Disclaimer: "XENA: Warrior Princess" is owned and copyrighted by Pacific Renaissance Pictures, Studios USA Television Distribution LLC, and licensed by Universal Studios Licensing, LLLP. All rights are reserved by them. The following story is strictly nonprofit fan-fiction, and absolutely no copyright infringement is intended.

Disclaimer #2: The following story contains adult language.

Comments to the author can be sent to erniewhiting@centurylink.net

Lyrics from "The Real Me" copyright by Pete Townshend, 1972 & 1973, Fabulous Music, Ltd. All rights reserved. Used without permission from anyone, but they do get all the credit. Is that enough to keep us all out of jail?

 

"The New Adventures of XENA: Warrior Princess"

"Reversal of Fortune"

By Ernie Whiting

"For a doctor, you’d make a damn fine JAG lawyer..."

The words echoed through her mind as she lay on her cot, with her legs stretched before her and crossed at the ankles, and with her fingers laced together behind her head. Dressed in a white t-shirt and an orange jumpsuit, and staring with exhausted, blue-green eyes at the gray, concrete ceiling of her ten-by-ten jail cell, Commander Gabriella Duncan, MD, USN, sighed heavily. I’m gonna need a JAG lawyer, she thought despondently. The idea of prison life didn’t worry her that much; maybe spending the next eight to ten years of her life in here wouldn’t be so bad after all. At least she would have three hots and a cot, a roof over her head, plenty of time to get caught up on reading all of those medical journals, and there were certainly no questions about her future. She could even help the prison doctor take care of the other inmates, although she would no longer be licensed to practice medicine—and never would be again. No, what worried her so deeply was the fact that she was completely out of ideas as to how to get Lieutenant Colonel Gina Ryan, USMC, out of that mental hospital and away from those licensed drug pushers who were keeping her doped up with their wide assortment of sedatives, tranquilizers, and depressants. What tore at her very soul was the thought of her damaged and confused soul mate—suffering from blinding migraines and partial amnesia, both brought on by severe post traumatic stress disorder and a total emotional breakdown—sitting lost and alone, and locked away for the rest of her life in a psychiatric institution. She could imagine seeing her confined to a hospital wardroom and gazing through her barred window at the puffy white clouds and pale blue sky outside, perpetually drugged and forever wondering why her friend wasn’t coming to see her.

I’m sorry, Xena, she thought. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry...

Lying on her cot, with her legs crossed at the ankles and her fingers laced behind her head, and dressed in her white t-shirt and orange prison jumpsuit, Gabrielle sighed a deep and ragged sigh as a single, glimmering tear slowly trickled from the corner of one eye.

***

"I’m going to need you to be a model citizen while you’re still here," she vaguely remembered her soul mate telling her. "Which means going to bed when they tell you to, taking your meds on time—palm the damn things and toss ‘em, if you want..."

That wasn’t precisely what she had been doing. Rather than palming the damn things and tossing them down the toilet, she had been carefully wrapping them in a sheet of bathroom tissue. She could have flushed them, but something had told her not to. Not only was she interested in just how much of this stuff they were giving her, but she also considered the possibility that maybe—just maybe—she might need them for the ultimate escape from this madhouse in case Brie was unable to get her out of here.

No, she suddenly told herself with a painfully throbbing head. No, goddamn it, no! You’re a Marine; surrender is not an option! You either succeed or you die trying, but you do not surrender! You do not leave Gabrielle alone in this world! As long as you’ve got breath, you’ve got a chance. So you just suck it up, jarhead, and do the fuckin’ job!

Between the lack of drugs and her new regimen of daily sit-ups and push-ups, and solitary kung fu and tae kwan do routines, she was beginning to feel more like her old self. Her only problems were the gaps in her memory, and the sharp, blinding migraines that slammed into her skull like daggers in her temples whenever she tried to remember too much too quickly.

"And no more throwing your meals at the orderlies," she also remembered, which never failed to bring a smile to her lips. With that particular avenue of entertainment cut off, she had put that energy, too, into her daily workouts.

"So how are you feeling this morning, Colonel?" Dr. Douglas Cavanaugh asked as he took note of her sudden smile. He was sitting across from her, behind his desk and jotting notes in her medical file. "You’re looking better; those tranquilizers must really be working for you."

"Actually, I’m doing a lot better," the Marine replied quickly. "Every morning, right on schedule at oh-seven-hundred, I piss like a racehorse."

Plenty of fluid intake and unobstructed urination was how the body ridded itself of a number of sedatives, anesthetics and other drugs; and with a satisfactory nod, he made a note of it in her record.

"And at oh-eight-hundred my bowels are movin’ just to beat the band."

A natural result of a high-fiber diet, he thought as he made another note in her file. The kitchen staff was certainly doing their job well.

"There’s just one little problem..."

He finally looked up from the file. "Really?" he asked, mildly concerned. "What’s that?"

"I don’t wake up until oh-nine-hundred."

He frowned. He looked back at her record. He flipped both forward and backward through the thin, onion-skin sheets, and found nothing about... He looked back up at her once more, with a deepening puzzled frown, to find...

She was smiling back at him. "I’m kidding, Doc," she said at last. "It’s a joke."

"A joke?" He glanced back at her file again, and then at her. And then the light went on. "Oh, a joke!" he said with an expanding grin. He thought it over, and then laughed. "Yes, I see! Yes, well, it’s certainly good to know you’re getting a sense of humor." Intensely—and with a sudden and suspicious little glance in her direction—he scribbled another note in her file.

She watched him with a diminishing smile, and wondered what he was writing this time. "Listen, Dr. Cavanaugh," she said at last. "I was wondering... I haven’t heard from Commander Duncan for a while, and I was wondering if you’d let me make a phone call to her."

Cavanaugh stiffened slightly. The young commander’s single visit had done Ryan a world of good, so he was loathe to think of what might happen to Ryan if she found out that Duncan was in jail and awaiting trial for... That kind of news could set the colonel’s progress back immeasurably.

"The last I heard," he said carefully, "was that she’s unavailable for reasons not specified. Is there anyone else you’d like to get in touch with? Your family, perhaps?"

Her family wouldn’t be able to help her find Gabrielle, nor would Brie’s family. And if Cavanaugh was stonewalling her, then the chances were good that anyone else in the military would do the same. Her brains might be scrambled, but somehow she was still familiar with a military bureaucracy that was second only to the lumbering political bureaucracy that controlled it.

Who could she ask?

"Yeah," she said after another moment’s thought. "Yeah, as a matter of fact, there is someone else I’d like to see..."

***

Two days later, a silver BMW 528i rolled to a stop at the guard post that stood at the main gate of the Alameda Naval Air Base, across the bay from San Francisco. An armed Marine Corps MP stepped up to the sports car while two more stood behind the vehicle with their M-16 assault rifles at rest, and examined the ID that the well-groomed driver, dressed in a dark suit and shades, had handed him. He stepped inside the shack to make a quick phone call, then returned the ID to the driver, raised the gate, and waved him on through as the other two guards slung their weapons once more and returned to their post.

"Who was that?" one of the MPs asked.

The other shrugged slightly, with little interest. "Spook," he replied.

"Oh," said the first. CIA, he thought, unimpressed.

***

"Jack!" Gina said with a grin as they hugged warmly. "Damn, it’s good to see you again!"

"I never thought I’d ever hear you say that," Jack Sawyer replied with a good-natured chuckle. "You look good; how’re you feeling?"

"A hell of a lot better, since I stopped taking all those damn pills." They settled down on a white, wrought iron bench in the middle of the sun-washed yard of the hospital, where no one would be able to listen to them. "Brie came to see me once, and said she was working on a way to get me out of here—and that was the last I’ve heard from her. I was wondering if you knew where she was and what she might be up to. I’m getting a little worried."

Jack nodded thoughtfully, and then reached into an inside coat pocket to remove his cell phone. He quickly punched in a number and put it to his ear. "We’ll find out in a second," he told her, and then almost immediately said into the phone, "Chakram." He paused for a moment as the party at the other end established a secure channel. Not just secure from public scrutiny, but also shielded from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon, the Defense Department, and the National Security Agency. This conversation was meant only for that small, secret and elite band of intelligence and military experts and operatives that had been handpicked long ago by Colonel Ryan and Special Agent Sawyer, and which covertly worked within the government to arm and supply Ares for Gina and Brie’s undercover missions—and therefore had complete access to all government resources. With their existence known by no one outside of their circle, they referred to themselves simply as The Team.

"Yeah, I need a location on Commander Gabriella Duncan, MD. Yeah... Yeah, I’ll hold." He covered the mouthpiece, and addressed Gina. "They’re checking into it; it shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.

"So what the hell are you doing in here, anyway?" he suddenly asked. "I haven’t heard shit from Brie, and when I got your call from a psychiatric hospital, I gotta tell ya—I was damn near floored! I mean, is this your idea of getting away from it all for a vacation? ‘Cause I gotta tell ya, babe, this is not a good idea."

Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "You call me ‘babe’ one more time, and I’ll—"

He smiled smugly and playfully. "Eh?" he said, turning one ear toward her and cupping a hand around it to better hear her response. "What?" he asked, leaning toward her slightly. "What was that? Was that a threat I heard? That wasn’t a threat I heard, was it?"

Gina clamped her mouth shut, but her expression was still cold, dark, and utterly dangerous.

"Oh, lighten up, willya?" Sawyer said as he relaxed once more. "You really do need to unwind, y’know? They’ve got all kinds of good tranquilizers here; I imagine they can find something that’ll—"

She clenched her teeth. "Joxer!" she snapped.

"Okay, all right, take it easy. I’m just killing time while I’m waiting for—oh, hang on a sec." He shifted his attention back to the phone. "Talk to me. Yeah... She’s where?"

"What is it?" Gina asked, clearly worried.

He raised a hand in a request for silence. He listened some more. "She what?"

"What is it?" Gina wanted to know.

He flapped a hand at her in a demand for silence as he continued to listen. "Are you kidding me?"

Shifting nervously, she folded her arms beneath her breasts. Then she stood with her hands on her hips, towering over him as she watched and listened helplessly.

"Yeah, okay. Right. Thanks, I owe you." He hung up.

"What is it?" she asked worriedly. "Where is she?"

"She’s in jail!"

"Jail!?!" Her sapphire eyes widened in shock. "What the hell is she doing in jail? What, did she mug somebody or something? What the—"

"She’s in jail for forging a set of travel orders from an admiral Curtis Hastings. She falsified his signature, hopped on board a military transport, and took an unauthorized trip to Greece."

"Forgery? And going to Greece? Aw, God!" She could feel that dagger’s blade begin to twist its way into her temple as she sat heavily back down on the bench with a groan. "What the hell was she thinkin’?"

Sawyer addressed her with an intensity that she’d never seen from him before. "Gina, listen to me. When she came here to see you, what did she say? What did she tell you?"

She had to think back carefully. She’d been pretty loaded at the time... "She said she was working on a plan to get me out of here. She said that she couldn’t sign my release orders, but she was working on a way to get me out of here. She mentioned something..." She struggled to remember. "...something about getting me out on First Amendment grounds..." She shook her head as she slowly massaged her temples with her fingertips.

"First Amendment grounds?" he repeated, puzzled. What would free speech, free press, or peacefully assembling to protest have to do with anything? Still, though, she had to have been talking about legal action. Which meant she had probably been on her way to JAG, or at least she might have called them... He reached for his phone once more, punched in another number (rather than having his entire personal and business phone book of over a hundred numbers pre-programmed in the speed dialer, he chose to memorize each number individually; he didn’t like the idea of someone possibly getting hold of his phone and punching up the speed dialer just to find out who was at the other end), and then waited as the phone at the other end rang. "Mac? Jack. I’m trying to track down the activities of Commander Brie Duncan. Did she stop by your office recently?"

Gina watched him with a new sense of wonder and admiration. It was amazing how their inept yet grudgingly lovable traveling companion from ages gone by now knew so many different people in so many different levels of government, both public and top-secret. But then, he was a CIA computer wiz...

"Yeah?" He listened carefully. "Really? Yeah, that clears up a lot, even if it does seem to pose even more questions than answers. At least I’ve narrowed my field of search... Yeah, I’m on it. Listen, thanks a lot, Mac, you’re a sweetheart... You betcha." He hung up.

"‘Mac’?" Gina asked. "You call guys named ‘Mac’ sweetheart?" She watched him curiously for a long moment while he regarded her in response with a dry look. "Is there something you’ve been keeping from me?"

"Her name is Lieutenant Colonel Sarah MacKenzie, of the Judge Advocate General’s office in Falls Church. She’s a jarhead, just like you. I introduced her to Brie when she needed a doctor to testify as an expert witness in a medical malpractice case a few years back. She said Brie came to her with a possible freedom of religion issue, wondering if polytheism was legally recognized a religion."

"Polytheism?" Gina asked as the ancient gods came immediately to mind.

"Apparently, when they first brought you here you were ranting about Hercules and the old gods and previous lives, or some damn thing. They had to tie you down after you beat up six Marine Corps orderlies, and shot you full of Thorazine to get you calmed down."

She didn’t hear the rest as her thoughts raced, piecing the puzzle together. Had the young doctor been risking her Naval career to make her way to some temple in search of the old gods? Had she been in search of Aphrodite, or possibly even Ares, with a favor to ask? Had she really intended to indebt herself to the god of war in order to obtain Gina’s release?

She sighed heavily as the clouds of confusion parted to reveal the bright sunshine of understanding. "Gabrielle..." she growled, with a mixture of exasperation and affection, and smiling just a little in spite of herself. The crafty and fast-talking young bard had tried the legal route first; and it would have worked, too, had it not been for a particularly odious yet widely and thoughtlessly accepted form of religious bigotry. So when her reasoning had been ignored, the determined young doctor had laid her entire career on the line and had risked arrest and imprisonment, all for the sake of friendship. She had rolled the dice, and lost. But what gave Ryan’s heart a pang of love and longing was the fact that the young bard had rolled those dice, knowing full well that she had such a slim, slim chance of winning the jackpot.

She squeezed her eyes shut as she massaged her pounding temples. "I gotta get out of here, Jack," she said at last. "She needs me. She needs us both."

"Yeah, I know. She’s going to be arraigned in another forty-eight hours; and once she’s arraigned, nothing will get those charges dropped. So whatever we’re gonna do, we’d better do it fast. The problem is, I don’t know how I’m gonna get you out of here. I mean, it isn’t like I’m trying to get missiles for Ares or anything; I can manipulate only so much. I mean, in this situation we’ve got a doctor who knows you’re—" He stopped abruptly. "Well...you know..." He faltered, suddenly embarrassed and wishing he hadn’t gone there.

Gina looked at him with exhausted, expressionless eyes. "Crazy?"

"No, not...not crazy," he said, almost apologetically, "just..."

She waved him off in casual dismissal; she’d been called worse. She thought furiously, and after a long moment she finally said, "I think I’ve got an idea."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. First of all, what can you tell me about this Admiral Hastings? Where’s he stationed? And where’s Brie being held?"

He took out his cell phone once more, and with a sly smile the CIA officer put it to his ear. "Let’s find out, shall we?"

***

"Evenin’, Colonel! How’re you this evenin’, ma’am?"

The young, tall and gawky orderly wasn’t terribly bright, but he had a good heart. Every evening, Private First Class James Dalton brought Gina her dinner at precisely 1830 hours, and tonight was no exception. He had volunteered for this duty because he wanted to be able to write to his family and friends, and tell them that he’d been in the presence of greatness. He wanted to be able to tell them that he had personally met the Marine who had saved the world from a plague that would have wiped out all of mankind. To him, she was an honest-to-God hero! But, sadly, she was also a damaged hero who now suffered from nightmares and amnesia, and who frequently woke up in the dead of night, drenched in sweat and screaming in mortal terror and agonizing frustration, unable to remember the night terrors that had viciously wrenched her from her sleep. He couldn’t treat her, he couldn’t help her, and he couldn’t make the nightmares or the pain go away; but at least he could try to see to her physical comfort. He wanted to do his part to take care of her.

And she never treated him the way so many others did. He may have been just a Marine Corps orderly without even a high school diploma, but she always treated him with kindness and respect, and human decency. Some people thought he just wasn’t very bright, and others thought he was of below average intelligence, and they didn’t want to bother with or be bothered by him; but Gina knew, even in her occasionally drugged state, that he simply had a learning disorder. He just needed a little more time and a little extra help–a little extra patience–and she was in an excellent position to provide both. As a matter of fact, over the last few weeks and on her more lucid days, she had even been helping him with his studies in acquiring his GED certification. The greatest joy of her incarceration here was in seeing him learn. And the more he learned, the more he would be able to advance.

"I’m all right," she replied with a friendly smile while feeling lower than dog shit because of what she was going to do. I’m sorry, Jimmy, she thought, I’m sorry, I’m sorry... "So what’s for dinner tonight?"

He whipped away the cover with a flourish. "Roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, and salad with Thousand Island dressing, ma’am! And chocolate pudding for desert!" He set the tray down before her, and then turned to draw the shade over the window. And then he quickly turned back. "And my orders are to make certain that you don’t eat your d...dessert...first..." Had she just been...doing something to... Naw, he finally decided as he shook off the thought.

"I promise you, Jimmy, no dessert first." As she began to poke at her potatoes with her plastic fork, he turned back once more to close the blinds, completely oblivious to any activities behind his back. Then he went to check the bathroom to make sure she had sufficient supplies of toilet paper, soap, shampoo, toothpaste and mouthwash. When he returned, Gina said, "These potatoes taste funny. Who cooked ‘em?"

"Uhhh..." He had to think for a moment. "I think Cookie cooked ‘em." That was his nickname for the cook; Cookie.

"He did, huh? He needs to go back to school. These taste really weird. Here; try ‘em."

"Uhhh... I’m really not supposed to..."

"Oh, come on. No one’ll know. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but..." She shrugged.

One little taste wouldn’t hurt, he figured. He tried them. "Tastes good to me. Really good." He looked as though he wanted more; he hadn’t had dinner yet... "I’d better go so you can—"

She indicated the tray. "Here, enjoy. I’m not really hungry anyway, and I’d hate for this to go to waste."

"You sure, Colonel?" he asked hopefully as his stomach suddenly growled with hunger.

She forced a dazzling smile. "Be my guest. I’ll even entertain you with a story."

"A story? I like stories. M’daddy used to tell some real whoppers. What’s yours about?"

"My story goes back...way back...to a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings. A time when a land in total chaos cried desperately for a hero..."

The orderly smiled with excitement; this sounded like it was going to be a good one.

"‘She was Gabrielle...the Bard of Poteidaia and mighty Queen of the Amazons."

Chewing vigorously and smiling, he settled in to enjoy a good tale.

***

Bed check was at 2000 hours every night. It was Mike Buderi’s turn this time, and he didn’t mind it at all. It was calm and quiet, and all he had to do was just take a peek through the windows of the doors as he sauntered quietly down the corridor, making certain that the beds were occupied. When he came upon Colonel Ryan’s room, he peered inside to take note of the sleeping form, covered from head to toe in a white blanket and snoring loudly. They musta really whacked her out with some Phenobarbital, he thought. He’d never heard her snore like that before.

He casually moved on from one room to the next, whistling softly.

***

Dressed in ill-fitting orderlies’ whites, the tall figure waited for only a few minutes in the partial darkness around the corner of the hospital’s main entrance before the silver BMW pulled up out front. Quickly checking around her and finding that she was unobserved, she walked briskly to the car, pulled the door open, and slipped inside. Once she was comfortably settled in the leather-upholstered seat, she was informed that there was an F-15 Eagle fighter jet and a pilot waiting for her at the other side of the massive air base, which could run her down to San Diego literally in minutes, and that there were a flight suit and helmet in the back seat, along with a set of black fatigues.

***

At 2300 hours, Admiral Curtis Hastings was just getting ready to go to bed for some much-needed sleep when the phone rang in his den. With a sigh, he turned from the stairs and went to answer the phone. "Hastings."

"Sir? It’s Harper, sir. Admiral, there’s been a break-in at your office."

"A break-in? What the hell—" How the hell could anyone get past the MPs posted at every entrance of the Naval Air Station of North Island, San Diego? It was a military base, for God’s sake! Guarded by a contingent of armed Marines! Unauthorized access was impossible. The only ways in were through the MPs at the gates or to fly in.

Unless it was an inside job, he suddenly thought. He nervously ran a hand through his brush cut white hair. "Is anything missing? Anything stolen?"

"Unknown, sir. Sir, we need you to come down and check on that. Somebody’s attempted to break into your safe."

Shit! He thought. "I’m on my way, Harper. No one else gets in there until I do."

"Sir, NCIS has already..."

He didn’t hear the rest. Oh, Christ!! "Just tell them to hold their horses until I get there." Not that they would; NCIS may be the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, but their investigators didn’t answer to any military protocol. They may have had military backgrounds, but they were all law enforcement, and not subject to anyone’s rank except for within their own organization.

"Understood, Harper. I’m on my way."

***

Jesus, he thought with a sigh of relief as he slipped the key into the front door of his home. Nothing had been stolen from his office after all. The safe obviously had been tampered with, but it hadn’t been opened; and his desk’s top and drawers had been thoroughly riffled; yet apparently nothing had been taken. As he pushed the door open, he wondered if the condition of his desk had been the result of the burglar or NCIS investigators.

He shut the front door and locked it, then hung up his coat in the closet and passed by the open door of his den as he headed toward the stairs. Then he stopped. He turned around. Hadn’t he left that door shut? He stepped toward it and gently pushed it the rest of the way open. Across the darkened room, he could see that one of the French windows was open; a gentle gust of wind was toying with the curtains. He was about to cross the room when he saw the shadowy, faceless figure sitting in the leather chair behind his desk.

"Evening, Admiral."

He froze. "What the—"

"We need to talk," the intruder said, with an unmistakably feminine voice. The figure in the chair was tall and dressed in black fatigues, complete with a black woolen watch cap. When it leaned forward to switch on the fluorescent desk lamp, the light flickered to life with tiny, almost inaudible clicks, and sparkled against a pair of dangerously narrowed sapphire eyes. "There’s a friend of mine who’s in jail, and she needs to be released," she continued as she leaned back in the chair, her face now a white orb in the darkness.

He stared at her for a moment. The only woman in jail right now was Commander Duncan, the friend of... "Colonel Ryan?" he asked. "What in the hell are you—" He stopped abruptly. The woman was supposed to be in the psycho ward of the Alameda Naval Air Station, wasn’t she? What was she doing here? "How in the hell—"

"Commander Gabriella Duncan. You had her arrested for forging your signature on some orders. She needs to be released, with all charges dropped."

With ever-increasing indignance, he demanded, "Who the hell are you to break into my home and start telling me what the hell to do? She committed a goddamned felony! She—"

"She’s the best damned trauma surgeon this Navy has, and she is the best friend I’ve ever had," Ryan said, her voice low and dangerous. "She saved my life. And you’re all upset that she forged your signature?" She snorted in mild contempt as she slowly shook her head. "Yeah, that’s a felony; but it’s hardly of the earth-shaking importance that you’re trying to assign to it."

"Forging the orders of a superior officer is a goddamned felony!" he said again, his voice roaring. "It’s a violation of the chain of command! She may be a friend to the both of us and a damned good doctor, but I can’t just look the other way—"

"Conspiracy and obstruction of justice are felonies, too," Ryan said calmly. "It’s not like she..." She deliberately looked thoughtful. "...helped to cover up the massacre of an entire Vietnamese village back in 1966, for example."

Hastings’s heart plunged into his stomach. He stared at her in silence for a long moment as an icy dread made its way up his spine and into his eyes.

"Yeah, I know all about Quang Tri," she said softly. "I had a peek inside your office safe, and inside your home safe. Oh, there was nothing there, of course," she added quickly, cutting off the admiral before he could respond. "It’s not the kind of thing one would want to keep around in case someone like me decided to break in and have a little look. And I’m not about to go planting false evidence, even to save my friend. But I’ve also had a look inside of some buried, eyes-only computer records that you thought were sealed, and..." She tossed a collection of floppy disks to scatter across the desk between them, sliding almost to the far edge. "...I made plenty of copies."

Fear and rage battled for dominance of his emotions.

"So I know you didn’t take part in those killings, Admiral...but you did help to cover them up, didn’t you? To save your friends’ careers?"

"So are you here to blackmail me, Colonel?" Hastings growled. "Because it really doesn’t become you at all."

With a slight arching of one dark eyebrow and a tiny, sideways tilt of her head, she shrugged without moving a shoulder. "Think of it as insurance."

He watched her with icy wrath. "Yeah," he reluctantly replied at last. "Yeah, I did. Because they saved my life." He slowly approached the desk and leaned on its edge with both hands, bringing his face within inches of Ryan’s. He picked up the computer discs, and without taking his eyes off of Ryan’s he sent them sliding back to her. "And now you know about Quang Tri, too, Colonel," he added softly. "Now that you’ve got the ball, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to do the right and legal thing, and hand me over to the authorities? Or are you going to keep silent about it, and help me cover it up to keep your friend out of jail, and to save her career?"

Ryan regarded him with a stony gaze.

And the admiral knew that his shot had found its mark. "It’s a knife that cuts both ways, Gina."

Funny he should put it that way, she thought as one of those dagger-like migraines suddenly slammed into her temples. But she fought down the pain, refusing to succumb to it. She refused to even react to it. Instead, she watched him with cold bitterness.

"How do you suppose Commander Duncan would feel if she knew what you were doing?"

She knew full well that there was no way in hell that Brie would ever allow her to engage in such a conspiracy. "She isn’t going to know," Ryan replied, with a sudden blue fire in her eyes even as those daggers twisted in her temples. "She will never know!"

He leaned in a little closer, his eyes cold. "Can you be sure of that?" he asked softly. "Are you ready to spend the rest of your life keeping secrets from her? Maybe even lying to her?"

There was no denying the fact that he had a point, but still she stubbornly refused to concede it. "You just drop the charges against her," she replied at last. "I’ll take care of my own fuckin’ conscience."

Before he had a chance to respond to her, she reached forward once more and switched off the desk lamp to plunge the room into darkness once more. By the time he lunged forward to switch it on again, she was nowhere to be seen. He quickly stepped around the desk and out through the French doors, and surveyed the expansive yard behind his house–but the colonel was already gone.

***

Enough wallowing in self-pity, she told herself as she now angrily paced back and forth in front of the cell door. If the admiral presses charges, then I’ll make bail and fly to Alameda and bust Gina out if I have to. And if it gets to trial, I’ll make damned sure I’ve got a damned good lawyer. And if I get convicted, I’ll appeal it. And if that fails, I’ll appeal the appeal! I’ll flood ‘em with so goddamn many appeals and make ‘em all so fuckin’ sick of me that they’ll wish they’d fuckin’ never met me. And then I’m gonna–

The sounds of a door opening at the end of the corridor made Brie straighten up more and take notice. And what made her heart suddenly race with new excitement was the appearance of Jack Sawyer behind the MP who was leading him down the hall. He was carrying something that softly rustled and crackled behind him, slung over one shoulder and hanging behind his back.

"Jack?" she said. "What are you doing here?"

"Good news, Commander," he said with a smile. "They’re kicking you out of here. Evidently, they’re fed up with your unpleasant, redneck company."

She regarded him with puzzled green eyes. "What?" she asked. And who the hell was he callin’ a redneck?

"Admiral Hastings has chosen not to press charges against you, Commander," the MP explained, with an encouraging nod from Sawyer, as he unlocked her cell door with a jingling of keys. "You’re free to go, ma’am."

"Dropped?" Brie said with a bewildered yet growing smile. "Free? Free to...to go?" Hang in there, Gina! she suddenly thought with a new and growing excitement, I’m comin’ to getcha!

Sawyer swung the clear, plastic garment bag from behind his shoulder to reveal a freshly cleaned and pressed, casual whites Navy uniform. "As soon as you can get into this. Unless, of course, you really want to stick around..." he said with a smile. "Personally, I’d get the hell out as soon as I could."

"But how’s this—" she spluttered. "Who, what—"

"We’ll talk about it on the way out," Sawyer told her. "The important thing is you are free to go. So c’mon, jailbird; the locker room’s that way."

***

"We need to arrange for transport to Alameda NAS as soon as possible," Brie was saying excitedly as Sawyer’s BMW came to a screeching halt on the airfield’s asphalt. Sitting in the leather-upholstered passenger’s seat, and fiddling with a set of black fatigues that she’d found there before settling in, she was taking note of an F-15 Eagle that stood not far away, accompanied by a two-person flight crew and with its canopy open. "What about that one?" she asked, pointing at the fighter jet. "C’mon, that thing’ll get me there in no time!"

"I’ve already arranged for a CH-46 to fly you out."

"A Sea Knight? What do you mean, a Sea Knight? Why a Sea Knight?" Brie wanted to know as she took note of the slightly smaller version of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter (the Sea Knight was intentionally built smaller so it would be easier to land and store on board an aircraft carrier). They were rapidly approaching the massive gray helicopter whose fore-and-aft props were already winding up. "C’mon, why not that jet right there? Why a helo? I have got to get to Gina! She’s counting on me!" And even as she spoke those words, there was something about the taller one of the Eagle’s crew that suddenly struck her with an odd sense of familiarity. There was something about the way he walked; like a gunslinger of the Old West, or like some jungle predator...

"Brie, relax. I couldn’t snag you a fighter, so I got you the next available ride. It’ll take you a little while longer, but it’ll get you there."

"I need to get to Gina as soon as I can," Brie said. "I need to see her, and to explain why I haven’t been to see her—"

"Gabrielle, please. Take it easy. You’ll get to see her; she’s not going anywhere."

***

The sun was just coming up in the eastern sky when PFC James Dalton awoke and found himself slumped in Colonel Ryan’s chair, next to the bed. And the first thing he thought was, Oh, shoot! He’d fallen asleep while on duty! Oh, shoot, oh shoot, oh shoot—how was he going to explain this to Dr. Cavanaugh? Oh, God, he was going to be in it up to his eyeballs…

With a deep sigh and a soft groan, the colonel shifted on the bed and then rolled onto her side, and cracked open her sapphire eyes. "Hey, Jimmy," she said with a dry and sleepy voice. She raised her head and rested it in her hand, with her elbow against the mattress. "Have you been here all night?"

"I am really sorry, Colonel," he began, with his eyes and his voice in near panic. "I-I don’t know how I c-could have fallen asleep—"

"You did?" she asked, puzzled. "You look wide awake to me. It must have been after I dozed off…"

The colonel had dozed off? Jimmy wondered. The last thing he remembered was Colonel Ryan telling him some story about a wandering bard and Amazon Queen, who had traveled the land with a tall, dark-haired and sword-wielding sidekick who had eventually learned from the bard that not all problems had to be solved with the shedding of an enemy’s blood…

"Listen, I want to thank you for sticking with me last night," Ryan told him. "You got me through a pretty rough night."

"I…I did?"

Ryan watched him with a smile in her eyes. "Hell yeah! You are way too modest, y’know that?"

"Um…uhh… I… Ma’am, I honestly don’t… All I know is that I…" He looked and felt so guilty about having fallen asleep at his post; he was convinced that he was going to be court-martialed, burned at the stake like a heretic, and then shot by a firing squad.

The smile in her eyes finally reached her lips. "You’re just modest, that’s all," she told him. "Way too modest."

***

"Gina!" she called out as she walked briskly across the expansive, sun-washed yard of the hospital. Dressed in casual Navy whites and a smoky gray pair of aviators’ sunglasses, Brie quickly turned her brisk approach into a hurried run. "Xena!"

"Gabrielle!" the tall Marine replied as she quickened her own pace toward the commander. Dressed in pale blue cotton pajamas and a white terrycloth robe and slippers, she ran toward her partner, and they caught each other in a tight, laughing and tearful embrace.

"I’m sorry I didn’t come see you sooner—"

"I was so worried about you—"

Each finally released the other from her tight embrace to gaze into her partner’s eyes. "I was so afraid you might think that I’d given up on you," Brie said. "I—"

"Hey, I knew you’d never give up on me," Gina replied. "But I was worried about you when you didn’t come back. Where’ve you been? What happened?"

"I…" At a total loss for words, she really had no idea of what to tell her. "I was…unavoidably detained."

"Detained?" Ryan asked with feigned curiosity as she fought down the urge to smile. "What, did you get thrown in jail or something?"

Brie stared at her with wide, mute and surprised eyes.

Grinning a dazzling grin, she threw her arms around her once more. "Jack told me you got busted," she said, and then released her once more. "What happened? What were you doing in Greece with forged orders?"

"Well," she began as they settled down on a nearby bench. She really didn’t want to go into it because now, as she looked back on it, the whole thing sounded kind of lame. But on the other hand, she wanted to be honest with her. "I went to call in a favor with the Fates."

This time, her puzzled look was real. "The Fates? What favor? Are they still there?" And at the same time she remembered one of their ancient adventures together; the one that Gabrielle later recounted in a scroll called "Remember Nothing." It had been an account of how the Fates had given Xena a chance to change her life to one of peace, providing that she swore to never again shed the blood of an enemy…

"I found their temple, but…" She sighed heavily. "…it was empty and in ruins. I guess when people no longer believed in them, they just sort of faded away."

Gina watched her fondly. "You jeopardized everything in order to ask a favor of the Fates?" she asked as she brushed some wayward blonde strands back behind one ear. "To get me out of here? And you weren’t even sure if they were still there?"

I had to try, she thought, but wouldn’t voice. Instead, she smiled a shy little smile as she said, "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…"

Gina slipped an arm around her, drew her close, and kissed her. She held her close for a long moment, saying nothing. Words really weren’t necessary.

"But this time I’ve got some better news for you," the bard finally said.

"Yeah?" Ryan asked with misty and smiling eyes. "What’s that?"

"I’m still gettin’ you out of here. Only this time I’m takin’ the legal route. I’ve managed to convince Cavanaugh that the best thing for his patient is for her to be released into my care; after all, there is no one who knows you better than I do. And that’s on a personal and a medical basis. Your release orders have been signed—not forged, this time," she added with a wry grin—"and you’re out of here as soon as we can get you into a uniform."

"That’s the best news I’ve had since your last visit," Gina told her. "The only problem is…I can’t leave."

Brie was stunned into mute, wide-eyed shock. "What!?"

"At least, not yet. Not for a few more days. I…" She shrugged weakly. "…I’m on a mission."

She stared at her. "A mission?" she finally asked, with both her voice and her eyes incredulous. Leave it to the Warrior Princess to find a mission, even if it was... "Inside of a mental hospital? What the hell kind of..." She sighed in exasperation. "Don’t you want to get out of here? What, are y’all nuts?"

She looked around their surroundings with amused eyes and a playful smile. "Well, there are a few people around here who seem to think so…"

Brie was about to say something else, but Gina gently stopped her. "I found someone in here who needed my help, and I’m not quite done yet. And as a matter of fact," she added with a growing smile, "there’s a part in it for you to play, too…"

From beneath her white cap, with the sun sparkling from its Navy insignia and the black visor, she suddenly smiled that sweet and familiar Gabrielle smile. "Yeah?"

***

"Private Dalton."

The voice came from not far behind him. Standing out in the expansive yard of the psychiatric hospital, and dressed in his khaki-and-olive service uniform, complete with rectangular flat cap ("cover," they usually called it), he turned to find Lt. Col. Ryan, similarly dressed and casually approaching him with her hands behind her back. When she drew nearer, he squared his shouldered and saluted her, and noticed that she was smiling at him as she returned his salute. "Afternoon, colonel," he said. "I heard you were bein’ discharged today, ma’am."

"Yeah. As much fun as it’s been, I’m looking forward to a change of scenery."

"Will you be taking some leave time, ma’am?"

"I thought about it," Ryan replied. "On the other hand, I feel like I’ve had enough of a vacation. I heard that the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Delta Junction is looking for another instructor; I was kind of looking forward to snagging that assignment."

Dalton–along with every other Marine–had heard of the Mountain Warfare training program; it was a grueling and exhausting blend of back country skiing, mountain climbing and rappelling, marksmanship and live ammo combat training that took place usually in the dead of night, amidst howling winds, driving snow, and a bitter and deadly cold that sank right into your bones and refused to leave. Like Navy SEAL training, it was the kind of conditioning that had been devised to weed out all but the absolute toughest and most relentlessly driven of applicants.

"After all," she added, "someone’s gotta teach those kids how to stay alive in all that snow and ice."

He couldn’t think of anyone better qualified to provide that kind of training; at the same time, he also shivered visibly, grateful that he wasn’t taking part in it. "Alaska’s a mite too cold for my tastes this time of year, ma’am," he said with a grin. "But I imagine if that’s what you want, there ain’t no one in God’s green earth who’s gonna stop you."

Gina grinned at him. "No one but my doctor," she said. "She’s decided I need an undetermined amount of R&R."

"She must be one tough doctor, if she can stop someone who’s as determined as you."

Her grin widened, and she chuckled softly as she took a moment or two to imagine what the cantankerous Navy doctor’s reaction would have been if she had heard of Gina’s desire; she’d probably be swearing and cursing at her like Dr. Phil with PMS and an Uzi, and chasing after her with syringes full of Valium.

"You have no idea," she finally said. "But she really does have my best interests at heart, God bless ‘er." She looked past him, over his shoulder. "Looks like we have some company."

Jimmy turned around, and saw the forest camouflage Humvee as it rolled to a stop not far away. Five people got out of it; four civilians, and the blonde Navy doctor who had arranged for their trip out here. Jimmy’s eyes widened in surprise. "Momma?" he said. "Daddy?" He hadn’t been able to see his parents, his younger sister or his older brother, in over a year; what were they doing here? After greeting them all with a hug, the colonel’s voice came from behind him.

"Private Dalton–front and center, Marine!"

He gave his mom one more quick kiss on the cheek, then turned to stand at attention before his commanding officer as the Navy commander with the golden caduceus pinned to her blouse went to stand next to her.

Ryan finally revealed what she had been holding behind her back: it was a black leather folder. With Dalton’s family standing near him, she addressed him formally. "Private First Class James Dalton. It is an honor–and my great pleasure–to present to you...your General Education Development certificate." She handed him the shiny black folder.

With surprised eyes and nervously trembling hands, he reached forward and accepted the diploma. "I really got it?" he asked in hopeful disbelief. "I really...?"

Gina knew full well how much the lack of a high school diploma had been holding him back; and while she outwardly appeared to be a stoic, no-nonsense Marine, inside she was as pleased as all get-out to present him with this certificate. "The door is open now, and the world is yours for the taking," she told him with a smile. "Congratulations, Jimmy."

Smiling buoyantly, and with his family happily and proudly surrounding him, he ran his hand over the glossy black surface as though he’d found a king’s treasure. He couldn’t believe he’d actually done it.

"Go ahead and open it," Ryan told him.

For a moment, he’d actually forgotten that the certificate was inside of the folder. He flipped it open with one fingertip, and found something along with his GED certificate. The insignia–one patch for each sleeve of his uniform–were similar to the stripe of a Private First Class, but the significant difference was that below each single stripe there was also a crossed pair of rifles.

He stared at them in wide-eyed wonder. Then he looked up at the colonel. "A promotion?" he asked, almost stammering. "I got a promotion?"

"With all the time and effort you put into your studies–and into looking after this old head case," she added with a self-deprecating smile as she tapped one temple, "you earned it, Lance Corporal. You got me through some tough times, and I will always be in your debt. And," she added after a brief moment of silence, "with that promotion, you can also expect a bigger paycheck."

He didn’t know what to do.

Commander Duncan stepped forward, and shook his hand. "I hear you’ve been taking pretty good care of the colonel," she said. "Thank you."

He still didn’t know what to do. Or say, or... But in that moment, these two officers had become friends who were closer to him than most of the guys in his platoon.

"I want you to remember something," Ryan told him, softly and seriously. "If you ever need anything–and I mean anything!–you let me know, and I’ll be there. That’s a promise, from one Marine to another."

Suddenly struggling to control his emotions–Marines aren’t supposed to cry, he kept telling himself as he felt the tears of fondness and gratitude welling in his eyes–he straightened and squared his shoulders as he stood at attention before his commanding officer. Gazing into her sapphire eyes, he brought his hand up, knife-edged with his fingertips to his brow, in a salute. Fighting down the catch in his voice, he solemnly said, "Semper Fi, Colonel."

From behind her smoky gray aviator’s shades, Commander Gabriella Duncan smiled a misty-eyed little smile. Semper Fi, she thought silently, repeating the abbreviated Semper Fidelis–Always Faithful.

Smiling back at him, and with her own eyes beginning to sting a little, Gina Ryan returned his salute. "Semper Fi, Lance Corporal. Now go be with your family." She leaned forward, and added with a playful little growl, "That’s an order."

Lance Corporal James Dalton grinned back at her. "Yes ma’am."

Brie drew alongside her with a single step as the Daltons moved off. "That’s a nice thing you did," she said with a smile. Then she looked up at her. "Mission accomplished?"

"Mission accomplished. But I owe him a lot more than that," Gina replied as she remembered how she had drugged him and had put his career in jeopardy in order to escape and to save Brie from twenty years in prison.

"So listen. Have you had enough of this place? Y’all ready to get the hell out of here now?"

Gina glanced around at her surroundings for a moment. "Yeah," she finally said. "Yeah, I think so."

"Good." Turning together, they started off. "Y’know, with all this spare time you’re gonna have on your hands, you’re gonna need a hobby."

"I’ve been kind of thinking about that," Gina said. "You’ve been telling me I like to cook; I, however, have been toying with the idea of taking up a musical instrument."

Brie looked thoughtful and a little surprised. "Really?" she asked. "That sounds like it could be very relaxing and therapeutic. What did you have in mind?"

"Electric guitar."

Brie had this sudden mental image of Gina, with a pierced nose and dressed in tattered, goth/punk garb and wailing away on a Strat at fifty thousand decibels, and shattering the peace of the entire state of California. It wasn’t exactly her idea of relaxation. "I’m not so sure that would be a good idea."

"Okay," Ryan said, "then what about drums?"

Another mental picture, this one of her with frizzy red hair and a bandanna around her head, and dressed in a tie-dyed T-shirt, battered jeans and a suede vest, and pounding the shit out of a massive drum set...and again, shattering the peace of the entire state of California. "I don’t think so," she said at last.

"Bagpipes?"

Her eyes widened in horror. "No!"

"Hmmm..." Nothing else seemed to come to mind.

"I’ll tell you what," Brie finally said. "Once we arrange for that house in Nevada City, I’ll buy you a piano. Okay? I know how fond you are of classical music."

Gina smiled. "That’ll work."

Talking softly and laughing together, they finally left the grounds of the psychiatric hospital, never to return again.

***

The red convertible Mustang was approaching the main gate, where three Marine MPs stood guard, as Gina examined the small collection of CDs. "So what kind of music have you got here, anyway?" she asked.

"Some classic rock, some jazz, a little new country..."

"Ah," Gina said as she examined a jewel case. "Perfect." It was a copy of "Quadrophenia," by the Who. She slipped the disc into the CD player and brought up track number two, "The Real Me." She took one more backward glance at the mental hospital, and then turned up the volume.

"I went back to the doctor to get another shrink.

I have to tell him about my weekend,

But he never betrays what he thinks.

Can you see the real me, doctor? Doctor?"

Brie looked at her from behind her aviator’s shades, and grinned that classic Grin of hers. She slowly shook her head with a soft chuckle. "You crazy jarhead," the bard said.

The warrior princess looked at her with one eye crossed and the other straight, and with her tongue hanging out of one corner of her mouth...and then she laughed softly.

The car rolled to a stop at the gate. The three Marine guards saluted the two officers, and the two officers returned their salutes. With a rumble from the high-powered V-eight, the car then pulled forward and took off down the road. With the music blasting from the speakers, the car eventually shrank in the distance, and finally disappeared beyond a slight rise in the road.

"I went back to my mother, I said ‘I’m crazy ma, help me.’

She said, ‘I know how it feels son, ‘cause it runs in the family.’

Can you see the real me, mamma? Mamma?..."

The End

 

No one from "JAG" was available to put in a guest appearance during the production of this story.

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