"Time to go to bed, Bobby."
"Nah ah! It's only sixty seventy o'clock and that's way too early."
"It's 8:30, and your parents told me that's when you have to go bed, period."
Bobby frowned, stomping into his cluttered bedroom. The Midwest was suffering through a major cold snap, even as Easter approached, and Bobby prayed for it to snow while he slept. There was nothing quite like waking up in the morning to fresh snow -- especially when none of the grown-ups were prepared for it.
His babysitter, Gabrielle, came in to tuck him into bed, and he knew he could get away with some solid delaying tactics with her.
"Sing me that song?" he asked with his best wide-eyed 'I'm adorable' look.
Gabrielle sighed, then sang, "There's something about... an Aqua-Velva-a maaaaan...!"
Bobby giggled, squirming under his comforter, and staring at his tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty of a babysitter with all the adoration of his six years. He had decided that some day, he was going to marry Gabrielle. When he had told her this, she had said yes and had even worn the Cracker Jack ring he'd given her despite the fact that it doubled as a whistle, which made it a cool toy and therefore a big deal to give away. Even to his future wife. "Sing another one! Sing Cracker Jacks!"
"No. Now, go to sleep."
Not a good sign, he realized. She usually sang several jingles before she tired of the game.
"I'll sing it then. What do you want, when you gotta have sompin and you only gotta dime! Whaddaya want? Lip smacking, Nah nah whackin, unh huh stacking, la la la la la lala, nee ne neee neeena nah! That's what you get with Cracker Jacks!"
"Very good, now go to sleep, okay?"
Singing wasn't working. Time to bring out the big guns. "Tell me a story?"
"We don't have time for a--"
"Just one! Wuh-uh-uh-uh-uhhhn story!"
Gabrielle appeared to hesitate. "I don't know..."
He had her. "Pleeee-eeeee-eeeease?"
"All right. Just one, mind you."
There was a moment of silence as Gabrielle frowned, obviously racking her brain for some story to tell. "Um..."
"It should have fights in it," Bobby told her, helpfully.
"Fights, right. Um..."
"Make it about a warrior."
"I was going to make it about a princess. Those are the only stories I know."
"How 'bout a warrior princess?"
Gabrielle smiled. "That sounds fair. Okay, I'll make it about a warrior princess, but you have to help me."
"Me?" This was a new twist. "I'm just a little kid!" The ultimate excuse -- would she buy it?
"If it's okay for it to be about a normal princess, then you can just lie there and listen. But if it has to be about a warrior princess and it has lots of fights, then you'll have to help me tell it."
After careful consideration, Bobby nodded. "Okay."
"Good. Once upon a time, there was a warrior princess named..." Gabrielle hesitated. "Named...?"
"That's a bit of a mouthful."
"It's too long. We need to shorten it."
"Oh. Um... Um... Um um um um um um ummmm..."
Gabrielle smiled. "This is hard, huh? Okay, let's see. What letter should her name start with?"
Bobby knew his alphabet, and more than that, upon learning it, he'd instantly chosen his favorite letter. "X!"
"X? Are you sure? That's a rather difficult letter to--"
"--start any... names... Okay, X it is. Let's see..."
"Xaphne. Xoria. Xunscreen. Xippo. Uh..."
"Xarnia. Xack. Xu-- Xena? Xena." Gabrielle tasted the word, rolling it around on her tongue. "Xena... I like it!"
"--Fighter Girl," she finished, helpfully. "But her friends called her Xena, for short."
"Good. So, what sort of adventures would Xena, Warrior Princess, have?"
"She fights a lot," said Bobby, very seriously. "A lot." Just in case she didn't get the message.
"I wonder why she fights so much?"
"Because she used to be bad. Really bad. Like a witch or a monster!"
"Oh, dear." Gabrielle glanced surreptitiously at the clock, and Bobby nearly panicked. Obviously, witches and monsters weren't his babysitter's best areas.
"Or maybe she was just bad like Billy the Kid kinda bad."
"Or like a warlord!" said Gabrielle, suddenly remembering what she had studied that morning. "She could have been, like, a warlord in ancient Rome or something."
Bobby's eyes lit up. "Yeah!"
"Or Greece. We're studying all about Greece in history class. And we have to memorize all these myths and stuff. Like Heracles."
"Heracles. Hercules is Roman."
"Hick-a-cleez? Hoka- Harkee- let's talk about Xena again."
"Okay, so Xena is an ancient Greek warlord warrior princess."
"Only now she's a hero."
"She is? I thought she was like Billy the kid."
Bobby sighed. Sometimes old people just didn't pay any attention. "She was! But she changed and became a hero and fights all the time doing hero fighting things like a hero."
"Why would she change?"
"Cuz, cuz, cuz... um... she had a friend who told her to!"
"A friend, huh? What's her friend's name?"
Smiling, Gabrielle said, "That's very nice of you, but it doesn't sound very Greek."
"So? Xena doesn't care cuz she's her bestest friend ever."
"Okay, Gabrielle it is. Now we're getting somewhere, aren't we?"
And then the most horrifying sound met their ears. The most evil and vile possible thing that could happen, became reality. Bobby heard his parents' car pulling into the driveway.
"Uh oh," Gabrielle said. "Quick, snuggle down and pretend you're asleep."
"Oh man," Bobby groaned. "Way to wreck the best bedtime story ever, Mom and Dad!"
Gabrielle opened the door and let in Bobby's parents, who stomped their feet on the mat, unwinding scarves and removing gloves.
"Boy, is it blasting out there. Temp has to be below zero," said Bobby's Dad.
"And it's April!" exclaimed his Mom. "Who would have believed it?"
"Good thing I brought my parka," said Gabrielle, pulling on her boots.
"So, was he any trouble?"
"I'll wait for you in the car, Gabrielle. I need to back it around anyway," said his Dad.
"Okay." Gabrielle watched his dad leave, then turned to his mom. "No trouble at all. Good as gold."
"That's wonderful. Did you get something to eat?"
"I'm fine, thanks."
"Well, thanks a lot and see you next Friday?"
"You bet. Seeya!"
Bobby's dad was silent for most of the trip, only speaking when the car fishtailed on some black ice. He excused himself instantly for the raw language. Soon, he pulled up to the curb in front of Gabrielle's house, digging for his wallet. "Here ya go, Gabrielle. Thanks again."
"My pleasure." Eagerly, she accepted the $2.00 she had earned for four hours of babysitting.
"He wasn't any trouble, was he?"
"No. Bobby's always good."
"The other day, he announced that he wanted to be called Robby, instead of Bobby. It probably won't last."
Gabrielle smiled. "You never know, Mr. Tapert. Anyway, I'll see you Friday. Oh, and if Bo-- er, Robby mentions a 'warrior princess', don't pay any attention. We were just fooling around. I'm sure he'll forget all about it in a day or two."
THE END If you want to contact me about this story, please put the title of the story or the word "Xena" in the subject line. My firstname.lastname@example.org account gets so much spam I tend to delete anything that I don't absolutely know is really for me.