Clonefic Contest Winner- 3rd place - March 2003
This is a story of two women who are very much in love.
As we all know, the characters of Xena, Gabrielle and others that appeared in the Xena episodes "Last of the Centaurs" and "Send in the Clones" belong to someone else and I hope they don't mind my borrowing them for this story.
The other characters and story are all mine. Western University is a fictional school and any resemblance to an actual place is purely coincidental.
Used without permission: I meant no harm or insult by borrowing the lyrics to these songs
(please don't sue me).
Could I Have This Dance - (W. Holyfield/B. House)
Another Sleepless Night - (C. Black/R. Bourke)
I'd like to thank the readers who liked my story Movie of the Clones and encouraged me to write something longer. If you liked this story, I'd love to hear from you. If you didn't, keep your thoughts to yourself, I have enough disappointment in my life already. Write me at email@example.com
A red-tail hawk floats on updrafts above an alpine meadow. The hawk cocks its head to follow the path of a small stream that wanders out of the surrounding forest and meanders through the meadow before disappearing back into the trees. Gracefully, the hawk glides over a one-story log house situated in the north end of the meadow and is attracted to motion inside of the building.
Inside, two bodies sway rhythmically to the soothing voice of a well-known Canadian singer. Xena has her arms wrapped around the waist of her partner while Gabrielle's hands are clasped behind Xena's neck. They are leaning towards each other, their foreheads lightly touching as they move with the music. As the singer begins to repeat the song's chorus, Xena's silky voice joins in...
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?
Would you be my partner every night?
When we're together it feels so right,
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?
Some time later........
Gabrielle is snuggled into the corner of the couch, her legs tucked under her. She is reading a newspaper, a daily habit that she has happily acquired in the past few months. Xena sits on a small stool in front of the river stone fireplace that warms the room. Her legs are crossed and the axe she has used that day to split fence posts is stretched across her knees. Strong, sure strokes scrape a sharpening stone against the edge of the blade. Except for the occasional page turning or log sparking, only the rhythmic sound of stone striking metal breaks the comfortable silence. It is a familiar routine and one they are again content to share.
Unexpectedly, the silence is broken.
"No!" Gabrielle gasps, the newspaper quivering wildly in her trembling hands.
Xena sets down the axe and instantly moves to Gabrielle’s side.
"What is it?" she asks, even more worried when she sees the tears running down Gabrielle’s cheeks.
Gabrielle thrusts the newspaper at Xena and points to the article she has just read. She falls against her lover's and is wrapped with a long arm, pulling her close.
Xena takes the paper and begins to read.
World Press Association, January 21, 2003 - An astonishing announcement was made today by Dr. Alexander K. Hutchins, a leading authority on ancient Greek civilizations. Dr. Hutchins announced that he has located skeletal remains of centaurs, until now considered to be only mythical creatures.
While excavating in a region of Greece rumored for years to have been the location of the mysterious Amazon nation of women warriors, Dr. Hutchins came across a mass burial of the half man – half horse creatures.
In a remote valley not far from the mass grave, Dr. Hutchins discovered a small village including graves of individual centaurs, as well as human burials.
Dr. Hutchins spent the past two years excavating the small village and its graves and has recently returned to the United States with his discoveries. He will be doing additional research on the remains at Western University where he teaches.
Dr. Hutchins will present a lecture Friday night at 8 PM in the auditorium on the university campus. The lecture is open to all those interested but will be restricted to available seating.
"Damn," Xena lets out a long breath. "That has to be..."
"Xenan’s village," Gabrielle whispers.
"Yeah," Xena drops the paper and wraps a second arm around Gabrielle, her own eyes brimming with tears.
For several long minutes neither woman moves, each lost in their memories. Finally, Xena turns slightly and places a tender kiss on the blond head buried into her shoulder.
"What are we going to do?" Gabrielle asks, her voice full of emotion.
"Well, first," Xena reaches for a nearby box of tissues and hands it to Gabrielle after removing a couple for herself.
"Thanks," Gabrielle smiles tearfully at Xena.
"I think a trip to Western University is in order."
"How far is it from here?" Gabrielle pulls more tissues from the box to soak up the falling ears.
"About a day’s drive," Xena pushes herself up from the couch, "I think." She crosses the room to a bookcase and pulls a box of maps from one of the shelves.
"I’ll start packing," Gabrielle blows her nose before she also pushes up from the couch.
"Better plan for several days. Who knows what we’ll find when we get there," Xena says without looking up from her search.
"Right, good thing we did the laundry this morning," Gabrielle heads for their bedroom.
"Yeah," Xena mumbles as she flips through the maps looking for the one they would be needing.
Sunrise is still hours away when Xena and Gabrielle lock the door to their house and walk to the Ranger parked in the driveway. Xena places their suitcases in the back of the pickup's cab while Gabrielle settles herself into the passenger seat. Moments later, the Ranger is bouncing down the dirt road leading to the highway and away from their home of the last several months.
After being resurrected by Alti, Xena and Gabrielle had traveled back to their homeland in Greece. The trip had not only helped them regain most of their lost memories but had also provided the opportunity to recover a cache of money and valuables that the warlord Xena had buried thousands of years previously. Selling the treasures to various collectors and museums had provided them with a sizeable bank account.
Disappointingly, they had discovered that their homeland had changed greatly over the centuries. They had hoped to settle in Greece permanently but had decided that their memories of how things used to be would keep them from being happy there. So, they wandered the world seeking somewhere they could settle comfortably into their new life. Their travels finally led them back to the states and, eventually, to western Montana. There, they had purchased a log home situated on several acres of forested land.
Xena had spent the following months building a barn and corrals where she could raise horses. Gabrielle had spent the time rewriting several of her "lost" scrolls recovered during their stay in Greece, having determined that she wasn’t willing for the world to read some of the more personal ones as originally written.
Montana seemed to suit the two lovers and they had looked forward to building a life together without the constant turmoil of their previous one. But, the newspaper article had taken away that sense of peace and they again found themselves on a mission to right a wrong.
"Xe," Gabrielle spoke softly, "do you think we can…." She stopped as emotion overtook her voice and she was unable to continue.
Xena reached over and took Gabrielle’s hand in her own. "Don’t worry, love," she lifted the hand to her lips and gently kissed the fingers. "We’ll get them home."
Gabrielle left her hand grasped in Xena's, their fingers entwined. She leaned her forehead against the cool glass of the window and stared out. It was too dark to see much more than the blur of shapes passing but she was somehow comforted by the movement. The darkness and hypnotic sound of tires rolling on the road's surface soon lolled her to sleep.
Xena pulled off the highway and parked next to a restaurant offering 24 hour service. The sun was beginning to color the eastern sky and would soon be directly in their faces as they drove. A stop for breakfast would allow time for the sun to rise high enough to no longer be an annoyance. After parking and shutting off the engine, she gently shook Gabrielle's shoulder to wake her.
"Uhg," Gabrielle brushed away the hand disturbing her sleep. "Are we there?" she mumbled as she readjusted her body against the seat that was laid back almost flat.
Xena smiled at her partner, she was so cute when she first awakened. She leaned her head close to Gabrielle and whispered in her ear. "Not yet. Thought we'd stop here for some breakfast."
"Okay," Gabrielle muttered as she slowly opened her eyes. She tried to sit up but found it difficult to do from the laid back position of her seat. Fumbling for the seat control, she popped the seat upright and reached for the door handle. Once out of the vehicle, Gabrielle stretched the kinks from her limbs before joining a patiently waiting Xena.
"Come on," Gabrielle ran her hands through her disheveled hair before taking Xena's hand in her own. "I need some coffee. "Don't go anywhere Jade," Gabrielle patted the truck's hood as she passed.
Xena smiled remembering the day Gabrielle had christened the Ranger. She had just driven the shiny, emerald green pickup off the car lot and Gabrielle was playing with the various buttons and switches within her reach.
"It needs a name," Gabrielle said flipping a dial on the dashboard.
"Okay," Xena swiped at the hand adjusting the radio channel. "It's a truck, we could call it that."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, "no."
"Ok, how about, Ares?"
"No," Gabrielle pulled open the glove box and rummaged through it's contents.
"Joxer?" she teased.
"Definitely NO," the glove box was shut and busy hands turned on the heater.
"Hey, it's 80 degrees today," Xena switched off the heater. "What about..."
"Yes?," Gabrielle gave up on the heater and switched on the air conditioner.
"You know I hate that cold stuff blowing on me," Xena growled as she turned the knob back to it's normal setting.
"Then why did you get it?" Gabrielle flopped back in her seat.
"Came with it," Xena pushed the button that lowered the power window on the driver's side and hung her tan arm out the opening.
"So, what are we going to name it?" Gabrielle asked as she lowered her seat back into a half prone position. "This is neat, should be real comfy for sleeping."
"Or, other activities," Xena looked at her lounging lover and smirked.
"Oh, no," Gabrielle popped the seat back upright. The last time we tried something like that, I ended up with a gear shift in a very uncomfortable spot."
"You didn't seem to mind at the time," Xena grinned.
With a huff, Gabrielle turned to look out the window, purposely ignoring her sniggering partner.
"Well, it's green," Xena decided to bring the conversation back to its original purpose. She had chosen the color because it had reminded her of Gabrielle's eyes. She loved her lover's eyes and how the color would change with her mood. From a pale, warm emerald when she was relaxed to a deep, hard jade when she was angry. Really angry. Like now. Yep, she glanced over at her partner, those beautiful eyes were definitely a deep shade of "jade."
Gabrielle thought for a moment, "Jade, I like it."
"Uh," Xena didn't think she had said it out loud. "You do?"
Still smiling at the memory, Xena followed Gabrielle into the restaurant and they were soon enjoying steaming cups of coffee.
It was after dark when Xena pulled off the highway and into the city where Western University was located. They immediately began to look for a place to stay. Fortunately, being a university town, it offered them several choices and they decided on a well-known chain. Xena pulled into the parking area and shut off the engine. Gabrielle, ever the bargainer of the pair, grabbed her bag and leaned towards Xena for a quick kiss.
"Be right back," Gabrielle smiled at Xena. It had been a long day and both women were more than ready for a soft bed to spend the night.
Xena watched as Gabrielle entered the hotel's lobby and approached the front desk. A grin slowly spread across her face as she admired the beautiful woman who was her soul mate. Even after all their times together, Xena was still surprised that she had been lucky enough to have found Gabrielle. 'More like Gabrielle found me and refused to let go' she laughed to herself. As she watched the woman who meant everything to her, she again thanked whatever power had originally brought them together. And, she even thanked Alti for bringing them back to life and giving them another chance to be together. Moments later Gabrielle slid back into her seat, a key card held in her hand.
"What?" Gabrielle asked her smiling partner.
"Um, just thinking," Xena replied.
"Must be pretty good judging by the smile on your face."
"Oh, it's very good," Xena leaned over and gently kissed Gabrielle. "I love you," she said as she broke the kiss.
Their eyes met and they looked into the depths of their souls.
A car's horn broke them from their thoughts.
"Um," Gabrielle sighed at the interruption. "Park anywhere. We have to go in through the lobby," Gabrielle informed Xena.
After securing the ranger for the night, Xena picked up their bags and followed Gabrielle back into the building. They crossed the lobby to a pair of elevators and entered the first available car. Gabrielle pushed the button for the top floor. Knowing Xena disliked hotel rooms where they had to listen to guests in adjoining rooms or over their heads, Gabrielle had talked the desk clerk into renting them a room on the top floor and away from any other occupied rooms. The elevator doors opened and Gabrielle lead Xena down a deserted hallway to their room. Gabrielle inserted the coded key card into the door and held it open for Xena, who carried their cases inside.
It was a typical hotel room. A king size bed, book-cased between matching nightstands, was positioned near the room's window. Under the window, an air-conditioner hummed. A small table and two oversized chairs sat in the corner next to the wall separating the bedroom from the bathroom. A long dresser lined the wall opposite the bed and Xena placed their suitcases on top of it. The end of the dresser held the television, remote controls laying on top of the unit next to a well-worn channel guide. In the small alcove outside the bathroom sat a small refrigerator with a microwave oven resting atop it. Above the appliance, a coffee maker set on a short counter. A hair drier hung on the wall above a basket full of pre-measured coffee packets and condiments.
"Home, sweet home," Xena sighed and dropped onto the bed.
Gabrielle climbed onto the bed and settled behind Xena. She began to gently knead Xena's shoulders, "ooh, you are tied in knots, babe."
Dropping her head forward, Xena groaned, "not used to, um, steering?"
"Driving," Gabrielle helpfully provided. "You know, you could let me drive once in a while. It would give you a break."
"It's not like riding a horse, love."
"I know," Gabrielle smirked. "That's why I want to do it."
"Bad girl," Xena chuckled.
"Hungry?" Gabrielle asked as she continued to message Xena's neck and shoulders.
"Yeah, but what I really want is a nice, hot bath."
"You start your bath and I'll call room service," Gabrielle patted Xena's shoulders. "We can finish your massage after you bathe and eat."
"Sounds good to me," Xena turned to kiss Gabrielle. "Thanks," she rolled her neck in circles, "feels a lot better already." Xena bent to remove her boots then stood and took off her clothes.
"Nice," Gabrielle eyes followed a very naked Xena as she crossed to the bathroom.
"Thank you," Xena smirked. "Turn off that cold wind machine, will ya."
"Air conditioner," Gabrielle corrected.
"Whatever," Xena disappeared into the bathroom and Gabrielle soon heard the sound of water running.
Gabrielle sat at the table and pulled the room service menu out of the packet of informational brochures placed there for the hotel's guests. She quickly decided and ordered. Once she had the food taken care of, she turned off the air conditioner and began to undress. Slipping into a robe, she joined Xena in the bathroom. Kneeling in front of the tub, she leaned in for a kiss and took the soap from her lover's hands.
Move forward, honey," Gabrielle said as the kiss ended. "I'll get your back."
"Why don't you join me and I'll get yours?" Xena wiggled her brows.
"Um, that sounds wonderful," Gabrielle lathered the smooth skin beneath her fingers. "But, our dinner will be here soon and I don't think you want me answering the door naked and wet."
"Only if I'm on the other side of it."
"My point exactly."
"Okay, you win. We'll wait until after dinner, then we'll share your bath."
"Sounds like a plan," Gabrielle said. She smiled at the sound of someone knocking on the room's door. "Speaking of dinner," she said as she rose from the floor and grabbed a towel to dry her hands.
A few minutes later, Xena came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel that barely covered her long body. Gabrielle grinned at the sight from her seat at the table. Spread out before her was a large serving tray holding sandwiches, fruit, and small cartons of milk. Xena replaced the towel with her own robe and joined her mate.
Gabrielle unwrapped a sandwich and bit into it, "um, this is good."
Opening a carton of milk, Gabrielle handed it to Xena, "here, it's good for you."
Xena had developed quite the taste for soft drinks and, when Gabrielle read how unhealthy some of their ingredients could be, she set out to break Xena of her new habit. She hadn't stopped Xena from drinking soda altogether but she had succeeded, not without complaint, to get Xena to drink more healthful liquids.
Scowling, Xena took the carton and took a large gulp. Reaching for a sandwich, she asked "what, no dessert?"
"Oh," Gabrielle purred. "I thought we'd keep the sweets for later."
A smile spread across Xena's face, matching the one her lover exhibited.
"Xe, the directory says that Dr. Hutchins office is in the science building. Same floor as the anthropology museum and lab."
Xena and Gabrielle had awakened early and after breakfast in the hotel restaurant, they had made their way to the Western University campus. They had found the administration building and were in it's lobby area. Gabrielle was studying a map of the campus that hung on the lobby wall. Xena was standing behind her but was concentrating on a brochure she had just removed from a rack next to the map.
"Um," Xena mumbled.
"Look," Gabrielle pointed to the outline of a building on the map. "Here."
"Just a sec," Xena said as she continued to read the brochure.
Turning to see what was holding Xena's attention, Gabrielle asked "what is that?"
"Brochure on the anthropology museum," Xena said, her eyes continuing to scan the pages. "Says here, it's open week days from 9 to 5."
"We going to check it out?"
"Seems like a good place to start," Xena handed the brochure to Gabrielle and looked at the wall map. "Where is the building?"
"There," Gabrielle pointed. "Appears to be on the other side of the campus."
"Yep, come on," Xena reached for Gabrielle's hand.
Once outside, Xena looked around to get her bearings while Gabrielle gazed at the scene before them. They stood at the corner of a large open quadrangle with crisscrossing concrete sidewalks breaking up the grassy area. Buildings of various shapes and sizes lined the sides of the quad. Pine, oak, maple and cottonwood trees were scattered about, many of the larger trees had benches placed in the shade of their branches. Students and instructors filled the sidewalks, hurrying to their classes.
"This way," Xena chose a walkway that would take them directly across the quad. At the far side of the grassy area an impressive three story brick building stood by itself.
"This place is beautiful," Gabrielle continued to look around as she allowed Xena to lead her. "Boy, these are quite the buildings. Oh, look at that one," Gabrielle spied the structure they were approaching.
"Yeah," Xena sneered. "Looks like digging up bodies must pay pretty well."
Remembering the reason they had traveled to the university, Gabrielle mood quickly darkened. "Xe, what's the plan?" she asked as she pulled Xena to a stop.
"We visit the museum and hope we find someone there who likes to talk." Xena smiled at Gabrielle, "the rest is up to you."
"Because," Xena tapped Gabrielle on the tip of her nose, "you, my love, can get the most private of people to give up their darkest secrets."
"Oh," Gabrielle purred. "You say the nicest things."
The anthropology museum was located on the first floor of the science building and to the right of a large polished faux marble staircase that took students up to the classrooms on the upper floors. The staircase split the main floor in half, separating the museum from the private offices of the professors. All the office doors were shut and many had schedules taped to them. The schedule carrying the name of 'Dr. Hutchins' indicated the professor would not be in his office until the afternoon.
The women crossed back to the other side of the staircase and entered the museum. It was a large open room with eight foot high glass cases making up the outer walls. Stretched in parallel lines, glass topped table cases filled the center of the room. The brochure Xena had picked up earlier indicated the exhibits were arranged in no particular order, as they were constantly changing, and visitors were encouraged to set their own path around the room.
As they examined the exhibits, Xena and Gabrielle had the museum to themselves. They made a point of studying every exhibit looking for anything belonging to the Centaurs. As they approached the back part of the room, they could hear muffled sounds coming through a door in the back corner.
"Someone is in there working," Xena whispered to Gabrielle. "Let's get closer and maybe we can figure out if they're alone."
Gabrielle nodded and followed Xena to the exhibit case directly next to the door. However, being closer to the door did not improve there ability to distinguish the sounds coming from the other side.
"Well, here goes nothing," Gabrielle said as she tapped on the door.
The sounds stopped. They could hear footsteps coming closer and then a young woman pulled the door open. "This area is off limits to visitors," she politely informed the woman.
"I'm sorry," Gabrielle smiled her most charming smile. "These exhibits are so interesting and I heard someone working in there," she looked past the girl into the workroom. "Well, I just had to stop and tell you how much I'm enjoying your museum."
"Oh, I, um," the girl stammered, not used to such enthusiastic appreciation from visitors. "Uh, thank you," she finally managed to get out.
"Did you prepare some of these exhibits?" Gabrielle continued.
"Um, yes," the girl said.
"Oh, wonderful," Gabrielle stepped closer to the girl. "I'd love to talk with you about them." Gabrielle was standing next to the girl and gently took her arm to guide her into the museum and away from the door.
As the girl stepped through the door, Gabrielle fell back against it, pushing it against the automatic catch that would hold it open. "Oops, clumsy me," she laughed while keeping her body between the girl and door, preventing her from pulling it shut.
"Now which of these are yours," Gabrielle asked as she led the girl to the front of the museum.
Xena, standing off to the side, had been unobserved by the girl and silently slipped through the open door. As Gabrielle kept the girl busy in the museum, Xena explored the work area. On the room's tables pottery, ancient tools, armor and weapons, and parts of a human skeleton sat among the exhibits being specially constructed to properly display the objects. Shelves built into the room's walls held the materials and tools used to prepare the exhibits. And, drawers under the tables held more supplies.
Xena examined everything in the room but found nothing she could identify as belonging to the Centaurs. At the back of the workroom was an unmarked door. Xena tested the knob and found the door to be locked. She was searching for the keys when she heard Gabrielle laugh loudly. Knowing this was Gabrielle's way of warning her that it was time to vacate the room or get caught, Xena quickly slipped back into the museum.
"I know I've kept you from your work, Debbie," Gabrielle and the girl were standing in the middle of the room. "I do appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions."
"No problem," Debbie said. "It's nice to have someone really appreciate the work it takes to make these exhibits. Most people just come in to gawk at the more gruesome stuff."
"Like those shrunken heads," Gabrielle pointed to the case Xena was now studying.
Debbie turned in the direction Gabrielle indicated and noticed Xena for the first time. "Oh, I'm sorry," Debbie looked nervously at the open door leading to the workroom. She knew Dr. Hutchins was very strict about non-authorized persons being in the workroom and part of her job was to make sure it didn't happen. "I didn't know anyone else was in here."
"It's okay," Gabrielle assured her. "That's my friend. She's not much of a talker. But, she'll read every last narrative and description in your exhibits."
As Xena joined the two women, Gabrielle asked "am I right?."
"Yep," Xena smiled.
"Well," Gabrielle wrapped her arm around Xena's. "Thank you again. Maybe we'll see you tonight at the lecture."
"Yes," Debbie shrugged off her uneasiness. If the tall woman had read every exhibit, she would not have had time to enter the workroom. "Remember to get there early or you might not get a seat. There's a lot of interest in Dr. Hutchins discovery."
"Don't worry, we'll get there good and early."
"Well, what did you find out?"
Xena and Gabrielle were sitting on a bench under one of the quad’s oak trees. After leaving the museum, they had decided to find somewhere they could get lunch since it was too soon to catch Dr. Hutchins in his office. They discovered the student union and purchased sandwiches and cold drinks from its cafeteria. Carrying their lunch back outside, they chose a bench away from any walkway so they could talk without being overheard. Gabrielle unwrapped a sandwich and handed half to Xena, she took a bite of the other half before answering.
"Not too much," she said as she accepted the can of soda Xena had just opened. "Can’t believe they were out of milk," she complained after taking a swallow.
"Yeah, I was really looking forward to having some," Xena said mockingly as she took a drink of her own soda.
"Why do I put up with you?" Gabrielle rolled her eyes and shook her head at her partner.
"Because I look good in a pair of shorts," Xena teased.
"I knew they was a reason," Gabrielle nudged Xena’s arm playfully.
Turning serious, Gabrielle continued with her story. "Debbie works at the museum two mornings a week. Mostly, so that someone is there to keep an eye on any visitors. But, she also does some exhibit preparation. She doesn’t have a lot to do with the actual examination and preservation work done on the artifacts that Dr. Hutchins acquires. But, she did say she thought most of the stuff he brought back from Greece is in the lab because the doctor is spending a lot of time in there when he's not teaching his classes."
"The lab must be behind the locked door," Xena finished her sandwich half and started to unwrap the other sandwich. "Did she say who else worked in the lab?"
"There are several students that work with the museum exhibits but only a couple of Dr. Hutchins most trusted graduate students have access to the Centaurs," Gabrielle smiled thanks as she accepted half of the new sandwich. "She got nervous when I tried to learn more about the doctor's recent finds, so I didn't push her."
"Good idea," Xena agreed. "We might need to talk to her again. No need to make her too suspicious now."
"So, what’s next?"
Xena leaned back against the bench and stretched her legs out in front of her, crossing them at the ankles. "We try to talk to Dr. Hutchins and ask him to return the Centaurs to their village. But, I don’t think he’s going to be agreeable to that."
"Probably not," Gabrielle sighed. "Ya know, you could put the pinch on him and make him agreeable," she suggested.
"I could but eventually I’d have to take it off and he’d probably waste no time in calling the magistrate on us."
"What?" Xena looked at Gabrielle, puzzled.
"In this world, they’re called police. I keep telling you if you’d watch some television, you’d pick up the language quicker."
"I can’t stand that picture box," Xena growled.
"My big, brave warrior is afraid of a yittle picture box," Gabrielle teased.
"I’m not afraid. It makes me dizzy," Xena reached around Gabrielle and started to tickle her. "Besides, that’s what I have you for."
Gabrielle, laughing too hard to talk, slapped at Xena’s hands attempting to keep them away from her sensitive sides. She finally managed to squeak, "I give" and her torture was ended.
"That wasn’t nice," Gabrielle said between gasps of air.
"That'll teach you to tease me," Xena pulled Gabrielle to her and placed a gentle kiss on her lips. "I love you," she breathed into her mouth. After a moment to enjoy her lover's nearness, Xena pulled back. "Did Debbie say how late she worked this morning?"
"Until her first class at 11:30. Why?"
"Come on," Xena said as she gathered up their trash. "Let’s see if there’s someone new in there we can talk to."
Xena stood offering a hand to Gabrielle and pulled her upright. They turned to walk back to the science building and museum, Xena tossing their trash in the first receptacle they passed.
The second visit to the museum proved to be a disappointment. There were two students working among the exhibits and neither was very talkative, especially after the subject of Dr. Hutchins recent discoveries was broached. The door into the museum’s workroom was shut and the students closely watched whenever Xena got too close to it. Deciding that they might as well try to talk to the professor, Xena and Gabrielle left the museum and walked across to his office.
Seeing his door open, Gabrielle asked "Xe, what are we going to tell him?"
"You're the bard. You'll think of something, " Xena smiled at her scowling partner.
They found the professor examining some photographs. The man was shorter than Xena expected, standing slightly taller than Gabrielle. He was lean and his skin bore the deep tan of someone used to being outdoors. Though he wore a suit, it was obviously not a style of clothing he was comfortable with. Auburn hair with hints of gray topped a mature face and a matching mustache graced his upper lip.
"Dr. Hutchins," Xena interrupted the professor's study.
"Yes," the doctor looked at the two women standing in his office doorway. "I'm sorry, are you students of mine?"
"No, doctor," Gabrielle stretched a hand out. "I'm Gabrielle Poteidea and this is my colleague, Senna Amphipolis. We are representatives of the Association for the Restoration of Greek Order. ARGO, for short."
Xena hid a chuckle behind one hand as she reached the other out to the professor.
"I'm sorry," the professor shook both their hands and motioned the women to sit in the chairs opposite his desk. "I'm afraid I'm not familiar with your organization. What can I do for you?"
Gabrielle sat in the offered chair and continued, "ARGO believes that the ancient peoples of Greece should be left in peace and should not be removed from their ancient lands for the purpose of exploitation through scientific study."
Xena listened to the story her partner was weaving and was amazed at her ability to make it sound so convincing. She just hoped that the professor was finding it believable.
"Well, I'm sorry but I'm not sure what you expect of me," the professor looked at the pair suspiciously. "If this is about my recent discoveries in Greece, I can assure you that I had the full cooperation of the Greek government."
"Yes, this is about your removal of the Centaur families from their homeland. ARGO is asking that you return them immediately."
"Families," the professor was confused. "I found no families. All the centaurs I uncovered were male."
"Did you not ask yourself why?" Gabrielle questioned the scientist.
"At the time, I was not concerned about that. That is why the specimens were brought back here, so that they can be studied and answers to that question and more can be determined."
"I can tell you why," Gabrielle informed the professor.
"Oh, you can, can you." The professor leaned back in his chair, a look of disbelief on his face. "Do tell, why are all the centaur specimens male?"
"Centaurs were a race of males, just as Amazons were a race of women. Mature centaurs mated with women who bore their children. Only the male babies were centaurs."
"Rubbish," the scientist spat. "Greek women mating those beasts. Absolute rubbish."
"They were not beasts," Xena said in a voice so low that the scientist had to strain to hear. Gabrielle instantly reached over to calm her mate but Xena continued, "the Centaurs were a proud race. They fell in love and married like you and I do. They raised their children to respect their culture and those of others. They would defend their friends to their deaths. It was jealous men and cruel warlords that drove the Centaur nation to extinction."
"How could you possible know such things," the professor was more than a little disturbed at Xena's declarations.
In an attempt to ease her growing tenseness, Gabrielle gently rubbed Xena's arm as she took over, "our families date back thousands of years in Greece, professor. Stories of the Centaurs, Amazons and others have been passed from generation to generation. I know you probably find it hard to believe but what we are telling you is true. The 'specimens', as you called them, are the bodies of our ancient friends. We ask that you return them their homeland. It is only right."
"You're correct," the professor stood, his voice rising. "I don't believe a single word you have said. The discovery of the centaur beasts is the greatest scientific discovery, so far, this century. I would be doing a great disservice to the scientific community if I returned them without studying them."
"Not to mention the disservice to your own reputation," Xena snarled.
"Get out," the professor pointed to the door. "I don't know who you are or what your game is, but I want you out of my office."
"I'm sorry you feel that way, Dr. Hutchins," Gabrielle stood next to a infuriated Xena. "I sincerely hope that you never feel the pain that you are causing."
"Out!," the professor moved to grab Gabrielle's arm and hasten her exit. A growl from Xena stopped him in his tracks, nervously he backed away. "Get out and take that poppycock with you!"
The professor's door was slammed shut the instant they cleared the doorway.
"Well," Gabrielle let out a long sigh. "That went well."
Xena paced around the floor. Spotting a door towards the rear of the building, she headed for it.
"What are you doing?" Gabrielle asked.
"Looking for someplace to calm down," Xena told her.
Gabrielle ran to catch up with her partner and did so just as Xena stormed through a door leading to a small courtyard behind the building. After following Xena outside, Gabrielle carefully propped open the door so that they could re-enter.
The square courtyard was formed by a L-shaped corner of the building with a hedge forming the two missing sides. The hedge, ten feet tall and half that wide, served as a privacy fence for the courtyard. It had obviously been growing there for many years and had been well cared for as it was a solid without any obvious bare spots.
Xena paced around the courtyard, muttering about bone-headed men and how thinks hadn't changed much in two thousand years.
Gabrielle sat on the courtyard's picnic table as she waited for her lover's anger to dissipate. Her eyes scanned the courtyard and surrounding building and stopped on an unusual feature of one of the walls. Hopping down from the table, she wandered to a corner created where hedge met building. Her progress was blocked by various shrubs which had been planted in a somewhat haphazard pattern. Pushing her way through the shrubbery, Gabrielle peered quizzically at the side of the brick building. Before she had time to investigate her discovery, she heard Xena calling for her.
"Gabrielle," Xena had realized Gabrielle was no longer in sight and her voice bristled with concern.
"I’m here, honey" Gabrielle called.
"Here, where?" Xena looked around. She could hear Gabrielle but all she saw were bushes.
"In here," Gabrielle stepped back through the shrubbery and into the courtyard.
Xena asked, "what are you doing back there?"
"Nothing. Something caught my eye, so I decided to get a closer look.
"What did you find?"
"Just a wall." Stopping to brush herself off, Gabrielle looked again at the corner of the building. "Xe?"
"Umm," Xena was removing a twig that had managed to work its way into Gabrielle's hair.
"Doesn't this section of wall look older than that one?" Gabrielle first indicated the wall behind the shrubs and then the wall with the door they had passed through.
"I'd say so," Xena agreed as she compared the two sections of wall. Maybe that explains the age of the hedge. Why?"
"Not sure. Probably nothing."
Xena looked at Gabrielle and shrugged her shoulders. "Not much more we can do until the lecture tonight. What say we head back to the inn?"
"Hotel," Gabrielle corrected as she lead Xena back to the door she had left propped open.
"It's called a hotel, dear."
Following Gabrielle back into the building, Xena thought for a moment before protesting "wait a minute. You were watching that picture box the other night and there were people staying at an inn."
"I was watching the television. And, it was a show about a country inn. That's different."
Xena took Gabrielle's hand. "Let's go back to the hotel, my little master of words."
Gabrielle giggled, "well, I am a bard."
"No," Xena corrected. "You're my bard."
Gabrielle slid the key card into the door's lock and held the door while Xena carried a bag of groceries into their room.
Xena had stopped at a store after they left the university so they could purchase some milk and juice to keep in their room. Gabrielle had added fresh fruit while Xena tossed assorted snacks into their cart.
"You've really taken to this junk food stuff," Gabrielle pulled several bags of chips out of the cart and placed them back on the shelf.
"Hey," Xena objected but did not reclaim the bags. "I like those."
"I know you do, but these are better for you." Gabrielle placed a bunch of bananas in the cart.
"Only if you're a monkey," Xena groused under her breath.
"I heard that," Gabrielle said as she pushed the cart toward the check out stand. She pretended to not notice as Xena placed a box of donuts in the cart.
Now, back in their hotel room, Xena emptied the shopping bag of its contents, placing the cold items into the fridge and neatly stacked the other items on the counter. Grabbing the box of donuts, a carton of milk and a couple of sanitized-wrapped plastic glasses, Xena joined Gabrielle on the bed. She handed Gabrielle a glass of milk and nudged the box of donuts her way. Washing her donut down with a large swallow of milk, Xena decided that the white stuff wasn't so bad after all.
Glancing at the clock on the nightstand, Xena proposed "what do you say to a nice walk down to that fancy restaurant we saw earlier and I'll buy my best girl dinner."
Gabrielle accepted, "sounds like a wonderful idea." She leaned forward and looked into the eyes of the woman she loved and growled, "and I better be your only girl."
Laughing, both women stood to prepare for their evening.
It was a little after 7 PM and Xena and Gabrielle found themselves standing in an ever growing line of people waiting for the auditorium's doors to open. Dr. Hutchins' lecture was scheduled to begin at 8 PM and by the looks of the long line of people already waiting, a full house was guaranteed. Luckily, Xena and Gabrielle had arrived early and were at the front of the waiting line. Due to the people standing near them, they kept their conversation to a minimum and waited.
Once the auditorium's door opened, Xena lost no time in leading Gabrielle to seats in the middle of the front row. She wanted to have a good view of the scientist and the artifacts he had collected.
"Aren't you afraid the professor will recognize us?" Gabrielle asked once they were settled in their seats.
"No," Xena explained. "With the lights shining on the stage, all he'll be able to see are shapes. He won't be able to focus on faces."
Sensing she was being watched, Gabrielle kept looking around the room.
"What's wrong," Xena asked her.
"I'm not sure," Gabrielle scanned the room again. "I get the feeling I'm being watched but I can't see anyone paying any attention to us."
Xena looked around the auditorium, it's seats almost completely filled, and saw nothing suspicious. She took Gabrielle's hand in her own and gently rubbed her thumb against the palm.
"Maybe you're just nervous about what we'll see tonight," Xena tried to soothe her lover.
"Maybe," Gabrielle leaned against Xena's shoulder. As the day had passed and the time for this evening's lecture had neared, Gabrielle's apprehension had grown. She hoped with all her heart that the scientist had not found Xenan's village and had not dug up their graves. But, somehow, deep in her heart she knew it was true and she wasn't sure how she would react to the proof being laid before her. This world was so much different from the one she was used to. Could she and Xena stop Xenan and the other Centaurs from becoming just relics of a ancient time that scientists would poke and prod and fight over.
Gabrielle wrapped her arm tightly around Xena's. She knew that they both would need the comfort and strength of the other to get through the evening, no matter what might be revealed by the scientist. Xena seemed to sense it also and smiled sadly at her partner.
The lights in the auditorium darkened and the crowd gradually settled. After a few moments, the curtain at the front of the auditorium's stage parted to reveal Dr. Hutchins standing between two large tables covered in various bones, leather pieces and other artifacts. Behind him, a large screen dropped silently from the ceiling.
"Good evening," a strong voice filled the quiet. "For those of you who don't know me, I am Alexander Hutchins, Doctor of Anthropology. And, I am here tonight to share with the world my recent discoveries in Greece."
A murmur of expectation swept through the auditorium.
"I present to you," the scientist continued. "THE CENTAUR."
On the screen behind the scientist a picture of a fully reconstructed skeleton displayed. It had the body of a horse and the chest and head of a man. Hanging on the centaur's chest was a vest consisting of three interwoven leather straps crossing in the middle of the chest. A sword in a leather scabbard hung on the centaur's back and a woven, cloth hat covered the head.
"It's Xenan," Gabrielle gasped. Luckily, the people sitting around them were involved in their own conversations and paid no attention to her comment.
Xena tightened her hold on Gabrielle as a rage she had not felt for thousands of years filled her. Only the presence of Gabrielle kept her from storming the stage and ripping the smug scientist limb from limb.
Neither woman spoke after the lecture ended. They quickly left the auditorium and drove back to the hotel in silence. Now, they lay in each other's arms, still unable to voice their thoughts. The evening had been emotionally draining for both women and they clung to the other for support. Tears flowed down Gabrielle's cheeks as she replayed the scientist words describing his discovery of the Centaur's mass burial, then the small village and its individual graves. Of his team breaking open those graves and removing the remains of both centaurs and humans. And of his deduction that the centaurs served as beasts of burden to their human owners. At least he got that wrong Gabrielle told herself.
Xena's thoughts were of the time long ago when she had saved Xenan from Lord Belach. Of Xenan's wife Nika and their baby Borias, named for Xena's ex-lover and Nika's grandfather. Of the life Xenan was anxious to provide his family. How could all those dreams end in a scientist's laboratory? Xena was determined not to let that happen.
Sleep finally claimed the women after they minds were too exhausted to fight it any longer.
Gabrielle woke to find herself at the edge of a clearing surrounded by thick forest. In the middle of the clearing sat a village made up of a dozen wooden huts. The sounds of laughter filled the air as she watched centaur and human children playing an ancient game of soccer. Adult centaurs and men watched the children play, some offering encouragement to the youngsters. As Gabrielle watched the game, she sensed a presence next to her. A fine mist hung in the air and, as she watched, the mist materialized into an old friend.
"Ephiny?" Gabrielle choked out the name.
"Yes," Ephiny stood before her. "It is good to see you again, Gabrielle."
"Oh, Ephiny," Gabrielle wanted to wrap her arms around her friend but knew it was impossible. "I've missed you."
"And, I've missed you." Ephiny took a long look at her, "you have come back."
"Yes." Smiling at her friend, Gabrielle asked, "why did you bring me here?"
"You've heard?" Gabrielle said sadly, looking at Xenan's mother.
"I was there last night, you felt me."
"You must save him. And, Nika and Borias."
"What happened to them, Ephiny? Gabrielle knew that even though Ephiny had been killed while Xenan was still a child, she had watched over her son as he grew. And, she had continued to watch over her son's family after Xena had saved them from Lord Belach.
"They lived happily for a few years. But, the world was changing. After Lord Belach's men killed most of the centaurs, it was impossible for the remaining few to protect themselves. Xenan kept moving his family and the others further into the woods and away from men. But, they're luck finally ran out."
Looking at the village in the clearing, Ephiny continued. "This was their last home. One of the men from the village traded with other villages. Returning from one of his trading trip, he brought back a illness unknown to the centaurs. They had no medicines to fight the effects, and one by one, they began to die. The children were the first to die. Little Borias fought bravely but he could not..." Ephiny choked back a sob.
Regaining her composure, Ephiny continued, "Xenan was devastated at his lose, even Nika could not comfort him.
"Xenan was the last of the centaurs to succumb. His heart broken at the lose of his son and his people. Unable to face life without Xenan and Borias, Nika returned to her father's castle. She died there a few months later but Lord Belach brought her back here to be buried alongside her son and husband. By that time, the village was deserted. The men and women, not wanting to stay so far from others, had moved away. The forest reclaimed the village and it was undisturbed until Dr. Hutchins' stumbled on it.
"He took them, Gabrielle. He separated my Xenan from Nika and Borias. You must re-unite them."
"I don't know if we can," Gabrielle whispered. "Things are different now."
Looking deep into Gabrielle's eyes, Ephiny pleaded, "you must. I feel my son's pain. You must help him."
Ephiny's form began to dematerialized back into a mist. Gabrielle grabbed for her, "Ephiny." Her hands swept through the mist meeting nothing but emptiness. "Ephiny," she cried again.
Xena woke to Gabrielle's cries and wrapped her arms tightly around her.
"It's okay," Xena whispered. "I've got you. It's okay." Rubbing her hands soothingly up and down Gabrielle's back, Xena continued to talk calmingly. "Wake up, sweetheart. It's just a dream." Xena realized that Gabrielle's face was tear streaked and she gently brushed the tears away. "It's okay, I'm here."
Gabrielle awoke to Xena's calming words but her thoughts was still with Ephiny and the tears began to flow again.
"Hey," Xena caressed her lover's face. "What's wrong, love?"
"We have to take Xenan back," she told Xena. "We have to."
"We will, love." Xena had already made up her mind to save Xenan from the fate the scientist had in mind for him. "I promise."
Gabrielle nodded her agreement and let the tears flow. Xena held Gabrielle until she fell back asleep.
Xena washed Gabrielle's back, as she listened to her describe the dream.
"What are we going to do?" Gabrielle repeated the question she had first asked several nights ago after reading the newspaper article.
"We could try taking with Dr. Hutchins again but after yesterday I don't think we'd get very far." Xena lifted hands full of water to her lover's back and rinsed off the soap. "I don't really think we have many options," she said as she leaned back against the end of the tub and pulled Gabrielle with her.
With her back nestled against Xena's chest, Gabrielle sighed. "We have to get into the lab."
"No time like the present."
Xena and Gabrielle left the ranger in the visitors' lot and quickly crossed the quad to the science building. They were hoping that the young student, Debbie, would be on duty and that Gabrielle could talk her into letting them into the lab area. It was a long shot but they didn't seem to have much choice. As they approached the building, Xena got a glimpse through its open doors. She grabbed Gabrielle's arm and stopped her.
"What's wrong," Gabrielle turned to question Xena.
"Guards," Xena took a cautious step closer to the building and peered past the stairway to the museum's entry. "It doesn't look like we're going to get in the lab through the front door."
"Damn," Gabrielle felt the knot tighten in her stomach. "Now what?"
"Don't know," Xena's shoulders slumped. "Any ideas?"
After several long moments of silence, Gabrielle smiled, "yes." She grabbed Xena's hand and started off across the quad.
"Where are we going?" Xena asked as she was tugged along.
"To the library."
Gabrielle lead Xena up the steps to the library's doors. Xena pulled the massive oak door open and Gabrielle entered the building then stopped. She stared in amazement at the rows upon rows of books stretching back and up as far as she could see. That was one difference about this world that Gabrielle definitely liked. She had been amazed to discovery the number and variety of books easily available. It wasn't like the old days, when she had had to travel to Athens for the only library in the country. Now, every town had a library and she loved to visit them.
Xena nudged her in the back when a young man asked if he could be of assistance.
"Oh," Gabrielle shook herself from her contemplation of the sight before her. "Good morning," she smiled at the boy. "I'm a writer and I'm researching my next book. I'm hoping you can provide me some information."
"What kind of information?" one of the boys asked.
"Historical buildings. I was hoping that you might have some of the original architect plans for some of the buildings in this area."
"Any building in particular?" the boy asked as he approached the computer set on the lobby's desk. Punching a few buttons on the keyboard, he waited for the screen to fill with information. "We have several jpegs and gifs of plans that have been scanned into our database. As well as several pdf files."
Xena looked to Gabrielle confused at what the boy had just said. She whispered into Gabrielle's ear, "what language is he speaking?"
Gabrielle chuckled and patted Xena's arm as she answered the boy. "I'm sorry, I'm a little old-fashioned. Haven't really moved into the computer age yet. I was hoping that you would have the actual plans that I could study."
The boy looked questioningly at Gabrielle, she certainly couldn't be much more than thirty years old, he thought. How could she not be using computers?
"Well, we do have original plans but the librarian prefers that you use the computers. Less likely for the originals to be damaged or lost that way," the boy explained.
"I'm sure you can make an exception," Xena leaned down placing her hands flat on the desk and stared at the boy.
Gulping audibly, the boy stammered, "I'm, ah, sorry, ah, but the librarian..."
Placing a hand on Xena's back, Gabrielle gently rubbed it. Gabrielle smiled sweetly at the boy, "I completely understand. But, I promise to be very careful. If you could just let us have a look, we'll be gone before you know it."
Anxious to have the tall, intimidating woman out of his library, the boy quickly decided that there would be no harm in allowing the women into the room that held the records they sought.
"Okay," the boy said. "If you follow me."
The boy led Xena and Gabrielle to a room off the lobby that was ringed by floor to ceiling shelves holding thousands of rolled up building plans and architectural drawings. In the middle of the room was a large table where the plans could be unrolled for study. "They're arranged in chronological order but they cover all of the state."
"Oh, my," Gabrielle gasped. "Can you narrow it down to a specific area?"
"Depends on the area."
Realizing that they did not have time to search through everything, Gabrielle took a calculated risk hoping that the boy would not connect them to events that might happen later. "Well, I'm most interested in this town and the surrounding area."
"Well," the boy looked around the room. "Like I said, they're chronological but this section here," pointing to the section of shelves in front of where he stood. "This is where we keep the Willougsby collection."
"Willougsby?" Gabrielle questioned.
"Edwin James Willougsby. I'm surprised you don't know of him. Famous home-grown boy, you might say. He designed most of the buildings downtown and here on the campus. Not to mention, throughout the state. In fact, this building is named after him, Willougsby Library."
"Oh, that Willougsby," Gabrielle said shrugging her shoulder at a smirking Xena. Luckily, the boy was walking out of the room and did not pick up on the exchange between the two women. "Thank you, I'll start there."
"Ah, okay," the boy was starting to have second thoughts about allowing the women into the room. If the librarian found out, he'd lose his job and he couldn't afford that. "You will be careful, right?"
"Absolutely." Gabrielle assured him. "When do you expect the librarian to arrive?"
"He comes in everyday around 10:30."
Glancing at her watch, Gabrielle nodded. "I promise we'll be done long before that."
"Be careful," the boy admonished once again before leaving the women to their research.
"Nervous type, isn't he," Xena said as she looked around the room at all the rolled up drawings.
"You didn't help that situation much," Gabrielle said as she placed her bag on the table. "Um," she pulled one of the rolls from the shelf. Placing it on the table, she carefully unrolled it. After a moment, she re-rolled it and returned it to its place before removing another roll.
"A-ha," Gabrielle exclaimed, "what have we here? Nope," she replaced it after looking at it. "Right place, wrong building."
"What are you looking for?" Xena was perplexed at her partner's actions.
"Bingo, found it." Gabrielle spread the roll on the table weighting down the edges with the paperweights left on the table for just that purpose. "Have you still got that brochure from the museum?"
"Right here," Xena pulled the requested item from her pocket.
"Hmmm," Gabrielle compared the brochure to the plans in front of her.
"Are you going to tell me what you're looking for?" Xena was becoming impatient.
"Remember yesterday when we were in that courtyard and I thought I saw something behind those bushes?"
"And, remember I said that the two walls of the building looked to be of different ages?"
"Well, I think I may have found a back way into the museum's lab."
"What? Where?" Xena eagerly looked at the plans spread on the table.
"Here," Gabrielle pointed to the plan she had spread out. "This is the original building that now houses the museum. See the side where the professors' offices are must have been added later."
"Okay," Xena asked. "How does that get us into the lab?"
"Look at the brochure," Gabrielle laid the museum floor plan on top of the architect plans. "If these plans are correct, here is the courtyard we were in. Here is where the museum is. And, this has to be where the lab is."
"And, that means what?"
"That means that this door has to be what I was looking at the other day. I didn't know it was a doorway because it's been plastered over. That's why I thought it was strange, the rest of the wall is brick."
"Ah," Xena said as realization dawned on her. "And, if that's is the door..."
"Then, we have a back way into the lab."
"It could be sealed on both sides," Xena studied the drawing.
"Won't know until we try."
After rolling the plan up and replacing it on the shelf, Xena sat beside Gabrielle. "That was a pretty good piece of deduction," Xena said placing a tender kiss on Gabrielle's nose.
Gabrielle reached up and pulled Xena's head down to hers. "I had a good teacher," she whispered as she captured Xena's lips with her own.
"Ah, um," a throat clearing interrupted the women.
"Yes," Xena eyebrow rose into her bangs as she observed the boy standing in the doorway.
"I'm sorry, but," the boy said nervously.
"That's okay," Gabrielle picked up her bag. "We're finished."
"You found what you wanted?" the boy asked.
Looking deep into Xena' eyes, Gabrielle answered, "oh, I definitely found what I wanted."
Xena turned off the street and into a vacant lot behind the science building. She eased the truck behind some trees, concealing it from both the street and the building. The sun had set and what moon there was blocked by a cloudy night sky, the darkness helping to hide their activities from all but a very alert observer. Luckily, for the women, no one in the building was that alert.
Xena and Gabrielle climbed quietly out and gently pushed the doors shut. Xena had removed the bulbs from the dome light so that they could enter and exit the cab without being seen. She removed a small bag of tools from the bed of the truck before joining Gabrielle. They carefully made their way to the back side of the hedge. They encountered no guards, the professor obviously expecting any threat to come through the front door.
They found the hedge to be as impenetrable on the this side as it had appeared on the other. Xena looked for a way through while Gabrielle kept a lookout for guards.
"Looks like there's only one way we can get to the other side," Xena told Gabrielle when she rejoined her.
"And, that would be?"
"Do you trust me?"
"Okay, climb on," Xena turned her back to her partner and flexed her knees.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena's neck and her legs around her waist. Xena carried the smaller woman several feet away from the hedge and then turned to face it.
"Hang on," Xena took off running straight for the thick hedge. Just before Gabrielle was sure they would crash into the obstacle, Xena drove her legs into the ground. With a thrust of her powerful thigh muscles, the women soared from the ground toward the top of the hedge. At the apex of the leap, Xena twisted her body 180 degrees carrying both women safely over the top of the hedge. A few seconds later found them back on the ground and inside the courtyard.
"Impressive," Gabrielle said as she lightly dropped from Xena's back.
"I've been practicing."
They quickly crossed the courtyard and disappeared into the shrubs concealing the blocked off doorway.
Xena dropped the bag beside the door and knelt down. She pulled out a small flashlight which she handed to Gabrielle then retrieved a long flat edge screwdriver from the tool bag. Starting in the bottom corner, Xena chipped away at the plaster covering the doorway. Gabrielle was careful to block the glow of the light with her body while she illuminated the doorway for Xena. It became apparent after just a few minutes that the old plaster would not be too hard to remove as it was crumbling easily under Xena's attack. Less than an hour later, the women stood before an exposed door.
"You don't think it would so easy as to be unlocked, do you?" Gabrielle asked as she tested the rusty knob. "Didn't think so," she frowned finding it locked.
"I'm more concerned about whether or not there's anyone on the other side," Xena told her as she replaced the screwdriver into the bag and pulled out a small pry bar. "If there is, we're going to need to move quickly," she handed the bag to Gabrielle. "Here if we have company, swing this around."
"It's not quite as practical as a staff but I guess I can improvise."
"You always could," Xena grinned.
"Cute," Gabrielle giggled smacking Xena's arm.
"Shine the light here," Xena had found a weak spot in the doorframe and wanted a closer look at it.
The sound of a door opening and a man coughing froze both women in place. Gabrielle quickly shut off the flashlight while Xena silently positioned herself between Gabrielle and the sound. They listened as the man moved around the courtyard. After several moments, he retreated back inside of the building.
"Well, now we know that at least one guard is awake," Xena said as she refocused on the door.
"Let's hope he's the only one," Gabrielle turned the flashlight back on and pointed it where Xena had inserted the pry bar between the door and it's frame.
Xena worked the pry bar around until she had created a small opening. Feeling the frame start to give, Xena warned Gabrielle, "turn off the torch and be ready to move."
Then bracing her legs, Xena threw her shoulder against the door at the same time she thrust the pry bar into the opening. At first the door resisted, years of neglect having frozen it in place. Xena pressed harder and the rusted hinges began to give way. With a last look at Gabrielle to ensure she was ready, Xena made a renewed effort against the door. The frame gave way and with a groan the door swung half way open before refusing to move further.
Both women held their breaths but no sound came from the darkness inside the building. Xena took the flashlight from Gabrielle and turned it on. They found themselves standing in what appeared to be a storage closet. Boxes and file cabinets were stacked along the walls and a clutter of old chairs, tables, and other furniture filled the rest of the room. By the layer of dust on everything it didn't appear that the room had been entered in some time. Xena led Gabrielle across the room carefully repositioning any objects that blocked their path. When they reached the inside door, Xena flicked off their flashlight.
Putting her ear to the door, Xena listened for any sounds on the other side. Hearing none, she felt for the door handle, slowly turning it. She opened the door just enough to see through. Another dark room met her gaze. Hearing no sound, Xena opened the door wider. She flicked on the flashlight and swept it's beam around the room. She smiled as she saw that they had indeed entered the professor's lab. Gabrielle stepped into the room and gently closed the door behind them.
"Is this it?" Gabrielle whispered as she looked around the room.
"Looks like," Xena whispered back.
The room was half the size of the museum, long tables stretched along it's sides. Cabinets and shelves hung on the walls above the tables. Boxes and crates were stacked under the tables. In the middle of the room were four tables pushed together to create a large square work area. Artifacts and skeletal remains covered every flat surface in the room. The cabinets and shelves were full and even some of the shipping crates still held their contents. Some of the artifacts had already been examined and bore small tags labeling them while others had yet to be identified. There was a lot to look through and very little time to accomplish it.
"See if you can find Xenan. There's another torch in the bag."
"Flashlight," Gabrielle corrected as she reached into the tool bag. Once found, she turned it on and crossed to the far side of the room where several large shipping crates sat. Most of the crates' lids had been removed and Gabrielle looked in to find a jumble of bones. Gabrielle gasped when she saw their contents, then called softly to Xena.
"What have you found," Xena asked. Looking into one of the crates, Xena saw that many of the bones had arrowheads and spear points still imbedded in them. "It must be the centaurs that Lord Belach's men massacred."
"By the gods," Gabrielle gasped. "He dug them all up. We'll never find Xenan in there."
"We don't have to," Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle and hugged her tight.
"What do you mean?"
"The doctor had reconstructed Xenan's skeleton. So, it can't be one of those." Xena guided Gabrielle back to the other side of the room. "Let's keep looking."
It took a while but Xenan was finally found in a specially designed box. The scientist had taken the skeleton back apart after making his photographs and his bones now lay loose in the box. Xenan's leather vest and cloth hat lay atop his remains. Tears filled the women's eyes as they saw what had become of their friend.
"Let's get him out of here," Xena gently closed the box's lid and secured it in place. She started to lift the box but was stopped by Gabrielle.
"Wait," Gabrielle grabbed Xena's arm. "We can't leave without Nika and Borias.
Xena looked about the room. Bones of centaurs and humans were everywhere. "How will we know which ones they are?" she asked Gabrielle. "We're running out of time."
Gabrielle looked around the room. Above one of the tables she saw a fine mist floating. "There," she pointed.
Xena looked at where Gabrielle pointed and also saw the mist. "Ephiny?"
On the table lay two skeletons. One an adult human, the other a centaur child.
After carefully adding the remains of Nika and Borias to the box containing Xenan, Gabrielle asked, "what about the others?"
"We can't save them all, love," Xena sadly told her.
Gabrielle nodded, "It's not fair that they end up this way."
The women prepared to make their escape, Xena lifted the heavy box and followed Gabrielle back into the storage room. Gabrielle was pulling the door closed when the lab's lights were switched on and two guards entered. Xena gently set the box down as Gabrielle quietly pulled the door shut. They could hear the men talking on the opposite side of the door.
"Looks like everything is okay," one of the guards said.
"I'm telling you, I heard something in here," the second guard was moving around the room.
"Looks fine to me," the first guard countered. "Maybe you were hearing ghosts."
"That's not funny," the second guard said. "Having all these bones around gives me the willies. Don't know how anyone could work in here."
"Yeah. Come on, let's get out of here."
As the first guard crossed the room, he stopped at the center table. "Hey, weren't there more bones on this before?"
The second guard moved closer, "now that you mention it, I think there were."
Looking around the room, the first guard said "maybe someone was in here."
"Where could they go? There's only one door into this room," the second guard said. "It's not like there's any place to hide."
"Except that old storage room," the first guard announced before moving to the door Xena and Gabrielle hid behind.
Xena's hand searched the edge of the door for a lock, she found none. She could hear the guard getting closer, in another moment he would be opening the door. Xena placed her hand on the knob and held it as still as she could.
"I thought the professor said this door didn't lock," the guard tried to turn the knob.
"He also said the room hadn't been used in years. Maybe it's stuck," the other guard tried the knob.
"Come on, we better wake up the professor and find out if he moved those bones earlier."
"We could try to force it open," the guard was still trying to turn the door knob.
"Why bother. If someone is hiding in there, they're not going anywhere. Only way out is through the lab."
"Guess your right. But, just in case, I'll stay here while you go call the professor."
"Good idea. You hear anything, use the walkie-talkie."
"That was close," Gabrielle quietly let out the breathe she was holding as they listened to footsteps as the guards crossed the lab's floor. One guard obviously stopped at the door leading into the workroom while the other continued into the workroom and beyond.
"No kidding," Xena bent to lift the box. "Let's get out of here before they alert Hutchins."
Turning her flashlight back on, Gabrielle carefully led them back through the maze of clutter and out the old doorway. Gabrielle tried to close the door but it would not budge.
"Leave it," Xena told her. "It's not like they won't figure it out eventually."
Nodding, Gabrielle followed Xena through the shrubs and into the courtyard.
"I'm going to have to take this over then come back for you," Xena set the heavy box down and shook out her cramping arms.
"Okay," Gabrielle nervously looked at the building, lights now shining in previously dark rooms. "Looks like the alarm is being sounded."
"I won't be long," Xena took Gabrielle's face in her hands and gently kissed her. "I love you."
"I love you, too," Gabrielle returned the kiss. "Now, go."
Xena picked up the box. "Sorry about this, guys," she said to the box. "You might get a little bounced around in there." With that she took off running and disappeared over the hedge.
Gabrielle watched Xena go then turned her attention back to the building. There was sign of increasing activity inside the structure and Gabrielle could hear raised voices. As she moved back into the shrubs to hide, she hoped no guard would think of checking the courtyard for intruders. Hearing movement behind her, she turned just in time to see Xena reappear over the hedge.
"Ready?" Xena asked after Gabrielle had climbed onto her back.
Again, Xena took a running start and soared over the hedge. Once on the other side, Gabrielle quickly slid from her back. Xena picked up the box and the women started for their truck. Gabrielle ran ahead to unlock the ranger's doors and start the engine. When she reached the truck, Xena placed the box in the bed and secured it with a rope Gabrielle had retrieved from the emergency supplies they always carried.
Satisfied the box was secure, the women climbed into the cab and drove quietly away.
They had traveled only a few blocks when they heard sirens screaming in the distance.
"Xe, we've got trouble."
"I hear them," Xena pulled the truck to the curb, she left the engine running but switched off the lights. Then, she tilted her seat back allowing her to drop below level of the window. Gabrielle immediately followed her example. Both women held their breath as the police cars rapidly approached. The cab was lit with the flashing red and blue lights as the police cars sped past them and continued on their way to the campus. Xena waited until the lights faded before raising herself high enough to peek out the window. The street was clear.
Releasing her held breath, Xena popped her seat back upright and switched on the truck's lights. She eased away from the curb and drove directly to the highway that would take them out of town.
After driving in silence for several miles, Gabrielle spoke. "We can't take them back to Greece, can we?"
"Not after Dr. Hutchins' meeting with Gabrielle and Seena from ARGO yesterday. Greece will probably be the first place he looks for us."
"What will we do?" Gabrielle asked softly.
"Don't worry, love," Xena smiled at her. "I have an idea."
Several days later.
Xena and Gabrielle stand atop a small hill above the meadow. A large ponderosa pine dominates the hilltop and protects the newly dug grave at its foot. Xena wraps her arms around Gabrielle as they read the carved wooden headstone they had just placed in the soft earth atop the grave.
Xenan, Nika, Borias
They will always live in our hearts
A mist appeared beside the women and slowly materialized into Ephiny. She looks around at the snow covered mountains in the distance, the river running several hundred feet below the hill, and the forest that surrounded them. "It's a beautiful spot. They'll be happy here," she smiles.
The sound of hoofs striking dirt could be heard along with a child's laugh. Xena and Gabrielle watched as Xenan and Borias emerged from the forest, Nika riding on Xenan's back. They stop as they clear the trees, Borias prancing and laughing at his parent's feet.
Ephiny turns to her friends, "I must go."
"Take care," Xena tells the Amazon as she tightens her hold on Gabrielle.
"I'll miss you," Gabrielle can no longer hold back the tears that fall from her eyes.
"I'll miss you too," her voice catching on the words. "I'm glad you're back."
Xena and Gabrielle watch as their friends slowly fade from sight.
"Let's go home," Xena grasped Gabrielle's hand and leads her slowly down the hill.
A blazing fire warms the log house. Two entwined bodies lay on furs spread out on the floor in front of the fireplace. A hint of their recent lovemaking hangs in the air. Xena lays on her side with Gabrielle in her arms, she gently caresses her lover's body.
"Dinar for your thoughts," Xena asked when she saw the faraway look in Gabrielle's eyes.
"Okay, penny for your thoughts," Xena kissed Gabrielle's arm.
"I was just thinking about mothers."
"What about mothers?"
"How much mothers love their children."
"Oh," Xena's lips continued across Gabrielle's shoulder and up her neck.
"How much Cyrene loved you."
"Um," Xena kissed a sensitive earlobe.
"How much Ephiny loves Xenan."
Xena continued her assault on Gabrielle's body.
"How much you love Solan."
Pushing herself up onto an elbow, Xena gazed down at her lover. "Do I detect a pattern here?"
With a quick twist of her legs, Gabrielle throws Xena onto her back and stretches her body on top of her lover's.
"Well, I was just thinking," Gabrielle rests her chin and Xena's breastbone and gazes at her. "In this world, there are many different ways for two people in love to have a child."
"Oh, really," the sides of Xena's mouth slowly pulls up in amusement.
"Yes, really," Gabrielle smiles back.
"Well, then," Xena flips Gabrielle back over. "I guess we'll just have to try out a few," she said before capturing the sweet lips of her lover.
In the background, their favorite singer sings...
Making love 'til the early morning light,
Only whets our appetite,
this will be another sleepless night.
Old Friends - Copyrighted 2003
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