Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended.
The taxi stopped with a jerk and the driver looked into the rearview mirror to signal to his passenger that this was the address that she'd given him. The reflection in the mirror was of a young blond chewing nervously on her lip. The driver briefly wondered why a cute kid like her would want to come into this area of town. Still not his business, "You gettin out lady?" he asked impatiently.
The woman started and fumbled in her hand bag for some crumpled bills. "Yes, thank you," she mumbled shyly, getting out of the backseat awkwardly and carefully closing the car door. The taxi was gone before she could wave a good bye. She used the raised hand instead to wave the blue exhaust cloud away from her face. She turned and faced the grimy looking red brick. A worried crease formed on her forehead then she shook her blond hair back and headed across the street determinedly.
Stormy blue eyes watched her from six stories up. "No car this time, she's come by taxi. Same girl though," noted the tall muscular woman. Xena's impassive face hardened for a second into a sneer as she moved back from the edge of the window. With her back to the wall, she reached for her waist holster and pulling out her Remmington Magnum she checked the clip. The feel of the heavy, cold metal felt good. An old friend that you can always trust, Xena thought, slipping her weapon back into it's case. She moved with a silent grace across the room and listened intently at the door.
Barb looked around the small grimy lobby. On the left wall were bass mail boxes now darkened with lack of polishing. One was labeled Xena and indicated that she lived on the top floor of the converted factory. Barb looked around, no elevator in sight, with a sigh she started up the stairs. By the time she rounded the corner to take the last flight to the sixth floor she was damp with sweat from the heat of the day and the steep climb. This was sure tougher than the half hour on the stair master in an air conditioned gym, she thought ruthfully, reaching the top level with a gasp. She bent over with her hands on her knees and tried to regulate her breathing to relieve the stitch in her side. From the corner of her eye she saw a dark blur rocket through an opened door. Her arm was twisted painfully behind her back as she was hurtled face first into the wall. There was a shot of pain through her head, then blackness.
Xena listened, a determined step, no hesitation, slowing as she got tired. The scruff of shoes coming to a halt on the landing. She's stopped to catch her breath...NOW. The door whipped open and Xena dived through slamming the unsuspecting woman up against the wall. The small frame sagged against Xena's chest and slumped to the floor. Xena looked down sheepishly at the petite body, gotta watch that momentum, she thought.
Barb became aware of a painful; throbbing behind her right eye. She tried opening her eyes but the pain increase to red hot bolts. She licked her lips and tried again. Looking back at her was the bluest eyes that she had ever seen. Two, deep seas of aqua light surrounded by still darkness. The face was chiseled into classic plains like the impassive face of a Greek, marble sculpture. The dark hair around fell in strong lines around the woman's facial features. The eyes were cold and the face without a trace of mercy. "Explain," growled the deep voice.
Barb opened her mouth to justify her actions automatically, like a small child who has been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Hey wait a minute, she thought! Just who hit who?! Red anger washed over her face in an instant and an her justification turned into a verbal assault before it left her lips. "Me explain?! You hit me over the head and I should explain my s..."
Strong hands grabbed her pulling her into a face distorted with anger, "You've driven passed this place at least six times that I know of in that new B.M.W. of yours. You've been trying to gather information on me for at least two months on your library computer. You're from the north and you moved to the city and took a job as a librarian two months ago after your aunt died and left you money and a condo by the park. You live modestly even though your worth millions. You don't drink, do drugs or have sex. Now you tell me why you are so interested in my life real quick or its going to get very ugly in here," snarled the dark woman.
Fear gripped Barb's heart. She knew of course, that the warrior could be like this. She'd been warned but the intensity of energy that this woman gave off was, well scary! "Don't hurt me. I'm harmless," she said in a small voice looking up at the older woman with puppy eyes.
They were a deep green, like a spring forest, Xena noted, letting go of the petite form but maintaining her looming presence, "Explain," she repeated, this time as a request rather than a demand.
Barb closed her eyes against the throbbing of her head and a second later when she opened them Xena was nolonger looming over her. She had moved over behind a stainless steel counter that divided off a nook into a kitchen. Opening the freezer, she banged out a few icecubes into a towel and then after shoving the half empty tray back into the freezer and closing the door with a jab from her elbow she returned to where Barb was sitting and awkwardly handed her the ice-filled towel. "Thank you," said Barb taking the lumpy tea towel and placing it on her temple. Xena sat in a cream colored leather armchair across from the camel love seat that Barb found herself on. How'd I get here, she wondered? "I..I..Its hard to explain," stammered the librarian unusually stuck for words.
Xena said nothing, she just raised an eyebrow in mounting impatience and the petite woman started talking all in a rush. "I was going to make contact with you sometime, but not until I knew more about you. How did you learn all that about me? I mean you couldn't know I haven't... color washed over the librarian's face...I mean well...all I found out about you is where you live and your work schedule and I only found you 'cause of the article in the local paper about you. They didn't say where you lived but I traced the name of the factory in the picture so that's how... "
Xena rolled her eyes and drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair. The younger woman went on in a rush, "I had to come because someone might try to kill me and I knew that you could protect me so I came now instead of waiting until later," she finished looking at the older woman across from her.
"Lady, I don't freelance. I'm a cop only when on duty. You got a problem, then you go to the cop shop and get help," Xena replied in a bored tone.
"I did!" exclaimed Barb, "But he was there so I had to leave. I didn't think he saw me but this morning my landlord told me that a cop had been around asking about me and was I in any kind of trouble. So I knew then I was, I grabbed a taxi and came over here because I was afraid to leave my car in this... I mean... its new..I...," the little woman stammered to a stop.
The eyebrow rose again, "Don't like my hood, huh? Too good for the likes of us?"
"No! I mean of course not. Its just well, I thought...she saw the smile hovering at the edge of Xena's lip and the twinkle in her eye and realized that the warrior was teasing her. "Oh."
Xena smiled as she saw the red seep across the younger woman's face again. "So you came today because a cop wants to kill you, right?" she clarified in a deadpan voice.
Barb nodded helpfully looking earnestly at the strong woman across from her. "But that's not the reason you've been snooping around, so you still haven't explained."
Barb dropped her eyes, "M..My family has this tradition that goes back thousands of years. In ancient Greece, a bard bonded in life to a warrior. That bond is eternal. So each generation the woman in the family has to try to find her warrior again. They are sort of soul mates. My grandmother found hers but they were together only briefly. Her warrior was killed in the war. My mother never found hers and never felt fulfilled I don't think. She always said it was just Granny's silly talk and not to listen but I believed everything Granny told me. I came here because something made me. I..I knew I'd find my warrior here. Then I saw your picture in this local news paper and I knew right away that you were the one." Barb finished looking up and meeting the startling blue eyes of the cop who sat opposite her.
For a moment there was silence between them. The Xena closed her eyes and shaking her head she stood in one graceful movement. "You're a nutter," she stated in disgust and headed over to the kitchen to make herself a coffee. Barb was right behind her.
"I am not! Damn it! After thousands of years you are still a big dumb warrior!" snapped the angry woman grabbing Xena's arm from behind. In the next instant she was up against the kitchen wall held in place by Xena's one hand.
Piercing blue eyes bore into her. "Don't...ever...touch...me," whispered the cop. Barb nodded her head in fear and the larger woman smiled cruelly and lowered the kid's feet to the floor again. "I'm going to drink this coffee and then I'm going to drive you home. And you are to get out of my life or there is going to be big trouble," muttered Xena as she poured hot water on her instant coffee. She turned around and pierced the kid with her eyes again, "You got that?!" she barked. The little librarian nodded tears welling in her eyes. She swallowed bravely and went over and sat back on the couch to wait. It was only then that she took in the oddity of Xena's home. It was one big room. An empty factory floor actually. On the north wall, two doors broke the wall at each end. The one was labeled "Men". In between was a large and deep nook in the wall that must at one time have sheltered a piece of machinery. Now a stainless steel counter divided it off from the main room to form a kitchen. Two old, battered soda stools stood in front of the counter and in front them was the loveseat, leather chair with a small throw rug in between. Way over on the east wall was a double bed. It was just a box spring and a mattress with no head or foot board. The sheets were white and functional and had "Police Academy" stamped on them. The rest of the huge room was empty, not even a picture on the dingy brick walls or a rug on the stained cement floor. The south wall was broken only by the entrance door and the west wall was dirty windows that afforded a great view of the....slum.
Xena watched the small woman's scrutiny as she leaned against the counter and drank her coffee. "Something wrong with my room?" she asked in a deep dangerous voice.
The little librarian jumped, "I..Its interesting. Lots of space. Kind of ...empty," observed the girl nervously looking timidly at the warrior for a reaction.
"I like it that way," stated the cop. Actually, she'd had meant to fix the place up some how had never got around to it. She wasn't the make a house a home type. "So tell me why another cop wants to kill you," commanded Xena coming over and relaxing into her chair. Her long legs almost reached to where Barb was sitting.
"Another cop? Oh," Barb blushed noticing the small curve to the one edge of Xena's mouth that seemed to pass as a smile. "Well, I think I saw the serial killer," stated Barb and she was pleased to note that Xena's eyes snapped up and focused on her with interest. "You know the one that has killed all the business women over this last year?"
"I've heard of him," drawled Xena sarcastically.
Barb nodded and licked her lips and continued, "I had worked late at the library coding a new batch of books, so it was dark when I left and the parking lot was almost empty. I walked along the back of the library and was just going to cut over to my car when there was this man right beside me. Xena, he had a knife and he scared me so much! I thought I was dead and then this car came whizzing around the corner and into the lot. You know the teens often go there to ...well... anyway I bolted. I ran up Main until I saw a coffee bar open and I went in there and stayed for as long as I could. Then I got a taxi home."
"So why didn't you tell the cops?" asked Xena. She felt her heart tighten at the thought of the kid coming so close to an ugly end. Get a grip! she warned herself, this is nothing to you.
"I went to police headquarters the next morning! I was standing at the counter waiting my turn when the man I saw the night before came out of an office and barked at a uniform cop to follow him. So I left. I didn't think he saw me but he must have 'cause why else would a police officer be asking questions about me?" finished the librarian looking at Xena as she chewed on her lip nervously waiting to see how the older woman was going to take all this.
Xena drained her coffee and looked at the kid. This whole thing was stupid. The kid was crazy for gods sakes! She thought she was a five thousand year old bard looking for her warrior playmate! Yet something...."Look, I gotta tell you I think you're a nutter," stated the cop flatly seeing the librarian's face fall in defeat. Not a poker player this one, thought Xena with a sigh. "But then again these killing are serious and I can't afford to turn down a lead. O.K. this is what I'll do," explained the warrior standing up, "I'll drive you home and after work tomorrow I'll bring around the police i.d. book and you can point out who your cop is...ugh!" finished Xena as Barb leaped up and throw herself into Xena's arms.
"Thank you! Thank you!" exclaimed the girl.
Xena went stiff as a board. "Don't...ever...touch...me," she hissed and the librarian leaped back in fear.
"Oh, sorry forgot," she blushed looking up at Xena with a big goofy grin.
Xena got her Yanks jacket from the closet over by her bed and putting it on, she jerked her head to indicate the girl should go first. The metal door closed soundly behind them the security locks dropping into place. Xena adjusted her long stride to stay behind the girl as they went down the six flights. At the bottom Xena placed the flat of her hand against the small of Barb's back and steered her out the back entrance. She liked the way the kid reacted. Just letting Xena take the lead and trusting her without question. Barb's back was surprisingly muscular for a librarian. Yet it was soft and warm under Xena's touch. Xena lead her out to her pick up and held the door open for her to get into the sweltering cab. The gravel crunched under the tires as Xena pulled out of the back lot and out onto the road. For awhile the younger woman was quiet waiting for the air conditioning to do its job and content to watch her warrior drive with smooth confidence.
"Can I ask you questions?" the young woman asked shyly.
Xena frowned out the windscreen. "You can ask," responded the older woman giving no indication if she would answer. Best to humor the nutter she thought.
"Is Xena your first or last name?" came the first eager question.
Xena sighed turning her head slightly to check her rearview mirror before pulling out around a double park car. "Its my only name. I was abandoned as a baby and the note said I was Xena. So the city named me Xena Xena," explained the woman with a hint of bitterness. Barb went to reach out to the warrior then quickly pulled her hand back. The older woman noticed the gesture but ignored it. The kid was learning, she thought and yet a part of her was kind of disappointed that the girl had not touched her. Stupid! Xena thought.
"Do you have a significant other?" asked the librarian hesitantly.
"That's personal," stated Xena.
"You looked into my sex life!" retorted the younger woman hotly turning in her seat to glare at Xena.
"You don't have a sex life," Xena noted matter of factly and then relented, "No, I am not seeing anyone," she said stopping in an intersection to wait for the traffic to clear before making a left turn. Why was she answering these questions? The woman had a few books short of a library and yet Xena found herself strangely at ease with the kid. As if they were old school friends bantering. As if!
There was a long pause. "Do you have a charm or pendent, its a gold circle with an inlaid pattern and within the circle there is a quill?" asked the younger woman nervously.
Xena's face was a mask. "My jewelry and my worth are not your business," she stated pulling up to Barb's condo. The neighborhood reeked of old money.
"You looked into my financial background," reminded Barb but this time Xena did not raise to the bait but simply raised an eyebrow. Barb blushed and reached for the doorhandle and then hesitated, "Xena?"
"Yeh," drawled the cop looking annoyed.
"I..If anything happens to me would you see that my things get to my niece? Would you take them to her?" asked the petite woman anxiously.
Xena looked at the woman beside her in shock. Before she was aware of it, she had reached out her hand and covered Barb's. "Look kid, it will be all right."
Tears pooled in the librarian's eyes, "Please Xena," she begged.
Xena looked into those eyes and melted, "O.K. kid, my word. But nothing is going to happen," reassured the cop as a sharp crack was followed by the two of them being showered by window screen glass. At the sound of the retort, Xena had pulled Barb to the floor of the cab. Now she opened the door and pulled the younger woman out. "Run!" she yelled half dragging the surprised librarian down the alley way to a dead end.
"Shit!" snapped Xena in frustration looking around. Then she easily picked the smaller woman up and tossed her into the large metal refuge container diving in after her. "Well, this is just great," she snarled pulling out her revolver and flipping off the safety. A second later, Barb was wrapped around her. "Don't...touch...me!" growled the frustrated cop giving the girl a push.
"There's something over there," explained the librarian pointing to a sack sticking out of the rotting garbage that was definitely moving.
Xena raised her gun and then thought better of it. She might need the round. Moving over she poked at the sack ready to clobber the rat. A little black head with a pink tongue peeped out and looked at Xena with sad brown eyes. The cop sighed and scooped the pup up and took it over to Barb. "Here," she said, "Now for gods sakes keep still!"
Xena edged over to the corner to try and peep over the edge of the container. "Oh, the poor thing! Who would do a thing like that!?" Barb asked in indignant rage.
"Someone that didn't want a puppy?" suggested Xena stretching up to see if she could see the gunman.
Barb ignored her and cuddled the neglected little animal. "What should we call her, Xena?" Barb asked just as a bullet smashed into the metal side right beside Xena's head.
"Lucky," whispered the cop looking at the dent in the metal.
"Lucky, I like it!" agreed Barb happily.
Xena looked at the woman cheerfully cuddling the skinny, little pup. "If we live through this and our wasted bodies are not found rotting inside this stinking pile of crap, I'm going to beat your stupid little brains out," promised the incredulous older woman.
Barb sneered good naturedly, "I thought the policeman was supposed to be your friend!"
"I am never, ever going to be your friend!" said Xena with feeling seeing the deep hurt on the small woman's face just before she gave a battle cry and dived over the top of the container. She did three flips and ended up behind a wall before the sniper could react. The gun battle that followed was short but intense. Xena succeeded in driving the sniper off but not before a bad ricochet smashed a bullet into her shoulder. It was turning into a really piss-poor day Xena thought.
Xena sat quietly while they drove back to Xena's in Barb's sedan, a little black puppy curled on her lap. Her shoulder was wrapped in one of the librarian's scarves but she tried to sit forward so as not to get blood on the cream colored leather seats. "Relax, Xena. It's just a car. You're more important," came the gentle assurance as worried eyes gave a quick glance in her direction.
"In my neighborhood, a B.M.W. is not just a car," mumbled Xena tiredly.
"Not in mine either, but human's are more important. Lean back," ordered Barb and the cop willingly gave up the argument. On the last few flights up the hot, steep staircase, Xena even relented and allowed the smaller woman to wrap her good arm over her shoulders and help her along, the little pup tucked safely in Barb's shoulder bag.
Once inside the loft however, Xena lifted her arm off Barb's shoulders and mumbled gruffly, "Gonna see to this scratch. That dog is not staying."
Barb sighed and lifted the puppy out of her purse and placed it on the floor. "Don't give me that Warrior Princess! The two of you have already bonded. I saw you scratching her ears in the car while she licked your finger! And that's not a scratch. It's a bad wound. You're going to need my help," finished the blond with confidence.
Xena snorted. " I suppose your an expert on gun shot wounds, huh?" she baited sarcastically.
"My parents worked in a mission hospital in west Africa for fifteen years. By the time I was sixteen, I'd lived through two military coups and a civil war. Yeh, I know gun shot wounds," stated Barb to a surprised cop as she lead the weakened older woman towards the bathroom.
Inside the door labeled Men's, Barb stopped in surprise. There along the one wall was a row of urinals. To the other side the stalls had been removed and replaced by a shower, sink and toilet. Xena sat down heavily on the toilet cover. Barb carefully washed her hands at the sink and nodded her head towards the urinals, "Nice touch," she commented.
Xena sighed and rolled her eyes, "It was a factory, I rented the side that had the Men's."
Barb removed the scarf and used a damp towel to clear away the blood. "I suppose a man rented the side that has the Ladies, she commented and laughed when Xena gave a sheepish nod. "The bullets still in there, Xena. It's not deep but it hasn't exited. I'll better take you to emergency after all."
"No," stated Xena firmly, "If he realized he tagged me that's the first place he'll look for us. No. You're the expert. Take it out."
Barb nodded and left Xena while she boiled water to sterilize the tweezers, thread and needle that she would need. She brought back the pan and a bottle of scotch that she'd found in the kitchen.
Xena gratefully took the bottle and shunning the glass Barb had brought, she started to take healthy swigs. Barb took her time disinfecting her hands and scrubbing them clean.
By the time she had removed the bullet and sewn up the damage, Xena was wet with sweat and barely conscious. Half the bottle was empty. Barb helped her warrior out to the other room and laid her down on the bed. With minimal help from Xena, she stripped the woman down to her underwear and tucked her in. Then she sat on the other side through the night keeping Xena's fever down with cold towels.
Xena woke to a dry, stale mouth and a pounding headache that started at her temple and ended in her left shoulder. Curled up by her head was the little black puppy. "Mornin, Lucky," she whispered sarcastically. Her right shoulder, she noted was warm and was being used as a pillow! She tentatively opened one eye and looked down at the blond head that rested comfortably on her collar bone. The librarian's body was warm against her side and one arm was thrown protectively over Xena's waist. Xena smiled. She was beginning to like this crazy kid. She had hidden depths of courage and strength that was always surprising the older woman. O.K. so she's nuts. Lots of people are, Xena reasoned.
Slowly, she untangled herself from the smaller woman, got out her outfit and quietly went into the Men's. When she returned feeling almost but not quite alive, she found Barb in the kitchen pouring coffee. "You look worse than I do," observed the cop.
Then, "Barb are you all right?!" Barb stood there wide eyed staring at her. Xena looked down to see if in her hungover state she had forgotten to put on her shirt. No all regimental.
"Wow," stated Barb. "I..I mean I didn't know you wore a uniform," she stammered in embarrassment the color rising in her face. The tall woman looked incredible!
Xena laughed, "I don't usually but I've got court duty today. Am I going to get any of that coffee?" she asked.
Barb looked down at the pot forgotten in her hand. "Oh sorry!" she exclaimed and poured and handed Xena a cup. Then she made toast lightly covering it with butter, sugar and cinnamon, while Xena played with the little puppy that had come bounding over at the sight of her.
Xena absently took a bite of the toast that Barb placed on the counter. "Wow, kid that's great! Thanks. I don't cook much," she observed.
"You don't cook at all," stated the librarian rolling her eyes. "Your fridge is full with left over take-outs. Some of which, I might add, have formed cultures sophisticated enough have invented language. And your cupboards are as great a wasteland as the Gobi desert!"
Xena grinned sheepishly. Barb leaned back against the stove and enjoyed the blush that was rising up the warrior's neck. Xena looked at her, blue eyes as intense as the green that looked back at her. "You must have spent most of the night taking care of me," she observed. "Thanks."
Barb blushed with the praise. "Are you all right to go to work? I know the wound was shallow but it still was bad enough..."
Xena cut in, "It's fine. Just a little stiff. I heal really quickly. You're going to stay here today. If you want to go out that's O.K. but make sure you wear my jacket. This is my hood and you'll be safe if you stay in it. There's a few basic stores on the street and around the block there is a street market where you can buy just about anything." Barb nodded breaking out in a smile when she realized that Xena was going to let her stay. "I'll be late getting back. I've got a lot of paper work to see to after court."
Xena went over to her closet and took out a leather jacket that clearly had gang symbols on it. "Don't leave home without it," she warned with a grin and Barb nodded trying not to look too apprehensively at the jacket. "And Barb, if anyone wants a dog, remember you have one to get rid of," Xena said as a parting shot and left. Barb made a face at the closed door. Xena had barely headed down the road to the bus stop when Barb swung into action.
Xena was in a foul mood. A good case had been lost because of an ill prepared lawyer and a disinterested judge. Shit. It was humid even this late in the evening and her uniform felt tight and uncomfortable. She'd phoned home twice and got some very awkward pleasantries from the librarian that made the cop suspect the woman was up to no good. Her truck had cost a fortune to pick up and get fixed. And to top it all off, she'd forgotten the i.d. book and had to go back and get it before coming home.
She swung into her parking space with more speed than necessary and jerked to a stop in a cloud of dust. Slamming her door, she strode moodily to the rear entrance and used her key to let herself into the old red brick. The inside was close and stuffy, an atmosphere made much worse by the smell of paint. Ugh! At least her loft was air conditioned. Hell of a hot summer, Xena mused rounding the corner to take the stairs, then pulling back instinctively.
Feet appeared and then the rotund body of Leo Patilla, the local furniture store owner. "Leo," stated Xena by way of a greeting.
Leo smiled broadly. Like all the residence in the area, he had got use to Xena's unemotional ways. He set his face in mock anger, "Why you keep that beautiful woman here, Xena? She far too good for the likes of you. You want her to go to hell with you?!! You send her back to her momma!" he scolded.
Xena leaned on the newel post and raised an eyebrow. "You go it all wrong Leo. I was virgin pure 'til I ran into that cute little she-wolf. She's got half the hit men in the city after her and I'm just doing my Christian duty in providing her with a hideout."
Leo wagged his finger at Xena and then the smile was replaced by a serious frown. "You take good care of her, Wild-one. She is good for you. She and you are a very beautiful pair. Sometime soon you bring her to dinner with the family, eh?" He patted Xena's arm and was gone before the warrior had got over her surprise.
One day and the neighborhood had linked her and the nutter as an item! Christ! Rumors do run wild on the block but this was ridiculous! And how had Leo met Barb?
Despite the heat, Xena took the stairs two at a time. The smell of paint grew stronger as did her bad mood. Punching in her code she kicked open her door and stopped dead.
Barb looked up startled from the kitchen. The old counter was now painted copper and the stools had been replaced by oak ones. The walls of the loft were a rich, dark brown trimmed in white, thick molding. The windows were washed and hung with copper verticals. And the love seat and her leather chair now sat in front of them. A new dark brown, leather chair finished the conversation area. Looking right she found her bed was now encased in an oak frame and matching end tables held copper light fixtures. The cement floor was carpeted in a tight weave of copper, greens and browns.
Xena opened her mouth to scream at the librarian but nothing came out. She stepped farther into the cool room and noted the colorful, abstract oils on the walls. Nice. The whole thing was nice. The dark brown and copper highlights really appealed to her. It ...
It felt right. She looked over sharply at her friend. Her friend! Where had that come from?! And yet Xena realized it was true. Barb was her friend and she had pulled a miracle off getting the room fixed up in just one day.
Barb bit her lip nervously under the moody glare of the silent warrior. She swallowed.
"Are you mad?" she whispered.
"Come here," Xena managed to croak out and the younger woman approached cautiously. Xena grabbed her and pulled the smaller woman into a big hug much to both their surprises. "I think that's the nicest thing any ones ever done for me. It's ...nice Barb. I really like it," muttered the warrior fighting back the tears that threatened to over flow her eyes.
She felt the librarian relax in her arms and for a minute they shared the emotion of the hug. Then Barb pulled back and looked at the hot, tired cop in front of her. "You go change and I'll see to getting dinner served," said the smaller woman. She turned and headed back to the kitchen, "It's nothing special but I think you'll like my rabbit stew. At least you have for the last five thousand years!"
Xena rolled her eyes and snorted heading over to the closet to get out a pair of jeans and a T-shirt then she headed for the shower.
How'd the kid do that? Xena wondered as warm water pricked at her skin. She walks in and renovates my home. Requites god knows how many people to do it and what its going to cost me, I don't know....I should be furious, I was furious...now I'm singing in the damn shower. How did she do that? Xena wondered smiling as she dried herself off. Dinner smelt great! There is nothing like rabbit cooked over an open fire under the st... Xena stopped tucking her shirt into her jeans. Where did that come from? There was a clear memory of sitting by a fire on a beautiful night, and Barb, no Gabrielle looking up from a pot of hot rabbit stew. Xena's heart skipped a beat in shock. Was it true? Was that the mystery of the broach? Absently Xena did up her jeans and shrugged off the image.
Barb smiled listening to Xena's deep, mellow voice over the shower water as she heated up the soft rolls and ladled out the stew. She placed Lucky into her pen and gave her a dog dish of cooled stew to lick. Then she opened up a small table by the window and carried over two chairs for them to sit on. She'd turned off all but the kitchen light and a candle that sat on the dinning table. Below, the lights of the neighborhood mellowed the old buildings into Victorian beauty. Barb placed the bowls of stew on the table and turned to see Xena watching her. "I love your hood, Xena," she said honestly.
"The people are so real and friendly. They made this all happen you know. I really didn't set out to accomplish all this in one day."
Xena came over and stood by the window looking sad. "Barb, this really is my neighborhood. I... well, I run it. You understand what I'm saying?" she asked turning her head to look at Barb with worried eyes.
"I think so," said Barb, "I was wearing your jacket today because no one was going to mess with the local warlord's woman, right"
Xena turned, her eyebrow arched up, "Warlord, well that's one way of putting it. Did it bother you that people thought that you were my..." Xena tried to think of a nice way to but it.
"Your lover," asked Barb and Xena blushed. "Come and sit down, and eat your dinner.
She watched her friend turn and look out at the street once more, sigh and then come and sit down. "Xena," said Barb offering her a hot dinner roll, "Do you know how much these people respect you?"
Xena snorted, "Barb, they fear me. I'm bad news," confessed the cop.
Barb rolled her eyes, "No, your not! You moved in and cleaned up the neighborhood. People are happy and safe and their kids have a chance at a better life because of you.
O.K.," admitted the librarian as Xena was going to protest, "Your methods were a bit extreme but so were the actions of the gangs and drug dealers you were up against! Xena around here you're a hero. When I told people I wanted to pay you back for saving my life by fixing your place up, they all offered their time and services. And no, it wasn't fear! They wanted a chance to pay you back like I did. Xena, everyone had a story they wanted to tell about your courage and kindness. No, I wasn't embarrassed that people misinterpreted my relationship to you. I..I was kind of proud that they thought ...well...
you like the stew?"
Xena looked up from her bowl to meet soft green eyes. "I remember you by the fire Gabrielle, cooking my favorite rabbit stew while I sharpened my sword." Barb smiled broadly and dug into her own stew now with gusto.
"That's my warrior," she said happily, "It always comes back to you eventually!"
Xena sat in her chair methodically cleaning her gun. Barb sat on the couch her legs curled up under her slowly going through the police i.d. photos. Lucky sat opposite her watching the pages turn with a worried puppy frown. She paused, then nodded, "This is him Xena. I'm sure." Xena got up and took a look at the photo.
"He's not a cop. I've heard of him. He works over at headquarters in the forensic department. Heads their technical section. I hear he's a bastard to deal with," Xena stated. She sighed and sat down by the other woman pulling Lucky into her lap and gently scratching her ears absently. "This is going to be tricky. It's just your word against his and eventhough he's a civilian he works for the good guys. You understand that, Barb," asked the warrior.
"Yes. We'll have to try and trap him. How are we going to do it Xena?" asked Barb her eyes serious and intense.
Xena looked into the eyes of her friend. "We are not. This is the job for the police, Barb.
You are not going to be involved."
"Zeus! Don't you get all warrior princessy on me!" swore the younger woman leaning forward and grabbing Xena by the arm. "We are partners and have been for thousands of years. We are going to do this together! You are not leaving me behind at the tavern, Xena."
Xena looked a bit confused and then smiled. "I used to do that, didn't I?" she asked.
"You are inclined to be a little over protective," informed the librarian in frustration.
Xena got up and bent to put Lucky on the floor. Then she walked back to her closet and rooted in a drawer for a few minutes. Coming back she sat on the couch looking into Barb's face long and hard. Barb looked back, trying to look confident and trustworthy. Xena sighed and looked down at her hand and then looked up again at Barb. She uncurled her fingers and in the palm of her hand was a broach. Eventhough the gold chakram and quill were thousands of years old, the symbol of their eternal bond still shown like new. Barb inhaled and reached inside her shirt pulling out a chain that held the identical gold symbol. Xena looked at it in surprise and then at her friend. Barb smiled, "Welcome home," she whispered and Xena smiled.
And so they had sat quietly and made plans watching the candle burn down. Bedtime had been a bit awkward. Barb had offered to sleep on the loveseat and Xena had offered to sleep on the floor so that Barb could have the bed. Finally, they agreed that they should be able to share the double bed again without feeling any embarrassment. After Xena had turned out the lights they each clung to the edges of their respective side in an uncomfortable silence. Finally, Barb sighed and rolled over towards Xena. Xena stretched out her arm automatically and hooked the smaller woman in. Barb rested her head comfortably on Xena's shoulder and wrapped her arm protectively over her waist.
"Good night, Xena," she mumbled already half asleep.
"Good night, Barb," Xena responded contentedly closing her eyes and falling into a deep sleep.
Xena walked up to the busy counter and looked around. She saw him over at a desk and waited until he turned to leave. "Porter! Gotta minute?" she called out. The lean, sour looking technician looked surprised and moved over to the counter. "I'm Xena, 12th
precinct," she told him leaning over close and casting her eyes around at the crowd, "I need to talk to you...privately."
Porter smelt of cheap aftershave up close and his finger nails were manicured to perfection. Xena smiled trustingly and he jerked his head towards a small office at the back. Xena moved around the counter and trotted after him. Once inside the room, she stopped, closed the door and leaned against the frame.
Porter looked surprised, "Thought you wanted to talk to me?" he growled in a voice too deep and gravely for his size.
"I do. It'll just take a minute. I had a librarian show up with this crazy story that you tried to rip her pages with a butcher knife a few nights ago. She's got you pegged as our serial killer." Porter sat on the edge of his desk his face drained of color. "I've played her along. Said I'd investigate. She's just a nutter. She thinks she's a bard from ancient Greece, would you believe! The city breeds them!"
"You make out a report," the man as nervously.
"Shit no!" responded Xena, "I told you, she's nuts. I'll get rid of her. The good guys have to stick together, right? Just thought I'd better let you know she was out there."
"Thanks Xena," sighed the technician smiling weakly. "I've heard of you. You were a gang leader. Saved the mayor's daughter from being raped or something and asked to train as a cop didn't you?"
Xena straightened, "Something like that," she mumbled and was gone.
Xena saw Captain Riggilo through his open office door talking to Barb. She liked Riggilo. He had never once mentioned her questionable past. Close to retirement now, he was a happily married man with six grown kids who were busy producing grandchildren for him. They didn't talk much but they had a close bond neither the less. Xena looked on him as the father figure she never had. And she was just another kid for him to raise, she suspected. He worried about her. "Captain," she greeted him.
"Hi, Xena," the little fat man responded with a big grin. "Pull up a chair. I was just terrifying your friend here with tales of your exploits. I'm trying to convince her to join forces with me to see that you live to get you police pension." Xena rolled her eyes and slumped into a chair.
Barb looked at her from the chair on the other side of Riggilo's desk. "You swung down on the flag pole rope and grabbed a jumper?!" she asked in horror her eyes big as saucers.
"The Captain is inclined to tell a good story. Besides she was going to jump. I had to move fast," explained Xena in her defense.
It was Barb's turn to roll her eyes and Xena blushed and laughed her eyes sharing a quiet message with her friend. Riggilo looked back and forth between the two in surprise and then smiled. "Your friend here has finished her report," he informed Xena. Then he turned to the little librarian, "You understand that this plan is very risky. You don't have to be involved in this Miss."
Barb nodded. "I want to be. Besides, Xena will be there to protect me so I'll be safe," she stated confidently.
Riggilo looked at Xena with a mock look of admiration. Xena frowned and got to her feet. "Come on kid. I'll take you home," she growled.
Riggilo got a twinkle in his eye, "Officer Xena," he barked officiously.
Xena straightened, "Sir," she responded.
"See that our star witness gets lunch before you take her home," he commanded.
A smile flickered on the edge of Xena's mouth, "Yes, Sir," she responded leading Barb out of the office by her elbow.
The next night found a less than confident cop tensely hiding in the shadows behind the library. Eventhough cops were posted everywhere, Xena knew there was a chance of Barb being knifed and the thought of that made her chest tighten in fear. The back door of the library opened and Barb stepped out pulling the door shut and walking as she always did along the edge of the library wall and then over to her car. She pulled out her keys from her coat pocket, unlocked the vehicle and swung in. Xena sighed in relief as Barb started the engine and pulled out of her spot. Xena only just saw the movement in the back seat and ran. The dark figure had grabbed Barb from behind and the car was swerving out of control when Xena hit the back window in a roll and crashed inside against Porter. The car slammed against the library wall and stalled throwing them into a tangle of body parts. Xena felt a knife dig deeply into the back of her knee and she cried out in pain. Barb undid her safety belt and started whacking the assailant over the head with her purse. A second later the police had surrounded the car and were pulling Porter out and reading him his rights.
Barb had got out and had crawled into the back seat with Xena who was holding her leg to try to slow the bleeding and who was badly scratched from the struggle in the honeycombed pieces of glass. "You O.K.?" they asked each other together and laughed.
"I'm fine. That was the dumbest stunt yet Officer Xena," she mocked, her eyes filled with warm admiration.
"You're a nutter," responded Xena with a weak smile her face bathed in the red light of the arriving ambulance.
Xena sat in her chair by the window staring at nothing. Lucky was curled in a sleepy little ball in her lap. Her knee was hurting and she was feeling particularly sorry for herself. The last twenty-four hours had been hectic. Starting with five hours at emergency and finishing with interviews, statements and reports. It had ended with her saying an awkward good-bye to Barb that afternoon as a young cop waited to drive the librarian back to her condo. She missed her. O.K. so she was nuts but she was her bard, damnit! Xena shook her head, where had that come from!? She sighed and watched the night close in.
At first she wasn't sure she had heard it. She'd fallen asleep in her chair and the knock had woke her. She got up awkwardly placing Lucky on the floor and limped over to the door. Looking through the peep hole she could just make out a blond head. With a grin she fumbled with the security lock.
The door opened and Barb saw a pale and rumbled Xena looking at her with an emotionless face. "I couldn't sleep," said the librarian.
Xena smiled as she took in the smaller woman and the over night bag she held nervously in her hand. "Why's that," asked the warrior stepping back to allow her friend in.
Barb got a goofy smile as she scooped up the little puppy that had been bouncing around her feet. She looked up at her warrior. "I left my favorite pillow here," she whispered and Xena smiled closing the door.
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