loud at the thought of their eventual union. "By the gods... rage, death and destruction. I like it!" His laughter echoed as he disappeared.


Just before sunset, the trio neared the Amazon village. They were escorted into the compound by the perimeter guard... a young archer, Kai, and her older, wiser mentor, Vectra. Gabrielle recognized the statuesque Vectra. She was hard to miss. At almost six feet she was quite a presence... almost as imposing as Xena. Liz hadnít met this Amazon and was suitably in awe. The woman was strong and extremely handsome, sporting a mane of blonde hair and piercing eyes.

Gabrielle introduced the two. "Liz, this is Vectra, Ephinyís lieutenant. Sheís in charge of training." She hesitated, turning to the Amazon, "Vectra... Liz... a friend of Xenaís and mine. Sheís um... not from around here."

Vectra eyed the shorter woman, her gaze tracing every detail of Lizís physical body. She was judging her strengths and possible weaknesses. She was also forming an opinion. "Youíre from another dimension, arenít you? The same one as Kelly?"

"Yes... how did you know that?" Liz was impressed at her powers of observation.

Vectra smiled and pointed to Lizís feet. "Your footwear... itís the same as the other two... given to them by the goddess Nike."

Liz suppressed a laugh and looked at her cross-trainers. She wasnít about to try to explain the genesis of athletic shoes. "Yes... all the women of my um... village are on good terms with Nike. I am from another time."

"Are you staying?" Her question was to the point.

"For a while, if Ephiny will allow me." Lizís reply was also to the point.

"Good... then perhaps youíd like to spend some time at the training ground. If youíre going to be part of this community, you need to know the basics." Vectra didnít wait a further response. Liz had the feeling her statement was not a request. Liz looked at Gabrielle as the tall warrior moved away, her charge following. Kai eyed Liz as she moved by... also assessing her.

"Gods, I havenít been cruised so much since the last Gay Pride March." Liz knew the context was very different here. It was about life and death, not superficial posturing. Vectra was in charge of training the defenders of the village. It was very serious, and Liz had better take it that way... someoneís life might depend on it.

Gabrielle shook her head at Lizís statement. Sheíd gotten used to hearing strange phrases. "Oh, donít worry, Liz." She winked at the woman. "Itís an Amazon thing. Youíll get used to it."

Xena chimed in, "Yeah, either that or get your butt kicked. Thatís also an Amazon thing."

"Gosh... I can hardly wait." Liz smiled knowing the possibility was very real.

Vectra stayed just long enough to greet Ephiny and deliver her entourage. Without looking back, she moved toward the training facility. Kai followed closely but snuck a glance over her shoulder at the stranger. She had already calculated Lizís weakness and formed a defense for her strengths. She couldnít wait to test her theory on the training ground... that is if the woman was bold enough to venture there. Her preoccupation with Liz didnít go unnoticed.

"Youíll have ample opportunity to go one on one with her, Kai... patience young Amazon." Vectra smiled and cut the younger womanís fantasy short. "I wouldnít underestimate the stranger just yet... remember Kelly? You thought her inferior and you remember how that turned out. She was a very equal match for Ephiny. I hope youíve learned from your prior misjudgment. Now, thereís still daylight left. I suggest you put it to use."

Kai nodded respectfully and strode toward the weapons hut. She would, indeed practice her skills. She had miscalculated once. It wouldnít happen a second time.

Liz looked around the compound. It appeared pretty much the same as her last visit... the huts... the sounds... the incredible women. Why it was enough to seriously distract oneís attention. She had seen it all before but that didnít seem to matter... she was still staring. Her musing was jarred by Ephinyís voice.

"I see you havenít gotten out very much since your last visit." There was playfulness in her demeanor.

"Huh?" Lizís monosyllabic reply amused even Gabrielle.

"Gods, Liz. What do you do in your time? Are women that hard to find in groups?" The bard couldnít resist teasing her.

Liz shook her head and was somewhat embarrassed by her tourist behavior. "Well, no... not exactly. But they rarely walk around um... like this..." Her words trailed and her eyes scanned the various forms strolling about the compound.

Xena was chuckling and took it upon herself to interject, "Oh, you mean clothed? So, the women of your time donít wear clothing? Hmmm... no wonder youíre staring. I can see where uh... this... would be a distraction."

There was no winning this... Liz was at the mercy of Xena, Gabrielle and Ephiny. She finally threw in the towel. "Nevermind... Iíve had a really bad day and Iím just babbling."

Ephiny sensed the tiredness in her voice. "Itís ok, Liz, I know you werenít exactly in the adjoining forest and your presence here is serious. We were trying to lighten things up a bit." In a more somber tone, Ephiny continued, "What can the Amazons do to help? Seems we have become a way station for every wandering dimensional traveler of late... so tell me."

Liz sighed, for she truly didnít have an answer. She made a simple request. "Can I stay here for a while? I canít explain it, but Iím supposed to be here... for something."

"Sure... we can set you up in a private hut. Take all the time you need." Eph motioned for a room to be made available sending an Amazon across the compound to make it so. She then turned to Xena and Gabrielle. It had been a while since they had been in the village. Ephinyís arm was still healing from the blow Xena had inflicted. Much had been destroyed and healing was still taking place since that event. Ephiny still regarded Gabrielle as the Queen by right of caste, but it would take a longer time for her to fully forgive Xena. At the moment, the truce was of a non-verbal kind... but emotions still flowed beneath the surface.

"Xena... Gabrielle... will you be staying a while, too?" Her voice was controlled and masked any distrust.

"Just until Liz gets her bearings or we find a way to get her back to her own time. This whole thing is damned peculiar... I donít like it." Xena was trying to focus on something other than the last painful encounter here.

"Fine. You will, of course, be housed in the Queenís hut. Now... itís getting late. I suggest we all try to get some sleep. Weíll can talk this out tomorrow." Ephiny waited for any dissent. On hearing none, she concluded the conversation. "Ok, done... tomorrow then." She turned and walked toward the collection of huts.

Xena began untying the various blankets and such from Argoís back. The tension in the air did not escape Gabrielle. She moved to help Xena... when in fact, the warrior seldom needed help in removing the items they needed. It was an excuse to talk without alerting Liz.

"Um... Xena... did Ephiny seem a bit on edge to you? I thought you two had cleared the air over that... that incident." She pulled the bedroll from the mareís saddle.

Xena handed the rest of the coupleís belongings to Gabrielle. "I think it will be some time before Ephiny and I can really come to terms with all that... just as you and I have to continue healing. All in due time, Gabrielle...someday."

The warrior turned her attention to Argo, mostly to forego further conversation on the subject. It was not her favorite pastime. And she didnít want to air their dirty shifts in front of Liz. All of the recent past was considered a very private affair as far as Xena was concerned. Gabrielle recognized her loverís body language and understood completely... yet her use of the word Ďsomedayí indicated an unfinished quality. She shook off the faintly unsettling feeling and turned toward Liz who had only been a few feet away, hearing the entire exchange. Gabrielle needed a diversion also.

"Címon, Liz, Iíll show you to your lodging. You must be exhausted." Her attempt to draw attention from Xena was only partially successful.

"Itís, ok, Gabrielle. I understand where Xenaís coming from and I know sheís a very private person. Donít worry, I wonít push her to talk about what has happened between the two of you." She hesitated for a moment. "Besides, I already know... and you know that I know... so letís just leave it at that... shall we?" Liz started toward the huts, remembering the layout and feeling very at ease moving in the compound. She was very tired, and her heart ached.


The night nurse entered the cubicle to jot the hourly stats on her chart. The incessant sound of mechanical devices was a type of white noise. She had become so used to the various beeps and chirps, she almost missed the irregular blip from the heart monitor. She barely caught the abnormality out of the corner of her eye, increasing her own rhythm. Mentally, she ran the Ďcodeí procedure through her mind, her physical body tensing for the event. Before alerting the resus staff on her cell phone, she looked at the paper graph charting the last few minutes of the heartís history. It was within normal limits except for one, isolated peak and valley. The heart had resumed its steady maintenance of Lizís body after that one indiscretion. She made a note on the chart and would roust the on-call night resident to have a look, relieving her of responsibility. No sense in disturbing Dr.Spenser at this hour for a little Ďburp.í


"Well, hope you sleep soundly, Liz. We can sort this business out in the morning. Goodnight."

Gabrielle gave her a quick hug and walked toward the Queenís quarters. Liz watched for a moment and then entered her room, closing the door. It was simple, uncluttered. There was a raised pallet, a hand hewn table and stool. The room was illuminated with several oil lamps and candles, their glow adding a quiet softness to the space. Outside the sounds of the evening could be heard, and a cleansing, gentle breeze flowed through the open window... bringing the distinct aroma of jasmine into the room. She took a very deep breath, filling her lungs with clean, unpolluted air. Part of her wanted to never leave this place... she just wanted to disappear from her time... leaving the painful reminders. She was so tired of hearing her friends tell her that Ďsomedayí everything would be right again. ĎSomedayí was an illusion... a mirage in the desert. She might approach it but it was always just out of reach... around the next corner... over the next hill. ĎSomedayí was a phantom. At this moment, all she wanted was an escape. But what would be the price, for there was always a price.

Liz pulled her shoes and jeans off, leaving her tee and Jockeys in place. Crawling onto the pallet, she fell back on the pelts, allowing the warm air to caress her skin. Before sleep finally commandeered her mind, she made a deal with the wind. "I donít care what the price is... Iíll pay it."

Ares watched from the shadows, chuckling to himself as he listened to the womanís utterance. "Oh... thatís good... very good. Youíll pay all right... up front and in full."


Gabrielle snuggled close to Xenaís naked body. It felt so good to finally be prone after walking so much. Lying next to Xena was icing on the cake. She felt for the warriorís face, her fingers searching for the fullness of her moist lips. In the dimness of the room, Gabrielle sensed Xenaís lips kissing her fingertips, sending a chill through her. It amazed the bard that no matter how many times they were intimate, it always had the intensity of the first time... that first fire. She silently prayed to Artemis that this flame would never be extinguished. She was about to pull herself on top of her warrior, her ache already pushing her to the limit.

Xena shifted suddenly, placing her fingers on Gabrielleís mouth. "Shhh... donít move." She whispered.

Gabrielle wasnít one for shushing. "What is it, Xena?"

"Ares..."

The word gave Gabrielle the chills and she clung even tighter to the woman under her. "Gods... where? Here?" There was panic in her whispered words.

"No, not here with us... but here somewhere. I felt him earlier on the road, but didnít see anything. I know it was him... and... something else. Heís up to something." Xena rolled Gabrielle to the side as a protective maneuver. "I donít think heís here to screw with us... at least not directly. Just the same I have a bad feeling about this."

"Where Ares is concerned, bad is an understatement. Why else would he come here?" Gabrielle was extremely wary of the god of war since that business in Chin. She knew he was capable of just about anything if it meant coming between Xena and her. "Xena, thereís no one here thatís close enough to us for him to manipulate... that doesnít already know how vengeful he is."

"Thatís not true, Gabrielle." She let the statement hang... its meaning washing over the bard.

"No... you canít mean Liz. Xena sheís not even from this time. She wonít be fooled by his tricks. He has no power over her. I wonít consider this... youíre wrong." She pushed away from Xena, her cheeks flushed, the mood changing.

Xena was unmoved. "Weíll talk about this in the morning. Liz needs to know about the possibility of Ares sticking his godhood where it doesnít belong. Now, get some rest."

The conversation was over. Xena calmly laid on her back, her arm extended to cradle Gabrielle. Stiffly, the bard reclined, her mind racing, her emotions ranting. It was some while before she finally drifted off... well after Xena. The unseen figure smirked at the sight.

ĎGoodí, he thought. ĎItís starting already.í


Chapters 4 - 5