COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: This story contains the personalities and actions of Xena, Gabrielle and any number of characters from the Xenaverse at large. These entities are the sole property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. They are used without permission. No infringement is intended. Additionally, they are not utilized for profit just for fun. The characters of a non-Xenaverse stature are the property of the author and may not be used without permission. Conversely, no part of this story may be altered or plagiarized. You may, however, copy and distribute this story for personal enjoyment as long as all disclaimers are intact. Please adhere to these guidelines. Um dont make me come looking for you.
CONTENT WARNING: Be advised this story contains a description of a romantic relationship between mature, consenting women (thats right, theyre lesbians) some of which is graphic in its wording. If you are not 18 years of age or if this is illegal in the state you reside, DO NOT READ THIS!! The author will not be responsible for any reader surprises. In other words, dont send me email whining about Ewww I didnt know there would be lesbian stuff in here! Youve been warned!
Additionally, this story contains graphic descriptions of bodily harm and medical procedures. If this is offensive or upsetting, stop right here, and go read something else.
There is also strong language be advised. Hmm sex, bodily harm and bad language. By the gods, I like it!
SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGMENTS / SPOILER ALERT: First, thanks go to the women in my life I pressed into service to re-read, critique, and generally question my sanity as I wrote. A special thank-you to my editor for her expertise and for putting up with my flagrant bending of the rules of grammar and punctuation. Seems I may never understand where all those commas are supposed to go.
Secondly, this story contains mention of two characters borrowed from another bards story and in essence is a huge spoiler for that story. The bard is Georgia and the story is her From Time To Time. This very fine tale can be found right here at The Bards Corner. I highly recommend your taking time to read this. My thanks to Georgia for allowing the use of her wonderful women hmmm that didnt come out right. <g> But you know what I mean.
And speaking of spoilers. This tale takes place shortly after Maternal Instincts and The Bitter Suite. There are references to the action in those two episodes. Now, I cant imagine anyone NOT having seen these but, ya never know.
SERIES CONTINUATION DISCLAIMER : This story is part IV of The Dimension series. By this time, if you are not familiar with the characters and the previous action, you are definitely going to be lost. I apologize, but hey its just the way the fan fiction works. The previous three parts are located right here. For those of you who have persevered, I humbly bow and thank you for reading.
FINAL DISCLAIMER : I really think Ive covered every conceivable base. But, just in case, this serves as a warning for anything Ive overlooked. Feedback is always welcome and appreciated. Enjoy.
This story and series is dedicated to all that believe love can find a way over time adversity and impossible odds that soul mates will always find each other.
And Id give forever to touch you
Cuz I know that you feel me somehow
Youre the closest to Heaven that Ive ever been
And I dont want to go home right now
And all I can taste is your sweetness
And all I can breathe is your life
And sooner or later its over
I just dont wanna miss you tonight
And I dont want the world to see me
Cuz I dont think theyd understand
When everything is made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
Goo Goo Dolls
From "City Of Angels"
The dark-haired woman turned fitfully in her bed. The early morning light had just begun to filter into the room. Her two companions, of the four-legged variety, had been awake for some time. They waited patiently for the human to wake once again to fulfill their need and dishes. Liz rolled on her back and slowly let her eyes open to the waiting day. In a practiced ritual, she felt the space next to her and pulled the free pillow into her arms caressing it gently like a lover. Brie and RG watched in anticipation. They knew breakfast wasnt far behind this movement. Lord knows theyd seen it enough to be conditioned to the act. The cats waited for the embrace to end and the signal for the days first meal to begin.
Almost painfully, Liz released the pillow. She drew in a deep breath and rolled on her side, looking toward the outer room. The day was going to be sunny and warm. Spring had finally come to Atlanta, but her heart was still mired in the events of the winter. Absently, she ran her thumb over the ring on her finger a very physical reminder of those events and of Sam. She knew time was the only thing to lessen the pain, but still she wondered if it would ever stop hurting. Bries pawing insistence wrestled her free of those thoughts.
Liz sleepily spoke to the animal. "Ok Im awake, already. You have such a one track little mind."
Brie was very conversant in human. She quickly responded, "Yeow!" and jumped from the bed, taking a cursory swipe at RG on her way to the kitchen. The older animal skillfully avoided the youngsters predictable move with casual nonchalance. The solid black beauty threw a look over her sleek shoulder toward the woman sitting up in the bed. Liz swore RG was rolling her eyes at the ceiling. The animal strolled out of the bedroom, tail swishing, ears perked, senses always alert for another ambush.
Liz sat on the edge of the bed letting her body come into sync with her surroundings. The nagging headache was still with her and demanded another dose of aspirin. She ran her hands through her hair and moved her head in such a manner to manipulate her neck. The audible pop could be heard across the room. Liz slid from the bed and went to the medicine cabinet for some relief mumbling as she walked. "Gods, I dont need this freaking pain today."
The aspirin bottle was nearly empty, and Liz made a mental note to go by the drugstore. The fact was shed had this headache on and off for nearly a month. Today, however, the pain seemed more acute. She popped three of the tablets into her mouth, washing them down with a handful of water from the lavatory tap. She dampened her face and tried to quell the nauseous feeling in the pit of her stomach. It took a few minutes to overcome the familiar warning. She looked into the mirror.
"Liz, you look like hell, dear." She was staring at the dark circles under her blue eyes. "Hmm not a good look for you." She touched the puffiness with her fingertip. "Yep, time for that call to the plastic surgeon." She smiled slightly and moved toward the kitchen and caffeine.
The cats were dancing and complaining about the lateness of their morning kibble. Liz knew the routine and just ignored the obvious displeasure at her ankles.
"You guys can just give it up remember, you need me." She poured the food into the bowls and gave the hungry horde some room. Shaking her head in amazement, she commented. "Yeah, I know starving to death mere bones held together with skin and fur. Uh word to the wise. I wouldnt stroll near any restaurants you might end up on the menu."
Her admonishments went completely unnoticed. Once the food was in the bowl, her usefulness was ended for the time being. Liz turned her attention to the dripping brew in the carafe. Addiction was a terrible thing necessary, but terrible. She knew the caffeine would probably escalate the headache into a full-blown migraine. The upside to this was she had medication for a migraine so it was almost worth the journey just to be rid of the sucker. Even with that in mind, this didnt exactly have the feel of a typical migraine. She couldnt quite put her finger on it, so in her style, she ignored the piercing knife in her skull, poured a mug of Columbian and headed for the shower.
She stood under the hot spray for a very long time, letting the water cascade over her scalp and down her back. The physical injuries of the near fatal accident in the Canadian wilderness in December were healed. Even the badly fractured lower right leg had knitted and was almost like new thanks to a certain warriors expertise. It was the scar on her heart that was so slow in closing... a bittersweet memory that stayed with her. She knew in time that the wound would heal leaving room for love once again. It wouldnt be today, however. Her immediate goal was simple get dressed have breakfast meet her clients at the gym and get rid of this blasted headache.
Breakfast consisted of coffee, a high protein shake and a blueberry bagel. The latter would be consumed between training sessions. After the Canada trip, Liz had decided to expand her love of weight training into a business. She did this in her spare time, right now, but her clientele numbers were climbing. Today she had three enthusiastic clients to put through the paces. She threw the heavy workout bag over her shoulder, grabbed her to-go mug of coffee and exited the loft. The elevator descended to the garage with no stops this morning. A quick walk across the deck put her next to the gleaming Z-3. Since the day was warm, Liz put the top back on the roadster, climbed in and brought it to life. The rumble of the six cylinders filled the cavernous garage with a sweet sound only a speed junkie could love. Liz pulled into the stream of traffic, adjusting her Ray-Bans in the bright sunlight. Normally, she would have taken the long way to the gym, but today all she wanted was to be finished and to come back home. The ride was short and direct.
Liz entered the facility to a familiar greeting. "Morning, beautiful. And who is paying you for torture today?" The day manager, Nancy, was always needling Liz. More than once she had seen the result of the womans training techniques etched painfully on her clients faces. It was a very inside joke between them.
Liz smiled slightly. "Oh, you know, probably some incredibly gorgeous, available lesbian with more money than sense." She shook her head. "No, wait that happens in the movies uh I believe Im training three straight women today whose only priority is to get in that bikini in a month. After that, Ill never see them again. So, have my victims arrived?"
"Uh-huh. Theyre warming up even as we speak. They must really love you damn dedicated lot." Nancys eyes were twinkling.
Liz smirked, "Honey, at $50 an hour I sure hope so."
Nancy chuckled and watched Liz head for the warm-up area. The three in question were stretching and talking about their boyfriends their careers their futures. The conversation was amusing to Liz. With a switch of the significant others gender, the conversation could have been coming from a group of her lesbian friends.
"Morning, ladies ready to hurt?" Liz purred in a playful tone.
The women turned sporting a look of anticipation and dread. "Morning, Liz. Guess were as ready as ever. What are we doing today?" The slight brunette, Maria, opted to speak for the group this morning. Waiting a response, the three pulled themselves from the floor and headed for the free weight room, Liz herding them from behind like a Sheltie.
"Oh, I thought wed do a little back work today. You can never have a strong enough back. Well do some new exercises just so you dont get bored." Liz was trying to block out the throbbing behind her eyes if she could just last the hour. The group entered the male dominated weight room. Normally, these women wouldnt venture here, but Liz had a rapport with the men that took the crassness out of the room. Actually, it was a respect that leveled the playing ground. Lizs clients felt completely at ease.
Liz picked up a dumbbell for demonstration purposes and found the nearest flat bench. "All right, Im going to show you the mechanics of the one-arm dumbbell row. Its very simple and you can do this at home with a heavy book and the edge of a table for support."
She positioned her left knee on the bench her right foot on the floor. Keeping her back flat, she supported her upper body with her left hand and arm locked on the bench. Her right hand gripped the dumbbell and let it hang loose at her side. She began the verbal instruction along with the physical demonstration. The women stood around their mentor. Liz was starting to feel very ill.
"Ok, the main thing is to keep your back flat no arching or bowing like a cat smoothly pull the dumbbell to a position even with your chest and then down to the starting point." Liz slowly moved the weight as she spoke; her head feeling like it was going to explode. She had serious doubts she was going to last through another rep, much less the hour. She felt something wet on her lip. Her vision was very blurry, and the room noises were becoming muffled. She looked at the bench beneath her. It was spotted in droplets of blood her blood.
"Xena, do you suppose we can spend a few extra days in the village before moving on?" Gabrielles question was more of a plea. "Id like to catch up with Ephiny and well I understand cook has some new recipes for me to try. Pleaseeee "
The warrior cast a practiced eye toward her lover. "Gabrielle your stomach leads you around by the short hairs sometimes. Sure well stay a few days ."
Xenas attention was drawn to movement in the brush just outside the clearing. She made a gesture with her hand to warn Gabrielle and to indicate that she should continue talking.
The bard was very good at this diversion. "Of course, if youd rather not, we could just stop long enough for supplies and move on. Yknow on second thought, we probably should just move on through "
Xena quietly unsheathed her sword and moved into the brush her steps falling lightly on the ground. She circled behind the target thinking how stupid this person was.
The sound of Gabrielles voice floated through the trees. "But I will miss sampling the latest from cook. I hear she has a roast duckling that is to die for "
For a moment, Xena thought the intruder was part of a trap for the person hadnt tried to move to a more defensive position. Her senses told her; however, this soul was alone for whatever crazy reason. She was almost there one more branch to silently move aside. She was squarely behind the figure now. She assessed the form for strengths and weaknesses. The person was on all fours and there was no weapon in sight she could see.
Probably a local, she thought. Even with that in her mind, she kept the sword ready time for the unmasking. She was nearly standing over the person now and reached with her free hand to snatch the voyeur off the ground.
"All right, you no more peeping." Xena spun the form around to face her. A look of sheer surprise was on her face. "Liz!?"
Liz blinked and in equal surprise exclaimed, "Xena!?"
Gabrielle had had enough of being the decoy. She moved into the brush at the sound of the warriors voice and called, "Xena?" She stepped past a covering shrub to see the two women staring at one another.
In a shocked tone, Gabrielle uttered. "Liz!?"
Liz looked at the bard. "Gabrielle!?"
Gabrielle looked to Xena with a very confused expression, "Xena whats going on?"
The warrior raised a quizzical eyebrow and shrugged her shoulders. She looked at Liz again. The woman was obviously just as confused.
"Liz, what are you doing here?" Xena asked.
The smaller woman sat back on her heels. She put her hand to her nose, the warm blood covering her fingers. She stared at the red on her hand and in a distracted tone, she said, "I dont know.
"What do you mean she collapsed at the gym and shes in ICU?" Randis voice boomed into the mouthpiece of the phone.
Roger was doing the best imitation of control he could muster. "Thats all I know, Randi. The hospital called me, and I told them Id get in touch with you. She was training some clients and just bit the big one right there. I dont have the details, but Im on my way to the hospital. Shall I come get you?"
Randi was already gathering her personal belongings, "No Im practically there already. Shes at Piedmont, right?"
"Um yes thats right. Ill meet you there." Roger hesitated for a moment, "Randi, Im really scared this time."
"Yes, honey so am I. But we dont have the full story, so lets save our hysteria for later, ok?" Even in crisis, Randi had a calming effect on the man.
Roger took a deep breath. "Ok Ill wait. See you there."
Randi finished throwing her appointment book, cell phone and whatever else she thought she might need into her shoulder case. She exited the cozy confines of her office, stopping at her admin assistants desk.
"Maggie, clear my afternoon. Theres been a bit of an emergency, and Ill be out the rest of the day. If you need to, call me on the cell. Oh check my appointments for tomorrow morning. I may have to move them."
The efficient, brown-eyed woman took the news in stride. Shed been working for the professor for nearly two years and was quite used to sudden changes in schedule.
"Let me guess Liz, right?" There was a faint smile on her delicate lips.
Randi looked over her shoulder as she moved toward the outer door.
"Uh-huh who else?"
"What do you remember?" Xena was looking into Lizs blue eyes for an answer.
"I remember having this god awful pain in my head being at the gym and then I was " She absently looked around the camp. " here. There was no warning no vision from the gods nada. I just opened my eyes and found myself on the ground."
"What about the blood from your nose? Are you hurt?" Gabrielles concern was real.
Liz reached up and felt her face for some injury or soreness. There was none, and the pain in her head was gone. "I dont think so, but I cant recall ever having a nosebleed from outta nowhere. In fact, the only time was when I got clothes-lined going long for a pass."
"Going long? for what?" The bards curiosity was insatiable.
"Oh, its a game. Touch football very popular with the girls. You see, you have these teams, and theres this oblong ball and the object is to get from point A to point B "
Xena hated it when these two got together. It was positively irritating. "Excuse me but I think the point is trying to find out why in Hades youre here, Liz so we can get you home."
Liz stopped in mid-sentence. "Uh Xena. I dont know how to explain this, but I dont think Im going back this time. I dont know exactly why Im here I just know this is home now."
Gabrielle placed a comforting hand on Lizs shoulder. "Its ok, well find the answer right, Xena?"
"Yeah, theres always an answer, if you dig deep enough." Xenas tone was serious. "Were on our way to the Amazon village. You can stay there until we get a grip on this. Ok with you, Liz?"
Liz nodded, "Uh-huh, that will be fine. Funny, I was going to suggest just that."
"See, great minds travel in the same circles." Gabrielles attempt to turn the situation into a positive endeavor wasnt completely successful.
Xena threw that look her way. "Dont push it, Gabrielle. Liz can stay until and I emphasize until we find the answer. Now, I suggest we all try to get some sleep. Well talk about this tomorrow."
Gabrielle winked at Liz and moved to claim her bedroll. Already visions of the three of them traveling the countryside were forming in her head. Her words were almost patronizing. "Sure until we find the answer."
Xena threw Liz a blanket. Settling on the ground near the fire, Liz closed her eyes and ran a thumb over her ring finger it was bare. Her ring was gone. Somehow, she wasnt surprised.
Roger was pacing the hospital lobby when Randi arrived. He was very good at pacing, turning it almost into an art form. Randi was in her focused mode also an art form. Together, they were living and moving art. Roger stepped into sync with her as she strode through the lobby, making their way to the bank of elevators. Conversation was terse and clipped, each of them harboring thoughts of disaster.
"Did you find out whos attending her?" Randi asked as the doors silently closed. She pressed the floor number on the panel.
"Yes, its Rita Spenser." Roger added, "Shes actually a client of mine. I furnished her whole house a few years back woman has verry expensive tastes and an excellent eye for symmetry and design. I believe you know her, right?"
Randi nodded, "Yes, I do. We met when I was at a fund-raiser last spring. At least Liz has the best neurologist in the southeast taking care of her. The woman is brilliant and the youngest department head in fifty years. I feel relieved that the best is in on this."
In spite of her words, her impatience at the slow moving elevator was verbalized. "Come onnnn . today ." Finally the lumbering cage stopped, and the doors slid open to the ICU floor. They stepped to the information station.
Roger hated hospitals too sterile for his tastes although over the last few years hed seen quite a lot of them. Seems Liz had this penchant for reckless abandon that astonished even him. Still, he had never gotten used to the antiseptic smell it annoyed him.
Randi grilled the receptionist. "Were here to see Liz Remington admitted this morning patient of Dr.Spenser."
The woman entered Lizs name on the keyboard. Without thinking she blurted, "Are you family?"
Roger responded, "Were the closest thing to family she has so the answer is yes."
Apparently, the woman didnt understand. She actually thought she needed to clarify her question. "Are you blood kin? Visitation is limited to immediate family." She looked up from the screen to further clarify. "Shes in critical condition. Her family should be notified."
Roger opened his mouth to protest but was halted by Randis hand on his sleeve. She calmly looked at him. "Ill handle this, Roger." There was coolness in her voice that he recognized. He stood back and pitied the woman behind the desk. This wasnt going to be pretty
Rage was just barely under the surface of Randis voice. She spoke in very precise tones to the unsuspecting woman. "Look Ms " She peered at the shiny nametag. " Ms. Jarmon Im not going to stand here and argue the political correctness of what constitutes immediate family in this day and age. If you had the forethought to check the notify in case of emergency entry, we wouldnt be having this inane conversation. Now, I dont intend to waste anymore of my time with this bullshit. Like I stated were here to see Liz Remington end of fucking discussion!"
Ms. Jarmons eyes widened, and her skin flushed with embarrassment and anger. She wasnt about to be bullied. "And your name would be?" There was a hint of snippiness in the tone of her voice.
Randi mentally decided to go for the throat a very unprofessional thing to contemplate. Fortunately, for all parties, Rita Spenser pushed through the double doors from the unit.
Ms. Jarmon looked to the physician for help and validation for her rudeness. She stood and started to plead her case. "Ah, Dr. Spenser, I was about to call you. These people want to see the cranial bleed in 3068. I told them it was family only and "
Rita held up her hand to stop the noise and icily stared at the woman. "That cranial bleed happens to be a friend of mine not just my patient and these two are more and better family than you probably have. Now, stop harassing them." She turned away from the desk leaving the woman to consider another line of work.
Roger was the first to overreact. "Cranial bleed? What did she mean by that is this serious is she going to be all right?"
Rita put her arms around him in a reassuring manner. "Its ok, Roger. That was the prelim diagnosis we dont really know yet."
"Can we see her, Rita?" Randis blood pressure had lowered enough to speak, but she was near tears.
Rita took Randi by the shoulders, trying to calm her. "Of course you can see her but I have to warn you shes unconscious and has a tube coming out of every orifice its not very pleasant looking."
Randi had been through a lot with Liz and had seen her in some very unflattering positions and situations but nothing prepared her for what she was about to see. Rita entered the room first and dismissed the nurses. Randi and Roger entered and looked at their friend. Roger gasped and was in danger of totally losing it. Randi moved to the bedside and tried to find an exposed part of her hand to hold.
She talked to Rita without taking her eyes from Liz. "Tell me what you know, Rita all of it."
Rita rested her hands on Randis shoulders. "911 got a call from the Mid-City Gym this morning about a member who collapsed and was bleeding from the nose. Their first impression was a cranial aneurysm. I was on duty when the call came in. The EMTs took statements from the women who made the call. From what they described, the symptoms were consistent with a blown or leaking aneurysm. When I found out it was Liz, I pulled up her recent history. There was nothing to suggest this was possible. I had done a complete work-up on her after that fiasco in December she was clean as a whistle. The nosebleed was suspect but not always a true indicator. Her bp was in the stratosphere which may have accounted for the bleeding just why it was so high I dont have a clue. Liz is the healthiest woman on the planet."
Randi continued to gaze at Liz. Her friends breathing was slow and steady. "Why is she unconscious, Rita?"
"I dont know. Shes exhibiting all the earmarks of traumatic coma. I have CT and MRI scans scheduled this afternoon but to be honest, I dont think Ill find anything. Im afraid only Liz can tell us whats going on in there." Rita reached over and brushed the hair from Lizs face. "The one encouraging thing is shes breathing on her own. At least for now we dont have to worry about respiratory complications. I wish I could be more positive."
Roger neared the bedside. "How long?"
Rita knew what he was asking. "I dont know, Roger. She could wake up today tomorrow never. Knowing Liz, it will be when shes good and ready. Now, cmon. You two need to let her rest. Shes in no immediate danger, and Ill keep you informed night and day."
Roger moved toward the door he needed some air. Randi leaned over, lightly kissing Liz on the forehead. She caressed her face and whispered, "Where are you, Liz?"
"Where are you, Liz?" Gabrielles words roused the warrior beside her. Xena opened her eyes to find her lover staring at the space Liz had occupied the night before... it was empty.
"Xena, shes not here. Where could she have gone?" The concern in her voice was genuine.
Xena sighed and threw the blanket back depriving her of the closeness of Gabrielle and of her good mood. She mumbled as she scanned the camp. "Sweet Athena, the one morning I want to sleep in and I cant. Damn you, Liz this had better be good."
Xena was nearly upright when Liz emerged from the brush carrying an armload of firewood. "Xena? I thought youd like to um sleep in this morning, so I took on the chore of finding wood for the breakfast fire. See, I do remember some things from my last visit." Liz dumped the stack and smiled at the warrior. Shed forgotten how imposing Xena was even without her armor. Or perhaps seeing her in just skin and her shift accentuated that opinion. Either way, she was gorgeous.
"Gods, Liz you scared me half to death. You just cant roam around here like you belong weve been through that before." Gabrielle was sitting on the bedroll chiding Liz like an unruly child.
"Well, big surprise I dont have a choice, Gabrielle. In fact, I feel more at home here than in my own dimension. I think Im supposed to be here, and Im just too worn to fight the enigma of it all. Just get me to the Amazons and leave me there." There was a closed tone in her voice that indicated she didnt want to talk about this any more. Liz fed the smoldering fire with some dry kindling, bringing it back to life. She needed some light conversation. "Ok I got the fire started whos cooking?"
Xena reached for her leathers and jerked her head toward Gabrielle. "Well, Im not, so that leaves you, oh queen of the rumbling stomach. And, by the way, Im really hungry this morning, so could you get a move on?"
Gabrielles reaction was predictable. "Well, warrior woman, it would help if I actually had something to cook. Uh I believe thats your department so get cracking. Ill put on some tea to hold me over." She smugly turned from Xena and Liz, confident shed had the last word and for the moment, she had.
Xena strapped on her scabbard, smoothly seating her sword, secured her chakram to her side and turned to Liz who had a curious smile on her face. "Oh, Liz if you plan on eating, youll either help hunt or cook. Whats it to be?" Xena waited for a response, a look of impatience on her face.
Liz considered her options. The choice was easy. "Im with you, Xena. Im a much better shopper than cook. Uh dont I need some kind of weapon?"
The warrior raised her brow. "No I have just the job for you trust me."
Gabrielle started to warn her but shook her head instead, thankful the job had been passed on. She called after the two as they entered the thicket. "Try to hurry back I dont want to be tending this fire all morning."
Liz commented as she and Xena made their way out of the camp. "You know, I dont remember her being so bossy."
"Oh I let her have that little fantasy. But the truth is, shes gotten more independent lately. A lot has happened since you were here last a lot. Right now theres breakfast up ahead." Xenas voice lowered and her step slowed. She put her finger to her lips indicating Liz should cease talking and motioned for her to remain still.
Liz watched in amazement as Xena moved through the thick undergrowth without making a sound. How does she do that? she thought. Her movements reminded her of Bries, as she would stalk RG, moving on silent feet, like a shadow in the night. Xenas form had even blended with the surroundings. It was no wonder she could sneak up on people. She became one with her environment and just as suddenly stepped out of hiding to snare her prey. They never had a chance. Resistance is futile as the Borg would say. Liz almost chuckled out loud thinking about Star Trek Voyager and Seven of Nine in this reality. Gods this was a mess yet it all felt in sync. That worried her the most. An object landing at her feet jarred her thoughts. Reflexively, she jumped, her heart exploding with a shot of adrenaline. At her feet lay Thumper dead as a door mouse. Ok so it wasnt Bambis Thumper but a bunny just the same.
"Gods, Xena! You trying to scare me to death here?" Lizs silence was ended and what other prey to be had in the immediate area were warned end of the breakfast hunt. She looked down at the limp, brown animal. "Aw, jeez, Xena. Didja hafta to kill a bunny? Couldnt we have had a salad or sumptin?"
"No we need something substantial, not leaves and grass." The sound of the warriors voice behind her made Liz jump again. "Besides I thought you were hungry? Changed your mind?" Xena reached down and hoisted the hare aloft by its hind legs, brushing the fur clean.
Liz swallowed hard, trying to maintain composure. "Uh Im just not used to seeing my food in this state. I prefer to stare at unrecognizable parts through plastic wrap you know where I cant make a connection to a living entity."
"Uh-huh, I see. Well, its time you came face to face with how it all really works. Now, your job is simple. I killed it you get to clean it." She didnt wait for protest, handing Liz her breast dagger. "Ill be back at camp. You can leave the innards on the ground for the scavengers. Oh, and save the pelt. Gabrielle can use it for trade." Xena moved off without a further word, leaving Liz with the dagger in one hand, Thumper in the other and a look of panic on her face. The warrior was trying her best not to laugh.
Xena entered the camp, sans Liz. Gabrielle peered up from her spot where she was sitting. She had taken the opportunity of the quietness to start a new scroll. This story would surely be worthy of its own chapter. She was surprised that Xena was alone and a little worried.
"Uh, Xena where is Liz?" Next she noticed the warrior had come back empty handed. "And where is breakfast?"
Xena stooped near the fire to pour herself some herb tea. Without looking up, she stated. "Both are still in the forest." She took a long sip of the aromatic brew.
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. "Xenaaaa what did you do? Gods you didnt kill her, did you?"
Xena nearly spit the tea out of her mouth. But the thought of wasting nourishment made her nearly choke on it instead. "Gabrielle! Of course I didnt kill her, thank you very much. I simply gave her a lesson in what living in this dimension will be like. She needs to see its not a game. I left her to clean breakfast. And I dont expect it will be in any shape to eat, so if you have any of that jerky left, Id be eating it."
Gabrielle sighed and her stomach growled in protestation. As she rummaged through the food bag for the tough strip of jerky, she admonished Xena. "You know, you could have waited until we got her to the village. If shes really not leaving, there will be plenty of time to indoctrinate her. Really sometimes you amaze me."
"Well, youre not the only one amazed by Xena." The sound of Lizs voice lilted into the camp. She was standing on the other side of the fire. Her bloodied hands held the dagger and a very naked carcass. "I hope this meets your approval, Xena. Im sorry I acted so childishly." She handed the hare to Gabrielle to cut up and cook. "Oh and I think you wanted this, too." Liz tossed the pelt to the warrior.
Xena snagged the skin with her free hand. She held it up, looking for holes. Suprisingly, it was in pretty good shape. "Hmmm not bad. Where did you learn to dress game?" Xenas assessment of Lizs abilities was being altered.
Liz explained. "Never learned well, not officially. At one time I thought about being an animal doctor. I learned dissection in anatomy labs. I just never contemplated eating my specimen."
Xena nodded slightly and tossed her the water skin. "Here, use some of this to clean up. Breakfast will be ready shortly."
Liz caught the skin, took a drink and spilled some of the water on her hands. "Uh I believe Ill pass on breakfast this morning. Seems Ive lost my appetite."
Breakfast was a subdued affair. Xena quickly consumed her portion of Thumper and tended to her morning routine. This consisted of checking the edge of her sword for readiness and grooming Argo, speaking to the mare about private things.
Gabrielle absently munched and concentrated on her current scroll. The quietness of the morning was the best time for her to write. It usually was too early for Xena to have irritated anyone into a fight. Now that she thought about it, their life seemed filled with physical conflict of some sort. The recent events were still very fresh and although they had come through the fire, there were still unanswered issues waiting to surface. The surprise presence of Liz would serve to put those questions on the back burner, or so she thought. And what of Liz what was she doing here again? Gabrielle intended to ferret out that information during the days walk. She was confident their friendship would get her to open up. She glanced up from her scroll to see Liz sitting off to the side apparently lost in her own thoughts. This was somewhat uncharacteristic for the dimensional traveler. Gabrielle wondered what was going through her friends mind.
"Ok, everyone ready to get moving? Weve got a lot of ground to cover." Xenas voice brought Gabrielle and Liz back to their surroundings.
"Uh-huh, just let me finish this thought." Gabrielle had the tip of the pen poised to write, her brow creased trying to get just the right words in her mind. A look of a-ha crossed her face accompanied by a smile, and the words flowed onto the parchment. Liz blinked at the object in Gabrielles slender fingers.
Liz moved closer to confirm her suspicions. "My, god, Gabrielle. Where in Tartarus did you get a Bic pen?" She took the writing instrument from the bards hand, inspecting the incongruity of the object.
Gabrielle smiled and retrieved the medium black stylus, holding it gingerly. "Uh it was a gift from oh how can I explain this?"
"Gabrielle, this is from my time, and I know I didnt leave one behind." Liz grinned mischievously, "Youve been entertaining other time travelers, havent you?" In mock hurt, she added, "And I thought I was special."
The bard was blushing and at a loss for words. She actually thought Liz was upset. "You are special, Liz. This was from well "
Liz laughed and relieved Gabrielles discomfort. "Gods, Gabrielle, Im kidding remember, I do that. But still, where did you get this?"
Xena sighed heavily and solved the puzzle. "Liz, a while back there were two women from the future trapped here. Well, one was trapped and the other chose to join her partner and stay here." She peered at the dark-haired woman, raising a brow. "In fact, I think the three of you would get along pretty well. Now can we please get moving?" She turned without another word toward Argo, settling the last of the camps gear.
Gabrielle gathered her scroll and packed it away in her satchel. She hated it when Xena stole her thunder. "Gods Xena, I was going to tell her all about Kelly and Gina on the way today. Thanks a lot for ruining my story."
The warrior mounted Argo and clucked her into movement. She remarked to the grumbling bard. "Yeah yeah Im sure youre still gonna relate this tale. Come get me when youre finished." Argo moved off leaving Liz and Gabrielle bringing up the rear just like old times.
"Ok, Gabrielle spill. Tell me about these women." Liz knew she didnt have to beg for a long-winded story.
"All right but only if youll fill me in on a few things about why you think youre here again. Deal?" Gabrielle always wanted more information.
Liz complied. "Deal."
The two moved at a brisk pace and Gabrielle related the story of Kelly and Gina.
"And in the end, Gina couldnt bear to be without Kelly, and she had no way to bring her back, so she chose to come here for good." Gabrielle had gone into great detail surrounding the circumstances surrounding Kellys arrival the confrontation with Cantner, his eventual undoing and capture by the Amazons. She told of Xena coming across Gina and bringing her to the Amazon village.
"Oh, Liz, you should have seen the look on Kellys face when Xena rode in with Gina. It was the most heart-rending thing Ive ever witnessed. They truly belong together like Xena and me you and " She stopped and wished she could grab that last utterance out of the air. "Liz, Im sorry I wasnt thinking."
Lizs step slowed, and she felt like someone had put a knife in her heart. "Its ok, Gabrielle, really. The funny thing is I believe Sam and I belong together like that too. Were just separated right now. Artemis allowed us to see our destinies, and Im trying to live with that." She sighed, "But its hard, you know. I still feel her with me, and I miss her so."
Gabrielle placed her arm around Lizs shoulders. "I know you do, but give it some time. She will always be with you. You know that dont you?"
"Yes, my head knows that. Its my heart thats having a hard time. As far as I can tell, healing never takes place we just get very good at doing without, because we have to. Ever since that night in the forest Ive just wanted to go home."
There was a distant sadness in her voice that made Gabrielle take notice. "But you did go home. Thats what you meant isnt it?" Gabrielles eyes looked for an explanation.
"Yes and no I mean I dont know. Theres something Im supposed to do, but I dont know what it is." Liz sounded exasperated. "Something just out reach in my mind. That has to be the reason Im here again." She gazed into the air in front of her and continued in a soft, distracted voice. "Something I have to do here."
The hum of electronic monitoring devices provided beeps and other assorted noises to the ICU ward. Many of the patients were on respirators and the rhythmic whooshing sound filled in the background. Lizs cubicle was filled with every monitor known to modern medicine. Her input and output was meticulously recorded her heart pulmonary function even the electrical activity of her brain was being put out on little thin sheets of paper squiggly lines peaks and graphs. Everything that she was physically was taped to her chart in a very orderly collection of paper. It was her subconscious and alternate reality that couldnt be charted and that is where she really was. Only a slight fluctuation in her heart rate, and the EEG indicated she was functioning and still processing. She was tied to her other self with a very thin, tenuous line.
In a corner of the antiseptic room two figures looked on with interest. Both exuded powers beyond comprehension very dark power two sides of the same coin Ares and Callisto.
The evil goddess moved about the room taking in the technology, and just as quickly dismissing the significance.
"I really dont see how this pathetic mortal will bring Xena to her knees. Shes a friend with those two on the other side, Ares. Youve made a mistake this isnt going to work." Callisto peered at the IV drip, turning her head in a curious manner. She attempted to interfere with the drip, but even with her goddess status, she had no power in this realm. She sighed in disappointment.
The dark god smiled and shook his head. "That, my dear Callisto is exactly why this will work. This woman is expendable in our my plan. You just have no patience or vision trust me."
Liz and Gabrielle had slowed to a leisurely stroll Liz was completely taken by the story Gabrielle had told, and the bard was anxiously waiting for Liz to enlighten her as well.
"So, let me get this straight. Kelly was trapped here when that Cantner idiot shattered the keypad essentially trapping both of them. And then she argued to save his miserable life even though he had murdered Arla." Liz moved her head in disbelief. "I dont think I would have been so magnanimous. And then Gina just took a leap of faith and stepped through the portal to find Kelly? Amazing women will I get to meet them?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "I dont think they are in the village right now. Too bad, I think the three of you would have plenty in common. Oh, well, maybe later. Now you promised to fill me in as to your presence here. Im waiting."
Liz was moderately disappointed she wouldnt get to meet Kelly and Gina. But she wasnt going anywhere anytime soon so it still might happen.
"Gabrielle, I dont know why Im here. And Id rather not dwell on it right now. Im sure the reason will come crashing down on me sooner or later." The truth was she did have an idea why she was here, but telling Gabrielle would only serve to upset the bard. And as far as Liz was concerned it was out of her control, so why struggle against the Fates? She tried to steer the conversation away from the obvious. "How much further to the village?"
Gabrielle would let it go for now. "Well be there by late afternoon probably. I suppose we could try catching up with Xena before she completely leaves us, huh?"
Liz quickened her pace. "Good idea. Wouldnt want to piss her off. Not after all thats happened lately." She threw a look at Gabrielle waiting a response.
"What do you mean by that? You know about uh all that stuff? How?" Gabrielle was sure the recent trials werent widely known.
Liz waved her hand in the air. "Honey, its all over the known world, trust me I know all the details. In fact, I know a few things you dont." The last part dangled like a carrot before a horses nose.
Gabrielle drew along side of the teasing woman. "And just what in Hades do you know that we dont?"
Liz kept her eyes on the path ahead of her. She knew shed made a mistake by alluding to knowledge of the future. It was so hard holding it in. Besides, perhaps it could be altered by her presence here. The best she could hope for was to put the bard off. "I cant tell you not yet anyway. Lets just say you two arent done yet. All in due time... I promise."
"Liz! Please tell me I dont want to wait." Gabrielles plea was falling on stone ears.
"Ah, it seems you and I have the same problem we hate waiting. Gabrielle, a very good friend once told me her philosophy concerning anticipation. She said that waiting was good it would make me appreciate life that much more. I never did understand that because its possible to wait too long. Just as you might want to wait for a piece of fruit to age to perfect ripeness, there comes a point when its past consumption. It has spoiled and you have lost the opportunity to taste its sweetness. All is wasted in anticipation."
"I can see both sides of that argument. Waiting for the exact moment takes a lot of skill and observation. But, on the other hand, you can let the optimum time pass uh like right now. So you gonna tell me or not?" Gabrielle was sure Liz would open up now. They were very alike on this point.
Lizs pace slowed. She peered at the bard, her heart wanting to warn her of the coming events, but her character overrode the temptation. She sighed. "I cant reveal the future to you. The coming events will have to unfold as the universe dictates. What I can tell you is to live life to the fullest, everyday. You never know when it will be your last. Dont go one day without telling the one you love how much you care about her. Dont let anger separate you put it behind you focus on the love. It will be your salvation. Sam taught me so much in the time we had together. Some of it I didnt understand, much like you, but you will just as I have come to know. Now, Cmon, lets catch up to the warrior of yours."
Gabrielle thought about Lizs comments. She didnt want to dwell on the ominous tone of her warning, preferring to focus on what was in front of her. In a few moments, the two were nearly upon Xena and Argo. The warrior looked with a practiced eye at her lover and then at Liz.
"Well, did she tell you every little detail? Oh silly me, of course she did. And now you can tell the story of Kelly and Gina."
Liz smiled, knowing Xenas fondness for kidding Gabrielle. It was good to see some of their old interaction. She had been afraid everything would have changed. "Oh, she gave me the full meal deal. Some things never change."
Gabrielle reached and swatted Liz on the arm. "Hey I thought you were on my side? See if I tell you any more stories."
Liz looked askance at the bard, "Gabrielle you know thats not a threat. Your nature wont allow you to keep a good story untold."
The two chuckled like sisters obviously comfortable with one another.
The invisible forms of Ares and Callisto watched from a distance.
Xena and Argo sensed their presence. The warrior tensed and quietly turned in the saddle, scanning the area. Liz and Gabrielle were too busy trading licks to notice Xenas movement. She knew something was there, but couldnt see it. She opted to urge the two women on foot to move along. There was no sense alarming them just yet.
"Hey, will you two stop behaving like children and cmon. Id like to make the village by dark," the warrior called trying to mask her concern.
Still in the fits of laughter, Gabrielle waved a hand. "Ok were coming. Gosh, Xena, whats the rush?"
The warrior played her ace. "Im hungry arent you?"
Ah, the key word food. Suddenly Lizs stomach reminded her that she hadnt eaten. That was enough to put a lively jaunt in her step. Both she and Gabrielle started walking in earnest, passing Argo on the path. Xena threw one last glance over her shoulder and brought up the rear. As they rounded the next bend out of sight, the god and goddess materialized.
"Ares, you have lost your mind. Did you see how chummy those two were? I thought I was going to be sick. Theres no way that woman is going to betray Xena and her disgusting little friend." Callisto had tunnel vision when it came to Xena and Gabrielle.
Ares rolled his dark eyes and tried to explain the subtleties of his thought process. "Now, I didnt say anything about betrayal did I? Besides, weve been down that road and it didnt work." He closed the distance between himself and Callisto. In a very low, seductive voice, he continued, leaning close to her ear. "No, what I had in mind is much better. Xena is going to have an active part in destroying this little tag team. Using this Liz woman, Im going to place Xena in a no win situation. It wont matter what her decision, she will lose they all will lose. You and I, dear, will be the big winners." His fingers traced the jaw line of the demented goddess causing Callisto to recoil in disgust. She slapped his hand away like the pest it was.
"I dont care how you do it just get on with it. Im tired of waiting." The last of her words hung in the air as she vanished. Only a sulfurous smell stayed. Ares rubbed his fingers together in the empty air. Gods, the woman excited him. He felt certain once the plan was executed, Callisto would be more receptive to his advances. After all, he was the god of war, and all evil resided beneath him. He was the architect of death and destruction. Callisto was uncontrolled rage.
He laughed out loud at the thought of their eventual union. "By the gods rage, death and destruction. I like it!" His laughter echoed as he disappeared.
Just before sunset, the trio neared the Amazon village. They were escorted into the compound by the perimeter guard a young archer, Kai, and her older, wiser mentor, Vectra. Gabrielle recognized the statuesque Vectra. She was hard to miss. At almost six feet she was quite a presence almost as imposing as Xena. Liz hadnt met this Amazon and was suitably in awe. The woman was strong and extremely handsome, sporting a mane of blonde hair and piercing eyes.
Gabrielle introduced the two. "Liz, this is Vectra, Ephinys lieutenant. Shes in charge of training." She hesitated, turning to the Amazon, "Vectra Liz a friend of Xenas and mine. Shes um not from around here."
Vectra eyed the shorter woman, her gaze tracing every detail of Lizs physical body. She was judging her strengths and possible weaknesses. She was also forming an opinion. "Youre from another dimension, arent you? The same one as Kelly?"
"Yes how did you know that?" Liz was impressed at her powers of observation.
Vectra smiled and pointed to Lizs feet. "Your footware its the same as the other two given to them by the goddess Nike."
Liz suppressed a laugh and looked at her cross-trainers. She wasnt about to try to explain the genesis of athletic shoes. "Yes all the women of my um... village are on good terms with Nike. I am from another time."
"Are you staying?" Her question was to the point.
"For a while, if Ephiny will allow me." Lizs reply was also to the point.
"Good then perhaps youd like to spend some time at the training ground. If youre going to be part of this community, you need to know the basics." Vectra didnt wait a further response. Liz had the feeling her statement was not a request. Liz looked at Gabrielle as the tall warrior moved away, her charge following. Kai eyed Liz as she moved by also assessing her.
"Gods, I havent been cruised so much since the last Gay Pride March." Liz knew the context was very different here. It was about life and death, not superficial posturing. Vectra was in charge of training the defenders of the village. It was very serious, and Liz had better take it that way someones life might depend on it.
Gabrielle shook her head at Lizs statement. Shed gotten used to hearing strange phrases. "Oh, dont worry, Liz." She winked at the woman. "Its an Amazon thing. Youll get used to it."
Xena chimed in, "Yeah, either that or get your butt kicked. Thats also an Amazon thing."
"Gosh I can hardly wait." Liz smiled knowing the possibility was very real.
Vectra stayed just long enough to greet Ephiny and deliver her entourage. Without looking back, she moved toward the training facility. Kai followed closely but snuck a glance over her shoulder at the stranger. She had already calculated Lizs weakness and formed a defense for her strengths. She couldnt wait to test her theory on the training ground... that is if the woman was bold enough to venture there. Her preoccupation with Liz didnt go unnoticed.
"Youll have ample opportunity to go one on one with her, Kai... patience young Amazon." Vectra smiled and cut the younger womans fantasy short. "I wouldnt underestimate the stranger just yet remember Kelly? You thought her inferior and you remember how that turned out. She was a very equal match for Ephiny. I hope youve learned from your prior misjudgement. Now, theres still daylight left. I suggest you put it to use."
Kai nodded respectfully and strode toward the weapons hut. She would, indeed practice her skills. She had miscalculated once. It wouldnt happen a second time.
Liz looked around the compound. It appeared pretty much the same as her last visit... the huts... the sounds... the incredible women. Why it was enough to seriously distract ones attention. She had seen it all before but that didnt seem to matter... she was still staring. Her musing was jarred by Ephinys voice.
"I see you havent gotten out very much since your last visit." There was playfulness in her demeanor.
"Huh?" Lizs monosyllabic reply amused even Gabrielle.
"Gods, Liz. What do you do in your time? Are women that hard to find in groups?" The bard couldnt resist teasing her.
Liz shook her head and was somewhat embarrassed by her tourist behavior. "Well, no... not exactly. But they rarely walk around um... like this..." Her words trailed and her eyes scanned the various forms strolling about the compound.
Xena was chuckling and took it upon herself to interject, "Oh, you mean clothed? So, the women of your time dont wear clothing? Hmmm no wonder youre staring. I can see where uh this... would be a distraction."
There was no winning this... Liz was at the mercy of Xena, Gabrielle and Ephiny. She finally threw in the towel. "Nevermind... Ive had a really bad day and Im just babbling."
Ephiny sensed the tiredness in her voice. "Its ok, Liz, I know you werent exactly in the adjoining forest and your presence here is serious. We were trying to lighten things up a bit." In a more somber tone, Ephiny continued, "What can the Amazons do to help? Seems we have become a way station for every wandering dimensional traveler of late so tell me."
Liz sighed, for she truly didnt have an answer. She made a simple request. "Can I stay here for a while? I cant explain it, but Im supposed to be here... for something."
"Sure... we can set you up in a private hut. Take all the time you need." Eph motioned for a room to be made available sending an Amazon across the compound to make it so. She then turned to Xena and Gabrielle. It had been a while since they had been in the village. Ephinys arm was still healing from the blow Xena had inflicted. Much had been destroyed and healing was still taking place since that event. Ephiny still regarded Gabrielle as the Queen by right of caste, but it would take a longer time for her to fully forgive Xena. At the moment, the truce was of a non-verbal kind... but emotions still flowed beneath the surface.
"Xena... Gabrielle... will you be staying a while, too?" Her voice was controlled and masked any distrust.
"Just until Liz gets her bearings or we find a way to get her back to her own time. This whole thing is damned peculiar... I dont like it." Xena was trying to focus on something other than the last painful encounter here.
"Fine. You will, of course, be housed in the Queens hut. Now its getting late. I suggest we all try to get some sleep. Well can talk this out tomorrow." Ephiny waited for any dissent. On hearing none, she concluded the conversation. "Ok, done... tomorrow then." She turned and walked toward the collection of huts.
Xena began untying the various blankets and such from Argos back. The tension in the air did not escape Gabrielle. She moved to help Xena... when in fact, the warrior seldom needed help in removing the items they needed. It was an excuse to talk without alerting Liz.
"Um... Xena... did Ephiny seem a bit on edge to you? I thought you two had cleared the air over that... that incident." She pulled the bedroll from the mares saddle.
Xena handed the rest of the couples belongings to Gabrielle. "I think it will be some time before Ephiny and I can really come to terms with all that just as you and I have to continue healing. All in due time, Gabrielle someday."
The warrior turned her attention to Argo, mostly to forego further conversation on the subject. It was not her favorite pastime. And she didnt want to air their dirty shifts in front of Liz. All of the recent past was considered a very private affair as far as Xena was concerned. Gabrielle recognized her lovers body language and understood completely yet her use of the word someday indicated an unfinished quality. She shook off the faintly unsettling feeling and turned toward Liz who had only been a few feet away, hearing the entire exchange. Gabrielle needed a diversion also.
"Cmon, Liz, Ill show you to your lodging. You must be exhausted." Her attempt to draw attention from Xena was only partially successful.
"Its, ok, Gabrielle. I understand where Xenas coming from and I know shes a very private person. Dont worry, I wont push her to talk about what has happened between the two of you." She hesitated for a moment. "Besides, I already know and you know that I know so lets just leave it at that shall we?" Liz started toward the huts, remembering the layout and feeling very at ease moving in the compound. She was very tired, and her heart ached.
The night nurse entered the cubicle to jot the hourly stats on her chart. The incessant sound of mechanical devices was a type of white noise. She had become so used to the various beeps and chirps, she almost missed the irregular blip from the heart monitor. She barely caught the abnormality out of the corner of her eye, increasing her own rhythm. Mentally, she ran the code procedure through her mind, her physical body tensing for the event. Before alerting the resus staff on her cell phone, she looked at the paper graph charting the last few minutes of the hearts history. It was within normal limits except for one, isolated peak and valley. The heart had resumed its steady maintenance of Lizs body after that one indiscretion. She made a note on the chart and would roust the on-call night resident to have a look, relieving her of responsibility. No sense in disturbing Dr.Spenser at this hour for a little burp.
"Well, hope you sleep soundly, Liz. We can sort this business out in the morning. Goodnight."
Gabrielle gave her a quick hug and walked toward the Queens quarters. Liz watched for a moment and then entered her room, closing the door. It was simple, uncluttered. There was a raised pallet, a hand hewn table and stool. The room was illuminated with several oil lamps and candles, their glow adding a quiet softness to the space. Outside the sounds of the evening could be heard, and a cleansing, gentle breeze flowed through the open window bringing the distinct aroma of jasmine into the room. She took a very deep breath, filling her lungs with clean, unpolluted air. Part of her wanted to never leave this place she just wanted to disappear from her time leaving the painful reminders. She was so tired of hearing her friends tell her that someday everything would be right again. Someday was an illusion... a mirage in the desert. She might approach it but it was always just out of reach... around the next corner... over the next hill. Someday was a phantom. At this moment, all she wanted was an escape. But what would be the price, for there was always a price.
Liz pulled her shoes and jeans off, leaving her tee and Jockeys in place. Crawling onto the pallet, she fell back on the pelts, allowing the warm air to caress her skin. Before sleep finally commandeered her mind, she made a deal with the wind. "I dont care what the price is Ill pay it."
Ares watched from the shadows, chuckling to himself as he listened to the womans utterance. "Oh thats good very good. Youll pay all right up front and in full."
Gabrielle snuggled close to Xenas naked body. It felt so good to finally be prone after walking so much. Lying next to Xena was icing on the cake. She felt for the warriors face, her fingers searching for the fullness of her moist lips. In the dimness of the room, Gabrielle sensed Xenas lips kissing her fingertips, sending a chill through her. It amazed the bard that no matter how many times they were intimate, it always had the intensity of the first time that first fire. She silently prayed to Artemis that this flame would never be extinguished. She was about to pull herself on top of her warrior, her ache already pushing her to the limit.
Xena shifted suddenly, placing her fingers on Gabrielles mouth. "Shhh dont move." She whispered.
Gabrielle wasnt one for shushing. "What is it, Xena?"
The word gave Gabrielle the chills and she clung even tighter to the woman under her. "Gods where? Here?" There was panic in her whispered words.
"No, not here with us but here somewhere. I felt him earlier on the road, but didnt see anything. I know it was him and something else. Hes up to something." Xena rolled Gabrielle to the side as a protective maneuver. "I dont think hes here to screw with us at least not directly. Just the same I have a bad feeling about this."
"Where Ares is concerned, bad is an understatement. Why else would he come here?" Gabrielle was extremely wary of the god of war since that business in Chin. She knew he was capable of just about anything if it meant coming between Xena and her. "Xena, theres no one here thats close enough to us for him to manipulate... that doesnt already know how vengeful he is."
"Thats not true, Gabrielle." She let the statement hang its meaning washing over the bard.
"No you cant mean Liz. Xena shes not even from this time. She wont be fooled by his tricks. He has no power over her. I wont consider this youre wrong." She pushed away from Xena, her cheeks flushed, the mood changing.
Xena was unmoved. "Well talk about this in the morning. Liz needs to know about the possibility of Ares sticking his godhood where it doesnt belong. Now, get some rest."
The conversation was over. Xena calmly laid on her back, her arm extended to cradle Gabrielle. Stiffly, the bard reclined, her mind racing, her emotions ranting. It was some while before she finally drifted off well after Xena. The unseen figure smirked at the sight.
Good, he thought. Its starting already.
Rita Spenser looked up from the chart, fire lighting her brown eyes. "Why wasnt I called about this incident with Ms. Remington? I thought Id made it very clear that I was to be notified for anything out of the ordinary." The morning staff shifted uneasily. Irritating the Neurology Chief of Staff was not a good idea. The nursing head, Anita Wills, approached the fuming physician. She had a good ten years of age on Rita and was more than acquainted with the good doctors temperament.
"May I see that?" Anitas hand was outstretched toward Rita and the metal backed chart.
Rita sighed and delivered the object into the nurses waiting hands. "And just what is it youre looking for confirmation of my standing order?"
"No, Dr.Spenser. I want to see who was on duty last night." Ms. Wills was unfazed by the seething woman before her shed seen it all before. She quickly scanned the pages, eyebrow lifting and head slowly nodding. "Hmmm seems one of the newer nurses was on last night. From her notes, Liz demonstrated a very slight fluctuation in her sinus rhythm. She promptly called the night resident " She paused and looked directly into those warm brown eyes. " your resident, I might add, and passed the call to him." She handed the chart back to the doctor. "So, if you wish to chew some butt this morning, I suggest you start with your boy and lighten up on my nursing staff. Ill have a word with them to make sure they fully understand your orders."
Rita calmed herself before speaking. She had a tremendous respect for Anita Wills, but she was still the big dog in the room and would have the last word.
"Be sure they do." She scribbled a few orders on Lizs chart and handed it to Anita. In an icy tone, she asked, "Now where may I find Dr. Hunter?"
One of the staff nurses ratted the poor man out. "I believe hes in the residents room. Hes been up for nearly 36 hours straight and is trying to get some rest."
Rita pushed herself away from the desk and prepared to leave the nursing station. "Well, you know what they say no rest for the weary." She stepped around the end of the counter and strolled toward the room down the hall. Dr. Hunter was about to have a very bad morning. The ICU staff watched with a feeling of empathy for the resident. This was mixed with relief that Dr. Spensers ire wasnt directed at them. The stillness slowly became a low buzz of conversation as they went about caring for their charges. The routine was so automatic as to be incredibly boring. Silently, every one of them knew all hell could break out without warning shattering the routine in the well-orchestrated, heart pumping frenzy of a full code. This morning they welcomed the boredom.
Liz was dreaming... at least she thought that she was dreaming. Everything was so real... the sounds... the smells. She was standing on the dock at the Shores in Key West. It was that night so long ago that she and Sam had celebrated her birthday. She turned in expectation, knowing... just knowing... Sam would be walking up to her with a glass of champagne. A figure was approaching... a blonde woman. Lizs heart reacted, the rate increasing. But something wasnt quite right. The woman had a dark man in tow with her as they strolled to the end of the dock. Ares and Callisto ambled to the railing, the ocean breeze flowing through tosseled manes of hair. They positioned themselves one on either side of Liz. She watched in silence, knowing this wasnt right, but felt powerless to stop the dream... she wanted desperately to run... her thought audible to the two gods.
Callisto looked hurt and formed her lips into a pout. "Now, dearie, why would you want to run?"
"Yes, she does have a point. What would you be running back to? ... a pathetic life of longing and grief?" Ares peered into the dark sky, sighing heavily. In an off-handed way, he laid out his first card in this hand of emotional poker. "You know, if it werent for Xena and that bitch, Gabrielle, Sam would still be alive... alive and with you." He arched a brow and brought his fingers to his pouty lips.
Callisto upped the ante," Yes its true. She would be with you right now... skin next to yours... hands caressing every inch of your body...." She hesitated, letting the image grip Lizs mind, then ripped it away, mercilessly. "...but shes dead, shot down like a dog on the street." In a very catty voice, she hissed. "Why you didnt even get to say goodbye, did you?"
Liz didnt know why these two were tormenting her, but she knew they were wrong... they had to be wrong.
"No!! Thats not right. Because of Gabrielle and Xena I met Sam... and because of them I was allowed to finally say goodbye to her... to exchange vows and rings with her. Youre not telling the truth... youre trying to confuse me." Liz was barely in control of her emotions. What they were saying couldnt be true.
Ares put his arm around her shoulders and drew close to her ear, speaking in a low, even tone.
"Oh, is that so?" He took her hand from the railing, examining her fingers. "Where is that ring now? Hmmmm... lost? Or perhaps it was never there... perhaps a trick? As I see it, they contributed directly to Sams untimely and I might add, rather painful, messy, death by putting you on that street at that precise moment." He released her shoulder, leaned on the railing and continued his insinuation. "But, if thats what you choose to believe..." He let the words dangle. "All I can say is none of this has to remain like it is."
Liz blinked back the tears in her eyes. She looked at her hand. Where was her ring? The vagueness of Ares statement caused her to shift uneasily. "What do you mean?"
Callisto took up the gauntlet. "Hes saying... we can help change all that... bring that little girlfriend of yours back from the dead... back where shes all warm... wet... and ummmm... you know "
Liz stepped back from the two forms, tears in her eyes, desperation in her heart, desire to acquiesce nearly on her lips.
"Nooo please stop no more." Liz put her palms over her ears trying to halt the onslaught. Ares pressed.
"Think about it that beautiful, luscious blonde once again in your arms the love of your life breathing again loving again." He knew he was almost there just a bit further. "She can be yours again, Liz. And it will be so easy all you have to do is make the parties really responsible pay. I mean they are the sole reason Sam is food for the worms now arent they? Use your mind. Dont you remember your first meeting with Xena?"
Liz blinked and vividly remembered her first encounter with the Warrior Princess. Her life had been in jeopardy that night. The hoodlum, Grackus, had her strung up like and animal and was taking great delight in abusing her. Xena had appeared at the last possible moment rescuing her. Liz was teetering on the very edge of reason. She tried to defend her relationship with Xena and Gabrielle. "She saved my life that night, and she didnt have to."
Ares rolled his eyes and sadly shook his head. "Oh please she didnt save you out of the goodness of her heart. She needed you to help Gabrielle. Believe me, Xena would have been just as happy to let that road slime finish you. You meant nothing more to her than a means to an end. If it had come down to saving you or blondie well, you might as well kissed your ass goodbye." He let the words sink into Lizs mind like poison into an open wound then continued his attack. "Xena always resented your presence here. She blamed you for Gabrielles woes and was fully intent on making you pay. Shes still irritated that you keep popping up. Youre like this bad dinar that will not go away. Dont confuse her politeness with acceptance. Not so deep down, she doesnt like you very much. I wouldnt be surprised if she were waiting for an opportunity to finally run you through."
Lizs certainty about her friendship with Xena and the bard was beginning to waver. An irrational self-doubt was taking hold of her judgement She was allowing twisted rationale to make sense.
Ares threw out a bit more for Liz to ponder. "You know, all that time shifting back and forth wasnt a good idea. It has really screwed with the timing in your real life. You thought nothing of sacrificing your future by helping those two, and it has resulted in you and Sam being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As I see it, you have only one choice. Xena and Gabrielle have to go. They are the main reason, like Ive said. Without them, youll be free. No more waking up here helping two ungrateful users. Your life will be as it was all of it."
Lizs pain was making her mind actually listen to all this. Yes, Xena and Gabrielle were the reason Sam was gone so many ifs conspired to place them on that street that night. If just one thing had been different, then Sam would be living one thing the main thing yes change the main thing.
Callisto played the final card. She stood behind Liz, her breath on the womans neck, her hands barely touching sweaty skin. As she brushed lips to skin, she whispered, "You cant tell me you dont miss her."
Lizs response barely escaped her dry lips. "Yes I miss her I miss her."
Ares was overjoyed and jumped to seal the bargain quickly. "Good then we are agreed. You can have what you want, Liz. All we need is for you to do us a small, insignificant favor. Its nothing really youll hardly be inconvenienced." With a snap of his fingers, three goblets appeared. He handed one to the numb mortal.
"Here, lets drink to uh love and happiness." He waited for Liz to sip the liquid. She hesitated.
"What do I have to do?" The question was simple, her good sense trying to save her but it hardly mattered. Liz had decided to do whatever it took her pain was so deep and inconsolable.
Ares and Callisto stood either side of her again, assisting the cup to her lips. The god of war had the last word.
"Dont worry your little head about the details. Ill let you know what and when. Now drink up, and Sam will be with you again very soon."
Liz brought the cup to her lips and let the molten liquid run down her throat. She felt like her soul had been cut from her. The deed was done. She belonged to Ares now even though she would have no concrete memory of the bargain just faint whisperings of remembrance. There was no way out of this contract alive.
"You gonna sleep all day?" The voice was familiar, in an irritating sort of way. "Cmon, time to open those eyes." The voice now had a pair of hands gently rocking Lizs shoulders. She was still in a quasi-dream state the words and promise of Ares reeling about in her tortured mind.
"Liz wake up." Gabrielles voice once again pierced her consciousness. "Time for breakfast."
Once again, Ares voice teased her. "You can have Sam back just make the responsible parties pay Ill tell you how and when."
Liz was trying to fight. It was too late, she had already agreed. Yet, she felt a tremendous sadness in losing Gabrielle and Xena. This just didnt feel right how could she possibly do what he wanted?
Callistos seductive voice joined that of Ares. "You wont have to miss her any longer."
Another shake to her shoulder brought Liz almost to the waking realm the voices and uneasiness fading but leaving a hidden trigger behind like broken barb of a fish hook under the skin. In a jolt, she made the final leap to full consciousness, her eyes snapping open, her heart pounding. She was slightly disoriented and defensively swatted Gabrielles hand away. She had the look of a trapped feral animal pupils dilated.
Her reaction took Gabrielle by surprise, and she backed away. "Liz its ok, its me, Gabrielle. Youre in the Amazon village remember?"
Liz blinked at the bard. Yes she knew this woman, but now she was mildly repulsed by the sight of her. Lizs mind tried to quell the foreign hostility building in her core. This isnt right she is my friend my friend.
"Gabrielle sorry I was having a bad dream." Liz was doing her best to believe her own words. Her throat was parched and raw. She absently ran her hand over the front of her neck, massaging the supporting muscle structures. It almost felt like someone had tried to strangle her.
"Liz, are you all right?" Gabrielles voice was genuinely concerned.
"Yes, I just need some water. My throat is really dry." Rather than tell Gabrielle about a vague dream, she lied. "Its from snoring I do it all the time."
Gabrielle wasnt convinced but let it go. "Uh-huh snoring. Well, Xena and I will be in the food hut when youre up and about." She stood and prepared to leave Liz to her morning rituals. Stopping at the rooms door, she thought about warning her of Xenas concerns. But she really didnt want to further piss the warrior off. She was sure Xena was wrong and they could all talk about it over food. "Uh you remember where the food hut is, right?"
Liz forced a smile. "Sure I do Ill just follow my nose and listen for you eating everything in sight. Ill join you in a few."
Gabrielles spirits picked up at Lizs poking fun at her eating habits. "Ok see you in a bit." She shut the door as she exited into the hallway. The smile on Lizs face dissolved, and she sat back on the pallet.
Opposing feelings were actively taking shots at one another in her mind. This was so confusing. She sat for a moment, cradling her head in the palm of her hand.
"Im losing my fucking mind." She softly mumbled.
Across the compound the day had begun for the village. Amazons went about their tasks in an unhurried way. Many had been up for hours already putting time in on the training ground. Some were about the village routines, collecting firewood for the cook, doing various repairs, tending the horses, the vegetable gardens and in general, breathing life into a thriving community. It was a co-operative effort, all taking part, all sharing. Liz stepped into the open, taking a moment to orient and watching the movement before her. Several of the women glanced her way, but for the most part, they accepted her presence and went about their business. She made her way toward the food hut, her stomach drawn by the aroma.
"Xena, I tell you youre wrong about Liz. She couldnt align with Ares, not in a thousand years." Gabrielle was already defending her friend without the benefit of hard evidence. She was giving equal time to talking and eating it was a difficult decision.
"Gabrielle, Im not saying that Liz is Ares agent Im just saying I felt him and Liz might be his target. You always overreact." The warrior looked toward the rooms door. "I thought you said she was on her way over here. Gods, shes worse than you in the morning."
"Whats that supposed to mean?" The slice of warm nutbread disappeared into Gabrielles mouth. "Hmmm ?"
Xena shook her head. "I didnt mean anything by that at least not anything bad. Its just that the two of you have a hard time getting motivated in the morning."
Gabrielle took a big gulp of fresh juice nearly spewing it all over Xena. It took a few seconds to get her breath. "Xena! As I recall, you have had a little sumptin to do with my uh lack of motivation some mornings. It isnt all me you know. Gods.."
"Ok, Ill take some of the um heat for that, but whats Lizs excuse?" Xena waited for a response, a sly smile turning up the corner of her mouth.
"Oh I dunno how about nearly dying in the wilderness losing the love of your life a second time being jerked into another dimension without warning having nightmares hmmm lessee, did I forget anything? Honestly, Xena, sometimes you amaze me with your your " Gabrielle was actually stumped for the correct word.
The warrior offered to complete her sentence. " my insensitivity?" She reached past Gabrielle to snag a piece of nutbread. "Liz is a strong woman, Gabrielle. She may be a romantic but shes also in tune with reality. This latest development rings of something serious and shed better take it as such. Theres no room for self-pity in this place. It will only get someone killed."
Gabrielle started to protest knowing an argument with Xena was usually futile. She sighed heavily trying to think of a rebuttal. It was at that moment that Liz made an appearance in the doorway. A few heads turned to follow her entrance into the room. She made eye contact with Vectra and Kai as she passed their position, nodding good morning. Vectra nodded back Kai focused coldly. It gave Liz an odd feeling. She had a feeling the two of them would interact not at this moment but soon. She acknowledged Xena and Gabrielle, moving to their table. She pulled a vacant chair to the table and had a seat opposite the pair.
"Sorry guess I was really tired last night. Hope you havent been waiting long." There was almost a formality in her speech. The usual warmness and familiarity was missing. Xena took this information and combined it with the suspicions she already had. She also took note of the physical distance Liz had set between them. This was not in character for her, and Xenas honed senses were buzzing. Gabrielle felt ill at ease with the tension and tried to lighten the mood.
"Uh Liz, you must be starving, how about some fresh nutbread? I know its one of your favorites." She broke off a large chunk of the bread and passed it to her. Liz took the bread, never looking at Gabrielle. Her eyes were locked on Xenas.
"Thank you, Gabrielle. I am sorta hungry." She tore a bite and put it to her lips. "Arent you eating, Xena?"
"Oh, Ive had plenty this morning." The warrior broke eye contact and raised her goblet to her lips. She was about to get to the point. "Gabrielle tells me you had a nightmare. It didnt involve Ares by any chance?"
Gabrielle continued to buffer the conversation, "Juice?" She poured the liquid into a cup, sliding it toward Liz.
Liz never flinched. "Nightmare? I dont recall saying I had a nightmare, Gabrielle. I said I had a bad dream not the same thing." She mirrored Xena with her cup. "Dont really remember what the dream was about but Im sure Id recall Ares being in it. Hes kinda hard to miss, yknow." An involuntary shiver went over her a shadow of a figure brushed her consciousness for just the most fleeting of a moment. It wasnt even enough for Liz to anchor on to grasp.
"Yes, I know." Xena wasnt giving up. "Hes here for some reason. I felt him and another yesterday on the path. He has a very distinctive vibration. He cant hide from me."
"And just what does this have to do with me? I assume you are tying me to all this for some reason." Liz stopped eating and looked directly into Xenas eyes.
Gabrielle cut her eyes at her lover. "I think what Xena is trying to say is that Ares has no scruples and will use whomever he can to continue his little wreck Xena crusade." She paused, glaring even more at the warrior. "Right, Xena?"
"Yeah, thats what Im saying, Liz. He will use you if he thinks he can. Dont underestimate his ability to manipulate. He will promise you anything. And it will sound so sane at the time. I know from personal experience. So, did your dream concern Ares?" Xena was like a pit bull on a poodle. She never gave up.
Liz was no poodle and her deepest, unnamed ache surpassed any semblance of sanity. "No, it didnt. I told you I dont really remember." She was beginning to dislike Xena a thought that was, at first, worrisome. But her dislike seemed to be growing of its own accord, like a blemish on ones first date. It wasnt welcome but there was little you could do about it save make it worse.
Xena could sense Lizs defenses, and the last thing they all needed was poor communication. "Look, Im sorry if I was so blunt. But you admit you dont know why youre here and feeling Ares yesterday isnt a good sign. I just want you to be aware of the possibility. We care about you Liz and want to help. It wont do us any good to be at odds with one another."
Gabrielle echoed Xenas concern. She placed her hand on Lizs arm. "Xenas right. We do care about you. Theres a reason youre here well find it."
Liz slid her arm away from the bards touch and stood. She needed to get some distance from these two. She tried to sound sincere. "I know youre just looking out for me. No offense taken, Xena. I think I will take Vectra up on her advice about the training ground. I could use the physical exertion. Ill see you two later." She snagged the remainder of the nutbread and made her way out of the food hut. Gabrielle was furious with Xena, and, now that Liz had left, she was about to let the warrior have an earful.
"Xena I cant believe you! You practically accused Liz of lying and consorting with Ares. Whats wrong with you!? Shes our friend, remember? Were supposed to help her not go to war with her. Your suspicions arent helping."
Xena let the bard calm before speaking. "Are you finished?"
"For the moment." Gabrielle said flatly.
"Well, get ready for some real fireworks. Its not just Ares we have to worry about. That other I was talking about is Callisto. This is very, very bad, Gabrielle. And for some reason, Liz is right in the middle. We have to find out what is going on." She let the Callisto part sink in before continuing. "We cant do that if we are fighting. Dont you see thats exactly what Ares wants for you and I to be at odds with one another again? Think about it."
Gabrielles heart was racing at the mention of Callisto. She took a deep breath. "Ok, I can do this." She whispered and then continued. "Xena I dont understand why they would use Liz. Surely they know were on to them by now. Theres no element of surprise their plan is ruined. Wont they just give up now?"
"You know Ares wont give up. The key is to keep Liz from falling under his spell if she hasnt already. Theres something different about her, and its not for any of the reasons you listed. Something cold now. I tell you Id bet my last dinar that Ares has her I just dont know for what."
"Xena no this cant be right."
"Gabrielle, listen to me. If we are to beat him and Callisto, you and I have to be on the same page. Just keep an eye on her and watch your back."
"Why cant the gods just leave us alone? Havent we been through enough?" Gabrielle was near tears in frustration.
Xena pulled her close, wrapping strong arms around her protectively. "Nothing can separate us, Gabrielle not Ares Callisto or the dogs of Hades. I wont allow it, and if it means fighting Liz so be it."
Gabrielle extricated herself from Xenas grasp. She was filled with worry over Ares and Callisto once again meddling in their lives and fearful that Liz and Xena would end up at each other. There had to be away around this.
"Xena, Im not going to allow Ares to destroy Liz, taking us with her in the process. There will be no fighting do you hear me? I mean it." The bard stood and moved away from Xena.
"Gabrielle, where are you going?" Xenas eyes were narrow.
Sighing, Gabrielles voice softened. "Im going to the training ground to make sure Liz doesnt offend an Amazon. Shes acting very weird." She paused, composing herself. "Are you coming?"
"No, I believe you and Vectra can handle anything that might come up. Im going to go tend to Argo. She needs a good bath, and I need some time to think."
"Whatever." Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders and left the food hut. The tension between she and Xena was very evident to all in the room, although no one was going to mention it out loud. Xena watched Gabrielles back as she exited.
"Damn!" Xena cursed under her breath. She washed the rest of her irritation away with the fresh juice wishing it were a mug of port even at this early hour.
Ares and Callisto watched the images in the reflecting pool.
Smugly, Callisto said. "Now what? Youre little plan has been foiled even before it got off the ground. See, I told you this would never work. That little charade on the dock was for nothing. What a waste of my time!"
Ares tossed a stone in the pool, its ripples obliterating the images.
"By the gods, youre impatient deliciously wicked but impatient all the same. Besides, all youve got is time. Thats the allure of being immortal. My plan is proceeding exactly as I envisioned. And if youd take a moment to think it through, you could see the simple beauty of it all."
Callisto pointed her finger toward the pool fire arcing from the tip, literally setting the water on fire.
"Oooh well, since Im sooo slow, perhaps youd like to explain the simplicity to me."
Ares spoke in a very condescending tone to Callisto. "Ah you see the whole point of this is to create suspicion and distrust which I might add, has worked perfectly. My dear Callisto, before this is over, someone is going to die. It doesnt matter which one or who kills whom. The result will be the same no more Xena and Gabrielle together. It cant fail trust me."
"Trusting you is the last thing on my mind." She hissed. "Just make sure it works."
"Dr.James please. This is Dr. Spenser calling in reference to Liz Remington." Ritas voice was controlled and even into the ear of Randis admin assistant.
"Yes, just a moment, Dr. Spenser." Maggie put the doctor on hold and buzzed the inner office. "Dr. James Dr. Spenser on one."
Randi was examining a three thousand-year-old pottery shard... her concentration shattered by Maggies voice. Carefully but quickly, she placed the artifact back in its protective holder.
She acknowledged the voice. "Thanks, Maggie, Ive got it." Randi looked at the blinking light on the phone console. This probably wasnt good and she steeled herself for the worst. Gingerly, she depressed the illuminated square and spoke into the receiver.
"Rita? How is she?" Randi had little use for chitchat especially for this. She wanted the hard truth.
Rita sensed the unspoken words and tried to sound optimistic.
"Randi, relax. This isnt bad news. I just wanted to give you an update."
Randi took a deep breath and willed her heart to slow. "Please tell me Liz is awake and terrorizing the staff." She would have laughed under different circumstances.
Rita felt the same way. "Oh, god, I wish that were true. The woman does have a way about her, doesnt she?"
"Yes, she does. And I want to see that again." Randi paused, interjecting; "Roger is positively lost without her."
"We all are, Randi." Rita let the words comfort her friend before continuing. "Liz had a pretty unremarkable evening with the exception of a minor heart arrhythmia. Its nothing to worry about. Ive had the best heart man do a work up on her this morning."
Randi didnt like the sound of the word heart and arrhythmia together. "How can anything connected with the heart be minor?"
Without going into the dry details, Rita put the event in perspective. "Randi, calm down. Sometimes patients react to all the drugs being given to stabilize them. Its not uncommon and this was an isolated occurrence. The staff is paying special attention to the heart monitoring. Shes okay."
"No, Rita, she is not okay. Shes in a coma and you dont know why." Lack of sleep and pure worry was making Randi unusually curt.
"Youre right, shes not okay. And I cant find a cause. But shes stable and her brain function is normal." Ritas years of experience dealing with families in the eye of disaster allowed her to ignore Randis panic. "Randi, Im exploring every avenue. Ill find the answer and Liz will be her annoying self once again." Rita then said something she rarely verbalized. "I promise."
"Thats a bold statement coming from you. Im going to hold you to it. And you know how unpleasant I can get when someone breaks a promise to me." Randi wanted so much to believe Rita could keep this vow, as irrational as it was.
"Ill do what it takes to keep your wrath off me, Randi. Lord knows I dont want to incite the good Dr. James." Rita smiled to herself, remembering her first encounter with Randis temper. She thanked the gods it hadnt been directed at her.
It involved an out of town fund-raiser and an overflowing toilet in the hotel room above Randis. It was almost a scene out of The Amityville Horror sans blood water snaking down the walls from the ceiling. Randi politely notified the front desk of the internal waterfall and asked for other accommodations. The night clerk assumed incorrectly he was dealing with a hysterical female and made some vague promise to look into the incident. What he did instead was to ignore her call. It was a big mistake on his part. Randi waited for a call back confirming another room. Meanwhile, the water was beginning to soak the carpet and everything in its path. Randi gathered her luggage and deposited such at the front desk much to the clerks surprise. It was at that moment Rita entered the hotel lobby. She was in town to speak at a seminar on brain stem injury and rehabilitation. She walked to the front desk to check in and witnessed Randi reaching critical mass with the insolent clerk. Rita stood back and watched in sheer amazement as Randi dissected the bespeckled clerk. She informed him in no uncertain terms that not only would a new room be assigned her, she would be reimbursed for any damages to her personal property due to the flood. Randi never raised her voice, but her intensity and verve were palpable. The clerk never stood a chance. He swallowed and dutifully gave her another room. Rita had remained silent through the whole scene, wondering who this woman was. As Randi prepared to leave the lobby for her new digs, she turned to Rita, offering advice. "If he tries to put you in room 2150, take snorkeling gear."
The thought of that incident and Randis surgical precision in dealing with the clerk had stayed with Rita. It was even a now familiar story told at small gatherings.
"Ill call you this evening after I make rounds. We can discuss possible solutions to this unusual problem." Rita chuckled out loud. "Leave it to Liz to do it the hard way. Shes in such big trouble when she wakes up."
Even Randi was relieved that Rita found some humor in this situation. To her it signaled hope. "Yes, big trouble. Thanks, Rita Ill talk to you this evening." Randi hung the receiver in its cradle. She sat for a moment thinking, fingers drumming the desktop.
"Oh, what the hell." She said to no one in particular and picked the receiver up, dialing a familiar number. On the second ring, a womans voice answered.
"Yes this is Ruth. How may I assist you?"
Randi cleared her throat. "Ruth, this is Randi James Liz is in trouble your kind of trouble I believe. Shes in ICU at Piedmont. Can you meet me there tonight?"
The psychic didnt hesitate. "Of course, what time?"
"Visiting hours are between five and eight. How about seven?"
"Seven is fine Randi. Dont worry Liz knows what shes doing."
The line went silent and Randi pondered Ruths statement.
"I sure hope to high heaven she does." Randi gathered her belongings and prepared to leave for the day. There would be little use in her trying to concentrate on some dead civilizations pottery shard. Her mind was elsewhere.
The sounds of conflict met her ears well before the actual sight of the training ground. The music of metal on metal, the low whistling of arrows in flight, the dull thuds of arms and legs countering one another all tonal characteristics of the arena. Liz entered the open area and looked for Vectra, thinking she may as well immerse herself in her new surroundings. What better way to start than with a little butt kicking she was in the mood why? She couldnt remember.
"I see you decided to take my advice." Vectras voice sliced the air sending a chill up Lizs spine. She turned in the direction of the sound.
"Oh you were advising me? I wasnt aware it was a request." Liz heard her words but had no idea why she was saying them.
The tall Amazon stared coldly at the stranger. She said matter of factly, "It wasnt. And insolence wont serve you very well here, so save it."
In a few words, Liz had erected a rather formidable wall between her and the Amazon instructor. It wasnt a good beginning. Vectra was a seasoned warrior and bore the scars of many conflicts. She was muscled and hard with a practiced coldness in her eyes. In a fight, Liz would be woefully overpowered. It would be no contest and no challenge. Vectra knew this and she carried her confidence quietly.
"Are you here to learn or talk?" The warrior paused. "I have little patience with talking."
Liz was tired of talking. "Im here to learn."
"Good." Vectra motioned for Kai to join them. Liz watched as the young Amazon made her way across the compound. The womans movement was graceful and balanced. She had an unmistakable air of sureness about her just as all of the participants here. Liz wondered if it was something in the water that made them all so damn smug. That thought alone bothered her it felt foreign. She had always celebrated any womans self-assurance, reveled in its beauty, encouraged the development. Why did this womans demeanor seem like a threat? What was wrong with this picture? What was wrong with her? She felt so angry inside so agitated aggressive.
Kai approached Vectra and Liz. She was approximately the same height as Liz, very lean and obviously very fit. She had dark hair and deep brown eyes, which at first were very soft but upon closer inspection had a warriors savviness riding deep within them and a dash of practiced suspicion. Kai was young but she was not inexperienced and misjudging her would prove to be a very painful mistake on Lizs part. The two eyed one another looking for an advantage. Vectra let the silent posturing continue for a few minutes, finally breaking the standoff.
"Kai, I want you to train Liz. Start with the basics and find her strong suit." Her words were succinct and clear. Vectra left them staring at one another neither very pleased.
Kai motioned Liz toward an open area where several women were sparing with staffs. Liz walked ahead with Kai slightly behind toward the area. Tightness forming in Lizs gut. The sparing Amazons ceased their activity as the two approached. In fact, the majority of the women present had stopped their various regimens and was wandering over to the clearing. Apparently, Lizs first lesson was going to be a source of entertainment.
Fine, she thought. You want amusement Ill give you something to watch.
Kai looked at Liz and selected a staff from the ones stacked against the wall. She tossed it to her, wanting to test her reflexes right away. Liz flinched somewhat, but caught the staff easily, leering back at Kai. There was a slight smirk on the Amazons face. The growing crowd took delight in this small victory. One of the women threw Kais personal staff to her. She caught it effortlessly maneuvering the weapon in a series of practiced figure eights and battle stances. Liz watched, hand on her hip, waiting for the whirling dervish before her to cease.
"Are you done? I didnt come here to learn high school baton tricks. You gonna show me something or not?" Liz was intentionally trying to incite her and felt powerless to stop.
Kai wasnt going to let this intruder have the satisfaction. "Can you do anything besides shoot off your mouth?"
Liz took a defensive stance and growled. "Oh, yes I can do a lot more."
In an almost casual way, Kais steps shadowed Lizs, her eyes never breaking contact, staff ready, moving constantly. The lesson was about to begin.
"The first movement you should learn is the front strike." The words were barely out of her mouth good before her staff whipped through the air, coming toward Lizs face. By some miracle, Liz brought her staff up to fend the blow away; adrenaline was now pumping through her system. A smile flashed across Kais face, and the crowds excitement started to build.
Gabrielle could hear the sounds coming from the training ground. She knew this wasnt good and quickened her step. She entered the area and at first thought Liz wasnt there. All she could see were the backs of a crowd of Amazons urging one of their sisters on in a duel. She caught sight of Vectra, arms folded across her chest, apparently enjoying the spectacle. As Gabrielle approached from the back of the crowd, she heard Kais voice.
"Very good you have quick reflexes to match your tongue." She moved quickly to her right, catching Liz off balance. "Now, lets see how well you can counter a side attack." She feinted movement toward Lizs right side, but as soon as Liz committed a defense, she changed and struck on the left. Kais blow was merely a love tap and she let Liz know as much.
"Good thing I wasnt serious." The women were now shouting encouragement to their sister, the noise level rising. Vectra stood in the background watching the contest. There was no need to intercede at the moment blood wasnt flowing yet. Gabrielle couldnt believe Vectra was allowing Kai to have a go at Liz. She started to push through the warriors and archers each moving respectively once they realized it was Gabrielle. Vectra stopped her from interfering by placing a firm hand on her arm.
"Dont Gabrielle this is a lesson for both of them." Vectra held the bard in check. "Let them finish." Gabrielle wasnt too keen on the idea but knew Vectra wouldnt let things get too out of hand. She took a deep breath and stood still, watching the dance before her.
Liz was pissed now and thats just what Kai wanted. Lose your control lose your objectivity lose your head. Kai was playing her like Orpheuss lyre. Liz regained her balance and lunged toward the Amazon, her attack easily pushed to the side. Liz passed by her ineffectively much to the sheer delight of the standing crowd. To add insult to injury, Kai executed a rear sweep, upending Liz and sending her hard to the ground. A roar of pleasure erupted from the crowd. Gabrielle shot a look toward Vectra, hoping shed end the conflict. The tall Amazon shook her head to indicate a no and focused her attention on the two women again. Kai picked up the loose staff and tossed it back to Liz insincerely apologizing for the ambush.
"Oh sorry did I fail to mention you should watch your back at all times?" There was a fire in her dark eyes. This wasnt a game and Liz needed to understand this in a most painful, real way. Kai had no intention of letting her off easy. She looked at the woman on the ground. "Finished for today?"
Liz pulled herself off the ground, using the staff as a support. She was seething inside. Through clinched teeth, she answered. "Not hardly. Is that all youve got? A miserable little shot from behind?" She taunted the Amazon. "Cmon you can do better than that. What kind of warrior are you? I shouldnt even be able to put a staff near you, much less fend off a blow." Lizs arrogance had found an opening in Kais armor a small crack of insecurity. They both were in danger now. The women gathered around sensed a very real shift in the fight. Vectra inched closer to the combatants. This is what she wanted to see.
Kais eyes focused her body language shifted. Liz didnt wait for her to strike. She used the end of the staff and landed a sharp punch to the warriors midsection. The Amazon took the blow and hardly winced; instead a look of pleasure crossed her face. Liz was about to be in some deep shit. Kai came at her, striking efficiently once to the abdomen, doubling Liz over. The next blow came from the side, striking her across the shoulder and neck, knocking her to one knee. Liz tried to maintain her balance, but Kais boot caught her in the ribs, sending her sprawling. In a matter of a few seconds, Liz was looking at the end of the staff poised to break her nose or worse. There was a look of seriousness in Kais face. She wasnt finished and neither was Liz.
Gabrielle moved to end the fight, but Vectra held her back. "No, Gabrielle, not yet."
In a desperate effort to escape facial maiming, Liz brought her foot up hard between the warriors legs. Much in the way it paralyzes men to have their gonads kicked, women find the sensation equally uncomfortable. It was just enough to move Kai off, Liz rolling away from the business end of that staff. She was in the process of looking for her weapon when Vectra stepped into the circle.
"Enough!" With that one word, the high tension of the warriors began to subside. Kai was still in beat-the-strangers-butt mode but she backed away at Vectras command. Her eyes, however, stayed on Liz. Gabrielle moved to help Liz off the ground, the effect of Kais expertise beginning to appear in welts on her arms and neck. Liz held her side trying to breathe. Kais boot had nearly broken a rib. As it was, she would be sporting a nasty bruise. Gabrielle was furious.
"What in the name of Zeus were you trying to do get yourself killed? Youre not an Amazon warrior. These women are and they will hurt you! Do you understand what Im saying?" Gabrielle was inches from Lizs face and incensed beyond belief. Liz pulled away from her and was equally hot under the collar.
"Hey! Im all grown up here. I dont need you babysitting me!" Liz was taking a physical inventory of her wounds. Fortunately, nothing was broken or needed stitching. She was lucky this time. She took a deep breath and looked at Gabrielle. Her mind was reeling. Why was she yelling at Gabrielle? "Look, Im sorry, ok? I guess I got a little carried away. I'll apologize to Kai."
"That wont be necessary." Vectra had Kai in tow and was approaching Liz and Gabrielle. "I needed to know if youd be a worthy student and if Kai would be a worthy teacher."
Gabrielle shook her head in disbelief, looking into Vectras clear eyes. "And?"
"They both have a lot to learn." Vectra was never one for mincing words.
"And I suppose a good old fashioned conversation would have been out of the question, right? You had to get them fighting one another?" Gabrielle was incredulous by this behavior. "I swear, I dont understand the value of physical violence." In disgust, she turned to leave the group. In parting, she threw a comment toward Liz. "You may have found a home after all." Gabrielle continued mumbling to herself as she walked away. "I dont believe this."
Liz, Kai and Vectra remained facing one another. It was clear who was in control. Vectra coldly regarded the newcomer. There wasnt that much warmth afforded Kai, but the young Amazon took it in stride. This wasnt some cliquish club. Warmth had very little to do with survival.
Vectra stated flatly, "You two will work together. There is no room for petty attitudes on the training ground. You will learn this or suffer the consequences and in this place that can mean death." She paused to let the words sink in. "Kai will be the master and you, Liz, will be the student just as I am her master and she is still my student. Do you understand the principal?"
"Oh, yes, I think so. In my parlance, its see one, do one, teach one. I think Ive got it. Anything else?" Liz was still flirting with a bad attitude and seemed to have no control in remaining civil. Vectra raised her brow but let the snippiness slide. Kai would soon have a handle on this woman.
"No, I think thats about it." She looked at Liz, noticing the bruises forming on her neck. "I want you to have the healer check you over. I wouldnt want to be accused of being a barbarian."
Liz started to protest, but Kai interceded. "Well go right away." She threw a practiced look toward her student. No further words were needed from Vectra and she made her way toward her other charges. Kai grabbed Liz none too gently by the arm, leading her off the training ground.
"I dont need to see the healer Im fine." Liz disengaged Kais hand from her person.
The Amazon was being tested for control. She focused her dark eyes on the newcomer. "You just dont get it, do you? No one and I mean no one questions Vectra in her arena. She has absolute power in the training ground. Not even Ephiny would question her. For some reason, shes allowed you this indiscretion. Dont mistake it for weakness." Kai paused, "She has none, trust me. Shed just as soon gut you where you stand. If youre half as smart as your mouth, you wont cross her."
Liz felt a rush flood over her an excitement. The idea of going one on one with Vectra had an insane appeal. She thought, Why bother with Kai when I could have a go at the master. Her audible words were much different. "Thanks for the warning. Now um where is the healers hut?"
The two unlikely figures walked in the direction of Sarass hut. Ares and Callisto watched unseen by the village inhabitants. The goddess was becoming very impatient with Ares and his perfect plan.
"I dont see why you didnt empower that bitch so she could start kicking some Amazon ass. Really, I dont understand why we cant just get on with it!"
Ares sighed. Working with Ms. Incongeniality was wearing on him. "Ok, one more time from the top. The beauty in this is the planning the dance as it were. If Liz all of a sudden starts whipping butt, Xena and that that blonde will never be drawn in."
"Uh technically, Arie, Gabrielle is more honey-haired than a blonde. Im a blonde." Callisto loved to correct the god of war and did so at any opportunity.
Ares raised an irritated brow and continued. "Yeah, whatever. As I was saying they already think were involved but cant prove it. Having that little nothing turn into an expert fighter would give them the proof. No, my dear Callisto, she will appear to learn her skills at the hand of one of their own accelerated but in a normal fashion all the same. That will make the end that much more delicious. You just have no appreciation for theater."
Callisto rolled her eyes. "I guess not, but Im beginning to have a real appreciation for Valeska. I should have formed and alliance with her instead."
Ares laughed, "And what give up all this drama?"
The evening shift had just come on and was in the process of giving patient updates. Liz moved involuntarily in her bed, like she was trying to avoid being struck. It was a slight movement at first but quickly escalated, drawing the attention of the nursing staff. For all intents and purposes, it looked like she was having a seizure. The staff quickly responded, preparing for the possibility of a code.
The charge nurse, Joanne, was calling the shots. "Someone get Dr. Spenser stat! And call Dr. Hunter. Have that cart ready. Call out the vitals!"
The team went about their duty in a precisioned manner.
"BP elevated 130/85 "
"Heart rate increased to 180 respirations 90 and climbing "
They were hovering over Lizs thrashing body each monitoring part of her vital functions.
"EEG?" Joanne was waiting on the predicable call indicating a Grand Mal. "Well call it out!"
One of the staff nurses, Emily, looked at the monitor and hesitated.
"Uh its normal." She said. "This thing must be screwed up."
Joanne had little patience with this sort of mistake. She moved to the monitor to see for herself.
"What the ?" The words were barely out of her mouth when Liz stopped moving about. Slowly all her vitals went back to normal. The team was looking at one another and then at the various monitors. This was not right.
The charge nurse was beside herself. "Will someone please tell me what the fuck just happened?" She began scanning the faces of her staff.
"Im not sure, but youd better have a look at this." Doug Winston, a respiratory therapist had been making sure Lizs airway was patent.
"What now?" Joanne was envisioning herself explaining all this to Rita Spenser the thought was not appealing.
Doug moved away from the bedside. "This." He was pointing to obvious bruises on Lizs neck and shoulder.
Joanne stared in disbelief. "Good God!"
Gabrielle stopped the nearest Amazon on the compound floor. "Have you seen Xena?"
The young woman thought for a moment. "Uh I think I saw her leading her horse toward the stream. That was just a little while ago. Shes probably still there."
"Thanks." Gabrielle was already moving toward the outskirts of the village. She wasnt sure if talking to Xena about Lizs latest bit of insanity was a good idea, but shed rather tell her than have her hear it from the rumor mill. Gods, this was getting complicated. The bard wiped the sweat from her brow as she made her way to the stream. The day was going to be sweltering. She hated the heat almost as much as the cold. She was a temperate kind of girl. She heard Xenas voice coming through the trees, speaking to Argo in a rather conversational tone.
"I know, girl, its hot. At least you have a tail to fan yourself with." Xena chuckled and Argo nickered.
Gabrielle smiled and thought, They are having a conversation. She neared the stream, stopping short of bursting into the open. She could see Xena and Argo in the water. For some reason, Xena wasnt aware of Gabrielles presence, or if she was, it wasnt concerning her. The bard chose to watch the interaction from cover.
Xena had stripped to her shift, sweat and the stream soaking the fabric. Gabrielles mouth was dry taking in the sight. Xena lovingly tended her mount, running the sponge over Argos back and down the muscled hindquarter in one... smooth... long... stroke. Gabrielles eyes followed the movement and could almost feel Xenas hand on her skin. Argo was one fortunate mare. The warrior bent over to plunge the sponge into the water. Her movement was fluid and almost in slow motion to the bards eyes. As she brought the saturated pad from the water, a trail of droplets followed the ascending arc to Argos shoulder. They were like little sparkling jewels in the sun, each casting its own rainbow of color. To Gabrielle, Xena was the center stone in this watery setting. The sheer beauty of the warrior eclipsed the magical effect of light being separated into its individual spectrums by the sun. Gabrielle took in a deep breath, sensation moving over her, much like the sponge over Argo. She watched as Xena gently squeezed the water from its carrier, the sweet wetness cascading over horse flesh, just as a moistness was forming on her own flesh.
Xenas left hand steadied Argos head as the sponge worked its way down the steeds proud chest... her head resting just below the mares jaw. She took in the scent of her faithful companion and spoke quietly as she exhausted the sponges supply of water in a clinched fist.
"I dont know what Id do without her, girl." Xena dipped the dry sponge in the water once again expanding the form with fluid. She raised it above her own head... threw her head back and let the cool water flow over her face and neck. Rivulets coursed between her breasts meeting the already wet shift. Argo shook her head, shifted in the stream and playfully flicked Xena with her tail.
"Hey! Id be lost without you too, silly!" Xena knew exactly what Argo was thinking. "Besides, you enjoy being ridden...and Gabrielle, well... hmmm come to think of it..." She splashed her four-legged friend with childlike glee.
Gabrielle watched the whole scenario, heart pounding at the raw sensuality Xena exuded just standing in the water. It was almost more than she could stand. She shifted her footing, stepping on a dry branch in the process. Her voyeurism was unveiled in the sound of a sharp...craaack!
Xena and Argo turned toward the bank. "Gabrielle? How long have you been standing there?" The warrior asked in a teasing tone.
"Uh... not long I was, well... looking for you." She stammered. "They " She was pointing toward the village, her face bright red. "...um... a woman in the compound told me you were down here."
Xena raised her brow and had that little smirk on her lip. "Uh-huh... and what exactly was on your mind?"
Rumbling of distant thunder interrupted Xenas playful interrogation of her lover. She looked at the darkening sky and began leading Argo from the stream.
"Nuts! Aint that always the way. You clean up your ride and it rains. Oh, well. Cmon, lets get back to the compound before the bottom falls out. You can tell me whatever brought you down here once I have Argo stabled."
The warrior smiled as she walked past Gabrielle, humming a soft tune. The bard watched, mouth agape as Xena and Argo meandered up the trail. She took a deep breath, really trying to remember what was so important. Surely it would come to her once the blood started flowing to her head again.
"Gods... Ive got it bad!" She muttered and sprinted after the warrior. "Xena! Wait up! We need to talk about Liz."
Both warrior and steed slowed enough for Gabrielle to come along side. "And what exactly do we need to talk about?" Xenas question was sharp.
"Listen, Ive just come from the training ground. There was this ridiculous posturing contest between Liz and Kai." Gabrielles voice was cut short.
Xena smirked, "So I heard. The roar of the crowd filtered through the woods." She stopped on the path and ran her hand between Argos soft brown eyes, patting her lovingly. "And who won or did Vectra stop the fun?"
Gabrielle didnt like the sound in her voice. "Xena, this isnt funny. Liz could have been seriously injured. Kai was going after her. We have to do something."
"We?" The warriors blues locked on Gabrielles. "Listen, Gabrielle. Liz obviously has something boiling inside her. For all we know, Ares has had a hand in her belligerence."
"Oh, gods we arent going to go there again, are we? I thought we settled this at breakfast?" The bards patience was beginning to slip away.
Impassively, Xena responded. "No you resolved the issue. Mine is still the same. But I will tell you one thing. Training as an Amazon warrior may not be the smartest thing shes ever done. If you ask me, she seems a bit self-destructive, and that could be very dangerous for all of us."
Gabrielle sighed and stamped the ground in frustration. "Thats what Ive been trying to tell you! We have to do something, Xena. Shes our friend she saved my life or have you forgotten?"
"No, Gabrielle, I havent forgotten, and we saved hers or have you forgotten?"
Xena pulled on Argos mane urging the mare along the path. A deep clap of thunder accentuated the womens conversation. Gabrielle pursued the duo, anger bubbling to the surface.
"Oh and thats it? The debt has been repaid, so were in the clear? Xena, friendship doesnt work that way. Its not about keeping score. Its about being there, regardless."
Rain was beginning to pelt the women, and the sky was turning an ominous black. Xena was about through with this conversation.
"Ill tell what friendship is, Gabrielle. Its about being open and honest. And right now, Liz is being neither of those. Until she is, Ill be watching her, and youd better too." Xena turned and moved through the woods toward the village, leaving Gabrielle on the path getting soaking wet.
Randi and Roger were nervously waiting Ruths arrival at the hospital. Roger was wringing his hands like a teenager on a first date.
"I dont like this. I dont like this at all. If Liz is in some dimensional reality again, this is very bad very bad." In addition to hand wringing, Roger was a pro at pacing. Finally, Randi grabbed his arm as he passed by for the hundredth time.
"Roger! If you dont be still, Im going to have Rita put you in ICU. Please save the theatrics until Ruth has a look at her, ok?" She released her grip and gently patted his arm. "Please, Roger, I need you to be together on this." The pleading tone of her voice temporarily stopped his nervous movement.
"Oh, God, Randi, Im sorry. This whole thing has worn on me. I think even Lizs cats are scared this time. They are acting very strangely you know like they know something we should. And I know from experience that animals usually have an in road for this sort of thing." He looked around the atrium, eyes darting in place of feet pacing. "Hells bells where is Ruth?"
Randi was about to jump on him again when she saw Ruth entering the front doors. Her stride was purposeful but not hurried. Roger, on the other hand, practically sprinted across the polished granite floor toward her. Randi opted to let the circus come to her.
Ruth intercepted Rogers first verbal salvo with practiced aplomb. "Roger, before you get started, I already know the generalities of Lizs condition. I spoke with Randi this afternoon. So, please, honey, just relax. Its going to be okay." Ruth was moving past him toward the waiting Dr.James even as she spoke. Roger fell in behind her. He felt better now that the psychic had arrived as if she would have all the answers and Liz would certainly be all right. Randi extended a hand in greeting.
"Thank you for coming, Ruth. I didnt know what else to do." Her voice was quiet but controlled. Ruth embraced Randi in a heartfelt hug.
"Thats all right, dear. Well get to the bottom of this. Now, lets have a look at Liz, shall we?"
The three moved toward the bank of elevators for the ride to ICU.
The nursing station was still abuzz with the latest developments in Lizs condition. The staff was waiting for Rita Spenser to arrive. Explaining the event would fall to Joanne. She was sitting with the chart trying to make some sense of the bizarre scene that had just occurred. It wasnt going to be easy. In fact, she was having a hard time believing it herself. Joanne shook her head and spoke under her breath. "How in the hell am I going to explain this?"
One of the charge nurses caught her words and leaned over her shoulder. "You could say she was possessed."
Joanne almost laughed. "Sure, and why dont I just go ahead and commit professional suicide in the process? Somehow I dont think Dr.Spenser would be amused."
A voice behind her stated the obvious. "Youre right, Im not amused." Rita Spenser was standing at the counter waiting for an acknowledgement. Joannes back was to the counter, and the color was draining from her delicate face. The rest of the staff looked on helplessly, but offered no help. Joanne was clearly on her own. Damn! She silently mouthed and turned to face the music and the chief of neurology. She mustered her most proficient demeanor and turned to Dr.Spenser.
"Perhaps amusement wasnt the word I had in mind. Youre right, this isnt the least bit funny. It is very unusual, however." Joanne browsed the chart and began relating the events. "Seems Ms. Remington had some sort of seizure or at the very least the beginning of one. She presented with all the classic signs of GM, but " She hesitated trying to find the right words to express the event as she perceived it. In exasperation, she closed the chart, placing the metal folder on the counter and looked directly into Rita Spensers eyes.
"To tell you the truth, I have no idea what transpired here. One minute she was fine the next, about to code and then back to normal. Ive never seen anything like this I honestly have no explanation youll be satisfied with. So, go ahead and chew me."
Rita took the chart from the counter and began reading the meticulous notes. She was amazingly calm about all this for some reason. It took her a few minutes to read through the notes, focusing on the details and flipping back and forth to the attached slips of graph paper denoting heart and brain activity. She sighed heavily, closed the chart and walked toward her patient not a word had crossed her lips she was processing. Joanne rose from her chair and followed the doctor. She still didnt know how to broach the subject of Lizs bruises. Doug Winston the RT tech was still in the cubical. Like most of the staff, he didnt have an explanation for the physical manifestations on Lizs neck and shoulders. Point of fact, he hadnt a clue where to start. Rita eyed him as she neared the bedside. Doug stood back to give Rita access to Liz. He nervously waited for the barrage of questions to be launched.
Rita stood over her patient, eyes scanning from top to bottom. She had a most curious look on her face one of confusion. Tentatively, she drew the sheet back to examine the bruises and marks on Lizs skin. Without looking up, she finally spoke.
"According to the chart, you never initiated an tracheal intubation, correct?" Her question was directed toward Doug.
"Correct. She never fully coded and was breathing on her own." His answer was short.
Rita continued her exam, running her fingers over the wounds, gingerly palpating the areas in question. She saw evidence of a semi-circular mark on Lizs ribcage.
"When did you notice this bruising?"
"Hmmm it was right after she started stabilizing again."
Rita had seen a fair amount of trauma in her career most of it from horrendous accidents, but some from beatings and muggings. Using her knowledge base, she formed an opinion it was improbable, but an answer just the same. At this point, logic would have to take a back seat.
"Tell me, Doug, have you ever been in a fight?" Rita raised her brow and looked directly at the tech.
Quizzically, he returned her gaze. "Fight? What do you mean?"
"Jesus I mean have you ever been in a fight? God am I speaking a foreign language here? Yknow a fight fists flying that sort of thing?" Rita had a short fuse some days.
Doug looked to Joanne for help. She shrugged her shoulders and gave him the I-dont-have-a-clue-what-shes-going-for look.
"Uh I suppose I have I dont really remember. Why?" He couldnt understand why this was pertinent to the current situation. "Are you suggesting that I struck the patient?" Now he was getting defensive.
"God no!" Rita realized he wasnt following her internal reasoning. "What I mean is do you recall defending yourself from an attack?" She tried to be more clear and started slowly. "Look say youre in a fight with someone who has a um club or something. Where would you try to strike them?"
Doug stared blankly at the doctor. Rita didnt wait for an answer.
"You probably would look for an opening a weakness the hand or side that wasnt holding the weapon. In Lizs case, that would be her left side as shes right handed. It would be your best chance at surviving strike the undefended sides then worry about the club. Hopefully it would be enough to put your attacker off balance possibly changing the flow of the fight." She paused waiting for him put the pieces together. "Are you following me?"
He shook his head. "Not if you had the K-Mart blue light special strobe over you."
"What Im saying is our friend here was in a fight and from the physical evidence, she was on the short end of the stick or club so to speak."
This time Doug had the what-the-hell-is-she-talking-about look. "Thats not possible. There was no fight in here. Excuse me, Dr.Spenser, but I really dont understand what youre talking about."
"Shes talking about a psychic event." Ruths voice spoke calmly from the doorway.
The assembled staff turned in concert toward the doorway. Ruth entered the room, moving with quiet confidence. Doug, Joanne and the rest of the attending cadre cleared a path. It was a scene worthy of The Ten Commandments as Ruth bridged reality and the impossible. Even Rita didnt protest her authority. Besides, if Randi had brought her, there had to be a good reason.
"I need to be alone with her please." Ruths statement was simple and she waited for the room to clear.
Rita was the last to leave the cubical. She motioned for Randi and Roger to follow her to the small breakroom adjacent to the nursing horseshoe. Rita pulled relatively clean mugs from the cup tree and filled them with very strong coffee. She took her drink over to the small table and pulled up a chair, leaving Randi and Roger to scout for artificial creamer and sugar for their brews. Randi ripped open a packet of Sweet n Lo, sprinkling half in the mug she opted not to add to the nastiness with powered creamer the clean end of a fork sufficed for a spoon.
"Ok, Randi, lets have it." Rita liked things straight to the point. She blew lightly across the pitch-black contents of her mug and took a sip.
"Ruth is a psychic shes " Randi barely had the words out of her mouth.
"I know who she is. I want to know why youve brought her here." Rita hooked her foot in the rung of the chair opposite her, pulling it close enough to prop her feet, her fingers were drumming the tabletop, a nervous habit.
Roger was still at the counter looking unsuccessfully for a napkin. "Good grief, Rita. Dont you have any napkins? Id even settle for a paper towel. This is appalling." He let out a disgusted sigh. "Oh, and for your information, Ruth is very acquainted with Lizs peculiar history. I thought you knew that."
"Look in the first drawer to the left, Roger. I believe there are some sterile gauze pads that will do for napkins." Rita smirked. "And yes, Im aware of Ruths previous connection with Liz."
He rolled his eyes and pulled a sealed square from the drawer. "Its no wonder health care costs so damn much. As far as Ruth being here is concerned, you should have a clue by now, Toto, Were not in Kansas anymore... yknow?"
"No problem, we can wash it when youre finished and use it later." She countered. "And if youre going to use every queens analogy concerning weirdness, let me be the Wicked Witch of the West... not that damned dog!"
"Touché." He leaned against the counter and took a swallow of the vile sludge, making a face in the process. "Ah perfect combination of rank and disgusting elements . Jeez."
"Sorry, the espresso machine is on the fritz." Rita took a huge gulp just to skeeve him out.
"Will you two stop. We arent here to review a five star restaurant or replay the Wizard of Oz, remember?" Randi snapped her fingers in the air. "Helloooo Honestly Rita, youre as bad as Liz with Roger."
"Ill take that as a compliment. Sometimes bantering helps ease the tension." Rita sat up and placed her arms on the table. The conversation was about to get serious. "Look, I dont know what has happened in there, but I have no real answer. All of Lizs tests are normal and then out of the blue she has whatever the hell that was this evening. At this moment, Id entertain a snake charmer if I thought it would help.
A serious look drew across Randis face. "Well, Ruth isnt a snake charmer, but shes got some mighty impressive credentials. Trust me, I have first hand knowledge of her prowess in this area. If theres anything remotely odd, shell find it."
"Lets see what shes come up with." Rita downed the last of her coffee, and made her way out of the room.
Joanne intercepted her at the horseshoe. In a hushed tone, she voiced her concerned at a civilian taking over her unit. "Who is that and what is she doing?"
Rita gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder as she passed by. "That is a psychic practitioner, and please, dont ask how I know that." Rita left the slightly confused nurse and proceeded into the cubical. Extending a hand, she introduced herself to the healer.
"Rita Spenser." Her handshake was firm. Physically, her hands were supple and warm. The years of plying her trade had transformed them. They were sensitive and free of calluses organic instruments of healing. What Rita could accomplish with her hands Ruth did with her mind and psychic ability. They were equals.
Ruth took her hand and exchanged pleasantries. "Ruth Varner. Im pleased to make your acquaintance finally... your reputation proceeds you. I suppose Randi has filled you in?"
"Well, actually, no, but Roger has." Rita smiled at the thought of Roger spazzing in the breakroom.
"Ah, Roger. Hes a piece of work, isnt he?" Ruth was in total agreement with Rita concerning Rogers sometime manic behavior. "He means well and hes very concerned about Liz."
Rita sighed. "Uh-huh, that makes it unanimous. So, whats your take on all this? From a physical sense, theres nothing wrong with her. Oh except for the fact shes in a coma and just endured a beating." Ritas sarcasm was flowing.
Ruth understood the frustration that Rita was experiencing. There was nothing more aggravating than not having an answer. She wasnt sure her appraisal of the situation would be any more palatable for the physician. All things considered, this was as bad as the last time Ruth was called upon to help. Explaining that to the assembled group would prove to be less than easy. With the exception of Roger, there were too many pragmatic minds in the room. This always made the truth, as bizarre as it was, hard to believe.
"Ok, heres the deal. First, Rita, you were correct about Liz getting pummeled. For whatever reason, she has sustained some very physical injury " Ruth paused before completing the improbable, " in another dimension. In other words, whatever happens there will happen here. Which leads me to my second observation. Liz is tied to this other place by her own choosing. There is a very deep soul-searching decision she will be making. All we can do is wait for her."
The silence was deafening. Rita wanted a real answer, one she could react to with treatment. Randi felt her heart sink into the pit of her stomach, she wanted Liz back in this reality.
Roger wanted to cry and to vent. "God Almighty! Why cant she freaking process in this dimension with a shrink like the rest of us? I want her back, Ruth. Do something! I cant go through this again."
The healer looked at the three all wanting the same thing in different ways. And in a sense, Liz wanted the same thing. They were all connected a string attached through their lives. Ruth had sensed the reason Liz was on this journey she had felt the influence of darkness and knew she could not interfere. She would have to wait as well.
Part 2 of Dimension's End
Return to The Bard's Corner