The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess are owned by MCA Pictures and used here without permission.
This story contains the expression of love between two women. If that concept offends you, don't read any further.
Feedback regarding this story is welcome at Danae121@aol.com.
NOTE: This tale is dedicated to those who contribute their time and energy to Sword and Staff. While individuals in the Xenaverse inspired the characters in this story, the characters are fictitious. The illness in this tale was incorporated only as a plot device and should not be construed to imply that any Sword and Staff member is under the weather. I wish the members of Sword and Staff continued good health and happiness. ________________________________________________________________________________
Lauren Lensfield used her personal key to let herself inside Butch's Blend, a large, lesbian nightclub in Los Angeles. It was three o'clock in the afternoon on Monday, January 24th, 2000. When she reached the bar, Lauren leaned wearily on its rail, ran her right hand through her short, dark hair, and took a labored breath. The past weekend's Hercules and Xena convention had left her absolutely exhausted.
"Lauren! Hi, Sweetheart! I didn't hear you come in." Lauren's long-time friend and the club's owner, Jaime Boles, emerged from the kitchen behind the bar. She carried two bags of ice. Stopping in her tracks, she eyed Lauren expectantly.
Lauren drew in another shaky breath. "Hi." She gave Jaime a weak grin.
Jaime agilely opened the ice chest below the bar with her foot but kept her blue eyes on Lauren. She tossed the bags into the huge chest, let the lid fall shut, and wiped her hands on her khaki pants. "You're not doing so good," she said with genuine caring in her husky voice.
"No," Lauren answered too quickly and with obvious defensiveness. "I'm all right."
Arching her right eyebrow, Jaime tilted her head and studied her friend.
Acknowledging Jaime's knowing expression, Lauren rolled her eyes in concession and lowered her denim-clad rear end onto the nearest barstool. "All right already," she sighed. "Maybe I don't feel so peachy." She shrugged the strap of her backpack from her shoulder and retrieved a small, opaque bottle from within it.
Jaime grabbed a liter of Aquafina and scurried around the bar. Taking Lauren's arm, she coaxed her to stand and move to a booth. "Come on, Rizzo," she said, referring to the on-line screen name Lauren had chosen for herself. "Sit down over here and chill. You're pushing yourself too hard."
Lauren allowed Jaime to support her weight and did as she was told. She dropped her backpack onto the seat and placed the bottle on the table. Once seated, she shed her charcoal-colored, wool blazer and let her head lay back against the high, cushioned booth. "I'm okay," she insisted, closing her brown eyes.
Jaime sank into the seat across from her and picked up the plastic container. "This is a new prescription," she surmised, inspecting the label. "What are they experimenting with now?"
Too tired to lift her head from the seat, Lauren waved her off and laid her open hand on the table. She curled her fingers two times, inviting Jaime to surrender the bottle.
Jaime ignored her and removed the cap. "How many of these things do you take?" She upended the bottle, letting a couple of pink, oblong tablets slide onto her palm.
Lauren opened her eyes and looked at Jaime's hand. "That many," she said, confirming two pills were the correct dosage. "I'd rather not take them at all," she muttered. "They've been giving me bacchae dreams."
"Here," Jaime promtped, offering the water and drugs to her companion. Be a good Xenite and pop these pretty Pez."
Again, Lauren obeyed and then settled back into the comfortable booth.
Jaime cocked her cute head curiously. "You usually don't mind me this well," she said pensively. "You sure you're okay?" The 38-year-old successfully managed to ask the question in a tone that made her sound less troubled than she really was. In her opinion, Lauren had no business going to the convention over the weekend, regardless of how much money she hoped to raise. As Jaime had feared, the event took a severe toll on her friend's already fragile condition.
"I'm good," Lauren answered, using the phrase they so frequently uttered in playful tribute to their beloved Gabrielle.
The truth of the matter, though, was that Lauren was not at all good. She was dying. Given a transfusion of tainted blood after a near-fatal auto accident, Lauren had contracted AIDS. She had been extremely fortunate, however, and she knew it. Despite having been infected with the virus over fifteen years ago, her health had not begun to seriously deteriorate until recently. Last month, her doctors told her she probably would not live to see more than half of the new year. Jaime was Lauren's closest friend and confidant, and she was one of the few people with whom Lauren had shared her doctors' prognosis.
"Hey... Come on," Lauren said, disregarding her blonde friend's doubtful smirk. "I'm here to talk to you about the con, right?" She willed herself to sit up straight. "So... ask me how much we raised!"
Jaime pushed up the sleeve of her light blue shirt to glance at her watch. "Okay," she said, looking back to Lauren with a smile. "How much did we raise?"
Lauren grasped Jaime's wrist and beamed. "Over twenty thousand dollars!" She emphasized the amount by saying the words slowly and distinctly.
Jaime let out a whistle. "Wow! That's fantastic!"
"Isn't it?! I didn't expect us to do nearly that well." Lauren took a long drink of water and wiped the moisture from her top lip. "And, listen to this," she went on. "One woman alone donated five thousand bucks. The lady just walked up out of nowhere at Saturday night's party, handed me an envelope containing a check, and disappeared."
"Hmm." Jaime thought for a moment. "Did you recognize the name on the check?"
"Nope. I have no idea who she is."
"Was there a note or anything?"
"Can you tell me what it said?"
"It said something like, 'I want to give this money to Dream Workers... with thanks to those involved in production of Xena for all they've done to increase tolerance and awareness of homosexuality.'"
Dream Workers was a non-profit organization Lauren had created and now directed full time. When her health began to fail, she had chosen to retire with disability pay and insurance from her regular job in order to spend her time on Dream Workers. Nearly fifty years old, she no longer possessed the virtually bottomless supply of energy she once did, and she had struggled to keep up with her illness and the group's activities.
Dream Workers consisted of Xenites, including Jaime. Its purpose was to raise money for charitable organizations. The money was forwarded to the charities in honor of the Xena television series. Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor themselves had specifically named some of the benefiting organizations. Over the past three and a half years, Dream Workers had taken in and redistributed more than two hundred thousand dollars.
"Huh! Five thousand dollars! Incredibly generous!" Jaime paused. "Gods bless that woman."
Lauren nodded. "Gods bless everyone who has contributed."
Jaime smiled warmly with understanding and agreement. After checking her watch again, she reached for Lauren's arm on the table. "I have to make a phone call, Dearling. Promise me you'll sit still and rest."
Lauren caught hold of Jaime's hand. She squeezed and raised her other hand, forming the Girl Scouts sign with her long fingers. "Hestian's honor."
The noise made by the stage curtains being pulled caused Lauren's eyes to fly open and her head to jerk up. She had been dozing, propped against the corner of the booth. Squinting, she tried to determine who was now standing in the dim recess of the exposed stage. Whoever it was took a few steps forward and stopped. Lauren could tell the person was female by the shape of her silhouette, framed by the illumination of the lights behind the stage.
Lauren sat up taller in the seat and did a double take. Narrowing her eyes again, she saw the stage had been set to resemble... what the hell?!... an ancient Greek tavern?? The props looked much like those she'd seen on the set of Xena, where she was invited last year to receive an award for Dream Workers. Though she had never sought recognition for her efforts, she hadn't been able to pass up the chance to visit New Zealand.
Shaking her head to clear it, Lauren stared again at the platform. Yep, this definitely looked like a tavern right out of Xena or Hercules. A few tables were situated stages left and right, and a bar ran along the back. Center stage was bare, save for that imposing woman standing in the middle. Lauren blinked several times. The woman walked confidently out of the shadows to a table near the front of the stage. Two mugs and a lighted candle were atop it.
Lauren froze. Only her mouth moved, dropping open, as she watched the woman noisily pull out a chair and seat herself. Lauren was incredulous. There, sitting with one forearm on the back of her chair and the other resting on her thigh, was Xena... The Warrior Princess. Xena's hand dangled between her legs, which were spread in her typically butch manner, and, in it, she held her chakram.
Realizing her mouth was ajar, Lauren closed it. Her brow furrowed, and she blinked again at the stunning woman, who was evidently oblivious to Lauren's presence. Lauren tore her eyes away from the stage and snapped her head around, hoping to find Jaime somewhere behind the booth. She was no where to be seen. Staring at Xena again, Lauren's eyes widened as she saw her raise the chakram. Lauren let out a breath of relief when Xena laid it on the table. The blue stones embedded within the ring sparkled when they caught the light, as did Xena's gorgeous eyes.
Lauren concluded she must be dreaming, but, then, her eyes settled on her bottle of pills in the middle of the table. She picked it up and turned it around in her hands. That might be it. She could be hallucinating... Another side effect of these damn new drugs one of her doctors had recommended. He told her she might experience unpredictable reactions, but this was scary. How was she going to function if her mind was playing tricks on her? She twisted in her seat to look for Jaime again.
A squeak in the stage floor boards made Lauren jump once more. Sarcasm dripped from her words as she watched Gabrielle walk shyly across the stage to Xena. "Oh, my god... Gabrielle too?! I am really losing it."
Lauren's eyebrows rose high when she saw the warrior stand and greet the bard with a very tender embrace. "Oh man," Lauren mumbled, eyeing the pill bottle. "This dope is good!"
Captivated by the vision before her, yet afraid her mind was totally fried, Lauren rubbed her eyes repeatedly. The barely audible sound of Gabrielle's voice drew her attention. She lifted her head and listened, but she couldn't make out what the bard was saying. Lauren sensed that Gabrielle was uneasy. Xena and Gabrielle still held one another but had separated enough so they could talk face to face. After several more seconds, Xena whispered something, grinned crookedly, and placed a light kiss on Gabrielle's forehead. Then, she slid her left hand down the bard's arm, wove her fingers through Gabrielle's, and encouraged her to sit at the table. Gabrielle did so without letting go of Xena's hand. The warrior pulled her own chair closer to her sidekick's and sat down, her knee pressed against the outside of Gabrielle's thigh.
With her free hand, Xena offered Gabrielle a mug and then took one herself. Gabrielle murmured a few words, leaned into the warrior, and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. A mysterious smile slowly formed on Xena's lips, and she lifted her mug. The bard tipped hers to Xena's, and they drank, neither of them taking her eyes off the other as they did so. They continued to sit like that, talking intimately and seeming all the world like they were deeply in love. Lauren felt as if a tepid, glowing haze had permeated the room... and thought the scene resembled a chapter straight out of a Missy Good story. She closed her eyes and shook her head again. This was totally bizarre!
As Lauren continued to view this mirage, she felt herself propelled beyond her fear for her mental competence and into a world of fantasy. Whether she was dreaming or hallucinating, what choice did she have but to go with it? She heard music begin and saw Gabrielle stand, without letting go of Xena's hand, and alluringly urge the warrior to follow her to the middle of the stage. Lauren watched, mesmerized, as the two began to move together, their fingers still intertwined. They spoke softly to each other periodically, their words evoking affectionate expressions and seeming to compel them to dance more closely.
Lauren was enthralled. She forgot to remind herself this spectacular vision wasn't real. She was watching a scene she had imagined more times than she could remember... a sight thousands of Xenites had pictured... a moment hundreds of bards had tried to capture. It was instantly plain to Lauren that every fan fiction story she'd read had fallen far short of describing this wonder.
How could anyone adequately communicate the magnificence of these two bodies moving so gracefully to this haunting music... or the subtlety of Xena's smooth thigh fitting perfectly between Gabrielle's as they seemed to melt into one. Mere words could not portray this look of complete fascination on Xena's face as she beheld the bard's full lips under her own tentative fingertips. And, even the most talented artist would be hard pressed to depict the utter anticipation that sparkled in Gabrielle's eyes... just before she closed them... in an apparently involuntary response to the pleasure of Xena's moist lips brushing over her own.
"Mother of Zeus!" Lauren breathed, emotion thundering down over her. A kiss! How long had she waited to see these last delicate strokes applied to this masterpiece?! She furiously blinked back her tears so they would not obscure her vision. Gawking intently, Lauren began to feel as if she was invading their privacy. She averted her eyes and tried to stare at the drug bottle. Unable to resist for more than a heartbeat, she looked back, just in time to see Xena withdraw ever so slightly, perhaps hesitantly, and then fervently renew the precious contact. The warrior lifted their still locked hands to guide Gabrielle's arm around her own neck. At last, Xena now released the bard's fingers and lowered her arm to encircle Gabrielle's bare waist. Gabrielle moved her fingers into Xena' hair and gently drew her nearer, bringing the warrior's mouth more fully onto her own. They seemed to be drinking from a well of pure love and desire.
Lauren's heart pounded, and her mind buzzed. She was certain she could hear Xena and Gabrielle's pulses as well, and she noticed their feet had stopped moving, though the music continued. Lauren swallowed a sentimental sob. She knew their dance was continuing in a sublime, amorously altered state.
As the music faded, the curtain closed on the unfinished kiss.
Lauren leaned back, shut her eyes, and sat very still. Shortly, hot tears began to slide quietly down her face. They splashed on the table and on her white blouse. With the exception of her own former relationship, Lauren had never witnessed such a remarkable interaction. Despite the knowledge that it had all been only a drug-induced illusion, she felt her heart would burst with the vivid beauty and significance of what she'd just imagined.
Perceiving that she had startled her, Jaime sat down next to her friend and placed a strong arm around her shoulders. "Lauren?" she repeated.
Lauren didn't react, but instead picked up a napkin from the tabletop. She pressed it over her eyes and held it there for a minute. Eventually, she took a quaking breath and glanced at Jaime. "I'm good," she stated in a thick voice.
Jaime grinned but still stared at her apprehensively.
Lauren focused on the drug bottle again. "No more of those."
"What?" Jaime scrunched her face.
"Lauren..." Jaime began, "Your tears... Did you..."
"I'd rather not talk about it, James," Lauren interrupted. She returned the bottle to her backpack. "Will you please take me home? I don't think I should drive."
"Of course, Sweetheart," Jaime replied kindly. She scooted out of the booth and waited while Lauren gathered her things.
As they walked through the parking lot, Lauren kept her eyes straight ahead. She knew Jaime was wondering about her behavior. Someday, maybe, she could explain what she had just experienced. But, not today. It had been too personal... too incredibly moving. And, besides, HOW could she put words to it? There was no language sufficient to characterize the almost tangible bond she had observed between Xena and Gabrielle... no adjectives that could fully illustrate the magical affinity that sealed their relationship. She chuckled to herself, glad she had never tried to do that bard thing.
Lauren didn't speak during the ride to her condo. She didn't say anything more the rest of the evening, except to bid Jaime a good night.
Worried about her friend and wanting to remain close by, Jaime called her manager at home to let her know she would not be going to the club. She slept in Lauren's spare room that night.
A week later, Jaime sat on the bed in that same spare room, busily unpacking her suitcase and stowing her clothing in a dresser. She had long ago convinced Lauren to allow her to move in when Lauren's condition worsened to the extent that she required personal assistance. That time had come yesterday.
Seeing Lauren so sick was agonizing, but Jaime did her best to keep up her spirits... at least in front of Lauren. The past week, Lauren had been unexpectedly quiet. But, at the same time, she had been more enthusiastic than ever about Dream Workers. Operating from her propped-up position in bed, she had jotted down dozens of future fund-raising ideas and zapped email after email to people in the Xenaverse and on Xenastaff. Jaime saw a profound contentment and fresh resolve in Lauren's eyes, and it made her glad.
Thinking she had heard Lauren call for her, Jaime reached to turn down the radio that was blaring an obnoxious rap song. She waited and listened. Sure enough, only a few seconds passed before she clearly heard her friend's voice, which sounded strangely raspy. Jaime jumped up and hurried into Lauren's room.
Jaime was not prepared for what she saw. Tears streaked Lauren's hollow cheeks. Jaime inhaled sharply, rushed to sit next to Lauren on the bed, and took her hand. "What is it, Love?" she anxiously inquired. Jaime was alarmed. Lauren very rarely cried. In fact, in the fifteen years she'd known her, Jaime had seen Lauren weep only twice... Once, eight years ago, when Lauren's lover passed away after a long bout with breast cancer, and then, last week, in Butch's Blend.
Lauren held up a hand and struggled to compose herself. Finally, she opened her mouth to speak but was unable to before tears welled and emotion closed her throat. She picked up an envelope from the stack of mail Jaime had placed beside her on the bed and held it out. She nodded toward it, indicating Jaime should read it.
Jaime was confused, but she slid her fingers under the already opened flap and removed a single sheet of paper. She unfolded it and read.
We would like to express to you our most heart-felt gratitude and say how very sorry we were to learn of your illness.
During these past years, we have joined countless many in admiration of your untiring and selfless efforts as you led Dream Workers to such worthwhile achievements. You are truly a real life hero. It is impossible to know, but touching to suppose, how many lives have been improved and how many dreams have been realized with the money your organization helped to raise and allot.
Also, we want to say we enjoyed performing for you last week. As you may know by now, when Jaime Boles informed Liz Friedman of your failing health, Liz approached us with the idea which would fulfill what Jaime told her was one of your fondest dreams... to see Xena and Gabrielle display their attraction for one another. We're thankful Jaime could work things out for us to enact such a scene at Butch's Blend the day after the convention. We'd like you to know we considered the performance the least we could do to give back to someone who so chivalrously gave of herself in honor of the series. We hope our interpretation of Xena and Gabrielle's love warmed your heart, as it so often warms our own.
We intend to send a separate, public note of appreciation to the Dream Workers staff in recognition of their devoted labors.
Again, we heartily applaud the work you have done for the greater good, and we deeply respect and celebrate the life you have lived.
Please know of our earnest prayers for your comfort and health.
(signed) Lucy Lawless & Renee O'Connor
Jaime lowered the letter to her lap and wiped tears from her chin.
Lauren brushed away more of her own. "I didn't realize," she said softly.
Jaime looked up at her friend quizzically.
Lauren swallowed hard and shook her head in awe. "I thought it was a hallucination... or a dream."
"Oh, Lauren," Jaime breathed empathetically, comprehension flooding her mind.
Lauren gazed warmly at Jaime and caressed her lovely cheek. "It WAS a dream," she whispered. "A dream come true."
NOTE: This story is in no way meant to be disrespectful or infringe upon the privacy of Lucy Lawless or Renee O'Connor. Their fictitious actions described herein should not be interpreted as being representative of their actual opinions.