Disclaimer: The following is a piece of fan fiction. The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess remain the sole property of RenPics and Universal Studios. No infringement is intended by their presence here.
Note: This story resumes the tale of the Xena and Gabrielle clones created in the Season Six episode of X:WP entitled, "Send in the Clones." It's probably rather apparent that I'm a big fan of both Xena and Buffy, so you will find definite elements of both shows in this fic. Imagine that Xena and Gabrielle have gone on to make lives for themselves in modern times. The only problem for Xena is that today, there aren't too many greasy warlords around to take on, and it isn't exactly socially acceptable to run around beating on people. Xena has to figure out how she's going to continue her warrior ways without getting herself thrown into jail.
Ratings: This fic features a loving relationship between two consenting adults who happen to be of the same sex. If that sort of thing bothers you, you'll probably not want to read any further. This fiction is rated "R" for violence, language, and sexual content.
* * *
When Gabrielle came home that early afternoon, she found Xena sitting in front of their computer. Scowling at the monitor before her, she was busy pounding the keyboard in irritation. Stifling a laugh, Gabrielle hurried across the living room to see what the problem was.
“Oh, hi,” Xena murmured when Gabrielle lightly touched the back of her neck. “You've gotta teach me how to use this thing.”
“I thought you hated computers,” Gabrielle said. “Something about not trusting information that's just 'floating around' in some kind of limbo?”
Xena grunted. “It can't find the modem. What the hell did I do to this thing?”
When she slammed both hands against the keyboard again, Gabrielle reached over her shoulder to still her. “That's not going to help,” she said. “Why don't you let me sit down a moment?”
Grudgingly, Xena rose from her seat and watched as Gabrielle easily navigated her way through several menus on the screen. After a few minutes, the blonde woman sat back and nodded. “Okay, you should be able to get online now. What exactly are you looking for?”
Shrugging, Xena took a seat once more and opened Internet Explorer. The modem at the back of the computer crackled as the line opened, then began dialing out. After several piercing squawks, she was hooked into the World Wide Web.
“Right now I'm avoiding cracking open those books,” she answered, waving a hand toward a large pile against the wall.
Interested, Gabrielle knelt to examine her friend's collection. “In Search of Dracula,” she read aloud. Flipping through the rest of the pile, she began shaking her head as she quickly caught on to the theme. “These books are all about vampires,” she said. “Get a new hobby in the past few days?”
“Hey, I gotta know about them if I'm going to kill them,” Xena muttered. She quickly scanned an article she'd found in her Google search, then snorted. “Most of these people are wannabes,” she decided. “Share a little blood with your girlfriend and suddenly you're the undead.”
Gabrielle paged through a volume titled The Book of Vampires. Casually, she commented, “You didn't come home until after two a.m. this morning. That's kind of a new thing, too.”
At the tone of her voice, Xena turned to look at her. “Did you know these things are everywhere?” she asked. “There is a real, underground culture of nastiness going on right under our noses. Look at this.” She leaned over to grab a folded newspaper from the corner of the desk.
Gabrielle was a little hurt that her question had been ignored, but hid her emotion and glanced over the article Xena had circled. “Shelley Martin of Modesto, California was awakened one early morning by the sound of her dog, Rico, scratching frantically at her bedroom door,” she read aloud. She started scanning the rest, picking over details, until she spotted the line, “'I saw two red eyes staring at me from the window. My bedroom is on the fifth floor…'”
Curious, she flipped the paper open to its first page. “Xena, this is the Daily News. It's a tabloid. These things are garbage…not a word of them is true.”
“Are you saying that after everything we've seen together, you're actually going to disbelieve in this?” Xena asked.
Gabrielle frowned, considering. “Well, I guess not,” she allowed. “So this is what you've been doing for the past two nights? Hunting vampires?”
Xena had turned back toward the computer screen and started reading messages in a vampire bulletin board. One of the notes caught her attention, and she started chuckling. “Yup,” she answered a moment later.
Well, at least she was actually interested in something again, Gabrielle thought to herself. In the sleepless nights she'd spent alone in bed most recently, she'd considered any number of possible reasons why Xena was spending so much time away from home. Killing vampires definitely had not been one of her theories. Glancing over the pile of books one more time, she realized they'd all come from the public library a few blocks away.
“Hey, I didn't think you had a library card,” she questioned.
“I don't. I used yours,” Xena answered. Then she glanced up. “Hey, can you make those little popcorn shrimps for dinner? I bought some frozen ones a few days ago.”
Gabrielle raised her brows. “You know, cooking for you has become very easy,” she said.
“Well, we aim to please,” Xena responded.
As she passed through the living room toward the kitchen, Gabrielle paused to turn on the television. A coiffed woman appeared on the screen, grinning madly. Her wide eyes evoked charm and intelligence, flitting left to right as she read from the teleprompter. It was the local news, and the anchorwoman was describing a foiled holdup at a convenience store.
Gabrielle began to turn away from the television when a still image appeared in the corner of the screen. She froze when she saw the grainy black and white shot, her heart seeming to clench spasmodically in her chest. For several moments she was unable to speak, and only heard the voice of the news anchor as she finished the story.
“The man was then attacked by a costumed woman carrying what appeared to be a sword. News 5 has obtained actual footage of the altercation from the store's video surveillance system. The man is listed in serious condition at a local hospital, pending his arrest. Police are still looking for the mysterious woman, who disappeared before authorities arrived. A witness at the scene claims that when asked how she knew the man was carrying a gun and intended to actually rob the store, the woman responded, 'I didn't like the way he was looking at me.'”
“Xena, take a look at this,” Gabrielle exclaimed. She anxiously waved her friend over.
Sighing, Xena rose from her seat to take a look at the screen. When she saw the blonde woman striding through the camera shot with the odd, stop action cadence of the surveillance film, the expression on her face hardened. “Callisto,” she muttered.
On the television, the anchor paused to cast an amused smile toward the man seated next to her at the news desk. They shared a polite titter before the camera flipped his way. He immediately launched into the next story. A photo of a group of baby ducks flashed on the screen. Gabrielle leaned forward and turned off the TV.
“How is it possible for her to be here?” she asked. “Do you think Alti…”
“I don't know,” Xena responded. “But she's already making herself at home. We have to find her.”
Gabrielle nodded. “Just let me know what I need to do,” she said.
Xena glanced at her in surprise. “You have that thing tomorrow,” she said.
“It's a book signing,” Gabrielle said. “And I can cancel it.”
Xena frowned. “No, don't worry about it. I'll do some looking on my own. You shouldn't change your plans. I can handle it.”
Hurt, Gabrielle murmured, “But I'd like to help.”
Xena turned and walked back toward the computer. “Gabrielle, you have your own thing now. Don't let Callisto interfere with that. I said I can handle it.”
Not sure of what she should say to that, Gabrielle nodded at Xena's back. There was a time when her friend would automatically assume that she'd be there to watch her back. She suddenly felt cut off, and excluded in a way she hadn't felt since they'd first met one another. Again, it was almost as though Xena didn't think she'd be able to assist her…as if she was just a child that had to be coddled and protected. She thought she'd come a long way since that point, but apparently they'd come full circle.
Gabrielle quickly arranged some frozen food on a tray and put it in the oven. After setting the timer and hoping Xena was aware enough to come get her food when the alarm went off, she went into the bedroom and shut the door behind her. She didn't know which was worse…the fact that she needed some time alone, or that Xena didn't bother coming in to check on her.
* * *
Xena stared across the busy intersection at the Snack Hut, her sunglasses cutting out most of the sun's glare. This was definitely an invention she could have used in the old days, she mused. Several workmen were busy replacing the large glass window at the front of the store. Apparently Callisto got a little frisky with the guy and tossed him through it. Still, something wasn't settling right. Why had Callisto only roughed him up instead of simply killing him? And why stop a robbery in the first place? Xena thought she'd probably enjoy kicking back and watching the show.
She'd left the apartment early that morning, before Gabrielle went off to her event. Xena knew her partner was unhappy about being left out, but she wasn't so sure there'd be that much action to miss today, anyway. Callisto had moved on hours before there had been any report of her presence. They wouldn't be able to pinpoint a location until she did something else to hit the news. For now, all Xena could do was scope out where she'd been the day before.
Besides, Gabrielle had a shot at doing things right in this time. She had an actual career, and the possibility of a successful future. Why would Xena ever allow her to mess that up by getting involved with ghosts of their past? Gabrielle could still move forward after all of this was over. Xena hadn't taken a proper step away from her old ways since being awakened. She didn't have nearly as much to lose…except for Gabrielle herself. That was even more of a reason to keep her the hell away from Callisto.
The traffic light finally changed, and the “Walk” symbol appeared on the other side of the street. Xena had seen enough from her position, so she moved forward with the crowd toward the opposite sidewalk. The morning was already sweltering. She shrugged her shoulders and felt her t-shirt cling damply to her back. Was it only her, or was the world a lot hotter these days?
Standing directly before the convenience store, Xena watched the men heft a large pane of glass into the open window pane. Where would Callisto head next? She turned away from the store to gaze up and down the street. I'm Callisto, she thought to herself. I've just beat the crap out of a guy, and now it's time to make tracks before the local authorities show up.
Xena shook her head. That wasn't right, either. Callisto wouldn't be afraid of trouble like that. She wouldn't hurry away to avoid more conflict…she would invite it, even if she hadn't collected any followers yet. Something concrete made her high tail it out of there. She'd seen something that gave her an idea, made a fun project form in her mind. In that case she would have decided to lay low for awhile, until she figured out how things were going to work out for her.
Turning toward the right, Xena took a few steps before stopping again. Her eyes passed over the display window of a comic book store nearby. She gasped in spite of herself when a familiar face stared back at her. There was a poster taped inside the window, and a picture of “Diana Blake” smiled out at the passing crowd. It was an advertisement for Gabrielle's current appearances and signings. Xena imagined the events of the previous day. Callisto tossed the man out the window, then came out of the store to finish him off. As she looked around herself to assess the locations of everyone around her—an automatic attempt at damage control that came as second nature to Xena as well—she caught sight of a picture nearby.
“Gabrielle,” Xena whispered. She took off at a dead run, shoving several bystanders out of her way as she passed.
* * *
“Thanks again for doing this, Diana,” Anna Levin said. “I know your schedule is full with the new book and everything.”
Glancing up at the taller woman, Gabrielle smiled. “It's no problem,” she said. She took a look around her and commented, “We've got a good crowd here.”
“Yeah, it's a good sign. We don't usually expect so many on a Wednesday afternoon. Are you ready to start?”
Gabrielle didn't answer. Her gaze passed over the nameless faces hovering throughout the small bookstore until it landed on something black and skittered to a halt. She'd spotted the leather sheath of a sword, the hilt of which jutted out above it with a metallic gleam. Her eyes rose until they reached a head of dirty-blonde hair. The woman's back was to her as she made her way through the glut of bodies.
“Oh gods,” Gabrielle murmured.
“Are you all right, Diana?” Anna questioned.
“I—“Gabrielle broke off, not sure of what to say. “Can I take a short break…for a phone call,” she explained.
Concerned, Anna nodded. “Of course.”
Gabrielle backed away, her eyes never leaving Callisto. When she reached the hallway marked with a sign reading “Employees Only,” she turned and hurried toward the side door, pulling her cell phone out of her bag. She hit the speed dial and heard the musical tones of her home phone number. The line rang several times before she passed through the door and into the employee parking area.
“Come on, answer,” she whispered.
The phone rang several more times before a click of machinery signaled the start of their answering machine. Gabrielle hit the end key and cut the line, frustrated. Of course Xena wasn't home yet. She was out hunting. Rushing toward her car, Gabrielle fished her keys out of her pocket and quickly searched through the ring for the right one. She had to get out of here…
Gabrielle stopped herself with a jolt. What was she thinking? She couldn't leave Callisto in there with all of those innocent people. Gabrielle shook her head, angry at herself for forgetting about them. She'd just have to lure Callisto out of there. It should be a rather simple task. Gabrielle turned around to go back the way she came.
“Gabrielle,” a smooth voice intoned. “You've cut your hair.”
Gabrielle took a deep breath. She hadn't seen the woman standing before her in such a long time, but the mere sight of her was enough to bring back the sting of memories. Callisto didn't look the way she had the last time. Her hair was long, and she wore the leather armor she'd favored early on. Gabrielle swallowed heavily, waiting for the other woman to make the first move.
“I know what you're thinking,” Callisto said. “But this isn't what it looks like. I don't want any trouble.”
Laughing bitterly, Gabrielle said, “Oh, is that so? Pardon me for not believing you. Why are you here? Did Alti bring you back, too?”
At the sound of that name, Callisto's brow furrowed in confusion. “Alti?” she asked. “How did you…”
Suddenly they both heard a loud scream, and turned to see someone running furiously toward them. “Callisto!” Xena shouted, her face contorted with rage.
Gabrielle saw the expression on Callisto's face when she realized what was happening, and felt a bit of confusion herself. Instead of a sense of glee that she would be facing down her favorite enemy, Callisto almost looked worried. Gabrielle frowned. An idea had begun to take shape in her mind, one that was almost as crazy as seeing Callisto here with them.
“No, wait…” Callisto warned, her hands raised before her.
But Xena wasn't halting. When she reached her old enemy, she sprang forward with an impressive leap. She wasn't wasting any time with flashy displays, for her hands immediately closed around Callisto's throat as they both fell to the concrete. The blonde grasped Xena's wrists in an effort to free herself. Otherwise, she made no move to fight back.
Gabrielle watched as her partner throttled the other woman, expecting Callisto to reach for a knife and take advantage of Xena's blind rage. As the blonde woman's face turned a mottled red, the strange notion that was building in Gabrielle's mind finally clicked into place.
“Xena, stop,” she commanded, leaning over them.
Xena didn't respond. Knowing that the other woman didn't have much time, Gabrielle made the quick decision to interfere in a more direct manner. Her right hand forming a fist, she sent it flying toward her friend's chin. Xena fell back slightly, and her grip loosened enough for Callisto to scramble away from her. Gabrielle was left with an odd feeling of satisfaction. She hadn't lost it, after all.
“Xena, wait,” Gabrielle said when her friend immediately surged forward to attack once more. “That's not Callisto.”
Xena gaped at her in shock, then turned her bright blue eyes toward the armored blonde. “Callisto” stared back at them, her expression calm but guarded. Her sword was still in its sheath on her back. She'd drawn no weapon to defend herself. Red welts circled her neck, quickly turning purple.
Gabrielle gave her a hard look, forcing her to meet her gaze. “Are you?” she asked, her voice firm.
Callisto cleared her throat. It was obviously painful for her. “I thought you might recognize me, Gabrielle,” she responded. Glancing at the dark-haired woman nearby, she added, “I'm Xena.”
“That's a lie,” Xena growled. She moved toward the other woman, dismissing Gabrielle's warning with a wave of her hand.
Callisto didn't stop her as she spun the blonde woman around and jerked the sword out from its sheathe. Her brown eyes actually seemed to sparkle with amusement as she turned to face them again. She didn't cringe when Xena held the point of her own sword against her throat.
“It's not a lie,” she said, still calm. “Ares thought he was bringing Callisto here to spar with you on new turf. I can only assume that time has not been especially kind to him, because he had no idea he'd taken me while the real Callisto inhabited my body.”
Xena sneered at her. “That's a good story,” she said. “Did Ares come up with that one?”
“Xena, she's not lying,” Gabrielle protested. “Can't you see how different she is?”
Xena ignored her. “All right,” she said. “What's my older brother's name?”
Callisto rolled her eyes. “Callisto spent years studying my every move…she knows Toris as well as I do. Answering that question won't prove a thing. I can tell you that Gabrielle here was born with an extra toe on one of her feet.”
Taking a step back, Xena quirked a grin at her. “Now, that's definitely something I would say,” she said.
Gabrielle frowned at them. “Do we have to keep bringing that up?” she complained.
Callisto shook her head. “We don't have much time,” she said. “There is too much to explain, and I need your help.”
“What can we do?” Xena asked, perfectly serious. “We weren't brought here by Ares. We were created.”
“That is exactly why you can remain in this time but I cannot,” Callisto responded. Turning toward Gabrielle, she asked, “May we go somewhere with a little more privacy?”
Realizing for the first time that they had an audience, Gabrielle turned to face several store patrons who were staring at them all with unabashed curiosity. “Let's get home,” she said to Xena.
After quickly explaining to Anna that there was a “family emergency” and that she had to leave, Gabrielle ushered the two Xenas into her car and jumped into the driver's side. She didn't quite understand “Callisto's” urgency, but began to feel some of the pressure herself. She obviously had very real reasons for concern.
Callisto sat in the passenger seat, while Xena watched her warily from the back. The dark haired woman kept the sword on her, but the blonde didn't seem too surprised by the gesture of mistrust. Gabrielle kept her attention on the road. The noon traffic was definitely a killer.
“How does she know Alti?” Callisto asked after several minutes of silence.
Xena sighed from the back seat. “I was forced to return north for…personal reasons,” she said. Gabrielle winced, knowing that time had been particularly difficult for her friend. “I discovered that Alti had trapped the souls of departed Amazons and was using them to fuel her strength. I killed her.”
Gabrielle shook her head. Xena always did exhibit an economy of words.
“So I'm to free Cyane and the others,” Callisto mused. “I had a feeling we'd be quite busy in our future together.”
Seeing the glance exchanged between the two women in the front seat, Xena scowled dangerously. “We managed to do some good,” she agreed.
“All the more important that you send me back,” Callisto responded.
“I don't understand,” Gabrielle said.
In the back seat, Xena began nodding her head slowly. “I think I'm beginning to,” she said.
“Imagine everything that we…that you and Xena accomplished in your lives,” Callisto began. “With me here, in this time, I've left Callisto in possession of my body. It should be safe to assume that she did not fulfill any of those accomplishments. It's as though they never happened. Perhaps she did not have the power to affect the world on a large scale, but because I was not allowed to stay and continue on with my life...”
Xena interrupted, “Things may begin to change here in the present.”
“That's correct. I've sensed some differences already since arriving. But I'm sure there will be more effects.”
“We have to find Ares,” Gabrielle said. “He can send you back.”
“No,” Callisto answered. “He'll only be sure to find the real Callisto. But if Ares is around in this time, there must be others who will be able to do the same for me.”
“Aphrodite,” Gabrielle exclaimed. “We can ask her for help.”
Callisto looked surprised. “You know Aphrodite?” she asked.
Gabrielle nodded. “She's our friend. I think she's been hanging out in Rio lately, but she'll come when we call for her.”
Behind them, Xena made a small sound of surprise. Gabrielle glanced into the rearview mirror at her, and gasped. She saw the dark-haired woman leaning over the front seat, reaching for her. But she was already fading as she did, the back of the car suddenly visible through her body. Gabrielle twisted around to look at her, but Xena disappeared before her eyes.
“Xena!” she exclaimed.
“Gabrielle, be careful,” Callisto warned beside her.
Whipping around to peer out at the road, Gabrielle realized she'd allowed the car to drift over into the other lane. The truck coming toward them was moving too fast to stop in time. As the impact jolted her forward, Gabrielle felt an odd tingling sensation in her limbs. In that endless moment of time before she flew over the steering wheel and through the windshield, she gazed down at her hands and realized that she could see straight through them. She was about to vanish just as Xena had. The last thing she heard was Callisto's steady voice calling her name.
* * *
Xena felt a stab of pain above her left temple and raised her hand toward her face. She winced when she felt a deep cut. When she opened her eyes, she saw nothing but twisted metal gleaming dully in the sunlight. It was Gabrielle's car.
Grunting with the effort, she pushed herself up into a sitting position and gazed around herself. At first all she could see was flames. Several vehicles burned on either side of her. The accident had been more severe than she'd expected.
Xena stood, automatically reaching behind her. She sighed in disappointment, remembering that her future self had taken Callisto's sword from her. She had the knife in her boot, but was otherwise unarmed. This was not the world she would have chosen to wander through without a sword.
Her weapon was forgotten a moment as she caught a glimpse of the surrounding area. A large building on the left hand side of the street had crumbled to cinders, completely gutted out by a fire that had struck some time before. Xena frowned. The car accident hadn't caused that destruction, she realized. Turning to her right, she saw several store fronts similarly charred. The traffic that had congested the street only minutes before was gone. In its place, blackened hulks of burned cars blocked the path for yards.
The sky above was dark, made dusky not by the setting sun but by billowing clouds of black smoke arching up from points both near and far. It seemed as though the entire city was on fire. Xena felt a surge of fear, and realized that she'd been right after all. The future had been changed when she left the present. When Ares brought her here, he'd done more than give Xena a new sparring partner. He'd unmade the world.
“I have to find Aphrodite,” Xena murmured. The only problem was, she had absolutely no idea how she was going to do it.