18 Months Later
The middle aged man left his rental car on the street and trudged doggedly up the smooth blacktop driveway for the sixth time in two weeks. He took a handkerchief from within his tweet jacket and mopped his balding head, squinting up through the humid air at the burning sun. He sighed and continued to the small side stoop that led into the kitchen of the house.
As he peeked inside, he spied Prospero, lounging lazily on top of the kitchen counter, his big, pale green eyes stared out of his black furry face inquisitively, and then he went back to cleaning himself.
"Oh, if only I could leave the message with you, my feline friend," The man said in a smooth British accent.
He sat himself down on the low concrete step and waited, occasionally mopping his brow or face as he sat, baking in the hot July sun.
Turning his head, he surveyed the dwelling. It was a modest, brown and yellow, three bedroom home in a simple, unassuming neighborhood. The old man smiled wryly. "You'd never know a millionaire lived here."
Of course, that was what he had wanted. David had always desired a low profile. Let his money rest the bank and let him live a simple life. Here, in this place, the only apparent difference was that his home was paid for, while most others were still paying a mortgage.
After what seemed a short eternity, his patience was rewarded by the approaching sound of a motorcycle engine. It decelerated and the man saw a large, lithe man on a dark red motorcycle coast into the driveway, his hair streaming behind him, eyes hid behind red lenses.
He wore a pair of jeans, black boots and a leather vest, adorned with various pins and patches. His face was set and grim, accented by a close cropped beard and moustache. The motorcycle coasted past him as if he were not even there. A garage opened behind the house and the vehicle vanished within.
The old man saw the glow of red tail lights and then the thumping of the engine fell silent. The old man waited, watching as a shadow moved about the silent machine for a few moments, then the rider emerged, carrying a bundle of cloth and a leather jacket draped over his arm and a large duffel bag over his other shoulder.
"David?" the man said as he stood up from his place. "David Forester?"
The rider stopped short and his mouth opened slightly in surprise.
"Professor MacGhee," David said. "What the hell are you doing here?" He pushed past the professor and inserted his key into the door.
"I need to speak with you," MacGhee said.
"Come on in," David replied. He opened the door and pushed inside, depositing his jacket on the dusty kitchen table. Then he stomped down a short flight of steps, turning right into a small laundry room. He tossed the bundle of dirty clothes in and turned the knob, pouring in some detergent.
Professor MacGhee followed David down the steps, studying him intently.
David let the lid of the washer fall with a clatter and walked back out into the basement, moving behind a small wet bar. He fished out a large bottle of Southern Comfort and a glass.
"You wanted to talk?" David asked as he also fished out a cigar and bit the end off. "So, talk."
Professor Arlan MacGhee regarded his former student carefully. There was a solitary demeanor about this man that he couldn't ever recall seeing before. Something dark and sinister lurked behind those red mirrored glasses. The professor cleared his throat suddenly.
"Yes, there's something rather odd about a dig that I've recently taken over, and I felt that I should discuss it with you directly."
"Why?" David asked. "I haven't been involved in a dig in nearly six years? Not since graduate school?"
"Because you were mentioned," Professor MacGhee said cryptically. "By name." The professor looked at David for a long moment, standing there, leaning against the bar, a drink in his hand, and the cigar clenched between his teeth. There was something about this former student that sent a chill up his spine. He was not the same man he had known. Anger surrounded him like a dark cloud, barely contained within his muscular frame.
"What's happened to you, David?" he asked. "At first, I thought that this whole situation might have been some type of elaborate joke?" His voice caught. "But I think you haven't joked with anyone for quite some time?"
"Would you mind getting to the point, Professor?" David asked, slamming down his drink and refilling the glass. "I have a lot to do."
"And what is it that you are doing? The Professor asked. "Why is it that, for nearly a fortnight, I have been to this house and not found you in it? How those people that knew you, could not give me any information about your whereabouts?"
"I've been busy," David said icily.
"Doing what?" The Professor asked gently.
"Looking for someone," David replied. There was an air of menace in the way he made that statement. "You said I was mentioned by name?"
Arlan swallowed down a sudden chill and lifted his brown attaché case to the bar. The locks popped and he removed a thick manila envelope.
"Yes, well," he began. "There I was in Lancaster, enjoying a well deserved retirement, don't you know, when I get a call from the head of the Archeology department at Oxford, asking me to come in and assume management of a site that had been found nearly two years prior." He sighed. "Not knowing any better, I agreed and landed myself in a cesspool of intrigue."
He removed a single image and set it on the table.
"This is the Poditea Archeological site," He said. "About twenty miles northeast of Athens, in the Greek countryside. Do you know the place?" His eyebrows rose inquisitively.
"I know the name," David said smoothly.
"Ah," Arlan nodded. "I thought you might. Then perhaps you also know something of my predecessor, Professor Bernadette Klaus, out of the University of Berlin?"
The old professor saw David go rigid at the mention of that name. A curious smile tugged at the mouth behind the thick gray goatee.
"I heard something about her over a year ago," David answered, but his voice was tight, as if something was beginning to boil within him. "Do you know where she is?"
"No," Arlan said. "That's a big part of the mystery. No one knows where she is. She abandoned the site and her personnel nearly two years ago. No one has been able to contact her since." He shrugged. He adjusted the wire-rimmed spectacles on the end of his nose and removed a thick stapled stack of paper, setting them on the bar and pushing them towards him for inspection. "Now," he said in the same voice he would use when he was testing one of his students. "Tell me what you deduce from this?"
David suppressed a sigh. He had things to do. His last lead had turned up nothing and he was anxious to continue his search. He looked down at the photocopied pages; browsing through them quickly, then his face dropped nearer and he removed the sunglasses.
For the first time, Professor MacGhee saw the scar that crossed over his left eye. It was jagged, shaped like a four-pointed star, and a deep red in color.
"Good, God," Arlan said. "When did that happen?"
"A little over a year ago," David answered mechanically. Something in the notes had caught his attention.
"And your eye?" Arlan asked, noting that it did not move with the same ease as his right one.
"Glass," David said, and then he frowned.
"Wait a minute," he lifted the pages up and flipped through them again. "This is all wrong. What a freakin mess!""
"I agree." Arlan smiled. He cleared his that uncomfortably. "You lost your eye?"
David read through the copied, hand written notes again. They were in a neat, quick, spidery hand. However the subject matter jumped from one site to the next in an awkward, random order. First, describing a stone foundation of a building, then an opening in a cave nearby, then back to a ruined temple, discovered near the center of the ancient community.
"She found the foundations of the village and began an excavation there." David
said. "Then, for no apparent reason, she packed it up and began to bounce
about. She didn't even bother to protect the sites she abandoned?"
"Precisely," the Professor said proudly. "She was looking for something specific."
"All the dig sites and soil tests moved steadily west to the base of several craggy hills, and then there was a cluster of notes about several tombs, unearthed on the eastern and southern face of the hill." He frowned.
"Yes," Arlan said again. "You begin to understand." He took another pile of paper out of his case and set them down.
"As you are well aware," he said studiously. "Any artifacts that are discovered are immediately preserved and then sent on to the laboratory for study, carbon dating, and all that." He flipped through them and pulled one free. "Here is a list of everything that was cataloged just prior to her disappearance," he handed the paper over. "And here is a list of everything that was actually sent."
"Actually?" David frowned, looking down at the two lists. He found the discrepancy immediately and sighed.
"Yes," Arlan said. He leaned on the bar and looked at a bottle of wine resting on a rack. "May I?" he asked.
David poured him a glass and settled back to review the collected notes. Suddenly, his desire to leave had been overwhelmed by his curiosity.
Arlan sipped the wine and nodded in approval. Then he gestured to the notes.
"Understand," he said. "I knew Bernadette. I had worked with her on several digs over the past ten years and I never saw a more thorough and conscientious individual in my entire life. She was almost obsessive about keeping everything neat and tidy. These records do not read like her. Yet they aren't forgeries, and nothing is missing. At least as far as we can tell."
David continued to peruse the inconsistent entries. "Oh, she was obsessing all right," he muttered. The memories began to filter back to him along with his desire for blood.
"Getting back to these manifests," Arlan took up the two sheets of paper again. "It's obvious to me that an artifact was removed from the site without proper authorization." He read the catalog list.
"A silver crystal amulet, in the shape of a four pointed star, with a semi-opaque green crystal, possibly emerald, in the center, surrounded by four other clear crystals that do not show the durability of diamond, though they are nearly clear and flawless."
David nodded. "The Amulet of Tachos."
Arlan looked up at him and swiped his spectacles from his face.
"Now, how in the duces do you know that?" he asked sharply.
"You don't want to know," David said soberly, refilling his glass for a third time.
"Yes, David," Arlan said. "I do."
David looked at the briefcase. "What else have you got?"
"What else?" David shot back with equal force.
Arlan was taken aback by the younger man's sudden vehemence. He lifted another envelope and set it down, but did not open it.
"Very well," he said. "In exchange for an explanation from you, agreed?"
David nodded. "Agreed."
"Right," Arlan opened the file and removed several more recent documents and photographs.
"Now," he began again. "As you know, during an excavation, there is always a concern about contamination. Any modern contamination of a site can invalidate any hypotheses generated up to that point."
"I know the rules," David said.
"Well," Arlan said in a huff. "I cannot report contamination of a dig site unless it is genuine. It is either present, or not present."
"That follows," David agreed.
"So, imagine my surprise when we discover contamination on a family tomb, which actually turns out to not be contamination."
"Say that again?" David asked.
Arlan handed David a stack of photographs and several scientific reports.
"These are the results of carbon dating done on several articles of clothing that were recovered from one of the sites." He said. "Now, the rear half of the site had collapsed over time and our crew was still in the process of excavating it when I left two weeks ago." He pointed to a short series of numbers.
"As you can plainly see, most of the articles of clothing removed from the first sarcophagus date back to the Classical Period in Greco-Roman history."
David nodded, his old school lessons coming back to him.
"So," Arlan said, his voice becoming gruff. "Imagine my considerable consternation when, in addition to the dated material here, we also discover other articles of clothing that are constructed from a modern fabric."
"How modern?' David asked.
"Very modern!" Arlan said indignantly. He pressed another small picture to David. "And then we find this! This really put the tin hat on it!"
David looked at the image, and for the first time, a genuinely amused smile crossed his face. He laughed out loud as he looked at the worn and faded nylon tag. The words "Machine Wash Cold – Tumble Dry Medium" still plainly visible. Above it, he could still make out a faded tip of an orange wing. Part of a Harley Davidson logo.
"Kiss my dick," he said, laughing.
"I beg your pardon?" Arlan asked.
David set the picture down and leaned back against the shelves behind him, looking at his old teacher with a bemused expression.
"Congratulations, Professor," he said. "You've found her."
"Found who?" Arlan protested. "Found what?"
David refilled the professor's glass and his own.
"Remember, about seventy years ago?" David said. "When that British/American expedition in Mesopotamia found all those scrolls?"
"Yes, it was quite a scandal in the archeological community." Arlan said. "They kept it all very hush-hush."
"Yeah, the information in those scrolls would have forced a major rewrite of every modern history book for that era, had they been made public." David sighed.
"They ended up in a trunk in someone's attic and were eventually forgotten until a wannabe screenwriter presented them to a television producer back in the mid nineties."
"I didn't follow the results, but I know what you're referring to. They turned them into entertainment for mostly American audiences, if I remember rightly?"
David smiled. "Well, Professor. You've found the woman that wrote them."
Arlan suddenly choked on the wine he was drinking. "What?"
David only nodded, and his smile changed to one of wistful regret. "You found Gabrielle." He felt the emotion churn at the mention of her name, and realized that he had not spoken it aloud for more than a year.
"And how in the blazes would you deduce that?" Arlan asked. "And how does that explain the contamination, that isn't really contamination, at my dig site?"
"You really want to hear the whole story?" David asked, suddenly unsure if he could retell it and maintain his composure. His demeanor shifted to something more subdued.
"Yes." Arlan answered. "Absolutely."
"No matter how wild it might be?" David asked.
"I like to think I have an open mind, young man?" Arlan said, suddenly wanting to brace himself.
David closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he opened a drawer and fumbled about for a moment.
Arlan watched in stupefied amazement as David set the Amulet of Tachos on the bar between them.
"I think I should begin with this," he said. "I believe you'll find that this is the missing artifact from the dig site."
Professor Arlan MacGhee sat down on the stool, too stunned to do anything more than simply stare at it in wonder, his mouth agape.
"My God," he finally breathed as he tentatively reached out to touch it. "I think you had better start explaining yourself?"
With that, David told his teacher the entire story, from beginning to end. Everything about Gabrielle's arrival that fateful night, the dangerous adventure to recapture the Chronos Stone, Professor Klaus's murderous transformation into the woman he knew as Alti, and his loss of Gabrielle at the end, right up to the point where he rammed his car into the rear of Alti's fleeing vehicle.
"I woke up in the hospital, three days later." He said. "It took a few months for me to get back on my feet. I've been hunting for her ever since." His finger touched the edge of his scar. "I owe her for this, among other things."
Arlan sat back suddenly exhausted. He refilled his own wineglass and took a large swallow.
"Dear God," he whispered again. "She was actually here?" he looked about the room as if he expected her to walk out of the air.
David's face fell towards the ground. "Yup."
Arlan suddenly felt the man's pain.
"Oh, David," he said suddenly. "Forgive me. I'm so sorry. It's just so – remarkable!"
"Yes," David said. "She was."
Suddenly, David looked up with the most emotion that the Professor had seen thus far.
"I want to see her," he said earnestly.
"David," Arlan put a reassuring hand on David's. "She's gone, my boy. She's been gone, now, for more than two millennia."
"Not to me," David said his voice suddenly hoarse. "To me, she's only been gone a little more than a year, and I miss her as much now as I did a year ago."
David turned and walked out from behind the bar.
"David," Arlan asked gently. "What are you hoping to find?"
"I don't know," David said honestly. He turned back to the Professor. "When my wife died, there was a service, a wake, a funeral, the whole thing. With Gabrielle?" He snapped his fingers. "She was gone. Maybe I'm looking for closure to this? Maybe I just want to see what's left of her so that I'll finally accept that she really is gone? I can't say."
Arlan looked thoughtful for a moment, then he nodded. "I think I understand. I need to fly back tomorrow. I'll arrange the necessary paperwork. Passes and the like. Follow me when you're ready."
The professor began shuffling the papers back into the briefcase, and then he paused, reaching into the top pocket and drawing out another printed page. He pressed it into David's hand.
"This is the reason I came looking for you," he explained. "It's a translation of a scroll that we discovered in the–" he stopped. "It was with her." He finally said. "It may help, or not. I don't know, really? But I think you should read it." He snapped the case closed and stood. Then he wrote down a phone number.
"This is the number and name of the hotel where I'm staying." He said. "Call me if you need to talk later? I don't think I'll be getting much sleep tonight." With that, he politely excused himself and left.
David stood in the middle of his basement, reluctant, suddenly to raise the paper to his eyes. His arm suddenly felt heavy. He took several deep breaths and raised the paper to his eyes. With great effort, he began to read.
When it was over, He was seated on the barstool, the tears streaming down his face as all the emotion began to find a way out of him. The blind thirst for vengeance washed away, leaving only the feelings that he still had for her.
He smoothed the translation lovingly, and then rose and grabbed the phone. He dialed a number and waited. The line clicked.
"Professor?" David said calmly. "What time's your flight?" He jotted down the information and disconnected the call. Then he dialed again quickly. This time, a smooth middle aged voice answered.
"Tom," David said, trying to sound upbeat. "Hi, there. David Forester here."
"Good evening David," The man replied cheerfully. "What can I do for you?"
"I need a favor," David said. "I want you to transfer twenty-five thousand dollars into the liquid account tied to my card."
"Twenty-five?" The banker replied in surprise. "That's an awfully large amount. Are you planning on making a big purchase? If so, I know a few other ways that we can do it without depleting the main fund too-"
"Nothing like that, Tom. Really." David said quickly. "I'm leaving the country for a few weeks, maybe longer, and I want to make sure I have enough liquid cash for it."
Tom clearly wasn't pleased. "Well, I can think of a few better ways to do that, but you're the boss. I'll take care of it first thing in the morning."
"Thanks, Tom," David said evenly. "I'll talk to you soon."
David grabbed the phone book and dialed another number.
"Good evening," he said. "I need to set up a shipment overseas, air freight, Chicago to Athens, tomorrow. A motorcycle. Yes, I realize that it will cost more with this short notice, I don't care. Yes, I have the flight information."
A few minutes later, the flight was booked and the freight carrier notified. He gave the card information for payment and then quickly packed the saddlebags on Rosie and a small duffel bag.
When Professor MacGhee reached his departure gate the next morning, he immediately noted the tall, longhaired man standing at the window, wearing a dark red button down shirt and black leather biker vest. He stood, poised, his arms crossed over his chest as he watched the activity on the ramp below.
Arlan smiled and stepped over next to him, looking down at the crew loading the plane. He saw David's bike, strapped securely to a pallet, and being loaded gently into the aircraft. Several of the men working the plane looked up to see the imposing figure watching them, and they took extra care not to do anything that could damage the bike.
"You know," Arlan said, leaning closer. "You can rent one of those in Greece?"
David's eyes never left his beloved Rosie as she disappeared within the forward cargo compartment.
"I know," David said. "But I owe her."
David nodded towards the bike. "I owe her a tour of Europe."
David smiled. "If you don't ride one, you'd never understand."
"Well, then," Arlan said with a grunt. "If ignorance is bliss, then I shall remain a happy man regarding that subject."
David turned to face him and his smile, though grim, was evident.
"Thank you, Professor," he said. "Thank you for coming to find me, and for bringing me that translation."
Arlan merely shrugged. "It was no trouble, really. Though it was a great surprise."
"You have the Amulet?" David asked. The old man patted his ever-present briefcase.
"Safely tucked away for the journey."
David nodded. "Good. I think you should send it directly to Athens when we arrive. It's caused enough trouble."
"On that, I think we can agree." Arlan nodded. He looked over at the entrance to the Jet Bridge. "In the mean time. Shall we?"
David nodded and the two men boarded the plane.
Susan Wood was in her sixth year, heading for her Doctorate in History. She had been a part of many digs, all around the globe, interning with one professor or another. This dig, however had been the wildest ride she had ever been on? She stared down at the ancient garment with its modern design, fabric and that damned nylon tag.
"If you look at it long enough," A cheerful voice said off to one side. "You can actually see the cloth decomposing."
Robert Bennett, age twenty-three, also interning on the dig, entered the large tent bearing a tray of more artifacts collected from the tombs. "More pieces of the puzzle." He announced, gently setting the tray on an adjacent table.
"Anything interesting?" Susan asked asked, rubbing her eyes.
"More interesting than the clothing?" Robert answered. "No. But interesting none the less."
He handed her a recently received fax.
"It's final results of the post mortem on the body," Robert said. "Female, between the ages of twenty five and thirty. Death was the result of a single intrusion by a sharp object through the heart. Other injuries were also present just prior to death, indicating that she had probably been tortured."
Susan shuddered as she read the lift of cursory injuries. She pursed her lips. "When will we have access to the last coffin?" she asked impatiently.
Robert shrugged as he studied several pieces and began to experimentally try and match pieces together. "Probably another day or so. What's your hurry?"
"I don't know," Susan confessed. "I just think we
haven't seen all the surprises in that particular tomb." She shrugged. "Maybe
we'll find something that sheds light on this?"
She gestured to the garment again.
"Well," Robert said, still gently fishing about the tray. "The Professor's friend is scheduled to arrive this afternoon. Maybe he'll know something we don't?"
"Yeah?" Susan asked. "Who is this guy? Some stuffy overpaid Doctor with a hair up his ass?"
Robert smiled as he continued his examinations. Both of them paused when they heard the sound of a motorcycle approaching. They looked at each other as they heard the sound coasting up the gravel road to stop outside the tent.
Robert and Susan both shrugged in confusion before moving towards the open tent flap. Outside they heard Professor MacGhee's voice.
"Ah, David," he greeted. "It's about time, young man."
Robert and Susan rounded the corner of the tent and stopped short when they saw the lean, tan, muscular man in a black leather vest and jeans, sitting on a deep red motorcycle. His hand was interlocked with the professor's.
"Oh yeah," Robert said quietly in Susan's ear. "He definitely looks like the stuffy type."
Susan's elbow jabbed up into his side and she quickly straightened her long sandy hair.
"Come along and meet some of the staff," Arlan said, gesturing towards the tent. He stopped short when he turned and saw two of his lead students standing at the corner.
"Oh," he said in surprise.
David swung his leg over the bike and stepped up behind the professor.
"David?" Arlan said graciously. "This is Robert Bennett and Susan Wood, the two graduate students that accompanied me from London."
David shook both of their hands and introduced himself.
"So," Robert asked, somewhat dubious. "You're an archeologist?"
David heard the skepticism in the young man's voice and smiled.
"Only on weekends," he said. "Professor MacGhee suggested that I take a look at some of the artifacts that you've recovered so far."
"Yes," Arlan said quickly. "They're in here. Follow me, please?"
David followed the Doctor to one table where several items were laid out carefully. David's breath caught in his throat as he looked down at the table. There, opened up for examination, was the deer skin jacket that Katrina had bought Gabrielle one year before. He laughed quietly.
"As you can see," Susan said. "This is a modern garment, but it was found in the tomb with the rest of the occupant's belongings. Until we found the scroll, we were unable to understand how it might have got there. Do you know where this came from?"
David nodded, smiling. "It's a place called Suburban Harley Davidson, just outside Chicago." He said. "Cost me three hundred dollars too."
"Well," Robert replied sarcastically. "I'd say you got your money's worth."
Susan glared at her coworker and then moved further down the table. "We also discovered woven cloth, similar to denim, and a more tightly woven cotton that seemed to be of modern make." She pointed at the nylon tag. "This was affixed to the tunic."
"The clothing she was wearing the night she went back," David said, his humor fading.
Susan paused, looking up at the Professor. He merely nodded and raised his eyebrows. "So she was in modern garments at the time, and she saved those items for the rest of her life and was buried with them?"
"That's what it looks like," David murmured. He quickly relayed some of the events regarding Gabrielle and the Chronos Stone. When he finished, the two young people looked skeptical. Susan frowned and then looked at her mentor.
"This is crazy." She blurted. "I'm sorry, sir. But how are we supposed to publish our findings without being laughed out of academia?"
"Very discreetly," Arlan answered with unnerving calm.
Robert also highly skeptical piped in. He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Professor, but there's no way that any of this is possible. I have to agree with Susan on this one. The carbon dating must be wrong somehow? Or someone got in here before us and contaminated the whole bloody site. If that's the case, we might as well pack up and go home?"
Professor MacGhee was clearly ruffled by this poor treatment of his guest, but said nothing. He simply looked at David and gave a subtle nod of his head.
David extended his hand to the two interns. "Of course," he said brusquely. "I'm sorry to have bothered you. You experts seem to have everything well in hand, and don't need help from someone like me. Thank you for showing me this." He stalked away, pausing to pick up the post mortem report. Then he turned back and looked at Robert with dark, shimmering eyes. "But consider something that I know to be a fact." He dropped the sheet of paper back on the table as if it hurt him to touch it. "You could send samples of those clothes to every dating lab in the world and you'd get the same result. Are they all wrong then?" He vanished out into the sunlight.
Professor MacGhee fixed both of his students with an icy glare. "We shall discuss this later," he said gruffly. "In very elaborate detail." He turned and followed David outside.
Arlan took David by the arm and led him towards the opening in the rocks. "Come with me, quickly," he said. "The digging crew is resting for their afternoon meal. The tomb should be deserted." He looked back at the main tent. "I apologize about that, in there. Apparently they are not as open minded as I hoped."
David shrugged. "Would you have believed me if I didn't have the Amulet to back it up?"
Arlan nodded. "Good point." Then he pointed at a recently excavated opening. "This way."
They entered the dark, cool cave and moved quickly deeper into the side of the hill. At the end of a narrow tunnel, a large room opened up on the left. Work lights strung on cords dangled in from the ceiling, bathing the room in dim yellow light.
Before the two of them rested three sarcophagi, with a fourth one showing under a partially removed pile of rubble.
The lids of all three sarcophagi were gone, presumably being photographed and cataloged before being replaced. David stepped over to the first one; instinctively knowing it was hers. The body was nothing more than bones, lying where they had collapsed all those eons ago.
David knelt down at the head of the casket and looked down at the brown skull resting within.
"Hey, beautiful," he whispered. A lump suddenly formed in his throat. "I've missed you."
Arlan saw the tears welling up in David's eyes and he fidgeted for a moment.
"I'll leave you alone with her," he said in a kindly tone. "Take all the time you need. No one will disturb you while I keep vigil."
David nodded, never taking his eyes off the body.
"Professor," David called suddenly. "Have a security gate installed today. Just in case."
"You think that's necessary?" Arlan asked.
David looked up at him and shrugged. "You never know."
Arlan considered for a moment and then nodded. "I'll see to it." He turned and walked back toward the entrance.
"He's a good guy, after you get to know him," David said to her a few moments later. "I don't think he believed a word of it till we landed in Athens this morning," His voice broke. "But then you're hard to believe." His fingers clutched the edge of the coffin. The memories were a palpable pain in his chest. A sob burst from him. His fingers gently caressed the top of the withered skull.
"God I miss you," he said. "I'd give anything, just to hear your voice."
Suddenly, the memories of her flooded his mind. Every sound, every touch, every expression. He saw her green eyes staring up into his and remembered the sound of her laughter. Saw her laughing among the rest of his extended family. Felt her leaning against his shoulder as they sat at night, gazing up in wonder as an airplane coasted across the heavens. He remembered her eyes looking into his with that mixture of anticipation and desire, the feel of her skin, warm and soft under his fingers. He saw her, once more, asleep against his chest, her face totally peaceful, and the tears fell. The emotions, held back for all that time, came rushing out, and he fell to his knees at her side, his fingers stroking the top and side of the skull.
He looked down and through the burning tears, saw something wedged in the corner of the coffin, under the cluster of bones that had been her left hand. His emotion suddenly receded, overcome by his curiosity as he looked more closely.
"What have you got here?" he asked her. Gingerly, he reached into the coffin and gently pulled the item free. It was a ring. A simple gold band topped by a small diamond. Absently wondering why the crew hadn't removed and cataloged it, he examined it closely. Even his untrained eye could see that it was not classical in design, it was just like – he suddenly felt like laughing as he realized what it was, and he slipped the thing into his pocket. Then he leaned down and kissed the top of the skull gently.
"God, I love you," he said, almost weeping again. "I gotta go. Got some things to take care of."
Gaining control of his sudden elation, he tried to put on the somber look of a person leaving a funeral and exited the cave. Arlan stood out in the bright sunlight. He shook David's hand and smiled sympathetically.
"I know it wasn't what you wanted to see," he said, fumbling for the correct words. "But you were right. You deserved to say your good byes to her."
David nodded, looking back at the entrance. "Thanks, Arlan." He smiled. He began walking towards his motorcycle. After a few paces, he turned back.
"You're okay, Professor," he said with a smile. "I hope to see you again in the future."
Arlan nodded and raised his hand in as he accepted a sheet of paper from one of the other students.
"David!" He called quickly. "A moment, if you please?"
David stepped back over as Arlan read through the official looking document. He sighed.
"This is the post mortem on Gabrielle," he said somberly. "You may want to see this?"
David took the form in his trembling hand and read the final summation at the bottom.
"…Death was caused by an intrusion to the left chest region by a sharp object. Based on damage to the surrounding bone structure and angle of entry, the intrusion severed the heart. Death would have been nearly instantaneous. Approximate age at time of death would have been between twenty-five and thirty years…"
Arlan watched David closely as he read the report. He instantly saw the pain in David's expression. A chill ran up the professor's spine as that pained expression slowly began to change.
A fire kindled in the young man's dark eyes, and the trembling ceased. When David looked back at him, the professor caught his breath. Never in his long years had he seen such fierce determination. David's lips twisted into something resembling a snarl, and he crumpled the paper into a ball and threw it away.
"No," he growled.
"David," Arlan said sympathetically. His voice stuck when David fixed that dark glare upon him.
"No," was all he said and he turned and walked towards the bike. His entire manner had shifted. He was no longer the former student he had tutored. Now he was a hunter, stalking prey. What that prey was, the professor could not guess.
David climbed back onto the motorcycle and fired up the engine.
"Lets go," he said to the bike, and he bounced off down towards the main road.
Once they were out of sight of the excavation, David pulled over.
"I need to get a few things," He said to himself. He scanned the horizon and saw a small town a few miles away. Twisting the throttle, he headed in that direction
David grinned mischievously as the Mediterranean wind washed over him. "I need to find a place that sells hunting gear."
He found a small motel in the nearby town and got directions to various shops that would have the supplies he would require. The small sporting goods shop he needed was about ten miles away. David found the place easily enough and went in, his eyes scanning the various isles for what he needed. He moved quickly up and down, selecting several items. Two large duffel bags, a pair of sturdy black hunting boots, a long black canvas overcoat, black hunting vest, gloves, and various other anticipated necessities. He set the large pile on the counter in front of a very surprised proprietor.
"Starting from scratch, are we?" he asked as he rang up the small box containing a compact three man pop tent.
"Well," David said, trying to sound conversational. "It's easier than trying to deal with customs." He waited patiently. Fingers drumming on the hard wood as the total increased. Once the proprietor was done, he looked up at David with an inviting smile.
"Can I get anything else for you, sir?"
"Yes," David said, his eyes scanning several fiberglass bows hanging on the wall behind the shop owner.
"I need a collapsible compound hunting bow, about two hundred pound draw," David said. "The best one you have."
The proprietor smiled and turned, selecting a finely built camouflage olive and charcoal bow. "This one is one of the best." He said with an air of authority. "Two hundred twenty pound draw. Excellent release velocity and low maintenance. Plus, it's collapsible, so you can pack it into a small case for transport. I think it would do you well." He handed the weapon over to David for inspection.
David took the lightweight weapon and experimentally drew back on the string. He glanced back up at several others before nodding. "I'll take it, and I need twelve extra strings."
"Of course," the man said, a slight frown creasing his brows. He fished about under the counter and came up with twelve bundled bowstrings sealed neatly in plastic.
"Now," David said. "The most durable shafts you have. And do you carry Muzzie points?"
"Of course," the man said. "How many would you need?"
"How many have you got?" David countered with a wry smile.
David paid for the merchandise and began to quickly pack it into the large knapsacks he had purchased. The proprietor watched him for several moments. Finally his curiosity could no longer be quelled.
"If I might ask," he said. "What is all this for?"
"I'm going camping," David said mysteriously. "For a very long time."
"How long?" The proprietor asked.
David shrugged. "I need to find a place to pick up some clothes and then a jewelry store."
"Very well," The man said. Again, David received directions, and he thundered off down the narrow road.
He found a clothing store and made a quick trip of that one, then he rode to the next town before he found a jewelry store. By this time, the long flight and off-hours of jet lag were beginning to take their toll on him. The sun was high, but beginning its slow descent to evening.
David stepped into the jewelry store and began browsing about, looking at the different items beneath the cool glass. The keeper was a kindly looking middle aged woman with silver gray hair and deep, inquisitive blue eyes. She smiled when she saw David peering through the glass counter top at the wedding sets.
"May I show you something?" She asked cordially.
David continued to scan the contents of the display until he found what he was looking for.
"That one," he said. "I want that one, there."
The woman removed the ring and presented it to him. He smiled at it in recognition.
"I'll take it," he said.
The woman took the ring back and placed it in a fabric case.
"Does she know this is coming?" she asked knowingly as she wrote up the bill of sale.
David smiled and rubbed his eyes, suddenly feeling weary. "Not yet."
"You think she'll say yes?" the woman continued.
"God, I hope so," David replied.
The woman placed the box on the counter and took David's credit card. She looked at him appraisingly as the card was being processed.
"You haven't slept much, have you?" she asked.
"No," David said. "I just got here earlier today. I guess it's starting to show."
"May I make a suggestion?" the woman said kindly. "Before you propose, you might want to take some rest first?"
David grinned. "No rest for the wicked, ma'am. Besides, if I don't do this soon, I think I might lose my nerve."
She smiled understandingly. "Well, good luck to you."
David signed the receipt and shook the woman's hand.
"Hotel now?" he asked himself, surveying the overloaded luggage rack behind the back seat. He nodded. "Hotel."
The hotel was a tiny single story edifice that sprawled across a large patch of unspoiled field. David went to his room and unloaded the bike, placing everything on the single bed in the tiny room.
He looked at the clock. It was nearly five PM. He sighed. "Gotta go, gotta go."
He stepped out onto the wooden porch and looked at the setting sun. His eyes drifted down to the rolling green and gray hills, watching as the shadows slowly lengthened.
As he gazed across the narrow street, he saw a small pharmacy and another fragment of his idea fell into place.
A few minutes later, he emerged from the pharmacy with several small boxes and several very thick books.
Once back in his room, he sorted through all his gear and began packing it all carefully into the two knapsacks.
It was just before eight o'clock when David finally finished stuffing the last of the gear into the bags. He stepped out into the late evening, watching as the rays of the sun peered over the western hills.
In his hand he held three envelopes. He slipped them into the inner pocket of his long coat and wrestled with the tie downs as he strapped the two large bags to the back of the bike.
"Okay," He sighed. "Game time."
He stopped at a local post office and dropped two of the envelopes in the box. One to Shilah, and the second to Debbie. Then he dropped the ring he had found in the crypt into the third envelope along with that note. He wrote on it. "Professor Arlan MacGhee" and sealed it, slipping it back into his pocket.
Once back outside, David climbed back onto the bike. He was feeling the hours. His false eye was itching intolerably. He rubbed it and wiggled it about slightly, forcing his tear duct to work. That helped a little. Then he tilted his head sharply from one side to the other, feeling the bones crack loudly, and that helped a bit more.
"You're going to run yourself into the ground." He muttered, shaking his head.
The shadows were long and the moon was shining pale in the night when David coasted the motorcycle up to the side of the darkened tent.
A single figure came out to greet him wearing a blue uniform of a security guard.
"Can I help you?" He asked gruffly. David fished out the card that Arlan had given him, granting him access to the dig site, and handed it and his passport to the guard.
"I'm here to look at some of the artifacts recovered earlier today," he said politely.
"It's a little late, don't you think?" the guard asked suspiciously.
"Not in Chicago," David smiled. "I'm still dealing with the time difference." He shrugged. When the guard seemed unconvinced, David looked up at the stars and sighed impatiently.
"Look," he said. "If you need to confirm anything, contact Professor MacGhee. He knows me, and he knows why I'm here."
The guard considered that option for a moment and then shrugged. The identification and the pass were in order. He handed them back to David. "I cannot let you stay the night, but if you have a few things that you can do quickly, I'll allow it."
David forced the bleary feeling from him and smiled. "No problem. It'll only take a few minutes." He got off the bike and stretched.
As they walked towards the tent, David stared up at the stars again. "Beautiful night," he said conversationally.
The guard said nothing. David reached out to move the flap of the tent, his hands just touching the fabric, and then he wheeled around and slammed his fist into the startled guard's jaw. The man launched himself skyward and landed with a thud, unconscious.
"Sorry about that," David said genuinely. He fished out a roll of electrical tape and went to work, binding the guard's wrists and ankles. Then he removed the pistol from the guard's holster. "Just blame it on us crazy Americans." He patted the unconscious guards shoulder. "Everyone else does." He dragged the limp form into the tent and began fishing for the keys to the security gate. There were none!
"Oh shit," he muttered as panic set in. He found a small key ring, but none of those keys were to a padlock. Car keys, a handcuff key, and a house key. "Shit!"
There had to be a second security guard walking a beat somewhere in the compound. He could be back, looking for his partner at any moment.
He ran to the bike and snapped the tie downs free, slinging the massive knapsacks over his shoulders. Glancing down at the pistol, he frowned and then tossed it into the shadows, hearing it bounce several times. He took his bow and quickly assembled the components. The two quivers of prepared arrows went over the rest of the gear. Then he popped the saddlebag and removed his long thick bowie knife and hooked it onto his belt. The blade hung down to just above his knee.
"I'm screwed, I'm screwed, I'm screwed," he kept repeating as his eyes scanned the surrounding shadows furtively. He notched an arrow to the bow and began moving deeper into the compound. He needed those damn keys!
Something snapped around the corner of another, smaller tent and the second guard stepped into view.
David reacted, raising the bow and drawing back on the string.
"Hi," he said in surprise. The point of the arrow shone coldly in the moonlight.
David nodded tot he holster on the man's hip.
"Gun," he said. "Two fingers, slowly."
The guard considered his position for a moment and decided that discretion would serve him best. He did as instructed and held the weapon between his thumb and forefinger.
"Toss it," David instructed. The second pistol bounced several times in the shadows.
"Good boy," David continued. "Now, open the gate."
David covered the sweating guard as he walked slowly towards the newly installed security gate and opened it.
"Step back," David said and he moved around, backing into the opening.
"Now," he said. "Close it and lock it."
Again the guard complied. David smiled. "Toss the keys in here."
The keys clattered on the stone floor at David's feet.
David let the tension on the quivering string ease and he lowered the bow.
"Grab your partner and get the hell out of here." He said.
The guard turned and fled.
"Ready?" he asked himself as he watched the guard flee without retrieving his coworker; the adrenaline washed away his weariness. He nodded. "God, I hope I'm right?"
David ran deeper into the tomb and procured a flashlight from the pocket of his coat. The feeble light penetrated the darkness as he moved quickly back to the burial chamber. The clock was ticking now. At best, he had twenty minutes to execute his plan, if everything went right, he would be gone before anyone arrived with a second key, or a truck big enough to pull the gate down.
He passed into the tomb, dropping his gear next to Gabrielle's sarcophagus.
"Hey, sweetie," he said to her. "Told you I'd be back."
His tiny light panned through the gloom and fell on a discarded pick and shovel.
"Okay," he said to her. "Now, where would you have put it? I know it's in here. Would you have kept it? No. They would have found it with you and it would have been in the tent with the other stuff.. One of the kids? I doubt it. So, that leaves only one option left."
He stepped up to the partially buried sarcophagus and studied the engravings on it.
"Me." He continued, looking at the exposed surface. "Always assuming this is me?"
That revelation gave him pause. Was he standing there, looking at his own grave? The idea of it sent a chill of horror up his spine.
"Okay, this is mildly freaky." he murmured.
Using the pick, he began to pry some of the stones loose, attempting to dig out the sarcophagus. There was no need for subtlety now. He was in, and he had precious little time. He shattered stone and other artifacts buried in the rubble, clearing off the top of the grave. Any markings upon it were long ago erased by the passing of time. He wiped sweat from his brow and forced his weariness away as he dug deeper and deeper into the broken earth.
"So," he spoke to Gabrielle's bones. "I was wondering if you'd like to come back here, with me when this is all over. You know, set up a house, couple of kids, maybe a dog?" He grinned fiercely as desperation fueled his determination. "Just a thought. You don't have to answer right away. Take your time." He glanced at the open coffin and smiled. "Just think about it."
Three sides of the coffin were cleared. At the head end was a small stone, resting on the floor. It was like a step that would allow a person to stand at the head of the grave and place offerings upon it. David noted it and continued. He wedged the pick into the small crevice between the lid and the wall of the stone box. Prying with all his might and heard the stone grate. Then he heard another noise. He froze and held his breath. The silence descended on him again. Paranoia began to spike within his mind.
"Shit!" He grunted and he forced the heavy lid to rise a few inches. The end of the pick popped out and the lid slammed shut with an echoing thud.
"Dammit!" David held the pick in both hands and brought it down hard on the smooth surface. It cracked under the blow.
David winced at the damage. "Sorry, Prof," he apologized. A second, and then a third swing and a chunk of the lid separated from the whole. Dropping the pick, David wedged his fingers in the gap and pulled the errant piece off.
David panned his light within the space beneath. He saw the bones of a body, for all he knew it was his own body. But there was nothing else in the coffin. Just bones and shreds of clothing. He ignored all that, rifling through the space, searching for a secret panel, or a small box. There was nothing, no Chronos Stone, no nothing. David growled with frustration. He walked around the three sides, hoping that the stone wasn't buried deeper in the rubble. His eyes fell back on the skull within, sitting upright, grinning at him. Maybe his skull?
"What are you grinning at?" he asked the fleshless face.
Then he heard the sound again. A metallic clink of someone trying to quietly force open the gate.
Someone else was attempting to break into the tomb, and he had a pretty good idea who that might be.
David scanned the room again, desperately trying to figure out where the stone might be hidden. There was nothing to indicate a hidden panel or secret door. He tapped on the walls experimentally, to no avail.
"It's got to be here, dammit!" He thought. Once again, his eyes fell on the small square block of stone at the head of the sarcophagus. "I couldn't be that blatant, could I? Then again, if you want to hide a tree?" In desperation he swung the pick against it and heard the hollow thud as the stone chipped.
"Yes!" he hissed. He swung the pick again and again until the stone shattered revealing a small rotting leather pouch. He snatched it up, feeling the leather crumble in his fingers. As he peeled the rotting skin away, he saw a familiar green glint.
There was a sharp staccato report and the sound of hinges creaking.
At the same moment, the lights in the tomb came on and footsteps echoed in the corridor.
David ran to his gear, quickly shouldering the bags and scooping up his weapon. When he looked up, there was Alti, eyes glaring at him. One of the discarded revolvers in her hand.
"Put that down!" she growled.
"This is the second time in two years that someone has pulled a gun on me," David said with annoyance. He surveyed the hag in front of him.
She was dressed in dirty clothes, probably the same ones she had worn a year ago. Her hair was greasy and unkempt and her eyes were wild with madness and desperation.
"I don't think so," David said, grinning like a savage. "You shoot that and I drop this, it shatters into a million bits." He slowly moved the Chronos Stone into her line of fire. "Drop the gun, or it gets broke. You don't want that, now, do you, Alti?"
The defrocked Shamaness stared at David with eyes that would have sent normal men into panic. However, here, faced with a man who had nothing to lose, her anger only seemed to amuse him.
"Give me the stone!" she screamed. "I must get out of this time! My powers don't work here! You crippled me a year ago, and I can do nothing!"
David held the stone in both hands, his eyes searching the angry woman before him.
"Yup," he thought. "She will kill me and risk it, rather than let it go."
"Okay," He said slowly. He handed the stone out towards her slowly. "Okay, fine. Take it."
Alti stepped slowly forward and reached out for the artifact in David's hands. That simple movement took him out of harms way of the pistol for just a second. His foot came up and struck the wrist holding the gun. The shot exploded and the gun bounced into Gabrielle's sarcophagus.
David shoved the woman back with all his might. She slammed against the wall with a thud and stared at him, eyes bleary from the impact.
"First you want to ruin my time, and now you want to go back and ruin someone else's?" David said. "You didn't get the Stone before, and you sure as shit aren't getting it now!"
"I must get out of this time! Help me, or I'll tear your heart out!" She screamed at him.
"Well, while I worry about that, you think about this," David said, holding the stone out in front of him. "You've just broken into a secured archeological site, restrained and disarmed two guards, and shot the lock off the security gate into the place. The cops are gonna love you." He laughed out loud. "Enjoy the twenty first century, Alti."
Then there was a pulse of green light and he vanished, just as several members of the local police burst into the room.
"Doctor Bernadette Klaus" reached out to the empty space and screamed in rage.
The universe spun around him in a never-ending collision of possibilities. He stood within the eye of a hurricane, watching the ages whirl past him.
"Focus," David thought to himself. His mind imagined Gabrielle, her village, the surrounding countryside. He saw the flow of time, working backwards like a series of strobing instants and he realized that he could move, but he couldn't breathe. He walked out into the world beyond the crypt and stared in wonder as the ages flowed like a movie rewinding at high speed. The buildings that had been nearby dwindled and vanished, as did the roads and the distant lights of Athens. Stars whirled in the heavens spinning madly as the ages rolled backwards. There was a howling like a million voices in his ears.
Through it all he began to make out a single nebulous tendril of energy. It had separated from him a few moments ago and was stretched out beyond the horizon. The ancient walls of Poditea seemed to rebuild themselves as if by magic. He realized he was looking at the energy left over from he and Gabrielle's one night together. That night of passion had linked them forever. The moment was getting closer. She was getting closer! His lungs were burning from lack of air, still he held on, trying to ignore the sensation.
"Need to slow down," he thought, trying to control the reckless speed at which he traveled. "Think HG Wells. Slow down. Slower, slower, slower."
The spinning of the universe complied and he watched as the stars settled and the tendril of energy faded and vanished. Blessed oxygen filled his lungs and he breathed deeply a few times, forcing himself to stay on his feet, though his legs felt like rubber.
He stood at the entrance to the tomb, now only partially constructed. Ancient tools lay against some of the fallen stone and a discarded water skin rested on top of a flat wooden table. The sun was hidden behind a layer of thick gray clouds, and the wind was chill and damp. David looked out towards the village, now alive with people and restored to its former shape. He let a laugh escape his lips as he looked at it.
"It worked," David said, patting his pocket, and then he frowned. A procession was approaching. Four men carried a bier, followed by several other individuals, all with somber expressions.
David scrambled up the hill and concealed himself in a thin row of shrubbery at the top, just above the tomb entrance.
"What the Hell?" David asked the wind as he looked down at the scene. The four men were dressed in the military uniforms of the latter Greco-Roman period. They carried the bier with slow, steady, and deliberate steps, their eyes never wavering from the entrance. Behind came several people. They were obviously friends and family of the departed. His eyes fell on three individuals and he paused.
"No way," he mouthed.
A short, frail looking woman moved with the stiffness of old age, her head covered in a dark veil. At either side came two other figures, young and lithe. Her children, presumably. A young man, dressed in simple travelling armor, with a short sword strapped at his back, and a taller woman, similarly dressed. The man was only a bit taller than the old lady, with fierce green eyes and thick sandy hair, brushed back in a mane that fluttered in the cool breeze. The woman was taller, with dark brown hair and thoughtful brown eyes. They wore somber expressions as the looked down at the bier.
"Oh, I'm not liking this," David whispered. His hand reached slowly into his pocket.
He strained to see the body on the bier, but the thick white cloth covering it, obscured its features. At the same moment, his foot snapped a twig with an audible crack.
The procession halted, and the two young people looked about nervously.
"I gotta get out of here," David said, pulling the stone free. Then without knowing quite why, he rose to his feet and looked down at them.
The two young people saw him and immediately stepped up in front of the elderly woman. Instead of cowering behind them, she pushed them apart and stepped forward, raising the veil. Her green eyes looked up at him, and her wrinkled face became an expression of wonder.
Even after the passing of the years, David recognized Gabrielle.
He stood above the tomb, his bow in one hand, his long coat flapping in the breeze like ghostly wings. He raised the bow in salute and took a deep breath. There was a soft green glow, and he smiled at her as he vanished.
Gabrielle stared at the spot where the apparition had appeared, her withered hands rising up to her mouth and fresh tears streaming down her wrinkled cheeks. "David?" she whispered.
"Mother?" the young man asked her as he put a comforting hand on her bony shoulder. He looked back up at his sister and then at the vacant space above the corpse on the bier.
"It's alright, Alex," Gabrielle reassured him. "It's alright."
"Who – what was that?" the woman asked, also looking at the space.
Gabrielle patted her daughter's hand. "Xena, dear," she said. "That was your father."
All three of them looked back up at the space where David had appeared and vanished. Gabrielle smiled a knowing smile. "I'll see you again, soon."
The universe was spinning again. David heard its rushing wail all around him as he moved further back in time, his mind reeling at what he had just seen while at the same time, struggling against the fatigue to remain focused on his task.
"Not far enough," he thought. "Must go further. Just a bit further." He felt the universe tumble for a while longer and then the feeling in the pit of his stomach as he slowed back down. His mind was on fire from the exertion. The held breath burst from him once he stopped again. This time, he did drop to his knees.
The moon shone brightly, partially waxed.
David blinked and quickly slid the bulky artifact back into the inner pocket of his coat, and then he breathed wearily. His head was pounding as if it might explode.
He was aware of several things. The air was cleaner, he could feel it. And it was silent, except for the sounds of the night animals. There was no noise beyond that of nature. The subliminal sounds of the modern world were completely silent.
Looking out past the nearby hills, he spied a small campfire flickering within the confines of the forest. Shouldering his packs, he walked toward it, his heart suddenly pounding in his ears. All the weariness of the past two days was replaced by a sudden apprehension. Did he go back far enough? Did he do it correctly? Would Gabrielle even be happy to see him? Would she say yes? The evidence pointed to the definite possibility. The ring had been in her tomb. Then the spectacle he had seen – will see – oh god, just thinking about it made his head hurt more.
Those doubts and others began to ricochet through his mind. How much of the path was actually chosen? How much, if any, was fate?
His boots crunched on the dead leaves and branches as he approached the camp. He felt no need for stealth. He was a traveler on the road, looking to share a campfire with another traveler. Where was the harm in that?
He entered a small round clearing and found it void of a human occupant. Across from the fire stood a fine tan mare with a pale white mane and tail. The horse turned its head towards him and gave a snort. The thoughtful brown eyes of the horse considered him for a moment, and then looked away.
David felt something sharp touch the back of his neck.
"Looking for someone?" Whispered a husky female voice.
David let his bow drop to the ground and raised his hands.
"Yes, actually," he said, smiling when he heard the ancient Greek language.
"Looks like I found someone, too."
He slowly turned around and met the gaze of a tall, proud warrior in dark armor. Her pale blue eyes bored into his with icy detachment. Her dark hair shimmered in the light of the fire.
The combination of the revelation of who she had to be, along with the lack of sleep made his laugh sound somewhat manic.
"Xena, right?" he said, grinning like an idiot. "Holy shit! I've heard so much about you, I mean I've heard a lot about what you've done in the past, or will do, or, oh Hell," he extended his hand, suddenly unconcerned by the sword pointed at his chest.
"I'm David," he introduced himself.
Xena's icy stare changed to one of confusion and then mild concern. "Okay?"
"I'm not a lunatic," David said quickly. "I've had a real long day – two days actually, not including the jet lag and all that, but I digress." He paused suddenly, looking at her. "How've you been?"
"Oh, I'm doing great." Xena let the sword lower, though she did not relax. The man before her was a babbling idiot!
David suddenly rubbed his eyes and fought his giddiness down. "Wait," he said. "I know what this looks like. I've been on the go for almost three days with no food and no sleep. I must seem like a madman."
"Not at all," Xena lied.
David looked behind him at a nearby tree stump. "Do you mind if I sit? I really need to sit."
Without the manic behavior, Xena suddenly realized that this wild-eyed man was actually on the verge of collapse.
She gestured to the stump and nodded. "Go ahead."
"Thanks," David said and he dropped the two large packs to the ground and dropped onto the smooth flat surface. "I feel like week old bread."
"You look it," Xena said, standing opposite the fire, just in case. She studied him carefully for a few moments as he situated himself. She saw the scar crisscrossing his left eye and winced at what that must have felt like. The man had obviously been in battles before. His clothing was strange. She didn't recognize any of the symbols or colors on his inner black vest. He let his two outer jackets flop open and breathed deeply. "Where are you travelling from?"
"Chicago. The northwest suburbs, actually, if you want to get technical?" David said automatically. When Xena frowned, David waved his hand dismissively. "Nevermind. Long, long story."
David reached into the side pocket of one of the bags and removed a small silver, rectangular bundle. He tore the top of it off and removed a thin wafer of what looked like pressed nuts. He munched on it thoughtfully and sighed.
David looked up at the warrior before him, as if appraising her.
"Yup," he nodded. "You are exactly as she described you."
"Who?" Xena asked.
"Your friend, Gabrielle," David answered. Suddenly his gaze changed to one of alarm.
"Wait a second," he said. "If you're here, then." He closed his eyes and groaned. "Oh shit. That's twice!" he looked back up at Xena nervously. "Um, where is she?"
"She's in Athens," Xena answered, still confused by this stranger. "At the Bards Academy. How do you know her?"
"Another long story, I'm afraid." David said. "I just came from – " he stopped.
"From where?" Xena's voice dropped to a menacing tone. Suddenly, she suspected foul play on the part of this man.
David looked up at her. "From, uh, her tomb?"
Xena's eyes widened in shock for just a moment and then she was across the flames with her weapon at David's throat.
"What are you talking about?" She hissed. "If you've done anything to her!"
David held his hands up in supplication. His much needed energy bar fell into the muddy soil. "Whoa! Easy! Easy! I haven't done anything to her! She's fine, for right now! Ah nuts, that didn't sound right! I mean it doesn't mean to sound like it sounded!"
"Start talking!" Xena growled.
"Okay, okay," David breathed. "God damn you're strong!"
"Well?" Xena's clenched fingers tightened on the collar of his coat.
"In the year twenty oh three," David said quickly. "An archeological dig discovered a tomb in the area of what you call Poditea. Hidden among the artifacts was an object called the Chronos Stone. It was buried there along with the family of a woman named Gabrielle. The ruins of Poditea itself were unearthed nearby."
Xena's eyes went wide and her grip loosened on the collar of the coat. Blessed air began to flood back into David's lungs. He took a few deep breaths and looked up at Xena with a new respect.
"Shit lady," he said. "I recommend decaf in the future."
"Keep talking," Xena ordered.
David started to speak, but then he stopped. A sudden and terrifying realization hit him. "I can't." He finally said.
Xena stepped up again and her fingers jabbed into either side of his larynx. There was a crunch and David went stiff, unable to move. He could feel his pulse pounding between his ears.
"Pinch, right?" he gasped. "Yeah, she told me about that too."
"Talk!" Xena barked.
"I can't," David hissed. "Anything I tell you will put Gabrielle's life in jeopardy! I won't do that!"
"You've got twenty seconds," Xena breathed.
David fought to keep his lungs working. There were stars flashing before his eyes. He tried furiously to think of something he could say that might change Xena's mind.
"She's going to help me defeat Alti," he finally gasped.
Xena's eyes went wide and her fingers jabbed again.
Instantly, the building pressure in David's skull vanished and he toppled forward.
"What about Alti?" Xena asked. "How do you know about Alti?"
He stumbled to his feet and stared at Xena with a mixture of anger and insult.
"God damn!" He blurted angrily. He wiped blood from his nose and held his hand up, showing the blood to the woman before him. "You are one maladjusted mistrustful bitch, you know that?"
Xena stared at him, her own expression somewhere between rage and respect.
"What about Alti?" Xena repeated forcefully.
David looked up at the sky, his own temper flaring.
"I can't tell you!" he shouted. "I wish I could, but I can't! You have to understand! Hit the pinch again, if you want to. Kill me if it makes you feel better, but I can't tell you!"
"Then how do I know you're telling the truth?" Xena pressed, folding her arms.
David threw his arms up in frustration and began pacing back and forth. "How in the hell did she deal with you?" he blurted.
Xena's eyebrow rose at that comment and a slightly bemused expression touched her face.
David thought furiously for a moment and then he stopped and pointed first at the bow lying on the ground and then at himself.
"Look at the way I'm dressed! Not exactly local fashion is it? Look at the bow I'm carrying!" David said, suddenly becoming harsh in his own right. "You're an expert where weapons are concerned. Tell me if you've ever seen anything remotely like that?" He gestured to the fallen bow with the arrows still attached to the front.
Xena stooped and picked up the weapon, studying it closely and then she looked at David again.
"I haven't," she admitted.
"Damn right! That's because it's made of a composite material about two thousand years ahead of your time!" David hissed. "What little I can tell you is the truth! I just can't tell you any more of it!"
"Okay," Xena said in a softer tone. She held up her hands in a calming gesture. "Okay. If this is true, and you are from some distant future. What are you doing here? And what do you want with Gabrielle?"
"I'm here," David said as he drew the Chronos Stone from his pocket and held it up. "Because I'm exhausted and can't focus clearly. I missed my exit – twice!"
"And Gabrielle?" Xena asked, but suddenly she understood the look in David's eyes.
"I –" David started. He seemed to consider for a moment and shook his head. "No. I can't." Then he looked at Xena earnestly. "And you can NOT tell her anything about me, you understand? You have to go on from now as if I never arrived here tonight! It is vital that you say nothing about me, our encounter, absolutely nothing!"
"Why?" Xena asked. "If you know her, she should know about it."
"Yes," David said. "She will. But not now! My very being here may have already altered things. If she learns anything about this conversation, I might never see her again! Talk about a Mongolian cluster-" He stopped himself, rubbing his head and trying to quell the sudden blinding headache.
Xena suddenly realized what she saw in this stranger's eyes. It was more than just a fear of changing the future. He was genuinely afraid of not finding Gabrielle somewhere in that future. She looked at the slumping, exhausted man before her, and her gaze softened.
"I have to go," David said suddenly, reaching for his packs. "I'm sorry to have barged in on you." He adjusted his equipment, looking like an overworked plow horse and stood before Xena holding out his hand.
Xena handed his bow to him, staring into his eyes. "Just tell me one thing," Xena asked suddenly. "Does everything turn out alright in the end?"
David took the weapon and smiled. "I don't know. That part of the story is still being written." He looked at her for one long moment, and then clasped her forearm.
"For what it's worth," David said. "It has been an honor to meet you." He smiled, rubbing the two spots on the front of his neck and then he turned away. "Nice to put a face to the stories I've heard." Xena watched him depart.
"You're in love with her," Xena called after him. "Aren't you?"
David stopped and looked back at her for a long time. He smiled wearily.
"No more than you are." He seemed to consider for a moment. "I envy you," he said suddenly. "Both of you. If you believe anything I've said tonight, believe this. You are at the beginning of an incredible adventure. At times you'll feel like you're going to break, but you never will. In the mean time, take care of her for me, alright?"
Xena smiled. "I'll see you again sometime," she said.
David opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. Then he merely nodded his head. "Good bye, Xena."
Without another word, David turned, bent by his load and vanished into the deepening gloom.
David reached the main road again and stared up into the shadowy arch of trees. The knapsacks on his shoulders felt like boat anchors. He shifted them again and tried to ignore the burning in his limbs and the throbbing in his head. He drew out the stone, wondering if he had the strength for another attempt.
"Just one more," he sighed. "I can do one more."
A voice spoke from the edge of the path, filled with mischievous good humor.
"Bouncing through time?" the female voice asked. "That's, like, totally gnarly."
There was a flicker of sparks, and the scent of fresh roses, and a young woman appeared in front of him. Her deep blue eyes looked at him with delight. Her long golden curls fell over her shoulders. She wore a pink outer robe of diaphanous material and two other pieces beneath that barely served the need for modesty.
"So, what are you doing in this neck of the woods, stranger?" He put her hands on her hips and smiled at him.
David let his arms drop to his sides and smiled.
"Aphrodite, right?" he asked.
"Mmm, my reputation precedes me?" she stepped up to him. "That's cool."
"Oh, yeah," David nodded. "I'm David."
"I know," Aphrodite stepped around him, looking him over as if she were trying to decide whether or not to have her way with him. Not an altogether unpleasant prospect. "And I've been watching you bounce around the vortex for the past forty years like a dragonfly." She leaned against his shoulder. "Looking for something in particular? Or someone?"
"Gabrielle," David said wearily. He really did not have the energy for this.
"And what do you want with my little girl?" Aphrodite asked. When David seemed reluctant to speak, she slapped his shoulder playfully. "Oh, you can tell me, silly. I am a Goddess after all."
David slipped the Chronos Stone back into concealment and drew out the fabric box. He popped it open and showed it to the Goddess of Love.
"That's pretty," Aphrodite smiled. She looked up at him curiously. "What does that have to do with my little friend?"
"It's an engagement ring," David said.
"Is that why you did all that crazy stuff back there? I mean up there?" she pointed back behind her and then forwards. Her voice became wistful. "Ooh, that's so romantic!" She practically bounced with glee.
"You know about all that?" David asked.
"Of course I do, silly," Aphrodite said. "Goddess, remember? I also saw all the stupid stuff Ares did. He's such a killjoy." She frowned. "Anyway. Why are you waiting to tell her?"
"I wouldn't if I could find her!" David snapped, starting to feel his temper grow short from lack of rest or caffeine.
Aphrodite looked at him with a pout on her lips.
"You don't have to get uppity about it," she chided him.
David closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "You're right. Sorry. I guess I'm a little strung out."
"Yeah," Aphrodite's face softened. "I can imagine. Mortals who do God things usually can't handle it. Still, you've done better than most."
"Thanks," David smiled. "But I still haven't gotten to where I need to go. And I can't do this much more?"
"And so, that's why I'm here," Aphrodite smiled, raising her arms and grinning. "You can't do this forever, and I can't let you, so. I'm here to get you where you need to go."
"Oh?" David's eyebrow rose. "The last time a deity popped up, the price was a bit much."
"Sweetie," Aphrodite held his scruffy chin between her thumb and forefinger. "Look with your good eye, okay? There's only one thing that I'm going to want from you if we do this."
"Here we go," David rolled his eyes towards the heavens.
Aphrodite looked at him for a moment, and smiled. "I want you to make her the happiest woman in Greece. Think you can handle that, studly?"
David looked back down at her in surprise. She seemed to find that immensely funny and she laughed, wrapping her pale arm about his shoulders.
"What if she says no?" David asked. "She doesn't have to say yes, you know?"
"After everything you did?" Aphrodite replied, slapping his chest. "If she says no, she's an idiot. But just in case, I could make sure –"
"No!" David protested loudly. Then he shook his head. "No. She can't really say yes if she doesn't have the choice to say no, can she?"
Aphrodite looked at him for a moment, and her smile widened. "You are a romantic, through and through." She shrugged. "Okay. If she says no, and you want to go home, I'll help you with that." She pinched his nose playfully. "But I know Gabby, and she's not stupid." She stepped in front of him and gestured to his pocket.
"Whip it out, big boy," she teased. He pulled the Chronos Stone from his coat and held it up.
"Okay," Aphrodite asked, smiling. "When too?"
"After Gabrielle gets back from my time," David said. Then he remembered. "But before Gurkhan's bounty hunters get a hold of her."
"Okay, hot pants," Aphrodite put her hands over his. "Here we go."
David took a deep breath and braced himself.
Nothing happened. Aphrodite released her grip on the stone and stepped back, grinning.
"See, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"We didn't?" he started, then he saw the walls of Poditea just a short walk away. He smiled and looked at the Goddess of Love.
"Smooth," he said, smiling. "Real smooth."
Aphrodite shrugged her shoulders and grinned. "Go get your girl, Shakespeare!" she said encouragingly and with a shower of sparks, she vanished.
David let the Chronos Stone fall back into the inside pocket of the coat and looked about him. He stood in the same forest as before, the sounds of the night animals surrounding him.
With deliberate steps, he began meandering through them.
David stepped around several massive trees and looked down on the ancient village. The gates were closed for the night, and firelight could be seen twinkling between the cracks of the crudely shuttered windows and closed doors.
Adjusting the large packs on his back, David began to walk cautiously down toward the gates. As he came within torchlight, a voice called out to him from the wall.
"State your business!"
David smiled. "You wouldn't believe me," he thought.
He held his hands out in gesture of peace.
"I'm looking for Lila, sister to Gabrielle, a friend of mine!" he called back hoping his butchered Greek wasn't too strange to rouse suspicion.
A figure moved from the wall, and a few moments later, one of the gates was drawn inward. Two men wearing swords and carrying shields approached him. One of them carried a torch.
"Why have you come at so late an hour?" one of them asked. He seemed to note David's haggard appearance. "You look as if you've come a great way?"
"You have no idea," David replied wearily. "It has been a long road, and I did not wish to wait another night before seeing her. May I pass?"
The guard looked at him for a long moment and finally nodded. "You may enter. Lila's home it the third one on the left, down the main street."
"Thank you," David replied. "I'll find it. Good night."
The two men followed the stranger into the city and barred the gates behind him.
David walked down the quiet street, marveling at the fact he was actually there. He was standing in the land of Greece some two thousand years in the past. He smiled drunkenly at the thought. The smile faded and uneasiness began to build in his chest when he found the appropriate door. He knocked upon it gently.
"Lila?" he called out. "Lila, are you there?"
The latch was pulled and the door opened a crack. David saw a middle aged woman of about fifty years staring up at him from within.
"Yes?" she asked. "Who are you?"
"I'm sorry to be calling so late," David stammered. "I need to speak with Gabrielle. Is she here?"
"No," Lila replied. "She left." The door closed in his face.
"Lila, please!" David pleaded to the closed door. "I need to find out where she's gone. My name's David. I'm a friend of-"
The door was pulled all the way open and the woman looked at David with wide, astonished eyes.
"David?" she repeated. "You're David?"
"Yes," David replied. The look in Lila's face was one of wonder, mixed with fear.
"Come in, come in," Lila beckoned him into the small home.
"Where has Gabrielle gone?" David asked as he entered the cozy little home. A fire crackled in a small hearth, and a bed lay unkempt to one side.
Lila said nothing. She held David at arm length and studied him for a moment, and then a smile began to appear on her face.
"Yes," she said finally. "You are him. Gabrielle told me all about you." Her smile faded suddenly.
"Lila," David said earnestly. "Where is she?"
"Gone," Lila replied. "She left early this morning, as I said." The woman turned and went to a small table. "She was so sad. She told me all about what had happened, and then she said she was going away for a while. She didn't say when, or if she was coming back."
"Did she say where she might go?" David asked desperately.
"She said she might head south towards Athens, or even Corynth," Lila said. "David, you have to find her. I don't know why, but my heart tells me that she's in trouble."
David let his two bags drop to the ground. He gathered a few necessities and stood.
"May I leave these here, in your care?" He asked. "I'll travel faster without them."
"Of course," Lila nodded. "Now, go, before it's too late."
David took his bow and a quiver of arrows, slung them across his back and with a courteous bow, stepped back out into the cool night air.
The guards at the gate seemed surprised to see him so soon.
"The road to Athens," David asked as he approached.
The guard's mouth opened and shut a few times in confusion.
"The road, man!" David repeated with the air of a drill sergeant.
The guard pointed through the gate.
"Follow that path to the fork in the road and bear left," he stammered.
"Open the gate," David ordered and he moved towards the entrance. The door swung inward again and David jogged down the path.
The path followed a gently meandering course through several rocky hills and valleys. As David continued he became acutely aware that his physical conditioning, though adequate, was severely lacking in stamina. He reached the fork in the road and continued to his left moved ever downwards. That helped a bit. At least he wasn't forced to fight gravity at the same time he was combating his own lack of endurance.
He came through a narrow pass and up a small slope before he stopped, breathing in deep, forceful gasps.
"Damn near three days without rest, and now this," he wheezed. He bent over and placed his hands on his knees as he looked down into the next shallow valley. He was heartened to see the tiny orange glow of a campfire not too far away. Smiling he began to walk easily down towards the site. His hopeful anticipation faded to curious concern as he heard harsh voices coming from the site up ahead. He slowed down and stepped up into the rocky hill, moving as cautiously as he could.
He reached a small, sheltered outcropping and looked down on the camp. He could see four or five men, all with weapons drawn, milling about the fire. A sixth man stood guard over a seventh figure, which lay bound and gagged.
David's heart thundered in his ears when he saw that it was Gabrielle who lay bound and helpless.
One of the men was laughing loudly, flipping her sais in his fingers. "The bounty for her will make us all rich," he laughed. "Make sure the ropes are tight, lads. Gurkhan said he preferred her alive."
Gabrielle twisted under the tight bindings. That got her a boot in the gut for her trouble.
"He said preferred," Another man hissed. "That doesn't mean he won't pay for your lifeless corpse."
Gabrielle looked up at him with defiant eyes.
David licked his lips. "Well, kiss my white ass," he muttered. "After she got back, but before the thugs got her. I guess there wasn't much of a window, was there?" He reached into his pocket and removed four small signal flares and his roll of electrical tape. Quickly he affixed the four flares to the end of one of his arrows and then notched it to his bow.
He drew back on the string and sighted the campfire. His heart was pounding.
"Okay," he said to himself. "Once this flies, Davie boy, you are in it up to your ass. You ready for this? You might have to kill one of them, or more? Its, one, two, three, four, five, six on one. Can you handle it?"
One of the men reached down and pulled Gabrielle up to a kneeling position by her hair. Even with the gag, David heard her cry of pain. The bounty hunter raised his weapon, the point aimed right at Gabrielle's heart.
"…Death was caused by an intrusion to the left chest region by a sharp object…"
Fury rose within him, instantly suffocating his conscience.
"Fuck it," he said and he loosed the arrow. It whistled through the air and struck in the center of the small fire. A few moments later, a brilliant blast of hot white light sent them all stumbling away as the magnesium in the flares ignited. They waved their hands in front of their faces, trying to clear the blinding spots in their vision.
The man that had been about to stab Gabrielle, dropped his weapon in surprise and stumbled to the side before he fell.
David didn't think. He just drew back on his bow and let a second arrow fly. This one struck the man who had just roughed up Gabrielle. He stumbled a few more paces into the shadows and fell.
David drew back again and shot a second man through the leg. He cried and fell over, writhing in pain. The fourth arrow struck the leader in the chest and he staggered backwards before sprawling on the ground.
"Three up – three down," David said. "Time for the second inning."
David slung his bow on his back and drew out the two-foot long bowie knife. He ran down the hill and leapt across the path, his right knee slamming into one of the remaining bounty hunters. The knife descended and the man choked once and went limp.
Gabrielle seized the moment and tried desperately to get her wrists free. She looked up and saw a thick dark swirl of movement as a bounty hunter wrestled with this strange new apparition. Suddenly another shadow fell over her.
The last remaining bounty hunter brought the hilt of his sword crashing down upon her forehead, and everything flashed white with pain before fading to black.
She came back to consciousness slowly, one painful nerve at a time. The first thing she sensed was the sound of the fire, still crackling merrily. Then she smelled the scent of burning wood, and another, more leafy scent on top of it. She felt the ground vibrate under her ear as someone moved about, and she heard the sound of water being poured into a container.
Then the smell of something laden with unknown spices overpowered the other smells.
She tried to roll over and realized that her hands and feet had been unbound. She opened her eyes slowly, and the brilliant light of the fire fed the throbbing in her skull. She groaned and put a hand to her head, feeling something small and made of woven fabric stuck there.
Then she saw the shadow of a large man crouching next to the fire. Two small tripods rested directly above the merry flames. On one was a small silver bowl, steaming as the contents boiled. On the other was a second, taller pot with a tiny crystal protruding from the lid.
The figure was dressed in a long black cloak or coat, and she saw the thick soles of tough black boots resting on the earth. The man's hair was long and hung in ragged strings from his scalp, damp either from the recent rain, or from sweating through physical exertion. A bow rested on his back and a quiver of arrows hung beside it.
He wore fingerless gloves on his large hands, one of them raising a metallic cup to his lips. She detected a nutty scent in the air beneath the others. The cup rose, lowered and then the other hand placed a long smoldering roll of tobacco in the mouth. The pungent smoke puffed out before him. It was a familiar scent, and her heart began to pound.
Gabrielle said nothing, her eyes still flashing with spots from the explosion and the blow to her head. She saw the shapes of several bodies, lying scattered nearby.
"You know," The man spoke in a voice that sounded hauntingly familiar. The cup rose and fell again, and he swallowed. "I'm a real dick when I don't get my coffee in the morning."
Gabrielle looked at the man and then back at the dead bodies nearby, then back at the stranger again. She knew that voice, but it was impossible!
"Anyway," the man continued. "I waited for over a year, you know, just to see if I could get along without you?" He sighed and took another long drag on the cigar. "Turns out that I couldn't. Besides, I always wanted to see the Parthanon before the roof came down?"
Gabrielle got to her feet and stepped around, backing unsteadily away from the man. Her eyes were locked on him, waiting for him to rise, attack, or do something.
He did. His head turned towards her and she looked through the stray stands of hair into his deep brown eyes.
"Hell," David said. "I figured, if I couldn't show you Greece in my time, you might at least show it to me in yours?" His eyebrows rose questioningly. "That is, if you're interested in me sticking around?"
"David?" Gabrielle gasped.
David put the cigar between his teeth and grinned mischievously. His eyebrows rose and fell once. Then she saw the dark scar over his left eye.
"Interested?" he asked.
Gabrielle stepped towards him slowly, not daring to believe that he was real. She sank down to her knees in front of him, looking up into his eyes. Her fingers touched the fabric of his coat.
"Is it really you?" she asked. She looked at his injury and her lip began to tremble. "What happened?"
His fingers reached out and touched her cheek.
"I got it running Alti off the road, just after-," he stopped, tossing the butt of his cigar into the flames. Then he looked at her again and smiled. "How've you been?"
She fell into his arms and held him as tightly as she could, fearful that he might suddenly vanish from sight.
"Hey now," David whispered in her ear. "You didn't think I was going to let a little thing like Time stop me, did you?"
She looked at him suddenly. "How did you - ?"
"Ah," David grinned. "I found the Chronos Stone, where we'll leave it, in about forty years, or so"
"But I still have it," Gabrielle stammered. "I didn't destroy it."
"Lucky for me," David said. He reached into his pocket and drew the stone out, setting it on a nearby rock. Then he handed her a thick piece of firewood. "Would you like to do the honors?"
She seemed uncertain for a moment, and suddenly David swung the log down, shattering the stone into hundreds of tiny, glowing fragments.
"Oops," David said neutrally. "Well, I guess I'm not going anywhere any time soon."
Gabrielle stared down at the shards glowing on in the dust. As they watched, the glow within the shards of the crystal faded and died. .
"And that," he said. "As they say, is that."
Gabrielle looked at him in shock.
"What have you done?" Gabrielle asked. "How will you get home?"
David reached into another pocket and drew out a small fabric wrapped box. He pressed it into her hand.
Confused, Gabrielle took the box and opened it. Within was a diamond ring. The gem flashed in the firelight.
"What is this for?" she asked.
"It's an old tradition." David said, suddenly getting nervous under her gaze. "Well, actually, now, it's a new tradition. Well, newer than it was a few days ago. Or something like that?" He stammered, suddenly fidgeting nervously. "A man gives a woman he cares for, a ring like this when he wants to," he paused. "Well, I was wondering, um, oh Hell." He stood up and took her hands in his. "I don't want to go home without you. I've been doing a lot of thinking this last year and I realized that my "home" was empty, because you weren't in it."
Gabrielle began to smile at his discomfiture. "David," she asked. "What are you trying to say?"
Off in the shadows, Aphrodite looked on, her fingers rubbing her chin in anticipation. She was smiling. "Go on," she whispered. "Go on, ask her," she took a step forward, and then a step back, forcing herself to remain where she was and simply watch. "I promised." She said for the hundredth time.
David took a deep breath. "I don't care where I am, as long as I'm with you. Always assuming that you wouldn't mind having me around for, say, the rest of our lives?"
"The rest-?" Gabrielle started to say then a look of dawning crossed her face and she began to smile.
"Gabrielle," David said. Then a nervous laugh escaped him and he shrugged. "I had this great speech all worked out."
David took the ring out of the box and slid it onto her left ring finger. He looked into her eyes.
"What do you think?" He finally stammered.
Gabrielle stared down at her hand, and then up into his eyes, her own filling with tears again.
"David?" she asked. "Are you asking me to marry you?"
David looked into her eyes and smiled.
"Yeah," he said with a shrug. "Yeah, I suppose I am?"
She smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck and held him tightly.
"Yes." She whispered.
From the shadows, Aphrodite grinned and quietly clapped her hands. She barely managed to contain her squeal of delight. "This is what is sooo cool about my job," she said and she vanished.
Return to the Academy