Please read the Disclaimer in Part One!
Xenite Disclaimer for Part Two: No would-be party animals were harmed in the production of this fanfic.
Luther was walking through Harvard Yard, en route back to his room as dusk fell on another cloudy un-springlike Boston day. The roar of the engine built up behind him so quickly he had no time to react; one minute there was a faint rumbling at the edge of his consciousness, the next a sleek black machine whisked past him, ruffling his hair wildly, and painted a tight curve around his body until it straddled the path in front of him. He stared at Xena, somewhat breathless with the shock of it.
"Evening," she said curtly, her eyes boring into him. His skin tingled, and he swallowed with difficulty before replying.
"Hear you've been hanging out with ... Gabrielle," Xena said. The slight hesitation before the name made him blink curiously at her, but her Look was so severe he could barely meet her eyes.
"Not really," he replied as coolly as he could manage. Actually, he hadn't seen Gabrielle in the days since he'd attended her rehearsal. Xena narrowed her eyes at him.
"Oh?" She was silent for a moment. "Well, whatever," she said at last. "Just watch your fucking mouth. And-" She stopped abruptly, just as Gabrielle had back in her room a few days ago. Xena scowled darkly.
"Just watch it," she ordered cryptically, and with a roar that momentarily deafened, she was gone.
Luther stood for a moment, listening to the ringing in his ears and trying to figure out what had just happened. Exactly what was Xena warning him away from? Was she threatening him? Did she honestly consider him an obstacle? He shook his head at last, bemused, and continued on his way.
Gabrielle was bored and getting chilled. She had been waiting for the 69 Bus to take her to Sew-Low, on Cambridge Street, for some last-minute costuming supplies. It had been at least twenty minutes, and there was no sign of the bus. Gabrielle's feet hurt. The traffic light changed to red, and she sighed. One more cycle of the lights and she'd give up, she told herself for the fifth time.
Idly, she watched a Ford Explorer pull up to the light and stop, carrying five polo-shirted young men. Harvard students, or possibly B.U., fraternity brothers out on the town. Gabrielle watched them, biting her lip as she wondered whether she was really going to do it.
After a moment she stepped off the curb, approached the vehicle, and knocked on the passenger-side window. They all stopped talking and laughing, and looked at her, and the guy in the passenger seat rolled down the window.
"Hi," Gabrielle said with a friendly smile. "Friday night, eh?"
"Yeah," the guy agreed in bemusement. His friends strained to hear the conversation.
"Listen, I've been waiting for this damn bus like half an hour," Gabrielle said, "and honestly it looks to me like wherever you guys are going would be a lot more fun. Mind if I come along?" She spoke plainly, calmly, with no actual suggestion in her manner, but she knew what conclusion they would draw. They were all gaping at her now, trying to figure out if she was serious.
"Um," said the driver. Gabrielle smiled calmly and moved for the rear door.
"I'm sure I can squeeze in," she said, reaching for the door handle. It was unlocked. The guy nearest that door stared as she opened it and peeked in. Then, waking up, he had the sense to stick his long legs out the door so she could squeeze past.
"Right in the middle?" she said, grinning, heading for the middle of the seat where the three guys were already somewhat uncomfortably crowded. But they were pushing each other aside to make room for her, and she was crawling in headfirst, giving two of them excellent views of her creamy cleavage, when suddenly she felt hands on her waist, pulling her back out of the car.
"Gabrielle, what are you, crazy?" said an angry voice, and she turned around to see Hank glaring at her. Behind him, Luther was emerging from the Yard, glancing over, changing direction to approach them.
"Get lost, Hank," she snapped. "Leave me the fuck alone."
"Like hell," he replied, and with one hand -- the other still gripping her arm -- he shoved the frat boy toward the car. "You guys get lost, okay? Beat it!" Horns were honking behind them as the light turned green. The frat boy jumped back into the car, slamming the door, and the driver floored it. The Ford leapt forward and screeched off toward Cambridge Common.
"Who asked you to be my goddamn chaperone?" Gabrielle yelled at Hank, bubbling over with anger. "Butt out!"
"Gabrielle, calm down," Luther said in astonishment. Hank talked over him.
"You obviously need a chaperone, doing something that stupid -- what were you actually gonna do, screw all five of those assholes? Have you completely lost it?" He was nearly as angry as she was, his brow creased with concern. Gabrielle boiled.
"So what if I was? It's my fucking life!" She whirled and stomped off into the Yard. Hank looked at Luther as if seeing him for the first time.
"What the hell happened?" Luther asked. Hank shook his head.
"Dammit," he muttered. "Gabrielle!" He took off after her. Luther, belatedly, followed.
Having gotten the bad news, Xena had gone immediately to her favorite place for cooling down: the gym. Not to her surprise, Ian was there, working with one of the students from the wrestling class he taught. Xena wanted to wrestle, but not with Ian. In fact, she wasn't really sure what her body craved, except that it was violent and clean. She strapped on a pair of boxing gloves and began energetically pummelling a punching bag.
She had been at this for about ten minutes when the doors burst open and Gabrielle strode in, still steaming with anger, frustration and misdirected disappointment from her thwarted tryst. "Xena!" the small redhead shouted, her voice ringing through the mostly-deserted room, making heads turn.
Xena turned as well, blinking in surprise. She barely registered the presences of Hank and Luther, who entered the gym on Gabrielle's heels. So startled was the dark woman to see her erstwhile lover standing there, glowering at her, that she was unable to summon her usual mask of hostility.
"What?" she said, trying for belligerence and managing only uncertainty.
"I'm fucking sick of this," Gabrielle announced. "I want-" She paused, her will suddenly departing as she groped for the words to express herself.
"Gabrielle." Xena tossed aside the boxing gloves and moved, closing the distance between them in a heartbeat. "I - we should talk."
"Yes," Gabrielle began, looking up at her, but Xena wasn't finished. Her hands closed around Gabrielle's upper arms.
"But it'll have to wait. I'm going away."
"G - going where?" Gabrielle asked, bewildered. Tears threatened her composure as she tried to catch her breath.
"West. I have to get to L.A. as soon as possible. I got a letter from Lao Ma. She needs my help." Xena bit each sentence off sharply, trying to keep her cool, almost heedless of how her words and manner affected the other woman.
"Gotta leave tonight," Xena said firmly. "We'll talk when I get back." She cast a quick glance around the room and left, looking at no one. Gabrielle deflated, standing stock-still in the middle of the practice mat, lowering her head and fighting back tears.
"Gabrielle, go," said Ian softly, coming up beside her and reaching out a comforting hand. "Go after her, finish what you started. Go on." She jerked away, wrenching her shoulder out from under his palm, and went out after Xena.
"What'd I miss?" Ian asked, walking toward his lover. Hank spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness.
"Beats me. Guess something finally snapped. Well, it's about fucking time."
"Who's Lao Ma?" asked Luther. Hank and Ian exchanged a look.
"She was Xena's mentor, her first fencing teacher," Ian explained guardedly. "It was a while ago." Now he and Hank both turned their gazes on Luther, who shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot and crossed his arms defensively over his chest.
"What did Gabrielle tell you the other day?" Hank demanded. Luther shook his head.
"Nothing. I don't know. A bunch of stuff about her play and some fight they had." The other two exchanged another look.
"I told you it was about the play," Ian said. Hank shrugged.
"What does it matter what started it? It's her neurosis that keeps it going. And Xena's too damn macho to break through." He glanced around the gym, noticing how everyone else was still staring. "What the fuck are you all looking at?" he demanded. The others quickly turned their eyes away, heads shaking.
"Come on," said Hank. "Let's get lost."
"Xena," Gabrielle beseeched, hurrying after the taller woman, "take me with you. We can talk on the way. Don't leave me behind here."
"I need to do this my way," Xena muttered, forcing conviction into her tone. "I need focus. A cluttered mind sees only illusion." She yanked open the door to her dorm. Gabrielle had to hurry forward to slip through the doorway before it closed again.
"So now I'm a distraction? Is that it? All I do is get in your way, right? Keep you from finding your stupid focus!"
"Yeah," said Xena cruelly, taking the stairs two at a time. She paused at the top, looking down at Gabrielle as the shorter woman struggled up the steps. "Besides," she added, "where I'm going ... you don't belong. You wouldn't like it. You don't want it."
"I want to be wherever you are," Gabrielle protested, following Xena down the hall. Xena shook her head.
"There you go again." She shoved her way into the room. "Minya!"
"Xena?" Her roommate came anxiously out of her bedroom. "Oh, Gabrielle, hi!"
"I'm taking your car for a few days," Xena said imperiously. "If anyone calls for me, tell them to take a flying leap." She went into her bedroom and pulled a duffel bag out of the closet.
"Where are you going? When will you be back?" Minya asked querulously, fishing her car keys out of her purse and handing them over without hesitation. Xena pocketed them and glowered, tossing a few items into the duffel.
"I'll be back when I'm back."
"Xena, why can't this wait till after we talk?" Gabrielle tried again. "Please?" Minya faded discreetly back into her own room.
"Like I said, I gotta leave right away," Xena muttered, not meeting Gabrielle's eyes.
"You can take time out to go to the gym, but you can't take a few more minutes to talk to me?" Gabrielle's lips quivered again, but she fought tears with all her might.
"I'm the only one who might be able to get through to Lao Tien," Xena said. The duffel was full; she zipped it closed and glanced critically around the room. "He's joined up with some street gang called the Green Dragons. Lao Ma thinks he's in danger."
"And if you go into their territory you'll be in danger too," Gabrielle stated, feeling her heartbeat quicken at the realization. "Xena, you can't-"
"I have to." Shouldering the duffel bag, Xena turned and left the room without looking back.
"What did you mean about Gabrielle having some kind of neurosis?" Luther asked Hank. The three men were sitting in a morose clump on the stone steps under the grim-visaged statue of John Harvard. Hank and Luther had just finished telling Ian about Gabrielle's behavior with the frat boys.
"I'm no shrink," said Hank, "but Gabrielle's always felt like the differences between her and Xena defined their relationship."
"They had a fight once before," Ian chimed in, "and Gabrielle told me there was no way two people with such totally different worldviews could sustain a lasting relationship. Of course, the next day when they patched things up, she changed her tune. Gave me the whole 'opposites attract' story. But I think deep down she's still afraid it's true."
"They're not all that different," Luther opined, "not from what I can see...." But before he could elaborate, they were interrupted by a scruffy young man who rushed up yelling Hank's name.
"Xena's leaving!" he exclaimed in dismay. Ian rolled his eyes.
"We're aware of that, Jax," Hank said tolerantly. The other man stared at him with open mouth.
"Well, why aren't you doing anything?" he demanded.
"Like what? Xena's a grown woman," Hank pointed out. "She goes where she wants, when she wants. Like to see anyone stop her." Ian snorted in agreement.
"But they're in love," Jax protested. "You know that!"
"Jax, the whole goddamn planet knows that," Hank said. "It's none of our business. We've done what we could for them. Xena and Gabrielle have to work things out on their own." He shifted his gaze to Luther. "You busy?"
"No...." Luther replied guardedly. Hank shrugged calmly.
"Well." He got to his feet. "Ian and I are headed somewhere warm. I hate this fucking weather," he added, glaring irritably at the sky. "Gimme summer already! But anyway, tag along if you want. Whatever." He strolled down the stairs and past Jax, who was still gibbering slightly.
"You can't just give up on them!" the unkempt student called after Hank and Ian as they moved off, their shoulders brushing occasionally. They ignored him. Jax turned his attention to Luther, who had risen when Hank had but was still standing there.
"It's not giving up," Luther told him. "It's butting out." He turned and, wrapping his arms around himself, walked quickly back to his room.
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