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Make A Wish

The Conclusion

by AH-Ladis

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and Argo are the sole property of MCA/ UNIVERSAL. No infringement upon the sacred series, no affront intended, no monies have crossed my palm! More time had I. This conclusion to the first part of my offering is the result.

Caution: Yet more scenes of an intimate, but not so graphic, nature between persons of the same sex. If this is illegal in your burg or you are under 18, Scoot! Shoo!

Thanks to all you folks out there who wrote me such kind words of encouragement on my first ever fanfic offering. Hope you enjoy the rest!

Feedback? Questions? Email me at AHladis@aol.com


Part 5: The grand tour

B.L lingered a lot longer in Jennyís room than she originally planned. Watching her patient fall asleep wasnít as bad as she thought. No one ever requested her to stay with them before. Jenny did. B.L knew her personality was on the cold side. Jenny clearly cared less.

Edna glided in a short time later to check on her daughter. Discovering the nurse sitting next to Jennyís bed surprised her.

"Well! Hello there."

"Mrs. Brooks," nurse Goldsmith said nodding acknowledgment.

"I had hoped sheíd be awake for a while. How long has Jenny been asleep?"

B.L looked at her watch.

"Nearly an hour."

"You mustíve stayed till she dozed off."

"Yes."

"That was awfully nice of you Miss Goldsmith," Edna stopped talking for a few moments seeing the uncomfortable attitude B.L showed at hearing her thanks, "I know Jenny can be a handful. Donít pay any attention to her unsubtle remarks. The joking keeps up her spirits. She hasnít offended you, has she?"

"No."

B.Lís thoughts floated to Jennyís slim fingers running over her face. That hadnít really bothered her. It simply shocked her a bit, thatís all. She couldnít remember the last time anyone tried touching her so casually.

"Iím glad to hear it. Wouldnít you like to take a break? I could make some tea and bring it up."

 

Nurse Goldsmith found it difficult adjusting to the over friendliness of Jenny and her mother. For the two days prior to Jennyís declining state, Mrs. Brooks bent over backwards to make B.Lís stay a homey one. Ednaís easygoing chit-chat almost made her feel like a member of the family. Definitely a foreign sensation.

"Thatís not necessary, I can make---"

"Itís no trouble at all. Iíll be back in a jiffy."

Edna dashed out of the room before the nurse could decline the offer. B.L refocused her attention on Jenny. She slept soundly, her chest rising and falling without a hint of distress.

ĎJust a matter of time,í she thought pensively.

Nurses have had to deal with death for ages. It was just another piece of her vocation puzzle. There is no room for sentimentality.

ĎNo. That is a waste of time.í

Another case always followed. No emotional ties. It was better this way.

Edna stood quietly holding a tray at the open door observing B.Lís demeanor. She sat motionless, staring down at Jenny, concern invading every inch of her face. Edna could hardly believe her eyes. This woman, this icy fragment of finely chiseled marble, actually displayed a compassionate side. It seemed a shame to break up the moment.

Mrs. Brooks smiled and backed out slowly; waiting outside to give B.L the privacy she needed.

 

Jenny didnít know how long she laid there staring up at the irregular cave ceiling. She mustíve counted the hundreds of craggy bumps for hours. As hard as she tried Jenny just couldnít make herself sleep.

ĎA bit over stimulated, no doubt!í she voiced under her breath.

She kicked off her blanket opting instead for the outdoors then this torture. Through thick greened woodland daylight appeared, slowly brightening with each passing minute. Jenny walked a little way from her cheerless shelter and all it contained, to where the short clearing immediately ended. Whichever direction she looked, there was nothing but trees, trees and more trees.

Xena would be awake soon. Then theyíd be Hecate bound. Terrific.

ĎHecateís sacred grove might as well be on the other side of the moon,í Jenny thought to herself, Ďand Iím stuck wandering about with Miss Congeniality.í

She wondered how long her stay in this zoned-out place would last this time. Strange that she didnít feel in the least bit tired. Jenny felt great physically. Emotionally? One big jumble.

Sunshine started peeking through the trees with a little more intensity. A few birds here and there warbled their daytime tunes. The air was heavy with the moist odor of saturated freshness....

"Weíll be on our way----"

"AAAAAAAHHH!!!" Jenny almost jumped 10 feet in the air.

"What is the matter with you?" Xena said unruffled, fastening on her complicated gear.

"MY GOD!" Jenny held a hand to her heart, breathing hard, "Donít sneak up on me like that!"

"Pack up the blankets, Iíll do the rest."

Xena went back inside the cave to collect their things. Jenny followed her in.

"And a good, good morning to you too Xena dear."

Xena totally ignored Jennyís sarcastic jab. As a matter of fact, she said very little while she loaded up Argo. Xena was on an important mission. Nothing else mattered.

 

Edna heard B.L rise from her chair and move across the room. She could walk in now that the quietly intense episode was over.

"Here we are. I donít know how you take your tea, so I brought all the fixings,"

Edna announced cheerfully, setting her tray down on a small folding table.

"Thank you."

B.L poured herself some tea, while Edna went over to Jenny. She brushed a hand gently across her cheek. Her skin was cool, ashen in color. Jennyís eye sockets were deeply sunken in. Dark shadows ringed around them.

Her daughter looked awful. As bad as anyone terminal could. Mrs. Brooks didnít give a damn. This was her baby, her dear little girl. As long as Jenny breathed she was still her child, and even after that as well.

Edna turned to find B.L studying her from over a teacup. Nurse Goldsmith quickly looked away.

"You like my Jenny, donít you?" Edna said smiling, with a hint of sadness there.

B.L picked up the large teapot and poured herself another cup without answering. She then poured a cup for Edna.

"Milk?" B.L asked holding up the cow shaped creamer.

 

Jenny folded the blankets as small as she could get them. She then proceeded to tie the bundle to the horseís saddlebag; just the way Xena showed her. Nothing else to do than to wait for Xena to return from fetching more water.

Jenny pushed at the warm campfire ashes with a long twig. A few moments from the night before flashed across her eyes. Xena gripping onto her during the storm, Jenny making her laugh. Xena almost seemed...likable(?).

"As brief as that was," she said aloud, tossing the twig over her shoulder. It landed at Xenaís feet.

"We have to make our way to the sea. Ready?" Xena inquired grimly, taking Argoís reins.

"As Iíll ever be. Lead the way, General Sherman!"

Xena scowled for a second, then decided not to ask what foolishness Jenny was talking about.

They made their way southwest through that dreadful maze of serpentine shrubs and exposed tree roots. It seemed even more tedious to Jenny than the last time, especially since her traveling companion acted rather distant most of the way.

"Hey Xena, how much longer do I have to take this?"

"We are headed in a different direction. Naturally this forest would appear lengthy."

"Iím not talking about our wee stroll through Jurassic Park. Iím talking about you being so damn quiet. Itís driving me nuts."

Xena stopped walking and turned to face the thorn in her side.

"At last! I am the one tormenting you. The Godís must like me today!" Xena threw up her hands in frustration then steadied her sudden little eruption, "When I need to talk, I will. I must stay focused on the problems we may or may not encounter during this journey."

"Why keep the fun stuff to yourself? Maybe Iíd like to know what weíre in for."

"If I tell you, you might change youíre mind about going," Xena kneeled down briefly to check on one of Argoís back legs.

"Honestly Xena, do I look like the Ďsqueamishí type? I told you and your friend inside me that Iím into this thing for the long haul."

Xena stood and walked up to Jenny.

"It is quite possible that neither one of us will make it to Hecateís shrine alive," her beautiful eyes that matched the sky were deadly serious.

"Bummer. Those are some pretty crummy odds," Xena started turning away when Jenny took her hand, "--but, Iíd be facing worse things in my hometown than all of Caesarís troops put together."

Jenny placed her other hand over Xenaís and smiled. Xena stared down at her enclosed hand, then into Jennyís eyes.

"There is a point of no return. Before we reach it, I will warn you."

"I think I already passed that when we met."

Xena removed her hand from Jennyís friendly grasp. She picked up Argoís reins and headed once again into the emerald obstacle course. Jenny followed close behind trying to keep her footing in the ever increasing challenge of the underbrush.

 

"Yes please, just a drop," Edna said smiling.

She was used to B.L not wanting to answer personal questions, though it didnít stop Edna from asking them. B.L handed out the hot cup of tea then glanced at her watch.

To Mrs. Brooks, Nurse Goldsmith seemed a peculiarity, like something youíd find at an old fashioned side show. She didnít smile, and, on the whole, she wasnít very sociable. The woman walked the earth as a lovely empty shell. Edna really felt sorry for her.

ĎThe poor dear must be half starved for affection," she hypothesized quietly.

Edna didnít believe in shilly-shallying around when it came to expressing oneís emotions and perhaps expected too much from those that couldnít. She thought that simple kindness would win over the coldest of hearts.

B.L saw to Jennyís i-v and was now resting with her tea in the other chair that stood at a more discreet distance.

"How does she look to you?"

Edna knew the answer, she wanted to hear it from the nurse.

"Mrs. Brooks, I am not a Doctor," B.L said impatiently.

"Yes, I feel the same way," Edna didnít acknowledge the tone, only what lay underneath, "I donít kid myself my dear, I know Jennyís condition is bad. Itís just that I feel so damn useless."

"All you can do for her now is love her," B.L answered silently to herself. She took a long sip from her cup and sat staring in Jennyís direction.

Mrs. Brooks returned to her daughterís side. She sat by her bed watching Jennyís smoothly serene breaths. There suddenly appeared a thin smile turning up the corners of her mouth.

"At least her dreams are pleasant," Edna said quietly.

 

Jenny lagged behind a bit. Being completely exhausted she could barely keep up with the seemingly never tired Xena. Stupidly she raised her wrist to eye level out of habit to read the time. Clearly, digital watches hadnít been invented yet. It gave her faltering feet a good reason to skid out from under her. She flopped forward rapping her head hard on the ground. Like the day before, Jenny laid sprawled out and motionless.

Xena heard the upset and quickly came to her aide.

"Are you all right?" she said stooping down next to her.

Xena turned Jenny over carefully. This time there was no smart comeback to irritate the grim warrior. Jenny was out cold; a small cut trickled blood just above her eyebrow. Xena ran to get a water skin and immediately began bathing the injury. She sat uneasily dabbing the young girlís head that rested in her lap.

ĎRidiculous childí she thought to herself, ĎWhy were you chosen to help me?í

Xena patted her cheek gently, trying to wake her.

"Jenny?"

Jennyís eyes fluttered open adjusting their blurry view on the beautiful woman hovering above her. Then she winced in pain.

"Damn!" she said rubbing her head.

"Just what were you doing?" Xena asked rather bluntly.

"Oh nothing really," Jenny, attempted to rise, "I suddenly decided to launch into my tap dance routine. Obviously, I messed up on the Ďbuck and wingí."

Xena had a mystified look on her face.

"Trying to interpret your speech pattern is like wading through neck deep quick- sand."

Jennyís unexpected airy laughter irked her crony.

"Now that weíve thoroughly amused each other, I would like to continue on," Xena said angrily, "Youíll have to go the rest of the way on horseback."

"Ya see? I knew you liked me a little," Jenny said, still laughing. Xena fumed inside, but said nothing.

Jenny didnít quibble about riding. She let Xena help her into the saddle and off they went once again. What a wonderful view! Jenny only rode for a short time, tucked behind Xena. Up front was the best place by far. Well...she did have to duck every once in awhile. No matter, it was better than walking through twisted shrubbery.

Xena hopped over each barrier in her way with graceful ease. How Jenny admired this stolid being. There wasnít any hardship she wouldnít face for her friend, Gabrielle. Speaking of which, Jenny hadnít heard or felt Gabrielleís presence since her last blackout.

ĎGabrielle must be lodged deep inside my subconscious. I hope she isnít poking her poetic nose into my private folders."

An almost imperceptible reply piped up inside her thoughts:

ĎNo Jenny dear, I would never do that."

Just as instantly, it vanished.

"Weíre nearly out of the forest. See up ahead? The trees are thinning out."

Xenaís relieved excitement mirrored her own. They seemed to have wandered aimlessly for hours. Her warrior comrade, evidently, knew where she was going.

"Thank God! Iíve never hated anything as much as this death trap."

Xena helped Jenny down making sure she was hidden away from sight before leaving.

"Iím going to survey the area up there. Stay here quietly till I come back."

"Xena?" Jenny called softly.

"Yes?"

"Be careful. Okay?"

Xena nodded, then advanced slowly through dense wood. Upon reaching the narrow opening, she immediately heard voices in the distance raised in argument. Dropping down, she crawled closer to the racket. Louder grew the menís shouts as Xena crept across the ground. Cautiously, she raised her head...

In the meantime, Jenny stretched back and closed her eyes for a moment. Sleep soon washed over her.

Part 6: Somewhat Indisposed

"Mom?" She waited in silence, "Please, can anyone hear me?"

Jenny woke up in the middle of the night, weak and terrified to be thrown into darkness again. She slipped off her bed accidentally knocking over the i-v stand sending it crashing to the floor.

"Donít move, let me help you!" B.L shouted in alarm.

Nurse Goldsmith had rushed to Jennyís room flipping on the strong overhead light. She found Jenny in a highly agitated state standing weakly with the i-v tubing stretched as far as it could go. Carefully, B.L lifted the fallen stand and then helped Jenny back into bed. She checked to see if the needle pulled out during the incident. No, everything looked fine.

"Panicking is hardly a solution," B.L said calmly sliding Jennyís blankets under her. She glanced down at her patient not really expecting a reply.

"Any snappy suggestions?" Jennyís eyes blankly strayed in the direction of B.Lís voice; there was definitely a touchy tone to her question.

"Youíve got to save your strength. Wasting it with impulsive outbursts retards the recovery process. I presume you wish to recover?"

"Oh please! Whoíre you kidding? Spare me the standard litany Binnie Lynne, Iím not in the mood," She paused feeling a little sicker than usual, then sent another dart at B.L, "But if it makes you sleep better at night, more power to you."

She was a little taken aback by Jennyís flare-up.

"My welfare isnít at issue here."

Jenny heard the irritation in B.Lís voice.

"Listen...Iím sorry. I know youíre only trying to do your job. Letís talk about something else, what do you say?"

B.L exhaled through her nose.

"Iíll take that as a Ďyesí. Bring over a chair," Jennyís temples throbbed.

The nurse pulled one up close to Jennyís bed, semi-ready to return the ping pong balls that were sure to be served at her head. Jennyís hand fell easily upon B.Lís arm.

"Do you believe in the significance of dreams B.L? Or are you a die-hard scientific kind of a gal?"

"Some people attach a certain amount of weight to them. I donít subscribe to that school of thought. Dreams are merely the subconscious mind taking over the body during a state of repose."

"Are you always so clinical in everything, or is this an act?"

"I am simply being realistic. Dreams do not control oneís life."

"Youíd think otherwise if you could see where Iíve been these last few days. My dreams lately are as real as....well...as real as we are right now."

"Have they unsettled you, these images?"

"Yes and no. Itís one of those things you hear a lot of lately. Iíve been having serial dreams."

"Are they nightmares?"

"Not exactly. Whenever I re-enter that world Iím on an unbelievable journey with a fascinating individual. Most of the time itís anxiety provoking on many fronts. The situation is just too complicated to explain in any detail. Donít your dreams ever make you feel a bit troubled?"

"Iíve usually forgotten them when I wake," B.L hesitated for a moment, "Whether I remember or not, dreams do not influence my life, they donít affect me in the least." B.L answered flatly.

"You must be a real cut-up at parties. Sheesh!"

B.L answered with another sigh.

"Iíd bet anything that you operate on little or no merriment in your life," Jenny waited, then continued, "It must be a real challenge being saddled with that light-hearted name of yours. Why not ease up a little on the murk? One might enjoy your company more."

Jennyís hand still rested lightly on her arm. She hadnít removed it and B.L didnít pull away.

"It plainly amuses you to probe and make sport of me. I suppose I court that response because of the way I am. Iím not good at the art of clever conversation, yet you insist on engaging me in it. Do you do this because Iím at a disadvantage?"

"Iíve annoyed you again."

Jenny surmised correctly, once more, she made a pest of herself. B.L glanced fleetingly at the small hand lightly grasping her arm. It had lain there so gently, she accepted the naturalness of the gesture permissible.

Jenny reassuringly patted her.

"Youíve been a real sport putting up with my nonsense," Jenny searched around for B.Lís hand, "And here I am, forgetting how sweet you were to me yesterday

afternoon," Jenny found her target then held onto it tight, which wasnít very tight at all, "Thank you for...everything."

The warm smile on Jennyís lusterless face proved too much for B.Lís reserve. An age-old sensation beat at her diaphragm, then burned itís way agonizingly up into her throat strangling B.L for an instant. It climbed ominously through her brain and rested just behind her cold blue eyes.

"Thereís no need to thank me," she heard herself say, studying the fragile hand holding hers.

For a second B.L thought the unwelcome feeling was a false alarm. Then the miniature dam shook at itís foundation. What had been barricaded for so many years burst apart with one heart rending look from this young woman.

Tears assembled quickly, maddeningly opposing her steely authority.

"Whatís the matter?" Jenny felt her solemn attendant tense up.

"Iím a little tired."

B.L tried slipping out of Jennyís grasp.

"Hey, something is wrong. You suddenly sound funny."

Jenny wouldnít let her hand go. B.L was desperate to get away.

"I must have a slight cold, itís nothing. I just need to take an aspirin."

Before she could stop her, Jenny reached out to touch B.Lís forehead; a natural response to check for a fever. She missed and caught the side of her face instead.

"Geez, sorry, Iím such a klutz lately...,"

Jenny stumbled on the real trouble. B.L was more than upset, there were tears?

"That must be some cold," Her wet cheek twitched beneath Jennyís fingers.

"I will regain control...momentarily."

And she made a great effort to do just that, but lost the battle at every turn. Jenny inched closer to B.L sliding an arm gingerly around her.

"What are you doing?" said B.L in a shaky voice.

"Iím making an attempt to comfort you. It would be a lot easier if I could see. How about trying to cooperate a little? This is getting pretty difficult without your help."

She let Jenny pull her into a generous embrace. At first B.L felt rather foolish allowing an extremely ill patient to console her. After all, she was the healthy one acting so completely unprofessional!

"There. See, itís not so bad now is it?"

Jennyís words, though kindly, stabbed at B.Lís heart. This unfortunate girl was trying to help her through a silly moment of emotional feebleness. A gush of tears poured out of nurse Goldsmithís eyes, shallow breaths gave way to a wave of sobs. Jenny held her till she quieted down, and a while after that.

Then the door slowly swung open.

"Oh dear! Iím sorry--"

B.L leaped out of Jennyís arms and rushed quickly passed Mrs. Brooks and out of the room.

"I heard voices, so I thought it was okay to come in," Edna said slightly perplexed.

"Donít worry about it mom."

"Whatís the matter with her?" She walked slowly to Jennyís side.

"Sheís having a bad day."

"Well, I suppose the poor dear is tired out. She looked dreadful."

"I think I made her cry. I didnít mean to."

"Really? I never thought it could be possible. Nurse Goldsmith is so...sheís....I canít think of a good enough word to describe her!"

"Reticent?"

"Yes, thatís it exactly! Iím sorry to say itís been difficult to be friendly. Sheís so serious about everything."

"B.L doesnít know how to say good-bye. I worry about the both of you having to look after me. "

Edna hated Jennyís fatalistic moods. They seemed to be circling her all the time now. She chose not to cite her for it.

"How come youíre up?"

"Xena went to scout out the open terrain. I fell asleep, *POOF* Iím back here in all my pathetic glory."

Jenny didnít want to tell her mother the whole truth about how scared she was and the terrible fatigue still plaguing her.

"Ahhh, the dream woman. Have you taken my advise on how to treat her?"

"Yeah, fat lot it does me. Xena is only interested in the safety of her little buddy stationed inside my body. Once we get to our destination I have no idea what will happen."

"Youíre still on that trip with her?."

"Funny isnít it? I also found out she has a phobia. Iím sure she hates that I know that about her. She avoids me more than ever now."

"Just try not to make fun of her too much. I know how you can get carried away kiddo."

Jenny felt a greater aching in her head.

"Mom? she said in a weary tone.

"Yes dear?" Edna took Jennyís hand.

"Promise you wonít get pissed off with me, okay?"

"Must I?" Jenny nodded, "Fine. What is it?"

"I want to let go."

Pissed off? She saw the certainty on her daughterís face. It frightened Edna horribly, a sense of dreadful urgency squeezed her insides. Jennyís ache magnified.

"Honey, you donít mean that? Whatís hurting you? Iíll get you to a hospital---"

Jenny gripped at her motherís hand weakly.

"Iím so worn out mom. I love you to pieces, but I canít go on this way."

"This is crazy! Youíre sounding like some stupid soap-opera!"

"Yeah, youíre probably right," she said very softly, "I think I heard it on ĎAll My Childrení. Sometimes those corny lines come in handy," Jenny smiled.

"Always the smart-ass, arenít you!"

Jenny massaged the right side of her head, a tingling sensation flowed down her body.

"Hey, I never leave home without it," she paused, "Mom...I donít feel right..."

A glassy look appeared in her eyes, and she tried to smile again. Edna grabbed the phone off itís cradle and started to dial 911.

"Iím calling for an ambulance. Hang on sweetie!"

She never felt so tired in her life. Every inch of her body seemed to get heavier and heavier. The numbness in her face made it hard to talk.

"Where are you mom? B.L?......Gee, I hope I have...enough...brownie points to bribe St. Peter...." her voice, barely a whisper, trailed off.

"Jenny, you canít give up. Not now dammit!"

Jennyís head felt like it was going to explode. Bright streaks of light scratched across her eyes. For a split second Jenny saw her alarmed motherís face then sank into velvety blackness.

"Jenny, wake up!" Xenaís forced words rang in her ears.

"Hmmmm? St. Peter? Oh....hi honey. I took the long way around, I hope I didnít

keep you waiting." Jenny hazily answered. Xena raised an eyebrow.

"Itís about time. Didnít you get enough sleep in the cave last night?"

"Umm, nope. I was too busy counting bumps," she said stretching.

"What?"

"Never mind. Howís the outside looking?"

"There were some drunken men arguing in the road. Harmless enough. Theyíre gone now."

"Great! So we can get out of here, right?" Jenny said starting to get up.

"Not so fast. Itís nearly dusk, weíll start out early in the morning."

"Super! I get to stay a night in purgatory. I canít wait!"

Xena unloaded a few things, then took off Argoís saddle.

"We wonít be able to build a fire. The underbrush is too dense," Xena handed Jenny a large piece of dry rabbit.

"Even better. For a minute there I thought weíd really be roughing it."

Xena unfolded the blankets and laid them side by side on the flattest area she could find. Jenny sat on one, mournfully chewing her dinner. The prospect of spending a night in the ugly dark woods filled her with dread. Xena glanced at Jenny, a rare amused expression graced her features.

"Youíre not afraid, are you?"

"Ha! Me? Not in the least!"

"Very good. Then thereís no reason to have our blankets so close together. I see that you have things well in hand."

Xena proceeded to drag her bedding a short ways off. Jenny wanted to kill her. She knew Xena was playing and she didnít like it.

"Thanks a lot. I suppose this is my queue to beg you not to move so far away?"

Xena smiled, waiting calmly with her head tilted to one side.

"My, how funny we are today," Jenny smiled back, "Okay, you asked for it," she folded her hands in prayer, "Pretty please donít leave me in the dark all alone, oh wonderful, most beautiful warrior-type lady?"

Xenaís smile melted away. Her grim determined manner took its place.

"Itíll be dark soon," Xena said bringing her blanket back over, "We might as well settle in. Iíd like to get started before the morning breaks."

She quickly took off her fighting garb then laid down on the thin woolen weave. Xena didnít waste any time turning away with her back to Jenny.

There she was, left to her own devices. Nobody she knew ever switched moods as fast as Xena did. Itíd been kind of nice seeing Xena relax her glum side for a few minutes. Now it was like old times; the sad Xena resurfaced.

ĎShe must be thinking about Gabrielle.í

Jenny stared at her motionless comrade while overhead drab evening clouds gathered one by one in the sky. Crickets peeped back and forth to each other, a low rustling of creatures found their way to homes burrowed in the ground, a grunt sounded in the distance.

ĎDid I just hear a frog?í

Jenny maneuvered a little closer to Xena. She spread the extra blanket around herself then placed the other half onto her dour travel pal. Ever so gently, she leaned her head against Xena, comforted from all the repulsive crawling things and the darkness. Jenny only wished that she could somehow force Gabrielle out again to ease Xenaís infinite loneliness---as well as her own.

 

"JENNY!!"

Edna was near hysterics just before B.L burst into the room. She ran over to Jenny, opened an eye, shined a pen light into it and repeated the procedure for the other eye.

"GOD! MY GOD IS SHE DEAD??!!"

"Mrs. Brooks, you need to calm down. It isnít helping matters to lose control."

Edna always thought that when the time came for Jenny to pass on, sheíd be well prepared for it. No, she was like everyone else.

B.L checked Jennyís pulse then grabbed the phone from Ednaís hand.

"WHATíS HAPPENING?"

"Mrs. Brooks, Iím perfectly able to hear. You must stop shouting. Jenny isnít dead, she has lapsed into a coma."

"WEíVE GOT TO CALL AN AMBULANCE! WEíVE GOT TO GET HER TO THE HOSPITAL!"

B.L gripped Edna by her shoulders.

"Please try to listen to me. Jenny cannot be moved. Iím going to elevate her head a little, then Iím going to call Dr. Newurth. Nothing can be done until a doctor sees her."

Doctor Newurth was the very first specialist to see Jenny.

Edna composed herself and stayed out of Nurse Goldsmithís way. B.L gently raised Jennyís head making sure it was propped up correctly so it wouldnít fall over to the side.

"Please, canít I help in any way?" asked Edna, nervously wringing her hands.

"Yes. Bring me a bowl of ice water and a washcloth."

B.L really did need those things, but it was easier if Mrs. Brooks stayed out of the room while she called the doctor.

Edna raced downstairs to the kitchen. Closets flew open, ice and cold water tumbled into a large blue mixing bowl. She grabbed a washcloth then ran upstairs. Just as she entered Jennyís room, B.L was hanging up the telephone.

"Dr. Newurth will be here shortly," she said taking the items from Edna.

B.L placed the bowl of ice water on a table, dipping in and wringing out the washcloth then folding it length-wise.

The happy little cartoon chicks covering the cloth caught B.Lís attention. She stared at them then looked over at Edna, then stared at the comical print on the washcloth again.

"Sorry, thatís all I could find," Edna said peevishly.

B.L suddenly lit up! A lovely smile splashed across her normally stern face. As she pressed the way-too-cheery cloth lightly to Jennyís head she started to laugh. Edna walked over suspiciously.

"Is everything all right?"

"No..."

B.L continued laughing while she held the cloth neatly in place. Mrs. Brooks knew it had nothing to do with idiotic cartoon chicks. It was the incredible irony of it all. When she quieted down some tears glittered in her eyes, just enough so that Edna noticed.

"Youíve answered my question you know," Edna said, half smiling.

"What question?"

"You do like my Jenny, very very much indeed."

B.L timidly reached for one of Jennyís limp hands and enclosed it in hers.

"Perhaps."

Part 7: Portage Pilot

Jenny slept soundly. Yet she never left Xenaís side, not for her bedroom in her own time-line, thatís for sure. Why didnít she wake up in her bed?

Jenny had a mild little dream about extremely cold ice-cream. Was it the evening, or was it coming on early morning? Jenny had no idea. The pitch black of the forest unnerved her. It reminded Jenny of what waited for her back home: illness...death?

ĎI donít want to go home, but how can I stay here? What am I going to do?í

Being given no real choice in the matter made things worse. Big self-pitying tears rolled down her face. She wallowed in this weird dilemma, alone and unhappy for quite a while.

Two strong arms appeared seemingly out of nowhere surrounding her in a snug embrace. Jenny half expected Xena to start saying things in her sleep again. Instead, a gentle hand pet at her hair uncertainly.

"Shhhhh, calm down now. Nothingís going to hurt you," came the familiar voice whispering very close to her ear, "Iím here."

Held fast to the other womanís body, Jenny could hardly move.

ĎCan Xena actually be awake?í

Only the continued soft caressing of her hair made it so. It didnít make any difference that Xena got the cause of her upset wrong, Jenny needed the closeness bad. The fact that Xena understood what is was like to be in turmoil, given all sheís had to bear, this wounded person could still reach out to another. It made Jenny feel welcome for the first time to this extraordinary land and to its most conspicuous resident.

Laying curled up in Xenaís arms, Jenny allowed herself to drift dreamily into the sheltering warmth of her tenderness.

 

A few oddly colored birds flitted to and fro above the slumbering pair, twittering excitably to one another. Xena was first to wake. She watched Jenny sleeping in her arms then smiled to herself.

ĎSheís not so bad...when sheís quiet.í

But time was wasting in idle thought. The sky had already started to brighten up.

"Jenny, itís time to go," Xena said sitting up with Jenny still in her arms.

"Why are people always waking me up?" she answered opening her eyes a little,

"Hi there," she said sleepily staring into Xenaís placid face, "Whatís up?"

"Youíre not, obviously. Come on, I thought you couldnít wait to get out of these woods."

"True, but that was before," Jennyís wide grin surprised Xena.

"Before what?"

"Before I realized the woods arenít so scary after all," Jenny winked at Xena.

"Must you always be so...so...?"

"Witty?" Jenny offered.

"That is not the word I wanted to use."

Jenny folded up the blankets once again and stood by while Xena saddled Argo. Something a short distance away caught her attention. A bunch of mushrooms grew in a neat patch under a decayed tree root.

"Hey look, mushrooms!"

Jenny dashed over to the nice little clump of her favorite treats. She gathered up as many as she could then emptied them into the saddle bag. Jenny brushed off one of them and handed it to an unimpressed Xena.

"Go on, try it," Jenny said popping a whole one into her mouth.

Xena took a dainty bite and made a face.

"I guess itís an acquired taste," Jenny said in a posh English accent.

Xena shook her head and packed away the blankets.

It didnít take long to leave the confines of the oppressive forest. They had only been about thirty yards from the outside world. As soon as Xena made sure it was safe, away they went down the road; Jenny riding, Xena walking warily ahead.

"Ah, the open road. What a pleasure to be outside again! Freedom! Fresh breezes! Excellent company! What more can a girl from Brooklyn ask for?"

"I thought you said you were from New York City," Xena said blandly without turning around.

"Iíll have you know, Brooklyn is in New Yawk. Some might go as far to say that it IS

New York."

"I see. So youíre from one of the larger villages of the main city."

"Umm...yeah, you could say that."

"And I suppose you entertained people there too?"

"Yeah..some."

"Tell me, are village idiotís well paid for their serviceís?"

Xena turned around briefly to catch Jennyís reaction to her question. Jenny wasnít quite sure if she had just been insulted.

 

"Itís up to you Mrs. Brooks. We can set up life support right here for Jenny. Moving her to a hospital really wouldnít make a difference."

"What is the possibility that she might regain consciousness?"

Dr. Glen Newurth exchanged a quick glance with B.L.

"The odds arenít good. Iím sorry Mrs. Brooks," he laid a sympathetic hand on her shoulder, "Jennyís life signs are weakening. Wouldnít you like to make her comfort- able at home?"

Those last words played over and over in Ednaís head. Jenny had wished to die at home. She said so many times. Going against her wishes now would be pointless.

"Very well doctor, make the necessary arrangements. Jenny will remain here."

"Miss Goldsmith is to be retained?" Edna nodded, "Good. B.L is quite a capable nurse, you are very lucky to have her."

Edna smiled over at B.L but she was engrossed in getting the room cleared of unnecessary items. Life support machines do take up space.

 

Xena and Jenny were traveling a long time on that deserted, dusty road. After miles of wild flowers and rolling hills, the excitement of Ďthe open roadí became rather mundane. Argoís steady gait turned up the loose dirt forming a little cloud behind them. Xena stopped near a narrow stone sign covered with writing Jenny couldnít make out. It was a good a place as any for a water break.

"Whatís all that mumbo-jumbo mean?" Jenny said pointing at the sign.

"It says that a seaport named Olympia is the next town. How is your injury?" Xena gave a waterbag to Jenny.

Jenny touched the cut above her eye.

"Fine, it doesnít hurt," Jenny took a few sips of water and handed the bag back to Xena, "How much further?"

"Not that far. I spotted seagulls in the distance," she took a long sip.

"The sea...groovy. What happens once we get to it?"

"We go on it," Xena hung the water bagís handle around the saddle horn.

"Forget I asked."

 

An ugly thick white tube hung out of Jennyís mouth. Part of it was taped in place against her jaw then looped next to her bed. A soft Ďwhooshingí noise came on in two second intervals and a steady beep sounded in the background.

Edna moved a wisp of hair out of Jennyís eyes.

"Thatís better," she smiled down at her daughter, petting her face, "Hey kiddo, sorry about the ĎYankeeís hat. They wouldnít let me put it on you."

Edna turned her attention to B.L.

"What time is it?" Mrs. Brooks asked in an excited tone.

"It is almost four oíclock."

Edna ran over to Jennyís stereo system and turned on the radio.

".....okay folks, here is a special request from Edna Brooks to her daughter Jenny." a cheerful voice announced, "Saddle up pilgrim," said the DJ imitating John Wayne, "Weíre-a-doiní the cow-cow boogie!"

B.L watched Edna closely.

"It was one of her favorite silly songs, maybe sheíll hear it." Edna said, turning up the volume a bit.

The beeps seemed to pick up speed for a moment, then settled back into their usual rhythm.

 

Clumpity, clump, clumpity clump. Argo was making a pretty good walking beat. Jenny decided to break up the monotony, in her own special way.

She took a deep breath and started to sing to herself....

"Out on the plains down in Santa Fe

I met a cowboy ridiní the range one daaaay

and as he galloped along

I heard him singiní the most peculiar cow-boy-song!

It was a ditty

he learned in the City:

Come-a-tyyyy-aaaay,

Come-a-ty-yipp-eee-eye-yaay..."

Xena slowed down.

"...Get a-long, get hep little doggies!

Get a-long

---youíd better be on your way!

Get a-long, get hep little doggies!

As he strutted on down

the old fairway,

Singiní the cow-cow boogie

--- in the strangest way:

Come-a-tyyyy-aaay

Come-a-ty-yipp-eee-eye-aaay!"

Xena ran ahead a bit.

"...He sang a cow-boy-song

itís just too much

heís got a knocked-out western accent

--- with a Harlem touch!

He was raised on loco weed

heís what you call a swing half breed..."

Xena came barreling down the road at top speed toward Jenny.

"...Singiní the cow-cow boogie

--in the strangest waaay!

Come-a-tyyy-aaay

Come-a-ty-yipp-eee--eye-aay..."

"Hmmmm, Iím sure I left out a line or tw--OOOF---"

Xena flew forward. Cupping her hand over Jennyís mouth she yanked her rudely off Argo.

"Soldiers are coming!" she whispered harshly.

Barely managing to pull all three of them into the bushes in time, a small garrison of soldiers came into view from the top of the next hill. They were the most frightening and remarkable sight Jenny had ever seen. Xena pulled her flat down just as the troop was about to pass by. Noisily their shiny armor clanged and clattered quite near, then disappeared again over the next hill.

"Wow!" Jenny sighed, "What a History lesson!"

"The less we see of that, the better. We canít take Argo any further."

She unfastened and removed Argoís saddle.

"Will she be okay out here all alone?"

"Thereís plenty of grass to eat and sheíll find water," Jenny looked skeptical, "Iíve done this many times before. I know what Iím doing."

"Youíre not expecting to come back from our little crusade, are you?"

"I donít want Roman soldiers to happen upon her hoof prints," she said burying the saddle under thick brush.

Xena quietly packed up two bundles for the trip. They were to carry two water supplies apiece as well.

This sudden light travel and Xenaís casual brush-off of her question had Jenny worried. She never considered failure to be an option in her dream world. Letting their only means of escape go to frolic in the woods seemed like a terrible idea. Jenny kept the opinion to herself even though it gnawed at her. Xena had switched into an encore of determined mode; Jenny wasnít about to start splitting hairs.

"Weíll be back for you girl," Xena said petting Argoís long neck and urging her to leave.

She said this loud enough for Jenny to hear. Was it for her benefit? Was Xena trying to convince Jenny or herself that they would return?

Travel from here on out was slow and methodical. Xena said very little wanting only to give her full attention to any perils ahead of them. Jenny stayed fairly quiet herself, observing Xenaís guarded actions caused her to be more on the serious side.

"Listen..." Xena said pausing in the road.

Jenny strained to hear something but all she heard was an occasional bird call.

"I donít hear anything."

Xena turned to Jenny, her amazing blue eyes blazing.

"Itís the sea!"

 

Late into the night, a series of even beeps and artificially pumping oxygen were the only things that broke the silence. Edna sat upright but slumped over a little in deep sleep. B.Lís chair rested next to Jennyís bed on the opposite side.

This was the part of her job that she hated: The deathwatch. More so because this time things had taken a sharp detour that B.L never expected. She loved Jenny.

It didnít make sense, these feelings she had for her patient. B.L found it difficult to fend off such inappropriate thoughts.

ĎI must be insane. The woman is dying... it is as if Iím dying with her.í

B.Lís existence in her own little gray world was all she knew. Nothing could touch her there. Then she meets this playful, totally exasperating person and her whole empty life magnifies to unbearable proportions.

She leaned over and planted a kiss on Jennyís bloodless cheek. B.L wanted to scream and shake her. She wanted to beg Jenny not to die. What good would that do? It almost seemed that some cruel joke had been played on the both of them.

But wait a minute! B.L gave no thought to one critical point. There was no way of knowing if Jenny ever felt the same way about her.

She closed her eyes.

ĎDecidedly not.í

 

They stayed huddled behind an old storage house, sandwiched between a bale of something very rancid and a large pile of broken wagon wheels. A bit beyond that stood a long dock.

"So this is Olympia. Tell me weíre moving along soon," Jenny said holding a hand over her nose.

"We have to wait until it gets a little darker. If thereís a sentry on duty I can deal with him easier."

"What are you planning on doing?"

"There is a small sailing craft moored at the end of that dock. With a little luck we can take it and be far away before anyone notices that itís gone."

Xena reached into the saddlebag and took out the last two pieces of dry meat.

"Here, youíre going to need it," she said handing the food to Jenny.

Jenny watched Xena eating with extreme interest.

"How can you eat with that stench in the air?"

Xena calmly gazed into Jennyís eyes.

"You learn to do a lot of things...on a battlefield."

Jenny swallowed hard in her throat.

"If its all the same to you," she said wrinkling her nose, "I think maybe Iíll leave this for later, eeeech."

Xena leisurely finished her meal then took a sip of water.

"We have to make our supplies last. I doubt if thereís anything useful stored on that boat."

"Xena?"

"Yes?"

"I know diddly squat about boats."

Xena gave her Ďspeak in a language I can understandí look.

"I donít know a thing about boats," Jenny translated.

"Can you swim?"

"Yeah."

"Good. Drowning wouldnít be pleasant."

"Why am I not comforted by that remark?"

"Donít worry, Iíll teach you all youíll need to know."

"Whereíd you learn how to sail a boat?"

Xena calmly gazed into Jennyís eyeís again.

"You learn to do a lot of things...when youíre a galley slave."

"Hmmmm, thereís definitely a familiar train of thought here."

Xena peeked over the mountain of wheels and quickly kneeled down.

"Itís time. Stay here," Xena climbed swiftly over the debris and left in a flash.

Time passed slowly. The splish-splash of water lapping onto the pilings pacified Jennyís stressed nerves somewhat. She knew Xena would be just fine, but waiting for her to come back was awful.

ĎI wish sheíd hurry up! I donít know how much more of this I can stand.í

At least the wind shifted so that the terrible odor wasnít quite as bad.

ĎThank goodness for Godís little mercies!í

She leaned against the old building and tried to relax. Jennyís mind was filled with what she had to face in her world as well as this imaginary one. She missed B.L and mom, but not enough to want to go back there. Once again Jenny wondered why she wasnít returning to her time zone. Just yesterday she was in her bed at home feeling horrible. She started fiddling with her hair, then looked down at herself; the picture of health.

ĎItís taking Xena an awfully long time to knock-out a couple of guards.í

Jenny anxiously gathered their belongings and made her way around the stack of wooden wheels. She heard something rattle nearby. Xena came running up to Jenny from out of nowhere.

"I thought I told you to wait?" she said angrily.

"I got worried, so sue me!"

"Come on, we must hurry!" Xena said grabbing a bundle from Jenny.

They both raced down to the dock. The small sailboat, as Xena said, rocked quietly against the heavy planking at the end of it. Xena helped Jenny aboard first, quickly untying the boat, then jumped in after her.

"Sit here and hold the tiller steady!" she said pointing to a horizontal rail.

Jenny did as she was told. She held the smooth wooden arm still while Xena pushed them away from the dock. Dashing to the mast, Xena started tugging on a rope to raise the sail. The little boat floated them swiftly away from the pier and further out to sea. Climbing up the pole, she fiddled with more ropes.

"Pull the tiller to the right," barked Xena from the top of the mast, "slowly!"

Jenny eased the lever carefully to the right, the boat moved left.

"Hold our course!"

Xena climbed down and secured the end of the boom rope to an iron ring. A brisk wind caught the sails; they fluttered then billowed out. Now the boat really sped through the waves.

"My God! I LOVE THIS!!!"

Xena smiled at her excited ship-mate.

"If the wind picks up speed, weíll arrive at Charybdis by tomorrow afternoon. Hecateís grove isnít too far from it."

"I like the sound of that already."

Jenny spoke those words, but she didnít really mean them.

"Iíll take over from here," Xena said placing her hands on Jennyís, "You need to rest."

"How can I sleep now? Iím too crazed to sleep!"

Jenny reluctantly gave Xena the helm.

"Itís easy, just lay down and close your eyes."

"Okay, but Iím not tired."

Jenny fluffed up a thick tarp left laying open on the deck. She stretched herself across it and glanced over at Xena. The strained look on her face concerned Jenny, she hadnít noticed it before.

"Hey Xena?"

"Iím still here."

"How long do you suppose Ďtil those guards wake up?"

"They wonít."

"You mean they wonít for a while?"

"I mean they wonít wake because I had to eliminate all three of them."

Jenny tried to think of something to say, but for once she couldnít. Xena focused her eyes on the miles of black silky water ahead. Anything to forget the images of those three slaughtered men back at port.

Part 8: The Languid String

Edna woke up with a start. No it hadnít been some terrible nightmare. Jenny lay very still in her bed, the same sickening gray pallor covered her face. The nurse sat half awake in a guest chair next to her. Eyes rimmed in red and bloodshot, B.L gave a pretty good impression of being ill herself.

"Have you been up all this time?"

B.L nearly jumped out of her skin. Her attention was so fixed on Jenny she didnít realize Mrs. Brooks had awakened.

"Iím sorry my dear, I didnít mean to scare you," said Edna rising, then moving closer to nurse Goldsmith.

"Quite all right," said B.L straightening herself in the chair.

"No change I see."

"None."

Edna moved a bit nearer, attempting to chat up B.L.

"Nurse Goldsmith, do you have family? Friends?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Well, in all the time youíve been here Iíve never seen you use the telephone for personal calls."

"I havenít made any personal calls. Nor do I expect to."

"It is a bit curious."

B.L tried to contain her dislike at being probed. In her heart she knew Mrs. Brooks meant no harm. She seemed more interested than nosy.

"Is there a reason for your question?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact I do have a reason," she said smiling, "I want you to feel free to talk to me about anything, my dear. Youíve been looking as though you need a friend. Iíd like to be your friend, if youíll let me."

Edna extended her hand out to B.L to shake. It was obvious where Jenny got most of her more agreeable attributes. Between the two of these woman, B.L never felt so much at a loss, nor so warmly received--anywhere. Her duties were all anyone ever expected of her.

She put her hand in Ednaís.

"Thank you," B.L said quietly, "I think Iíd like that."

"Good," she said readily shaking B.Lís hand, "I really hope you take me up on it. I know Jenny wouldíve wanted the same thing."

B.L let go of Ednaís hand and looked into her amiable brown eyes. It wasnít only good manners that prompted Mrs. Brooks to offer an ear to bend. It was genuine kindness Edna wanted to share.

B.L turned away, once again starting to lose her iron command over frayed emotions. Edna put a hand on B.Lís shoulder, squeezing it a little to let her know it was okay to cry if she wanted to.

"Mrs. Brooks..." B.L started to say.

"Yes dear?"

"I wish... I wish Jenny would come back. I do indeed---for your sake, I mean."

Edna gently took B.L into her arms. The downcast woman showed no resistance.

"She canít honey. Maybe Jennyís in that imaginary land she always talked about. I hope itís better than this," Edna paused, "Ha, listen to me rattling on so calmly! Iím the one who went nuts yesterday morning. You kept such a cool head. Impressive."

"Youíre her mother. You love Jenny, it is to be expected," B.L said tearfully into Ednaís sleeve.

"And what about you? Your feelings, right now, donít count I suppose?"

Nurse Goldsmith didnít give Ednaís inquiry much thought.

"No."

"Oh for Godís sake woman!" Edna said pulling back to look into her eyes, "You couldnít be more off base," Mrs. Brooks wiped at B.Lís tears, "Of course they matter! Youíre flesh and blood like the rest of us honey," B.L leaned her head on Edna again, "What started out as just another job, isnít one anymore, is it?"

B.L tightened her hold on Mrs. Brooks.

"Sometimes I think I can hear her saying something to irritate me. Jenny delighted in doing that," B.L smiled a little, "Then sheíd turn around and be so...."

Nurse Goldsmith was unable to finish her sentence coherently.

 

A hard splash of water onto the deck woke Jenny unceremoniously. She glared up at Xena through wet strands of hair.

"Sorry about that. Itís been rough sea for hours. I donít think a storm is coming."

"You have no idea how happy that makes me," Jenny said pushing back her soaked locks.

The sky appeared rather overcast, but Jenny could make out a thin sliver of land to their right.

"Say, we have come far! Is that land?" Jenny asked excitedly.

"Yes, itís Hesperia. Weíll be reaching Charybdis soon."

"Umm, that story about the whirlpool and its monster is just a myth, isnít it? Heh, heh, heh?"

"Youíve heard of them, have you?" Xena delayed answering for effect, "Itís not true," Jenny sighed with relief, "Only when thereís a raging storm does the pass prove to be treacherous. Sailors tend to invent tales to scare superstitious competitors away from pirated vessels."

Jenny got up and stood holding onto the shipís mast. The stiff wind blew through her hair, her sleeves flapped in the breeze. Their small craft cut cleanly into each wake like a blade. Speeding along at such a great rate made Jenny feel so alive.

"Wouldnít you like me to steer for a while? You look really frazzled."

"No, the high waves are too precarious for you to handle."

"Okay then, at least let me cover you with something."

Xena was shivering terribly from the constant spray of sea water and the cool wind. Jenny unfolded a blanket then put it around Xenaís shoulders.

"Damn! Your skin is ice cold! Donít you ever ask for help? Whatíre you trying to do? Kill yourself?"

Those were the kind of questions that had no ready answers. Jenny rubbed Xenaís frozen arms gently until they were warmed up enough to her satisfaction.

"There. Next time, wake me if you need something!"

"Thank you, mother," Xena smirked.

"Laugh all you want to lady. Somebodyís got to look after you. Lord knows you wonít!"

Jenny briefly touched Xenaís hand, then quickly went about the business of finding something to eat. Rummaging through the one saddle bag, all they had were three handfuls of mushrooms and that one piece of very hard dry meat from the night before. The water supply fared better. A whole barrel full of it sat tied to a corner of the deck.

"Eat," Jenny said passing the meat to Xena.

She gratefully ate it while Jenny popped a few mushrooms into her mouth.

"How can you stand those disgusting bits of mold?"

"Mmmmm, food of the Godís!" Jenny neatly chewed on the soft white cap.

"Thatís a matter of opinion."

 

The land mass loomed ever nearer. Pockets of greenery along its coast came into view. Jenny loved this little adventure. All too soon it would come to an end. As she looked out at sea, she experienced a vague feeling of unreality. This was new. Even though intellectually Jenny knew from the beginning she had to be dreaming, everything seemed incredibly real--up till now.

ĎStrange that it should change today,í she said to herself.

"What are you thinking about?" Xena asked casually.

"Oh, this and that, nothing important," Jenny lied.

"You seem troubled."

"Hey," she said changing the subject, "Do you know what some smarty-pants poet is going ta say about a city in Hesperia many years from now?" Jenny asked animatedly.

"I canít begin to guess," said Xena eyeing Jenny skeptically.

"See Rome and die! Cute huh?"

"I donít understand. Why would I die?"

"Itís like this: Rome is so gorgeous that itíll bowl you over. Get it?"

"No."

"Lets skip that. Has anyone mentioned anything about, ĎThe beauty that is Venice, the glory that is Romeí?"

"Ah, are you referring to the Venetians? Great fighters. Bad tempered losers."

"Oh boy," Jenny rolled her eyes.

Weathered houses dotted the shoreline of the widening landscape. If anyone spotted them, Jenny supposed they looked like any other fishing vessel on the sea and would probably be ignored. Xena didnít seem concerned.

"You know something, even though itís far away from here I always wanted to see Venice. Maybe I will before it sinks."

"And would that be an occasion to die as well?" Xena asked smiling.

"Geez, I hope not. Iíd never get the chance to do what Iíve dreamed of doing my whole life!"

"And what might that be?" Xena asked and just as quickly regretted asking.

"To have a blast on the Grand Canal. I want to waltz in Venice!"

Jenny began to recite in an exaggerated style:

ĎWaltzing in Venice with you

isnít so easy to do.

If you should take one more step then you oughta,

you will be doing the waltz on the watta.

Oh what joy could ever compare

with waltzing in Venice with care?

What a thrill when the waltz is a fast one

Knowing each step may well be your last one!

Both leading in Venice,

Intriguing in menace

--is waltzing in Venice with you!"

Xena sighed deeply.

"You are the most peculiar person Iíve ever met in my life."

"The customerís always rightí!" Jenny said shrugging her shoulders.

"Very, very strange," Xena said pulling the lever to the left.

Now they were sailing very close to the huge body of land jutting out into the ocean.

Jenny sat on the other side of the tiller, helping Xena to steer. The waves had calmed down somewhat as the boat rounded into an enormous bend up ahead.

"Damn, I feel so tiny! Itís beautiful!"

Charybdis cut through the vaulted cliffs on either side of their dwarfed sailboat. The loud roaring noise within, gave these intimidating surroundings a surreal effect.

"This is where Ulysses and his men were almost swallowed up by the whirlpool," Xena said as she untied and swiveled the boom to the left.

"Do you know any other quaint stories like that?"

"Many."

"Okay then, tell me about Hecate."

"She is a deity who haunts graveyards and crossroads. Hecate has mysterious power over life and death. Medea, daughter of King Aetus, was her most powerful high priestess."

"Oh, isnít she the chick who married King Jason and then bumped off their kids?"

"The same. Legend has it that she offended Hecate by abandoning her for Jason. Medeaís children were the price."

"This Hecate sounds like a real winner. Are we sure we want to see her?"

"The tales depicting her as evil are numerous. Thereís only one way to find out if they are true."

"Call her up on the telephone?"

Xena narrowed a steely gaze at Jenny.

"We must meet with Hecate face to face."

Fortune had been on their side. So far. Hades apparently overlooked Gabrielleís absence, Xena kept most of her old ghosts at bay, and Jenny....well, Jenny was busy being Jenny.

A massive rolling wave came from behind and tossed their craft out of the chasm into open sea. Xena steered them once again as close to land as possible. The boat hugged the coastline in a swift straight path to Avernus. Jenny wondered whether she should suggest that they rest or just leave it alone.

 

B.L picked up a silver framed photograph of Jenny and another woman laying face down on a small desk. They were both smiling and obviously were familiar with one another.

"Quite attractive," B.L remarked flatly.

"Yes," Edna said as she joined B.L to look at the picture, "Jenny was very active in sports. She was so beautiful until...," her thoughts wandered off.

"Who is the girl with her?"

"Thatís Terry. They were together for a number of years. They fought all the time, Iím not sure over what, so the relationship ended."

"Is she aware of Jennyís illness?" B.L said handing the picture to Edna.

"Yes, but Jenny sent her away. Terryís in Los Angeles now. She as good as paid for her fare."

Edna placed the framed photo in an upright position on the desk.

"I donít understand," B.L had a puzzled look on her face.

"Jenny thought that Terry only wanted to stick around because of her illness. In the end Terry respected Jennyís last request. They said their good-byeís and that was it."

"This was more than simple friendship."

"Yes. They were a couple," Edna said matter-of-factly.

B.L moved off to check on Jennyís machines and their connections.

 

"We must get to our destination before nightfall. Hecate isnít approachable in the daylight hours."

"But Xena, you havenít slept for almost a day and a half. Wouldnít it be a good idea to rest for two hours?"

"I canít rest. Not when we are so close."

Xena had that desperate look on her face. Short of death there wasnít anything that would stop her. Ever since Xena heard the sounds of the ocean, she became hell-bent on getting to Hecateís grove.

"You just look so awfully tired. Iím worried about you."

Jenny touched Xenaís hand. Xena smiled darkly.

"Have you ever loved someone so much that they feel like a part of you?"

"I thought I had, at one time, with Terry. We loved each other, but our personalities clashed. It became impossible for the both of us to breathe the same air."

"That is not so with Gabrielle and me. Itís a bond that I canít describe. Sheís my reason for living, she means everything to me."

"Wow, thatís a heavy number. I guess I havenít met my reason for living yet."

"Now you understand why I canít stop, not even to eat."

The sun dropped low on the western horizon setting the sky ablaze in bright orange and red. Xena instructed Jenny to steer the boat towards land while she climbed the mast to lower the sail. Gradually they drifted onto a sandbar bringing an end to the long voyage from Olympia.

Jenny got out first as Xena passed the bundles to her and carefully climbed out of the boat as well. They walked somewhat unsteadily up to the shore until their legs adjusted to firm ground.

The view was none too pretty. All the trees looked dead in the direction they were going. Xena took Jenny by the arm halting her in mid-stride.

"Jenny, our journey is nearly at an end. I want to tell you something....this is harder for me then I thought," Jenny waited patiently for Xena to continue, "I donít know what is going to happen in this place, all I can say is thank you from the bottom of my heart."

ĎMine too,í said the soft voice in Jennyís head.

Jenny graciously smiled at Xena then leaned over and kissed her cheek.

"I believe thereís someone here who wants to say hello," she closed her eyes.

Jenny stepped far back into her mind granting the long awaiting passenger full access to her body. A stir of facial expressions spread across Jennyís face. When Gabrielle opened her eyes she saw Xena standing in front of her.

"Xena!" she said throwing her arms about the woman she loved more than life itself.

They embraced for a long time without saying a word. Xena was the one to bring them back to the task at hand.

"Hecateís grove is just through those trees. Come, letís go speak to her."

Hand in hand Xena and Gabrielle walked into the quickly darkening woods in search of the gloomy sacred clearing dedicated to the goddess of the night.

Lake Avernus: A vaporous circular body of water filling an extinct volcano crater. High banks surrounded this desolate pool while Mt. Vesuvius, black and ominous in the background, cast a long shadow over the water.

The grove had long since overgrown with low hanging vines. Only a partially visible statue of the goddess sat somberly waiting for followers to bring tribute.

"We have arrived," said Xena solemnly.

Gabrielle nodded to Xena to start the ceremony. Xena ignited a thick branch then jammed the other end into the soft earth. Gabrielle walked up to the sacred sculpture and held her hands up in front of her.

"Great Hecate, daughter of Tartarus!

Great Hecate! Hear me!

I am sent by Persephone,

your sovereign,

to humbly request an

audience with you!"

 

The crater rocked with a thunderous explosion. All at once, a woman draped in mourning garb carrying a beautiful golden torch burst from the ink colored liquid. She stepped onto the embankment sweeping her torch in long strokes. The effect was one of searching for the presumptuous human who dared to speak her name.

"Who summons me? Speak mortal!"

She towered haughtily over the duo, gazing coldly down at the smaller of the two.

"My name is Gabrielle and---"

"So!" Hecate interrupted, "You are the youth whom Persephone dotes on! She has informed me of your plight," she turned her attention to Xena, "You! Come forth warrior!"

Xena took a step into the bright light cast from Hecateís torch.

"You have kept us well engaged in our toil for many a year. Dare you ask a favor of me bearing arms to my shrine?"

Xena kneeled down, drew her sword and laid it on the ground before her.

"This metal has taken life, yes, and saved many others. Yet it had not the power to save the one life I held so dear: Gabrielleís," Xena looked into Hecateís grim face, "Have you the power to bring her back to me?"

"NO! I will not bring her back to you, insolent creature! I shall bring Gabrielle back to herself."

Hecate pointed her torch at the earth. A blinding bolt of white-hot light shot straight down and formed itself into the shape of a woman.

"Itís me!" Gabrielle gasped in amazement.

"Not so. It is an empty shell waiting for an occupant. Prepare!"

With that she aimed her torch at Gabrielle. There appeared a glowing mass being drawn from Jennyís body. It molded into a ball suspended in mid-air. Jenny fell lifeless to the ground.

"JENNY!?"

Xena screamed, rushing forward to catch her friend. She gently cradled Jenny in her arms.

"JENNY?" Xena screamed again, patting her face gently.

Hecate guided the ball of energy into the inanimate body lying on the ground. It quivered and squirmed for a moment. Gabrielle opened her eyes to find Xena

hysterically trying to revive Jenny. She immediately ran to her aide.

Gabrielle took Jenny from Xena.

"Oh Jenny," she said tearfully to the mute face, "What have I done?"

Her body started to slowly shrink from its former healthy robustness. Globs of golden hair fell out into Gabrielleís hand. Xena held onto the both of them tight, tears gathering in her eyes.

"Why is this happening?"

Part 9: The Graces

An overpowering urge to gag gripped the back of Jennyís throat. Shadowy images of her bedroom came into view a little at a time. She tried to talk, but something was wedged firmly down her esophagus. Jenny couldnít move, it felt as if her whole body had become paralyzed. She kept hearing a constant noise.

ĎBeeps...Xena?í

Jennyís mind wandered in and out of consciousness. She had no idea where she was, part of her didnít care, the rest of her tried to hang onto a fragile sense of reality. Confused memories clashed with dreams.

ĎGreat Hecate....Goddess of night....remove the colors from our sight...red is gray and yellow is white, but we decide which is right...and which is illusion...í

 

"Please tell us why sheís dying!" Gabrielle called to Hecate.

"This useless girl is the price I demand."

"What?? Persephone said nothing of this to me. She said you owed her a service. Jenny carried me here inside her. She doesnít deserve death for helping us!"

"SILENCE!" the goddessís booming voice shouted, "Very well, the girl will have life once more, if you are willing to give up yours."

Gabrielle started to get up. Xena grabbed her arm.

"Take my life monster! Itís of no use to me without my friends."

Xena stood quickly, her teary blue eyes defiantly glaring at the angry goddess.

"BOLD MORTAL, YOU HAVE SEALED YOUR FATE!!"

She raised her torch to strike the upstart. Xena didnít flinch a muscle, she remained rooted to the spot. Gabrielle laid Jenny down and stood by her friend.

"Take all of us, Goddess. At least weíll spend eternity together, that much you have no control over."

Hecate lowered her fiery torch, instantly it cooled to a blue-green shimmer. An almost benevolent expression appeared on her face.

"Noble mortals, you have been deemed worthy of all consideration I can bestow.

Persephone has instructed me to assist you in any way I can."

"The Gods and their little secrets--"

"--Caprices," corrected Gabrielle.

"Yes," Xena said smiling at her dear friend, "caprices. You donít care what you put us through as long as you can make us suffer. One day we wonít need you Gods. Who will you torture then?"

"Probably each other," Gabrielle offered.

Xena walked back to where she left Jenny. A terrible deathly change had come over her. Thin and pale, Jenny laid very still in a heap. Xena lifted the crumpled body up into her arms then carried it to the waiting goddess.

"If you are truly a Goddess of her word you will help this girl," Xena said insistently.

"Please Great Hecate. Donít let her die," Gabrielle begged."

"I am at your command."

Hecate held her arms out at their sides. All four vanished instantly.

 

B.L was left alone to tend Jenny while Mrs. Brooks was out grocery shopping. She walked up the long staircase that led to Jennyís room with another tray of ice water and a hand towel. The daily ritual of taking care of Jenny had really taken a toll on B.Lís sanity. Seeing her slip away by the hour kept B.L in a constant state of anxiety. Edna seemed to have resigned herself to her daughterís condition and was doing quite well under the circumstances.

She entered the room quietly. Jennyís eyes where slightly open. B.L dropped the tray she was holding and ran to her bed. For an awful moment B.L thought that Jenny had died. She hadnít. The beeps were sounding in the background, very weak, but it was music to B.Lís ears. She nervously caressed Jennyís emaciated cheek. Jenny shifted her gaze slowly to her nurseís face, a feeble smile played around her mouth.

"Jenny?" B.L said, her voice trembling badly, "Can you see me?"

Jenny winked up at her.

"My God!" Tears filled B.Lís eyes.

She picked up Jennyís hand then placed it against her wet cheek. This tiny thing she held was so cold and frail, yet it still managed to squeeze hers back.

The beeps started to grow weaker, Jennyís irresistible essence drained little by little out of her body.

"No...please," she took Jennyís face between her hands, "Jenny...donít go, I love you."

B.L watched as her patient with the maddeningly exasperating personality gently passed away. One long agonizing beep rang harshly from the device monitoring Jennyís pulse.

Nurse Goldsmith, the consummate professional, got up and turned off the machines. She then removed the long tube from Jennyís throat and straightened up the room. Finally when pulling the covers up to the young womanís chin, B.L fell across her body sobbing bitterly.

An elliptical porthole silently opened up in a corner of Jennyís bedroom. Three figures, unseen, unexpectedly found themselves in a strange chamber crowded with metal boxes and weird looking furniture.

Xena arrived empty armed which startled her briefly until she caught sight of one of the two womanís faces in the room.

"Where are we?" Gabrielle asked as she walked around.

"We are many years into the future. This is the girlís homeland."

"Can they see us?" Xena inquired softly.

"No. I have seen to that."

"She must be someone important to Jenny," Gabrielle said, touching the other womanís shoulder.

B.L raised herself slowly from Jenny and wiped at her eyes.

"She looks a lot like you Xena!"

Xena moved closer to the woman. She did look like her. Xena turned to face the goddess.

"Hecate, why was Jenny chosen to carry Gabrielleís spirit?"

"You are their past lives rejoining each other. This girl possessed a means to your friendís transport. Simply put, Jenny is a Gabrielle of the future. In this world it is referred to as ĎReincarnation."

"An interesting concept. I like it. So basically youíre saying that none of us really dies and we get to live again in another personís body," said Gabrielle examining a few objects in the room.

"Yes, though you would have to wait. Many generations may pass before you reappear."

"How many times will Gabrielle and I meet again?"

"In all---twenty seven."

"Which one is the happiest?"

"Gabrielle, I think we should leave the unknown to fate."

"Sadly that is not a thought shared with this time line. They shall become so obsessed with immortality that a great number of impostors posing as seers into the past and future will empty many a purse in their wake."

"Ah! So the prophets will make profits!" Gabrielle said merrily.

Hecate and Xena frowned at her.

"Did I just say that? Forget I said anything."

"What of Hades? Has he discovered Gabrielleís absence?"

"Hades had become greedy. Gabrielle was only meant to be wounded, not killed.

Persephone has informed Zeus of his actions. Youíll not hear from him until your allotted time comes."

"And Jenny, was she meant to die in her world?"

"No. Her illness was created to aid another. This other mortal is you warrior, in the future. Now, I must finish what I have come here to do."

Without allowing her to take in this information, Hecate quickly stepped passed Xena and briefly placed a hand over Jennyís head.

"Our work is done. It is time to depart from this world to ours."

Hecate was about to spread her arms wide when Gabrielle suddenly spoke up.

"Just a second, Iíll be right back." She ran over to Jenny.

"Thank you Jenny, weíll never forget you," Gabrielle kissed her cheek, then ran back to Xena, "Okay, everythingís cool, letís go."

Xena had an Ďoh noí expression on her face. As Gabrielle put her arms lovingly around Xena they vanished.

 

B.L sat quietly clutching Jennyís baseball cap for a long while. She was unable to do much of anything else. Her entire being was so overcome with grief she could hardly move.

ĎCome on, pull yourself together! Some stranger shows you a little comfort and you lose your equilibrium when she dies? This isnít you!í

It was no use. She covered her face with her hands and cried some more.

 

"Hey! What does a dame have to do to get a little service around here?"

Afraid to look up, B.L stayed in her chair terrified that some horrible apparition of her twisted mind had shown up.

"Go away! You are not real!"

"Woman are soooo fickle. One minute theyíre telliní you they love you, the next theyíre throwiní you out!"

B.L peeked through her fingers. Her hands fell away from her face and her mouth dropped open. There was Jenny sitting up in her bed! Not a pale sickly Jenny, but the Jenny she saw in the photograph!

B.L gradually got to her feet, then slowly walked over to where the ghost sat. She reached out with her shaking hand and poked Jennyís arm. It was real.

The room started to spin, thatís the last thing she remembered.

 

Dumped in the middle of the road, their meager belongings resting nearby, Xena and Gabrielle looked around, then at each other.

"She couldíve left us a little closer to home. Look at that sign, itís two days away!"

"Remember what Iíve always said about the Gods Gabrielle. They still want to play with us a while longer," Xena said picking up one of the bundles.

"Iíd gladly entertain them Xena, as long as Iím by your side."

"Whatever floats your boat! Come on, Iíll race you to find Argo!"

With that Xena ran laughing into the ugly dark forest. Gabrielle quickly picked up the rest of their things and ran after her.

"Hey! Wait for me!"

 

B.L found herself on the floor being fanned nervously by Jenny.

"This isnít exactly my forteí lady. Iím a little rusty at first aid."

"Oh God! I wasnít crazy, it really is you!"

B.L sat up and peered at Jenny closely. She touched her long blond hair, petting it here and there in amazement.

"I donít understand any of this. I must be dreaming," her eyes welled up with tears.

"Iíve received a second chance at life Binnie Lynne. Share it with me."

B.L threw her arms around Jenny bringing her into a gentle kiss that deepened with each passing moment.

Slowly the door swung open.

"B.L do you suppose that----" Edna stopped in frozen shock.

"Hiya mom! Whatís for dinner?"

 

finis.


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