A Meeting of Chance by Terra Chang

G_X_H_I

A Meeting of Chance
by Terra Chang, aka WhiteCat
This is the first uber-Xena story ever written. It appeared in Hercules fanfic. The date was January  1997

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WARNING!! This is about 80% mush, about 5% spur-of-the-moment plot, and about 15% angst. Not to mention the fact that it STARTED as this harmless little piece of fanfic, that was only supposed to be a page or two long. You can see what happened with THAT. ;D You Have Been Warned!
Disclaimers: Yadda yadda … everyone knows who these characters belong to, and everybody knows I’m just writing this for fun, ’cause if I were trying to go for profit, I’d have submitted it to Universal to see if they’d bite. 😉

He shook his head in his sleep, disturbing the dozing cat that lay purring on his stomach.

* Walking with an older couple he knew well, pointing out old, familar sites of happier, fondly remembered times. Feeling his feet sink a little into the wet sand, laughing as they talked … the feeling of foreboding … hearing his own named called out … turning, and seeing another person he knew so well, falling towards him. Feeling the life leave the body, and screaming his despair … *

Justin opened his eyes briefly and groaned. The moonlight cast blue shadows on the ceiling as he turned over and viciously pulled his pillow over his head. Iolaus, disturbed and not a little piqued at his human’s restless movements, decided that the couch would be a much nicer place to sleep.

* One last time, a walk together, watching the sun set, setting the clouds on fire. The moon had risen, pale and cold, and the wolves howled onmiously. The sounds of battle loud and jarring to their ears … running towards the sound, seeing too many, too many … Fighting the army, back-to-back, like always … getting seperated, seeing his friend swallowed up by an army of black-clad men … saw someone dressed in the oddest set of red armour reaching up to pierce his friends heart. Couldn’t think or ponder, there wasn’t any TIME. Screaming denial, shoving his friend out of the way, feeling an icy burst of pain through his back. Blackness, and then falling, with only the sounds of battle and grief accompanying him …*


“Andrew!”

The small, blonde man turned, and smiled, seeing his fiancee, Anna, running at full speed towards him. He caught her before the force of her running could carry her past him; while she wasn’t a light person, Andrew was surprisingly strong for someone of his rather short size.

“Hey, what’s up?” he asked, now a little concerned. Anna’s face was flushed, and her chest heaved with extertion. Her eyes were bright, and a little awed. She was clutching a piece of paper tightly in her hand.

“Andy, you gotta see this guy’s work! It’s fabulous! Stupdendous! GOOD, even!” she gasped, and Andrew smiled a little. Only Anna could get away with using that stupid nickname, and he gently pried the paper from her hand.

An add, rather cheaply printed, of some young, aspiring artist who lived in modern-day Athens. Well. The tiny sample of his artwork, while not the best quality, wasn’t really all that bad. Of course, Anna would know better, since SHE was the arts critic, not him. “So, you wann go see this, huh?” he asked, and she nodded vigorously, causing a wisp or two of hair to fall out of its usually strict braid. “I don’t know. Do we even have enough for a trip to Athens?” He was teasing her, and they both knew it — Andrew wasn’t one of the richest men in the world for nothing!

She hit him on the arm, and he pretended to be mortally wounded, laughing as he did. “You’re crazy,” she told him, “but then, so am I. That’s probably why I accepted your proposal in the first place!” She made a face at him, the mock-anger vanishing when he kissed the tip of her nose. “Athens, then?”

“Athens!”

Weeks later, on the plane, Andrew found, surprisingly, he couldn’t sleep. He’d always been a sound sleeper — Anna often complained that there were times, in the early morning, when she had been tempted to douse him with a bucket of water, to help him wake up faster. But now he lay, turned a little on his side, staring into the barely illuminated darkness.

* “Please don’t die … please don’t die.” *

He shook his head. Where had THAT come from?

* Walking down a forest path, laughing and joking. “They should build a shrine to us!” Jumping back when lightening struck.*


Somebody on the street had once told Justin he looked a lot like Kevin Sorbo, the guy who played Hercules on the hit TV show. He always thought there was something wrong with whoever that was’ eyes every time. After all, Sorbo was this mega-star hunk who had dozens of ladies (whether he knew it or not) drooling or crying over him — to use the archaic term. He wasn’t THAT awful-looking, but he wasn’t all that great. Yeah, so he SLIGHTLY resembled Sorbo — same blue eyes, same tall build, nearly the same shade of hair color — but that was about it. Justin wore a beard and mustache, and had to wear corrective lenses for his eyes. He was somewhat bulkier, and his hair was a little longer. When he looked in the mirror, he sure as hell didn’t see all that many resemblances.

Justin was an artist who just hadn’t found his big break yet. His paintings were deemed too “weird and confusing” by the art critics, keeping him from hitting it big, but he sold enough of his artwork to survive, day-to-day. The fact that he lived a rather frugal life didn’t hurt all that much — just a small twenty-inch-screen TV, a radio, his cat, Iolaus (he had no idea why he’d name a cat something like that), and little else.

Pausing to look over his canvas, Justin frowned. The picture was different from all his others — they had been abstract, the kind that let the viewer decide what it was, interperet it how they wanted. This one, you defintely knew that two men were standing there, watching the sunset; and somehow, Justin’s brush had given his two painted figures a sense of friendship, but not like the kind that made gay bashers what they were. Just a feeling of — peace. Long-standing ease with each other. Partners, friends … brothers.

Now why did the thought of that make him want to cry?

Iolaus moved along his legs, purring loudly, demanding attention. Absently, he bent and scratched the mongrel-cat’s ears, then stood, ignoring the protests at the end of the petting. When he glanced at the clock, he nearly did a cartoonish double-take. Nearly midnight?! Ye gods! Justin blinked raidly, shaking his head. He’d lost complete track of time, working on his latest project — the good thing was that the painting was almost done.

{They didn’t like all my abstract,} he thought, as he headed towards the bathroom, {let’s see how they react to a nice, normal picture.}

Now he couldn’t sleep.

Justin was tossing and turning, completely exhausted, but whenever his eyes closed for over five minutes, dreams would come and haunt him. He had no idea where they’d come from, all he knew was that they weren’t allowing him any rest …

* Realization of a disaster, seeing the same realization dawning in his friends eyes. Leaving the dead, cooling body behind, they raced back. Too late again — too late to save her, only able to watch helplessly as the arrow struck his side. Intense pain,ck a nearby tree. Saying the words again, and feeling the jolt of energy course through him. His friend jokingly asking “Are you SURE you’re all right?” His weird predictions, which kept coming true with frightening frequency. Thrown into a wall, and for a few moments, not knowing where he was. Remembering, getting up, and fighting again. *

Finally, Andrew gave it up and reached over, pulling one of Anna’s various entertainment magazines and flipping through it. One of the pictures caught his eye, and he opened the ‘zine fully to that page.

The caption read “Teamwork Does Wonder For TV Show!!”

But it was the pictures that got his attention. A tall, bronzed man, standing, one hand shading his eyes as he stared directly into the sun. In the next photo, a smaller, blonder man was standing, hands on hips, and laughing.

{Strange,} Andrew thought, studying the second picture very closely, {He kinda looks like … me!}


(Two days before Andrew and Anna leave for Athens.)

Bang … bang … bang …

Slowly, Justin came out of a sea of dreamless haze. He had no idea at what time he’d fallen asleep last night, but judging from his reaction to the noise, it had been a lot later than he hoped it would be. Crud. He was SO tempted to just turn around and go back to sleep, and let the knocker pound himself out, but … common courtesy took over.

“Who is it?” {And you’d better give me a damn good excuse for waking me up,} he added silently.

“Wake up call!” a woman’s voice sing-songed from the other side, and Justin groaned again, but smiled a little.

“Come on in, Janine. The place’s a wreck, and so’m I. Don’t expect anything fancy.”

Janine — his step-sister — was probably his closest friend. And as his neighbor, she made life much easier for him, getting his mail for him, and doing a few little jobs around the place. Iolaus adored her for the kitty treats she always brought along for him.

The door clicked open, and the bubbly little redhead came in, smiling cheerfully at him as she tucked her key back into her pocket. She was holding his mail, as well as her own under one arm, and was balancing two cups of coffee percariously in the other. She plunked the mail down into two semi-neat piles and set the coffee on the floor in front of her, then decided against it and put it on the low-height little table. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, she picked up Iolaus and deposited him on her lap. He made none of his usual yowling protests at being handled so, just snuggled into her bare leg and began to purr — loudly, as always. She scratched his ears, and glanced up at Justin, who had just managed to untangle his head from the sheets. The big grin on her face said everything, and he held up a hand warningly. “Don’t. I know I look awful, but I don’t need you to rub it in.”

She laughed, a warm, friendly sound. Justin smiled a little, then motioned for her to turn her back so he could get dressed. She complied, easily, tugging his fat cat along with her. This time, Iolaus did yowl, but it didn’t do him any good.

Justin grabbed a pair of wrinkled, old jeans and shoved them on, and pulled a dark blue t-shirt over his head. Then, flopping back down, he said, “You can turn back around now.”

“You gonna read your mail?”

“Why? Is there something special about it today?”

“Yeah.” She gave him one of the styrafoam cups. “Someone wants to see your stuff.”

“Oh really?” he raised an eyebrow at her, which she raised right back. Groping dizzily for the message, he felt her deposit a smooth, heavy white envelope into his hand. He turned around and held it up, squinting to read the neat, but tiny, handwriting on the envelope. Finally, he shrugged and tore open the packet, and pulled out the neatly typed letter inside.

“‘To Mister Justin Culan,'” he read aloud, “‘my name is Anna Rogers. I have seen some of your work, and would be interested in seeing more. Please call me at (583) 398-1402 to discuss details. Sincerly, yadda yadda yadda…” his voice trailed off.

Janine was shaking her head. “Wow. Could be your fabled ‘big break,’ bro,” she said thoughtfully. “If I were you, I’d take it.”

“I was planning to. Now, where the hell is that damned phone … ?”

She plunked into his hand, much like she had the envelope and grinned at him. “Y’know,” she said conversationally, “one of these days, you’re going to have to clean this place up.”

“Is that an offer? Great, you can start any day now.”

She threw a pillow at him and stuck out his tongue; he laughed and began dialing the number.


(Present)

“I am so bloody nervous,” Janine muttered, fidgeting in her chair. “Anna Rogers is supposed to be one of the most famous reporters there is. Writes stuff for the New York _Times_ and all those big-name newspapers.”

“YOU’RE nervous?” Justin asked wryly, eyeing the people streaming from the open doors of the terminal, “How do you think __I__ feel?”

“Probably worse than I do,” Janine said, sounding slightly sheepish. “Sorry. But I AM –”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Don’t make me feel worse than I already –”

“Hey, there they are!”

“Where?”

“There!”

He looked. He had to say, he was impresed. Anna was nearly as tall as he was, with long, jet-black hair and piercing blue eyes. Very pretty. And walking beside her, nearly a head shorter, but still looking impressive all the same, was the man Anna had said would be coming with her: her fiancee, Andrew Phillips. But when Justin took the brief five seconds he had to study Andrew, he felt a faint chill touch him …

Somewhere in the back of his mind, supressed memories began to stir. Quickly banishing them for the moment, he put on the biggest smile he could muster, and stuck out his hand. Anna took it and shook it warmly. She opened her mouth to say something, and then —

* Fighting together, loving together living apart … meant to be one, but forced to be seperate … looking back, bidding the other farewell, their warriors’ lives keeping them apart until the day they died … *

Justin shook his head in amazement. Where the hell had THAT come from?

He had to admire Anna’s quickness on her feet. Even though she had obviously experienced the same weird flash as he had, she recovered much more quickly and fully than he did. “Mister Culan,” she said briskly, “Anna Rogers. I’m honored to meet you.”

“The feeling is mutual,” he responded automatically. This he could do rather well, he’d done it dozens of times before. The niceties had to be observed before they could get down to buisness. Behind him, he could hear Janine greeting Andrew in the same way, and wondered, vaguely, if they had felt the same thing he and Anna had, when they had shaken hands.

They had. Janine shook her head, almost imperceptibly, and Andrew’s brow had furrowed just a little bit.

* Together, in a dark cave. One of them badly hurt, possibly dying. Despair filling hearts, while she tried to keep them at bay by telling stories; ones she had been heard in her childhood, ones she had heard in her journeys. The torch dying … coming back to life. Joy … sorrow. Two people who shared one soul … *

Janine smiled brightly. “Janine Fox. I’m Justin’s step-sister. You’re … Andrew, right?”

He nodded and smiled back. “I’ve heard a lot about your step-brother. Anna is fascinated by his work. The tall one, right?”

“Yeah.”

Andrew turned around and grasped Justin’s hand warmly. There it went again — that strange feeling of recognition. Something familiar about the other mans’ frame, posture, and attitude caused the other to stop and study the other.

* Two little boys, running down a hill, flying kites together. Laughing as the breeze from their running whipped their hair into a cloudy mass of curls. Flopping down to watch the clouds together … they saw the different shapes, pointing them out to each other. Promising each other they’d be friends forever. No matter what … *

“Justin Culan.”

“Andrew Phillips.”

The spell had passed. Now it was just two men, meeting for the first time in their lives.


Anna was studying one of Justin’s bigger pieces, nodding to herself and making little approving “mm-hmm” noises. Janine was showing Andrew around Justin’s studio/apartment — having spent so much time in her step-brother’s place, she knew the whole place as intimately as she knew her own.

Andrew stopped to scratch Iolaus’ ears, smiling at the cat’s ecstatic purr. The mongrel feline was draped over a patch of sunlight on a window pane, and he opened one slitted yellow eye to regard this new human lazily. Janine laughed. “Careful, Andrew. That cat is spoiled rotten; if you’re not careful, he’ll charm you out of all the catnip you can afford to buy.”

“That’s not exactly my fault, you know,” Justin said easily, grinning at them. “YOU’RE the one spoiling him. Not me. If it were up to me, he’d be on a strict mouse-and-coackroach diet, with catnip only once a year.”

The cat’s expression was so human it caused all three of them to laugh out loud. It was the closest a feline face could get to the human emotion “disgruntled.” He stared at Justin in what seemed to be real horror, then got to his feet and waddled over to his food bowl. Peering into it, he emitted a heavy sighing sound of relief, then padded back to his sunbeam and dropped, going back to sleep.

“What’s his name?” Andrew asked, with a bemused smile, watching as the cat rolled over onto its back, allowing the sun to heat the fluffy white belly fur.

The smile disappeared once he heard the name:

“Iolaus.”

* As a young boy, staring after his father as he disappeared into the horizon. Dressed in rather tattered clothes — a poor family — he clenched his hands into such tight fists that his fingernails cut bitterly into his palms. Hate … pain … confusion … despair … loneliness. Mother was seeing a new man, and he had never gotten along with his siblings. Moving to a little village … a rich woman living there, like themselves, with a general husband … you say he was killed in battle? How sad. And she had a son, like the boy himself, and they became friends … One day he was asked What’s your name? And he said, Iolaus. *

“Andrew? Andrew, are you all right?”

He blinked rapidly, and looked up. Blue eyes, concerned, looking into his own. Janine — no, not that, her name was … it was … damn, this was frustrating! When he looked at the other three in the room, he saw them, and he saw another, overshadowing them, much more familiar to him than the modern three …

“Andrew? Hey, man, you’re shaking. What’s wrong?”

Wait. That voice. It was — it was —

The man who had been born Andrew Christopher Phillips in this lifetime, but had once been known as the Greek hero Iolaus, looked up, into the eyes of the man who had once been his best friend. And before his mind could stop his mouth, he blurted the single name, the name that had come to mean friendship to him, long ago:

“Hercules!”

Justin stared at the other man. After hearing the name of his cat, Andrew had gone into some sort of shock, his already fair skin draining of even more color. Locked in some personal memory, he, Janine, and Anna had tried to snap him out of it. And then, when Andrew HAD woken up, what was the first thing he did? He called Justin “Hercules!”

{Ye gods, not another person who thinks I look like Sorbo!} he thought in despair, watching the smaller man begin to shake with something that felt almost like — brotherly? — concern. Worriedly, he reached out to touch the younger man’s shoulder, and got a strange keening sound in reply. Despite the annoyance at the sudden association with the famous TV star, he shook Andrew’s shoulder again.

“Andrew? Are you in there?”

He didn’t remember. Hercules, by the gods, you have to remember! Andrew/Iolaus stared at his friend in despair. The more he thought about it, the more the ancient warrior’s personality overcame that of the friendly, utterly modern young buisnessman. But the eyes that looked back at him were blank, uncomprehending. And Janine — GABRIELLE, his mind insisted — was also staring at him in concern. Oh Gabrielle — don’t you remember me? You told me stories to keep my mind off of the pain …

And beyond Gabrielle … like a shadow queen come back to haunt him … the Iolaus part of him repressed a moan. Xena. XENA.

It was her. He knew everything about her — and her modern counterpart, Anna Rogers — on intimate terms. VERY intimate, that is. He felt the ground give way under his feet, and he sank slowly to the floor, bringing up his hands to hold his arms as he shivered. Why was it suddenly so COLD in this little place? He couldn’t stop his shaking, couldn’t control the tremors that ripped through him.

“Andrew?” That low voice, slightly higher with concern. Breathy, intimate. Memories of times with her, laughing and loving, and betrayal. Arms encircled him, and he stiffened, the older of the two minds in his body taking control. Iolaus knew that Anna didn’t remember her old life, but it didn’t stop the burst of pain when he saw her. Xena was in there, sleeping, and be damned if Iolaus didn’t do everything he could do to wake her — and Hercules, and Gabrielle — up.

Slowly, he rose to his feet and grabbed Hercules — Justin, the small part of his mind that was still allotted to Andrew insisted — by the shoulders and shook him, without any great sucess. Even in this mortal, weaker body, Hercules was still stronger than Iolaus. “Herc, it’s me!” he said urgently. “You gotta remember — don’t you? Echinda, her archers — Hera! Deineira, do you remember Deineira?!” He had once vaguely remembered Hercules telling him about the incident with Psyche, and Cupid. And, more importantly, how the memory of Deineira brought him out of the love-induced spell of Cupid’s arrow.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

In despair, he turned to Janine. “Gabrielle! You were once a bard — stories were your forte! This is all one great story! A joke the gods are playing on us! You have to remember, don’t you? Please tell me you remember –”

She didn’t. He could tell from the blank, worried, frightened look on her face. “None of you! Nobody remembers! The adventures we had, the risks, the friendship –” he stopped. Oh, that was it. The forgetfulness he could handle. The fact that all their glorious deeds had now slipped into obscurity and were nothing more than entertaining stories, he could handle. But the look of uncomprehension he COULDN’T handle. In despair, he turned away. “I think I need to go out for — for some air,” he said shakily, hoping they’d let him leave.

Anna started to say something, her brow furrowed in her concern, but he cut her off. “Please … I … need to think. I think I’m just letting the day get to me.” He smiled wanly, a weak version of his usual bright grin.

She didn’t want to let him go, he could tell, but she allowed him to go. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, then bolted. Once out into the brightness of the day, he blinked, adjusting to the light, and heaved a heavy sigh, broken by a sob. Was this his punishment? To live, and have his friends, but not have them know who he was? Slowly, he made his way to a small bench nearby the building and collapsed on it, burying his face in his hands.

Justin rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. His head hurt, and something was pounding fiercly in his temples. He wanted nothing more to pour himself a stiff drink, but refrained. Janine looked just as shaken as he was, and Anna looked worse; Justin really couldn’t blame her. After all, what would HE feel like if HIS fiancee went crazy in the house — apartment (details, details) — of a near-complete stranger. There was no way in hell he could be Hercules. Hercules was just a myth, a legend that made for a pleasent reading diversion on a rainy day…

Janine took a deep breath. “Well,” she said quietly. “You didn’t tell us he was crazy,” she said to Anna, trying weakly to break the tension. Anna only frowned.

“He’s not like that,” she insisted unhappily. “He’s usually so GOOD with meeting new people … I don’t see why you guys prompted such a weird reaction from him … I hope you’re not upset,” she murmured, glancing sideways at Justin.

He smiled a little. “That’s okay. I understand. Has he ever been to Greece before?”

“Not that I know of. I don’t know why he reacted so badly when he heard your cat’s name … I hope HE’s not offended,” she added cynically, looking at the fat cat who, in a way, had started the whole reaction. He was still sleeping innocently in the sun, purring now that his belly was warm.


Images that just didn’t make sense. Blinding flashes of light, the sounds of voices ringing in steel-gray air … Andrew lifted his arm sluggishly and checked his watch. Nearly seven, by the gods. He should be getting back to Justin’s place …

… if only he could remember where it was. Blinking in confusion, he stared at the unfamiliar streetsigns and stores, trying to recall which direction he had come from. Just turning around and going in the opposite direction wouldn’t work; he was pretty sure he’d taken a turn or two somewhere in between then and now …

Maybe if he weren’t so dead drunk, Andrew decided, swaying dizzily and clutching a lampost. Maybe it’s all just a drink-induced dream. Yeah, that was all. Just a dream …

* The sensation of being carried, something he hadn’t expirienced since he was a tiny child, and his mother would carry him to bed … the realization dawning in his brain. _Something is not right here_ and leaping to his feet, out of the arms … his friend was carrying him?! Why — oh, gods. No. I’m not REALLY dead, am I? This is a damn poor joke, Hercules! I — wait. You’re telling the truth. I really AM dead … this isn’t a dream, not a dream at all … *

He blinked again, and collided into a lampost. Stumbling back, he muttered “Oh, ‘scuse me, sorry,” and shambled on his way. Maybe if he took a right at this next alley, it would be a shortcut back to Justin’s apartment … wherever that was …

And then, about halfway down the alley, a rough hand grabbed him by the hair and yanked his head back. “Oh, hey, mister, didn’t yo momma eva tell ya that ‘s not a good idea to go wandering around the streets at night?” Something cold and hard pressed to his throat as he stood there, frozen in place. “People like you could get … hurt.” The voice trailed off, tinged with menacing laughter.

{ShitshitshitohshitwhatthehellamIgonnado?!} he thought desperately, the alchohal fuzz draining from his brain, leaving it eeriely clear. He was going to die now. {Again?!}

Wait — that last thought — not his own. Someone else’s, a man who was him, but at the same time was another person entirely. Older, surer, and more importantly, a warrior. The punk who held a knife to his throat had no idea what he’d just gotten himself into …


“I’m really starting to get worried about Andrew,” Anna said distantly, staring out the window. “There has got to be something wrong; he’s NEVER done ANY of this before!” she turned to look lopsidedly at Justin, despair in her clear blue eyes. “You believe me, right?”

“Yeah. I do. I dunno — but from the way he acts, you really could believe he was some ancient hero or something,” Justin mused, stretching one arm and yawning widely. He flopped down on the tattered couch and let his head flop back. “Ever heard of reincarnation?”

Anna snorted, a defintely unlady-like sound. “Yeah, right. A bunch of weirdly-dressed crazies parade around our neighborhood ever year, usually around Halloween, chanting that when we die, we’re all gonna come back as something — or somebody — else, and if we’re not good, God’ll punish us by making us come back as toads or something.” She snickered. “If nothing else, it’s good for a laugh or two.”

Justin shrugged. “Worth a shot. If I died and came back, I’d like to be … a … I dunno. A housecat. Like Iolaus.” He lifted his head and looked at the said cat, who was now digging into his meal with gusto. “Then I could find some human sap to spoil me all day long.”

Janine laughed. “You would.” Then, turning serious, she asked Anna, “Do you want to go look for him?”

“Well … I could say he’s a big boy, he can take care of himself –” Anna flashed a brief grin at them, “but yeah, I do. Neither he or I know a lot about Greece — it’s probably just some little paranoid fear, from growing up in New York City, but really — I want to go look for him.”

“Okay,” said Justin agreeably. “I’ll get my jacket, and we can scour the city for him. And while we’re at it, we’ll re-enact every scene from every cheesy mystery and thriller flick or book we’ve ever read.” He grinned, and ducked the pillow Janine threw at him. “Well, ‘s true. C’mon, before it gets any darker than it already is.”


This he could do. This he knew how to do, too well. He brought an elbow up and slammed the punk in the stomach, feeling the flesh give way and the heard the startled “oof” with satisfaction. Whirling, he punched the guy in the face, feeling the swish of cold air from a steel knife come dangerously close to his wrist.

Anger, fear, despair. He allowed those emotions to govern him (the small, rational part of his brain, the part that Andrew Phillips had been banished too, muttered something about watching “Star Wars” too many times) and used the strength they gave him to pummel his attacker. He fought in silence, not even making the war cries that once filled the air in a fight. Slam. Puch. Kick. Block.

And then his opponent lay on the ground; gasping, half unconscious, he stared up at the small blonde man who looked more like a boy than a man and fought like a hurricane. The knife lay almost forgotten near the limp hand. Andrew just stared back, chest heaving, trying to remember, realign himself with the real world …

“Andrew Christopher Phillips!!” a woman’s voice cut through the stillness of the night. With glazed, unseeing eyes, he turned towards the sound. Oh. Anna. She was running to him, her long straight black hair in a messy tangle, her jacket askew on her shoulders. She looked furious, and not just with him, but with the man lying at his feet. And now, the part of him that was Iolaus conceeded, she had never looked more like her old self, like Xena.

“Hey, we were worried about you,” another woman’s voice — Gabrielle? — piped up. She appeared behind Anna — Xena — Anna, her red-blonde hair still rather decent-looking, in its loose ponytail. Hard to place things, to sort them out. Which one was now, and which ones belonged in the past? It hurt to think.

And then, the feeling, the tiny pin-pricks along his scalp, warrior’s intuition telling him something was behind him, somebody dangerous, and LOOK OUT!!

Too late. He heard a scream, in a woman’s voice, and then there was a burst of pain in his back, something cold and hard slamming into his upper shoulder region, and a heavy weight suddenly descending into his arms and legs. He was falling, and there was nothing but darkness to catch him …

Justin had come just in time to see the smaller man fall, and some weirdly-dressed fellow running off into the night. Anna was crying, cradeling Andrew’s head in her lap and screaming curses after the fleeing figure. Janine heard his footsteps and turned, her eyes wild and scared. “Justin! Quick! Call an ambulence! Andrew’s been stabbed!”

The disorientation struck again, at the sound of the last word. Stabbed? Damn! He whirled on his heel and bolted, trying to ignore the guilt that was gnawing away at his heart, wondering why he felt so strongly over a man he had just met today …

* Walking slowly through a thickly-leaved forest, guard up, waiting for an attack that was sure to come … the fight, hard and fast and punishing … his friend running away, chasing after one of their assailents … ripping off the mask to reveal … a beautiful woman. Calling back the information over his shoulder, distracted long enough for her to stick a knife into his abomenen and running away before he fell. Shock. Disbelief. Pain. He cried a name … a name that was forever branded into his tongue and memory … “IOLAUS!” *

He stopped, shaken by the clearness of the flash, as well as the fact that he quite clearly recognized the man who had been killed by the woman’s blade, as well as knowing that it was indeed he himself crying out the name …

* Coming home late one night, a little drunk, laughing with his friend. Entering the house, and seeing his lovely wife asleep. Saying her name, a precious mantra on his tongue … watching the fireball engulf her and turn her to ashes in front of him. Fear for the kids — reaching them too late, in time to see fire destroy them, as well … *

He fell to his knees, feeling agonizing shocks racking through his body, like white-hot electricity jolts.

*A body, that of a friend, falling nearly lifeless at his feet, giving up the soul and breath with a whispered sentance of warning … *

Oh, gods. Iolaus.

Justin lurched to his feet, his body governed by someone’s else’s will, stumbling for a payphone, his mind awhirl. Dialing the numbers, listening to the sugary-sweet voice of the operator. You say your friend has been attacked? That he needs medical help? Certainly, sir! Where is he? All right, thank you. The ambulence is on its way!

He hung up the phone and sagged, feeling drained, exhausted. Who was he? Where was he? And what the hell had happened to his secure, once safe little life, that had been without any gliches or anything wrong with it?

{Oh, gods. Don’t die, my friend. You beat death before, you can do it again.}


Janine had been to a hospital only twice in her lifetime; when she had been born, and when she had broken her arm. Now this was the third time, and she sat, curled up in the vinyl-cushioned chair, watching Anna pace with hooded eyes. Now why did that scene seem so familiar? The brooding, dark look on Anna’s face, the way her feet made measured, heavy sounds on the floor … something she had heard and seen before, but where?

The door to the waiting room opened, and Justin stumbled in. He looked horrible — his long hair tangled, his eyes bloodshot and glazed, the usually neatly-trimmed beard and mustasche shaggy and wild. THAT didn’t seem familiar — she’d known her step-brother nearly all her life, but she’d never seen him look so devastated, not even when they had attended his beloved father’s funeral. All this for a man he hardly knew!

“Gabrielle.”

It was a few minutes before she realized he had spoken. And what had he called her? The same thing Andrew had before he had left Justin’s place earlier today. Or had it been yesterday? She wasn’t sure. {Ye gods, I hope he’s not going to pull an “Andrew” on us and get himself stabbed as well!}

“Gabrielle, listen to me.” He stood and walked towards her, squatting at her feet and looking up at her. The bloodshot blue eyes, while grieved, were also clear. He was holding something in his hand, something that was too hidden in shadow for her to clearly make out what it was. He was speaking again. “Do you remember this? Do you remember the cave, where Xena and I left you? Or how you stayed with Iolaus while we went ahead? That’s just like how we are now, except for you’re not with him directly, and there’s no Titan for us to release. Don’t you remember?”

“Justin, I think you’re in shock …”

“Look at this. Touch it. Do you remember?” He held up an odd little talisman, carved from dark, stained wood. A piece of twine was wrapped around it, nearly rotted with age. Janine stared at it, fascinated. It didn’t look like something Justin had made … Anna came up from behind Justin, and was looking at it too, but she didn’t say anything. And neither did Janine. Hesitantly, she reached out, taking it from Justin, and holding it up to the light …

*Sitting there, underneath a great oak tree, cleaning the wounds of the man beside her. His voice, teasing, and her cheerful reply. Her question … his confused answer … her slightly dejected reply. The kiss that told her that they were perfect examples of her last story to him in the dark … *

Janine let out a startled gasp and nearly dropped the amulet. Anna moved faster than Justin, grabbing it before it hit the floor, and then …

*Entering a tent, ignoring the silken whispers of cloth as well as the dirty, ragged peddler. Seeing a man whose forgiveness she wanted, in a way, more than anything … with her companion. Her friend saw her first, gaily telling her she just wouldn’t BELIEVE who this guy was with … the shock on her friend’s face when she realized they knew each other … the resigned, deadpan face of the man as he greeted her. “Hello, Xena …” *

Anna opened her eyes to confront Janine’s startled, pale face, and Justin’s serene, knowing one. One flash set off another, and she could hear the sounds all over again …

* Fighting, killing, loving it. Enjoying watching her victims and enemies suffer, be defeated. The taste of blood was one of the sweetest things in the world, to her mind. Grief at her brother’s death, driving her to kill … the God of War, his darkly handsome face begging for her to come back, join him … a blonde warrior woman, like herself, with a crazed grin on her face … *

Anna stumbled back, feeling the hard press of a plaster wall on her back.

* Learning of the demigod who could ruin all her plans to own all of Greece. Disguising herself as an innocent, lost young woman … seducing his friend, turning the near-brothers against each other … *

When she opened her eyes again, the older part of Justin recognized the blue orbs, and silently rejoiced. He stood up and gently pulled her towards a chair, seating her. Janine came up and sat down next to her, eyes wide, both sad and happy and confused. In a low voice, ignoring the curious looks from the other people in the waiting room, Justin said:

“Welcome back, Xena.”


“Aside from several torn muscles and bruised ribs, Mr. Phillips will be fine,” said the young doctor, who seemed only about twenty-five years old. “He was extremely lucky that the knife wasn’t long enough to puncture his lungs, or that his killer’s aim wasn’t better. If the attacker had struck his spinal cord, then I seriously doubt we could’ve saved him.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Anna said in a low voice. “Can he have visitors?”

“Well … yes. One at a time, though.”

“It’s important. All three of us have to see him. Soon as possible.”

The doctor hesitated. “Miss Rogers, I don’t believe that’s such a good idea … he’ll get too excited.”

“Please.”

It took several more mintues of convincing the young doctor, but finally, he stood back and allowed them to enter the stark, barewalled room.

He lay, dozing, on the bed. His blonde curls were slightly mussed, and there was a small frown on his face. The bandages were hidden underneath a pale blue hospital blanket, and only his arm, which lay on top of the convers, on his stomach, was visible. At the sound of the door opening, he opened one eye. When he saw it was them, he tried to sit up, but was restrained by Justin’s hand on his shoulder. “Easy, my friend. Rest, and save your strength, so you can go back to being the jokester I once knew.” His smile was slightly wistful, tinged with sentimental memories.

Andrew felt his jaw drop. “You — but you said — I know what I saw — you thought I was crazy — that I was just babbling my head off — ”

“Yeah,” said Janine agreeably. “We did. But that was then, this is now. In more ways than one.” She winked at him, trying to lighten the mood, but he was still too much in shock to comprehend.

“Anna — Justin — Janine — you remember?” He didn’t dare hope. Or breathe, for that matter, when Anna slapped him lightly on the back, carefully avoiding his wound, causing him to cough and realize that it was a good idea to breathe if he wanted to stay conscious.

Something thumped down on his leg. Curiously, he looked at Justin, who only smiled mysteriously. “Open it. I think you’ll like it.”

Raising an eyebrow at the cryptic comment, he proceeded to do so …

“My amulet!”

He remembered wearing this piece of wood around his neck, the weight of it familiar in his hand, around his neck. “Where did you get this?”

“Bought it at an antique auction a few years ago. I had no idea why I did, but it was like there was just something … compelling about it. Familiar.” He flashed a crooked grin. “I had no idea at the time that I’d once been friends with the original owner.”

Andrew laughed, because if he didn’t, he’d cry. He held it up the light, admiring the simple, but mysterious, lines, then looked up at them with a happy smile. “I’ll have to find another piece of string strong enough to hold this,” he declared brightly. “Because there’s no way in hell that I’m going to just leave it lying around, now that I remember I’m so used to it.”

In the next room, faint strains of music drifted out to reach them. A woman was singing, softly, her voice a little sad, a little hopeful:

Could we start again?A single line, but held so much more meaning than the player could have dreamed. Andrew looked at Justin, then at Janine, then at his own lovely fiancee, Anna — with a raised eyebrow. “Well? Could we?”

Justin put on a mock-serious face. “We’ll think about it.”


In a place where no one grows old and no one dies; in a place where gods that no one worship any more live, an old-looking man in fancy, archaic clothing sat on a porch step and looked out into the gently fading sunset. His gaze was far away, distant, living in another world.


Then, abruptly, his old face broke into a smile. “Way to go, Hercules m’boy,” he said in a low voice, to himself and the softly chirping crickets, “you do your father proud.”

Finis


Omigod! The end, at last! If the ending disappoints, sorry. But I DID say it was about 5% spur-of-the-moment plot …
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