Last thing from me until I finish any new stuff... A couple of things are finishing up.
As to this story: When the Night Closes In... I've included a link to Katrina's stuff
(with her permission) because "Bite Me" and "The Fonder Heart" are the
springboards... I hope that's okay. Thanks again for hosting it, S. -- The truth is... I
don't want to be too happy, because... then what? --Ally McBeal
Disclaimers: Gabrielle, Xena, etc. are all properties of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. Louis, Lestat, et al belong to Anne Rice and whomever owns her. I am merely borrowing all of them for some rather odd experiments.
Sex/Violence Disclaimers: There are consensual acts of love between two women described. As for violence... you put Xena in a room full of vampires, what do you think you're going to get? Hmmm....? So, yeah, there's a bit of blood here. Nothing too graphic on either scale.
General Disclaimers: The premise of this story is based on Katrina's "Bite Me" and "The Fonder Heart" which can be found at: http://bearblue.simplenet.com/xenafic.html . I highly recommend both stories, the gist of which is that Gabrielle is the immortal daughter of Bacchus and Xena is the immortal daughter of Ares.
Questions, comments, and other things can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
When the Night Closes In
By: SL Bowers
"What do you mean 'we've found some more chapters!!!!!!!!'" Martin Berman bellowed into the phone. Martin was the editor-in-chief at Ballantine Books. He had only been in the position for a few years, but already he was consolidating his position as one of the most savvy publishers playing the game. In this age of spiraling author's advances and dwindling book sales, just having good reviews or decent sales weren't enough. No today, people clamored for "event novels"-- like Grisham's or Clancy's... but the fact of the matter was... there just weren't enough Grishams or Clancys to go around. And he wasn't sure he'd publish them even if he did. For deep down-- way deep down, buried beneath the thousand dollar suits and the gruff talk about margins and returns-- Martin Berman loved books, loved the written word with a passion that surpassed anything else in his life. A situation his wife often commented on bitterly before she left him for the arms of a pool boy, who was presumably more impressed with her... unwritten... attributes.
Martin's particular publishing gift was for finding not only eminently salable books, but also ones that were graced with nuance, style and intriguing prose. In short, books that were literate bestsellers. Event novels. Who was he to point out that well-written novels shouldn't be a unusual thing? Sometimes he'd had to sacrifice a little quality in the name of the almighty bottom line, but he did so as rarely as possible. And now...
Now he was confronted with the very thing that he'd entered publishing for... an unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime discovery.
Like everyone else, he had read Interview With a Vampire upon its first publication. Then it had been a best-selling sensation, what with its mysterious unknown interviewer, Daniel, and the unforgettable voice of the book's narrator, Louis. There were those who whispered that the stories were true; most passed it off as pure fiction. But the stories had grown and multiplied over the years, and Daniel and Louis had remained a mystery-- an impossibility in the literary world of visibility-hungry authors. So the discovery of additional chapters was something of a marvel.
Briefly Martin pondered the publishing history of the book. He knew that the book had arrived mysteriously in the offices of one of his predecessors, already edited. The terse note attached had asked for no royalties or legal rights, only that the book be published-- if the editors were interested-- as quickly as possible. The result was a mass market paperback that had flown off the shelves at an unbelievable rate. It seemed back then, that no one had known the treasure they'd had. Subsequent re-issues had kept Ballantine afloat in leaner times, but there had never been another word from the book's elusive authors. This discovery was the first indication they'd had that there was some sort of editing process, that there were things left out ...things Louis hadn't wanted to say to the world at large... For Martin was one of the believers-- a small detail he kept to himself, like most things in his private life-- something in Louis' writings had rung true with the literary publisher, and he had always hungered to know more.
"Martin?" The voice of Pete McCarter, his most trusted agent, prompted through the phone. "Martin? You there?"
"What?" Drawing back from his reverie. "How many chapters did you say?"
"Only two, so far, but Martin, I gotta tell you--" the young man couldn't hide the excitement in his tone. "--It's some amazing stuff. Makes the people in Interview look like kids." Pete was a believer too.
"So far? You think we'll find more?" Martin didn't want to know how Pete had stumbled across the San Francisco residence of the Interviewer Daniel. Pete had some... eccentric... habits that Martin didn't question too closely, in return for which, Pete found some of the best manuscripts around.
"Don't know, Martin. We can hope."
Martin could hear the grin through the static-filled line. "So when do I get to read this 'amazing' stuff?"
"Well, I found it late last night. Delta-Dashed it first thing this morning my time--" Referring to a same day air courier service. "It's what-- five o'clock your time now? You should be getting any minute now."
"Why didn't you call me last night?" The publisher demanded. "If it was as good as you say, I could have hopped--"
"I don't think so, Martin." Pete replied quietly. "Besides," the infectious sound of his grin returned to the line. "I was up reading it and rereading it most of the night. You will be too, Martin."
A knock on his office door interrupted the conversation. "Come!" Martin called.
"Package for you, Mr. Berman," Lyta, Martin's secretary of five years, brought the carefully-wrapped parcel in and laid it on the corner of Martin's desk.
"Thanks, Ly--" Returning to the call. "It just got here, Pete."
"Great! Then I'll ring off and let you get to it."
"Thanks Pete. Make sure you let me know if you find any more."
"I will. Oh and Martin--" Pete recalled him to the line as he was about to hang up the phone. "Find someplace comfortable-- and well-lit-- to read it. I did."
Martin chuckled as he hung up. Taking the package in his hands, he walked the long length of his office and settled comfortably on the couch, turning on a lamp as he sat down. Not much light... he mused briefly, before tearing open the manuscript in his hands ...but I guess it'll have to do...
The First Chapter
Claudia and I fled to Paris after we destroyed Lestat, searching for our own kind, searching for any hints or clues that we were not alone. Lestat had never been interested in sharing the story of his origins-- I think he used the mystery to keep me enthralled past the time when I ordinarily would have left him. Claudia was like an eager child again, anxious to see the lights of a city we had only read about. And slowly, slowly our lives returned to something resembling the peace we had once known together as a family.
Deep in my heart, I knew that I could never forgive myself for having a hand in Lestat's destruction, but I could not bring myself to truly mourn him. Rather, he was like a phantom pain, a ghost of a missing limb. I felt him near always-- even as his body rotted deep in a Louisiana swamp.
Claudia and I hunted separately on these Parisian streets. Her taste in victims did not match my own, and indeed the joy she experienced in bloodletting reminded me a little too much of Lestat. While she preferred the aristocrats-- another inheritance from our dark father-- I kept to the vermin of the City of Lights. The theives, pickpockets, and murderers that were the city's underbelly became the life's blood flowing through my veins. I took to spending the evenings in caliginous taverns where the whores went on slow nights. There they showed me much of what my fine literature, my exquisite art, did not show me. The crawling, seething mass of a people desperate for survival proved that life will find a way, no matter what its conditions.
This night started no differently from any of the others. We had been in Paris for about three months, and had seen no sign of others like us. Claudia was happy-- happy as she ever could be, an immortal trapped in a child's body. And she went off to hunt with that primal gleam in her eye that always made me shiver.
I returned to my tavern.
There was a brawl along the bar between two tavern whores-- scratching, clawing over something I doubt either of them could remember. And the men just stood jeering, calling out encouragement to their favorites. As long as the gold pieces kept flowing and the whores didn't damage too much, the barkeeper wasn't too inclined to break up the scuffle. Free entertainment.
I saw her immediately. Sitting at the corner of the bar, clutching a glass of ale tightly in her hand, although it didn't look like she was drinking too much of it. She wore the garish costume and make-up of a streetwalker, but her eyes were still tender. If she were truly plying her trade in the streets, she couldn't have been at it long. I noticed that mine were not the only pair of eyes upon her. Indeed the waif seemed to be the subject of considerable leering scrutiny. One of the pimps-- a youth that I seen here a number of times-- stood at her shoulder, whispering intently to her, a rapacious glint in his eyes. I had heard him called "Christophe" and had witnessed the effects of his "patronage" before. His girls never lasted long-- suffering not only at the hands of those who offered coin for their services, but also at Christophe's hands as well. For he had a mean streak that left his girls bloody and marred. Tonight-- I decided-- watching the trembling girl under his hands, would be the last time he misused anyone.
I bided my time, the thirst simmering at the back of my throat, content to let it build now that my choice was made. I tried not to look at the young one or think about the supple flesh visible at the base of her neck. That was not for me. I had spent too many years watching Lestat make a mockery of their softness, listening to their cries for mercy falling on his deaf ears. No, I would not feed on the tender one, as much as the hunger might clamor for it.
Although I was prepared to be patient, my waiting was abruptly ended as I watched Christophe drag her towards the back entrance to the filthy alley where there was no light. It was a place used by the whores when their "gentlemen" had neither the time nor the wherewithal for a more suitable location. I frequently heard the noises-- unnoticed by human ears-- emanating from the darkness. I waited for few moments, wanting Christophe to be certain he was alone with his prey. Moving silently and unseen, I followed them, intent on ending the tender one's suffering and feeding my own hunger.
What happened next astonished me beyond all measure...
A shadow, blacker than the night itself, flickered across my line of vision and separated Christophe from his victim. Had I been mortal, I wouldn't have seen it. Certainly the pimp had no idea what happened. The girl-- who had been in the process of "servicing" her pimp-- fell away with a quiet cry. A minacious, throaty laugh filled the alley as the shadow picked Christophe up tossed him solidly against the stone wall. "Get up," the specter growled, bending over him. It stilled long enough for me to discern the barest hint of a face as the silvery moonlight glanced off the sharp angles of her features. A female. "You like bullying women?" She barked. "Let's see you try it with me." She hurled him the length of the alley and again stalked over to him.
By this time Christophe had regained what few senses he had left and was scrambling to his feet. There was no longer any fight left in him-- for his true sport was torturing the helpless-- and I could see the desperation in his face. He struck out blindly at his attacker, who batted his arm away as if he were a child. "Please--" he whispered.
"Is that what they say to you?" She asked, menace snaking through her low, even tones. "What do you do when they beg you to stop?" She grasped him by the hair as he flailed about, dragging him up to his knees. "Do you laugh?" She back-handed him hard across the face, and I could see the blood running in black rivulets down his cheeks. My mouth watered at the sight, but I knew he would not be my sustenance tonight.
My senses prompted me to leave, to vanish silently in search of other nourishment, but I was spellbound by the creature before me. She was not of my kind-- I could feel the warm thud of her heart and smell the heady, rich scent of her blood. This one was flush with life in a way I had never encountered before. And standing in the darkness, watching her, feeling her life, I hungered. Not just for the flesh and blood that were no longer mine, but for the wild joy that pulsed through her being. I did not think to make her one of my own victims-- not least because I doubted that I could overcome her, even though she was only human-- but also because it would be a grevious sin to steal such a vibrant force.
She pummeled him with steady, effortless strokes, denying him the mercy he mewled for. "What's the matter, little man?" she laughed. "You don't like the taste of your own medicine?" I saw the glimmer of metal in the moonlight and realized that the pimp had managed to free his blade. Before I had truly registered it, Christophe swung the blade at the specter. There was a soft grunt, followed by a growl of rage. The pimp's head was jerked abruptly up and twisted, the neck snapping with a loud crunch! that echoed off the walls.
She flung the corpse down disgustedly. "Fool!" she spat. I didn't know if she was cursing him for making her kill him or herself for getting cut. There was silence and then the quiet squelch of the blade leaving flesh. I saw the wicked looking metal clatter on the cobblestones next its deceased owner.
I waited for the specter to leave, but she stood in the alley, her head slightly cocked. The whore had long since fled; not wishing, I presumed, to trade her master for a new mistress. So we stood there-- two hunters-- one knowing and one not.
Or so I thought.
"You can show yourself," she remarked in the silence. "I know you followed them out. And I know you're still here."
I hestiated. I had never known a mortal to detect my presence when I did not wish it. What was she?
Slowly I stepped from my cover of darkness.
"Ah-- You." A lop-sided smile in my direction. "I've seen you before, you know. And wondered."
Up close I could see the striking nature of her features. Long, raven hair tumbled wildly about her shoulders, framing the elegant line of her face. Her lips were curled back in a half-smirk, half-smile revealing even, white teeth. But what hypnotized me most about this stunning creature was the fierce, burning pale of her eyes. Even in the darkness they simmered with sentience-- so different from my own.
She was dressed all in black, in the tight-fitting trousers and boots that the gentlemen of the day wore. I could see the sleek outline of her muscles resting against the fabric of her shirtwaist as she moved her hand away from her side. The air around me was filled with the almost over-powering metallic scent of her blood, and involuntarily, I licked my lips. The movement was not unnoticed by the one standing before me. I saw her mouth twitch in suppressed amusement and began to grow irritated that I seemed to provide her with such entertainment.
True, I didn't use my dark nature to cow my victims as Lestat had. Perhaps it was years of watching him toy with his victims that made me shun the inherent power of my state. But if I didn't consciously use my power, I had grown accustomed to at least making mortals uneasy in the face of my strangeness. They saw the stillness that was awareness of things hidden to them and the veil of remoteness that covered my eyes. They were instinctively afraid. This one was not.
"I guess I interrupted your dinner," she smirked. "Tell me," she said, circling around me. "Who were you after-- the pimp or the whore?"
She knew what I was and was not frightened. A chill crept down my spine, the likes of which I hadn't felt since I was last mortal myself. "What does it matter to you?"
"It doesn't." She face me again and shrugged. "Because one is dead and the other has run away. You're out of luck."
"There is always you." Wondering if being in the presence of one who was beyond death did not frighten her, what in God's name would?
At this, she threw her head back, baring her throat in a deliberate taunt, and laughed. "No, I don't think so..." She cocked her head again at me. "What is your name?"
"Louis," I replied, not knowing why I did so.
She nodded, "Louis. Others of your kind have tried to make a meal of me..." She regarded me soberly. "They didn't enjoy the results."
"Others?" The word leapt out before I could stop it.
The strange hunter arched an expressive brow and considered me. "Yes. Your kinsmen, I assume. Are you alone?"
"There is one I travel with. And the one who made us." Emptiness filled my voice, much to my shame. "But other than that, I am alone. How do you know of us, if you are not one--" My brain was teeming with questions. This mortal had answers to things I had only dreamed about knowing. She knew of others-- had fought with them and won. A thousand things danced on my tongue. "How?" I began, but she cut me off with a shake of her head.
"Look... I'm no storyteller." Here she grinned inexplicably. "But I know a really good one. Why don't you come with me, Louis? Maybe we can help." A warmth shone from her eyes and curled its way into my frozen soul. Silently I acquiesced, and we left the alley. As we headed down the dimly-lit street, she turned to me. "But the way," she smiled. "My name's Xena."
The Second Chapter
We moved easily through the uncrowded Parisan streets. I still had half the night left until dawn threatened me once more. She led me to a quarter of the city where I had never been before on my prowls. There were people exchanging laughter and stories along the sidewalk tables, and music flowed sweetly from the open windows and spilled onto the cobblestone streets. I knew now why I had never come here-- it was a place filled with laughter and light. There were no killers here.
Except, apparently, for the woman who walked beside me.
The hunter, this Xena, was not one for talk. She remained silent on our short journey, and I took the opportunity to study her further. She was as tall as I, standing straight and proud. When she moved, it was with a primal grace that called to mind great jungle creatures. I could feel her heart, smell her warmth-- still I couldn't help but believe that she was more than human. It wasn't just that she defied all conventions of what I had been taught a woman should be; there was a preternatural awareness in her. I could feel the darkness surrounding her soul, but I sensed no evil. Certainly not the evil that lurked in the souls of those that had created Lestat, and by extension, Claudia and myself. I knew she was conscious of my scrutiny, but she seemed not to mind. As if she were used to people staring. Which, in fact, they were doing as we made our way into one of the well-lit establishments.
It was a light, airy place, with none of the stench and crowding of the taverns I was accustomed to visiting. This was a place people came to share companionship and conversation. It was not a place of dissolution or escape. Immediately I noticed the hunter's eyes searching the crowd-- and lighting up with a quiet joy when they found the one they were seeking. I followed her gaze and saw a slight, honey-haired woman making her way towards us-- the same joyous expression on her face.
Like Xena, this one moved with a quiet grace as well, but unlike the hunter, there was nothing predatory about her. As she moved, she looked to me to be the essence of light itself. Seeing her smile at the woman beside me was like watching a sunrise-- something I had not seen in more years than I could remember.
Then she was beside us, raising her arms to the tall woman and encircling her neck. Catching her in a full embrace, the hunter buried her face in the light one's hair, and I heard her whisper, "Gabrielle..."
Then they separated, and the smaller woman poked her companion in the stomach, "You're late--"
I missed the tiny wince from the tall woman, but the minute gesture didn't escape the one she called Gabrielle.
"Xe-- What happened?"
"It's nothing," she shrugged. "Just a scrape. We can stitch it up. But first..." she motioned to me. "Gabrielle, this is Louis."
The red-head reluctantly turned her attention from Xena and regarded me with a furrowed brow. Then she smiled again, and it was so inviting that I couldn't help but return it. She nodded in understanding. "He's--" her voice trailed off.
"Yeah," Xena agreed, as if I weren't there. "He's looking for... information." Then she, too, grinned at me.
Gabrielle returned her attention to Xena. "You're bleeding, love," she murmured, plucking at the woman's shirt. The black cloth hid much of the blood, but anyone could see it was soaked through. "Why don't we go upstairs and get settled? Patrice can take care of everything tonight. It's not too busy. Then maybe we can help Louis with what he needs."
I realized with a start that this was their establishement. I took a second look around the room, absorbing the contented mutter of the people, the easy familiarity that surrounded them. After witnessing the brutal efficiency with which she had dispatched the pimp, I had difficulty placing the one called Xena here. Then I looked again at her lean form, the way she enfolded the red-head in her arms, the gentle smile that tugged at the corners of her lips. The ruthless hunter was gone, replaced with a startlingly tender lover. And I understood that what the people surrounding us were basking in was an extension of the bond between these two women.
Their quarters were well-appointed, but by no means opulent. The colors were rich jewel tones-- deep emeralds and crimsons-- that absorbed the light and reflected back a burnished glow. The furniture was substantial and-- I immediately noticed-- quite comfortable. "Make yourself at home," Gabrielle told me, motioning to a cozy arrangement of chairs and couches. I sank down into the welcoming embrace of an overstuffed chair and couldn't resist propping my feet on the matching ottoman. I watched with concealed amusement as the small woman pushed the hunter over to a settee and briskly began unbuttoning her ripped shirt. Noticing Xena's brow arched in my direction, I scrambled to my feet and began to excuse myself. "Sit down--" the smalle woman commanded me with surprising fimrness. Then she studied her mate with an amused smile. "It's a little late in life to be getting modest, don't you think, love?"
The hunter shrugged her acceptance and surrendered herself to Gabrielle's gentle ministrations.
"Besides," the small woman continued. "It will save Louis the trouble of having to tell his story twice. While I sew you up. Again." She snickered with only a trace of exasperation in her voice. She turned to glance at me. "You do have a limited amount of time to work with, am I right?"
I nodded, mesmerized by the lilting cadence of her voice and the sureness of her touch against the tall woman. Gabrielle had removed the shirt and tossed it matter-of-factly on the polished hardwood floor, where it lay in a silken heap. There was an ugly gash on Xena's torso that stood in striking contrast to smooth bronze skin on the rest of her body. Gabrielle bustled about the room leaving several times to gather various supplies while Xena and I sat in silence. Although the pleasures of carnal flesh no longer held any temptation for me, I couldn't help but admire the sleek lines of the hunter's body-- the finely muscled abdomen, the broad expanse of her shoulders, and the full curve of her breasts. She had none of the preening self-awareness of a great beauty or the coy modesty of someone who knows they're being watched. She merely waited patiently for her wound to be tended.
I knew they were lovers. Knew it in the first glance I had seen exchanged between them. But here in their rooms, there was an overwhelming aura of their passion for each other. They had been together a long while-- I could feel that-- yet there was an eroticism that simmered just underneath the easy companionship they so obviously shared. As the slight one tended to her mate, I saw the lazy flicker in those pale blue eyes and heard the slight jump in her heartbeat that was her body's response to her lover's touch.
"You know, Xena-- I swear--" Gabrielle bantered as she swabbed the wound. "I think you actually heal faster now. If that's possible."
I focused on the cut area that was now being stitched. I blinked and looked again. The wound was more severe than I had thought. From its placement and the amount of blood I had seen, it was very deep and, in fact, should have punctured her lung at the very least. Yet the woman had reacted to it as no more than a nick. My eyes widened at the sight, and I thought again about what this woman could be.
"There you go--" Gabrielle finished her stitching and tied off the thread. "No stunts for a couple of days, you. Don't want to tear those stitches." She grinned and then bent down and swiftly kissed the wound. I caught a brief flicker of the red-head's tongue against the wound, saw her catch a stray droplet of her lover's blood and swallow it.
And then I understood.
Or so I thought.
"Who are you?" I whispered.
"Tease," Xena muttered fondly to her partner who grinned impishly in reply. "I'm going to get a shirt." With supple grace, she rose from the settee and sauntered from the room.
"You're like me?" I asked. But it couldn't be. I felt their warmth. Heard their hearts.
"Not exactly," Gabrielle smiled. "Tell me... how old are you?"
"I was born in 1771. Reborn to the Dark Gift in 1791. I know of no others but the one who created me and the one I travel with. That's why we came to Paris, because that's where he came from--" Even now I did not wish to speak Lestat's name.
"And you were searching for others like yourself--" Xena returned to the room. She had donned a billowing blue shirtwaist, open at the neck and rolled up at the sleeves. Sprawling on the settee with negligent ease, she rejoined us. Gabrielle took her hand and absentmindedly entwined their fingers.
"Louis," Gabrielle spoke quietly. "Why do you want to find others like yourself?"
All of my fears, all of my anger at not knowing why spewed forth. "Because there has to be a reason why God allows this to happen!" I gestured to myself. "By any measure what we are is an abomination!" I looked wildly from one woman to the other. "I accepted the Dark Gift because he said it would take away all my pain, all my anguish at losing my wife and child. I thought my soul was dead then--" I laughed bitterly. "Little did I know that I would truly learn what it feel like to have your soul die, yet remain among the living."
Compassion marked the little one's face, but the hunter looked at me with scorn. "And you think that there's some magical answer for your pain?" I could hear an edge in her low tones.
"Xena--" Her lover's voice held a warning note. The tall woman continued to gaze at me for a moment longer before she looked at Gabrielle and laughed ruefully.
"You're right. You should tell the story." Something that I did not understand then glittered in her eyes. Something forbidding and angry.
"Do you hate what you are, Louis?" Gabrielle gently asked.
"I hate the violence that created me. The despair that led me to seek it. I hate the thirst and the darkness in which I live. But I cannot hate the Gift completely." I shook my head sorrowfully.
"And why is that?" she probed.
"Because I live--" And I thought back to the first night I awoke with vampire eyes. When the statues seemed to move and the silence spoke in siblant whispers. Lestat had taken away my humanity-- and I missed that part of myself fiercely-- but the senses with which he gifted me in its stead were something that I never tired of experiencing.
I said nothing else, but I could see the knowledge reflected in the honey-haired one's eyes. She knew. She understood. And she had a grace that I could not fathom. A grace that I envied and desperately wished for myself.
"When you were in school, Louis, did you read the myths about the ancient gods?"
It was an unexpected question, and my confusion shone clear in my expression. Xena snickered at the befuddled look on my face. I shrugged in reply. "Of course. Everyone did."
"You think I'm like you, Louis. But what would you say if I told you in reality I'm much older than any of your kind. That in fact what you call the Dark Gift is really a bastardization of what I am?"
I stared at her in amazement, and she began to tell me the story of who and what she was...
I cannot tell you all the things she said that night. I learned of ancient gods-- that I thought were myth, fairty tales told to sleepy children-- who still walked the earth in silence. I learned of Akasha-- Gabrielle's sibling and Bacchus' other daughter-- how she had betrayed her father and given the gift to mortals. Bacchus' punishment resulted in what I was-- cursed to travel only in darkness and forced to live on the sustenance of the life's blood that flowed through mortals' veins. Gabrielle had no such limits-- she had seen every sunrise since the before the birth of Christ, had known the pleasures of mortality and immortality. Loved and was loved by this strange woman stretched out beside her.
I looked once more at the dark hunter appraising me through hooded eyes. She had been silent throughout Gabrielle's recitation, neither offering commentary nor elucidation. "You're like Gabrielle?" I finally asked.
"Not exactly," she drawled.
"But I don't understand," I replied, turning to the honey-haired one. "You said your sire punished Akasha for bringing the gift to mortals. Yet you gave the gift to Xena--" For I realized now that the woman before me was more than human. Far, far more. Like her mate.
Gabrielle began to speak, but the hunter interrupted her. "Gabrielle didn't give me-- what did you call it?-- the Dark Gift. I was already immortal." She snorted in derision. "Although I didn't know it."
I merely stared at her, uncomprehending.
"My--" here she paused, looking at Gabrielle. "--Sire--" she spat the word. "-- Was also one of the Olympians. Ares-- to be exact."
My eyes widened in astonishment.
"Yes, that God of War," she answered my silent question. "Althought I didn't discover it until I was already grown-- and already in love with Gabrielle--" she smiled at her mate.
"If Xena hadn't been immortal, maybe we would be as you are right now-- because living without her all these centuries would have been unthinkable. Perhaps I would have acted as Akasha did," Gabrielle spoke softly. "I don't know. Louis, I know what your heart feels. I know what the hunt does to you-- believe me. I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I could only live on--" her voice faded, and I watched as the dark one comfortingly encircled her slim shoulders with a long arm. "But please believe me-- you are not evil-- Xena and I have seen evil and fought it. That's not you. I beg you, Louis-- make your peace with what you are. You are not the one who made you, nor are you those you have yet to meet."
I looked at her questioningly.
She nodded at me. "There are others here, Louis. And they already who you and Claudia are." I was shocked that she knew Claudia's name, for I was certain that I hadn't mentioned it yet. "Be careful," she warned. Before she could say anything further, the clock chimed as five delicate strokes marked the hour. Xena rose from her place and strolled to the window.
"It's almost dawn." She looked at me. "You won't have time to get
home." Quirking a brow, her lip curled into a feral grin. "Do you trust
Looking into the warm verdant eyes of the honey-haired one, I answered. "Yes."
They showed me to a hidden chamber cloaked behind the walls of their own sleeping room. As they led me through their bedchamber, I looked upon the wide balcony windows with envy. Gabrielle could gaze up the sun as often as she wished-- and from the looks of her softly tanned body-- she played in the sun with frequency. "You'll be safe here," were her last words to me as she slid the door of the chamber safely shut-- keeping me from the prying tendrils of what they called Helios. I still had a few hours before the Sleep claimed me, and I began pondering all they had told me. They looked askance upon my God, whom they referred to as the "one god." They were immortals who were flesh and blood-- with heartbeats and warm skin-- this Xena and Gabrielle were flush with the exuberance of life. I could feel their love pulsing through their beings as they sat upon the settee in front of me. Gabrielle had told me dozens of tales of how they had traveled the globe over helping others, helping their children, and in Xena's words "generally cleaning up the scum-- At least that hasn't changed in the last millenium."
The dark one puzzled me-- I sensed bloody depths to her-- and that didn't match my vision of the honey-haired one. But the hunter was undeniably tender with her mate, as if Gabrielle touched something within her denied to all others. As I lay in the darkness, the silence descended-- and I heard them settle into their own bed.
A warm kiss-- and Gabrielle's muffled whisper-- "You know he can sense things mortals can't."
"So?" was the reply. "The Sleep will claim him soon enough. Besides-- I haven't held you in weeks." Another kiss. "I didn't mean to be gone so long," softly, apologetic.
Gentle laughter from the honey-haired one. "You still feel like you have to right every wrong you hear of. Love-- when are you going to realize that you atoned for your own wrongs long ago?"
I could almost feel the shrug from the hunter. "I don't think I'll ever atone, Gabrielle. I still live. The ones I wronged don't."
"And it's that simple in your mind?"
"I guess so." I sensed Xena shifting uncomfortably, but the slender hands of the bard caught her.
"Xena-- I don't want to argue." A soothing, loving tone cascaded over my ears. "I don't want to fight. I just want to be here with you right now. Is that okay? Can you put down that load you're carrying long enough to love me?"
That she could, and did, do. I could hear the sounds of their loving, feel their racing pulses, smell the musky scent of their passion. I suppose I should have felt like a voyuer, but there was nothing prurient about their lovemaking. It was at times gentle, fierce, forgiving, and healing. My last thought-- before the Sleep called to me, and long before the sounds died away-- was of the undeniable force of their bond. They were true immortals, I realized, and their love was testament to that.
When I was released the next evening, I emerged from my compartment to find their rooms empty. There was a message left one of the end tables-- a scroll, I noted wryly, looking at the rolled parchment. It was a note in Gabrielle's hand. The script as generous and flowing as I had come to know her to be.
I'm sorry Xena and I can't be there right now. I know there are so many more questions you have. But we've just gotten word about a threat to one of our children. And I think you know how Xena feels about that.
As much as we'd like to, we can't be your guides. For when it comes right down to it, we are not your kind. You must find your own way. And your own peace. Whether you believe it or not, Louis, you have a gentle heart. I felt it last night, and so did Xena. Be well, my child, and if you ever truly need us-- we'll be there.
That was the last time I ever heard from the honey-haired one and her mate. And she was right. I did need to find my own way and make my own peace. Which I did in a precarious fashion of sorts. I heard various rumors about the Ancient Bard-- as I later learned she was called in Dark Circles. I never heard anything more about the hunter. But sometimes, for no particular reason, I'll feel a blush of warmth spreading through my otherwise cold body. And I'll think of the tender sight of the bard's lips touching the torn flesh of her mate. Oftentimes I wonder if I'll ever cross paths with them-- but I doubt it. They move in places denied even those granted the Dark Gift.
Were they truly blessed? Or eternally damned?
I still don't know.
Martin turned over the last page of the manuscript in his hands. Dawn broke over the New York skyline as he regarded the pages again. It was the fourth time he had read the words-- and they still had not changed. The God of War? The God of Wine? Immortals who walk the daylight? Who don't need to drink of others? He couldn't quite get his complex mind around it. Yet something niggled at the back of this thoughts. There was something familiar about the names the immortal pair.
And then it came to him.
Furiously he raced downstairs to the research room and logged on to the information access terminal. He punched in the keywords Gabrielle, Xena, and Ancient Greece. It only took a moment for the reply to come through.
Gabrielle of Poteidaia-- see also Xena of Amphipolis, Amazon Nation-- c. ? --Commonly thought to be the author of the Xena Scrolls discovered in 1942 by Drs Covington and Pappas. Unknown affiliation to the Amazons, speculation that she was queen in absentia. Some difficulty in naming her eras, as the Scrolls range in time from The Trojan War to encounters with Caesar of Rome. Companion to Xena of Amphipolis, possibly her lover.
Xena of Amphipolis-- see also The Destroyer of Nations, The Lioness of Amphipolis, Gabrielle of Poteidaia-- c. ?-- Warrior Woman believed to have nearly conquered Corinth and Athens. Mythical encounter with Hercules. One of the bloodiest disciples of the mythological god Ares. Responsible for 10,000 dead in one battle. Subject of the Xena Scrolls-- discovered by Drs. Covington and Pappas. At some point in her military career, she disbanded her army and became a crusader for good. Traveled during that time with Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia.
"Oh my God," Martin didn't realize he was speaking aloud. "They were real." His mind raced with the implications. "Which means-- unless something happened to them--" and he didn't know what that could be, given that they were immortal and not subject to the same constraints as the Dark Children. "They're still alive." He grabbed the phone and punched the buttons that would connect him with Pete McCarter.
"Hello?" A voice that was far too awake for the early hour answered.
"Gabrielle and Xena are real--" Martin said without preamble.
A soft snicker. "I was wondering if you would notice."
"I took an archelogy class in college from some flaky feminst professor who talked about the Xena Scrolls. It rang a bell."
"You know that most 'serious' archologists discount the Covington-Pappas discoveries because of the time vagaries," Pete replied. "Even though Carbon-dating confirms the authenticity of the Scrolls."
"But it makes perfect since if they were immortal," Martin's voice rose two octives in his excitement.
"Yes it does, doesn't it?" Pete replied dryly.
"We've got to find them." This was no longer a matter of publishing for Martin. This was a quest. For the first time he had the chance-- slim though it was-- to actually talk to an immortal. Probably the oldest ones still surviving. He couldn't pass it up.
"Finding her might prove difficult." Pete remarked. "I mean I don't think she's listed as Gabrielle the Immortal in the phone book."
Martin paused. There was something off about Pete's tone. Something that worried and excitied him in turns. No... it couldn't be. "Why not check under Xena of Amphipolis?"
Silence on the other end.
"Why finding her, Pete? Why not finding them? You know something, don't you?"
"Something happened to Xena, didn't it, Pete? That's why Louis said he heard rumors about her and not them. And you know where Gabrielle is, don't you?"
A pause. Then a deep breath. "No, Martin, I don't. But I know where to start
A few months later...
"Xena! I'm back... and we're late!" A lithe figure dashed down the wide hall that led to the bedroom she shared with her lover. Shedding clothes as she went, she stopped long enough to duck her head into the darkened study. ...Rats, no Xena. Where is she? The honey-haired woman cocked her head in puzzlement, mentally scanning all the places her partner could possibly be. I've already checked the stables... Marianne said she hasn't gone out... And I really can't miss this opening, especially after I skipped out on the last one... A wicked smile crossed her normally angelic-looking face as she remembered the reason why ...And that was her fault too... She skidded around the corner and came to a sliding halt in the bedroom doorway when she saw the vision that awaited her there...
A quiet breath-- while green eyes widened as they took in the aurulent length of her lover's body reclining comfortably on the bed. The curtains were open on the wide French doors, and fading crimson tentacles of light wrapped themselves languidly around Xena's bare skin. The silken caress of Cassandra Wilson's voice drifted through the room, and Gabrielle smiled inwardly as she recognized the song ...Days of wine and roses indeed... She swallowed audibly, her fingers tangled in the forgotten buttons of her blouse. "I see you got the new sound system rewired." Only centuries of practice on the performer's stage allowed her to keep her voice smooth and her tone conversational. And even the centuries couldn't insulate her from the sheer power of her Xena's naked form-- it snatched her breath away every time. Of course... this isn't your Xena... The nagging voice that reprimanded the smaller woman for her charade had grown fainter with time, and it now struggled weakly to keep the elision from completing.
The immortal one-- or the Ancient Bard, as she was called in dark circles-- was very much aware that the woman who waited so patiently for her to cross the room was not the warrior woman who had first taken her heart. That Xena-- an immortal too-- had been destroyed a century ago in the only way an immortal can die. An angry, relentless god named Callisto had ripped the pair apart, killing the one and condemning the other to walk an eternity alone.
It had started out as the most base of exchanges between the honey-haired immortal and a streetwalker who resembled her Xena so much it made Gabrielle's heart ache. The same onyx hair, the same long long legs, the same crooked smile. Even the velvety drawl with which the prostitute had outlined the terms of their encounter was the same. Only the scars were missing. And when Gabrielle had asked her name, the reply "You can call me Xena..." had been almost unbearable. But something miraculous had happened when the two touched, and now the pair were inseparable. If it wasn't the rejoining of souls that the bard had dreamed of for a century, she was willing to take it anyway.
"You like it?" The contralto rumble jerked Gabrielle out of her musings.
Xena smiled at her lover-- who hadn't blinked since she walked into the room. "The sound system. Why don't you come sit down and listen?" A sensual smile drifted across pale irises darkened in arousal. "Here--" she said, sliding to the corner of the bed nearest Gabrielle and seating herself on the edge. "I'll even meet you half-way."
Hypnotically Gabrielle moved to the beckoning figure of her lover until a long arm slithered out and curled around her waist, tugging her near.
"That's better," the dark woman purred, gently moving Gabrielle's hands from her blouse and deftly removing the silk from the immortal's fair shoulders.
"Xena--" her pulse jumped a notch at the warm weight of Xena's full breasts pressing against her hips, and she bit back a groan ...Oh gods... we're never going to make it... The thought of Spencer Layman's disappointed face allowed her to regain her senses long enough to stop her lover's impending assault on her skin. She had promised the gallery owner she would be there-- and Gabrielle was always a woman of her word. She had been for over two millennia. "Wait!" she breathed, just as Xena's mouth was working its way up the lean length of her muscled abdomen. A brief wave of disappointment washed through Gabrielle's body as the delicious sensations stopped. "We're late-- I mean, I'm running late-- Why--"
"I know you're late, Gabrielle." A throaty murmur replied as a lazy tongue flickered teasingly over one of the bard's pale breasts. "I've been waiting for you for over an hour." The tall woman paused long enough to cast a quick glance to her lover's face. Gabrielle's eyes had drifted shut, and the small woman was unconsciously arching her back slightly in an offering of fair skin to her dark lover. "Do you know how I've been amusing myself in the meantime?" She continued.
Gabrielle shuddered at the satiny stroke of Xena's words and breathed deeply. It didn't take immortally keen senses to detect the faint traces of her lover's musky essence. An all-too-clear picture of what Xena had most likely been doing surfaced in her storyteller's brain, and this time she was helpless to stop the moan that escaped at the image. Before Xena could press her tactical advantage, Gabrielle captured her lover's strong face in her hands, and blue eyes met green with unsettling force. For a timeless instant the bard was lost in the wildly sweeping energy that had been her warrior's quintessence. The women drifted in each other's regard for a long moment until the bard blinked rapidly-- the shrill ringing of the telephone reminding her that this was another century and, most assuredly, another lover.
They hung there, suspended in their embrace until the ringing stopped. "The gallery opening is tonight," she finally ground out.
Xena groaned and dropped her arms. Sprawling backwards on the bed, she eyed her lover with a knowing smirk. "You're going to make me wait here for you all night?" She teased. "There's no telling how much trouble I could get into."
An answering grin formed on the red-head's face. "I have no doubt, my love, that you could find a myriad of ways to amuse yourself." She ran a leisurely glance across her lover's figure, reveling in the glorious expanse of skin displayed before her. "And I would hate not to be a part of that."
"Then come here--"
Continuing on as if she had not been interrupted, "--That's why I have no intention of leaving you here. I want you to come with me. Remember when I told you about this a couple of weeks ago? Spencer's showing a new artist. And I promised him we'd be there. I do own half the gallery, you know."
"Oh no," Xena shook her head and ran a hand through her glossy thick hair. "I am not spending the evening standing in front of big blank canvases that have one splotch of color on them and really absurd titles. Call me uneducated, but I like paintings where the people look like people and you can tell what's going on."
A sliver of laughter ran through Gabrielle. "I promise you. No big splotches." She paused a moment and then, with a storyteller's impeccable timing, added, "Please?"
The one word that never failed to work wonders...
Xena looked at her skeptically. "No splotches? You promise?"
"Okay then... I guess we'd better get a move on." Xena took a deep breath. "I don't know about you, but I need a shower."
"A cold one..." Gabrielle agreed with a chuckle.
Two hours later she and Xena stood in front of a huge white canvas... empty except for the wide swath of red paint slashed haphazardly across its surface. They both squinted at the tiny card to the left of the canvas. The painting's neatly typed title was "Paroxysm of Madness." With a bone-weary sigh, Xena turned to glare at the diminutive form of her lover. Gabrielle had been in her element since they had arrived-- stopping to leave to a kind word with everyone-- radiant in a shimmering gold gown that set the highlights in her honey hair to blazing. When they had walked into the gallery, the immortal had taken one look at the mounted paintings and known she was in for it. Surprisingly, Xena had gamely made the rounds at Gabrielle's side, muttering appropriate comments in front of each canvas. However, now, she suspected with a sinking feeling, "Paroxysm of Madness" was going to be the last straw.
Watching her lover's graceful form, Gabrielle felt the familiar rush of arousal that her lover always inspired. The whole entire evening had been such an orchestrated tease-- Xena lying in wait for her, the long soapy shower, the murmured exchanges in the car-- that Gabrielle thought the slow burn was going to consume her long before they ever reached each other's skin. Or course, given the mood Xena was in currently and the waves of irritation she felt emanating from her partner, the bard was going to be lucky to get a goodnight kiss, let alone anything else.
She sighed wistfully and grinned sheepishly at her lover, "You're going to kill me, aren't you?"
Pale eyes narrowed, and a brow arched to maximum attention. "Well..." she drawled. "What do you think?"
Gabrielle mock-winced and shook her head, "I'm really sorry, Xena. I could have sworn that Spence told me this guy was a photographer. You know, real people and everything." Seeing that Xena's expression didn't change, she repeated. "You're really going to kill me."
The tall woman regarded her companion thoughtfully and pursed her lips. "Hmm... I'm sure I can think of a way you can make it up to me..." She teased quietly.
Ah... there's hope for me yet... A playful light shone in verdant eyes. "I bet you can."
Xena didn't say a word, but her sultry glance caused a beautiful flush to cross Gabrielle's already-warm features-- the eternal blue of Xena's eyes riveting her in place. Snickering unmercifully, Xena finally released her, "You can start by getting me a drink. Scotch and soda-- hold the soda."
"Starting off with the strong stuff?" The bard grinned.
Xena examined the painting again and turned back to her lover. "Better make that a double."
"Okay okay-- I get the picture. Hang on, I'll be right back." She returned to the crowd that ebbed and swirled around each painting and was soon swallowed by their well-turned-out bodies.
As she slipped back into the flow, Gabrielle pretended not to hear the quiet sigh from Xena. When she had asked the dark woman two weeks ago to come to the opening, she knew Xena had been hoping to squirm out of it. In their first year together, Xena had worked hard to keep Gabrielle's busy and varied public life separate from the world they created when together. The bard was well aware that most of her mortal friends looked askance on her sudden relationship with the former prostitute and believed that the dark woman was somehow manipulating the wealthy Gabrielle. I suppose if one of them turned up with a mysteriously beautiful woman who had no past except as a streetwalker, I might raise a brow of my own. But I certainly don't think I'd immediately assume she was some manipulative, gold-digging predator...
The few attempts Xena had made to "mingle" in Gabrielle's daylight world had been... difficult at best. The immortal knew that her associates were pleasant enough when their employer was around, but eventually one or the other of them would comment bitingly on Xena's... station... in the red-head's household when they thought Gabrielle was out of earshot. They're so concerned with their own advancement... No wonder Xena terrifies them. She makes it so obvious she doesn't have the slightest desire to be like them. And they can't understand that. They always have to have an angle, so they assume she does too... the small woman thought with anger. The first time Gabrielle had called one of the cowards on the carpet about his ill-considered remark, Xena's face had gone white with a silent rage, and when they were alone she had launched into a tirade that had shaken the honey-haired woman to the core. "I won't have them thinking I'm hiding behind your skirts, Gabrielle. Let them say what they want... and let them say it to my face. There's no law that says they have to like me to do their jobs. Do you understand me?"
That had been the last time Gabrielle had interceded between her lover and her colleagues. However, she had introduced Xena to a group of people who had embraced her dark lover with an overwhelming enthusiasm. She supposed it should seem strange that the only people who didn't begrudge her relationship with Xena were the wealthiest and most established of the lot. But actually, it made perfect sense. In addition to the small stables she kept at her main house, Gabrielle owned a horse farm in Connecticut that specialized in breeding hunter-jumpers. The jumper classes were an old, old money avocation, but those who moved in that world lived and breathed the sport with a kind of rabid devotion. The only prerequisite for admission to that world was a love of the animal and talent for nurturing it. Everyone was baffled as to why the honey-haired woman who didn't ride had a string of championship horses-- but for the bard, the stables were sort of a living remberance of her traveling days with the warrior-- and she usually left the farm in the capable hands of her trainers.
She had taken Xena to "Argo Farms" on a whim-- mostly just to get out of the hot city and not daring to hope that this urban child would show the same affinity for the animals that her warrior had. But the rapport between woman and beast had been instant. The first time Gabrielle had seen Xena mounted, despite her best efforts, she had burst into tears-- much to her lover's consternation. The vision of Xena mounted on a spirited, cream-colored gelding had been too much for the bard, so strongly had her love for her warrior called to her. She had brushed Xena's concerns away with a weepy smile and a quiet whisper. "You just look so beautiful up there, my love."
They had spent a month at the farm, where both women had discovered Xena had a natural gift for working with the large animals. In an obscenely short amount of time, the dark woman had mastered the art of taking the animals over the large jumps, of learning to read the horse's fears, of pushing them when they needed it and gentling them when they were scared. "I've never seen anything like it," the stable's trainer told Gabrielle one day. "It's like she knows what they're thinking, and they trust her. Most riders would give their eyeteeth for what she's got-- and they've spent their lives on horseback." When the season started in Florida this year, the pair hoped to be able to travel with the string for a little while. There was a two-year old gelding that Xena had worked with at the farm who showed a lot of promise. Besides, it will be a great vacation for us... To get away from all... this... She glanced at the expensive crowd milling around her. I know how she hates this...
Gabrielle continued to bob and weave with the crowd in kind of a nonmusical, social square dance-- changing partners and conversations, dropping sentences here and there, ultimately working her way to the bartender. "I need a Scotch and soda-- hold the soda-- and a glass of white wine." Whew... remind me to suggest to Spence that we have more than one bar at these things from now on. That walk's a killer.
"Gabrielle?" A smooth voice behind her garnered her attention.
She turned to find a distinguished man of about forty-seven standing before her. He had adorably tousled black hair that was just beginning to run to gray, and a slightly rumpled air, despite his immaculately tailored suit. She cocked her head. "Do I know you?"
He smiled agreeably and shook his head. "Unfortunately we've never met. But I have heard a lot about you." He offered his hand. "Martin Berman. I'm a publisher with Ballantine Books."
Gabrielle took the proffered hand and nodded. "That's a fine house, Mr. Berman, but I'm afraid you still have me at a disadvantage. I know nothing about you."
"Well, I hope we can rectify that." He kept grinning at her, and it was such a gleeful I-can't-believe-my-dumb-luck grin that she couldn't help but return it.
Retrieving her hand from their shake, Gabrielle accepted the drinks from the waiting bartender. "Thanks Ted," she said absently. "So how do you know so much about me?" Despite her nonchalant tone, the immortal was extremely concerned. Although she had acquaintances far and wide, the immortal kept a fairly low profile. For obvious reasons. "Do we have a mutual friend?" she finished.
That grin again. "In a manner of speaking. Do you remember Louis?"
It was said with such a breathless air that Gabrielle thought he must be expecting some cataclysmic reaction. But the name jarred no such response from the small woman. "I'm sorry. Who?"
"Louis. You met him in Paris."
"Well," she smiled, "I've met a lot of people in Paris. I go there a couple of times a year."
"Then let me narrow the visit down for you. Actually you were living there. It was the year when your lover killed a pimp who was accosting a young woman and was observed by a vampire, whom she subsequently brought home to be introduced to you. His name was Louis. And the year was 1896-- to be exact. Does that ring a bell?"
Gabrielle felt the color drain from her face and an unnatural cold descend. She took a deep breath and concentrated on the man in front of her. Narrowing her eyes, she studied this Martin Berman. "You're not one of the Dark Children," she said finally.
"No, I'm not. I'm just what I said I was. A book publisher."
"And you think you have some book in this Louis?"
"There's already been a book. I think you've probably heard of it-- Interview with a Vampire?"
Gabrielle sighed as the memories came flooding back. That Louis... Gods I remember now... The salon, the quiet laughter that surrounded her life with the warrior. They had finally achieved some measure of peace... And all of it was destroyed within the span of a year. The salon burned to the ground by Armand's people looking for Louis and Claudia. And then Xena was gone... Callisto's maniacal laughter rang in her ears, as fresh today as it had been a century ago. The bard looked at him, suddenly feeling every one of the years in the two millennia she had walked the earth. "What do you want?" She asked wearily.
He seemed to sense her despair, for his face softened. "I just-- I just want to talk to you. One of my agents found Louis' writings about you. Even before I met you, I believed in Louis, in what he told the world.
"Believing in Louis changed the way I viewed life around me. So many people laughed when Louis first stepped back into the daylight world, and they called Interview a publicity stunt. But it felt so true to me. And now-- searching for you, Gabrielle-- it's taken me to places I never dreamed existed, places that are so far beyond what Louis wrote about. I can't believe I've been there, talked to those people, talked to you. Don't you see--"
Surfacing from her shock long enough to realize they were in a crowded gallery where there was no such thing as a private conversation, she held out an abrupt hand. "We can't talk now," she said harshly. Knowing she couldn't just dismiss this man from her life. He knew who she was. But she sensed no violence in him or intent to harm. And that puzzled her. Usually when people-- mortal or immortal-- sought her out, more often than not it was for some nefarious purpose. And that sorely tasked her naturally optimistic disposition. Life on the road with Xena had stripped her of naiveté. Dahak had taken her blood innocence. But she steadfastly refused to surrender her intrinsic belief that most people wanted to do good. "I suppose if you found me at this gallery then you know where I live?" She didn't even want to imagine how he found that out... I hope the Children aren't getting restless again...
"Um no, actually."
Good, that's one thing I don't have to worry about then. She blew out a breath. "Tell me where you're staying and I'll send a driver for you in the morning."
After taking his card, she dismissed him with a curt, "Leave. Now." And went to find her lover. She wanted nothing more than to take Xena by the hand, lead her out of this nonsense, and lose herself in the heat of the dark woman's touch. Gods, I should have just let her talk me out of going. I am absolutely nuts.
She do-si-do'ed her way through the thronging crowd, easily spotting her lover's tall form. She stopped some distance away, smiling to herself at the elegant vision of her partner. She was wearing a deep indigo Versace dress that smoothly clung to the well-defined muscles of her body. When Xena had modeled the dress for her this evening in a teasing spin, Gabrielle had taken one look at the length of thigh exposed by the dress' long slit, and they had almost not made it to the opening.
As she soundlessly approached, she noticed an increasing tension in the atmosphere, and a hastily falling silence as she drew nearer. She recognized the hawkish eyes and elegantly groomed hair of one of her financial officers, Simon Bedford. Gabrielle truly disliked the man-- there was a leering quality to even his most benign statements-- but he performed impeccably on the job. Now she heard his unctous tones addresing Xena. "It's fairly obvious you have-- certain-- talents," An appraising glance ran down the dark woman's form. "Tell me-- what would I have to do to-- enjoy-- those talents of yours? Or has our esteemed employer paid for exclusive rights?"
A surge of rage washed through the immortal's veins. "I haven't paid for anything..." came the icy reply. Neither Xena nor her "suitor" had heard Gabrielle's arrival in the crowd. An angry green fire snapped in her eyes as she regarded her soon-to-be-ex-employee.
Simon blanched at the fury so clearly etched on his employer's features, and Gabrielle could see his alcohol-befuddled brain desperately trying to come up with an impossible save. They now had everyone's undivided attention, and Gabrielle realized there would be no discreet solution to the altercation. Quite frankly, that was fine with her-- she had let a lot of things slide because Xena wanted to keep their private and public lives separate. It was going to be a pleasure to finally put one of these guys in his place, letting everyone know just how important Xena was to her. At times like this she wished she still had her Amazon staff, because right now she'd like nothing more than to beat the stuffing out of both Simon Bedford and Martin Berman. This night was not turning out well at all.
"Do you have something to say to me, Simon?" Gabrielle's voice rang out in the now-silent gallery.
The man in question had broken out into a sweat of desperation. "I-- I-- I--" he stuttered.
"Gabrielle," came the growling voice of her lover. "This doesn't concern you," she warned.
Pale brows flew up in dramatic surprise. "Excuse me? How does this not concern me?" I know I promised to let you handle them, love, but I will not have him-- or anyone-- thinking you're some toy I bought. Not when you mean so much more to me...
"I believe Simon was calling me a whore, not you." Xena smiled tightly at the smaller woman. "So I'll take care of this." Turning back to her tormentor, she uncoiled one long arm and backhanded him sharply across the face, sending him reeling backwards into the crowd. Stalking over to where he lay slumped on the floor, she regarded him contemptuously. "Even as a whore on the sidewalk, I always had the power to say No. And my answer to you, Mr. Bedford, was, is, and always will be-- No."
Turning on her heel, she offered her hand to Gabrielle, who grasped it firmly as they left the flabbergasted crowd to their gossip. Xena remained silent during the long walk out of the gallery and as they waited for their limousine. Only when they were ensconced comfortably in the back of the car did she speak. "Well.." she paused. "I think that went well."
Both women were swallowed by the silence that ensued on the interminable ride home. While Gabrielle still gripped Xena's hand-- willing the dark woman to say something ...anything-- she could not bring herself to begin the conversation. Her mind was seething not only with fury at that idiot at the gallery, but also with worry over Martin Berman's abrupt entrance into her private world. Suddenly the entire life that she had built with this mortal child was in jeopardy-- and the bard knew with stabbing clarity that, her warrior or not, she loved this Xena-- whose past was wrapped in as many shrouds as her own.
You've never spoken about it, love... the immortal mused, idly studying her lover's profile... the life you left to come with me... Of course I haven't asked. I never wanted to imagine hands other than mine reaching for you. I didn't want to know if you affected your pleasure, because I never wanted to fear that what you showed me was anything less than genuine... I know nothing of your origins, nothing of your life before me... Sometimes I think I've conjured you through the sheer power of my longing... And then you turn and look at me with that smile... Fantasy or no, when I take you in my arms... everything else falls away. Is it like that for you?
"Gabrielle?" The rumbling purr coaxed the bard from the depths of her contemplation, and she realized with a start they were in their bedroom. "We're home."
The moonlight pouring through the wide panes of the French doors limned her lover in silvery shadows as the immortal clasped their hands together, blessing each long finger with a kiss. "Xena-- that... man-- I'm so sorry--" she began.
"Shh..." The dark woman untwined their hands and brushed her fingers across Gabrielle's lips. "Don't..." She ghosted gentle kisses across her partner's eyelids. "His words meant nothing to me."
"Gabrielle..." Molten blue eyes gazed solemnly back at the small woman. "It's who I was. Nothing can change that, but it's different now... I'm different..." A crooked smile. "I hope you know that."
It was so long ago... Maybe as long as a life-time... Some dank tavern, pouring rain and cold, when they were both so exhausted the bard was convinced they were going to drop at any second... Xena was bleeding from a shallow cut over her eye and her long body was covered in bruises from head to foot. The warrior had spent the day clearing out a nest of slavers nearby, with no help from the townspeople... A group of farmers bolstered by liquid courage had made jeering mutters about how the mighty had fallen. They had thrown Cirra and half a dozen other burned villages in her face as she quietly led the bard to their room. Gabrielle remembered how, once safely behind a thick oak door, she had angrily asked why the warrior hadn't defended herself. "I was who I was, Gabrielle," the warrior had shrugged. "I can't change that, but I'm different now..." She had wrapped long, warm arms around her lover and held her close. "I hope you know that..."
"I do..." the bard had answered then, just as she did now. So close were her dark lovers, clutching their pain tightly to them like a second skin to protect the delicately soft underbelly of their humanity. She found herself soothing this mortal the way she had soothed her warrior-- offering her mouth, her skin, her touch as the healing salve for a damaged soul. Her tongue danced gentle steps in the inviting warmth of Xena's mouth. Her immortal's senses felt the immediate increase in her lover's heartbeat-- knew that this Xena... her Xena... needed to bury herself in the searing comfort of their embrace.
Deft fingers slid the silk from the tall woman's shoulders, and showers of kisses cascaded across the bronze skin. "Do you have any idea of what just looking at you does to me?" she murmured, the familiar heat coursing through her blood, and she instinctively curbed the darker call that her lover unknowingly elicited from this daughter of a god. They tumbled to the bed, a sensuous tangle of heat and desire, passion and hope. Long hours into the night they loved-- their bodies telling truths that their words as yet could not say.
After Xena had fallen into a pleasantly spent slumber, Gabrielle lay awake still longer, pondering what to do about Martin Berman. It's as if he sees talking to me as some sort of vindication for his belief in Louis' existence. Like this is his reward. Bringing him to the house was not an option. Nor was his meeting Xena. Those in the dark circles believed the daughter of Ares long destroyed, and she didn't want any rumors started to the contrary that would endanger her young lover. Thinking about the earnestness in the book publisher's face, she realized she could not send him away empty-handed either. Just as the Dark Children had not spoken to mortals about the daughters of the Olympians, neither had she spoken about them. There was were scrolls that weren't in any archives, she remembered. One in particular would be of interest to Berman. Just as Louis had told this man about her, so she would tell him about Louis. That, and not herself, would be the mortal's reward. Smiling contentedly at her decision, she curled her arms around Xena's broad shoulders and promptly fell asleep.
Her rest was short-lived, however, for she soon woke to the gentle weight of Xena's dark head pillowed against her breast. For over a millennia the bard had slept in just that position-- cradled in her warrior's strength. Now she provided the protective arms that cocooned her mortal lover's slumber. She glanced over at the windows to see dawn's stealthy approach along the floor, watching it send hesitant tendrils curling along the silken edges of their evening dresses.
The immortal basked in the quiet joy of holding the dark woman close, relishing her role as guardian. The snug pressure of Xena's hips tucked against one of her thighs added a pleasant warmth to her early musings, and briefly her mind turned to things more visceral. She ran a teasing hand down the lean planes of her lover's skin, feeling the exact instant that Xena's senses crossed the waking threshold. Still-- she noted-- her lover remained silent, her breathing deep and even. A wicked smile drifted across Gabrielle's face. The touches became defter, more knowing-- until with a low growl, Xena murmured, "You are such a tease."
"You were the one playing possum," came the reply.
Lazy blue eyes regarded her in the argentine dimness. "Can you blame me?" The tall woman rolled over and stretched thoroughly, presenting the length of her body for her lover's tactile inspection. "Mmm... that feels good," she smiled, arching into the sensitive stroke of Gabrielle's fingers.
Their mornings often began this way, in a delicate ritual of touch. For Gabrielle it was almost as if they were reassuring themselves that their life together was indeed reality and not a delicious dream borne of Morpheus' diaphanous spell.
"What's wrong?" Xena asked softly.
"What do you mean?"
"Usually I have to tap-dance on your head to wake you up. It's barely dawn." A wryly arched brow smiled in her direction. "And you're wide awake. I'd guess you have something on your mind."
Oh gee, not much-- just immortality, a dead lover whom you resemble so much it makes my soul ache, and a stranger who threatens our life together. Where should I start? Aloud, she merely said, "I guess so."
Xena made a silent gesture that said "Out with it..."
Bard or no, Gabrielle didn't have the words. She simply looked at Xena and sighed. Then a quiet whisper: "We don't really talk about the past much."
There was a long pause before the dark woman's hoarse reply. "Is there something wrong with living in the present?"
Gabrielle could see the sudden wariness that clouded her lover's eyes, and she braced herself against a pain that sank deep into her bones. "No--" Taking a deep breath, she cupped Xena's face in her slender hands and smoothed the furrowed brow. "But like you said, it's a part of who you are-- it helped create this woman with whom I'm sharing my life. And I'd like to know her a little better." Aware as she spoke that she was opening herself to the same questions and unsure of what she would say when the time came.
The dark woman shifted restlessly away from the smaller woman, sitting up and wrapping a long arm around her knees. For an eternal moment, Gabrielle feared she had broken the gossamer bond that had heretofore linked them-- despite their respective silences. Then Xena turned somber eyes upon her love. "I can't tell you what I don't know."
The immortal felt her heart lurch suddenly as an irrational certainty seized hold of it. "What-- what do you mean?"
"I woke up ten years ago in an alley, naked and covered in blood-- a screaming pain in my belly and one word in my ears. That word was 'Xena.'" She blew out a breath and ran a shaky hand through her disordered hair. "I didn't know who I was or where I came from... but I knew my name was Xena."
"The blood?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly. "Were you hurt?"
Xena shrugged. "Not a mark on me. This guy named Marco found me, cleaned me up, and gave me some food. He was a pimp, so he turned me out to the streets. I stayed there-- in one way or another-- until I met you. That's pretty much it."
"That's it?" The smaller woman repeated, stunned. Typical Xena. A life story in five sentences or less.
A crooked smile. "No, there's one more thing. You know that pain in my belly?"
"The minute I saw you, Gabrielle-- it went away. It's like you answered some...
longing... in me... that I didn't even know I had." She twisted her body to face the
immortal. "That's when I knew... no matter who you were or what you wanted from me...
I had to stay with you. It's that simple."
Silence lurked between them as Gabrielle pondered the impossibility of what she was thinking. She didn't know how much of it was true and how much of it was wrestled into being by the brute force of the bard's love for the warrior. Nor, she realized with a new and glorious awareness, was the "truth" relevant. It is that simple, isn't it, my love? Nothing else matters-- not immortality, not gods, not warriors and not bards... We complete each other...
Helios' dawn was reflected in her incandescent smile as she took the dark woman in her arms. "I love you, Xena." It was an immortal's vow that encompassed eternity and pledged Gabrielle's soul until the long night of time closed in.
Xena's reply was delivered on the breath of their kiss, "As I love you, my bard..."
Martin Berman was wide awake long before the message arrived. Delivered with a flourish by a black-uniformed chauffeur who handed him a creamy parchment envelope and an exquisitely carved mahogany box. Tearing open the envelope, he stared at the same flowing script that Louis had stared at a century ago.
Forgive me for not doing this in person... but the answers you seek are not within me. How could I begin my tale when immortality has rendered beginnings moot? When my life had long since ceased being about beginnings and endings and was-- until now-- simply about endurance.
If you feel you must know my story-- my life with Xena is in the scrolls. The stories of the warrior and the bard are well-documented in the Covington-Pappas Archives. If you seek the meaning of immortality-- that I cannot give you. For though the state was granted to me by my sire, as Xena's was by hers-- we had no choice in the matter. We were born-- and thus we lived.
I do have one thing for you, my mortal student. It is a story that your Louis couldn't have told. I believe there was another-- what did you call them?-- vampire you are familiar with named Lestat. Years before we met Louis, Xena and I encountered Lestat in New Orleans-- the box that arrived with this message contains that tale.
I trust your discretion, Martin. There is a reason why Louis did not include his story of our meeting in his book. Bear that in mind as you read this.
Martin tossed the note down on the desk, feeling curiously satisfied and
deprived at the same time. He supposed he could track her down a second time, but the
Ancient Bard was respected and very feared in the Dark Circles. He had no desire to risk
her wrath should he seek her again. His mortal life was already forfeit to the Dark Child
who led him to Gabrielle, and Martin had just seen his last dawn breaking over the city's
stark skyline. Nightfall would place him securely in the outer orbit of the Twilight
Realm, and perhaps his path would cross hers in the new life that awaited him. Like Louis,
however, he doubted it. Settling himself squarely in a patch of sunlight streaming through
the window panes, he lifted the latch on the box and removed the bound parchment. Cracking
the waxen seal-- a delicate carving of an intertwined sword and quill-- he sighed deeply
and began to read...
Well gang, that's it. The story of how Xena and Gabielle meet Lestat
can be found in the forthcoming story "The Immortal Scrolls: Twilight's
Children." Thanks for reading. S.
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