Before you start to read this story, be aware that it's taking me forever to write. Continue at your own risk.


The following story contains adult themes and may not be suitable for all audiences. If it were a movie, it'd be rated NC-17 for profanity, mild/medium violence (no sexual violence), explicit sexual content, and other various and sundry mature issues. If it is illegal to read this sort of material because of your age or place of residence, please do not read it. Please make your own personal choice to read this as you see fit. The writer and the person who maintains the website this story appears on accept no legal responsibility for noncompliance with this warning.

This is an UberXena/Gabrielle story and while the backstory and characters of Xena, Gabrielle, and others who may have appeared on the television series, Xena: Warrior Princess, are copyrighted to MCA/Universal/Renaissance, the original characters and storyline are copyrighted to me (posted Dec 5, 1998 ­ L.N. James). No aspect of this story may be used elsewhere without the expressed prior written consent of the author. This story may not be altered in any way or sold; all copyright information must appear with this work at all times.

This story is a sequel to Chicago 5am and like its predecessor, is of the Alt persuasion. It might be helpful to check that story out for background and context. Updates will be made as often as humanly possible.



L.N. James

Prologue: Tickle

Up through the green, leafy canopy, the sky was eggshell blue. The jungle sounded loud, full of insects and other creaking noises unfamiliar to his ear. As he lay pressed against the warm wet swampy earth, a tickling sensation started from his feet and moved up. It was funny, really, how the tickling almost made him want to laugh out loud.

He had never really amounted to much in this life: his family had been poor, he had been poor. And then, the organization had taken him in, giving him a job. Running at first, then scouting, then watching the back of a man he knew only as Señor, and then, finally he was in charge of security. He made enough to support his family, his older mother, his sisters and their babies. They never asked what he did and he never told them. It was better that way.

Now, he wasn't so sure. It all seemed kind of...useless really. Making a living was one thing, actually living was another. It was some bitter justice, here in the end. There was no family around him now and it was unlikely they'd ever know what happened to him. It wasn't a noble way to have lived...or died...but, one did what one had to these days.

Alone here in the jungle, outside Señor's sprawling Vaupes estate, Miguel Ramos chuckled and then choked on his own blood, the tickling feeling seeping in all around him. There was such a fine line between the irony and the amusement of having been bested on the job. He had tracked her after she was spotted outside the garden terrace. Not only had she gotten away with some very valuable documentation from Señor's office, but she had also surprised Miguel by dropping down on him from the trees and drawing a thin blade across his throat. As his life started to flow out of him in the tropical heat of the jungle, he had fired one round at her retreating figure before she disappeared into the thick, hot Colombian rainforest.

A rushing sound filled Miguel's ears, drowning out all other thought and feeling, except for the overwhelming tickle that signaled that his brain was shutting itself off for good.

Life over.

Chapter 1: Reach v. Speed

The phone rang seven times before a hand reached out and felt for the cold receiver. It was dark in the room, the pre-dawn winter blacking out most of the dim golden streetlight coming through the window blinds. Outside, big crispy flakes of snow fell silently and hidden in the shadows of the buildings and barren trees. Ice cold and windy, Chicago slept as warmly and as snug as it could, but the chill still crept around the edges nevertheless.


Sleepily, the voice answered, pulling the phone under the covers. Hunkered down in flannel and thickness, a body curled closer to itself for warmth, barely awake. It was quiet before the silence was broken by one word.


The voice was strained and low in the dark. Shifting slowly on to her back, the blond who answered the phone blinked and took a breath. Her heart woke up and pounded loudly in her own ears. Swallowing, she spoke softly.

"Tina? Is that you?"

A long pause followed. So long, in fact, that Mariel Potidean thought for a moment she had dreamed the phone call and the voice and everything. If she was dreaming, it was filled with background noise and a sigh.

"'s me."

The young FBI forensic scientist pressed the phone receiver closer to her ear and swallowed as she closed her eyes. Reaching up, she ran a hand through her hair as she exhaled.

"Where are you?"

The background noise came into definition and helped answer part of the question as the voice on the other end of the phone replied.

" the airport."

Tina Amphipoli sounded tired and distant, both of which were true. Sitting up slightly with her elbow pressed in the warm bed, Mariel heard the intercom announce the arrival of Delta flight 1539 before she spoke quietly.

"Are you okay?"

The scientist glanced over at the red illumination of her clock, the numbers indicating it was 6:39 in the morning. At this point, the time really didn't matter anymore. Across the line, she heard Tina's voice answer softly.


Mariel took a deep breath as she covered her eyes with her hand, willing herself to slow down the adrenaline that was making her shake. It was a mixture of fear, hurt, and hope. The private detective's voice spoke quietly in her ear.

"I'm sorry..."

The young woman who had completed her Ph.D. in forensic psychology a year ago, and who had helped crack the first case she had received, exhaled at the words. Mariel didn't really know how to respond to that. Half of her wanted to say, 'Sorry?? Oh, you mean you're sorry for breaking our date and not calling me for three months...or you're sorry for disappearing off the face of the earth...or maybe you're sorry you called me now?? Well, apology not accepted.' The other half of her just wanted curl up and forget the January winter outside. Instead, she said nothing.


Tina spoke quietly, almost pained in the low vibration of the word. The muffled sound of a woman's voice asking for the Smith party to meet at Gate 13 filled the silence between them. With a whisper, Mariel responded.


There was a pause as the investigator took a breath and spoke again, the exhaustion and emotion creeping into Tina's voice.

"I'm sorry..."

Mariel rolled on to her side and pulled the cover closer around her shoulder, her hand holding the phone tight to her ear. A million different emotions went through her body. Swallowing, she closed her eyes.

"So you're in Miami..."

She could hear Tina shift the phone to the other side and begin to whisper quickly.

"Listen, Mariel...I need your're the only one I can trust."

From the tone in the private detective's voice, Mariel could sense a certain urgency that wasn't there a second before. Her heart continued to pound as she spoke.

"What is it? Are you okay?"

The phone was silent and the scientist could hear the rustling of papers and other things before Tina whispered again, this time in a hoarse voice that only now did Mariel realize was also tinged with halting pain.

"My flight leaves in a few minutes....into O'Hare...can you pick me up in an hour and a half?"

Mariel sat up, the cold of the room further shocking her body awake.

"Wait..what's going on?"

Tina's words were rushed and labored, scaring Mariel for some inexplicable reason.

"I can't talk here...US Air #258...please, Mariel.."

The scientist sat on the edge of her bed and clicked on the light, scribbling the flight number in a shaky hand as she spoke.

"Okay...okay...but you owe me an explanation because you're scaring the shit outta me here, Tina...."

And then the phone went dead, just like that. With the receiver still against her ear, Mariel's mind raced and her heart followed. What the hell was going on? She hadn't heard from Tina Amphipoli since the day after they had solved a harrowing case. It was the first and last time they had been each other's arms.

She had already gone through the whole anger/denial/hurt/incredibly pissed off again/sadness stage thing and had finally chalked the experience up to living and learning. All the excuses she could come up for why Tina had just...disappeared...had been analyzed and re-analyzed. Mariel simply could not make sense of it and had decided to let it go before she got to that depressed stage.

And now. Now, she gets a phone call out of the blue that was as cryptic and puzzling as the best theory she had envisioned. And what made matters worse, she was scared because Tina had sounded so...strange. It was almost as if she were in some kind of danger. The only thing Mariel could do was stop thinking and start acting. The phone was hastily replaced as the young doctor got up and around to face whatever may come.


The grey light of dawn was starting to appear as Mariel quickly scraped off the inches of snow that had accumulated on her car. She had just recently bought it, finding the necessity of reliable and handy transportation in Chicago a must. Plus, some of the traveling she did for the job demanded it and her FBI salary certainly helped her afford it. The forest green Jeep Cherokee was idling, warming up as the scientist climbed inside, her body on autopilot as her mind continued to race.

In the three months between when she and Tina solved the Cirra case until now, Mariel had been given increasing caseloads from Agent Amy Ephran, her immediate boss. Being assigned to the sex and violent crimes unit proved to be fascinating. With her forensic psychology background, Mariel had helped investigate the cases with the perspective of a storyteller, fitting together all the pieces of evidence into a likely story of what happened and why. She could integrate the complicated lab reports into the psychological profile of the victim and perpetrator, examining each detail with an eye for the sometimes hidden motive and connection needed to move the cases forward. Though her fieldwork wasn't as involved as it had been in the Cirra case, Eph had been sending her out on various undercover operations just for the experience. And that had certainly been enlightening. Plus, work kept her busy enough to forget about Tina.

Making her way through the streets of Evanston where she lived, Mariel navigated the snow covered roads, thankful for little traffic out on an early Saturday morning. Carefully driving to the expressway, her mind tried not to think about two things: How it felt to realize that the private detective had broken their date and hadn't so much as called, returned her messages, emailed her, written a note, anything...she just...left..was gone. Mariel had even stopped by Tina's apartment and was informed by the landlady who lived down the hall that the tall, dark woman had paid four months rent in advance and asked her to keep an eye on the place. The FBI agent had even tracked down Layla, Tina's old girlfriend and the woman who had helped her on their undercover work. She hadn't heard from the investigator either. After a while, Mariel could only surmise that Tina didn't want to be found. And that hurt.

The other thing Mariel worked hard not to think about as she took the exit to Chicago's O'Hare airport, following behind a large snowplow, was what she was going to do when she finally did see Tina. Making it even more difficult was the vague sense of unease she felt about how odd the detective had sounded and how reluctant she was to talk, the sense of urgency in Tina's whispered voice seemed so uncharacteristic. As the scientist wound her way towards the arrival entrance of the airport, her heart started to pound as she drove slowly past signs for the individual airlines and parked cars loading passengers.

And there, standing in the lightly falling snow, she saw a figure slouched against a sign for Hertz rental cars. She could distinguish Tina's tall form from the rest easily as she slowly pulled over to the curb. Mariel was able to take in the tired, disheveled look that Tina wore, her leather jacket dirty. Soft flakes of snow lightly fell and covered the detective's long black hair in gentle white. Wearing jeans and a grey t-shirt, Tina's jacket was open despite the bitter cold and one of the investigator's hands was thrust inside. A black leather bag was sitting carelessly on the slushy sidewalk next to dark cowboy boots. Mariel's breathing caught as she slowed to a stop and Tina's blue eyes looked over and locked with her own. A flood of feeling washed over her and almost threatened to drown her in its intensity.

With a slight head nod and what looked like a relieved tiny smile, Tina reached down to pick up her bag. Mariel was out of the Jeep the minute she saw the wincing detective's face and she came around to help her. Speaking softly, the scientist let her eyes catch Tina's, examining her face and the story it told.

"You okay?"

Opening the car door, she watched Tina grimace as she threw the leather bag in the back and turned around to Mariel. Shaking her head, the detective removed her hand from inside her jacket, the dried dark stain of blood covering it as the snow fell around them. Before Tina could say another word, she started to collapse, Mariel quickly helping her sit down in the car seat behind her as she exclaimed.

"My God! You're hurt! We need to get help!"

Tina slumped against the seat and shook her head violently, pulling Mariel to her and whispering in a labored breath.

"Can't...too Have to go.."

Mariel pulled back to protest.

"But you're hurt..we've..."

Tina interrupted her with a fierce grip on the scientist's coat sleeve, her knuckles turning white as she held on. With a hoarse voice, the detective continued.

"Please...Mariel...take me home."

And with that, Tina Amphipoli sagged back into the Jeep, her eyes pleading Mariel. Taking a breath, the scientist searched the hurting woman's face and eyes for answers, but all she saw were lines of pain and exhaustion. It was clear that Tina needed medical attention, but wasn't going to cooperate, at least not now with her cryptic words of danger. They remained in silence, eyes looking at each other, saying whatever could be said in that kind of exchange. With a nod as she decided, Mariel helped the detective settle into the car seat as she shut the door and got back in the driver's side. With a worried glance over to her passenger, Mariel quietly took a breath and started the car.

Tina kept her eyes forward on the falling snow and shivered against the pain, not knowing how she was ever going to explain this to Mariel.

Continued in Chapter 2

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