“My Queen,” the woman announced as she approached Gabrielle. Gabrielle turned to find the woman kneeling before her and she rolled her eyes and sighed before gently tugging on the woman’s elbow.
“Hippolyta – rise, my friend. You know better than to kneel before me.”
Hippolyta rose and smirked down at her queen. “It is hard to break millennia of habit when you only come visit every fifty years or so.”
Gabrielle rolled her eyes again and shook her head. “Remind me to institute a remedial math program,” she commented to Xena as the warrior joined them. “Apparently, counting skills have gone to the wayside in recent years.”
“As you wish, my Queen,” Xena replied with all seriousness, though the twinkle in her blue eyes belied the humor she found in the whole situation... especially when Hippolyta huffed impatiently in their direction and crossed her arms over her chest. “The Birds are settling into the guest quarters as we speak, though it may be a while before they join us. Barbara is still a little overwhelmed.”
Gabrielle smile was soft as she recalled their arrival.
Diana landed the plane without a bump and it was only another moment before the hatch opened and she exited. She gave her mother a hug, then knelt before Gabrielle even as she was being pulled to her feet. Gabrielle didn’t speak, merely giving Diana a scolding glance, and Diana reciprocated with a wicked grin. Xena just shook her head and extended her hand.
“Everything went well, I trust?”
“Everything went splendidly, my Queen. Let me go see if I can help speed them along,” noting the trio was sitting stock-still as though waiting for permission to debark the plane - only to find Hippolyta right behind her. Diana turned an inquisitive eye towards her mother.
“I would like to meet them... to welcome them, Diana. It has been a very long time since we had new blood on Paradise Island – especially at the invitation of the Queen.”
Diana chanced a glance at Gabrielle, then nodded her head to her mother and took her hand. Together they entered the invisible plane. Xena and Gabrielle watched as Diana performed the introductions and Hippolyta welcomed them with genuine enthusiasm. Then Dinah and Diana grabbed the bags while Helena scooped Barbara up into her arms.
“Am I late?” Rina asked as she came running up behind Xena and Gabrielle.
“Not quite,” Gabrielle answered with a smile. “Go on,” nodding towards the plane. “Just introduce yourself and let Barbara know what your position here is and what your qualifications are in the event they are needed. But try not to overwhelm them, all right? She doesn’t know....”
Rina nodded her understanding and ran up the stairs into the plane, nearly knocking Dinah over in the process. Diana glared, but Dinah simply smiled and accepted the woman’s apologies, picking up the luggage she had dropped. Then she and Diana eased around Rina and out of the plane. Diana nodded her head at Gabrielle and Dinah stood still, looking lost and a little confused. Gabrielle stepped up beside her and put an arm around her thin shoulders.
Dinah bit her lip. “Am I supposed to bow or kneel or... I dunno – something?”
Gabrielle chuckled. “I’d settled for a hug and a hello.”
Immediately, Dinah dropped the bags and gathered Gabrielle into her arms. “Hello, Gabrielle. It’s great to be here.” She turned to Xena. “Hi, Xena.”
“Hey, Kiddo. Nice to have you here.”
Dinah’s grin was big. “I am totally stoked about this. You have no idea.” Xena just rolled her eyes and looked at Gabrielle.
“Oh look... another one,” chuckling when the backhand she’d been expecting landed right on cue. Gabrielle just shook her head and turned back to Dinah. “If you want to wait for just a minute, Diana and Xena will take the three of you to the guest cottage that’s been prepared for you.”
“Sure,” Dinah agreed. “Wonder what is taking so long,” turning her attention back to the plane.
Just then, Rina exited the plane followed by Helena carrying Barbara. Hippolyta brought up the rear, but instead of lifting Barbara’s chair down the steps, she stood on the steps and looked Helena squarely in the eye. Helena cocked an eyebrow in question.
“Set Barbara down, Helena. Put her on her feet.”
Helena frowned. “Hippolyta, I don’t think you understand....”
“Helena,” Gabrielle broke in. “Trust me – I do understand. But if we’re right, this could be a very good thing. Set Barbara on her feet, but keep your hands on her waist for support.”
Helena looked doubtful, but she had learned to trust Gabrielle. She glanced at Barbara, who nodded her head and wrapped her arms around Helena’s neck. Slowly, Helena shifted Barbara’s weight - until her lower body was parallel to Helena’s own. Then she allowed Barbara’s feet to touch the ground... and waited.
Barbara stood still, absorbing sensations she hadn’t felt in years. Without warning, her knees buckled and only the swiftness of Helena’s meta-reflexes kept her from hitting the ground. Rina stepped up beside them, but it was Gabrielle who spoke.
“We have something that should help stabilize you while you’re here, but you’re going to have to work at it to make this viable, Barbara. And as far as we know, you will only be ambulatory while you’re here on Paradise Island.” Numbly, Barbara nodded at Gabrielle’s words, her eyes focused on the syringe that suddenly appeared in Rina’s hand. Gabrielle took Barbara’s chin in her fingers and forced Barbara’s attention to focus on her. “Barbara, are you all right?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We had no way of knowing for sure without trying. I hoped, but we’ve never had anyone in your particular circumstances visit us before. No sense in raising false hope, right?”
“Then how do you know...?”
“It was a calculated risk - like my immortality,” Diana answered. “I am immortal, but only on Paradise Island. I age at a much slower rate than mortals do in man’s world, but I do age while I am there. Some things only work here – where we are protected by the goddesses.”
Barbara’s eyes widened. She wasn’t sure she believed in the goddesses Diana spoke of – she was, after all, a woman of science and fact... not a woman of faith - but she wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth either. “I’d like to try,” she said softly.
Rina stepped forward. “It would be best if you were laying down. Perhaps we can escort you to your quarters and we can take care of it there.”
Barbara nodded and Helena swung Barbara up into her arms again. Xena took point and they rapidly made their way to the cottage that had been set aside for the Birds use. Dinah turned to Diana as they brought up the rear of the little procession.
“Will she really be able to walk again here?”
Diana nodded slowly. “There is no reason she shouldn’t be able to. It won’t be without a lot of effort and determination, but the Queen wanted to give her the chance if it was possible.”
Dinah’s grin was huge. “That is just too cool.” Diana matched her grin and they continued on towards the palatial guesthouse in silence. Gabrielle and Hippolyta watched them out of sight, then headed back to oversee the remainder of the party preparations.
Gabrielle met Xena’s eyes. “I’m sure she was. It’s not everyday you’re given the opportunity to walk again after being confined to a wheelchair for years.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just some sort of fucking fluke?” Helena asked as she appeared at the corner of the dais the other three were standing in front of. She crossed her arms and set her jaw, glaring at Gabrielle, though green eyes saw fear and hurt beneath the anger that ran on the surface. Xena didn’t move, knowing by Gabrielle’s body language that she wanted to handle this on her own. But Hippolyta stepped forward, ready to give Helena a scathing piece of her mind. Gabrielle’s hand on her arm halted her progress before she could take the first step.
“It’s all right, Hippolyta. Helena and I understand one another.”
Hippolyta frowned and glanced at Helena once more before facing Gabrielle. “As you say, my Queen. The house fires have been extinguished and the bonfires laid for tonight. If there is nothing further....”
“We’ll be fine, my friend. Go rest in preparation for tonight’s festivities. It should be some party,” Gabrielle added with a smile.
Hippolyta smirked. “You have no idea,” she replied as a parting shot. Gabrielle’s eyes widened at the implications, but she shook her head and turned back to an impatiently waiting Helena. Xena simply stepped back into the periphery, though she remained close enough to hear the conversation. Gabrielle extended a hand towards Helena who only hesitated a moment before accepting it. Then she followed Gabrielle to the steps and took a seat next to her.
“Helena, look at me,” Gabrielle requested softly. Blue eyes met green and Gabrielle sucked a breath in at the pained uncertainty held in that glance. “Oh Helena,” she crooned and opened her arms. Helena took a deep breath and leaned in gently.
“I don’t want her to get hurt by all this, Gabrielle.”
“Oh, Honey... I wouldn’t hurt Barbara for the world.”
Helena nodded slowly. “I know that – not intentionally. But Gabrielle - what about when we have to go back to Gotham... and she has to go back into that chair? You haven’t seen the lengths she’s gone to... the pain she’s endured trying to walk again.”
“I haven’t seen it, no,” Gabrielle agreed. “But I am aware. Xena and I keep up with our friends and what’s going on with them. That’s why we couldn’t deny her the opportunity to choose once you all agreed to come here.” She met Helena’s eyes and saw the doubt within them. “Helena, I promise you – I promise you that we’ll be right here beside both of you... on Paradise Island as well as in man’s world. If you need us... for any reason... we’re just a phone call away.”
Helena drew a deep breath and let it out gradually. “All right,” she finally agreed. “Don’t think I’m ungrateful. I’m just....”
Gabrielle smiled. “I know. And it’s not a bad thing,” she added as she rose from her seat, tugging Helena up to stand beside her. “When did you shrink?” then glanced down to see they were standing on different steps. “Oh,” Gabrielle said with a roll of her eyes. Helena just chuckled.
“Anytime, my friend. Now get back to Barbara and see if you can get a catnap before dark. It promises to be a long night.”
“Is there any other kind?” Helena snarked as she saluted, then turned on her heel before making her way back down the path towards the guesthouse. Xena came over to stand beside Gabrielle, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
“Nicely done, Love,” smiling at the bashful grin the compliment earned her. “Now what say you and me head over to the royal chambers for a little private R&R before all the ruckus starts tonight?”
“I say ‘Lead the way, Warrior’. I’m all for private.”
“Good,” was all Xena said as she grasped Gabrielle’s hand and headed towards the palace.
It was coming on towards sunset, though still quite bright when Xena nudged Gabrielle and gestured with a jerk of her chin. Gabrielle turned her head and smiled, then accepted the hand Xena extended to her as she rose. Together they made their way off the dais and down the short path towards their friends who were slowly walking to join the evening festivities. Barbara lightly squeezed Helena’s bicep and they halted. Helena shifted to stand behind Barbara who leaned heavily on the canes she carried and waited for Gabrielle and Xena to arrive.
It only took a moment and Gabrielle stopped, stepping within Barbara’s reach, but not closing the distance between them completely. Barbara held Gabrielle’s gaze a long moment, then eyed the space that lay between her and Gabrielle. She took a deep breath and Xena nodded approvingly as Helena moved without seeming to – keeping Barbara within reach without interfering with her ability to walk without human assistance.
Barbara put the cane forward of her position and took a hesitant step towards Gabrielle. Helena and Dinah moved in synchronicity with her but Barbara didn’t notice, keeping her eyes on Gabrielle who opened her arms wide. Barbara grinned and walked into the embrace, hugging Gabrielle as tightly as she could manage.
“Thank you, Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle eased back just enough to meet Barbara’s eyes with her own. “I’m so glad....”
Barbara chuckled and wiped her eyes in embarrassment. “I’m sorry... I....” She stopped speaking when Helena stepped up behind her and wrapped her arms around Barbara’s waist as she rested her chin on Barbara’s shoulder.
“S’okay, Red. I think they get it.”
“Oh yeah,” Xena agreed. “And as much as I hate to break up this whole emotional scene that we’re all so comfortable with,” she continued wryly, garnering her the relieved smiles she was looking for, “we do need to get a move on, my Queen. The Amazons need you to light the bonfires so we can get this party started.”
“Yeah,” Helena commented as she came around to Barbara’s side again before extending her arm. “What’s up with that anyway? It was fucking cold in those rooms... even to me.”
“Helena....” Barbara chided lightly.
“What, Barbara? It was cold. There was no heat and no fire in a room that was marble.”
“She’s got a point, Barbara,” Dinah said softly. “And you know the cold doesn’t generally affect her.”
“Well?” Helena demanded with a look. “The cold really bothers Barbara.” Gabrielle held her stare for a moment, then turned to Xena. Xena simply nodded and turned to Helena as she spoke.
“Gabrielle? Will you escort Barbara and Dinah to the dais, please? I’d like to speak to Helena privately a moment.” She paused. “We’ll be right behind you.”
Without seeming to move, Gabrielle got between Barbara and Helena and tucked her hand into the crook of Barbara’s elbow before anyone but Xena even realized she had moved. Helena drew herself up, but Barbara shook her head and Xena placed a lightly restraining hand on her arm. Helena sighed deeply but remained still, watching as Barbara slowly walked away from her.
Xena cleared her throat with a growl. “You wanna tell me what’s up with you before I have to go all Queen’s Champion on you and kick your ass? You don’t get to go into someone else’s home and piss all over everything, Helena,” Xena continued as Helena took a deep breath and wrapped her arms around herself protectively. Xena waited in silence for a few seconds, then glared at Helena for a moment before relenting to the swiftly hidden confusion and pain she recognized in Helena’s expression. “Talk to me, Kid. This isn’t like you at all.”
Helena tightened her arms around herself briefly and shook her head. “I dunno,” she said with a shrug, meeting Xena’s eyes momentarily before dropping them to the ground. “I really don’t know. It’s just....” Helena trailed off and shrugged again.
“Just what?” Xena asked softly. “C’mon, Hel... if we don’t settle this between us like warriors, Gabrielle will step in. And even without being the queen, you know she can get you to talk.”
Helena bit her lip to keep from smiling, though even her rapid blinking couldn’t keep the first teardrop from sliding down the smooth plane of her cheek. She wiped it away roughly. “Yeah – I’m not sure how she manages to do that, but....”
Xena smirked and rolled her eyes. “YEARS of practice and a MUCH more difficult test subject.” Helena snorted and Xena smiled and shook her head. “So c’mon, Kid... spill already.”
“I’m not trying to hide anything, Xena. I really don’t know what’s got me on edge. I’d say it had to do with Barbara, but it started before we got here.”
Helena shook her head. “I don’t think so. It was more like when we flew through the protection grid. Reminded me of that Shakespeare quote – you know the one... ‘By the pricking of my thumbs....”
“... something wicked this way comes,” Xena finished with Helena who nodded her agreement. “So you’ve had a case of the creeps since before you arrived and then you got thrown for a loop by the whole ‘Barbara can walk here’ thing.”
“Yeah... something like that.”
Xena sighed and put an arm around Helena’s shoulders, gratified when the younger woman not only leaned into the touch but returned the embrace. “All right. We’ll keep an eye out... see if we can figure out what’s making your thumbs prickle aside from the stuff with Barbara.” She held up her hand before Helena could interrupt. “I trust your instincts, Kid. If something is giving you the creeps, then we need to be more vigilant and more aware. But you have got to lay the hell off the attitude here. There are any number of Amazons that won’t put up with it.”
“I could take ‘em,” Helena said arrogantly.
Xena guffawed and slapped Helena lightly on the back. “Sure you could, Kid. Keep it up and you’ll get the chance to put your money where your mouth is.”
Helena scowled. “I never realized how annoying that was,” she muttered as she and Xena released one another and started making their way towards the dais. Xena crooked an eyebrow at her.
“Annoying what was?” she asked.
“Being called kid.”
Xena chuckled. “Trust me, Helena... you ARE a kid. Now c’mon... before we miss the opening ceremony.”
“There’s an opening ceremony?? For a party?”
“Sure. And if you ask Gabrielle, I’m sure she’ll tell you all about it,” she added as they stepped off the path and onto the dais. “AFTER the ceremony.” Helena nodded and went to stand beside Barbara, waiting for the ritual to begin. Xena sidled up next to Gabrielle and simply held her gaze for a long moment. Gabrielle nodded and Xena took her place behind Gabrielle as Queen’s Champion. Gabrielle looked around at the multitude of assembled Amazons and smiled.
“My friends,” she intoned and her smile softened. “My family,” seeing the answering smiles appear on the faces watching her. “The time has come for the lighting of the bonfires.” Her smile grew to a grin with the rousing cheers that followed this pronouncement. “So what do you say we get this party started?” hearing the noise level rise exponentially. “Very well,” raising her hands above her head and waiting until the sound level dropped to complete silence. Gabrielle dropped her arms simultaneously and everyone watched with bated breath as two lit arrows arced through the air then plunged into their targets and the bonfires flared to life as the sun sank below the horizon. This time the cheering was deafening. Gabrielle nodded at the musicians and the drumming started. The Amazons took their cue and many started dancing while others moved off towards the refreshment table. Gabrielle turned back to her friends who were settling themselves onto the plush pillows that now covered the dais. She took Xena’s proffered hand and together they sat.
“So what was that all about, exactly?” Dinah asked as she accepted a cup from the server nearest her, then winced when she got a mouthful of hard cider.
“Spit,” Xena commanded, realizing what the problem was immediately. She waited while Dinah hesitantly complied, motioning over another server. Xena took the cup from an embarrassed Dinah and whispered to the server who scampered off. It wasn’t a moment before she was back again, offering Dinah a new beverage. She glanced at Xena who nodded and took a small sip before she smiled in delight and took a generous gulp.
“Thank you, Xena.”
“Anytime, Kid. Now what did you wanna know about... the bonfire lighting?”
“Well, yeah. I mean... does it have anything to do with why we had no heat this afternoon?”
“It certainly does,” Hippolyta spoke before Gabrielle could answer. “If I may, my Queen?” Gabrielle nodded and motioned Hippolyta to continue. “I believe the queen told you of Tuwa and Zephyr – in the time before even the titans were gods.”
“Oh yes,” Dinah enthused. “I really liked that story.” She looked at Gabrielle. “It’s true?”
“It is,” Gabrielle acknowledged. Hippolyta cleared her throat.
“It was during that time – when mankind was transitioning to light and darkness co-existing – that this ritual was first practiced.” She turned to her daughter. “Do they no longer light bonfires in man’s world?”
Diana sighed. “Things are different in man’s world, Mother. Most things are not celebrated any longer as we hold the custom, and many of the things that are no longer hold the meaning they once did.”
“Explain,” Hippolyta commanded Diana who in turn gave Gabrielle a beseeching look.
“Maybe I should do that, Hippolyta,” Gabrielle offered. “It is what I do, after all.”
Hippolyta smiled. “Of course, my Queen. I for one will be happy to hear any tale you are willing to share.”
Gabrielle chuckled and motioned a server over. She made her request, then turned to her companions. “Might as well get comfortable. This could take a little while.” She waited until everyone was comfortably ensconced around her, then started her tale.
“Let me tell you about Sam and Janet, and how their Harvest Festival uses some of our oldest traditions in a whole different way.”
“I’m so glad the rain stopped,” Janet comment as she and Sam shivered their way into the warehouse that was currently being pressed into service for that evening’s Harvest Festival celebration. “I’m pretty sure it would have put a damper on the activities tonight.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed as she set down the bags she’d been carrying before turning to relieve Janet of some of her load. “Good thing Cam thought to store the wood under a tarp or there wouldn’t be any bonfire tonight. The kids would have been disappointed.”
“The kids?? I would have been disappointed – no hot dogs, no roasted marshmallows and no s’mores,” Janet said with brown eyes widened. “Not to mention no way to warm up after the hayride – the kids would’ve been miserable considering how cold it’s supposed to get tonight.” She smirked. “Not everyone has their own living Armstrong heater, ya know.”
Sam blushed and shook her head. “I don’t think that was the original intent behind the bonfire, Love.”
“Oh... I know,” Janet agreed. “I love a good fire. But despite what myth and legend says, I don’t think a big fire would keep evil spirits like the G’ouald or Anubis or the Ori from coming in where they’re really not wanted.”
Sam sighed in agreement. “Probably not. It would have made life a lot easier if it did.” She looked at the bags of apples they had stacked on the table. “Do you think we got enough apples?”
Janet eyes the stacked warily, then shrugged. “It’ll have to do. It’s not as if anyone doing this is really looking for love or fertility – at least I hope not. Good God! I don’t want to be the one to explain to the general or anyone else how someone got pregnant by bobbing for apples even if our retirement is only a few months away.”
“Can we really call it bobbing?” Sam asked as she started cutting long lengths of kitchen twine. “I mean, no one is actually gonna stick their head underwater while trying to grab a bobbing apple.”
“We could call it Snap Apple. The Irish do.”
“And how would your Scottish self know that, lassie?” Sam asked in a thick brogue that was accompanied by a wicked grin and a twinkle.
“Careful, English,” Janet teased. “We know much of our neighbors.”
Sam snickered. “I’ll just bet you do,” chuckling and skittering out of Janet’s reach when Janet took a swing in her direction. “Oh look,” she added when she was a safe distance away. “The guys are here with the pumpkins. I’m just gonna go help them unload now.”
Janet laughed and shooed her off in the direction of the rest of her SG1 teammates – old and new - watching as Sam jogged over to them and directed them to the table beside her and subsequent haystacks that surrounded them both. Vala put her pumpkin down, then wandered over to where Janet was still measuring out lengths of string. She started tying it around an apple after Janet showed her how and she looked around the warehouse with interest.
“So what are the gourds for?” she asked curiously, jerking her head in the direction of the pumpkins that were slowly being carted across the building and stacked on and around the next table.
“The gourds? Oh,” Janet realized startled. “You mean the pumpkins?” smiling when Vala nodded. “They’re for carving.”
“Oookaaaaaay,” Vala drawled. “Why?”
“Well, originally, like many of the traditions of Halloween, it was meant to keep evil spirits away – because many people used to believe that on Halloween, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thin enough that the souls of the dead could cross back into the land of the living and no one wanted to invite evil into their home.”
“Fascinating,” Vala replied thoughtfully. “Did they really believe that?”
“Oh yes. Now folks carve pumpkins because it’s fun and creative and....”
“... and really messy,” Sam added with a grin as she set down another pumpkin. She turned to Janet. “Carolyn is here and wants to know where to set up.”
“Have her set up next to the door. Everyone’s going to want mulled cider after being outside for any length of time tonight.”
Sam nodded and motioned to Vala. “Daniel’s going to get some lunch for everyone.”
“Ooh... if you ladies will excuse me – maybe he could use my help,” she said as she walked away without a backwards glance. Sam chuckled; Janet just shook her head.
“Let Carolyn know where she can set up,” Sam called out. Vala waved her hand in acknowledgement, but kept her steady pace towards the door.
“That was mean.”
“No it wasn’t – it was the truth,” Sam disagreed even as she sidled up into Janet’s personal space and took her into a loose embrace. “Besides,” she added, pointedly glancing around the currently empty warehouse, “it gave us a moment alone to ourselves.”
Janet smiled and wrapped her arms around Sam’s neck. “Well, Colonel... don’t let this get around, but I like being alone with you.”
Sam’s grin was dazzling and she bent her head to lightly kiss Janet’s lips. “I like being alone with you as well, Lt. Colonel and as soon as this Harvest Festival is done, I’m gonna show you how much.”
Janet narrowed her eyes. “That sounds a lot like teasing, Samantha Carter.”
“No ma’am. That’s a bona fide guarantee. It’ll give us something to look forward to at the end of the night – I have a feeling we’re gonna need it.”
“Sam, as long as I’m in your arms at the end of the day, it’s all good for me.” Whatever response Sam would have made to that declaration was lost in the clattering and banging as Carolyn Lam and SG1 entered the warehouse together. But the burning in the bright blue eyes that held her brown made Janet wish for the Harvest Festival to be over quickly so she and Sam could celebrate Halloween at home alone.
Barbara smirked in Gabrielle’s direction. “And how do you know what Sam and Janet are doing for Halloween?”
“For one thing, they told me. After my storytelling seminar in Orlando, I had a number of attendees from both side of the convention hall ask if they could correspond with me on a regular basis. For another....”
“Waitwaitwaitwaitwait....” Hippolyta blurted out, holding up her hands in the universal gesture for silence. “You did a storytelling seminar?? I heard about the Halloween party and Xena’s surprise, but this...?” She turned to Diana and glared. “She did a storytelling seminar, and you didn’t tell me??”
Gabrielle grabbed Hippolyta’s hands, more to get her attention than because she feared violence. “Hippolyta, it wasn’t even a scheduled part of the convention. One of my attendees asked for a symposium after the Halloween party; I couldn’t say no - they were there to learn, after all.”
Hippolyta huffed. “I suppose.” Diana patted the hands Gabrielle still held.
“I have a copy of it, Mother. You can watch it later.”
“Very well,” Hippolyta agreed, a bit mollified. She turned back to Gabrielle and squeezed her hands, signaling to Gabrielle that is was okay to release them. “And for another?” she asked, inviting the queen to finish her answer to Barbara. “I find it hard to believe that they were quite that detailed in their telling... especially as it sounded like you were telling the tale in real time.”
Gabrielle smiled. “Not quite real time – they’re a few hours behind us. So they still have a little bit of daylight yet before their celebration actually starts. Besides, I’m a bard – I can create reality out of whole cloth,” she added with an impish grin.
Helena narrowed her eyes. “But you didn’t, did you? Not this time. This time you knew exactly what they were doing... or had done in this case – didn’t you?” her tone slightly accusing.
Every eye of those seated on the dais turned her way. Hippolyta’s face turned red in her anger and Barbara’s eyes widened in disbelief. Dinah’s jaw dropped and Diana opened her mouth to speak when Xena’s hand on her arm caused her to hesitate. Xena motioned to Gabrielle with a nod of her head, and Diana sat back to watch her queen. Gabrielle tilted her head.
“Why do you say that, Helena?” unable to hide the twinkle in her green eyes. Helena saw it, but didn’t allow a smile to cross her face.
“Well, you yourself indicated there was more than one reason that you knew what Sam and Janet were doing for Halloween. If you were making it up, you wouldn’t have needed a single reason – much less multiple ones because it would all be just pretend, right?” Gabrielle nodded and smiled, gesturing for Helena to continue. “Right – except this wasn’t like that. And it wasn’t exactly like the stories I’ve heard you tell. So I’m thinking you somehow knew what happened, although I haven’t quite figured that bit out yet.” Now she smiled. “I will though. Just give me time.”
Now Gabriele chuckled. “Keep working on it, Hel. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. In the meantime, maybe I should finish telling Hippolyta how some of the other traditions are celebrated in man’s world.”
“Are they really so different, Gabrielle?” Dinah asked as she accepted another cider from Xena. “I mean, it seems like the same traditions to me.”
“They’re very similar,” Gabrielle conceded. “But there isn’t the same sense of terror and foreboding the rituals once held. Mostly it is all in good fun these days.”
“Well... you see the costumes the Amazons have going on?” motioning to the women dancing around the bonfires and waiting for the rest to nod. “They’re mostly what you’d consider old-fashioned scary, correct? Like ghosts, goblins, and ghouls?”
“I see a few witches and a couple vampires too, Gabrielle,” Dinah pointed out.
Gabrielle nodded her agreement. “I know. Those actually date back to Greek time.”
Dinah blinked. “Really?”
“Really.” She held up her hands before Dinah could speak. “Another time, I promise,” smiling when Dinah capitulated gracefully. “But notice there aren’t any television characters or superheroes or cartoon characters or Disney Princesses, right?”
“Wait... they do all those things in man’s world?” Hippolyta asked.
Gabrielle smiled. “All that and more. Let me tell you what some of them do instead.”
“Make way for the talent,” Tootie announced as she pushed open the door to the brownstone. Natalie held the door open so the man and woman following Tootie could come inside as well. Then she turned and smirked at Tootie as she closed the door behind the small entourage. Blair and Jo just stood on either side of the living room entrance and waited for introductions.
“Make way for the talent, Tootie? Really? What does that make the rest of us?”
“Lucky?” Tootie snarked as she pushed a lock of hair from her face. “Sorry guys – it’s been a hellish day and if not for the kindness of Jacob and Pam here, we’d be paddling up you-know-what creek without the proverbial paddle.”
Jo and Blair exchanged wide-eyed glances before Jo pushed off the doorway she was leaning against and extended her hand to first Jacob and then Pam. “Hi, guys. I’m Jo, that’s Natalie and this is Blair,” feeling Blair’s hand resting on the small of her back and pulling her around to stand in front of Jo. “She’s tonight’s bene....”
“No Jo,” Blair halted Jo’s words by interrupting before she could say more. “Tonight, I’m just one of many.” Jo scrunched up her forehead in confusion, but she let the moment pass when she saw the silent pleading in Blair’s brown eyes. Jacob jumped into the breach immediately.
“It’s very nice to meet you all. I must say we were really flattered that Dorothy asked us, although... Tootie?” he asked as he turned and looked at her and then Natalie.
“Long story,” Tootie sighed. “Do we have everything we need?” glancing around the room.
“The make-up’s in the car already,” Pam offered softly. “Is there anything else we’re supposed to have?”
Blair shook her head. “Olivia and Alex are meeting us there with the candy, so we should be all set.” Jacob extended his arm to Natalie and gallantly opened the door, motioning the others out ahead of them.
“After you, ladies. Maybe I can get Ms Greene to tell me the long story behind this whole Tootie phenomenon,” smiling charmingly as he ushered her out and closed the brownstone door behind them.
“Maybe,” she replied with a twinkle in her eyes. “Whatcha offering in exchange?”
Jacob wiggled his eyebrows. “Whatcha want?” fluttering his eyelashes at her. “I’m a huge fan, you know.” Natalie giggled and the rest smiled as they entered the car that Henry was patiently manning, waiting for them to settle themselves before embarking to the children’s hospital.
Not far down the block, Olivia had popped the trunk of her Mustang and she and Alex were putting boxes of candy into it. “The hospital’s liable to sue us, Alex,” Olivia commented as they squeezed the last box in and she carefully closed the hatch. She chuckled at the look of confusion on Alex’s face. “C’mon, Alex... we’ve got enough candy to give every patient in the hospital diabetes, and we’re only aiming for the kids in the pediatrics ward,” she added with a grin as she came around the side of the car and let herself into the driver’s seat.
“I just want there to be enough for everyone. This event was important to my mother. I don’t want to let her down,” she added softly as she peered out the passenger side window into the darkness.
“Oh, Honey,” Olivia crooned, leaning across the console to wrap an arm around Alex’s thin shoulders. “I think your mom would be thrilled to know you were able to come home and that you were continuing her work.”
“I still miss her, you know?” Alex asked. “I miss the time we could have had together.”
“I know,” Olivia replied solemnly. “But I’ll bet she’s watching over you. And if she could, she’d tell you how proud she is of you and how much she loves you.”
Alex tucked her face into Olivia’s neck, greedily absorbing the love and affection she felt emanating from Olivia’s very being. After a long moment, she brushed a kiss over Olivia’s pulse point, smiling when Olivia shivered in reaction.
“Feel better?” Liv whispered into the blonde hair tucked just beneath her chin.
“Yeah, I do... thanks,” Alex said as she sat upright again, wiping the traces of tears off her face.
“You wanna talk about it?” Olivia asked hesitantly.
Alex motioned for Olivia to start the car and she eased them into traffic as Alex started talking. “Mother and I didn’t agree on a lot of things – I was too much a ‘Daddy’s Girl’ and very much like him in so many aspects of my life. But Mother and I both loved this time of year – the change of season when the air is crisp without being bitterly cold; the color on the trees; the beginning of the holiday season. And always, always we started our celebration at Halloween - using it as a time to start giving back to others... and doing something for those who were the neediest.”
“That’s beautiful, Sweetheart. And an incredible thing to do.” Olivia paused. “So why the tears? Your mom’s been gone for a while now. Is this the first time you done this since you got back or...?”
“No – for everything else I managed to screw up when I returned, I haven’t missed the opportunity to continue her work.”
“This is the first year I’ve had someone to share it with since she died.” She gave Olivia a watery smile, though the tears didn’t spill down her cheeks this time. “I wish she could have been here to share it with us. She would have loved you.”
“Oh, Honey....” Olivia said with a sad smile. “Me too.” She pulled the Mustang up to the curb in front of the hospital and slid out of the driver’s seat as Alex did the same on the other side. “Whaddya say we go make some kids happy?”
“I think that sounds wonderful,” turning when a limousine pulled up behind them and Jo stepped from the back before Henry could get around to open the door. She offered her hand to Blair who accepted it with a flourish. When she noticed the boxes crammed into the trunk of the Mustang, her eyes widened, but without a word, she crossed to the muscle car and casually lifted one out as she greeted her friends. Tootie provided the introductions, and soon everyone was entering the hospital carrying a box or a case needed for the night’s fun.
The pediatric ward had been quiet and subdued when the small group had entered, but now it was lively and animated. Children stood in line waiting for Jacob and Pam to paint their faces in all manner of ways. Thus far, Olivia had seen a Frankenstein, a Storm Trooper, a Dracula complete with fangs, a Lucha Libre wrestler, Ironman and a fairy princess. Tootie was in charge of costume accouterments and Natalie was passing out plastic trick-or-treat jack-o-lanterns. Alex, Olivia, Jo and Blair had spread out and were distributing the candy they’d brought to the various nurses on the floor, bringing a smile to tired faces when they realized they were going to get to participate as well. Alex cocked an eyebrow at the head nurse.
“Why the surprise, Betty? You and your girls have always been included in the kids’ trick-or-treating.”
“I know, Alex, but you never brought a crew with you before. We didn’t think you’d need us this year.”
Blair stepped up beside Alex, placing a hand on the small of her back. “We’d never take that away from you or your team, Betty. You do so much for these kids everyday – you can’t not be a part of this – for you,” motioning around the nurses’ station, “and for them,” gesturing towards the big room at the end of the hall where the kids were currently ensconced. “We’re just the back-up singers in this production,” garnering chuckles from the nursing staff and wide-eyed looks from her friends.
Betty leaned forward and briefly clasped Blair’s hand. “That’s sweet of you to say, Ms Wa... Blair,” correcting herself when Blair arched her brow. Olivia jerked her head at Jo and the two of them moved away from the central desk and into the lounge they’d stowed the numerous boxes in.
“Did I miss something?” Olivia inquired softly as they stepped over to the coffeepot and started brewing a new batch. Jo leaned against the cabinet, crossing her feet at the ankles and her arms over her chest.
“Sorta – this is all kinda new for Blair,” snickering and shaking her head at Olivia’s unbelieving expression. “Nah,” Jo said before Olivia could ask. “Not the charity thing... I mean, she’s done that her whole life. But this is the first time someone has thought to include her... to make her a part of something instead of in charge of it or just asking her for money, and she’s trying to get involved and be a team player. Don’t feel bad,” she added, seeing comprehension dawn in dark brown eyes. “She kinda had to hit me between the eyes with a clue-by-four before I got it.”
“Got what, Joey?” Blair asked as she and Alex entered the room. She crossed to stand next to Jo, tucking her hand into the crook of Jo’s elbow.
“Do we want to know why the two of you are hiding out in the lounge, Detectives?” Alex queried even as her nose twitched. She peered between them. “Is that fresh coffee?”
Olivia nodded. “Figured we’d fortify before the kids started trick-or-treating.”
“I like the way your friends think, Alex,” Betty said as she entered the lounge. “You should bring them by more often.”
Olivia and Jo blushed and Alex grinned and the conversation became general for the few minutes it took for them to empty the coffeepot. Then they headed out to take their places for the children to start their trick-or-treating.
Olivia sat down and grabbed her sketch pad and pencil, knowing it would be a little while before the kids would get to her as she was stationed in the waiting room at the other end of the long hall. Then she started drawing things from memory.
Slowly, one by one, the children made their way to her; most of them forgetting to trick-or-treat – choosing instead to spend a few minutes talking to her and watching her draw. Soon they were crowded around her, peppering her with comments and questions.
“Wow, Ms Olivia... you sure are good at that.”
“Could you teach me to draw like that?”
“How’d you learn to do that?”
“Why are you a detective, Ms Olivia? Wouldn’t you rather draw?”
Olivia looked into the dark eyes of the boy who had asked the last question, her hand never stopping its movement even as she took a deep breath to answer. “Sometimes,” she finally responded with a smile. “But I like what I do too. I like being able to help people and make them feel better.”
A little girl sidled up to her and Olivia looked down with a smile. “What, Honey?” The little girl gave Olivia a smile of her own.
“This makes us feel better,” she confided. “We like when Ms Alex comes to visit.”
“But this is even cooler,” one of the older boys commented. “She’s got cool friends.” Olivia smiled.
The little girl tugged gently on Olivia’s shirtsleeve. “Um hmm?” as she looked down and noticed the blue, blue eyes gazing back at her in adoration. She climbed up on Olivia’s lap, forcing her to set her sketchpad aside... only to have Jo scoop it up before it could touch the floor. Olivia didn’t even notice.
“Could you draw a picture for me?”
“I have an idea,” Alex cut in as she pushed off the doorjamb and entered the room. “How about if we take some pictures with everyone?” The children cheered and gathered around, pulling in the adults around them. Alex raised her digital camera and started snapping pictures, knowing they would bring smile to a lot of faces in the days and weeks to come.
Shortly thereafter, the nurses were hustling the kids back to their rooms and everyone else was packing up the few things they were actually leaving with – make-up cases, sketch pad, camera. The remaining candy and jack-o-lanterns they were leaving behind, citing the nurses’ need for sugar as well as their ability to share with a hospital full of patients, staff and other employees who would appreciate it.
“And you’re telling me lawyers and police officers wouldn’t like to have some of this stuff around?” Betty inquired skeptically, though she was smiling when she asked.
Natalie snorted. “The world is probably a safer place if they don’t,” garnering her three good glares and chuckles from the rest of the entourage. Betty laughed and held up her hands in surrender.
“Fair enough,” she conceded. “And thank you all. I know it’s not your typical Halloween celebration....”
“It was better,” Blair said, getting approving nods from the entire group. “Thank you for letting us do this. It may not fit the tradition, but I think it’s safe to say we all enjoyed ourselves.”
“And so did the kids. Pretty sure you’ve all got some new fans.” Everyone turned to look at Olivia. Her eyes widened comically and she felt the faintest hint of a blush color her cheeks.
“What??” she asked, looking around at her friends.
“Nothing,” Alex assured her, taking her arm. “Come on, ladies. Time to go home and let these guys settle down. Goodnight, Betty,” waving to the charge nurse before leading the rest back downstairs.
“That was amazing,” Tootie said as they reached the sidewalk. “Thank you for including us,” watching Pam and Jacob nod their agreement to her words before they slid into Blair’s car.
“Yeah... what she said,” Natalie agreed, climbing into the limousine.
“You’ll let us see the pictures, right?” Blair demanded. Alex nodded and Blair offered them both fierce hugs before getting into the car. Jo turned to Henry.
“I got it, Henry,” waiting for him to nod and move back to the driver’s side for her to enter the vehicle before he did. Jo turned to Alex and Olivia. “Thank you,” she said quietly. “It meant so much....”
“To all of us, Jo,” Alex assured her. Their hug was brief as was the one between Jo and Olivia. Just as Jo moved to get into the car, Jo cocked a grin at Olivia.
“Nice ride, by the way,” nodding towards the Mustang. “Too bad it’s too cold to ride with the top down.”
“Something to look forward to,” Olivia commented with a smile as she took Alex’s hand in hers and led them towards it.
“So they no longer wear costumes in man’s world?” Hippolyta asked, her head cocked to one side.
“Oh no,” Dinah exclaimed. “There are all kinds of costumes. You should get Diana to show you the pictures we took at the Disney Halloween party.” Diana turned outraged blue eyes towards Dinah, who meet the look with an impish one of her own. Hippolyta cleared her throat to break the tableau.
“I’d like to see them, Diana... if you don’t mind sharing.” Diana bit her lip and sighed. She couldn’t tell her mother no when she asked so politely – especially in front of her friends. She turned to look at her mother and nodded her agreement. Hippolyta smiled and moved her attention back to Gabrielle.
“Okay, so there are costumes. Are they not allowed for children? Are they considered too scary?’”
Gabrielle shook her head. “For the most part, everyone’s allowed to wear a costume if they want. But these particular children were in the hospital and many of them were terminal. That means most of them have faced far scarier than today’s version of a goblin or a ghoul. Besides, they’re hooked up to machines and IVs that make it almost impossible to dress in a costume. So instead, they brought in make-up artists to face paint the kids; it let them pretend to be someone else for just a little while without the logistical issues costumes would have created.”
“I understand,” Hippolyta commented quietly. “I still remember children dying from starvation and disease when we lived in man’s world.” She cleared her throat again. “So are they starving as well?”
Barbara tilted her head in thought. “Why would you think that?”
“They were trick-or-treating,” Xena replied softly. “When that first started, it was because people were starving and they went from rich house to rich house asking for food so they could have a feast at the end of the night.” She turned to Hippolyta. “These kids weren’t starving. Trick-or-treating today is mostly about collecting candy – which becomes pretty entertaining if a parent doesn’t monitor a kid’s intake closely enough.”
Hippolyta’s brows shot into her hairline. “Wouldn’t that be tantamount to letting the Amazons run amuck after the celebration of new wine?”
Helena perked up. “Ooo – I’d like to be here for that.”
Barbara looked at her darkly. “No.”
“No, Helena. There wouldn’t be any wine left for anyone else.” She looked at Hippolyta before she could ask. “Helena’s metabolism burns off drugs and alcohol almost as fast as she ingests them. She wouldn’t even get a good buzz going.”
Helena crossed her arms over her chest and stuck her lip out in a significant pout. “You’re no fun, Barbara.”
Barbara smirked. “I’ll remember that later, Hel.” Helena’s eyes widened.
“Oh wait - I didn’t mean... I mean....” She looked around and glared when she realized everyone was smiling at her. “I hate you,” she muttered at Barbara who leaned forward until their lips just brushed. Helena sighed. “You don’t play fair, Red.”
Xena leaned forward and cuffed Helena on the back of the head, garnering her a look. Xena just raised her brow and returned the look. Helena huffed and Xena chuckled. “Give it up, Kid. I’ve had centuries more practice and beside... they don’t have to play fair. They love us in spite of everything.”
“Just for the record, I hate you too,” Helena growled, but she couldn’t keep the smile from her face. “Now can we get back to the Halloween thing?”
Everyone chuckled and Helena shrugged sheepishly. “What else is left?” Hippolyta asked.
“Oh, tons of stuff,” Dinah answered enthusiastically. “There are haunted houses and ghost stories and horror movies and practical jokes and pranks and....”
“Whoa, Dinah... slow down,” Hippolyta commanded with a grin.
Dinah chuckled and shrugged. “I kinda like Halloween.”
“Obviously,” Hippolyta said drolly. “And I know all about the practical jokes and pranks. Amazons revert into twelve-year-old prepubescent children on this day. It makes me so glad to see sunset.”
Dinah frowned. “Really? Why?
“Because,” Diana replied, taking up the baton, “it means another year before she has to worry about practical jokes again. The rule here is that jokes can only be played during the daylight hours. The night is for grown-ups.”
Dinah nodded. “That seems fair,” she acquiesced, looking out at the dancing Amazons. “This is a pretty grown-up party.” Hippolyta chuckled.
“Oh, Child... you have no idea. The adult portion has yet to begin.”
Dinah flushed and cleared her throat, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear and looking beseechingly at Gabrielle. “Help.”
Gabrielle chuckled and patted Dinah’s knee. “It’s all right, Dinah. How about if I tell you about the haunted house Abbie and Casey and Brooke and Sam put together to help a local soup kitchen.”
Gabrielle held up her hands. “Let me tell it.”
“I can’t believe I let Sam talk me into this,” Brooke mumbled under her breath as she endeavored to adjust her garter, fishnet stockings and elbow length gloves simultaneously. Casey gently clasped her hands and pushed Brooke back slightly so she could take in Brooke’s entire outfit.
“How did that happen anyway? You weren’t even born when Rocky Horror debuted.”
Brooke rolled her eyes. “Seriously, RiffRaff?” gesturing to Casey’s costume. “It’s not like you were around either.”
“Yeah, but I’m closer than you, Kiddo.”
“Whatever,” Brooke snarked. “You still weren’t there.” She looked around. “And speaking of not there... or here in this instance – where’s Abbie?”
“Probably still hiding out in the ladies’ room. She lost the toss,” motioning to the costume she wore.
“Lemme guess - she’s....”
“Rocky,” they said together, chuckling. Brooke looked at Casey’s costume and then her own. “Okay, so how did you end up RiffRaff and not Frank-N-Furter?”
“Because when Abbie mentioned wanting to go as characters from Rocky Horror, we decided to make it fair to put the names of all the characters into a bowl and draw out two randomly. Then of course, we had to have a coin toss to decide who was going to end up in a gold lame bikini.”
Brooke nodded her head sagely. “You sure you’re going to be able to get her to come out of there before the night is over?”
“Oh yeah - we have a deal.”
“Who has a deal on what?” Sam asked as she approached them in jeans and a t-shirt. She leaned into Brooke, pressing a kiss over her collarbone and neck. “Hey baby!”
“Okay... wait just a damn minute – who exactly are you supposed to be?” Casey asked, eyebrow raised in question. “Brooke is dressed as Dr. Frank-N-Furter and you’re dressed like....”
“Sam – mild-mannered reporter by day, intrepid storyteller by night.” Casey blinked at Sam and put a hand on her hip, waiting for an explanation. Brooke placed an arm around Sam’s waist and met Casey’s green eyes.
“We had a deal too – I dress like this and Sammie would get up on stage and tell a story... just like Gabrielle taught her.”
Casey smiled and looked between them. Then she smirked at Brooke. “You realize you got the easy end of the deal, right?”
“Oh yeah, but it’ll be worth it,” sinking into Sam’s return embrace. “Sammie’s been working on this story since we left Disney World.”
Casey patted Sam’s arm. “I’m looking forward to it,” she assured with a smile. “But I better go find my wayward girlfriend. It’s about time to open up for business.”
She grabbed something from the closet, then knocked on the door. She could clearly hear Abbie’s pout. “C’mon, babe – it’s time to go to work.”
“I don’t think so. I’m gonna end up kicking someone’s ass if I come out there looking like this.” She paused. “I can’t believe you don’t mind sharing me like this,” the barest hint of a petulant whine in the tone of her voice.
Casey rolled her eyes, but moved closer to the door. “Sweetie, it’s not that I don’t mind sharing – it’s that I get to be the envy of every man and woman who’s going to walk through that door tonight. And then I get to take you home and show my appreciation for your bravery... among other things.” She paused. “C’mon, Abbie – you’re smokin’ hot. It’s not like you look like you’ve given birth multiple times or something – hell... you look like you spend far more time in a gym than you do in a courtroom. Besides, Sam is going to be a storyteller tonight and you don’t want to miss that.”
“Really? Like she did with Gabrielle?”
Abbie cracked the door open and one brown eye met Casey’s green. “You’re trying to sweet-talk me,” she accused.
“Is it working?”
Abbie sighed and opened the door wider. “Yeah... but the first sexist or chauvinistic comment....”
“I’ll put the cowboy boots on you myself,” Casey confirmed. “Here,” handing over the gold lame cloak she’d pulled from the closet. “I’m not willing to share more than glimpses,” she said with a smirk, “especially with your colleagues.” Abbie grinned, then leaned forward and caught Casey’s lips in a passionate kiss.
“Whoo hoo!” Sam and Brooke cheered, causing the two women to separate slowly.
“Not a word from either of you,” Abbie directed when she’d finally caught her breath. “We were there when you got engaged, remember?” She turned back to Casey. “All right, Madam. Let’s get this show on the road.”
Casey smiled and went out to open the doors while the rest scattered to their posts. It was time to scare the bejesus out of the District of Columbia.
“Did they?” Hippolyta asked. “Scare the....” She hesitated. “What exactly is bejesus?”
“It’s a benign version of crap,” Dinah answered, then looked around at the gaping expressions staring back at her. “What??” she cried defensively. “It is.” She stuck her nose in her cup of juice and tried to ignore the heat she could feel crawling up her face.
Hippolyta cleared her throat and turned back to Gabrielle. “Did they scare the bejesus out of the District of Columbia? As Diana tells it, they’re all a bunch of uptight....”
“MOTHER!!” Diana’s reaction caused the Amazons to look in their direction and the women on the dais to laugh heartily. Gabrielle finally took a deep breath and shook her head.
“That was wonderful – thank you both. To answer your question, Hippolyta – I don’t know if they have managed to scare the entirety of DC, but they did put a scare into those who have visited their haunted house so far. And they’ve raised quite a bit of money too.”
“What about Sam’s storytelling?”
“I don’t know. That hadn’t happened by the time we left our quarters.”
Helena narrowed her eyes. “You were watching them weren’t you? All of them. Somehow you managed to get a look-see at how they were spending the holiday.” She bit her lip. “I still don’t know how exactly, but....”
“Maybe I can help with that totally gnarly thought, babe,” came a voice from nothing that slowing filtered into view amidst shimmering pink swirls. “Hi, guys!” Aphrodite greeted as she materialized on the dais. “Righteous party.”
Hippolyta and Diana bowed their heads; Barbara, Helena and Dinah stared open-mouthed; Xena simply smirked and Gabrielle leaped from her spot to give Dite a fierce embrace.
“I wondered if you were gonna show tonight,” Gabrielle greeted as Xena rose and offered Aphrodite a brief hug of her own.
“Now when have you known me to ever miss a totally rad party?”
“She has a point,” Xena commented, earning her a swat from two directions. “Hey!” she protested. “Easy with the merchandise.” She looked around and jerked her head at the rest of the group. “You may want to release them,” nodding towards Hippolyta and Diana. “And introduce yourself to them,” pointing at Barbara, Helen and Dinah.
Dite’s eyes widened and she placed a hand on both Hippolyta’s and Diana’s shoulders. “Enough, you two,” waiting for them to look at her before continuing. “My sister asked me to tell you that she’ll bring her bodacious self here shortly.”
Diana smirked. “Somehow, I don’t think that was her message verbatim.”
“Course not,” Dite smirked. “I loved it up a little.” She turned to the other three who were still staring mindlessly. “Wow,” she commented to Gabrielle. “I haven’t done that in a while.”
“Dite, it’s not like you show yourself to humanity anymore.”
Aphrodite cocked her head. “You’ve got a point, though I was a little tempted when Sam finished her story. She did good, Cutie – you’d be proud. Now... why don’t you introduce me, and then we can kick this party up a notch? ‘Cause I know I made it for story time with you.”
Gabrielle grinned and nodded. “You know I wouldn’t start without you, Dite.” She turned to the Birds and snapped her fingers, forcing them to blink. “Ladies, let me introduce you to Aphrodite, the real and genuine Goddess of Love.”
“That was amazing,” Barbara said much later as she and Helena slowly made their way back towards the guest quarters they were occupying. Dinah had gone ahead to relight the fires with a light from the bonfires that were only now just starting to die down to a relatively normal level. “Whoever thought there was really a Goddess Aphrodite... much less that we’d ever meet her?”
Helena shrugged. “It was pretty cool. She seems like a good sort.”
Barbara turned her head sharply, but didn’t stop walking – the effort to restart herself was still too great to allow for those kinds of breaks yet, though Rina assured her it would get better with time and practice. Barbara couldn’t wait. But for now....
“Hel? What’s up with you? You’ve been pricklier than a hedgehog since we got here. And I don’t think it’s me.” She paused. “I don’t think it’s the Amazons either.”
“It’s me,” came a voice that stopped Barbara in her tracks and dropped Helena to her knees. Then Selena Kyle stepped out from nothing, moving from ethereal ghost to solid human being as a tear slid silently down Helena’s face. Selena knelt and cupped Helena’s face in her hands, gently wiping the tear away as others followed in its wake.
“Mom? What... how...??” was all Helena managed before she lunged forward and found herself in her mother’s embrace for the first time in fifteen years. Selena just held on tightly and rocked the daughter she’d missed – the daughter that had changed so much in the aftermath of her death. She traded glances with Barbara, then unexpectedly held out her hand. Barbara clasped it tightly and Selena returned the squeeze. Then she looked at both of them for a long moment, smiling and nodding at Barbara before turning her attention to Helena.
“I can’t answer the why, ma cheri, but the how was Aphrodite. She offered me the chance to talk to you again and give you my blessing... both of you. I’m proud of the woman you’ve become Helena, and so thrilled you found your half.”
“Oh, Maman....” Helena cried softly. Barbara lifted her hand to cover her mouth and slid to the ground, her canes lying forgotten by the wayside. Helena caught her as she fell and Selena held her hand all the way down. Selena gazed at them both again before nodding her head in approval.
“Be good to one another, and take care of each other for as long as you have together. Make every moment count – you’ll have fewer regrets.” She took a deep breath and met Barbara’s eyes. “Thank you... for loving my daughter.”
“I couldn’t do anything else, Selena. She’s the best part of me.”
“She is who she is today in part because of you - and the fact that you loved her... and love her still.” Selena turned to Helena. “Treasure her, Helena, and give her all the love your magnificent heart is capable of. She makes you better than you could ever be on your own.”
“I know, Mom. I just miss you... so much.”
“I know, but I’m happy where I am now. Think of me once in a while... good thoughts. I can hear them, you know. And know that’ll I’ll be watching over you when I can and listening for you when I can’t.” Selena released her hold on Barbara’s hands and gave her a brief hug. When she pulled back, she took a moment to wipe the tears that was rolling its way down the smooth plane of Barbara’s cheek. Then she turned to Helena and took her in both arms, holding on fiercely and rocking her as if she was a child again.
“I love you, Mom.”
“Oh, Kitten... I love you too,” accepting Selena’s hug and kiss as the benediction it was. “Time for me to go, now.”
“But we’ve had so little time.”
“And so much more than I could have ever hoped for before. Take care, Kitten,” Selena instructed as she slowly disappeared from sight. Helena stayed still with Barbara still in her arms for several long moments after they were alone again. Finally....
“Are you guys all right?” Dinah asked as she approached them at a run. She’d come looking for them only because she was afraid something was wrong with Barbara. When she’d seen them curled together in the middle of the path, fear had leant wings to her feet. She skidded to a stop beside them. “Guys?”
“We’re all right Dinah. Just a bit of a shock,” Barbara said, shivering slightly in the cool night air. Feeling it, Helena reacted automatically. She rose and scooped Barbara up into her arms in the self-same movement, her eyes pleading with Barbara to understand her need. For answer, Barbara simply tucked her head under Helena’s chin and let Helena carry her home.
“So what do you think?” Hippolyta asked Diana sometime much later the following morning. They were on the practice field watching Barbara decimate Helena during a friendly little crossbow competition.
“Them... here... meeting Aphrodite.... Any of this ringing a bell? C’mon, Daughter – what did you think I meant? This is something that hasn’t happened on Paradise Island in a long time... especially at the behest of the Queen.”
Diana glared at her mother. “I know where you live, you know... and you have to sleep sometime.”
“How lucky for me that I have royal guards,” Hippolyta replied with a grin.
Diana smirked. “Is that a challenge?”
“All right you two – don’t start,” Gabrielle commanded as she and Xena arrived at the practice field. “Oh dear... do I want to know?” watching Dinah razzing Helena about being soundly defeated by Barbara. Barbara appeared to be insufferably pleased with herself, though she wasn’t teasing Helena. She understood all too well why Helena’s focus was still off.
“Oh no, Hel,” Dinah said as they slowly approached the rest. “You can’t blame it on your being a novice. It was basically the same for Barbara since she’s having to compensate for the change in her legs and balance. You were the one who said you could kick ass with any weapon.”
“Watch it, Kid. I’d hate for a stray bolt to fly off and hit you in the ass.”
Helena smirked. “Try me,” though her eyes twinkled in merriment.
Dinah held her gaze a moment, then dropped her head to her chest. “You would too.” She moved to stand between Gabrielle and Xena and stuck her tongue out at Helena. “Safe on base,” she proclaimed, drawing grins from Xena and Gabrielle, bemused looks from Barbara, Diana and Hippolyta and a glare from Helena.
“Don’t worry, Helena. I’m sure we can find someone here who can teach you if you’d like to learn,” Gabrielle offered. Helena held onto her glare a moment longer, then turned and gave Gabrielle a sheepish smile and a nod of thanks.
“Maybe I could use it during sweeps.”
“As long as you know figure out how to hit the target first,” Dinah muttered, forgetting about Helena’s meta-hearing. But she heard the growl and took off running with a squeal, Helena hot on her heels. The rest looked at one another and burst into laughter.
“Well,” Hippolyta commented when she was finally able to speak again. “Having fresh blood on Paradise Island is certainly going to make life around here much more lively.” Dinah ran by still squealing; Helena ran by still growling. And the whole of the Amazon Nation simply sat back and watched the entertainment unfold around them. They couldn’t wait to hear the tale Gabrielle would spin from this story.