by Stacia Seaman
Disclaimer: Gabrielle and Xena belong to RenPic, Renee, and Lucy, and Scully belongs to Chris Carter, 1013, and Gillian. I'm just taking them out for a good time. They may be hung over when I return them, but trust me, they're having fun.
Language: We're potty mouths, all of us.
Sex disclaimer: subtext, innuendo, a nudge and a wink, but nothing graphic.
Location: Washington, D.C., the nation's capital. Some places are real, some (sadly) are now closed, some are made up.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Thud! I hear rather than feel my face hit the carpet. My mind is fuzzy from the alcohol we've been drinking all night. Now . . . what exactly was I doing when I tripped over the back of the sofa?
Ah yes, I remember now. I was going to get the Nutter Butters out of the kitchen. Right. Time to stand up. As I struggle to my feet I hear the unmistakable sounds of giggling. I look back into the den and see Scully banging her hand on the coffee table as another round of laughter sweeps her away.
"So, Staesh, did it ever occur to you to go *around* the sofa?" I always knew Gabrielle was a wiseass. I shoot her the look of death. She doesn't even try to contain her giggles. The two of them are a sight - sprawled out on the floor next to the coffee table, their faces flushed and their eyes teary with laughter.
"Bite me," I say as I stagger toward the kitchen.
The evening had begun innocently enough. Three redheads going out for a night on the town. We'd have some drinks, maybe play some pool or go dancing. It was Gabrielle's idea. That alone should have warned me to stay at home.
Gabrielle is my kickboxing instructor. I'd heard that kickboxing was a great way to get into shape and a friend of mine told me about a gym near the MCI Center that catered to women, so I decided to check it out. I don't know what I was expecting when I arrived for my first class, but no one in the gym looked like a kickboxer to me. In fact, out of the seven women in the class, three of us were petite with red hair and light eyes. Usually I'm the lone redhead. I was completely surprised when Gabrielle stepped forward and announced that she was our instructor - I had assumed that the tall woman with long dark hair would be leading the class. Gabrielle told us to choose a partner in the class, someone the same height and build, which is how I met Dana Scully. Like me, Dana was without makeup, hair pulled back from her face, wearing a t-shirt and leggings. She was the picture of a grad student (I found out later that she'd thought the same thing about me). The first thing Gabrielle asked us to do was tell our partners a little bit about ourselves. Turns out Dana is an FBI agent. She picked this gym because it's only two blocks from the J. Edgar Hoover building. Oh shit, I thought. She's gonna kick my ass.
It took me two days to get out of bed after that first class. I had to hide a smile when I saw Dana walking gingerly into the gym for our next session - at least I gave as good as I got. As she pulled her t-shirt over her head I saw the fresh scar on her abdomen. She noticed me staring and said, "I'm fine. Just got a little banged up on a case a while back."
I raised an eyebrow at her. "You sure you're up for this?"
She pursed her lips and sighed. "I'm fine, just a little out of shape. That's why I'm here." She obviously did not like admitting this to me. I guess she thought it was a sign of weakness. I was saying a silent prayer of thanks - I'd probably be in traction right now if I'd had a session with a healthy Dana Scully.
Gabrielle walked over to us with an amused smile. "Feeling a little sore?" Dana and I nodded. "Try a warm bath with arnica and calendula oils. That should make you feel better." Dana raised her right eyebrow and moved away from us, muttering something under her breath about lactic acid and analgesics. Gabrielle shook her head. "Everyone ready to begin?"
Just then I heard a small chirping sound. Dana walked over to her gym bag and pulled out a cell phone. She snapped it open and answered with a curt "Scully." Gabrielle and I looked at each other and started laughing - "Scully" seemed so out of character for someone as small and pretty as Dana. After about five minutes of conversation Dana hung up and walked back to us.
"I'm sorry, I have to go," she said, "I've been assigned to a new case and I need to meet with someone to go over the details."
"That's fine," Gabrielle said. "Stacia can partner with me."
"Great," I said as I glared at Dana. She returned a look of mock apology and went to the locker room to change. Was that a giggle I heard as she walked away? No, not from Dana. She would never be so cruel. . . would she?
We didn't see Dana again until the following Monday. She barely spoke, but she moved with a quiet, controlled intensity and fury. By the end of the class I could barely stand up. After Dana left to go to the locker room, Gabrielle came up to me.
"She gave you quite a workout," she said.
"Glad you noticed," I said, picking up my water bottle and heading toward the locker room.
"I'd like to see how things go next time before I say anything. Maybe she just had a bad day," said Gabrielle. I nodded and walked away.
Wednesday night's workout was equally intense. However, I had also had a bad day, so I was more than happy to focus my energy on sparring with Dana. By the end of the session we were both exhausted and short of breath. "Good job, you two," said Gabrielle, "You're both showing a lot of progress."
"I can tell. It only took me two hours to get out of bed on Tuesday," I said. Dana snorted and gave a half-nod.
"See you Friday then?" With that, Gabrielle turned and left.
Which brings us back to tonight. I got to the gym early. It was a cold, windy day and I took a cab so that I wouldn't have to walk from the subway. I was sitting in the locker room in my work clothes, trying to muster up the motivation to change, when the door opened and Dana came in. It was the first time I had seen her in business attire, and I was stunned by the difference in her appearance. Her hair and makeup were perfect and she looked at least ten years older.
Suddenly it made sense. "Hello, Scully," I said. She looked at me, surprised at first, but then smiled. "Hi, Staesh," she replied.
Gabrielle came into the locker room, dressed casually in a sweater and long skirt. "Looks like it's just us tonight," she said. "I say we bag the workout and go dancing instead."
Scully and I looked at each other. She raised her eyebrow and I shrugged my shoulders. "Why not?" she said.
"As long as we eat something first," I added.
"Of course," Gabrielle said. "I know just the place. But first I think we should stop by my apartment. Unless you want to wear those clothes all night?"
It sounded reasonable enough - after all, the three of us were similar in size and coloring - and, in fact, it sounded fun. I hadn't had a girls' night out since college. Scully didn't seem as sure.
"Dana?" I said. She looked at me. "When's the last time you went out and played? Just let go and had fun?"
I caught a glimpse of sorrow in her eyes before she looked down. "It's been a while," she admitted softly.
"Then it's settled," said Gabrielle. She picked up Dana's bag and headed toward the door. "Cab or metro?"
"And I thought I had a lot of books . . ." I said as I walked through Gabrielle's tiny Dupont Circle apartment, fascinated by the contents of her bookshelves. She had a vast collection containing sections on Greek and Roman mythology, epic poetry, and healing plants and herbs.
"Come on back and we can all figure out what to wear tonight," called Gabrielle. Scully and I walked down the hallway to the bedroom.
"Have we decided where we're going yet?" asked Scully.
Gabrielle smiled. "Well, I thought we could eat first, maybe play some pool, then go dancing. That sound ok to everyone?"
I smiled. "Sounds good to me!"
Scully looked uncertain. "Dancing?"
Gabrielle laughed. "Yes, Dana, dancing. In a crowded room. With loud music. What size shoes do you wear?"
"Umm, Gabrielle?" Dana stood in front of the closet, looking at dozens of skimpy tops and skirts, several made of leather.
"Wow!" I said, looking at a pair of soft brown knee-high boots. "Where did you get these?"
"It's a long story," said Gabrielle. She selected a short brown leather dress and held it up to Scully. "What do you think?" she asked me.
Hmmm. Scully in leather. "I don't know," I said. "Do you have anything in an animal print?"
Thwack! Gabrielle's tiger-print backpack bounced off my back. I spun around to see an oh-so-innocent Dana Scully examining one of Gabrielle's miniskirts. Gabrielle and I looked at each other and giggled. We might just be able to get Scully to enjoy the evening after all.
Gabrielle moved away from the closet toward the bathroom. "Who wants the first shower?"
"Depends. How much hot water do you have?" I asked.
"I've never run out yet," she replied.
"Well, I'd probably better go first," I said. "I've got the longest hair and it takes a while to dry."
"All right then," Gabrielle said, tossing me a clean towel. "Off you go."
The bathroom was small but clean. Judging from the array of bath oils and salts, Gabrielle preferred soaking in the tub to taking showers. I looked longingly at the ginger bath foam and large sponge on the bathroom counter. Unfortunately there was no time for that, so I turned on the shower and stepped into the hot spray.
I quickly washed my hair, then chose a fruit-scented bath gel for my body. After rinsing the suds away, I turned off the water and stepped out of the tub. Mmm, vanilla body lotion! I massaged some into my skin, pulled the towel swami-style around my hair, and wrapped myself in a long fluffy green robe that was hanging on a hook on the bathroom door. I braced myself against the rush of cool air as I opened the bathroom door. "Next!"
Scully looked up. "Guess that's me," she said, walking toward the bathroom.
Gabrielle gave her a warm smile. "We'll have fun tonight, Dana. I promise."
Scully raised an eyebrow before closing the bathroom door.
* * * * *
* * * * *
I unwrapped the towel and began to dry my hair. "So," said Gabrielle, "Any ideas for what to put Dana in tonight?"
Draping the towel over my shoulders, I walked over to the closet. "Do you have anything that's maybe a little...more?"
Her eyebrows wrinkled in confusion. "More? More what?"
"Just...more. I don't think Scully's too thrilled with the idea of showing a lot of skin," I said.
"I think you're right about that. Let's see here," reaching to the very back of the closet, Gabrielle considered and discarded several garments before pulling out a long, slim black skirt.
I nodded approvingly. "Definitely Scully."
"And I have just the thing to go with it, too." Gabrielle pulled out a soft knit tank top and matching cardigan. "How do you think she looks in gray?"
"Are you kidding? She probably looks good in anything," I said.
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows and nodded. "No doubt." She put the clothing down on the bed and turned her attention back to the closet. "Now what about shoes?"
"Probably best to let her choose," I rustled around in my bag, looking for my comb. "What are you going to wear?"
"I haven't decided yet. Depends on how I feel after a shower," she replied. "It's been a long day, so probably something comfortable."
I nodded and tried to run my fingers through my damp, tangled hair. A friendly voice behind me made me jump. "Here, let me do that." Gabrielle took the comb from my hand and began to run it gently through my hair. "My roommate has long hair, too, and sometimes I help her with the tangles."
"She coming out with us tonight?" I asked.
"No, she's working."
"Oh, that's too bad," I said.
Gabrielle shrugged and finished combing out my hair. "Blow dryer's in the bathroom. I'll bring it out so you can dry your hair in here while Im in the shower."
"Sounds good," I said. I put my duffel on the bed and pulled out a hairbrush, toothbrush and toothpaste, and my makeup bag.
Gabrielle laughed. "You certainly come prepared!"
"Yeah, well, when you're in charge of the network you can never be sure you'll make it home every night."
"Yeah, network. You know, computers?" My fingers typed on an imaginary keyboard.
"I know what they are," she said with a mock glare. "I didn't realize that's what you did."
"Yup. What do you do besides teaching people how to kick butts?"
"I work for the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Outreach, mostly."
I looked over at her, startled. "Wow."
She nodded and looked down. "It can be hard sometimes. Seeing those kids."
"But it's good to see someone who cares enough to try to help them," I said gently.
Gabrielle looked up at me. "Thanks, I needed to hear that."
"Any time," I said. "Now, what do I get to wear?" I sat down on the bed next to Scully's outfit and watched Gabrielle expectantly.
"What am I, the fashion coordinator?"
"It's your closet. I don't know what's in there." Giving her a wicked smile, I massaged some gel into my hair.
"You have one leather skirt and people think you're kinky."
"I counted four," I said helpfully.
Before she could answer, the bathroom door opened and Scully emerged, wearing a gorgeous blue silk robe. "It's all yours," she said to Gabrielle as she began toweling her hair.
"We need music," I decided. "Where's your stereo?" I looked around the room and, spotting a portable CD player on a bookshelf, walked over and began browsing through the CDs. "Hey, Bri, where's your going out music?"
She opened her mouth, closed it, and then opened it again and said, "Try Xena's CDs, in her room. And 'Bri' was one of Charlie's Angels."
"Ah." I nodded to her. "Come on, Scully. Let's go find some tunes."
We walked across the hall, and I pushed open the door of the apartment's second bedroom. Though the curtains were pulled back, the room was filled with an almost-purple, dusky light, unlike Gabrielle's sun-filled corner of the apartment.
"She must be an early riser," mused Scully. "Looks like this room gets the morning sun." She flipped on the ceiling light and we looked around the sparsely furnished room.
"Wow." Scully stood next to a bookcase, looking intently at the contents of one of its shelves.
"Ya find the CDs?" I asked her.
"Among other things," she said.
Intrigued, I turned and went over to the bookcase, which, as it turned out, contained very few books. Instead, the shelves were filled with CDs, an assortment of what appeared to be tools and parts for bicycles, and a very large sword.
"I don't suppose that's fake," I said to Scully.
"Depends on what you mean by fake," she replied. "It's definitely metal, but as to its age..." She stopped and moved closer to the shelf. "I wonder what that is?"
"What?" I asked, leaning in.
"That metal ring. I've never seen anything like it, have you?"
I looked closely at the item in question. It was beautiful; highly polished silver with a design inlaid in gold. The edges looked as though they had been honed to a razor-sharp edge.
"Is that a weapon?" I asked, surprised.
Scully gave the object an appraising look. "That's a thought. It's definitely sharp enough...maybe it's like those throwing stars "
"Aren't those illegal?"
She raised an eyebrow at me.
I gave her a sheepish smile and shrugged my shoulders. "So what do you feel like listening to?" I started looking through the eclectic collection of CDs. "She's got a little bit of everything here," I said, then pulled out a collection of David Bowie songs. "This oughtta do it."
Returning to the other bedroom, I noticed a small blow dryer on the dresser, presumably left there by Gabrielle.
"Oh, good," Scully said. "I was afraid my hair would dry this way." She shook her head and gave her damp auburn waves one last swipe with the towel, then looked at me questioningly.
"Oh, go ahead. I just use a dryer to get the water out. My hair will end up straight no matter what," I said with a laugh. "I always wanted curly hair, or at least waves."
Scully nodded as she picked up a round brush.
"Can't you" I began.
She quirked an eyebrow at me.
"It's just, well, you look nice with curly hair. Couldn't you just leave it that way tonight?"
"Leave what what way?" Gabrielle asked from the doorway.
I didn't even try to control my giggles when I saw Gabrielle. She was drowning in deep blue terrycloth; the sleeves had obviously been rolled up several times, the belt was loosely tied around her hips, and at least five inches of fabric pooled at her feet. I tried to catch my breath to answer her question, but only succeeded in snorting before I began to laugh even harder.
"At least *I* can go on the good rides at Disney World," she said blithely, unwrapping her hair and throwing the towel on a chair.
Scully snickered. I turned back to her. "You keep out of this," I said.
Scully and Gabrielle looked at each other and burst out laughing. "I'm sorry, Staesh," Scully wheezed, "It's just so good to see someone else on the receiving end of a short joke."
"Glad to be of service," I muttered.
"Did you decide what you're going to wear?" Gabrielle asked me, still chuckling.
"No, not yet."
"The shorter skirts are in the middle of the closet," she said. "We wouldn't want you to trip over your hem or anything."
I have to give Scully credit; she tried to hold it in. Her attempt lasted all of 30 seconds, but at least she tried. Thankfully, she only laughed for a couple of minutes this time. Gabrielle was still making small giggling noises every so often as she combed out her hair, but it looked like I was finally out of the line of fire.
Scully grabbed a comb and ran it through her still-damp waves as she walked over to the closet and began looking through its contents.
"Whatcha doin'?" I asked her. "We already chose your outfit."
She turned to face me. "Pardon me?"
I walked over to the bed and sat down, bouncing slightly. "Yeah. Gabrielle and I picked it out while you were in the shower."
Scully's blue eyes looked from me to Gabrielle and back to me.
"It's ok, really. No leather, no animal prints..."
"You chose my clothes for me?"
"Well, Gabby's closet is a little scary, and"
"What Stacia is trying to say is that we were looking for something for her to wear, and we found something that we thought you might like," said Gabrielle. "And," looking at me, "Gabby was Roy Rogers' cook."
"Ah." I said as I picked up my toothbrush and toothpaste and headed toward the bathroom.
I returned a few minutes later with clean, gingermint breath. Gabrielle was working some gel into her short strawberry-blonde hair while Scully stood in front of the mirror, scrunching her hair into loose waves. Gabrielle gave me a quick wink before heading into the bathroom with the blow dryer. "Good call on Dana's hair," she whispered, on her way out the door.
* * * * *
* * * * *
"So what do you think, Scully, play it straight through or put it on random?" I asked, waggling the CD case at her.
"In order," she said firmly.
"How did I know you'd say that," I said, under my breath, as I removed Yanni: Live at the Acropolis from the CD player and replaced it with the Bowie disc. Once I'd stashed Yanni in the proper case -- hell's bells, please don't let her play that when I'm around -- I hit play and the mournful sound of Major Tom's last transmission filled the room.
I walked over to the dresser with my makeup and hairbrush. In the mirror I could see Scully rummaging through her gym bag. I gaped at the astonishing variety of items she was pulling out: makeup, sports bra, notepad, impossibly high-heeled shoes, latex gloves, handcuffs, and ohmygod that's a gun. She's Gordon Liddy's dream, stacked and packed. As quickly as it had appeared, the holstered 9mm weapon was tucked back into the gym bag.
Scully must've seen my stunned expression in the mirror; I expected her to laugh at me, but instead she gave me a wry smile. "Would you believe the first person I shot was my partner?"
My eyebrows shot up. "No way." Note to self: do not piss Scully off.
"Yeah." She picked up her makeup bag and moved beside me. We stood in companionable silence, applying our makeup.
"I watch the ripples change their size
but never leave the stream
of warm impermanence and
so the days flow through my eyes,
but still the days seem the same "
I listened, surprised, as Gabrielle softly sang. What she lacked in tonal quality she more than made up for in expression. Her voice trailed off and, looking up, I caught a glimpse of regret in her green eyes. I cocked my head slightly and she said, "Those lines remind me of somebody." Scully gave Gabrielle a sympathetic look before resuming her careful application of mascara.
Smiling, I waved Gabrielle over and gathered up my cosmetics to create a spot for her at the big mirror. Sitting on the bed, I looked on in awe as she quickly applied a minimal amount of makeup. I pride myself on my speedy routine, but she puts me to shame. She was done in three minutes.
Scully had moved away from the mirror and held up the black skirt we had chosen for her. "Wow, this is really nice," she said, peeking at the label. "DKNY. I like her stuff." She picked up the rest of her clothing and her gym bag and turned to look at us. "Is there a mirror in Xena's room?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Inside the closet door."
"Thanks," Scully said before walking out.
I stood up from the bed and skipped over to the closet. "So, have you decided what to wear yet?" I pulled out a butter-soft suede tank top and miniskirt, then was struck with a thought. "Uh, Gabrielle?"
"Does Xena have as many clothes as you?"
"No, she's found a look and she pretty much sticks with it. Don't even think about looking in there. I'm taller than you and you see how her stuff fits me," she gestured at the oversized robe she wore.
I smiled. "Actually, I'm more worried about Scully. Is there anything in Xena's closet that's gonna freak her out?"
"That's a good question." She didn't seem too worried, instead focusing her attention on her clothing options. "Let's see...what to wear..."
She stood by her closet, arms folded and a hand tucked under her chin, looking from the suede outfit to me. She raised her eyebrows speculatively. I thrust the garments back into the closet, saying, "Uh, it's probably a little warm for a dance club, right?"
She gave me a sidelong glance. "Uh-huh."
We began pulling out garments, tossing them on the bed for further consideration. I was starting to feel more energized, enjoying the upbeat song that was now playing. Without thinking, I found myself singing along, "Oh, wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am!" I cracked up when I realized that Gabrielle had shouted the offending phrase even more loudly than I had. Wow, tonight is going to be a riot!
I moved over to the bed to look over my clothing options. Gabrielle was pawing through the closet, muttering to herself. "Aha!" She reached into the very back and, precariously balanced on her tiptoes, grabbed a couple of hangers and pulled out something very...yellow.
"Well, what do you think?" She held up the saffron-colored garments for my inspection a close-fitting crop top made of a textured cottony material and a long, flowing gauze skirt. The vibrant yellow of the fabric picked up the golden highlights in her hair and skin.
"Pretty." The word floated out of my mouth before I could stop it.
She shot me an amused glance, then walked over to her dresser and began rifling through one of the drawers.
I returned my attention to the pile of clothing on the bed, rejecting most of the skimpy tops chosen by Gabrielle. I was reaching for a micro-mini that I had initially mistaken for a fanny pack when my hand brushed against something incredibly soft. Tossing the skirt aside, I picked up a forest green wrap-around sweater.
"Oh, Gabrielle," I breathed, "This is beautiful!"
"Why didn't I think of that?" Gabrielle looked at me in the mirror. "I used to wear that all the time when my hair was long. It was redder then. My hair. The sun seems to lighten it a lot more now."
I rolled my eyes at Gabrielle's stream-of-consciousness explanation. "What did you wear with it?"
She smiled impishly as she moved toward the part of the closet housing the leather skirts. "You're gonna love it."
I groaned and lay back across the bed.
"S'matter, you afraid of a dead cow?" she teased, before tossing a short skirt to me.
I reached down and felt the soft cloth of the garment. Woven. Definitely not leather. With a sigh of relief, I sat up to take a look.
The dark brown skirt appeared at first glance to be a wrap-around, but a second look revealed four panels that were stitched together to mid-thigh and then allowed to hang separately. The waistband, an intricately woven design of forest colors, was designed to ride low on the hips.
I smiled. It was perfect.
I grabbed some undies out of my gym bag, picked up my outfit, and headed for the bathroom to change.
Gabrielle's clothes fit me perfectly; the cropped sweater set off the design of the skirt's waistband and the skirt itself ended just above my knees. Wow, she must've shown a lot of skin in this.
Looking around the bathroom, I realized that standing on the toilet was the only way to get a full-length view of myself in the tiny mirror. I don't think so. I hung the robe on the back of the door and headed down the hall toward Xena's room.
The bedside lamp bathed the empty room in a rich light. She's still in here. Scully would never waste electricity. As quietly as I could, I walked over to the closet and peeked into the open door. Scully was standing just inside, regarding the contents with something approaching awe.
"Damn." It was an acid trip gone horribly awry. Spandex shirts in every color of the rainbow. Dozens of them. "You'd think she'd at least color-code them."
Scully winced. "You'd think."
"Wait a minute." I pulled a shirt off the rack and looked closely at it. "This is a bike jersey. See the back pockets?"
"Well, that makes sense. She's got all of those tools," Scully gestured toward the bookcase.
"So what does she wear when she's not riding?" I re-hung the shirt and moved toward the back of the closet. "Aha!" I reached for a dark brown dress.
"What is it?"
I almost dropped the garment, surprised at its weight--This thing must weigh 15 pounds!-- then held it up for her inspection.
"Oh my god."
The sleeveless dress was sewn of chocolate brown leather (saddle grade, judging by its weight) and studded with brass. Although I held the hanger at eye level, the short skirt ended well below my knees.
"That's quite a dress," Scully breathed.
"But wait, there's more," I said, handing her the plastic bag containing the chest and back armor that accompanied the dress. "We have *got* to ask Gabrielle about this."
Then, as an afterthought, "Once we get a few drinks in her."
"Speaking of Gabrielle, she's probably wondering what's happened to us." Scully took a last lingering glance at the shelves before stepping back into the room.
As I replaced the dress and armor I quickly looked around the rest of the closet. There was a pair of amazing leather boots that I could have used as waders, some shelves filled with faded jeans and neatly stacked t-shirts, and, in the very back of the closet, several gorgeous silk dresses. Gabrielle's roommate was becoming more intriguing by the moment.
Scully was digging around in her gym bag when I walked back into Xena's room. She pulled out two tubes of lipstick, looking at them thoughtfully.
The soft gray knit tank top and cardigan complemented her auburn hair and blue eyes, hinting at the curves of her body without revealing too much of her ivory skin. The skirt fell almost to the ground and the side slit parted slightly to reveal a well-muscled leg. She was wearing sheer black stockings and three-inch black heels.
She tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear.
"How do you walk in those things?"
She gave me the look of death.
"Kidding. You look great."
"But seriously, how *do* you walk in those?" I stood in front of the full-length mirror, examining my reflection.
"They aren't so bad once you get used to them. And when you're my height..."
"Easy," I growled.
I twirled around a couple of times. Yes, tights were definitely in order if I didn't want to give everyone a free show. Scully had apparently drawn the same conclusion, judging by the position of her eyebrows.
"What are your choices?" I gestured at her lipstick.
"Marrakesh and Sheer Plum."
"Definitely the plum."
She tossed the other lipstick back in her bag and we went in search of Gabrielle.
"I thought you might want these," Gabrielle handed me some brand-new tights. She practically glowed in her yellow outfit, which showcased her perfectly flat, perfectly tanned midriff.
"Thank you," I said distractedly, watching the play of her abdominal muscles as she moved. She's not gonna have trouble finding a dance partner in that.
I pulled out the opaque hosiery and tossed the package in my duffel bag as a reminder to buy her a replacement pair. When I'd pulled the tights on, she gestured toward my legs and asked, "Boots or flats?"
"I vote for boots," Scully blotted her lipstick and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Uh..." I definitely wanted to see the footwear in question before making a decision.
"I used to wear boots with that outfit," Gabrielle mused, crossing her arms across her chest. "Of course, my legs were bare, and it was summer"
"Do you have cowboy boots? She *is* from Texas." Thanks, Scully. Just remember, paybacks are a bitch.
"No. Well, yes. But not to wear with that," Gabrielle jerked her head toward me. "I usually wore those." She pointed to the soft leather boots I'd noticed earlier.
"They're nice, Gabrielle, really, but..."
She cocked her head at me.
"I think it might get a little warm"
"In the club," she finished. "Yeah, yeah. How about these?" She held up a pair of tawny brown suede flats.
"Great," I breathed.
Scully snorted and said something under her breath.
I turned toward her. "What was that?"
She shrugged her shoulders and scratched the back of her neck.
I snatched the shoes out of Gabrielle's hands and put them on. "We about ready?"
"Yeah. Just one last check in the mirror."
All three of us crowded around the dresser. We looked good. Really good.
"This is gonna be so much fun!" Gabrielle put her arms around Scully and me and gave us a quick squeeze. My eyes met Scully's in the mirror and we smiled at each other.
We pulled on our coats as we left the apartment. Scully wore a black trenchcoat, Gabrielle a black leather motorcycle jacket, and I a denim jacket.
Gabrielle lifted my hair off my neck and examined the intricate fabric design I'd sewn onto the back of my jacket. "I never noticed that before. Where did you get it?"
"Oh, the mola? It was a gift from a friend." I smiled. "He said he saw it in a marketplace and knew right away that I'd find some use for it."
"It's nice. Unique." She tugged open the front door. "Shall we?"
* * * * *
* * * * *
Dupont Circle hummed with activity. The sidewalks were crowded with people headed for the shops, restaurants, and bars, and the streets were choked with the last of the rush-hour commuters.
"DC just amazes me." I said, watching the cars negotiate their way through the madhouse of the traffic circle.
"How so?" Scully asked.
"Well, it's 7:30 on a Friday night, and it's still packed. You'd think everyone would have gone home by now, you know? And this is just in the city. You should see the Beltway. I bet it's a parking lot right about now."
Gabrielle looked over at me. "Do you have to take the Beltway to work?"
"Huh? No. I walk to work. How about you?"
"I walk. Or take the subway. How about you, Dana?"
"I drive. I don't live near a metro stop and besides, we usually take off on such short notice that I keep an overnight bag in my trunk."
"What's that like, travelling all the time?" Gabrielle asked. "Do you get to visit interesting places?"
"Sometimes. Usually it's just small-town America. The travelling itself is fairly straightforward, lots of planes and long drives in rental cars," Scully said with a small laugh.
"What kinds of cases do you work on that you travel so much?"
Scully gave me a long appraising look before answering. "We investigate cases that deal with the paranormal."
"What, like counterfeit tarot cards?"
Scully's eyes lost their steely gleam of caution and began to twinkle with amusement.
"Do you have a big map with little pins marking Blair Witch sightings across the Northeast?"
Scully's lips twitched.
"Have you ever heard of some monster called El Chupacabras?"
A small strangled sound escaped from the back of Scully's throat.
Gabrielle interrupted us, pointing to a building across the street. "That's where we're headed."
"Buffalo Billiards. Wow, I haven't been there in years." I smiled at Gabrielle. "Great burgers."
She grinned back. "Oh yeah!"
We arrived just as the happy hour crowd was thinning out. "I'll get us a table; you," nodding at me, "get the drinks, and you stay here with our stuff."
Scully took off her coat and perched on a bar stool near a small table, watching the other players.
I tossed my jacket onto an empty stool. "Anybody got a preference? Pabst Blue Ribbon is three bucks a pitcher."
Gabrielle laughed. "Maybe we should start with something in bottles."
Lucky for me, the small bar was well stocked with a variety of beers. I did *not* want to see Scully's reaction to a can of Schaefer. I smiled at the bartender. "Three Bass Ales and some menus, please."
"You done with those?" Gabrielle pushed aside her empty plate and hungrily eyed my leftover french fries.
"Knock yourself out, I'm stuffed." I shoved the plate toward Gabrielle.
She grabbed a fry, dunked it in ketchup, and popped it into her mouth with a grin.
Scully sat, motionless and wide-eyed, watching Gabrielle eat.
The burgers were just as good as I had remembered. I sighed happily and took a sip of beer. "Now aren't you glad you didnt get that chicken breast sandwich?"
Scully nodded. "But it's going to take me a week in the gym to work off that meal."
Gabrielle finished off the fries and tossed her balled-up napkin onto the empty plate.
"I don't know where she puts all that food," I said, shaking my head in disbelief.
"Must be an X-File," Scully said.
"Huh?" Gabrielle and I both turned to look at her.
"Private joke. Never mind."
Gabrielle and I exchanged amused glances. Scully was definitely loosening up. While we were eating, Gabrielle told us some stories about herself and her job, and soon Scully chimed in with some tales about med school and the FBI academy that had us falling off our stools with laughter.
I had seriously misjudged her; her cool, proper exterior concealed a wicked sense of humor.
"Everyone up for a game of cutthroat?" Gabrielle looked at us expectantly.
"Sounds good, but you'll have to refresh me on the rules. You?" I looked over at Scully.
"Why don't you two play for now? It feels good just to sit down and relax for a change," Scully said.
"All right," Gabrielle drawled, "but you're playing the winner."
Scully laughed and took a sip of her beer. "Maybe later."
Gabrielle turned out to be a little shark.
After losing the fifth straight game I turned to Scully. "It's your turn. Please?"
"Oh, no. You're doing just fine. Hey, you sank three balls that time."
"And I appreciated it," Gabrielle stood beside me and leaned on her cue.
"So I got a little confused about who was solids," I groused. "Could have happened to anyone."
"Why don't you two play?" Gabrielle pushed her stick toward Scully. "I can get us another round."
"C'mon, Scully. You rack," I waved the plastic triangle at her before calling after Gabrielle, "Hey, can you see if they have Shiner Bock?"
"Sure," she said over her shoulder as she headed toward the bar, seemingly oblivious to the many appreciative looks she received along the way.
"Table's ready," announced Scully, standing and retrieving her cue.
"Uh huh." I picked up a small square of chalk and examined it. "So, you play often?"
I looked at her sheepishly, then walked around the table to set up for the break.
Scully and I were fairly evenly matched, and once we'd agreed to dispense with calling our shots the game progressed nicely.
Gabrielle returned with our drinks. "Who won?"
"Who won what?" I asked her, watching the man from the next table gape at Scully's leg as she prepared her shot.
"The game. This is your second game, right?" Gabrielle tracked my gaze and turned to look at the man. "Take a picture already. Jeez."
With precise motions, Scully took her shot. The cue ball struck the solid yellow ball dead center, pushing it halfway toward the pocket. Scully looked up with a dazzling smile.
Gabrielle shook her head as she moved toward a stool. "May as well get comfortable, I guess."
"Good shot!" I took a beer from Gabrielle and handed it to Scully, then turned to the table for my turn.
Scully had left me a good setup; one of my balls was nestled against a corner pocket. The cue ball, however, was right smack in the middle of the table.
"Crud." Standing on my tiptoes, I leaned across the table to make my shot. My cropped sweater rode up as I stretched and I could almost feel our lecherous neighbor's stare on the exposed skin of my back. I slowly turned my head and looked straight at him. He raised his mug of Pabst in salute.
With a sigh I returned to my game, somehow managing to sink my ball without scratching, but I was not so lucky on the following shot. "Oh well," I sat on a stool and reached for a beer.
"Mmmmm, Shiner Bock," my fingers closed around the longneck bottle. I toyed with the label before taking a long sip, then opened my eyes to see Gabrielle and Scully watching me. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. "What?"
"I guess you told him." Gabrielle said it with a straight face, but Scully couldn't suppress a smile.
"Yeah, well, I didn't hear you coming to my rescue." Now that I think of it, you could probably kick his ass.
"That's Xena's department." Gabrielle chuckled, then gestured toward my hip. "What is that design, anyway?"
"What design? The mola?" She'd lost me.
"It's a celtic knot, isn't it?" Scully spoke quietly.
"Oh. Oh." I unconsciously moved a hand to the small of my back. "Yes, it is. How did..." I closed my eyes and groaned. "Oh, no."
"Oh yes." Gabrielle's green eyes twinkled. "It's a big hit with the gentlemen."
I groaned again and buried my face in my hands.
"Can I see it?" Scully's voice was soft, almost tentative.
"I, uh, it's..." I rubbed my back and looked around the pool hall. Most of the players were absorbed in their games.
"Now you decide to get shy?" Gabrielle was enjoying this far too much. "You've already shown everyone else in the room."
"Fine." I took a deep breath, turned my back to my companions, and uncovered the triangular tattoo. Scully and Gabrielle both leaned in to get a better look.
"Wow, that's really pretty. Did it hurt much?" Gabrielle gently stroked the design with her finger.
"No, not really. It was a little annoying at first, but then"
"Then the endorphins kicked in and it felt almost good," Scully said absently.
"No, I was going to say that it started to tickle." I straightened my clothing and turned to face Scully. "Your turn."
Scully blinked in surprise, then quickly recovered. "Oh, right. The game."
"You know what I'm talking about." I grabbed her stick. "Where is it? Shoulder, hip?"
"It's not on her shoulder."
I looked at Gabrielle, confused. "How do you know that?"
"I would have noticed it."
"When have you..." My voice trailed off as I began to understand Gabrielle's logic. "In class. When you wore a tank top." I turned to Scully, who was becoming increasingly flustered at the turn the conversation had taken. "That only leaves your hip or butt. Unless"
"It's on my hip," Scully said, anxious to stop any further speculation.
"Well?" I crossed my arms across my chest. "We're waiting."
"Surely you're not suggesting that I show you right now."
"That's exactly what we're suggesting. Right, Staesh?" Gabrielle looked at me with a mischievous grin.
"Sounds right to me." I held out one hand. "Want me to hold your cardigan?"
Scully looked at me, then Gabrielle, then back at me. "Oh, all right." She removed her cardigan and threw it at me. "I can't believe I'm doing this," she muttered as she untucked her tank top and pushed her skirt down to reveal a beautiful multicolored ouroborus.
"Wow," I breathed, moving closer. "This is gorgeous. That red is amazing."
"I've never seen anything quite like it," said Gabrielle. "What made you choose this design?"
"Long story," Scully tucked in her shirt and reached for her cardigan. "Now, if you don't mind, the show's over."
The pool hall had become quite crowded and Scully and I decided that we'd embarrassed ourselves enough for one evening. The final straw had come when a twentysomething kid with dreads offered Scully some advice during the last game.
"He was only trying to help." Gabrielle began to pile the balls into their tray.
"You wouldn't say that if he'd been talking to you," Scully reminded her. "Besides, 'Arch your back! Arch your back!' isn't going to help me sink any balls, now, is it?"
"No, but it sure gave your friend over there a cheap thrill." Ignoring Scully's stare, I picked up the pool cues and put them back in their wall racks.
When I returned, I picked up my nearly empty beer and leaned against the pool table. "Where to now, Julie?" At Gabrielle's puzzled glance, I asked, "You are this evening's social director, aren't you?"
"Oh my god. I had the biggest crush on Doc."
Gabrielle and I both gaped at Scully.
"But...those knee socks!" I shuddered at the memory.
Scully gave a sheepish shrug. "It was the glasses."
Gabrielle tilted her head and looked at me appraisingly. "You had a thing for Gopher, didn't you?" Before I could respond, she picked up the balls and headed toward the counter.
Scully sat on a barstool, looking at the floor, one hand covering her mouth.
"Don't even think it," I warned.
"I didn't say a word."
"Well, don't." I finished off my beer, then giggled. "It's pretty funny in a what-was-I-thinking sort of way."
She smiled and took a sip of her beer. "This is pretty good," turning the bottle in her hands, "Shiner Bock. Never heard of it."
"Nectar of the gods. We drank a lot of it in college. Here comes Gabrielle - we ready to go?"
* * * * *
* * * * *
I stepped out of the smoky pool hall into the chilly autumn air, shivering at a sudden gust of wind. "Where to now?"
"It's still a bit early for dancing," Gabrielle checked the bank clock across the street, then added, "but that means we might not have to stand in line if you wanted to go to Polly Esther's or something."
"You up for that, Scully? I think it's trash disco night." I laughed at the FBI agent's pained expression. "Not a Bee Gees fan, I take it?"
"We don't have to go to a dance club, you know, Dana." Gabrielle said, looking around the Circle. "There are lots of other places around here."
"How about the 15 Minute club?" I looked from Gabrielle to Scully. "It's pretty low-key and it's not that far away."
Gabrielle hesitated, then nodded. "Have you been there, Dana?"
Scully shook her head. "No, I haven't. I've never heard of it, actually."
"What do you think?" Gabrielle looked at me.
"Why do I have to make the decision?" We all shivered as a cold wind swirled along the street. "15 Minutes it is."
"Here we are." The sidewalk in front of the bar was nearly empty as our cab pulled up.
Gabrielle immediately got out and walked up to the door. I paid the driver as Scully looked doubtfully at the run-down building. "Are we in the right place?"
"Mmm-hmm. Wait until you see the inside." I slid across the back seat and climbed out of the cab.
We hurried over to the doorway where Gabrielle stood, fumbling with her purse, her eyes scanning the room.
"IDs, please." Bored, the bouncer clicked his studded tongue against his bottom teeth.
Scully's hand flew to the inside pocket of her trenchcoat, hesitated, then dropped back to her side. "Why do you need to see my ID?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes as she handed over her driver's license. "Because you're with me. I always get carded."
"Me too," I sighed as the large man compared me to the photograph on the license. "Give me a break, ok? I had to stand in line outside the DMV for 30 minutes in July." With a smile, he stamped the back of my hand.
"Oh, right," Scully said, producing her license. "It's been a while."
Gabrielle was already inside, moving in the direction of the coatroom. Scully and I quickly followed her.
"What were you reaching for, anyway?" I indicated Scully's coat.
"My badge." At my blank expression, Scully reached into the pocket and displayed her FBI credentials.
"Oh my god. Oh, why didn't you flash it at him?" I started to laugh. "That would have been priceless! Can you imagine his face?"
"Before or after he yelled 'Raid'?" Scully asked dryly.
We reached the coatroom window as Gabrielle was checking her leather jacket. Scully motioned for me to go ahead of her then pulled several items, including her badge, from her coat pockets before looking down at her clothing and back up at me. "I hate to impose, but do you think you could maybe..." She gestured at my small purse.
I shrugged out of my jacket and passed it to the attendant. "No problem." I handed her my purse and took my claim ticket. "We're over there." I pointed to Gabrielle, who stood at the end of the bar. Scully nodded.
I walked over to Gabrielle and watched as she looked carefully around the room. I couldn't tell if she was relieved or disappointed by what she saw. "Afraid you'll run into an ex?"
She looked down and smoothed her skirt. "Something like that."
"We don't have to stay. If you're not comfortable here"
Gabrielle waved off my concerns. "I'll be all right. Let's get some drinks and find a table, ok?" She looked up with a tight smile.
I nodded, unsure of what to say next. Gabrielle turned around looked up at the colorful rows of liquor bottles arranged on shelves above the bar. I wasn't sure she even saw them. Something was obviously bothering her, but she'd made it clear that she didn't want to talk about it, at least not with me. I tried not to feel shut out; after all, we hardly knew each other.
"What can I get you ladies?" The bartender's eyes lingered on Gabrielle's cleavage as he dropped two cocktail napkins on the wood in front of us. "Red Stripe's on special, $2.00 a bottle, well drinks are $2.50."
"Sea breeze, please." Gabrielle settled herself on a stool and rested her chin on one hand.
"Red Stripe for me." I toyed with my napkin.
"Sure thing, ladies." He winked at Gabrielle and, picking up a bottle of Smirnoff, began mixing her drink.
"Stacia." I felt something poke me in the side.
"Hmm? Oh, thanks, Scully." I took my purse from her and slung it over my shoulder.
Setting our drinks down, the bartender turned his attention to Scully. "And what can I get for you?"
"Gin and tonic. With lime." Her no-nonsense tone discouraged any further attempts at flirtation.
The 15 Minute club was by day a small cafeteria, which explained its unique layout two long, thin rooms connected by two doorways. At night, men in business suits sat beside college students in jeans on the long, thin metal tubing designed to accommodate lunch trays. The front room was packed with small tables and booths; the back room, which housed the dance floor, had fewer seats and tended to fill up quickly. We'd gone through the back doorway, then snagged a small table against the wall with easy access to the bar, dance area, and, most important, the ladies' room.
Beer in hand, I sat back in my chair and listened to Scully who, having sensed the change in mood, was telling a wildly improbable story about a case involving a clan of vampires living in a trailer park outside of Dallas. Gabrielle was totally absorbed in the story; though she was still, her body showed none of the tension I noticed earlier. Way to go, Scully. Why on earth did you decide to cut up dead people when you have such an amazing rapport with the living? Filing that thought away, I let my eyes wander around the smoky room.
As always, there was an odd mixture of people in the bar the after-work crowd, loosening their ties and enjoying an extended happy hour; college kids, barely old enough to drink, looking for cheap beer and good music; even the occasional tourist in search of a meal, led astray by an out-of-date guidebook. The atmosphere was friendly, closer to a neighborhood pub than a playground for the beautiful people.
"What do you think, Staesh?" Gabrielle's face was flushed with laughter.
"Sorry, what was that? I zoned out for a second there." My head turned as I watched a tall, attractive man move toward the bar.
"I guess so." Gabrielle said, amused. "Trying to find your own Sheriff Hartwell?"
"Hey, I'm just admiring the scenery," I protested.
Scully craned her neck for a better view of the man in question. "Hoo boy. That's worth a second look."
"Well, here's your chance," Gabrielle put her empty glass beside Scully's. "You ready for another one, Staesh?"
"No, I'm fine." I took a hasty swig of my beer, which was still more than half full. "Have fun, Scully."
"You two are impossible." Scully stood up and straightened her cardigan before picking up the empty glasses and heading over to the bar, where the tall man moved over slightly to make room for her. She ordered the drinks, then gave him a discreet once-over. Although her expression was subtle, she clearly liked what she saw.
The tall, dark-haired man put a foot up on the railing and leaned against the bar, his gaze coming to rest on Scully's profile.
Just then I remembered that her things were in my purse. Not wanting to interrupt, I strolled over to the bar and handed the bartender a five-dollar bill, quietly explaining that I wanted to pay for Scully's drinks.
"Very smooth. That could have been embarrassing," Gabrielle said when I returned. "I wonder what he just said?"
I looked up. A rattled Scully was walking back to our table.
"Are you all right? What did that guy say to you?" Gabrielle took the drinks from Scully's hands.
Scully snorted. "He wanted to know if Stacia and I were together."
A moment of stunned silence passed before I burst out laughing. "Sorry, Scully, you're not my type."
"You just can't win tonight, can you, Dana?" Gabrielle quipped.
Scully looked from Gabrielle to me and back again, then picked up her drink.
"I can go explain things to him, if you'd like." Gabrielle was the picture of wide-eyed innocence.
"Gabrielle, you are amazing." I handed Scully a napkin. "Always ready to jump in there and clear up any misunderstandings."
"Yeah. At my expense," Scully muttered darkly.
"Wait a minute here," said Gabrielle. "It's a problem if I go and explain to this guy that you are both straight and interested?"
Scully flushed and mumbled something into her drink.
"What was that? I didn't quite hear you," I looked over at Gabrielle, who was laughing.
Scully put down her drink and carefully enunciated, "It is for him. He asked if he could watch."
My eyes widened when I caught on, which made Gabrielle laugh even harder.
Scully just sat quietly, looking at the fingernails on her right hand. "You done?"
Gabrielle nodded as she wiped tears from the corners of her eyes.
"Good, 'cause I told him she was with you." Scully stood up and headed toward the ladies' room.
Gabrielle and I stared after her in disbelief.
"You don't think..." Gabrielle tilted her head toward Scully.
"No. She wouldn't." I picked up my beer.
Scully turned around and mouthed "Gotcha."
* * * * *
* * * * *
I sipped at my beer and tapped my foot along with the beat of Blink 182's latest single.
"Not your usual club music," Gabrielle said, smiling.
"That's what I like about this place." I fought the urge to bounce my head in time with the chorus. "No YMCA dance."
"I hate that! Makes me feel like I'm at a wedding reception." She gave a mock shudder, then pointed to my empty bottle. "You ready for another one?"
"Yes, actually. I'll get it." Just as I stood up, the music changed, and after a few bars I recognized Friday I'm In Love. "Oh, I love this song!"
Gabrielle laughed. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
"Because it's a great song." I looked longingly at the rapidly-filling dance floor, then back at Gabrielle.
"Oh, no. No, no." Gabrielle shook her head. "I don't dance."
"I don't." Her voice rose slightly.
"Oh, I believe you."
Her green eyes sparkled. "Nice try, but it's not gonna work."
Rats. Time for Plan B. "Will you just..." I grabbed Gabrielle's wrist and pulled her, laughing, toward the dance floor.
As I'd suspected, Gabrielle was an enthusiastic dancer and, after another round of drinks, Scully was out there with us. We'd abandoned our table, instead placing our drinks on the ledge that ran the length of the dance floor. Every now and then we'd take a break and people-watch.
"Oh, I need to rest," Scully swirled the ice in the bottom of her cup. "And I need another drink."
"Me too," I nodded. "I'm amazed you've lasted this long in those shoes."
"Tell you what," said Gabrielle, "I need to use the ladies' room, then I can pick up some drinks on the way back here."
"Well, now that you mention it..." Wow, that last beer hit me pretty hard. Might be time to switch to water.
"Let's all go," suggested Scully. "That way we don't have to worry about trying to find each other later."
"Or getting hit on by Denny Terio over there," I gestured toward a lounge lizard in screaming polyester.
We made our way into the front room and turned toward the bathroom, Scully shaking her head and laughing as Gabrielle and I sang the theme from Dance Fever.
"What's up with that?" Scully looked amazed as we walked past the line of men and into the ladies' room.
"One of the great mysteries," Gabrielle replied with a shrug. "There's never a line here for the women."
"I'm gonna go to the bar in here," Gabrielle gestured to our left. "That way I don't have to wade through the dance floor with our drinks."
Scully looked around the front room which, though full, no longer felt like a sardine tin. "Where did all the people go?"
"Happy hour's over. They're all out on the dance floor." Gabrielle ran a hand through her short hair. "What do you want, Staesh?"
"Um, Harp if they've got it."
Gabrielle nodded. "Dana?"
"I'll go with you."
"Ok, well, I'm gonna go reclaim our spot in there." I handed Gabrielle some money and headed back into the other room.
When I walked through the doorway I realized just how crowded the back room was. The dance floor was packed. I glanced around the room and saw what seemed to be an empty table by the exit, but decided to wait for Scully and Gabrielle rather than brave the crowd on my own.
I leaned against the wall and watched the movement to and from the dance floor. I was holding back a snort at a small girl in ridiculously high platform shoes when I saw a flash of red over by the bar. As I looked up, I saw a stunning brunette in a short red dress that showcased her long, long legs.
Scully came up and handed me a bottle. "Here's a nice tall one for you."
"There's a nice tall one right over there," I murmured, taking a sip of beer.
"Stacia!" Scully giggled into her drink, then looked over toward the bar. "So that's what an Amazon looks like."
"Our friend seems to approve." I smirked as the man we'd admired earlier looked the brunette up and down, then tried to start a conversation. The woman trained ice-blue eyes on him for a moment and, saying nothing, turned her gaze back to the dancers. "Hey, Gabrielle, you gonna go rescue the princess?"
"Huh?" Gabrielle looked up from the flyer she was reading. "What princess?"
"Over by the bar." I gestured with my bottle.
"And why am I rescu" Gabrielle stopped speaking when she saw the dark-haired woman, then exhaled a barely audible "Oh."
"I think there's a table back there if we want to sit down," I said. "We're kind of in the way here."
"That sounds good," Scully replied.
Gabrielle didnt respond. I was just about to start teasing her when I saw her face. She looked almost in shock, her eyes glued to the brunette.
I turned Scully to see if she knew what had happened. She looked from me to Gabrielle to the woman at the bar, then finally back to me and shook her head.
"Gabrielle?" I gently placed a hand on her shoulder but, feeling somewhat awkward, quickly removed it. "Are you alright?"
She nodded, her eyes never leaving the dark woman's profile.
As though sensing our presence, the brunette turned slowly to face us. Her gaze drifted across Scully and me and came to rest on Gabrielle, who lifted her chin and continued to look directly into the other woman's emotionless eyes.
The tall woman held Gabrielle's stare for a moment before blinking slowly. Then, with a seductive smile, she leaned into the man beside her and whispered into his ear. He laughed and, placing a hand on her back, guided her toward the dance floor.
Gabrielle turned her head to follow them, her lips trembling. As the brunette looked back over her shoulder at Gabrielle, I caught a glimpse of her eyes, dark with pain and regret, before the other dancers blocked her from our view.
Unsure of what I'd just seen and at a complete loss for words, I turned back to Scully and Gabrielle.
Scully handed me her drink and, putting one hand on Gabrielle's forearm and the other on her shoulder, gently steered her back toward the empty table.
We sat in silence for several minutes, sipping at our drinks.
"Sorry about that. Didn't mean to kill the mood." Gabrielle spoke softly, absently folding and refolding a cocktail napkin.
"Do you like blues music?" Scully turned to look at me.
"Uh...yeah, I guess. I mean, yes, I do." I could feel myself frown as I tried to follow the turn in the conversation.
"Good. I know just the place. And we can drink out of real glasses." Scully pushed her empty plastic cup away.
"Sounds nice." Gabrielle leaned her head back and rolled her shoulders.
"All right," I said, nodding my understanding to Scully. "I'll go get our coats, then. Be back in a few minutes."
As I left I looked toward the dance floor, but couldn't find the brunette in the crowd.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Scully and Gabrielle were standing by the door when I returned.
Scully smiled her thanks as she took her coat from me. "Looks like there are plenty of cabs outside."
"Thank goodness. It's cold out there." I handed Gabrielle her coat.
She wordlessly shrugged into the black leather jacket, her eyes still scanning the dance floor. Finally, not finding what she was looking for, she turned and walked out the door.
Scully and I looked at each other for a moment before I spoke. "Do you think this is a good idea? Going to another bar, I mean?"
"It's a good place to sit and talk, and I think that's probably what she needs right now." Scully buttoned her coat. "Let's go."
I looked out the grimy cab window as Scully quietly gave the driver an address. When she settled back into the vinyl seat, I said, "M Street...that's in Georgetown."
"That's right." Seeing my skeptical expression, she added, "But it's not what you'd call a typical Georgetown bar. No Marines, no frat boys."
I nodded. "How do you know about it?"
"I live nearby."
"Oh." I once again turned my attention to the dark and empty streets of D.C.
The rest of the short ride passed in silence, and we soon found ourselves in front of a narrow yellow building with a dingy green awning. Several older black men in jackets and hats stood around the door smoking cigarettes and talking. On seeing us, one of them pulled open the door with a wink and an "Evening, ladies." Even Gabrielle smiled as we entered the bar.
I breathed in the warm amber air and looked around the room. There was a small stage to the left of the door; just ahead of us were several round tables crowded with people listening to the smoky blues coming out of the battered speakers.
"I usually sit back there," Scully pointed to some dimly lit booths in the back of the room. "We can still hear the music, but it's not too loud to talk."
We found an empty booth and sat down, Gabrielle and Scully facing the stage. I arranged our coats against the wall, creating a makeshift backrest, and stretched out sideways.
In front of me was a long, battered wooden bar. "Wow, looks like that's been here forever," I breathed.
"It has. Came with the place." Our waiter put down some cocktail napkins, then gave Scully a friendly nod. "What would you like?"
"Single malt. Do you have Caol Ila?"
"Good choice. I'm sure we do." He smiled approvingly and turned to Gabrielle.
"That sounds good. I'll have the same."
"Very good. And you?"
I looked past him at the row of beer taps that lined the bar. "Dominion ale and a glass of water, please."
"Sure thing. I'll be right back with your drinks, ladies." He turned and walked over to the bar.
Gabrielle was tapping her foot as she watched the band, her shoulders visibly relaxing.
Scully leaned her head against the back of the booth, then looked over at Gabrielle. "Better?"
Gabrielle bowed her head slightly then, with a tentative smile, said, "Yes. Thank you."
"Good. I'll be right back." Scully stood, hesitated, then turned to me. "Staesh, I need to get something out of your purse."
"Sure." I pulled it out from under the coats and handed it to her. "Take it with you."
"Thanks." She turned and walked toward the restrooms.
Our waiter reappeared. "Dominion ale and a glass of water, two Caol Ila, and some spring water." He looked at me. "Would you like to start a tab?"
"What do you think, Gabrielle?"
She shrugged. "The band's pretty good. Might as well."
"All right then. My name's Jack. Just call if you need anything." He tucked his tray under his arm and left.
"Nice guy," Gabrielle commented.
"Mmm-hmm." I watched as she poured some of the spring water into her scotch.
She lifted the glass and inhaled deeply before taking a small sip. "Oh, that's good."
I couldn't stifle a smile. "You certainly do enjoy your food and drink."
"Everyone always says that," she said with a small laugh. "It's true, though. Did you want to try this?"
"Oh, no thanks."
"You dont like scotch?" She fidgeted for a moment before settling down, cross-legged, in the booth.
"I do, actually, I'm just sticking with beer tonight."
"Good idea. I probably should have done that myself," she said as she arranged her skirt over her knees.
Looking up, I saw Scully come out of the restroom. Rather than heading toward us, she went up to the bar and spoke to the bartender. He nodded and handed her something, and she returned to our booth.
She set my purse, a pack of cigarettes, and a book of matches onto the table before sliding onto the bench, kicking off her shoes, and tucking her legs under her body.
Gabrielle and I watched as Scully rapped the pack against her wrist, then unwrapped the cellophane and foil, balling them up and putting them on the table.
She pulled a cigarette halfway out of the pack, then stopped. "Is this going to bother you?" She looked from me to Gabrielle.
"No. Go ahead." Gabrielle picked up the ashtray and moved it closer to Scully.
"Uh-uh." I shook my head. Keep quiet, Staesh. This is none of your business.
"You can go ahead and say it," Scully said to me, then lit a cigarette. She took a deep drag, then continued, "You know you want to."
I blushed and looked down at my drink. "You're a big girl, you can do whatever you want."
Scully smiled at me then said seriously, "I do appreciate your concern."
"So, what's it like having guys with guns coming after you every day?" I took a sip of beer.
"Have you been in many shootouts?" Gabrielle's eyes were wide with curiosity.
Scully laughed. "Shootouts? No." She flicked the ashes off the end of her cigarette. "Nope, no shootouts."
"Oh, that's right. You go after renegade palm readers."
Scully and Gabrielle both laughed at my comment. "Haven't come across any of those," the FBI agent said, "though I won't rule out the possibility."
"So what kinds of cases have you worked on?" Gabrielle leaned her elbows on the table, her interest piqued.
"You know, the usual. Crazed housecats, giant alligators, mutated flukeworms." Scully prepared her drink and took a sip. "Mmm. Peaty."
Gabrielle looked at her in disbelief. "Crazed housecats."
"And those were the cases with scientific explanations. Well, reasonable hypotheses, at least." Scully snorted.
Gabrielle and I looked at each other. She's got to be pulling our leg.
"Go on." Gabrielle reached for the cigarettes.
Scully handed her the matches. "You know those things are bad for you, right?"
"Yeah, yeah." Gabrielle impatiently waved a hand. "Keep going."
"Well, as I said earlier, we investigate cases that deal with the paranormal. Things that cannot be easily explained."
"That covers a lot of territory, doesn't it?" I bent one knee, crossing my arms loosely around it.
"Yes, it does." Scully nodded. "Myths, superstitions, UFOs..." Her voice trailed off and she shrugged her shoulders.
I laughed. "The FBI investigates UFO sightings? I thought the Air Force was in charge of that."
Scully sighed. "We get called in sometimes, usually by private citizens. My partner has a...reputation...in certain circles."
"I see." I leaned back against the wall. "So, how did you get involved in all of this? It just seems odd for a pathologist, I mean, I would have expected"
Scully smoothly cut me off. "You'd think I'd be working in the lab." She stubbed out her cigarette. "Actually, I was teaching forensics at Quantico until they teamed me with Mulder."
"Who's Mulder?" Gabrielle tilted her head, her chin cradled in one hand.
Scully picked up her drink. "He's my partner."
"The one you shot?" I reached for my beer.
She said, with a touch of amusement, "Yeah."
Gabrielle looked from me to Scully. "You *shot* your partner?"
Scully nodded as she took a sip. "Mmm hmm. In the shoulder. Years ago." She looked at Gabrielle, then put down her glass. "He didn't leave me any choice."
"And you're still partners? He must really trust you," Gabrielle said softly.
"Yes, he does. We've been through a lot together." Scully reached for the cigarettes, tapped the pack on the table, then set it back down. "So, how long have you and Xena been roommates?"
Gabrielle remained silent for a moment, flicking the ashes from her cigarette. She took a last drag, crushed the butt into the ashtray, then said, without looking up, "Three years."
Scully nodded. "Were you friends before that?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, not really." She took a deep breath. "We..." She shook her head again, then looked up at me. "It's a long story."
I shifted to face forward, resting my chin on one knee. "How did you meet?"
"It was right after I moved here. I had just started working for the clinic, doing outreach, needs assessment, stuff like that." She dropped her hands into her lap. "I stayed out later than usual one day, so it was already dark. I was walking to the subway when these kids tried to jump me."
My eyes widened.
"She came out of nowhere. Before I even had time to react she'd taken down the leader and the rest ran away." Gabrielle smiled. "It was amazing."
"Sounds like it." I finished my beer. "Then what happened?"
"For a minute I just stood and stared at her." Gabrielle's voice softened. "She was just so...wild. Feral, almost. She could barely keep still long enough for me to thank her."
Scully and I sat, silent, waiting for Gabrielle to continue.
"She asked me where I was going and offered to walk with me. I told her it wasn't necessary, but she insisted. Said she'd feel responsible if anything happened to me. She walked me all the way home."
Gabrielle looked down at her hands for a moment, then continued. "She told me that I shouldn't be out there at night by myself. I got so angry-I mean, who did she think she was, anyway?" Gabrielle's face flushed as she recalled her indignation. "I yelled at her, told her I could take care of myself. She just smiled. Didn't say another word until we reached my apartment."
Scully added the last of the spring water to her drink, swirled it gently, then took a sip. Glancing over at our empty glasses, she leaned slightly out of the booth, gave a small smile and a wave, and settled back in her seat. "Then what?"
"I thanked her for helping me. She told me to be more careful, then she left."
"And that was it? She just left?"
Gabrielle laughed at my outburst. "That was it."
Our waiter came up to the table. "Sorry for the delay. I was just talking to some friends," he gestured toward the crowded tables in front of the stage. "Can I get you another round?"
"Well, actually..." Distant warning bells sounded in my pleasantly fuzzy mind. How many drinks have I had tonight, anyway? Hope I have some Gatorade at home.
"Oh, come on, Staesh." Gabrielle put a hand on mine. "Just one more."
"All right," I drawled, "but this goes against my better judgment."
"I'll bring those right out." With a smile and a wink, the waiter walked back to the bar.
I closed my eyes and leaned my head back against the booth. "Nice arms."
Gabrielle giggled. "He is a cutie."
"You two." Scully's smile belied the teasing tone in her voice.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Jack, our waiter, was just setting our drinks on the table when I returned from the restroom. I slid sideways into the booth, drew up both knees, and looked expectantly at Gabrielle. "Well?"
Gabrielle looked over at Scully, who nodded. After taking a small sip of water, Gabrielle resumed her story. "The next day I was telling a co-worker, Lisa, about what had happened. I asked if she knew anything about the woman who helped me. She just laughed and said everyone knew Xena, knew she was trouble, and knew to stay away from her. That's all Lisa would tell me."
Scully lit another cigarette and shifted slightly so that she was almost facing Gabrielle.
"I didn't see Xena again for a while, but I heard some things about her from the kids I was working with. A lot of them were runaways, most used drugs, some turned tricks. From what I could piece together, Xena used to be some sort of muscle for one of the big dealers until she did something he didn't like."
Scully's eyebrow rose sharply.
I cleared my throat.
Gabrielle looked at me, momentarily confused, then her eyes went wide. "Oh shit!" She put a hand to her mouth as she turned to Scully.
"Don't worry about it." The FBI agent said. "Not my jurisdiction. Just...don't tell me any more about that."
Gabrielle nodded and took a sip of scotch. "I ran into her a few weeks later. She looked a little rough. Tired." Her forehead wrinkled with remembered concern. "When I asked her about it, she said her housemates were pretty loud and she hadn't been sleeping well. I told her she should move in with me. I was only half-joking, but she gave me a strange look and then left."
Scully tapped her cigarette on the edge of the ashtray. "And she took you up on the offer."
"Yes, she did."
"Did she tell you why?" I took a long sip of beer.
"After you were friends." Scully spoke softly.
"After we were friends." Gabrielle blushed as she spoke, her eyes fixed on the smoke that drifted lazily up from the ashtray.
I looked over at Scully, who smiled and shook her head gently. Now's not the time to get into that, her eyes seemed to say. Although confused, I nodded my agreement and relaxed into my seat, waiting for Scully to ask the next question.
Scully rolled her cigarette along the edge of the ashtray, bringing the ashes at the end to a point. "So, do you want to talk about what happened tonight?"
Gabrielle looked first at me, then at Scully, then down at her clasped hands. "There's not much to tell." She took a deep, slightly shaky breath. "I don't know how it got so out of hand."
She leaned forward, arms crossed on the table. "I ran into some trouble today at work. Just a couple of kids, no big deal. Anyway, I guess Lisa was worried and when I got back to my office, Xena was there." Her shoulders sagged. "She was furious."
Gabrielle tilted her head and looked at me. "At me. For going out alone."
"But that's your job, isn't it?" Scully's voice was gentle, turning the question into an affirmation.
Gabrielle nodded, reaching for the cigarettes.
"Then what's the problem?" I picked up my beer and took a sip. "It's not like you can't defend yourself."
"And I'm sure she knows that, right?" Scully slid the matches over to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle nodded again. "Yes, but according to her that's not the point." She lit her cigarette with short, frustrated movements. "She says the best way to win a fight is to avoid it."
I shrugged, not understanding. "Works for me."
Scully glared at me before turning back to Gabrielle. "What does she think you should do, then?"
"She wants me to quit my job, or at least switch to something safer." Gabrielle snorted. "Cooped up in an office, writing reports all day. Just what I always wanted."
That can't be right. "She's your friend, isn't she?" Gabrielle looked over at me and nodded. "Then she must know how much your job means to you. You practically glow whenever you talk about it."
Gabrielle nodded again, smiling faintly.
"What I mean is, I can't believe that she would really want you to give it up. Can't you two just talk about it?"
"Not really." She took a drag from her cigarette, then looked back at me. "Let's just say she's mastered the art of laconism."
"Ah. Woman of few words." That makes more sense.
Gabrielle nodded ruefully.
"What does your heart tell you?" Surprised, Gabrielle and I both turned to Scully.
"About what?" Gabrielle tapped her cigarette against the ashtray.
"About any of it. All of it." Scully crushed out her cigarette.
Gabrielle sighed. "What I do--it's a part of me, of who I am. I can't give that up."
Scully nodded. "Then don't." Unconsciously straightening her shoulders, she continued in a soft, steady voice. "Life is a path. You have to trust your heart to take you where you're supposed to go."
Gabrielle cocked her head at Scully. "That's beautiful."
"My sister said that to me once. At the time I thought she was wrong. I believed we made our own paths." Her expression turned wistful. "Seems so long ago."
I opened my mouth but, unable to think of anything to say, took a sip of beer instead.
"Are you two close?" Gabrielle rested her cigarette in the ashtray and turned to face Scully.
Scully's eyes brimmed with tears, and I barely heard her whispered "No."
"I'm sorry, Dana, I didn't mean to upset you."
"It's all right, Gabrielle. I'm fine." Scully looked up at the ceiling for a moment then looked at me, her eyes once again dry. "Really."
I nodded slowly. "She sounds like a wonderful person."
"Oh, Dana." I put my hand on top of hers. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right, really." Scully said quietly. "I just...sometimes I really miss her, you know?"
"I know." I gently squeezed her hand before letting it go.
Gabrielle looked at the two of us, then finished off her drink. "We getting another round?"
Scully looked over at me thoughtfully. "I could really use some fresh air."
I smiled gratefully. "That sounds wonderful."
"I need to use the restroom," Scully said as she stood. "I'll send the waiter over."
I nodded, reaching for my purse.
"Uh-uh. My turn." Gabrielle tossed a couple of well-worn bills at me. "I'll be right back."
Tucking the money under my empty beer glass, I leaned back into my seat and sang along as the band played Mustang Sally.
I finished my water and put the empty glass on Jack's tray. He cleared the table and wiped it down with a damp rag, then pocketed the money I handed him, smiling broadly at the generous tip.
I couldn't restrain my appreciative smile as I watched his arm muscles bunch when he picked up the tray and carried it back to the bar. Damn, I must be drunker than I thought.
"They're pretty good."
I jumped and turned around. "Geez, Gabrielle, you scared me."
She laughed. "So, did you switch seats for a better view of the band or of our waiter?"
I felt my face flush. "The band."
"Uh huh. You about ready to go?" Scully gestured toward the door as she spoke.
"Sure." I slid out of the booth and stood up, making sure to keep a hand on the table for balance.
"You all right there?" Gabrielle was slightly wobbly herself.
"Nothing some fresh air won't cure."
"Let's go then." Scully gave us our coats, then watched with an amused smile as Gabrielle struggled to get her arm into the sleeve of her jacket. "Need help with that?"
"No, I've got it." Gabrielle's hand emerged from the black leather. "Let's go."
* * * * *
* * * * *
We slowly made our way to the front of the bar. As we walked through the maze of tables near the stage a dark-eyed, dark-haired woman waved to Scully, who returned the wave with a smile.
"Wasn't she flirting with Jack earlier?" Gabrielle asked over her shoulder.
"Doubtful." Scully laughed. "She's a Marine. She lives in my building."
The band played the opening chords of Joy To The World just as we walked out the door and the three of us sang, in three different keys, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog...was a good friend of mine."
Looking over, I noticed Scully's cheeks were flushed despite the cold air.
She saw me watching and ducked her head slightly. "I love Three Dog Night."
"Me too." The cool air had cleared away the fuzziness from my brain, leaving a warm, happy feeling. "You know what song of theirs I really like?"
Scully shook her head.
"Mama Told Me."
Scully nodded enthusiastically, and Gabrielle looked at me with a hint of confusion. "I never can remember song titles."
"Oh, you know this one." The chorus was already playing in my mind, and I sang along. "Mama told me not to come...Mama told me not to come..."
Scully joined in. "That ain't no way to have fun, son...that ain't no way to have fun..."
We stopped abruptly.
I looked over at Scully. "Any idea how the verses go?"
She shrugged. "Not really."
"Well, hell." I turned to Gabrielle. "What's so funny?"
"The way you said that," she gasped between giggles. "Way-uhl hay-uhl."
"I did not." I said, carefully pronouncing the vowels.
"Yes you did, Tex." Scully grinned at me.
"Aw, come on, y'all," I groused, crossing my arms across my chest.
Gabrielle took pity on me and changed the subject. "What now?"
Scully looked up the street. "Well, I don't see any cabs. I live right near here, how about some tea?"
"That sounds great." Gabrielle nodded her agreement.
I raised my arm in a sweeping gesture. "Lead on, Macduff."
Scully turned onto a quiet residential street.
"What are some other songs by Three Dog Night?" I nudged Scully with my elbow, then added playfully, "I'm waiting."
"Um..." She quietly ticked off choices on her hand. "I know. Black and White."
"I love that song! How does it start again? I always get the verses mixed up." I hummed the tune.
Scully began. "The ink is black...the page is white..."
Smiling, I joined in. "Together we learn to read and write."
Gabrielle linked her arms through ours and we continued singing as we walked toward Scully's apartment. "The child is black...the child is white...the whole world looks upon the sight...the beautiful sight."
We made our way up to Scully's building, just tipsy enough not to notice the bite of the autumn air. We'd abandoned our singing after Scully's dissonant effort at One--to the great relief of her neighbors, no doubt--but Gabrielle was trying to convince us to do the opening rhyme from Laverne and Shirley.
"Come on, Stacia." I stepped back quickly when she reached for my arm. "Dana?" Scully raised an eyebrow and walked over to the short stairway in front of the building.
"Fine. I'll do it alone, then." Gabrielle straightened her shoulders, then began chanting as she walked. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight."
She did all right with the numbers, but the next few words were too much for her drunken tongue. "Schlemiel, schlimazel, hassaffeffa corporated."
Scully leaned against the stairway railing, shaking her head, while I rocked with laughter. She sighed at Gabrielle. "Come on, Miss DeFazio. Time to go in."
"Laverne? No way." I shook my head. "She's definitely Shirley."
Gabrielle's protests echoed down the hall as we followed Scully to her apartment.
Scully's living room was illuminated by soft moonlight that filtered through the blinds. The room was clean and uncluttered, the furnishings simple and tasteful. Scully tossed her keys onto a table by the door and, ignoring the blinking light on her answering machine, turned on a lamp, bathing the room in yellow warmth.
I took off my jacket and draped it over the back of a nearby chair. "I like your apartment."
Scully smiled. "Thanks. So do I."
Gabrielle wandered over to the bookcase. Her eyes widened as she read the titles. "Um, Dana?"
Scully looked over. "Yes?"
"Do you ever just read books? You know, just..." Gabrielle's hand fluttered in the air. "I don't know, fluff?"
Curious, I decided to look for myself. I muttered to myself as I scanned the titles. "Correlative Neuroanatomy...Death Investigator's Handbook: A Field Guide...Manual of Human Dissection? Eww, that one's dog-eared..."
I turned to Scully, who shrugged her shoulders. "What can I say? It's what I do."
Gabrielle and I looked at each other for a moment, then I chuckled. "As long as you dont bring your work home with you."
"Oh, cmon, admit it, it was funny." I poked Gabrielle in the side, then hesitated. "What is it? You look a little pale."
"Um..." She took a deep breath. "Nothing, really. I'm fine."
"I'm going into the kitchen to make the tea," Scully said over her shoulder.
"I'll go with you." Gabrielle seemed relieved by the change in topic.
Hmmm.... "You know, my dad was a pathologist," I began conversationally.
"Really? You didn't mention that." Scully moved into the kitchen and leaned against the cabinets.
"Yeah, he had a lab in Texas. Anyway, every now and then when he found something interesting, or had to go to a different hospital, he used to bring stuff with him." I quirked an eyebrow at Scully. Come on, work with me here...
Scully held the teakettle under the faucet. "He brought them home?" She sounded surprised. "But most of that has to be refrigerated."
"I know." I crossed my arms to make my point.
"But then where--" Gabrielle caught on halfway through her own question. "Oh, now that's disgusting."
"Yes, it was."
Scully's eyes lit up. "Did he ever bring any--"
"Stop." Gabrielle held both hands out. "Just...stop."
Chuckling to herself, Scully turned off the tap then, after placing the kettle on the stove, opened a cupboard. "Any requests on the tea?"
"Got chamomile?" I stood on my tiptoes and peered over her shoulder.
"Let me see...yes, I do." She set the box on the counter. "That ok with you, Gabrielle?"
"All right then. Can you get the milk out of the fridge? It's behind the livers."
Green eyes opened wide. Then she grinned. "You two are evil."
* * * * *
* * * * *
Billy Ray was a preacher's son
and when his daddy would visit
he'd come along...
I sat on the floor, my back against the striped loveseat and my head lolling on the cushions, listening to Dusty's velvet voice. Gabrielle was kneeling by a small oak entertainment center, looking over Scully's CDs and pulling out any and all that appealed to her.
"It'd take hours to listen to all of that, you know." Curled up on the sofa with her feet tucked under her, the pathologist grinned and sipped her tea.
Gabrielle looked at the large pile beside her, then smiled sheepishly at Scully. "Sorry about that. Guess I got a little carried away."
"Tell you what, why don't you throw some in the changer, then we can put it on random play?"
Nodding enthusiastically, Gabrielle began muttering to herself as she reviewed the discs and sorted them into smaller stacks. After a minute or two I abandoned my attempt to follow her logic, deciding that there was simply no connection between Carly Simon and the Clash other than their inclusion in Scully's collection. I gave a sigh of relief when, after a slight hesitation, that particular stack was returned to the cabinet. My musical tastes may be eclectic, but that mix was downright schizophrenic.
I closed my eyes and tried to gauge my level of drunkenness. With some surprise, I realized that everything seemed absolutely still. How much did I drink? Six beers? Seven? Usually the world is spinning by now. I could hear the wind picking up outside and the gentle clicking of CDs settling into their trays. I opened my eyes again to see Scully watching me with amusement.
"Still with us, Tex?"
I smiled. "Yeah, I'm here." Sitting up straight, I crossed my legs and picked up my tea. The sight of Scully's trench coat triggered a memory from earlier in the evening, and I giggled.
"What's so funny?" Gabrielle crawled over and stretched out on the carpet beside me.
"I was just..." I giggled some more, "thinking of how funny it would have been if she'd pulled her badge..."
Scully was now laughing, too. "When the guy asked for my ID?"
Gabrielle looked at us, clearly confused. "I don't...?"
I waved a hand toward Scully. "You tell her."
"Remember, you're a law enforcement professional. Be authoritative." Scully sat back against the cushions.
Gabrielle nodded as she stood, a bit unsteadily, and regarded the potted philodendron. "You lookin' at me?"
With that, she whipped Scully's badge out of her waistband and, holding it up for the plant to examine, said, "Special Agent Gabi, F.B.I."
"You forgot to draw your weapon," Scully pointed out.
I snickered. "Yeah, a big bottle of RoundUp."
Gabrielle smirked. "I can't hide a machete in this outfit, you know."
"That's true," I said. "And I don't think traditional firearms would be effective in subduing vegetation."
"Not particularly," Scully murmured.
My smile faded when I looked at the agent and realized she was serious. "Do I even want to ask?"
Scully's reply was lost in the piano notes that filled the room. My shoulders moved in time with the beat, and Gabrielle began an almost burlesque bump-and-grind as she sang along. "Aw-ooo, werewolves of London...yahoo..."
Getting into the spirit of things, Scully drew open the blinds to let in the moonlight, then--to my amazement--joined in the dance.
If you can't beat 'em.... I added my voice to the final verse. "I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's...His hair was perfect."
Laughing, Scully fell back onto the sofa. "Oh, I haven't listened to that song in ages."
"Hits a little too close to home these days?" I teased her.
"No, not really." She paused. "Besides, all the werewolves I've known wore flannel."
The room fell silent for a moment before we all burst into laughter.
"Good one, Scully," I said, tamping down the little voice that told me she was serious.
"Anyone want more tea?" Scully reached for her empty cup.
"Um, actually," I fiddled with a coaster, "I was wondering if you had anything stronger."
Scully looked at me for a moment, then looked over at Gabrielle. "You up for that?"
"Sure," came the cheerful reply, followed by a hiccup, then a giggle.
My eyebrow raised in perfect imitation of Scully's as the pathologist smirked.
"I'll be right back," our hostess said, rising from the sofa. "Behave yourselves."
Glass tinkled slightly as Scully returned with three snifters and a bottle of clear amber liquor. "Highland Park," she said, placing the glasses on the table and turning the bottle to show me the label.
"Good stuff." I nodded and removed the thick cork, then poured a small amount of scotch for each of us. "Someone gonna make a toast?"
"I will." Holding her snifter in front of her as though it were a chalice, Gabrielle solemnly stated, "Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole."
No wonder the toast comes before the drinking. Scully and I looked at each other, then lost it completely.
"I always wanted an avocado El Dorado," she continued conversationally, somehow keeping a straight face while Scully and I laughed even harder.
"Ah well," she sighed, then took a sip of her drink. "Guess it just wasn't meant to be."
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle," Scully said sincerely, holding up her glass. "To Pablo."
"To Pablo," we repeated, then sipped our whisky.
* * * * *
* * * * *
"Oh, turn it up," Gabrielle begged, waving toward the CD player. "I love this song."
I looked at her, surprised, then listened carefully to the male voice coming out of the speakers. I couldn't place it at first, but when guitars kicked in, I blurted out, "Meatloaf?"
"Oh yeah." Scully turned the volume knob, then stretched out on the carpet, her legs out in front of her and her arms behind her supporting her upper body. "My sister used to listen to this album over and over when we were growing up."
I shook my head. "The first time I ever even heard of Meatloaf was when I saw Rocky Horror freshman year in college."
"You're kidding!" Gabrielle looked downright shocked. "You never heard of Paradise by the Dashboard Lights? That was practically our theme song in high school."
"Nope." My companions gaped at me. "We just didn't listen to that."
The two women fell silent, trying to digest this bit of information.
After a moment, Gabrielle gave in to her curiosity. "So what did you listen to?"
"David Bowie, mostly. Lot of punk. Pretenders, Repo Man soundtrack," I waggled an eyebrow as I looked over at Scully, who smiled.
We'd long since abandoned the furniture, preferring instead to sit on the floor using the sofa and its decorative throw cushions for support. Gabrielle lay on her side, one arm supporting her head, Scully was reclining by the fireplace, and I sat against the love seat with my legs tucked beneath my body.
The combination of tea and whisky had me pleasantly relaxed except for one minor irritation. Frowning, I pushed the sweater off my left shoulder and turned to examine the offending bra strap. Sure enough... I untwisted the patterned elastic, hesitated for a moment, then reached up under the back of the sweater and undid the clasp. A tug here, a pull there, a quick twist and a wiggle, and I was able to pull the bra out one sleeve. Looking up, I saw that both Scully and Gabrielle were watching me.
"Better?" Scully asked with amusement.
"That's really pretty." Gabrielle motioned toward the folded piece of lingerie.
"Yeah. What's that design, is it paisley?"
"Yes, it is, actually."
"Mmm, sexy." She picked up the bra and held it to her chest, thrusting out her bosom. "Whaddya think?"
"Very nice." I grinned lecherously, then burst out laughing.
Gabrielle, also laughing, tossed the garment aside. Scully picked it up, fingering the soft material for a moment before folding it.
"I liked the colors," I said, settling back against the love seat. "Got bored wearing black all the time. It just seems a shame to wear it when there are so many amazing colors out there."
Gabrielle nodded enthusiastically, adding, "And the patterns, the textures...you can buy lace, velvet, satin, whatever you want."
"I could do without the return of the animal prints, though. I saw a zebra print wonderbra the other day." I crinkled my nose thinking about it. "What's up with those, anyway?"
"Animal prints or wonderbras?" Scully asked dryly, swirling the liquid in the bottom of her glass.
"Wonderbras," I clarified. "I don't get it. Why not just buy a corset and be done with it?"
Scully choked on her drink.
I went on. "I mean, if you want your breasts right up under your nose--"
Gabrielle broke in. "They're completely different. Wonderbras just push you up," she demonstrated the effect, "whereas a corset gives you a lot more support and," she ran her hands down her sides, "highlights all of your curves."
Scully surreptitiously looked down at her chest, then Gabrielle's, before downing her whisky.
How does she know so much about corsets, anyway? I suddenly remembered the battle dress and armor in Xena's closet. It laced up the back, didn't it? I pictured the tall woman from the club in dark brown leather, then looked back over at Gabrielle. Wonder what she wears when she plays amazon? I knew I shoulda checked out the dresser.
Gabrielle kept talking, apparently not noticing our lapses.
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
As Scully poured us another round of drinks, I stood beside the window, looking out at the moon.
"Getting colder out there," I said, moving back toward the coffee table.
Scully nodded. "Almost winter."
"I want lots of snow this year," Gabrielle's eyes lit up.
"Yeah, well, that's because you have someone to shovel it for you," I said, giving Gabrielle's shoulder a slight push.
"That's true," Gabrielle said cheerfully. "Xena's definitely had a lot of practice with a shovel."
"Do you get blocked in often? I mean, since you're in the basement apartment?" Scully pulled her knees up to her chest, hugging her arms around her legs.
"Not really." Gabrielle shrugged. "Xena usually shovels the sidewalks for the houses next to ours, too, so she makes sure all our stairways stay clear."
"That's nice of her," I commented.
Gabrielle nodded. "That's Xena."
"...and so the judge asks my sister's client, 'What were the circumstances surrounding your pregnancy?' and the woman looks at my sister, shaking her head, and says she doesn't understand the question."
I stopped and took a sip of whisky. "And my sister says, 'She means, how did you get pregnant.' And the woman looks at my sister, and she looks at the judge, and says, 'Well, from fucking.'"
"She said this in court?" Scully's eyes are huge.
"Right there in court. My sister said she and the judge couldnt look at each other because they both knew they'd lose it."
Still giggling, Gabrielle asked, "Now, is this the same woman whose husband was on Cops?"
"No, that was a different client. Same judge, though." I chuckled. "Ah, the joys of being a Legal Aid attorney in Fort Worth."
We all lapsed into silence when the music changed and Sarah McLachlan's ethereal vocals filled the room.
"She has such a beautiful voice," Gabrielle said. "It reminds me of--"
A low, rumbling sound cut her off and, blushing, she put a hand to her stomach. "It's been a while since dinner."
"That it has." I looked over at Scully. "Got anything to nibble on? What time is it, does anyplace even deliver this late?"
"Yes, but nothing you'd want to eat." She turned onto her side and gestured toward the kitchen. "Go ahead and take a look. There's rice cakes..."
Gabrielle pulled a face. "Speaking of things I wouldn't want to eat."
"...granola bars, Oreos, and I think there might be some Nutter Butters that Mulder left last week."
That was all I needed to hear. I stood on the cushions of the love seat, then sat on the back. With a half turn, I swung my legs over, then realized with dismay that the floor was approaching my eyes quite rapidly.
Thud! I hear rather than feel my face hit the carpet.
As I struggle to my feet I hear the unmistakable sounds of giggling. I look back into the den and see Scully banging her hand on the coffee table as another round of laughter sweeps her away.
"So, Staesh, did it ever occur to you to go *around* the sofa?" I always knew Gabrielle was a wiseass. I shoot her the look of death. She doesn't even try to contain her giggles. The two of them are a sight - sprawled out on the floor next to the coffee table, their faces flushed and their eyes teary with laughter.
"Bite me," I say as I stagger toward the kitchen.
I return with my arms full of goodies. Once I deposit them on the coffee table we all dig in.
My lips are a bit swollen where I landed on them and I wince as I take a bite of cookie.
Scully, ever the doctor, reaches over and, with a gentle hand under my chin, tilts my face toward her. "You should really put some ice on that. There are some Ziplocs in the drawer by the dishwasher."
I nod and go back into the kitchen.
When I return, Scully and Gabrielle are deep in conversation. They seem to be arguing about something, but their voices are low enough and I'm buzzed enough that I can't quite figure out what.
As I lean closer and focus on what they're saying, I realize that they're having a discussion and not an argument, but I still can't determine the topic.
"Whazzgoinon?" My freezing lips won't quite obey my brain.
"We were just talking about words that are so overused that they've lost their meaning." The way Scully says this, it's clear that the sentence makes sense to her.
I look over at Gabrielle.
"You know, like 'awesome'," she says. "It should mean something truly, well, awe inspiring."
Scully and I both nod our agreement.
"And 'gorgeous'," she continues. "Just because something's pretty doesn't mean it's gorgeous. Shouldn't that word be reserved for something really exquisite? I mean, if I had a quarter for every time someone called Xena gorgeous--"
"Xena is gorgeous."
Gabrielle rolls her eyes at me. "Of course she is. That's not the point."
"So what is the point?" I ask, totally confused.
"I just want them to use another word that's not quite so common," Gabrielle says.
"So you'd rather people called her magnificent instead." Scully quirks an eyebrow.
"Splendiferous?" I suggest.
"Stunning." Scully is off and running, and I'm close behind.
"Enough!" Gabrielle puts her hands over her ears.
The ice is working; there's no pain at all when I laugh. Wonder if they turned blue? I push out my bottom lip and look down my nose at it.
"Numb?" Scully takes the bag of ice from me and puts it into one of the empty glasses.
I nod, running a finger along the swollen corner of my mouth.
Gabrielle giggles. "My lips are numb, but you can't feel them."
I begin to laugh, but it dissolves into a yawn. "I'm getting sleepy."
Gabrielle nods. "Me too."
Scully stands up and collects the glasses from the coffee table. "Anyone need anything? Coffee? More tea?"
I shake my head, then pick up the cookie wrappers and other garbage. "No, thanks. I should probably get going before I fall asleep on your floor." I looked at the form sprawled before the window and sigh. "Gabrielle, do you want me to call you a cab?"
She peeked out from behind her left elbow. "That would be wonderful."
With a quiet whir and click, the CD changed again. Scully had resumed her position on the sofa, with her feet tucked under her body, and Gabrielle sat beside her. I looked out the window and found myself singing along softly, almost wistfully.
I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep
I'm dappled and drowsy and ready for sleep
Let the morningtime drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you, all is groovy...
A lone car turned onto Scully's street. "One of the cabs is here." I turned away from the window and picked up my jacket. "Thanks, you two, I had a wonderful time tonight."
"So did I." Gabrielle shrugged into black leather. "We'll do this again sometime, right?"
Scully nodded and smiled. "I'd like that."
As we walked to the door, Gabrielle said, "I'll be at the gym tomorrow afternoon. Do you want me to take your bags in?"
"You mean this afternoon, right?"
She looked at me with sleepy green eyes. "Yeah, I guess I do. Thank goodness I don't have to teach any classes today."
"I'll see you later, then." Scully opened the door and hesitated, then gently hugged first Gabrielle, then me. "Be careful going home."
"We will," I said as I started down the hall. "Good night."
I shivered when we opened the door and walked into the early-morning darkness. A cab idled in the driveway, the steam from the tailpipe clearly illuminated by a street lamp.
"Red Top," I said, reading the side of the sedan. "Must be my cab. I'm gonna tell the driver to wait for a minute until yours shows up."
"No, that's all right. I'll be fine." Gabrielle tossed her head toward the intersection. "That's probably it, anyway."
I turned and saw a light-colored vehicle that slowed, putting on a turn signal as it neared the side street where Scully lived.
"OK then." I watched as the car pulled onto the smaller street. "I really did have a good time tonight. Thank you."
"Thank you." She pulled me in for a quick hug. "I'll see you later."
I nodded and climbed into the waiting taxi, yawning from the warmth of its heater. I gave the driver my address, and while he called it in, turned around to make sure that the other cab had arrived.
A tall, vaguely familiar dark figure approached Gabrielle from the shadows of the building, then enveloped her in a hug. After a moment, the two women walked into the light of the street lamp toward their taxi. The tall woman opened the door for Gabrielle and, looking up suddenly, caught me in her ice-blue gaze. She nodded at me, then helped Gabrielle into the car.
I sank into the soft leather upholstery with a happy sigh and a smile.
* * * * *
* * * * *
This story took almost two years to write. Faithful has patiently (and not-so-patiently) pushed me along, pointing me back on track when I headed off on tangents, and laughed in all the right places. Half of the credit must go to her for this piece, as well as for a certain line that she was able to quote to me almost 15 years after the original utterance.
Thanks also to the members of The Bard's Village and The Bardic Circle, whose enthusiasm rekindled mine.
And, finally, thanks to Jonathan Richman, whose words were used in many a quarters toast my freshman year in college <g>
Changes and Suffragette City, written and performed by David Bowie
Joy to the World, written by Hoyt Axton, performed by Three Dog Night
Mama Told Me, written by R. Newman, performed by Three Dog Night
Black and White, written by D. Arkin and E. Robinson, performed by Three Dog Night
Son of a Preacher Man, performed by Dusty Springfield
Werewolves of London, written by Warren Zevon, Waddy Wachtel, and LeRoy P. Marinell, performed by Warren Zevon
Pablo Picasso, written by Jonathan Richman, performed by Burning Sensations
The 59th Street Bridge Song, written by Paul Simon, performed by Simon and Garfunkel
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