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DIMENSIONíS HOPE - Cont'd


CHAPTER THREE

The three women materialized just outside the Amazon encampment. Xena and Gabrielle looked very much in place...Sam, on the other hand, looked...well she was obviously not from around here. One thing that was amazing though...in this reality, she had substance...form...and an appetite. She marveled at the scenery...the colors...the smells. It was being alive again and it brought real tears to her eyes. She was walking forward and turning in a circle at the same time. Her face reflected a childlike quality of sheer amazement. Xena and Gabrielle had stopped and were watching Sam. They were slightly amused.

"Well...what do you think about our little world?" Gabrielle had taken her arm and was trying to get her to walk with them...as opposed to around them.

"Oh...this is wonderful...itís so...alive. " She looked at Xena...a question forming on her lips. " Am I? Alive...that is?

"Well...thatís an interesting question, Sam. How do you feel?" Xena frequently answered a question with another one. Gabrielle made that little face of hers and shook her head.

Sam took a very deep breath... her hands feeling her chest expand. Yes she actually could feel her features again. It was a miracle. "We take some much for granted ...the simple ability to touch...to sense. What a marvel." She closed her eyes, ran both her hands through her hair, luxuriating in the sensation. "Yes, Xena...I do feel alive."

The warrior cocked her head and nodded. "Then thatís all that matters. Now, címon...letís get to the village...Iím starved."

The mention of food hastened all their steps...especially Gabrielle. Sheíd been craving sustenance since her close encounter with Lizís beignet that morning. The three of them neared the village perimeter and a call went out through the treetops. Without further warning, the Amazons dropped from the trees. Xena gave a somewhat bored look at the warriors, but said nothing to incite them. Gabrielle clasped her hands over her head in the traditional greeting. And Sam was stunned. Liz had told her stories about the Amazon guard...but she never really expected to see them. Until recently, the whole story had seemed far-fetched. It wasnít until that night on the street that her perceptions had been radically altered.


"Shit! Just off the both of emí and letís get outta here before the cops come. Címon...do it! Theyíre just fuckin queers. Hurry...we ainít got all night!"

Sam remembered seeing the man point the gun at Lizís head and knew he was going to pull the trigger. She just couldnít allow that to happen and lunged at the attacker. She was hoping he would just be scared enough to run off. Lord knows she was frightened out of her wits. The ensuing struggle was more than she bargained for...the man was out of his mind and the gun went off...right in her chest. The last thing she remembered seeing was the look on Lizís face as the life drained from her. Funny...there was hardly time to feel any pain...one moment she was breathing and the next she wasnít. It was a very odd sensation...and very disorienting. All her previous concepts about death were erased. There was no blinding light...no angles waiting to ferry her to Heaven...and there was no Devil waiting to take her to Hell. There was nothing...save her absolute love for Liz. She held on to that as tightly as she could. It was the remaining link to her love...her life.

She remembered seeing Liz crawl to herself on the pavement. It was so strange looking at her lifeless form and watching Lizís sheer heart breaking anguish. There was nothing she could do about either. At that moment two figures walked out of the darkness. At first she thought it to be the two men...coming back to finish the job. But it was a tall woman dressed in leather and a smaller one carrying a staff...Xena and Gabrielle. They approached the spectacle on the sidewalk almost with casual indifference and acknowledged Samís presence. Sam wasnít thinking clearly, and thought they could help. She rushed up to them...talking hysterically.

"Please...you have to help my friend...sheís hurt...please...I donít know what to do...." She remembered crying and pleading at the same time. Xena was the first to try to calm her. She spoke in low, even tones, looking directly in her eyes.

"Sam, listen to me..." Sam didnít let her get started well before interrupting.

"Sam...yes...thatís me...how do you know me? Who are you? Where did you come from?" She glanced back at Liz, "Please...help her..."

Xena took her arm and started again, "Sam...be quiet...Gabrielle and I are here to help you. Now listen to me."

Sam blinked, her belief system being seriously challenged. "Xena and Gabrielle? The Xena and Gabrielle?" She was shaking her head. "I really donít understand..."

Gabrielle had a go at explaining this, giving Xena one of those ĎIím better at this sort of thing than you areí looks. In that soft voice of hers, she said, "What Xena is trying to say, is weíve been sent to assist you in crossing over. Artemis sent us. We have a long journey...you have a long journey. We really must go now."

Sam wasnít ready to leave...she couldnít leave...she wanted to stay near Liz for as long as possible. Their hearts were so bound. She felt leaving her now would be a second death for her. She made herself very clear to the warrior and the bard.

"No!! Iím not going anywhere with you two...not yet. I have to be sure that Liz is going to be all right...I have to...please."

Gabrielle looked at Xena, raising her eyebrow. "See, I told you she wouldnít just leave. I donít know why you never listen to me. This is going to take a while...sheís got to get used to...you know..."

Xena knew it was two against one. She sighed heavily and walked over to Liz...kneeling down in front of her. Liz was holding Sam in her arms...gently rocking her...the pain seeping out of her like water through a sieve. The bond between the two women reminded her of the one she and Gabrielle shared. She looked up at Sam and Gabrielle.

"Ok...weíll wait. But we canít stay here indefinitely." Xena stood and moved over to Gabrielle and Sam. About that time, a passing car noticed the fallen duo and help was summoned. Xena gently moved Sam away from the ensuing rescue scene...the people...the obligatory attempt at CPR...the police taking Lizís statement...the ambulance pulling off...siren wailing. It was surreal...and numbing...

After a while it was just the three of them on the street. Sam had been quiet...watching the macabre setting. Her mind hadnít caught up with her reality yet. She wanted to know one thing from the two women. She spoke to Xena.

"Why? Why are you two here? What do you have to do with Liz and me? Are you angels?"

Gabrielle snickered. "Sam...Xena is anything but an angel...." She cast a half-hearted apologetic glance at her lover. "Sorry Xena. Uh...as I was saying... Artemis sent us, Sam. The four of us share a bond...a very close bond. We were the logical choice to help you...and Liz."

Sam was still somewhat skeptical. "Then youíre saying all that stuff Liz told me really happened?"

Xena spoke, "Of course it happened. You should know that...remember the last little adventure in Greece? Well...itís all true...you were involved from the very first, Sam...even before then."

"You mean in Key West that summer?" Sam was remembering their meeting in that seedy bar.

Gabrielle took up the dialogue, "Yes...even there. It was the first time I met Liz...and well you know the rest...she wrote about it."

"Yes, she did..." Samís belief in the reality was coming around. "What am I to do now?"

Xena neared her side...placed an arm around her shoulder...and spoke softly, "Well...thatís up to you. We canít force you to leave until youíre ready...but I must tell you we really cannot stay here for a tremendously long time. You and Liz must resolve your conflicts or...well...it just wouldnít be good for either of you."


Samís remembrance of that night was interrupted by Gabrielleís voice.

"Sam...are you all right?"

She shook her head to clear the haze. "Uh...yeah I was just thinking and remembering." She changed the subject. "Are we near the village?"

The Amazon guard had begun to lead the trio...and two of them had taken up a defensive position behind them. Sam was eyeing the warriors...front and back... wondering if there would be any real danger in this reality. Gabrielle was walking right next to her and answered her questions...spoken and unspoken.

"Yes...we are very near the village...and no...I donít think weíre in any danger...relax. Besides, who in their right mind would mess with this group?"

Xena raised an eyebrow and commented sarcastically, "Yeah...right."

Gabrielle shot her a look and continued her attempt to ease Samís apprehensions. She lowered her voice and whispered to Sam. "Just between you and me, I think Xena loves to fight. She gets off on all that punching and back flipping. And invariably, I get involved somehow...it usually ends up with lots of prone bodies."

Xenaís comment was offered without turning around. "I heard that, Gabrielle."

The bard had to have the last word. "Did I mention she loves to eavesdrop?"

"Gabrielle...."

"Oh...and she has to have the last word?"

"Gabrielle!"

"See, what did I tell you..." She let the rest trail off.

Xena stopped and glared at her lover. No further words needed to be spoken. It was a familiar exchange and Gabrielle knew when to stop. Lately, sheíd been pushing the limits in their relationship. For the moment she let the warrior think sheíd won. The village was just ahead.


The three entered the gate to the compound. Sam was in total amazement at the scene before her...very much like Liz on her visit. Sheíd never seen so many interesting women in one place...except for Womenís Fest in Key West. But even that paled in comparison to the caliber of femaleness here. The energy was so...so...hard to put her finger on. It felt very strong...overwhelming. At the same time it was warm...compassionate. She now understood why Liz had hesitated in wanting to come back. This was heaven. Ephiny walked across the courtyard and greeted Gabrielle in the traditional forearm embrace.

"Gabrielle...good to see you." The Regent glanced at Xena and Sam. "Xena...itís been a while. How are you?"

"Good, Eph. This is Sam...sheís a friend of Lizís. We are here to consult with Artemis."

Ephiny eyed the blonde, assessing her strengths and looking for weakness. It was an old habit...almost automatic. She held a hand of greeting out to her. "Welcome, Sam. A friend of these two and Liz is always gladly received."

Sam took the womanís hand in a firm shake. She remembered Liz talking about her...the strength of her soul and her ability to command respect. She could see it in her eyes. "Thank you, Ephiny. I am honored to be here."

Eph peered directly into her eyes...making contact. It was just for a few seconds, but enough for Ephiny to know this visit was anything but casually social. She shifted the focus on purpose.

"Gabrielle...we heard you were on the way...so cook has been busy all morning. Please, take our guest to partake."

"Come on, Sam...weíll go to the food hut and grab some chow." Gabrielleís stomach was making audible sounds. It was way past her feeding time. Sam followed the bard toward the aroma of baked bread and smells she couldnít identify. It hardly mattered...she was starving. Xena was already heading for the hut, knowing from experience that following Gabrielle meant depleted food reserves. She was sitting at a long table when the bard and Sam finally filled their plates and took a seat.

The first twenty minutes were spent in silence save for the sounds of rations being consumed. Sam took the opportunity between courses to ask the two some questions. "So...Gabrielle, how long have you and Xena been together?"

The bard washed down her bread with a gulp of spring water. "Hmmm...it seems like forever...but itís only been three years. Of course, from all the accounts Iíve read of our adventures, weíd have to have been traveling for ten seasons. Really, I donít know where some bards get their information. Yep...just three years. How about you and Liz...I mean...well...you know."

"Yeah...I know. We met one summer two and a half years ago. I was living in a different city from her then. After trying to live apart, I decided to look for work in her city...and I moved. We had been living together just about a year when I...." Sam stopped short of saying the word. "We were very happy and very much in love. I still am in love with her."

Gabrielle placed a hand on Samís. "I know you are...I know."

Xena was uncomfortable with all this emotion and sought to move her slightly past it. "Sam...thatís why we must talk to Artemis...why we brought you here...to help both of you." Xena pushed her plate away...the warrior was finished. She stood and excused herself. " Iím going to check on Argo...I havenít seen her in a while. Weíll see Artemis in the morning. Tonight we all could use the rest." With that, she made her way out of the hut, leaving Gabrielle and Sam to complete their meal.

Sam made an astute observation about the tall woman. "Sheís not very comfy with all this mushy stuff, is she?"

Gabrielle laughed out loud, "Oh...you have no idea." Spying a piece of untouched nutbread on Samís plate, she couldnít resist, "Say...you going to finish that?"

Ephiny strode into the hut, filled a plate and walked over to Sam and Gabrielle.

"Mind if I join you?" She sat, without waiting for a response, next to Sam. "So...Sam...ever been to an Amazon camp before?" There was a glint in her eye.

Sam took it in stride. "Well...I canít say that I have unless you count a certain bar uh...tavern in Key West." She smiled at Ephiny and went back to her meal.

Gabrielle was pleased that, for a brief time, Samís attention had been diverted. She posed a question to Ephiny. "Are you planning the nightly ritual?"

"Of course...just like every night. Will you be joining us Gabrielle...and naturally Xena and you, too, Sam?"

Sam looked quizzically at Ephiny and then Gabrielle. "Nightly ritual?" She was afraid to ask exactly what that entailed. Here it could be anything...and Liz had never mentioned anything about it.

Gabrielle saw the concerned look on her face. She reached over and placed a reassuring hand on her arm. "Donít worry...it doesnít involve anything sharp and pointed. Itís a gathering of the camp after sundown. They light a huge bonfire...dance...and in general work off the tensions of the day. Itís fun...I think youíll like it."

Ephiny looked at Gabrielle slyly. " Yes...Sam... Itíll be fun...come join us."

Sam figured she might as well enjoy her Ďaliveí status for now. "Ok...It would be my pleasure."

Ephiny gave her a hearty slap on the back, stood and prepared to leave. "Good! Well...I must supervise the preparations. Gabrielle...you know when so all you have to do is show up. See you there." She turned and made her way to the door...stopping at several tables speaking to her sisters. Some of them were obviously looking at Sam...their curiosity getting the best of them. It wasnít lost on Sam who now felt a little self-conscious.

She leaned forward and spoke in low tones to Gabrielle. "Maybe this isnít such a good idea. I wouldnít want to offend any of the women here. I canít help but notice several of them staring at me. Gabrielle...I donít think I can...."

"Sam...donít worry. No one is going to bother you...Xena and I will see to that. Trust me...not a one will come near you with that warrior of mine posturing. She can come in quite handy sometimes."

Sam let a sigh of relief blow through her lips. "Thanks."

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Roger spent the entire afternoon with Liz. They talked about life and love. They reminisced about their first meeting twenty years ago. She was working with a bunch of young, redneck, good old boys...the only woman. One evening the supervisor paraded a new employee through the breakroom...introducing him to his new workmates. Liz almost fell out of her chair. She recognized his orientation immediately and knew the comments were about to fly. Well...he made the rounds...greeting every single guy with an enthusiasm that was surely going to Ďoutí him even to these dim witted Neanderthals. She actually felt protective toward him that first day.

Sure enough, as soon as he left the room, the remarks started. She knew that she was his only shield from these dickheads. The next day he started work and Liz was right there offering to take him under her wing. The boys were more than happy to let Liz train the Ďfag.í She almost came to physical blows with a couple of the guys. Even then she didnít take shit from anyone. Thus began a friendship that has endured the most trying times. They were truly soulmates.

The evening was quickly descending on the city. The business day was being replaced by night-lights. It really was beautiful. Roger was very reluctant to leave.

"Liz...I think I should stay here tonight...you know...in case..."

Liz was propped up against the kitchen counter. "In case of what, Roger? In case I have a relapse? Is that what youíre trying to say, huh?"

He let it slide right over him. "Hey...you can get as pissy as you like. You know full well what Iím talking about. Iím not convinced youíre ok, Liz. And Iíll be damned if Iím going to loose sleep tonight worrying about you. Itís either me or I call Randi. Make up your mind." This round went to Roger. Liz walked to the coat closet. She reached up on the upper shelf...retrieved a pillow and blankets.

"Ok...fine...you can stay. In fact, you can have my room. Iím sleeping out here...if I sleep at all. And if you start that house rattling snoring, youíre going to be sorry."

Roger walked to Liz and wrapped his arms around her. "Iíll do my best to keep the noise down."


The remainder of the evening was quiet. They had pizza delivered...watched an old Doris Day movie...Roger reciting all the dialogue. Finally the boy cashed his chips in and left Liz in the livingroom. She turned out all the lights...lit the stand of candles...their glow casting soft shadows around the space...their fragrance intoxicating. Liz selected some music...snagged the wireless headphones...and reclined on the sofa. Brie and RG were in the bedroom...happy that someone was sleeping in that bed tonight. Liz let the sound wash over her...and allowing the feeling to do the same...no resistance tonight. She wanted to feel it all. Once again Sarah invaded her senses...gripping her soul and testing the limits of her memory.

Her mind recalled the time she and Sam knew they were in love. They hadnít moved in together yet and it was a warm summerís evening. Sam was visiting and the twilight of the evening was working across the sky. She selected a CD and the sound began filling the room...as it was filling Lizís ears at this moment....

......When we wore a heart of stone, we wandered to the sea....
......Hoping to find some comfort there yearning to be free....

...and we were drawn to the rhythm....
...drawn into the rhythm of the sea......


Sam stood looking out the front windows...the music working itís way around her. Liz was in the kitchen, leaning on the bar, staring at this wonderful sight. Samís eyes were closed...her arms folded around her own shoulders. She was gently swaying to the sound. Liz walked slowly to her...the seductive rhythm of Sarah pushing them closer. No words were spoken...none were needed. She took the blonde haired woman in her arms and began to move. Sam followed willingly...moving with a lightness sheíd not had before. They fit perfectly together...gliding across the floor...in sync with each otherís rhythm... each flowing into the other with balance. Their eyes were locked...their hearts about to be fused...their souls reunited.


Sam watched the Amazons around the bonfire...the sounds of rhythmic drumming pulsating. Many were in the arms of their lovers. She closed her eyes and thought of Liz...and that evening. She let her mind transcend time and space...seeking the arms of her lover...her body...her movement. She was locked in that embrace once more...looking into Lizís deep blue eyes.

The two moved around the room...the only reality staring back at her. Everything else had dropped away. They were the only two people in the universe...and it was rotating just for them. Sam pulled Liz even closer...their bodies pressed against one another...their breathing slow and deep. The very moment of recognition was electric. It was a realization without description...for how can you describe the beauty of a perfect rose to one who has never seen...or the sweet sound of a spring day to one who has never heard. It was not meant to be verbalized...only experienced.


Liz felt the rush through her body...no it was more than just her body...it was through her very core...her deepest, hidden passion. It was access to the most private, secret part of her. Sam was inside her...beside her...she was she. There was no denial...they had found one another again...after how many lifetimes? Tears filled their eyes and they held one another as long lost loves rejoined. They ran fingers over each otherís faces...seeing again the link between them. It was magical. They knew...at that moment...their lives would never be the same again...for how could it?


Sam felt that moment again...suspended in time. She placed a hand to her face, tracing her features as Liz had done that night. A shiver went through her remembering...reliving her loverís strong, expressive hands on her skin. A tear rolled down her cheek...her heart ached to be with Liz again. She loved her so...how could this possibly ever be right again? How could she ever want to turn loose of her...she didnít want to...couldnít.

Gabrielle and Xena watched and knew she was in agony. The bard started to move toward her but Xena stopped her.

"Gabrielle...let her remember...and feel. Itís important for her to let it all wash over her." She placed an arm around the smaller woman, pulling her close. "Just let her be tonight."


Roger stood in the doorway watching his friendís agony. She wasnít aware of his presence. The tears were cascading down her face. Her own hand retracing Samís movement. He so wanted to help her...but, just as his dimensional counterparts, knew this process was necessary. He turned and retreated into the bedroom. He would let her be tonight.

Liz and Sam spent the night dancing and embracing once more...separately...yet together.


The morning light crept across the floor, inching its way up the sofa and finally washing Lizís face in its newness. She had slept all night without the dream terrorizing her. The music had long since ended; yet she still had the earphones on her head. She had not moved at all during the night. Her body was so exhausted. It lacked energy to shift even during sleep. Brie was up and sitting on the arm of the sofa staring at her momma. She stepped down and lightly walked up Lizís prone body. At her chest, the furry munchkin sat and then stretched out, placing a delicate paw on either side of Lizís face. The phone rang, interrupting the serenity of the moment. Neither Brie nor Liz flinched. Liz because of the earphones blocking the sound...and Brie because she could care less. If it wasnít breakfast being served, then it hardly mattered. Roger was the only one available to answer the dang thing. The boy wasnít a morning person and he fumbled with the receiver, almost dropping it in the process. With much ado, he held the thing to his ear...eyes still closed.

"...Uh...hello....", he answered groggily.

A perky voice on the other end was surprised at the male voice. It was Randi.

"Liz?? Is that you? Do you have a sore throat?"

Rogerís mind went into panic mode. How was he going to explain being here? He did the next best thing...he lied his ass off.

"No...Randi...itís Roger. Good morning...how are you?"

There was a pause on the other end. Usually this meant Randi was processing. "Roger...what are you doing there so early? Is Liz all right?"

He sat up and tried to think. He opted for an omission of the truth instead of a bald faced lie. What the hell, Randi would fry him for either anyway.

"Just relax...Liz is fine. In fact sheís sound asleep. We spent the day together yesterday and, well, the evening got away from us. She asked me to stay...so I did." He was thinking....í Parts of that are true.í

Randi could detect deception a mile away. "Are you sure everything is ok?" She paused...and Roger was sweating. "You wouldnít be telling me a fib, now would you?"

Roger was about to plunge deeper into the mire when Liz appeared in the doorway. She silently mouthed, "Who is that?"

Roger replied in like, "Randi."

Liz motioned for him to give her the phone. He was more than glad to. "Hang on Randi, Liz is up. You wanna talk to her?" He didnít wait for a response. He handed the receiver to Liz, his hand tightly clamped over the mouthpiece. He gave Liz the short version of the quasi-lie.

"I told her it got late...you asked me to stay the night."

Liz nodded and patted him on the shoulder. Before talking she suggested he start some coffee and feed the cats. He didnít need prodding to scurry from the room. Liz sat on the edge of her bed and put the phone to her ear.

"Good morning, Randi? Guess Roger told you I asked him to stay over, huh?"

"Well...yes...are you ok?"

"Iím as fine as I can be. We just hung out yesterday and last night...ate pizza...watched an old movie...listened to some music. I didnít want to be alone...so I asked him to stay...nothing to worry about." She was staring at the bandage on her wrist as that last phrase escaped from her lips.

Randi couldnít quite put her finger on the uneasiness she was feeling. She let it pass for now. "Ok...I was just checking on you. You and Roger doing anything today?"

"Um...I dunno. We never did get to the market...so maybe weíll go today. Looks like itís going to be a nice day, maybe weíll go the Botanical Garden and look at the decorations.

"Thatís a good idea. You could use some time out of the house. Well...I gotta run. You call me if you need anything. Weíll get dinner in the next few days."

"Ok, Randi...itís a date. Take care today. Bye."

Liz placed the receiver in the cradle...her mind formulating her next move. Roger strolled into the room with a mug of very strong brew.

"Well...did she buy it?"

Liz sipped the liquid. "I think so...but with Randi...you never know. Sheís one suspicious woman. Suppose that comes in handy in her work but itís a pain in the tookus for me." She looked up at Roger and smiled. "Thanks...for being here yesterday...I mean it."

He sat on the edge of the bed next to her. "Are you going to be all right today? And donít even think about lying to me, ok?"

The two were eye to eye. Liz actually did feel better...but that because she had an agenda. "Iíll be ok today, Roger. Last night was the first decent sleep Iíve had since..."

"I know...maybe it will be the beginning of more just like it." He remembered their conversation about the Canadian trip. He was still very much against that right now. "Liz...about that trip...I wish youíd think about it first. Maybe Randi or I could take it with you. I just donít want anything to happen to you."

She patted his arm in a motherly way. "I know you donít. Iíll think about it, ok?"

"Ok." He felt relieved that this hurdle had been cleared. " So...what do you want to do today? The Museum...the Gardens...the Historical Society...the Biltmore House?"

Liz raised her eyebrow at the choices. "The Biltmore? Honey we donít have time to go to Asheville today. Besides itís a zoo during the Holidays. Weíll go in the spring when the flowers are in bloom. I think maybe the Bot Garden."

"Great!! It will be beautiful...then we can do lunch. Iíll just run home and get cleaned up. You want me to pick you up?"

"No...I think I need to crank the car. Iíll meet you there...say around eleven."

He needed a little more assurance. "You sure? Itís no trouble to come back over here."

"Roger...Iím ok, really. Stop being a pain. Iím not going to do any more of this..." She held her arm aloft to make her point. "Please...go home...take a shower and Iíll meet you."

He stood and pulled on his clothes from the previous day. "Ok...eleven then...sharp."

Liz shook her head. "Yes...sharp. Not get out of here so I can take a shower and have something to eat." She was herding him to the door. Finally they hugged goodbye and he disappeared into the elevator. Liz closed the door and leaned against it. She refilled her mug and went to the filing cabinet. Pulling out another folder marked ĎCanadian Rockiesí; she sat and began to go through the contents. She had lied to Roger about one thing. The trip she and Sam had talked about was for this holiday season...not the next one. She had made all the arrangements...reservations...transfers...plane tickets...the works. It was to be a combined Christmas and Solstice present for both of them. She looked at the date on the ticket from Atlanta to Calgary. She would leave tomorrow morning.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

Sam had fallen asleep during the waning hours of the night. She felt that she hadnít slept in ages and had just been in some altered state of consciousness, not requiring sleep as she remembered it. Being in this village with Xena and Gabrielle was different. She was exhausted. Gabrielle had placed warm blankets over her and left her to sleep under the stars. She and Xena retired to their chamber. As they prepared for bed, the conversation was on the next days meeting with Artemis.

"Let me help you, Xena." Gabrielle went about her nightly joy of helping the warrior out of her armor. It was a very personal event they shared. She carefully unhooked the catch on Xenaís shoulder, letting one side of the armor fall away from her leathers. The bard was curious about the reason Xena wanted to talk to Artemis.

"Xena...I know you have no great love for the gods...so Iím wondering about this talk with Artemis. I mean I know all about our involvement with Liz...but I donít think she can do anything about Sam. Do you know something I donít?"

The breastplate was finally released and Gabrielle placed it on the floor next to the pallet. Xena rolled her head to loosen the muscles in her neck, prompting the bard to massage her tenseness. She lowered her head toward her chest and felt the tightness releasing. Gabrielleís touch was magical. The persistent bard broke the serenity of the moment.

"Well...do you?"

Xenaís eyes were closed and she was trying to concentrate on relaxing. "Do I what, Gabrielle?"

She could hear a heavy sigh behind her. "Do you know something?"

"I know many things. Could you move down my back a bit?"

Gabrielle swatted her shoulder. "You know what Iím talking about! Gods...youíre impossible!"

"Thank you...I try very hard. If you mean do I know of a way to help these two...well I have an idea. But it will take Artemis to actually put it in motion. I donít know if she will do it. It involves letting them see into the future...and you know how she feels about that sort of thing."

Gabrielle had found a sore spot and was working hard to release the knot. "Oh...youíre right. Artemis will be very hard to convince on this matter."

Xena flinched under Gabrielleís probing fingers. "Uh-huh...thatís why youíre going to ask her. Ow...you donít have to detach my muscles from their natural given attachments, you know."

"Me!? Why me!? This is your idea...not mine." She probed deeper just for emphasis.

"It has to be you. You are the Chosen of Artemis. You know she doesnít listen to me...and if you hit that spot again, youíre in big trouble." She looked over her shoulder lending an arched eyebrow to her warning.

Gabrielle leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "You know eyebrow posturing doesnít work on me, warrior girl. Youíll probably have me scratch your nose next, right?" She dug into the knot once more. This time Xena turned around in a blur...caught the bardís wrists and pushed her back on the pallet. She was inches from her face, staring into those incredibly green eyes.

As her lips neared Gabrielleís, she pondered. "Well...eyebrows may not work...but what about this?" Her mouth caught her loverís in a deep, consuming kiss. She could feel Gabrielle melting under her and herself wanting to melt on top of the woman. She slowly drew her lips from the bardís. Gabrielle took a deep breath, her heart pounding in her ears. She looked into the face of the warrior.

"Uh...kissing is good...yep that works for me...no more digging...."

Xena didnít let her finish. The key to Gabrielle was to keep her mouth occupied with something besides talking or eating food. She intended to do just that through the night.


Sam stirred under the blankets, her thoughts drifting. In her dreamstate she was nestled close to Liz, holding on tightly. She loved the pre-dawn hours with her...it was so intimate...so quiet. Just the two of them, breathing together, the warmth of their bodies being shared, hands and fingers clasped together. It was her favorite time of day...the times before words were uttered...a time of feeling and incredible communication. It was the place she longed to be...but something was pulling her from the security of that space.

She watched as her form left her loverís side...being forcibly removed. She reached toward Lizís sleeping body, hoping to grasp her. It was useless; she was wisked away to that spot on the sidewalk and the horror of her reality. Suddenly, she felt very cold...detached...disoriented. It was not at all comfortable, yet it was familiar. She had the distinct feeling of being shaken. It was Gabrielleís soft voice that eased her from her dream.

"Sam...itís Gabrielle. Wake up."

Samís return to consciousness was a welcome event as that other place was just too dark. She slowly opened her eyes to see Gabrielleís face and smile before her. She remembered Liz talking about the bard, how beautiful she was. It was true...all true. In fact, her descriptions hardly told the whole story. It was more than physical beauty that Gabrielle possessed...it was an inner integrity that shone through her as well. How fortunate Xena was to wake to her every morning.

"Gabrielle...I was dreaming...seeing Liz again...then I was...." Her voiced trailed off, not wanting to even verbalize the event again.

The bard gently put a hand to Samís worried face. "I know...itís ok, Sam. Weíll see Artemis this morning and ask for her help. Xena has a plan."

"Just like Liz said...Xena always has a plan, right?" The nightís scene was beginning to fade with the brightening morning and something else to focus on. "What does she have in mind?"

Gabrielle helped Sam to her feet. She watched as the woman stretched, loosening her limbs and back. "Well, Iím not exactly sure. She has this habit of not telling me everything up front. Iím certain Iíll have all the details before Artemis actually appears...." She paused, speaking to herself mostly. "...at least I think Iíll have the details."

Sam turned toward Gabrielle, not quite getting the last part of her utterance, "What did you say...about the details?"

"Oh...I said Iíll have the details...yes...well before we meet Artemis." She looked to shift the direction of the conversation for the moment. "Say...how Ďbout some breakfast first?"

Sam was definitely up for more food. "Sounds good to me. Canít be meeting a goddess on an empty stomach. It would be rude to have grumbling coming from the depths of my body, huh?"

Gabrielle smiled, took her arm and concurred, "Yep...not good form, although it has happened to me more than once. Itís very hard to beseech help from a goddess when your stomach is in revolt. Weíll make sure that doesnít happen today. Címon."

The two women casually strolled toward the food hut, all the time Sam was taking in the visual sights. It still amazed her...the women...the smells...the feel of the morning sun on her face. She missed life terribly.

As they approached the hut, Xena was making her way out. Gabrielle stopped her in the doorway. She urged Sam to go ahead. "Sam...Iíll be right with you...need to talk to Xena for a minute." Sam nodded and made her way to the serving line. Gabrielle took Xena by the arm and stepped outside the hut.

"Well...??" She said with an anticipatory look in her eyes.

"Well...what?"

"Xena ...stop messing with me...you know...what."

"Oh...you mean the Artemis thing." The warrior was cool and very much in control. It amused her that Gabrielle could be so easy to tease.

Exasperated, Gabrielle let out a deep sigh. ĎYes...the Artemis thing! Whatís the plan? I canít just go in there with nary a clue...being the Chosen or not. So...spill it!" There was a glint of fire in those green orbs.

"Calm down Gabrielle...I thought you slept well last night...you sound tense..."

"Xena!!!"

"Ok...ok...hereís what we have to get Artemis to agree to." She bent to Gabrielleís ear, whispering the details of her plan. The bard listened, occasionally nodding, her face making various silent comments...a brow raised...lips scrunched to one side. When Xena had finished, Gabrielle could see the logic in her proposed request. Now if Artemis could see the same logic...but goddess logic sometimes was very different from mortal logic. At least Gabrielle wouldnít be floundering when she summoned the goddess.

"All right, Xena. This might work...but I canít promise Artemis will listen to me either. But Iíll give it my best try...for Sam and Liz. Weíll meet you at the temple in a candlemark." The warrior smiled, gave Gabrielle a quick kiss and headed out across the compound. The bard went inside to find Sam and something to soothe the emptiness in her stomach.

In a candlemark, the three were standing at the temple. Xena made sure Gabrielle had all the information correct.

"You remember what to ask for...right?"

"Xena...I think I can remember something you told me not a candlemark ago...all right?"

Xena let the remark roll off her, "Just making sure...this is their only hope of getting past the place theyíre in."

Gabrielleís comment would put a stop to her warriorís concerns. "You know, if you think I canít do this to your satisfaction, youíre more than welcome to address Artemis yourself." She paused to allow Xena time to jump in...which she didnít. "Iíll take that silence to mean youíd prefer I did this then...correct?" She placed an open palm to her ear listening for the slightest sound. "Hmmm...seeing as how thereís no further discussion, shall we go in?"

Sam watched the display, amused at the interaction. Their behavior was very reminiscent of hers and Lizís. She thought back to a similar exchange during their first Christmas together. It centered on decorating the tree.


The first obstacle had been deciding what kind of tree to buy. Although Liz celebrated Solstice as opposed to Christmas, she had always had a tree...a Fraser fir. Sam loved Christmas and had a Leyland cypress...her familyís traditional tree. This holiday season was their first together. It was a blending of customs and habits. Liz tried her best to get Sam to go for the fir...but she was very insistent on tradition. So...round one went to Sam. That was the easy part...the real negotiating started once the tree was in the house.

Sam was fumbling with the door key as the cypress seemingly moved under itís own power out of the elevator.

A disembodied voice resounded behind the tree, "Hurry up and get that door open...this thing is fighting back!" There was an accompanying sound of bits of cypress being shooed from reluctant lips. "Pítooey...gad...you got that door open yet !?"

Sam threw the door open wide and made sure Brie and RG werenít going to make a break for it. She called back into the hallway. "Ok...címon, itís open. You need any help?"

The tree and handler squeezed through the entrance. Liz stuck her head around one of the assaulting limbs. "What I need is a fir tree...theyíre much easier to drive." Sam just rolled her eyes.

"Weíll have one next year. Now where is the stand?" She was putting her keys on the counter and draped her leather jacket over a chair. Liz had her right hand firmly around the center of the tree and was attempting to stand clear of the branches. "Itís over by the window. This trunk had better fit in that thing...Iím not dragginí this puppy back out to trim it."

Sam snagged the stand and turned to face the grumbling woman. She almost broke out in unrestrained laughter.

"What!?" Liz couldnít imagine what was so funny.

Sam was amused at the sight before her. "Well...itís just that you look so...so...oh I dunno...butch I think. Could be that flannel shirt and those hiking boots. But I think the topper is that branch youíre weariní in your hair. Itís lovely on you dear. "

Liz reached up and felt a sprig of cypress adorning the crown of her head. "Oh...for heavenís sake! How long has that been there?" She removed the greenery from her locks and tossed it on the counter. Brie and RG thought it might be catnip and both attacked the poor thing, knocking it to the floor and then carrying it off as a prize. Liz called after the furry raiders.

"Hey...you two...no eating that! I donít have time for a trip to the vet..."

Sam was definitely giggling now. "Relax, hon...Iíll get it later. Letís get this baby in the stand, ok?"

Without too much ado, the cypress was finally secured in the stand and situated in front of the windows. Liz and Sam walked around the tree, making sure it wasnít tilting to one side or another. Now the fun began...stringing the lights. Liz went to the closet and began bringing boxes filled with lights and decorations out. Sam was looking through the colored strings making a face. Liz couldnít help but notice.

"What now? All the wrong color?"

Sam had her head practically buried in the box, searching. "No...but where are the little twinkle lights?"

Liz wrestled the last box off the shelf. "I donít have any. It that a problem?"

Sam looked soulfully at her lover as she stepped off the step stool. "No twinkles?"

Liz set the box on the floor. "No twinkles...deal with it!"

Sam truly looked disappointed. "But I always have twinkles...please...just this year."

Liz knew she might as well give in to this request. With mock annoyance, she sighed. "Ok...weíll have twinkles. Iíll have to get some." She started for her coat and keys. Sam cleared her throat and stopped Liz from leaving the condo.

"Uh...I sorta went out the other day and bought some...you know in case you didnít have any." She went to the coat closet and produced a bag containing the lights. In a childlike gesture, she held them a loft. "See...twinkles."

Liz eyed her suspiciously, "Uh-huh...how convenient." She shook her head and took the lights from her lover. "Now, I suppose you have a special way you want them strung?"

"Uh...no, not really... just as long as they are evenly distributed. You want some help?"

Liz had the first string out of the box and had plugged them in....making sure all the bulbs were good. There was nothing more frustrating than trying to locate the bad bulb once they were on the tree. " Help? Youíre offering...or perhaps youíd like to supervise?" Sam opted for directing traffic around the evergreen.

The first string went on without incident. The second, however, didnít go as well. Liz had the line run halfway around the tree when Sam decided it needed to be closer to the first string. Liz patiently removed the string from the branches and started again.

"Ok...if you could just have them not exactly aligned with first string...you know so it looks spontaneous...not choreographed..." Sam was trying to describe her vision for this tree...Liz was trying to just get it finished. She stood with the string draped over her arms and neck. She was about to mutiny.

"Uh...spontaneous and choreographed are two words that donít really come to mind here. Itís a tree for crissakes!! It should be in the forest with birds and squirrels in it...not Ďchoreographedí lighting. I have a thought...címer a sec." Liz was motioning to Sam with a free finger. The younger woman carefully neared her companion.

"Hmm...what thought?" Before she could blink an eye, Liz had transferred the twinkles to Samís arms and was standing away from her.

"There...much better. Since Iím having a hard time with your creative concept, I think you should just do it yourself. Be as spontaneous as you like...Iím getting something to drink. Can I get you anything while Iím going?" Sam stared at her in disbelief...Liz didnít let up. "Iíll take that silence as a Ďnoí." She proceeded into the kitchen as Sam remained still. Liz withdrew a cold drink from the fridge, popped the top and leaned on the counter...taking a long sip.

"Ahhhh...that hits the spot. So...you going to show me some choreography or not?"

Sam was trying to find the end of the string and wasnít about to let Liz have the satisfaction of an apology. "I suppose youíre just going to watch...right?"

"Uh-huh...I am...unless you want some help."

Sam had begun to work her way around the tree. "Nope...donít want any help, thank you." The tree branches were making a bid for her clothing...and winning.

Liz took another sip of her drink. "You sure you donít want any help? Oh...I think those are too close, honey."

Sam peered from under the branch now gracing her head. "Youíre evil, Liz."

Lizís eyes danced with sheer delight. "Yep...and you are stubborn."

Sam warmly smiled at her love. "Yes...we both have our talents...."


"SAM!! Hey...you still with us!?" Gabrielleís voice brought Sam out of her trance. "Címon...Artemis awaits.

"Yeah...Iím coming." She climbed the steps and entered the temple with Xena and Gabrielle.


Chapters 6 - 9