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SEASONS OF THE GODS 1
FALLING UP

©June 1997
By Katrina

Chapter 1
No Room

Three Years Later

It was to be the largest festival in what used to be Washington state. The only problem, it was being held in a smallish town and the city planners, had made no provisions for big events. Middling events, yes. Small events, yes. Big events. NO. But the location was beautiful; in mountainish, foresty country, near a lovely lake and other things scenic. The sky was blue, the clouds miandered and the sun was still warm enough to make swimming pleasant. It was, despite the lack of planning, the perfect place.

The real problem was housing. There wasn't enough for all the performers, competitors, tourists, carnival types, and so on, that flooded the fair city. Oh, the town could make do. Several families had offered their homes. But there was the problem of offending some of the major delegations that had been sent by their countries. The Amazon Nation for one.

Rachael, a lovely, pregnant, towheaded barkeep, was struggling to keep order in the bar. Her main cause of worry, were the discontented people who were congregating in a back corner of the bar. She glanced at the harried man standing above the group of angry women and she grinned. *Hero had been right on the nose about this one. No wonder she wanted to stay out of it.* Rachael wondered if Hero had gotten the message. *OH Please come. . .* The barkeep kept having visions of smashed chairs and a crumpled city director.

"Now People, calm down. We are resolving the problems as we speak. I can assure you that there is room for you...somewhere."

One brawny woman spoke loudly, "And what about practice time. . . these slots suck and I've been to your practice facility. What is *that?* I've seen better in a . . ."

The man standing on the table responded, as he clenched a clipboard in his hands, "That's being addressed too. No I don't know who did the planning. Yes it does seem unfair. We are seeing if we can exchange some of these times with other. . .Yes, there will be a larger practice field available for ball players and the like. Please. Please. Remain calm. This town respects all of you and your efforts to come here for the festival. We want it to be a success and an event you will always remember with pleasure. Trust me when I say this will all get resolved. Meanwhile. . .Meanwhile. . Let us buy you a round of drinks while you wait."

"What about the others?" another voice piped up.

"The others?" the man squeaked.

"Yeah, we've got at least fifteen more people coming in. Maybe more. You know, to watch."

The man felt a sudden urge to wipe his brow. "Uhm. . Look some folks may have to. . ."

"We were promised rooms! It says so right here." The woman waved a pamphlet in air, pointing. "This isn't going to sit well with. . ."

The man gulped. "Yes. Yes. Trust me. You will have rooms." *I'll pray for them personally.* He smiled weakly. "Please, accept the drinks. RACHAEL!" He scanned the room frantically and then sighed in relief when he caught sight of her.

The woman was already on the floor, handing out mugs of ale to thirsty Amazons.

***

The beat up orange truck contributed to the noise polution of the usually quiet town. The driver responded to waves in her direction by waving casually through the open window. When she wasn't waving, she let her arm hang down the side of the door. Her driving was smooth, as if she'd done this forever. She pulled up to a more occupied than usual parking lot. The driver rolled her eyes. She opened the rickety door with a loud metalic crunch, stepped out, then slammed it shut again. The truck rattled a bit with the force of the closed door.

Then she entered the building. The noise level was high, matching the number of people occupying the fairly compact space. At first glance, she was ready to turn right back around and head for home. She didn't get a chance though, for Rachael spotted her. "HERO! Wait. Don't Leave." Hero winced at the sound of the barkeep's voice. The barroom drifted into a deep silence. Rachael hurried to Hero's side and wrapped an arm around the reluctant woman's waist. "I am so glad to see you." Hero gave a lopsided grin and patted Rachael's hand.

She blocked out the unnoise and turned her focus on the pretty woman. She leaned and spoke quietly to the woman. "You might want to look outside." Rachael raised her eyebrows, glanced at the door and then back. Hero leaned back. "I won't run away. Go ahead."

Rachael moved smoothly out of the room. Hero turned to glower at the room. "What the HELL are You staring at." She growled. There were startled glances from some of the patrons (not the normals, they'd long ago given up staring at the woman. Last time someone had stared too long. . .well, it was an ugly story and no one wanted to think on it. They paid close attention to their drinks), mostly the Amazons. Recognition showed in their faces. Hero showed her teeth, the canines long and pointy. Her nostrils flared, making the bridge of her nose squinch, molding around two vertical barbells. Her hair was long and shaggy. There was another peircing just under her lip There was a jagged scar along one side of her face. She growled menacingly, "You Just Keep LOOKING and I'll give you something worth. . ."

There was a squeal behind the woman, startling the words out of her mouth. Hero felt herself pulled into a long and rambling kiss of meaningful proportions. "OH Thank YOU! Thank You! Its Beautiful!" Hero blushed, and tried to untangle herself from Rachael's arms. She took the barkeep's hands in hers and smiled shyly.

"I just thought you ought to have one. It seemed right." Hero's smile was a rare thing.

"It is just so gorgeous."

"I'm glad you like it."

"I'll have it brought in right away."

Hero nodded.

"Happy Anniversary, Rachael."

"Thanks Hero." Hero glanced around the room.

"Where's that husband of yours anyway?"

"He's out helping with the festival. There's been a few problems." Rachael pulled Hero in exactly the direction she didn't want to go. But she followed anyway. "Come on. I'll explain."

They didn't get very far across the floor. An tall, limber looking Amazon stepped in front of the pair. She looked bravely into Hero's eyes and saluted. "Captain."

Hero pulled her hands from Rachael's startled grasp. She resisted the impulse to throw the Amazon across the room and settled for shouting. "NEVER call ME that. NEVER! DO YOU UNDERSTAND!" Golden eyes blazed into fearful green eyes. The Amazon gave a shaky nod. Hero snorted, and took a deep breath. "You can call me almost anything but that. . .They call me Hero around here."

The Amazon stuttered, "Yes, Ma'am. Yes, Brigid."

Brigid winced at the sound of her name.

Rachael spoke up, "Yes, well. This brings up the very problem we have before us." She turned to face the uncomfortable woman, "Hero, Brigid." Rachael's body language indicated the Amazons, "These women need a place to stay. You got any ideas?"

Brigid raised an eyebrow. "I suppose you do. . ."

Rachael grabbed Brigid's arm again, "Now that you speak of it. . ."

Chapter 2
Giving Inn

"No no no no no!" Brigid shook her head viciously. "Not on your tintype The city council planned this. Let them get out of it. No! Absolutely Not!" The demigoddess' arms were folded and her face was grimmer than death. But Rachael kept talking and talking and talking until finally, Brigid burst out with, "Alright! I will think about it." Rachael grinned and stood up.

"I'll be back dear. I want to make sure the boys hang it right."

"It" was the gift that Brigid gave Rachael; a huge bar mirror, with a delicately carved frame and a bit of frost etching. It really was a beautiful piece of work. Rachael only hoped this mirror would last longer than the last one had. (And it would, because Brigid had put a solid protective whammy around it. It even survived a frontal baseball attack and was handed down from one barkeep generation to another for centuries, until it wound up in a fine art museum with other works by Brigid. . but that's way ahead of the story.)

Meanwhile Brigid stewed with her conscience. Her first inclination was to let the city council suffer for their mistake. Plus, the last thing she wanted was a bunch of Amazons running around her property, reminding her of things she'd only recently put in the past. *Gods!* She didn't know if she could put up with any more nightmares, especially now that they'd quieted some. And strangers, in her home, her fields. Okay, not strangers. A kind of kin. But the kind she'd been avoiding. And while the building was all but complete, she liked to work at night. She wouldn't be able to pound and make noise like usual. . .Eerggh. It totally defeated the purpose of being a hermit, if there was going to be people around. She should have stayed home. But Rachael sounded so. . .so worried.

Brigid glanced at the barkeep as she drifted among the crowd. Now was not the time for Rachael to be worried. The demigoddess put her head in her hands and then sat back abruptly when she heard someone slide into the seat in front of her. She found herself looking into a pair of green gold eyes. She examined the face in front of her, since she didn't recognize it (not that she knew every Amazon face, far from it). Thin, but strong, freckled, olive skin, long lashes, straight nose, full lips, blondish brown hair. Expressive. Brigid's own face was closed and not so expressive. She raised her eyebrows in question.

"Hail sister."

Brigid coughed but otherwise did not respond.

The Amazon shifted uncomfortably. "I'm Lucy."

Brigid debated how to respond. Rude, not rude, rude,. .oh hell. . . "I believe you know who I am." Brigid leaned back away from the woman.

"Uhm, yeah." The Amazon looked around and then back at Brigid, "Uhm, the others," she indicated the Amazons with a flick of her head, "they wanted to know what was going to happen. . .and you . . .you live here so. . they wondered if you knew."

"About what."

"About where we are going to sleep tonight."

Another Amazon had gathered her courage and came up to the table, "And practice." She shoved a piece of paper at Brigid. Who took it uncomfortably, Brigid glanced at the sheet and choked back a laugh. *It had to be Roger who planned this* She wondered briefly who'd left the schedules in that clueless man's care.

Brigid mmhmmed noncommittally. She stared at the paper and thought. Then she looked up and found that more Amazon faces were looking at her. Trustingly. Even after she'd growled at them so nastily before. She cleared her throat. "Give me a few minutes. I need to talk to Rachael."

Brigid stood up and carefully inched her way through the small crowd. She sidled up to the barkeep, who was looking in the mirror. Brigid found herself looking at her own face, and barely managed not to flinch (though Rachael saw it. The gift became doubly precious after that). "It seems that I will be solving the city's problems after all. At least with the Amazons. Tell your husband, the council owes me big." Rachael grabbed Brigid's hand in thanks and gave it a good squeeze.

Brigid walked back to the small assembly and spoke, "Okay Now, Listen up. Get your friends. Get all of the Amazons in the city. You are coming with me. Make sure you've got all you need for practice or whatever. And bring necessities I guess. There's no room service where you're going. No maid service either. I am NOT going to cook for the Lot of you. I will open my. . .my home to you and you are welcome to it. There will be plenty of room, just don't don't mess with too much of anything. I've got some projects going. Things I'm working on. I may make noise. You'll just have to live with it. Now go on. We'll leave in thirty, I guess."

The Amazons glanced at each other in relief and split up to fetch the others. Lucy stayed. "Thanks."

Brigid grunted.

The blonde spoke again, "You should know. There's going to be more. We're not quite sure how many."

Brigid cleared her throat and looked out into the room. "Well, ahem, that's okay. There's, uhm, room for a couple hundred."

Lucy gasped.

"I won a defunct inn in a poker game. Then I won the property around it, and then, well I won some construction work. We were playing pretty big stakes. You know, one of those things, the inn was in a beautiful location, but not making good money. I happened to be in the right place, the right time. I guess."

Lucy looked like she was going to say something and then changed her mind.

Brigid sat back down by the table and waited. It was going to be a long week.

Chapter 3
Hero's Rest

Brigid started the old truck with a twist of the wrist and a mental shove. It coughed to life and then held on. The demigoddess grinned and then turned her head to catch a glimpse of the person that was calling her. "Hero! Hero! Wait Up!"

It was Robin. One of the most gorgeous personalities in town. Delightful smile, chocolate skin, and a propensity for finding Brigid when Brigid least wanted to be found. The demigoddess still didn't know how Robin did it. It wasn't exactly like Robin went searching for the demigoddess, it's just she knew how to call Brigid so that the demigoddess wanted to answer. It was annoying and endearing at the same time.

Robin, climbed in the passenger side of the Truck and grinned, "Rachael said I'd better go with you." Brigid raised an eyebrow. "She said you already had that trapped animal look and that she knew you'd just go and disappear or something for the week." Brigid groaned.

"I wasn't planning on running away. I can handle it."

"Yeah, right. Whatever. I'm still coming along. Besides, have you seen all those chicks following you? Hmm. I'll get you set up yet."

There was another groan. Brigid had forgotten about the matchmaking part. "I don't need you to. . ."

Robin patted the hand closest to her, "Don't worry honey, just go with the flow." She leaned in conspiratorially, "Only, if you've got to vanish for a bit, leave me a clue will you? So it won't be as hard to call you, if we need you. hmm."

Brigid shook her head in resignation. "Why did I settle here? I ask you."

"Cause we needed you and you needed us."

"Pppfhf."

***

Brigid's place was a good distance away from town, but not so far, that one couldn't go back and forth as needed. Like the Elysian Fields, the property was tucked away out of sight. Unlike the Elysian Fields, it had a paved road. There was even parking, but the design was different than anyone had ever seen before, as if someone had tried to make it a "natural" part of the area.

And that was what was so different about the inn itself. It blended with the woods and rock and land around it, so that it seemed as if it were simply a part of the land itself. Brigid had taken the theme, started by the original owner and continued it, until there was a Zen like flow to the place. She'd kept the bridges and walkways and gotten rid of some gaudy fripperies.

The Amazons felt like they were entering a garden or a monastary or a mansion or a combination of all three. It was odd. It was soothing. It was restorative. It was !cool!

The inn was on a hill, of course, and overlooked a large well groomed field. There were sidewalks and signs pointing out hiking directions, to places which didn't require sidewalks, but required stamina. And it was green (though the leaves would be turning soon enough).

Brigid turned to Robin when the Amazons started arriving, and then started whooping. "I'm going to need your help, I think." Brigid took a deep breath to calm down. She'd forgotten how much she loved the privacy of being here (though the inn was so large a body could get lost in it, but she liked it that way.) "You've been here. Can you act as tourguide? Keep them out of my place, you know." She pointed to north corner of the building, where she'd located a good sized suite for herself (one with real living facilities like a small kitchen and so on). Brigid strove to squelch the panic rising in her breast. "Don't let them touch, you know. . ."

Robin nodded, then whispered to Brigid, "Keep breathing girl. Why don't you go check on Shag or something." Brigid gulped and started away, trying not to run to the stables. Robin grinned widely and began a patter. "Welcome to. . ." She realized that Brigid had never given a name to the place and made one up on the spot, "Hero's Rest! I'm Robin, and I'm here to help."

***

Brigid did check on Shag, an even tempered pony, she called in the cow (Bessie) with a simple ringing of a bell (she didn't want the poor thing getting spooked.) and then she fiddled with the garden (which she'd made larger than necessary for just this kind of occassion. . .the busy work kind) and picked an armload of veggies. She realized that most inns didn't act in part as farms, but this was her home. She hadn't planned on having people stay.

She made her way to the kitchen, going through a back door. It was occupied with the designated cooks of the group, who started talking to her, thanking her, praising her and the kitchen, the well stocked freezer and storerooms. (Though that was a fluke really, a combination of the too large garden and a couple of successful hunts and a survivalist mentality gained from experiencing one winter without.) Someone had even found the homemade wine. Another someone was making a list of things to get from town. They unloaded the veggies from her arms, then actually shooed her out, with a "See ya at dinner time!"

Brigid found herself standing slackjawed in the dining room and tried to decide what to do next. She decided to go hide out in her suite.

Chapter 4:
Avoiding the Meltdown

Brigid changed her mind about hiding out, somewhere between the first kiss from a grateful brawny type (the one who was so upset about the practice room. . .) and the bearhug from a woman who had plans, big plans, for the ballroom. The demigoddess soon found herself in the main foyer, which was bright and roomy and kind of woodsy. There were several Amazons lounging around, though Brigid supposed most would either be settling in or be in the one of the entertainment rooms. She spotted Robin, who was leaning against the counter (where, if this were an actual open inn, there would have been a manager type *behind* the counter) with a concerned look on her face and conversing earnestly with Lucy and a few other souls.

They made a space for her, when Robin waved the demigoddess over. Robin introduced Brigid to the people in the group. They were the ". . .people in charge." She shook hands with a blonde named Kyle, a red head named Savannah and with a Brunnette name Riva. Kyle sported a crewcut and a solemn appearance (which actually matched Brigid's mood), Savannah seemed bubbly and Riva seemed quiet. All of them expressed thanks for having such a fine place. There was one problem though. There were no phones.

Brigid's expression was neutral, though her eyes were sharp. "I don't use 'em, so why have 'em?"

Robin ahemed. And patted Brigid's shoulders. "Yes, well. . , you wouldn't mind if we put a few. . .

"Yes. . .I would mind." Her nostrils flared. "This is MY home. I will be here when You Leave."

"But we need some way of. . "

"Put the lines in." The words were practically spat out.

"Excuse me."

"Do what you have to."

Robin did Not Like the expression on Brigid's face.

"You heard me. Do what you have to. Enjoy your stay." Brigid turned on her heels and left the foyer. Robin could easily imagine steam rising out of Brigid's collar. It gave her a pit of the stomach kind of feeling.

She turned to the group. "I'll have to make arrangements. Lucy, could I talk to you?"


Brigid knew Robin would be banging on her door soon enough. The demigoddess stripped as she entered her suite, letting the clothes land where they would. She pulled a thin quilt off the bed. It was one of her latest and best. It was simple, crisp, and comforting. Simple lines for a simple purpose (much like the one she'd made for. . .no. . no. . .don't think about that. don't think about them. . don't. .don't. . *Oh Gods! . . .why now? Why now? I had it so together. Why?*)

She winced at the knock. "GO AWAY!"

Robin spoke, "Please, Hero, I need to talk with you."

"Well I do not Need to talk with you!" Brigid wrapped the quilt around her shoulders. She could here Robin shuffling at the door. And there was someone else with her. *grr* Brigid settled into a nearby chair. Pulling up her legs and covering her body with the quilt. She made them wait.

A good five minutes later: "Hero?"

"I'm still here. I haven't gone anywere. I just want some time alone. I just want. . .just want. . ."

"Hero." Robin's voice was full of compassion.

Brigid didn't bother getting up, but opened the door with a twist of power. She watched as Robin entered the room with Lucy. "Must you share my shame with everyone?" Brigid's voice was harsh with unshed tears.

Robin knelt by Brigid's chair and took the hand that was visible. "There is no shame in this Hero. I know how hard this is for you."

Brigid shook her head, "Oh no. No. You don't know." She leaned down and looked at Robin with peircing golden eyes, "And be grateful you don't. I wouldn't wish this on anyone." Brigid leaned up and looked at the blonde. "So what did she tell you?"

Lucy said nothing, but her face was tense with worry.

Brigid snorted, "How do you do that Robin." She pointed at Lucy with quilted fingers. "Look at her, she's worried and she doesn't even know me."

Lucy's voice was soft, "I know you. You're the savior of Blood Flower Valley. Everyone knows you."

Brigid was up and off the chair before anyone could move. The quilt dropped to the floor.

"Do you? Do they?" Her manner was threatening. Her voice a deep growl. The canines were prominent. "NO one Knows Me! NO one! And they shouldn't. They can't." Brigid glanced at the patio window. It would be so easy.

Robin saw the glance and bolted in front of the window. Brigid gave a nasty grin. "Thought you said I could go if I wanted to." She growled, "And I want to."

"Not like this. I won't let you."

Brigid laughed. "You can't stop me." She pulled back, "I'd run right over you." The demigoddess strode purposefully to Robin, "Fortunately for you, if I was going to leave, I would have gone." She touched the woman's lovely dark face. "You can't protect me forever. And I'm long past that time, Robin. Besides, it wasn't my fault. Though you'll never believe me."

Robin blinked back tears and closed her eyes against the memory of how Hero was found, a wasted body fallen over a cliff, with a smile so rich and peaceful. They thought she was dead. And she'd hated them so, when she'd found out she was alive. It was amazing that any of the staff had lived through the experience of Brigid waking up. But they had and she'd become a special project because there was one who recognized her and called her hero. "I believe you Hero."

Brigid snorted, "No you don't. But that's okay." The demigoddess turned towards Lucy, who was staring at Brigid's body. Brigid looked down and grinned. The webwork shaped its way around the scars and wounds of the past. Brigid looked back up and wiggled eyebrows mockingly, "Bizzare isn't it. But then, that is how it is with me." Lucy raised her eyes to meet Brigid's, her expression was unreadable. "Well now that's different. A much different look than I usually get, when someone sees me for the first time. hmm." She moved away from Robin, "You told her, Robin, didn't you. Warned her." She stood in front of the blonde and stretched her arms to the side, "Like what you see? Unique in all the world."

"She's going to sleep with you Brigid."

Brigid whirled around so fast there was a whooshing sound. "What?!"

"You heard me." Robin stood her ground. "She's staying here, tonight. With you. So yes. I warned her." Brigid looked stunned.

"I do not NEED a babysitter."

"You are right. You need a lover. But since you won't take one. . .This is as close as I can get. Lucy will stay."

Brigid whipped around to face Lucy, "How can you agree to this?"

"How could I not?"

"I have been sleeping alone, just fine and dandy thank you. This is Not necessary."

"She's staying Brigid. I have to go to town or I would be staying with you. Please." It was the expression on Robin's face that melted Brigid's resolve.

Brigid went back to the chair wearily, picked up the quilt and threw it over her shoulder. "You don't have to worry. If I was going to do something drastic, I would have done it years ago. This. .," She waved to the outside world, ". . this is only a small part of very long life. I can handle it, though you think I can't. I've been handling it. Maybe not well. But not badly either. You and Rachael, you should save your caring. I'm fine. But if it makes you feel better. Then, Okay. For you. Because you ask so nice."

Robin let out a sigh of relief. She walked to Brigid and pulled her into a hug. "Thanks. Thank you." Brigid patted her back. "You'll be here?"

Brigid nodded. "Though I might visit the trees for a bit, take a walk, you know." Robin nodded. "I need to get centered. But I'll be here when you get back. Hmm. I'll make myself available."

Brigid pulled away from the hug and sighed, "I know I sounded nasty back in the foyer. This is taking some getting used to, you know. A lot of memories for me, both good and bad and some really really bad. So I'm not quite myself, eh."

"That's why Lucy is staying, eh."

Chapter 5
Nighty night

Despite the do-not-disturb sign placed on the door, someone knocked anyway. Janice growled, "Ignore it," and gave Melinda a juicy reminder of what they were here for (a stolen moment of passion. . They'd looked foreward to it all day!) Another knock, this time a little firmer. Janice pulled her face away from Melinda's ear with a sigh and spoke loudly, "I am Busy Here!" The counselor pushed Melinda to the desk. Melinda grinned in anticipation and pulled her lover close.

Another knock. "OH FOR. . ." Janice pulled away apologetically, glanced viciously at the door and started buttoning her shirt. She stalked to the door and yanked it open. A young Amazon secretary type looked at the irritated woman nervously.

"I'm sorry to interupt you, but. . .they found her."


The demigoddess paced the floor of her bedroom. She wore a satiny green nightshirt. The sleaves were a little long so she had them rolled up. The shirt was large so it hung down to her knees. It didn't hide the outline of her uneven nipples (the right one hung a little lower than the left) which for some reason chose Now to be perky. She thought about changing into something less comfortable, and rejected the idea. She was already uncomfortable enough.

Brigid glanced at the bathroom in the midst of her pacing. She could smell the water and the soap, and an oddly slightly familiar scent. But she couldn't place it. Probably some herbal shampoo or something. Lucy was humming pleasantly. It was almost soothing to Brigid's frayed nerves, but not quite. Brigid took a few breaths and tried to still the flutters in her belly.

She thought back to the walk and smiled. It had helped some, to be outside and away, to visit a Treeness for a bit. She centered her mind on that feeling and felt better. That was the trick. *Focus on what you know calms you. Focus on what works.* Brigid felt her heart slow down and her breathing even. Yes, this was it. Calm.

Lucy stepped out of the bathroom, almost noiselessly and saw the demigoddess standing quietly, breathing evenly. Brigid's face was peaceful. Even the scar along her cheek seemed less fierce. Lucy hesitated to disturb the woman.

Brigid opened her eyes and smiled gently. "Hi Lucy." The Amazon wore only her skin. "Is that what you are wearing?"

"Hello Brigid. Yes."

More nervous flutters, but Brigid said nothing. Instead she climbed into the bed and took the left side, leaving the right available. She plumped the pillow and turned to her side and pulled the pillow under her cheek, so she could wrap her arm around it. She felt the bed move as Lucy got in.

Lucy's voice was low and kind, "Goodnight Brigid."

"Night."

Brigid closed her eyes, but sleep mocked her.

Chapter 6
Sweet Dreams

It still felt odd for Brigid, even though by now she was well aware of the pattern. It was the flashing awareness that clued her in. She would fade in and out, as if she were a signal on a TV monitor that had to warm up. Then she would wade into consciousness and become yet another active player in the drama that was unfolding. It always amazed her how, one second nothing would seem real and then the next, everything would become hyperreal. The grass would be greener, the sky bluer, the sun brighter. She looked around herself, trying to get a quick fix on bearings. Sun up high but falling, afternoon. Buildings centered around a square. Herself among a group of sweaty, smelly people. There was salt in the air. Ocean.

She was lucid. At least that was what the text called it, when she had a chance to look it up. Lucid dreaming. Though hers was probably on odd case among odd cases. The demigoddess realized that she had a good view, as if she were on the side of the road waiting for a parade. Indeed there was that buzz of excitement which indicated people were waiting. The people. They were a mix of poor and middle class, if one could go by the color and conditions of the robes and tunics that were worn around her. Some men wore turbans. There were more nameless individuals on the other side of the road. No one seemed noteworthy. All waited in noisy anticipation.

The sun felt too warm on her skin. She touched her face. Yep, she was going to be a little pink when she woke up. No hat this time. All there was to do was wait. This was the hardest part of her dreams. The waiting.

A child ran past her, followed by a small, excited barking dog. The woman next to her smiled and mouthed words that Brigid didn't understand. But Brigid smiled and nodded and that seemed to satisfy the woman. It usually did, if the conversation was casual. Brigid traced the line of her jaw and felt for the scar. It was the direct result of a very noncasual conversation, but it was worth it. She grinned softly. The scar wasn't there of course. It never was. That was the blessing of the dream body. It always resurrected itself perfectly, cleanly.

There was a gentle uproar, an enthusiastic outcry starting to her left. She turned for a better look. Ah. Now it was starting to make sense. The buttergold mare. The statuesque warrior sitting tall in the saddle, looking so beautiful and proud. A beaming short Amazon, hair gleaming in the sun, waving happily to the crowd. They were followed by others, men and women waving pitchforks and shields. A dispute settled then. That would make sense. Brigid had seen a few of these before, though they were always different somehow.

The demigoddess started pulling away. Hoping not to be seen by the Warrior Princess and the Bard. Last time when she'd had one of these dreams, months and months ago, Xena had actually spotted her. She'd been pierced by the skilled warrior's fierce gaze. The look held a flash of recognition, which meant, at least in the dream world, that Xena had noticed Brigid before. The demigoddess didn't know if that was good or not. She only knew she felt like she needed to avoid being seen. She had no wish to be questioned like that one guy (especially now that she knew what the full effects of the neck punches were. . .definitely something to be avoided.)

It was then she spotted the barrel of the pistol. It was one of those hypermoments, where the barrel seemed to enlarge and become the sole focus.

Brigid ran.

"NO!" She screamed. She caught the robes around the arm and pulled so that the shot went wrong. She felt the explosion of her shoulder and felt the jerk of her body, but grabbed for the arm and gun again. This time succeeding in twisting the pistol away and to the ground. She growled at the startled bad guy and delivered a solid punch to the nose, crunching it up and into the brain. Then she turned and picked up the pistol with her good hand. She stood up and found herself looking into alarmed blue eyes. How she loved those eyes. She touched the woman's cheek, smiled softly, feeling a brief tingle before she woke up.

Brigid sat up with a shriek of pain. The pain of these encounters were always worse when waking up. Her arm hung limply by her side. The other hand held the pistol, which she threw to the ground. It slid and thumped against the floorboad. She pulled herself up and out of the bed quickly and looked down at the bloody sheets. She leaned forward quickly and felt for the hole. "Damn."

Lucy, who had been startled by the yell had also jumped out of bed. She was fully alert. She looked around for the cause of the scream, but figured that Brigid had simply had a nightmare. Then she saw the bloody sheets and the hole. Then she noticed Brigidžs shoulder. "OHmyGods!" The blonde woman started forward, intending to help.

Brigid held up a stalling hand. "Stay there. Give me a minute." Brigid began to breathe sharply and deeply. She closed her eyes. Lucy watched as sparkling light began to shimmer around Brigid and then swirl up to the demigoddessž shoulder and linger. Brigid opened her eyes slowly when the light dissappaited and took a slow even breath. "Well that was fun." She spoke flatly. She pulled nightshirt away from her shoulder. The webworking had already moved around the scar. "Yet another one." She looked ruefully at Lucy.

"But I didn't hear. . .," Lucy began.

"Because it happened elsewhere. . .despite other evidence." Brigid looked at the bed and sighed. "Now Ižve got to get another set of sheets."

Brigid pulled off the nightshirt, wincing as it passed over the semihealed shoulder. "I'm not going to sleep again tonight. . .Excuse me." She strode nakedly to a set of dresser drawers and pulled out paint spattered shorts and an apron. "I'm going to paint. I donžt intend to make the bed tonight, so you might as well go find another place to sleep."

"I go where you go."

"Oh, your name is Ruth now? Whatever." Brigid shrugged as a way of giving permission, "Just don't touch anything with sheets over them. They are works in progress." The demigoddess went back to where the pistol finally located itself and picked it up. "Also from that other place. I just love accumulating evidence." She tucked the pistol into an empty pocket of the apron.

Then the demigoddess and the amazon headed for the art room.

Chapter 7
57

Brigid's art room actually occupied the space of two hotel rooms. She'd had the construction crew knock out the walls and do some specific renovations to make the room a creative haven. There was even one of those deep metal industrial sinks. The room smelled of paint, of incense, of wood, of Brigid and clay. There was a sense of cluttered organization. Here and there were objects with sheets thrown over them. The south wall had several paintings hanging, uncovered, but unfinished. There were sculptures in various states of completion. There were several shelves, some with seeming knickknacks, some with reference books. There were some drying racks. There were several places to sit and a table with snack foods and cups. There was a refrigerator. There was a bed in somewhat of a disarray. It looked like Brigid slept more in the art room than she did in her selected suite (an accurate observation by Lucy). There was a door connecting to another room. Brigid explained that the other room she used as a storage area for completed works and other necessities. Brigid used one of the bathrooms as a darkroom (but rarely. . .she was fairly convinced that her photography was only functional, definitely not artistic. There would be those who heartily disagreed.)

Brigid's first action was to pull out a wide crate from underneath the bed. She yanked the lock open and flipped up the top to reveal a stash of weapons. She pulled a small bag of tags out of the box and a large notebook. She pulled one of the tags out and dropped the book on the bed. Then she went to fetch a pencil.

Now since Brigid had not specifically said to stay away from the box Lucy took the liberty to get a closer look. And gasped. There were all kinds of damaging hardware, but what caught her eye was the hatchet. It wasn't very ornate, but the shape was unique. She recognized it. She very carefully dug her way into the box and pulled the object out. A tag dangled loosely from the hatchet's handle.

"You look like youžve seen a ghost." Brigid's comment took a moment to filter through Lucy's brain.

She gave the demigoddess an intense look. "Where did you get this?" The Amazon made the hatchet whirl in the palm of her hand.

Brigid held the pistol by its butt, in between her forefinger and thumb. A newly numbered tag dangled from the trigger guard. "Same place I got this." The demigoddess pointed to the book, a large leather affair. "You can look it up in the book if you are that interested. Here, I'll show you." She picked the book up off the bed and sat down herself. She placed the book in her lap and the gun by her side. She patted the other side of the bed and Lucy sat down. "I started keeping a record when I went through an obsessive compulsive phase. Everything had to have a place and a purpose, you know." She grinned and looked around the room. "Obviously that all changed." She opened the book to the first page. It was a simple two figure drawing, with marks on the body indicating scars and lines with numbers. Brigid drew a small dot on the correlating shoulder to the wound shežd received that night, front and back. Then she marked the number. 56. "When I stop having these dreams that nearly get me killed, the next to last number will be my lucky one. Hmm." She looked at Lucy. "What's the number on that one?"

Lucy looked at the tag, "25."

"Hmm." Brigid flipped to the next set of pages, which was the equivalent of the table of contents. Then she flipped to the page indicated. There was a written description and on the opposite page some composite drawings. "Oh Yeah. This is the one where I didn't actually *see* how it happened. The back. I was some distance away from these two." She indicated two recognizable figures which were drawn in positions as if they had been fishing. "Watching them, when I felt . . .blam. .this huge pain. I woke up on my stomach and had to reach back and pull that sucker out." She grimaced. "I have a theory. I think, at that time, I was acting as a distraction. You know, whoever it was saw me first." She pointed at the figures again. "Gave them a chance to get away. I think."

Brigid looked thoughtful. She flipped the pages. "Oh yeah. Number 26. The first time I dreamed almost the same place and time. There's another hatchet in that box. This time I got a good look. The guy, he wasn't tribal. Modern sort. I got in his way when he was going to kill. . .well anyway, I got in the way." The pictures said what she hadn't. There was a drawn image of Gabrielle pouring water into a wounded manžs mouth. "At least this time I caught the hatchet, instead of getting myself chopped. Hmm."

She handed the book to Lucy, who looked a little sick. "You alright?" She glanced at the Amazon who gave her a funny little nod. "You are the only one who knows about this. I haven't told a soul. I thought I was done with the dreams, which is why I let you stay tonight. It's why I never took a. . .well one of the reason anyway." Brigid looked away. "I've really got to paint. I'll write this up later. If you want you can read the book. No sense in keeping a secret that's been blown. But do me a favor. Don't tell Robin. I don't know what she would think."

***

The book started from the very beginning. Describing Brigid's choice to help the Goddesses and why she made it. Describing the consequences of that choice, including the loss of her son (which was the most unexpected and tragic part for Brigid.) She described the phases of her "insanity," from the time she nearly stepped in front of an oncoming sixteen wheeler to the point where she took up the paintbrush and started using art as a therapeutic device (there were plenty of images that had been painted and then got torn apart in a fit of madness; not to mention sculpted pieces that never saw the inside of a kiln but rather met the face of a stone wall). She spoke of how every time she tried to kill herself, she kept hearing Gabrielle's voice asking if Brigid could live for them. Each time, despite herself, she answered yes.

Then she described the dreams and how they started almost as soon as she'd left the security of the Amazon nation. She felt that the dreams held a certain reality for her, but wasn't sure if it was really a case of her entering the past or if it was just her dreams manifesting on the physical level. If she was entering the past, then someone was out to get Xena and Gabrielle, and she suspected that they were trying to get rid of them before they, along with Callisto, had successfully converted Ares. If it was just a manifestation of her dreams, then there had to be an easier and less painful way to punish herself. She kept the dream journal as a record to try and figure out what the dreams were about.

The records were completely detailed. Brigid put as much information as she could into each entry. She included the drawings, because they helped clarify what she was writing. She thought, if this really was a plot to get the warrior princess and the bard, then she knew at least one of the individual gods responsible, but she didn't want to name him. Nor did she know if there were others. She *did* know that Xena and Gabrielle had several allies among the god types. And that was reassuring.

***

Brigid's naked back was turned towards the blonde Amazon, so she didn't see the expressions passing across Lucyžs face as she read the entries. This was both a good and bad thing. The demigoddess was working on one of the unfinished paintings trying to forget, for the moment, the events of the night. Her movements were powerful and simple. Her mind focused. So she missed the point where Lucy, for a split second, quit being blonde and green eyed .

Sporadically Brigid would field questions that Lucy asked. Clarifying details. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on one's perspective) Brigid remembered everything and answered easily. It was almost a relief. The demigoddess had realized she was carrying a hidden burden, but didn't know how good it would feel to share it. Sometimes the details Lucy sought seemed a little odd to Brigid, but she ignored that and fixed on remaining open to painting. Lucy asked about this last dream and the demigoddess answered evenly and carefully. Then Lucy asked, "Where's the cliff?"

Brigid turned around and eyed the blonde, "Huh?"

"The cliff. Robin said you were found over the edge of a cliff. She said they thought you jumped. All this," Lucy indicated the box and the book, "seems to show that you are not the type to jump."

"Does it? Hmm. That's nice." Brigid turned back to the painting. "The only problem is that I did jump."

The book thumped to the ground as Lucy stood up. The Amazon's voice was low and dangerous. It sounded . . .different. "What?"

"I was trying to get away."

A long pause. "From what?"

"Angry relatives." A bit of blue.

"Angry relatives."

Brigid nodded. "Not everyone was pleased with the success of the Amazon Nation. More particularly the success of a certain massacre." Brigidžs voice was calm. "They found me on one of those days where I didn't care if I lived or died. I mean," a stroke of red, "I did fight, but probably not as well as I could have, should have." A different brush, another slosh of blue. "It was a bad time. I managed to . .get away, after. . .but there was nowhere else to go. I didn't realize the extent of my injuries. I honestly thought I could make it. But I failed the grab." Another stroke of red.

There was a long silence. Then Brigid felt the warm proximity of a body near hers. "Brigid." The tonality of the voice sent shivers up the demigoddess' spine. The brush fell in a curving arc to the floor, leaving a red splot on the floor covering. Long arms captured and pulled her, nonresisting, into an embrace. "Brigid." The demigoddess closed her eyes as her name trailed through her ear and down her body. "Your lucky number just came up."

Chapter 8:
Interruptions

Somewhere in the middle, between the Amazon Nation and Washington Free State, Janice and Mel were negotiating a very tricky deal. Actually, it was more of a giggly, ticklish deal with lots of rolling around and quite few smooches. Currently, Mel was sitting on top of Janice's waist after capturing Janice's wrists allowing the dark haired priestess to go about nibbling a few sensitive areas without Jan interfering.

Jan hadn't used the safe word, not that she had a reason to. . . yet, so Mel wasn't worried. Mel tenderly captured a rosy nipple with her teeth and let it go then swiped the nipple with a wet lick. Janice shivered with delight. Mel hummed pleasantly.

There was a knock on the door, distracting the Mel's loving attention. "We're Busy Here!" Jan spoke loudly. Mel arched an eyebrow.

The priestess whispered, "I guess you could say that. . ."

There was another knock on the door. Jan thumped her head back on the pillow in aggrevation. "What did I do to deserve this?"

Melinda leaned forward and delivered a warm wet kiss full of promise. "Go and answer the door. I'm not going anywhere."

Jan growled. Melinda released the counselor and slid onto the bed. She pulled the covers up demurely. Jan looked longingly at her lover then grabbed the abandoned blouse.

The redhead opened the hotel door looking a little dishevelled but more covered. "Yes." She spoke unpleasantly, her eyes heavy lidded.

The nervous Amazon secretary said, "Kyle called." Janice took a deep calming breath.

"And?"

"He said they remembered. But he didn't say what." The Amazon carefully did not try and peek through the door. "He said get there quick, but don't rush. Uhm, Matters will be well in hand." She glanced at the quickly scrawled note. "Oh and he said to tell," the secretary ahemed, "the priestess not to to worry. The punishment will fit the crime."

***

Brigid fainted.

When she finally dared to look up and back at the speaker, she fainted. Fortunately, Xena already had her arms around the woman, so the demigoddess didn't go far.

She woke up on the bed. Xena applied gentle pressure to her shoulders to make Brigid stay lying down. But even that made the demigoddess wince, which caused Xena to frown mightily. Xena traced one of the scars (not one of the recent ones) to the top of Brigid's apron, which just barely hid her breasts. Xena spoke softly, but her eyes were dangerous. "I don't like these scars on you." A soft glow of light formed in Xena's palm. She lowered the lighted palm to Brigid's body.

The demigoddess sat up with an unexpected scream of pain. "YE FETCHIN OUCH!"

Xena was unamused by the pain, but was amused by the comment. Her lip twitched, but she kept the frown. An inhalation made her nostrils flare. "It seems some of these wounds are god made." Xena smiled but it didn't reach her eyes. "I am going to have to. . .talk. . .with Morpheus." She pushed Brigid back on the bed. "You should rest."

"I'm fine. Really. I just. . ."

Xena narrowed her eyes. "Don't argue."

Brigid opened her mouth, then closed it again. There was so many things she wanted to say. So many things she wanted to ask. But Xena's look intimidated her.

The artroom door opened and closed. Brigid's eyes widened. She'd locked that door upon entering. Xena spoke without turning her head away, her gaze still locked with Brigid's. "Hello Kyle."

The man's voice drifted across the room. "Hello Xena. Fancy seeing you here."

"Yes. Well. I have a few things to do. You think you can keep an eye on this. . .runaway."

If Brigid's eyes were wide before, they were even wider now. "Now just a minute, I. . ."

Xena silenced her with a hand to her mouth. She smiled pleasantly enough, but Brigid suddenly didn't trust that smile. "Now what did I say about arguing?"

It took a second for Brigid to find a voice, and it was very meek. "Don't."

Xena's voice became a sultry purr. "That's right. . .don't." Xena moved giving Brigid a good view of the blonde man, who seemed to be stripping. Xena grinned. "Kyle is going to take care of you now. In his own special way." Brigid watched as Kyle pulled a shirt over his head, revealing a muscled and slightly hairy torso. Brigid gulped.

"Uhm. .."

"Shh." Xena gave Brigid that unreassuring smile again. "Kyle won't do anything you don't want. Will you Kyle?"

"Of course not." The pants were coming off. Brigid shot Xena a panicked glance. Xena arched an eyebrow in a *is there a problem* movement. Kyle paused, as he shucked off his boxers. "Well, maybe one thing. But it won't hurt. I guarantee it."

Xena turned her head towards the man and grinned wickedly, "Well, you have My permission." Then she looked fiercely at the demigoddess. "She needs it."

That made Brigid sit up. "Now Wait Just One F.. ."

Xena very ungently pushed Brigid back down. "You Behave!" Xena looked very cross. "Kyle, perhaps we shouldn't put this off."

"Hmm."

Brigid found herself looking at a whole lot of blonde naked man. His brown eyes bore into her soul and tapped into something deep within her. He shook his head and tsked. "You have been very naughty." Brigid blinked and would have protested, but her mouth was suddenly dry. "We Have been searching for three years." His voice was deep and mild. He leaned very close, put his hand in front of Brigid's face and spread his fingers so that they counted three. "Three very long. Very lonely. Very confusing Years." He growled a bit menacingly. "I am very upset with what you have done." He slapped the pillow by Brigid's head. Brigid flinched. His face gentled. He whispered and his voice changed, becoming a bit lighter, higher. "You could have at least called Jan a little more often." Another slap to the pillow, "More than one Damn Time!" Brigid might have been upset, but she was grinning through tears at the face above her. The blonde's sweet face drifted very close to hers and Callisto touched her cheek to Brigid's "What in Hades am I going to do with you?"

Brigid shook her head in an *I don't know fashion* Her voice was pretty much out the door. But her eyes said, *I'm am so glad to see you I don't know what to do with myself.* Callisto pulled back and knelt by the bed. She looked at Xena.

"Shall we?"

"Definitely."

Their hands moved quickly and they touched Brigid's neck. Brigid suddenly felt a weight hanging a low and loosely around her neck. She put her hand up to touch it. It felt smooth and warm to the touch. There was a loop attached to the front. It was connected to a delicate chain which Brigid's eyes traced to a leather looking strap wrapped around Callisto's hands. Brigid's jaw dropped. Callisto grinned evilly. "No More Running Away for you My dear. We've got you collared."

Chapter 9
The Collar

Brigid sat up, yet again, but didn't see Xena's arched eyebrow because the demigoddess was concentrating on trying to look at what was around her neck. "You've Got to be Kidding!" Brigid reached to pull at the collar. Her hand was caught, not too hard, by Xena's.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you."

Callisto shook her head. "You should probably let her try, at least once. She is a fast learner after all, usually."

Xena nodded and let go of Brigid's hand gracefully. She gave the demigoddess a sardonic look, "Go ahead then."

Brigid gazed warily at the two goddesses and considered her options. This was probably a trap or at least they were trying to get her to think it was. But she doubted they would try and kill her. Brigid quickly looped her finger through the collar and pulled and was promptly choking. The dark warrior goddess gently touched the collar and it retracted. Brigid started breathing heavy. She blinked back tears. "Kind of extreme don'tcha think?"

"No." That was Xena

"Our goal is to make sure you stay within our. . .sight. You have this unfortunate propensity for . . .vanishing without a," Callisto made an alternative vocabulary choice, ". . .trace. And we have a reason to believe that you would disappear again."

Brigid tried to reason with them, "Look. I know I have this huge privacy orientation, but now that you are here I don't want to disappear and I am Not a runaway. . ."

"I don't recall saying you *would* want to." Callisto leaned forward and caressed Brigid's face, "And shall we discuss your track record?"

"Hey I stuck around when it was important." Then it hit. "Oh. You're trying to protect me." She touched the warm object around her neck and traced the ring to the lead. Her brows furrowed, "Couldn't you think of a better way to . ."

"Perhaps," This time it was Xena, who had a wicked gleam in her eye, "but this is more fun." Xena's voice gentled, "And it is a sufficient way of ensuring that you do not go too far away from us."

Brigid felt claustrophobic. This was something she never really spoke of to anyone, but she hated having anything around her neck. She couldn't even wear turtleneck sweaters without almost gagging. She swallowed and turned a little pale. "How long?"

"A day or two should get us past the danger zone."

Now Brigid looked a little green. "A day or two. . ."

"Is there a problem."

Brigid put her thumb and finger close together. "Teensy. I can . . .handle it."

Xena's eyes held Brigid's captive. "What is the problem."

Brigid phrased it in a question. "Callisto when have I ever worn a necklace?"

Callisto looked to the side for a moment and then understood, "Never."

"Teeny problem with things around the neck. Tiny. Minuscule. For you I would do anything, even. . .," Brigid swallowed, "this. But I need to uh. . .get used to it."

Callisto and Xena conferred silently. Brigid felt sweat bead up at her brow.

Xena spoke, "We have two solutions. WE are of a mind that you need to be taught a lesson." Brigid's lips trembled. "However, there is no need for cruelty. You will wear the collar for today, with some adjustments. We will provide the alternative tomorrow." Xena and Callisto touched the collar again.

Suddenly the weight of the collar was gone. Brigid glanced at them and reached to touch. It was still there, but she couldn't feel the weight of it around her neck. She let out a sigh of relief. Her mouth was not as dry. "I can live with this."

Xena patted the demigoddess' cheek. Then she turned to Callisto. "I leave her to your tender mercies." The warrior goddess leaned forward kissed the blonde sweetly and deeply. She pulled back slowly with a smile. "I've a god of dreams to see." Xena pointed at the book and then at the box of weapons. They disappeared. The she looked at Callisto again and said, "Remember, no. . ."She put a finger to her lips and pursed her lips.

Callisto grinned and then looked at Brigid, "Not a problem. There are plenty of other things we can do."

Xena smiled and vanished in poof of light.

Then Callisto pulled herself up onto the bed and sat on the edge, next to Brigid's thigh. Her expression was serious as she raised her hand to touch the demigoddess' hair. Brigid's own expression returned to the now familiar one of no expression. "You." There was such sorrow in her voice. "It was you."

Brigid closed her eyes because they felt wet. Callisto's voice continued softly. "All these thousand years and I never knew who it was. Who pulled me out, when the rest of my family. . .All this time." Callisto's hand curved around Brigid's cheek.

Brigid felt a sob in her throat, "I couldn't stop him. I tried. I really did, but he threw it so fast and I just missed. . .and I couldn't let you . . .I'm so sorry. . .If only I'd. ."

A gentle pressure to Brigid's lips, "Shhh." The finger traced back to her ear and pushed back some drifting hair. "We are what the fates make us and what we make of ourselves. I made some choices based on assumptions. Just as you did." A sigh issued from somewhere deep in the goddess.

Brigid's voice trembled, "I lost our son. I didn't know."

More sorrow. "I know."

Brigid's eyes leaked. She couldn't even look at Callisto. That familiar pain was back. The one she'd never buried and couldn't ignore. Brigid felt herself pulled into an embrace. "I wanted. . .I wanted him." She tried to explain, "I'd've never. . . not if I'd've known. I would have waited. I would have. . ."

Callisto's voice was rough with unshed tears. "You couldn't wait and you know it. There was no waiting for this. We were dying. You knew it. There was no way for you to know. . ."Callisto's voice cracked and Brigid felt wetness in her hair, "what it would cost. Who could?"

***

Some time later:

Callisto leaned Brigid back onto the bed. She let one arm support her body and hold the lead. She traced a pattern on Brigid's face. "I've missed you. We all did." She smiled quietly, "We just didn't know what we were missing." Callisto patted her chest, "It was an ache right here. For all of us." She gave a small laugh, "Even Ares." She touched Brigid's nose, "Such a Sneaky God like thing to do Brigid."

Brigid's expression changed. "He did ask? Didn't he?"

"Oh yes. But in typical god fashion, he left out a few details, because he didn't know them. And the execution was so simple. A kiss." The goddess laughed. "We underestimated you terribly. That whole time. Xena thought she had you figured out. But you kept changing the rules." Callisto leaned in and licked Brigid's ear. "A woman after my own heart." Brigid shivered with desire. "But things worked out well because of you, my love. At least so far." More licks trailing Brigid's jaw. "Better than expected, in a way. So thorough." Callisto's free hand contacted an strongly reacting nipple under Brigid's apron. "We have things to discuss. All of us. But for now." Brigid's body ached a familiar ache. "Let's find a way to," another nibble on the ear. Brigid suddenly felt wet, "relax."

Chapter 10
Steamed

Suggested Listening: Peter Gabriel -- Steam

Brigid ran her fingers through short golden curls until her palm flattened against an erect nipple. Her voice reeked of indecision. "I don't know." She sighed. "This was nice." Her tone became sultry, "Very nice." She lifted her palm up and traced the nipple with a short fingernail. "But it's hard to compare." Honey gold eyebrows lifted. "No pun intended."

Kyle smiled and clasped Brigid's hand to his chest. "Are you sure you don't have a preference. This or this." Suddenly Brigids hand was covering something rounder, though the nipple was still tantalizingly erect. Brigid's mouth tried to work. It really did. But she kept falling into brown eyes. The demigoddess closed her eyes for a moment, to try and regain some composure.

She opened them carefully. Callisto's gaze was solemn. Brigid felt something inexpressable. The demigoddess' eyes filled with warmth. "I look at you like this. I see my friend. I see my lover. I feel a warmth in my belly. I think, 'I have loved this person forever.' I tingle. I crave. I love how you smell and how you taste." Her voice was a smile, "When I see you the other way, I see someone new and not new. The familiarity is gone. . .right up until you gaze at me with eyes so deep I think I will fall in and never come out again. Then I think, 'I love this person. I have loved this person forever.' And I tingle and I crave. It's the you-ness I like. You." Brigid's hand pulled gently from the grasp of her goddess lover and traced the line of the blonde's jaw. "You make my mouth water and my heart soar."

Callisto's expression took on a tender intensity. Brigid felt as if a magnet was pulling her in. . .her lips parted softly for a kiss. Callisto groaned, closed her eyes, shook her head and rolled off the bed. This caused Brigid to fall forward a bit. "Huh?" was Brigid's eloquent response.

Callisto crouched and then stood up. "That was too close." Brigid's eyelids blinked in rapid succession. Her face held confusion. Callisto grabbed the the leather end of the leash and wound it until her fist was close to the collar. Then she forced Brigid's head up with her hands."Such lovely words. So delicately said. Let's see how much you mean them. Hmm." Callisto changed back into Kyle. "Time for us to get up anyway. Now up. .Up." Brigid looked startled and complied. When she finally got up, Kyle let loose the chain, so that it formed a "U" betweeen them.

***

This was not how Brigid expected to be spending the day. She ate silently, very aware of the looks she was recieving. Kyle sat across from her, smiling pleasantly. The demigoddess' eyes were hooded and she found herself plotting methods of revenge (although technically foolhardy, considering she was planning revenge on two powerful goddess types, she still found some comfort in her thoughts.) Kyle still held the lead in his large hands. Brigid blushed momentarily when she thought of where those hands had recently been.

Of course, this meant the buzz in the room got a little louder. Brigid found herself growling at her sandwich. This got her chin tapped and a very serious look from Kyle. He shook his head "No." Brigid's nostrils flaired in anger, then suddenly her face wore no expression. Kyle decided he hated it when she did that, especially now that he knew what caused her to be able to change expressions so easily. A particularly nasty dream that was. . .Kyle considered suitable punishments for Morpheus and briefly regretted letting Xena handle the problematic god. Kyle contacted Xena and then grinned at the results.

"Uhm. .Coach?"

Two athletic looking Amazons very carefully ignored Brigid. This was a very good thing, because the demigoddess' eyes changed into a truly unfriendly color.

Kyle smiled graciously, "Yes?"

The taller one spoke, "Uhm. . we were wondering...if we could put off practice till later. There's supposed to be a. . ." The woman didn't get to finish.

"That's fine. I was going to suggest a hold on practice anyway. At least until later this afternoon."

The amazon smiled in relief. "Oh. Good. What time?"

"Tell everyone threeish."

"Will do. Thanks."

"No problem." The Amazons drifted away and only one of them looked back at the chained hero. She leaned over to whisper seriously at her friend.

Brigid pushed the food away, since she no longer felt hungry, and crossed her arms over her chest. Her face remained neutral, but the air practically shifted with anger. It was funny. The collar wasn't what was causing the reaction nor was it being dragged around by Kyle all morning. Though many thought it was, but despite the embarassment it should have caused, Brigid could think of worse things . . . since she had been through some of them . . . and she found it kind of stimulating anyway. No, that wasn't what caused the atmosphere around Brigid to practially steam. It was the uniform. It was the reminder of everything she had done during the war. Things that she had no pride in.

Kyle kept the smile on his face and leaned forward. "You had better finish that."

"I'm not hungry anymore."

"The problem is not that you aren't hungry now. It is that you will be hungry later. Finish it."

Brigid thought about casting a hateful look and then sighed. She pulled the plate back wearily. Brigid's chin was neatly caught in Kyle's hand, "It will be worth it. I promise." He tilted her head up and brushed her lips with his fingers. Brigid didn't smile, but her expression lightened a little.

She wondered why. Why no kisses? And was surprised, that for someone who'd been without a lover for three years and who'd had such a lovely early morning shag, she suddenly missed the kisses most of all.

Chapter 11
Ripples

It didn't take long for Brigid to figure out how to free herself from the collar. But she decided not to take advantage of that knowledge yet. She swirled the water with her foot and when Kyle's head was turned for whatever reason, she let her foot be water. This was how she figured out that the collar didn't actually interfere with her abilities. When Kyle's head turned back and the man was gazing at her, Brigid's foot simply swayed in the water. She smiled innocently at him, and leaned back, letting her arms support her on the wooden deck.

Kyle and Brigid were outside now, situated by the lake. Some Amazon types were taking advantage of the last vestiges of warmth before the oncoming chill of fall and were cavorting in the water (some quite nakedly). Kyle leaned back and basked in the sunlight. Brigid watched Kyle close his eyes and strove to resist the temptation to shock him out complacency. They are trying to protect me. . .at the same time as humiliating me with this damn outfit. She looked down at her uniform. Kyle wouldn't even let her out of it so she could go swimming.

This was the one thing she couldn't figure out. Why this uniform. Why now? She shook her head in thought. It was then that she caught sight of her. Brigid quit breathing.

The woman's hips swayed seductively with each step. It was obvious she was in good shape. Her hair was dark and luxuriant. Her skin fair. She was still too far away for Brigid to see the color of her eyes, but they seemed to crinkle, matching the woman's smile. And what a smile. Dazzling. And her legs. . oh Gods . .they went all the way up. It took a moment for Brigid to make out what Kyle was whispering in her ear. "Breathe Brigid Breathe!" Brigid took in a deep Gulp of air.

The exhalation was explosive. "WOW!"

Kyle's breath was warm and moist at her ear. "Ja. Isn't though." Brigid looked at Kyle intently and drifted in his eyes for a moment. Then she smiled. The blonde smiled back. Then turned and waved the woman over.

"Kyle?"

He grinned, "Wait and see."

The woman waved back and climbed the stairs down to the deck. Everything the woman wore (and it was surprisingly modest, knee length, flowing, flower print dress) seemed to emphasise her curves and the way she moved.

Now Brigid never really sexualized people at first glance. That hadn't been her way at all and the first time she could remember it happening was when she saw Xena walk years ago. This was a fair approximation of that time. Brigid's heart palpitated (you know, like it usually does, except fiercer).

Kyle held out a hand to Brigid, who hastily accepted it and stood up. Somehow she managed to drag her jaw back up off the floor (okay, so it wasn't the floor, but you know what I mean). Brigid cast a quick glance at her lover, "Who?"

"Wait." At this point that was asking a lot.

The woman was finally standing on the deck with them and then she practically flowed into Kyle's outstretched arms. (One of which was attached to the hand that Still had a firm grasp on the lead attached to the collar). The woman laid a kiss on Kyle so ardently erotic and profound that Brigid could almost taste it herself. She stifled a moan and plastered on her no expression facade.

The blonde and the brunette pulled apart slowly, wetly. The new arrival smiled juicily at the man wrapped in her arms. "It's soo good to see you." Her voice was like wild honey. Kyle pulled her close and nuzzled.

"And you." He let go and looked around briefly. "I thought you were in Europe. Where is. . ."

The woman grinned and pulled away playfully. "Oh you know her. If one goes they both go." The grinned turned a little wicked. "And it's such a good cause."

This caused Kyle to snicker and to nod. "Yes it is." His eyes narrowed. "Especially considering how close. . ." There was a flare of anger in his eyes.

The woman pressed her fingers against his lips. "Shush love. It didn't happen. . .thankfully." She withdrew her fingers slowly, until they rested on his uncovered chest.

Brigid felt like a fifth wheel. No, make that a hundred and twenty fifth wheel. She had a sudden and pressing urge to be elsewhere, while at the same time yearning to only be here. It was a confusing impulse.

Finally the brunette's dark eyes rested upon Brigid. "Well well well. If it isn't the absentee captain."

If it were possible, Brigid's no expression became even deeper. Her whole body language became one of neutrality, though she felt anything but neutral. There was no apparent response other than that.

The woman stepped forward. "Did you not hear what I said?"

Brigid's voice was even. "I heard."

"And."

"I am not an absentee captain."

"Oh?" Brigid looked in to dark eyes.

"I resigned a long time ago."

"Why?"

". . ." Was Brigid's reply.

The woman touched Brigid's cheek softly. "So stubborn. So damn stubborn." She shook her head. "Why is it I always pick the stubborn ones?"

Brigid eyed the woman warily, resisting the impulse to shudder in reflex to her gentle touch. Kyle stepped forward and put an arm around the woman's waist. The woman looked up at Kyle with a smile. He pulled her hand down from Brigid's face and inserted the lead into the woman's palm.

"I would love to stay and watch this, but I have a practice to run." He smiled at Brigid, "Brigid this is Erin. Erin you know Brigid. Have fun." He kissed Erin on the cheek and whispered something in her ear which made the brunette giggle. Then he was off and away.

Brigid decided to be polite. "Hello Ares."

 Chapter 12
Chat

Things were not going well in Morpheus' dimension. Not well at all.. for Morpheus. He tried to explain. Really he did. It wasn't his fault (not all of it anyway) and besides, what was done was done. He wasn't sure who scared him the most; the dark tressed goddess or the one who talked a lot. Now the warrior, she could hurt him, but he might live through the experience. The other, the story teller (and now advocate), she would _talk_ him to death. He was sure of it. And those flashing hazel eyes, well, they pierced to the soul. Not that the blue eyes weren't daggers to his breast. He tried to make nice. But they wouldn't have it.

He strove to explain that he had been trying to save their lives, that the chosen was the best one to do it because she had this affinity which he couldn't safely describe without revealing too many of his own secrets, and it wasn't his fault they couldn't find her and why should he have told them where she was? He didn't know there was a problem (which was a face saving lie and he knew it, but better to lie and live then not and well . .suffer) and finally that the scars were not *his* doing, per se.

Still, they managed to twist his words until he agreed to undo whatever physical damage Brigid suffered during the dreamtime, but it was going to have to wait until the woman was asleep. They finally agreed and left. Morpheus sighed in relief and planned a very special and very important dream for Brigid. Inwardly, he was grateful to the woman for going through all of this. And now, this final dream would make all the difference in the world and get those two . . .two . . .harridans off of his back. After that, he would clean up. His place was a wreck.


"Erin, call me Erin." The dark eyes flashed, but not in anger.

"Okay. Hello Erin." Brigid folded her arms and waited.

"You are going to make this difficult aren't you?" the enchanting woman sighed.

". . ."

Erin glanced around, taking in the scenery and the lovely people playing in the water. Then she turned her gaze back to Brigid. "I think we need somewhere a little more private. You need to vent." Brigid was surprised but didn't show it. Erin gave a gentle tug. "Suggest a place?"

First, Brigid wasn't sure how alone she wanted to be with this woman. Second, the most private places she could think of weren't really places. But she did have a place where she went to vent, a clearing that wasn't too far away. She made the suggestion.

They walked. Again there were stares, again, but it was a mix of envy and appreciation. They ended up taking one of the hiking routes. When they were out of the view of most prying eyes. Brigid found herself wearing appropriate hiking clothes and Erin was clothed likewise. Brigid had a very hard time keeping her eyes off the god's backside. "Unbelievable," Brigid whispered to herself.

"What?"

"Nothing."

Erin grinned.

Soon they diverged to a little used path and then later to a path (if you could call it that) requiring Brigid to lead. Soon they were in an area where there were large outcroppings of rock. One very large rock looked like it had been defaced with a sledgehammer. There were pebbles all around it (none were smooth and round from natural wear and tear).

The god let go of the lead. Two lawn chairs appeared, and a small stand. There was a pitcher of something to drink and two cups. Erin waved Brigid to be seated. Brigid picked up the slack and held the lead to herself. She didn't look likely to give it back. The demigoddess sat down.

Erin sat in the opposite chair. She poured them something to drink. Brigid picked up a glass and sniffed suspiciously. Erin sighed. "It's safe. I thought you might be thirsty."

Brigid was thirsty. She took a swig. It was some sweet fruit juice, tasted.. .applish, had kind of a zing to it. "Nice."

"I'm glad you liked it." Erin sat back comfortably, "Now, let's talk."

Brigid made herself comfortable. "About what?"

"Let's start with why you resigned."

Brigid's answer was quick and to the point. "Because you won."

"Excuse me. As I recall the Amazon Nation won the war. I chose your side, remember?" Erin looked away, "And after all that effort."

"I wasn't talking about the war and you know it."

"Oh. Tell me more."

"No."

"Look, this will help me. This will help you. Talk."

"I do not want to talk. I do not want to be here. I do not want to. . ."

"You don't trust me."

A blank face.

"Why not. I did as we agreed, didn't I. You trusted me then."

"I trusted your love for them. I trusted your heart. I trusted my gut." There was a glimmer of an expression, finally. "I never really trusted you."

"Why did you leave? Why did you take yourself away from us?" Brigid heard, for the first time (though it was in Erin's voice all along) a deep sense of loss. She realized that they all must be listening. She turned her face away to hide her expression.

After a few moments she turned back. "I couldn't face you not knowing me. . .At first, I thought I could wait it out. That the feelings would fade, but when I realized how deeply. . ." it was almost a sob, "the consequences went. . I knew I couldn't face. ." A single tear trickled its way down the demigoddess' cheek. "Anyway, I couldn't stay." She took a deep breath to gather herself together. "Besides, I was being a gracious loser. I . . ."

"Didn't expect us to notice you were gone?"

"no."

Erin leaned forward. "Brigid. We noticed." Her voice was soft as silk. "Oh, we didn't know why we felt so. . .not whole. We just did. You were right you know. . ." Brigid gazed at Erin in question. "Real worship is much better than blood lust. Much. We were very high after the war. Very. I felt." Erin touched her chest. "Better than I've ever felt. I had fought the righteous cause. I felt the results. It was better than I ever imagined. It was what I thought I wanted." She frowned. "But when we came down. . ." She gave a soft laugh, "All we could think of for a while was about what was missing. What was missing? We didn't know. It hurt like a gaping wound that wouldn't close. You know?"

Brigid nodded. She knew exactly. "But I thought. . ."

"You broke the bond?"

Brigid nodded.

There was another voice in the clearing. A strawberry blonde, looking very much at home in the woods strode forward. "It all depends on what you mean by broken doesn't it." She blew a kiss to Erin and summoned another lawn chair. It settled besides Brigid's. Gabrielle sat down and took Brigid's hand. She turned it so the palm faced up. The palm was smooth and pink. Gabrielle caressed Brigid's palm with her fingertips. Brigid shivered with pleasure. "We speculated quite a bit, once we discovered that a certain Captain of the Amazon Elite vanished without a trace. It was kind of a shock actually."

Erin spoke, "I went to offer you a reward, you know. Something a warrior could use. Imagine my surprise when a certain General Queen told me you'd resigned. That was our first big clue."

Then Gabrielle added, "Then, on a particularly bad day I saw Janice."

Brigid winced and groaned.

"She didn't exactly spill her guts, but she did tell us what we needed to know."

Erin grinned evilly, "At first we wanted to kill you, for the pain you caused."

"Then we decided death would be too pleasant for you."

"So we thought of torture."

"Then we remembered, fortunately for you, that we LOVED you."

"Then we wanted find you quickly, because we knew, if we were feeling bad,"

"You must be feeling somewhere between worse and terrible."

Brigid nodded limply.

"But we couldn't find you."

"And you didn't call Janice after that one time." A gentle slap to Brigid's head. Brigid did an *ow* kind of movement and rubbed the back of her head.

"So we had to wait." Erin growled, "And as you know. . .some of us do not wait well."

"I didn't expect you to figure it out so soon."

"Why not?" Gabrielle asked, "There were four of us. And You KNOW how smart Callisto and Xena are and you left big ol' gaping clues. We were bound to work it out and if not remember completely, at least know which direction to start looking in."

If Brigid's hand had not been captured in Gabrielle's she would have pulled it up to cover her face. She leaned back in the lawn chair and groaned again. Then she sat up abruptly. "But the bond was. . ."

"not broken." Gabrielle finished. "More like severely adjusted. Or else you wouldn't have felt so terrible. You would have just gone on with your life. You would have forgotten too. And not one of us would have suffered for the loss." Gabrielle got out of the lawn chair and kneeled in front of Brigid, "But you forgot one thing, sweet Brigid, ours was a bond of love. It couldn't be broken. At least, not the way you tried to break it." Brigid looked at Gabrielle in the manner of the clueless. "You were acting because of love, Brigid. Love does not break love it only adds to it."

"I caused you to suffer."

Gabrielle pulled Brigid close. "Honey, we all go wounded into love. All of us. It's those vulnerabilities which allow us to have the great loves, to do beyond our expectations and express compassion. I think. So we suffered. You did too. It will give us something to talk about for awhile, then we'll move on."

"Gods."

"Most definitely."

Erin captured Brigid's other hand, and the lead. "We have a lot of time to make up for Brigid. But some of that will have to wait. There are things we must discuss, as a *family*." Erin smiled prettily, "We still have a world to save."

"Save?"

"Oh you thought this was all done? After one measly little war. I thought you knew? You seemed to in the Valley."

"Well I figured out a few things, but I've lived the secluded life, you know."

Erin peered deeply into Brigid's eyes. "You know more than you let on." She grinned, "But that is good for us and we are going to take advantage of it." Erin handed the lead to Gabrielle. "I've got to go for a few, then I will return." Then the goddess who used to be the God of War, gave Gabrielle a sweetly tender kiss that went on forever and a day.

Once again, Brigid felt deprived.

 

Chapter 13
A sort of private conversation

Brigid waited until Erin disappeared.

Her voice was tight, controlled. "Gabrielle?"

"Yes."

"You remember, when you said that you were 'here' for me, anytime."

Gabrielle responded, "I have often wondered if *You* remembered."

Brigid paused and then continued, "I need you. But, . . .could it be private?" The demigoddess scanned the sky, "Is there any way you and I could converse without me having to worry about who is listening?" (Now the demigoddess knew it was possible, because she had made it so, but still it was polite to ask.)

The strawberry blonde patted Brigid's arm. "Of course. Give me a moment." She squinted, "Would you mind if Xena sat in?"

Brigid contemplated. She bent down and picked up one of the larger shards of rock that happened to be near her feet. She examined the rough edges. "Yeah, sure, why not?" She responded. Gabrielle took this to mean it was okay. Brigid set the rock back down.

"We're ready when you are."

Brigid, who was still sitting in the lawnchair, put her hands together and steepled her fingers. She started with, "I have a few concerns." She stuck with safe issues, because she wasn't sure about the depth and width of the changes they had experienced as part of their bonding with Ares. But the issues were problematic enough. Mostly, the concerns she expressed had to deal with relating to them as they were now. She told them she would strive to work it out with Erin, but she wasn't guaranteeing anything. She didn't address the fear she felt about the way Erin had phrased "save the world." It had sounded a lot like "take over the world," to her still mostly mortal mind. She wondered, not vocally, if Erin had really changed, or if the got had traded one addiction for another.

She talked about other things too, again concerns, mostly about the inn or about how they felt. If the healing had really worked (and given them the privacy they needed). If it had been worth it to them. She wondered about that a lot. Was it worth being bonded to Ares to be well? Had she made the correct decision? It had been an act of intuition more than one of weighing the options. She was sorry she wrecked their plans, and she knew she had. Big time. The responses were gentle, comforting. At one point Gabrielle substituted the chair for something wider and softer and pulled Brigid close so the demigoddess could cry on her shoulder. "I cost you your humanity," was the statement that really made the tears flow.

It, quite frankly, shocked Gabrielle. She rocked Brigid in her arms. "No. No you didn't. We made choices. It is not your fault." She said this over and over again, until finally the chosen actually started getting the message.

At last, Brigid admitted that she missed them, terribly. (Not that she had to tell them in order to inform them, this was something they knew quite well. But it was not something she had ever admitted to her heart. And for some reason, saying it caused her to feel. . more whole. Honesty will do that to you.) This brought on a spate of new tears, but they were the kind that one could actually get over.

When the tears were done, and wiped tenderly away, and her heart felt a little better, she asked the question that had been most on her mind, (at least for the day) although she guessed she knew the answer (but it wasn't what she thought). "Why won't you kiss me?"

Gabrielle smiled and leaned to whisper the answer in her ears.

Chapter 14
Laughing Fit

The bard goddess' breath tickled Brigid's ear as she spoke, "We're contagious."

Brigid sat up rigidly and said nothing for a few seconds. She couldn't even look at Gabrielle. But she knew there was only one way they would have come to the conclusion that they were contagious. "Let me see if I understand this. When you say you are contagious you mean . . .what exactly."

"If we kiss you, you will become part of us."

"Oh boy." Brigid felt the saliva dry right out of her mouth. She cleared her throat. "Not that being one of you is a bad thing, but exactly How many individuals are you including when you say, 'Us'?"

"Six so far. We quit the mouth to mouth contact with others as soon as we realized what was happening."

"If I am not part of this, uh, group experience, why did Erin imply that I was?"

"Erin wasn't implying you were part of us in that way. But you are part of us here." Gabrielle took Brigid's hand and placed it against her bosom. "Like you always were."

"Sort of an emotional mix and match." Brigid's voice held a trace of humor, but Gabrielle's face was solemn. Brigid spoke again, "Who?" The demigoddess had a sudden fear for Janice and Melinda.

"Aphrodite and Haephastus."

Brigid's head swished around so that she could look at Gabrielle. The goddess was serious. Then Brigid, for some unknown reason, began to laugh hysterically and she couldn't stop. Now she knew this was serious. She knew it was a problem. She couldn't help herself. It was too painful not to laugh. So she guffawed until her belly hurt and then past that. And it was at that point that she began to disintegrate. To the casual observer it would have seemed as if she were fading in and out, like an unclear signal. But Gabrielle was not a casual observer. It was as if Brigid's very essence was parting itself.

This was the thing the god's in her "family" had worried about, as foretold by one of the oracles (there were several, but two were the most respected. . .and accurate and it was one of these two who made the prophesy.) in the Amazon Nation to Melinda when she was acting in the capacity of priestess. They knew that if they didn't stop her from disappearing (this one time), they would never see the demigoddess again. That was an unbearable thought to all of the gods infected by this strange and powerful virus. Besides, she held the key to the cure (Not that they weren't enjoying each other's company, but one of the god's job requirements included aspects that called for kissing. Aphrodite found the timing atrocious, especially since that was one of her favorite parts of her assignment.)

There is no telling which, whether Gabrielle or Xena, sent out the call, but the results were the same. All of the gods who were family converged at one space and time. And they stewed for many a millisecond about what to do, conversing silently, totally about their options. It was actually Callisto who saved the day. In this case, she operated from a base understanding about what captures the attention quickest. And Brigid's attention needed capturing.

Callisto strode forward, straddled Brigid's hips or what was left of them, pulled the demigoddess' top out of her jeans, looped her finger through a certain hoop (which also happened to have a certain solidity and was attached to a certain belly button) and yanked with all her might. The results were bloody and instantaneous. Brigid screamed, bucked Callisto off, and bent over to protect (a little too late) her belly. But she was solid again and most definitely not disappearing.

"Owey Owey Owey Owey Owey," was Brigid's articulate yet repetitive response to Callisto's action. She squinched her eyes in pain and was now crouching on the ground, hand over belly, mind on the present. Callisto patted her shoulder soliciously.

"Ya with us again?"

"Gah."

"Good."

Aphrodite spoke in a slightly peeved tone, "What exactly was she laughing at anyway?"

Brigid, despite the pain started to snicker again, but not quite so hard. Every time she tried to catch her breath and explain she would go into another fit of giggles. There were a lot of confused shrugs. Finally Brigid was able to gasp out, "Safe Sex," and collapsed again. Now her back was on the grass (and some rock) and her hand was still on her belly (slightly bloody) but she wasn't disappearing and she was still laughing. "Even the Gods."

It was Aphrodite's lips which twitched first. Love and responsibility. While it should always have been, it was a must in this time. And this was the Gods, who weren't exactly known for. . .! Yeah, it was funny. The goddess began to laugh.

 Chapter 15
Options

Once things got settled down, and Callisto had healed the belly button and put the hoop back where it belonged, Brigid started asking some serious questions. She kept thinking, There are Six of them for Pete's sake! Surely they could've figured Something out. While they answered honestly (she guessed), it also seemed like they weren't answering everything. She considered this at the same time as she was considering the accumulation of their responses.

She came to a few conclusions:

1. (Unspoken, but obvious to her) They didn't want to be cured, they wanted to be noncontagious or selectively so. When she'd broached the topic, she'd noticed how they gathered in on themselves (and in particular, around Erin).

2. The method of transmission would have to be fixed pronto. Why? Because she was a kissing kind of woman and she refused to do without and she also had no inclination to join the groupmind. . too many things to hide still.

3. They hadn't yet tried kissing a mortal. They'd just assumed it would be bad. If it didn't harm mortals, then Aphrodite could, in fact, "do her love thing." The trick would be finding a mortal that no one minded being stuck with forever.


Brigid had enough of thinking for the night. Her eyeballs ached dully and she figured her judgement was getting cloudy. They tabled the issue and freed Brigid from the collar (something she was most grateful for. . .she had visions of the WHOLE town talking about the day that Hero was 'tamed'. It sent shivers up her spine and not in a good way.) Xena startled Brigid by picking her up, so that the demigoddess' legs dangled over one arm and the demigoddess felt wrapped in comfort.

The goddess' voice was comforting, "You've had enough for one day, I think."

The next thing Brigid knew, Xena entered the artroom. The bed was neatly made and seemed much larger than she recalled. In fact, a lot of things seemed neater, cleaner. . .less chaotic, while at the same time it still felt like her room. Xena set the demigoddess down. Brigid tried to determine what was different. Then she suddenly realized. The sheets were gone.

Her mouth fell open. "What'n'th'HELL!"

"You're BACK!" Brigid whipped around at the sound of a familiar voice. It was, truthfully, the last person she expected to see. Clarisse. "You You You. . ." Brigid stuttered on the words she wanted to say.

Clarisse wrapped herself around the demigoddess. "You have been one busy artist. I'm . . I mean we. .are going to make a fortune." The artdealer's eye's gleamed with avarice. "As my great grand uncle Sal. . ."

"You had an uncle named Sal?" Brigid asked as she pulled herself out from Clarisse's grip.

"Yes. Sal is short for a family name. . You know, handed down and all that. I come from a long line of . . marketing experts." Clarisse batted some pretty eyelashes at Brigid, who was still in the shock stage, but quickly reaching the fuming stage of the conversation.

Xena smirked for some reason. Brigid prepared to lob a volley of expletives. Clarisse, who was oblivious to Brigid's imminent foray into alternative vocabulary, turned quickly and caught sight of Xena. Her mouth formed an "O" of surprise. "Wow! You know Xena?" She grabbed one of the demigoddess' forearms. "Fabulous! We'll use the lost and found angle. The return of the missing Amazon. Then we'll talk contacts. Marvelous."

Brigid officially hit that too tired point. She yanked her arm from Clarisse's grasp. "Now Wait Just One Minute. . ." she began.

Xena interceded kindly. "Brigid has had a very long day. Perhaps you can continue this conversation another time?" She raised an eyebrow.

"What? Oh sure. No problem." Clarisse kissed Brigid goodbye. That action alone would have shut the demigoddess up. "I'll see you tomorrow sweetie. I want to discuss that sculpted piece over there." She pointed to a mantle. On it, uncovered and bare to the world was one of Brigid's most treasured works. Seeing it so caused Brigid's belly to spasm. Her expression turned dark. Again Clarisse missed the look because she was out the door and gone.

Xena decided she needed a better look at what was causing Brigid to flush in anger. She didn't bother to walk, she simply was . .there. And she understood, deeply and personally what Brigid was so upset about.

There is no way that Brigid knew exactly what her child looked like, but she remembered how Little one felt. She remembered exactly the outline and feel as if by touch. Inner touch. This was the piece; a small, very small baby boy playing with its toes curved as if still in the womb, made of marble, pink, smooth and gleaming. It was so life like, the only thing missing was the breath of life itself.

Xena carefully, respectfully took the piece into her arms and held it, for a moment as if it were real. Brigid issued a low, sad moan and came nigh unto collapsing on the floor with an agony of too much revealed. Xena looked at the demigoddess and spoke, her own voice sounding rough, "This one is NOT for Sale." Then Xena, summoned what looked like a dark cloth and covered the small thing and disappeared it. The goddess smiled grimly, "Out of sight, out of mind." *But not ours,* was the thought that lingered

Then Xena strode to Brigid and gathered the demigoddess into her arms.

Chapter 16
Perchance to Dream

The sky was too bright and so blue it caused her to squint. She felt like she was falling, falling up and up until her breath came in gasps and her head felt dizzy. Then, as her eyes tried to escape the dazzlement of the sky, she caught sight of the mountain. It was taller than any she'd ever seen or maybe it only felt that way. There seemed to be buildings. They glimmered gold and white in the light of the sun. As soon as she saw the buildings, she was there. That's when Brigid knew she was dreaming again.

She gave herself a chance to catch up mentally with the momentum of the dream. Normally she would orient to the direction of the sun, but it seemed as if it were all around her. So she picked features that stood out. There was a decorative fountain in the middle of what seemed to be a circular space. The water lept and danced, and her eyes were caught by the rainbow sparkles for a few minutes (but what is a minute in dreamtime?) She used the fountain as her main direction and moved away from it.

It seemed she heard a cry in the distance and the farther she moved from fountain, the noise of which had covered the cries, the louder it seemed. It sounded like a baby. This intrigued her dreaming mind and she began to follow that sound as if it were the siren's summons, until she arrived at a building that seemed even taller (and whiter) than the mountain. The door was open. She went in.

***

Janice and Mel arrived at Hero's Rest late into the night, so they only saw what was illuminated by the lamps surrounding the building. They were even more impressed when they went inside. Kyle greeted them warmly. "It's good to see you. The Amazons were getting anxious." Kyle grinned, "They didn't want to start the games without the blessings of the gods." He gently nudged Janice's ribs. Jan grinned back and squeezed Mel's waist.

"Well, now, that would have been a shame. A terrible shame." Jan looked around the foyer. "Speaking of the gods, this place is incredible." She suddenly turned serious, "And she was here, all that time."

Kyle picked up one of the bags that Mel had dropped to the floor. "No, just a good portion of it."

"Where is she now."

"Sleeping. It's been a stressful day for her."

Mel nodded, "I imagine it would be for anyone." Her expression was concerned and kind.

Kyle nodded. "Do you have anything else."

Jan shook her head, "Oh, a couple of things in the back of the Ford. Nothing special. It's locked tight and Mel's made sure no one will bother with it." Jan looked around the foyer again, "Not that *anyone* here would mess with the truck to begin with." There were certain advantages to being the consort of the priestess. Jan grinned. "We can get whatever we need later. Right now I'm bushed."

Kyle clapped a casual hand on Janice's shoulder. "Sorry, forgot. It's been a long day for you too. Come on, follow me. I'll take you to your room."

***

Stairs. There were so many bloody stairs. Her legs ached with climbing. When she realized that, Brigid began centering. It caused an odd sensation of drifting yet solidifying, as if where she was now was more real than where she had been and she couldn't quite remember where she had come from before. She let those worries go and followed the cry.

***

The room was spacious, the bed was large and comfy, the decor was simple. The priestess and the counselor gazed around the room in amazement.

"And you say she wasn't planning on people staying here? No Way."

***

Brigid stood at the edge, where the top of the stairs finally connected with the platform of a roomy hallway. The cry was coming from her right. The demigoddess bent over, took a few seconds to catch her breath and then continued on.

***

Kyle left them to their own devices after giving each of them a thorough hug.

"Changed a lot." Janice commented.

"mmhmm."

"Think she's gonna be alright?"

"Which one?"

"Oh. . ."

***

The sound of a man's shouting and cursing covered the cries but did not diminish them. Brigid ran.

Soon her thoughts were centered on placing one foot in front of the other until she rounded into through another open doorway and into a brightly lit room. She was getting used to how dazzling things were around here. Her eyes were finally adapting, so it was easy for her to make out the figures in front of her.

She saw two adult figures. A man and a woman. The man was taller than Brigid. His hair was dark, his features light. He was shouting at the woman, who's face was veiled by a dark cloth. The woman cowered in the corner. She was holding a bundle protectively against her chest. The cries emanated from that bundle.

Brigid could almost, but not quite make out what the man said, but that wasn't what concerned her. It was the sword he was waving about. Except it wasn't really waving, more like threatening. Brigid didn't think about what she did next. Her mouth opened, "HEY!"

That got his attention.

He turned around midvocalizion, slack jawed. His eyes were as wild as his hair, which was a tangled mess. His figure was heroic. He had a full, but trim beard. He mouthed something and pointed at the demigoddess.

The goldeneyed woman didn't understand what he said, but figured introductions were in order. She sidled into the room a little more and placed her hand on her chest. "Brigid. I am Brigid." Then there was a click, or so it seemed to the demigoddess. She shook her head in surprise and blinked.

"Who?" She was addressed again.

Her thoughts formed the words, but the words she spoke weren't any that she recognized. "I am Brigid." It was the same thing she'd said before, only different.

"I know no Brigid," was the response. The demigoddess nodded.

Her mind formed the question, her mouth formed the words. "I am Brigid. Who are you?"

The man patted his own chest, "I am Zeus, Son of Cronos. I am King of the Gods." Brigid stifled a gasp and managed a shaky smile.

Her mind said one thing, almost a smart aleck remark, but it came out, "I am honored in your presence." She'd meant to say, "Pleased to meetcha." Meanwhile the babe continued to cry.

The god turned away from her, shouting. "SHUT THAT WHELP UP!" Actually he shouted something nastier, but Brigid's mind wouldn't accept it. Naturally the shout didn't stop the crying but only made it fiercer. "I'm Going to KILL that thing!"

"You are Just Like Your Father!" The words leapt out of Brigid's mouth and into the air before she could think.

The god turned around with a roar. "I AM NOTHING LIKE MY FATHER!"

"OH YEAH, Well LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING you ever lovin' BULLY." Brigid was poking Zeus viciously in the chest. Her golden eyes were blazing. "One does NOT quiet a CHILD by YELLING at him or her. One would think YOU of ALL people would KNOW BETTER. BUT NO! I come here and Find YOU, Zeus, threatening to Kill Your Kid, JUST LIKE YOUR FATHER!" Each word was accompanied by a jab of her finger, some of which were harder depending on the emphasis.

Zeus tried to protect his chest from her painful stabs, but was very unsuccessful, so he ended up with a seriously sore spot. This was not something he was accustomed to experiencing. At the same time as she was berating the god, Brigid was going through a minor transformation her own eyes took on a wild look, her canines became a little longer, her senses a little stronger. Her last sentence ended as both a shout and a growl.

It was Brigid's turn to whip around to the crying child, but instead of shouting she approached the mother and child and bent down to their level. She touched the woman's shoulder gently. "I am Brigid." The demigoddess' eyes sought permission. The woman handed her the child. His hair was dark, his eyes dark, his vocalizations were vivid and descriptive in the way baby's make their preferences known. Brigid knew instantly who she was holding. It made her feel weak.

She cradled the wailing godchild in one arm and extended the other to the woman, who clasped her hand gratefully. The veiled one was able to stand with help. The woman whispered, "I am Hera, daughter of Rhea. I will remember this." Brigid blinked and nodded. She turned, still clasping the Queen's arm and holding the baby, to look at Zeus.

He stood, one hand covering his pained chest, the other limply grasping the pommel of the sword. Brigid spoke quietly, "You have to do something different Zeus. You can't let this awful family tradition go on. You *know* what I mean. Let the child live." She looked down at the babe, who was still wailing his little heart out. It was as if he knew his fate and hated it. She shushed at him and swayed. Her expression became tender, her voice soft. "This one has much ahead of him. Many things to overcome." She caught the small one's gaze and held it, stilling her mind stilling her thoughts. The godling's cry drifted off and away, until it was gone completely. She smiled. Then Brigid turned to Zeus. "Be different from your father Zeus. Let him live. Let him make his own choices. Don't set him up."

Chapter 17
Round We Go

The demigoddess' plea both worked and didn't. Brigid's intent was to save the godchild and the mortal world from the agonies of the future. Zeus intent was to save his Godly throne. He heard what he wanted to hear. So, his mind worked quickly and he came to a creative decision. Brigid watched as the King of the God's lifted the sword in his hand and focused his gaze upon it. Brigid shouted, "NO!" But it was too late. Power went arcing through the god's body, up his arm and into his sword; lots and lots of power. When he was through, his hair was snow white and his expression was triumphant.

"I am Nothing Like My father." Zeus' voice carried in the room. He grinned and grasped the child's hand. "He Shall Live, but under My Terms." Brigid tried to pull the child away, unsuccessfully. She watched in horrified fascination as Zeus placed the pommel of the sword in the godling's hand.

The transformation of the child was sudden. It was complete. She watched as the godchild matured more quickly than she ever expected. She had to let go as he grew too heavy to hold. She watched his body transform from child to a somewhat confused adult. It broke her heart. It opened her eyes. The angry words she was preparing to throw at Zeus disappeared from her mind. For as she watched, Brigid had a vision, a sudden awareness of the influence of this young individual in front of her, both for good and ill. She felt a sudden compassion for his experience and for his losses which would be the world's experiences and losses. She saw her life as a thread interwoven with his and for a moment thought she saw, glimmering in her mind, another way. Timing was everything.

Ares, for that was to be his name, stood holding the sword looking at it in confusion. Before he could ask, who he was and have Zeus answer (which would have led him along a path already taken), the demigoddess grasped the young god's chin and forced him to look down on her (she was shorter than him after all). Once she captured his attention, she held it. Her gaze was soft, but compelling. She moved as fast as she dared. She moved her index finger into the God's line of sight and directed his attention to the pommel of the sword, then she moved her finger in a straight line to his heart and flattened her palm against his chest. "You are you. Everything you are is here." She led his gaze back to the pommel. "This is a symbol. It has two sharp sides, but many ways of being handled. Judge carefully. Use wisely. Be kind. Be strong. Defend as you must, but only if you must. The path of the warrior is sometimes long, but there are many facets to it. Take your time to learn and prepare. Find and cherish those who will uphold the good and the true. There are those who will love and honor you for it. I could tell you more, but you must discover and make your path on your own." She gazed at his still innocent eyes and realized suddenly that he wasn't contagious at this very moment She pulled him down for a soft, lingering kiss and fell away to the sound of Zeus' shout of defeat.

***

She woke to the sound of a loud chiming noise. She looked sleepily to her right and saw the face of an oddly shaped alarm clock. It looked like a man with goatlegs and horns. He wore a beard and was grinning crazily. His belly was the clock. He sported an erection. Brigid sincerely hoped to God she wasn't the one who bought the thing. It took her a minute to figure out how to turn it off. It required moving the erection from a point up to a point down.

Finding the light switch was a bit more difficult. She crashed into several objects before finally blurting out. "Where the Hell are the Lights!" Her room was instantly illuminated. Her breath caught in her throat. She was naked, alone and had *no* idea where she was. She really really hoped this was just a dream.

Oh, there were things that were familiar about the room. It seemed to *feel* like her, but there were enough little differences, that she held still in confusion. The bed looked like a bed. She could tell she'd tossed and turned as usual. There was a lamp which was not currently illuminated, by the bed. She found the switch and felt a little better knowing that not everything was going to be phallic. There were paintings on the wall. They looked like her style, but she couldn't remember creating them. She touched her cheek in concern and had a hideous fear which made her heart beat a little faster.

She looked at her body. . .and was both reassured and frightened. The marks of Hecate and the other goddesses were there, but they were a different color. It looked more like an odd birthmark than a tattoo. The marks blended in with her skin, almost. The heart was still as red though. Her body was still the one she knew, but the scars were gone. She looked for a mirror and didn't find one in the room. She did, however, find clothes.

They look much like the Amazon outfits, another point of reassurance, though she couldn't remember owning this stuff. Still it would cover her body, the important bits anyway. The shoes fit and she found a wallet. The driver's license had her face and her name; her other face and her other name. Bernice. It also held coins, cards and some papers. So far, it was normal enough. But one of the coins was gold and most of the others had the word, "Dinar" written into its face.

She swallowed. *Please, let this be a dream.* But she knew dreams followed this one rule. It's okay to ask if it's a dream. It possibly is. But if you are wishing it was, it probably isn't.

***

She found a mirror eventually, when she finally went out into the rest of the house. It was her home. She could tell. There were things that were so normal to herself, she couldn't deny it. Here was where she would normally place her toothbrush. There were the video game cartridges. One game caught her attention. It was called "Olympiad" There was an image of a very strong looking man and another shorter blonde man. She shook her head. How could she possibly be interested in this?

When she looked in the mirror, she was relieved to see her Brigid persona. She spoke carefully, "Bernie." She was Bernie. "Brigid." She was the demigoddess. "WHEW!" She switched to Bernie, just to be on the safe side.

After that it was a matter of getting situated. She used everything she'd learned in her dreams of the past. She figured, even though this didn't *feel* like a dream, there was no reason not to use what worked.

She got to the point where she was making something to eat,when the phone rang. At least, she thought it was the phone. She stewed around for a few seconds. "Where the Heck is the Phone!"

An image appeared above a round object on the kitchen counter. She'd thought it was a coaster. *Good thing she hadn't set her glass on it.* The image was an agitated woman that she recognized. Clarisse. "Bernie! What are you still doing at home! You were supposed to be at the Warrior's Temple an hour ago. You Know how these people are! I mean most are okay, but they've got this festival thing and now is not the time to be irritating them."

"Huh?" The forkful of food hung in the air.

The woman looked disappointed. "You didn't get my message?"

Brigid lowered the fork and shook her head in the negative. "What message?" she asked cautiously.

"Damn it I should have paid him two dinars." The woman looked upset. Then she looked pleading. "Look, you've got to come. I promised them I'd send the finest artisans. Clytus and Darvan are already here. But they've already offended two Amazons and one of the temple guards and the Priestess is losing patience. At least you can talk coherently. I need someone who can communicate and Understand what the priestess wants." She looked around. "My dinar's about to run out. Bring your stuff and try to hurry."

"Where."

"The Warrior's Temple. Didn't you hear me the first time?" There was an audible click at the disconnection.

***

Despite the driver's license, Brigid did not know how to drive the vehicle in the garage. At least she thought she didn't. It had no wheels. It had no door handle. She sighed and set the art stuff down. She'd made some assumptions, based on the conversation, about what was needed. She thought about Not showing up, but actually, going to a temple made as much sense as staying and watching "The Price is Right." (The show might be about dinars, but the gaudiness was the same.) She used what had worked before. "Open Door."

She pushed the stuff in and sat down. The door closed and a seatbelt wrapped itself around her. *gack* It was too close to the neck. She yanked it down a bit. That helped some. She looked at the console. "Maybe I ought to call a taxi."

***

The taxi service arrived a little later. She loaded in the art stuff, loaded in herself and said, "Warrior's Temple please."

Chapter 18
Warrior's Temple

Technically speaking, Brigid knew where she was. She was at the base of the stairs leading up to the entrance of the Warrior's Temple. This didn't help.

She thought about her near altercation with the taxi driver and grimaced. The man had said, "Lady you know I can't change that," when she'd tried to hand him the gold piece. The good thing about it, was that she'd learned the difference between a dinar and a dollar (one being a bigger denomination than the other. The dollars were the small change and the gold coin? That was the really big change and was called a "Gold" dinar. The taxi guy still couldn't change it.) and so she could feel fairly safe about making purchases now. Not that changing money was holding any importance to her sense of self right now.

She gulped and climbed up the marble steps to the very intimidating temple. It was huge. It was Greek or Roman or something. It felt old. The steps were worn with the passage of many feet. She couldn't read the writing on the wall. But the engraved figures looked familiar. She had a sense of knowing she ought to know what she was seeing, but she couldn't track it. She stilled her stomach. Maybe food hadn't been such a good idea.

She didn't get very far into the entry way. A very burly type guard stood in the darkness and moved in front of her. "This is a temple for Warriors. State your business." He sneered. Brigid decided she didn't much like his attitude.

"A warrior is no better than anyone else. I'm here because I was sent for."

The man gasped. "Sacrilege!" He lifted a meaty hand. Brigid prepared to make him mincemeat and began to sneer herself. (You know how she feels about slaps from strangers.)

A voice echoed down a hall "Bernie! There you Are!" Clarisse came to the guard's rescue.

***

Brigid was led into the temple and past the mean guard with a "Why didn't you take the back entrance." and a "What were you thinking?" Brigid was barely keeping her temper as it stood so she just nodded a lot.

They approached an open area. Brigid could hear the sounds of metal clanking against metal, loud grunts and shouts, and someone telling another someone he was an idiot. She turned to look. And was immediately pulled back by Clarisse. "What are you trying to do? Get yourself killed. You KNOW you aren't allowed to look at the practice. No one is."

Brigid's eyebrows lowered. "Why Not?"

Clarisse stared at Brigid in amazement. "This is the Warrior's Temple and You are NO initiate. You are an artisan."

"And sooo."

"Artisans do not make war."

Brigid nearly laughed out loud. "Now that's a new one. Anyone can make war. The question is. . ."

Clarisse clapped Brigid's mouth shut and began frantically looking around. "Are you Nuts! We're in the temple for Hades' sake. THEY could hear you."

Brigid pulled Clarisse hand away. "Don't ever do that again, Clarisse, or I'll. . ." She didn't finish what she was about to say. She was looking into a room. The colors were beautiful, peaceful. Blues and Greens. The doorway was an arch. Through that arch she saw the most wonderful thing in the world. She began to run.

"Melinda! Oh My God! Melinda!" She grabbed the woman into a powerful hug. "Thank Gods. Melinda! I'm so Glad to see you." Her face was buried in the woman's hair, and she was so relieved, she didn't see the hand reaching out to grab her. "Maybe you can. . ."

Someone yanked on Brigid's hair. That was a mistake. What had been relief on a human face became primal anger. (Unfortunately, on Bernie's face it was kind of funny looking anger) She growled a warning first, "If you aren't Jan you'd better move that hand right quick!"

The individual laughed a deep masculine laugh. Not Jan.

The growl turned deeper, meaner, and less human. Melinda saw Bernie's eye color flicker. Brigid reached back with the intent of breaking the hand that held her. Melinda spoke quickly, "Let her go, Marcus. Let her go now. It's okay. I. . .know. . her."

Clarisse, whose heart was going a mile a minute, felt a sudden relief washing through her body. Her best grossing artisan wasn't going to die today. Hurrah!

The guard let go of Brigid. Her head smarted where the hair had been pulled. Her nostrils were still flaring, but her eye color flickered back to normal (for Bernie). She sensed the guard standing back. She also felt a sense of relief.

Clarisse spoke, clapping her hands together, "Well this is Wonderful. I guess there's no need for introductions. And since you," she nodded deferentially to the priestess, "know Bernie, then I guess you'll be able to tell her exactly what you want."

Mel smiled grimly. "I'm sure I shall." She turned to Clarisse. "Will you excuse us, please."

"What? Oh sure. No problem. No problem at all."

The priestess nodded to Marcus. "You too. Now." The warrior nodded and escorted Clarisse out the door. Mel grasped Brigid's elbow gently. Brigid didn't resist, but smiled in gratitude. "Let's find someplace a little quieter." Brigid nodded assent.

Brigid was led even further into the temple, past a courtyard, and a few other noisy practice areas, by a resolute priestess. They passed through a garden pathway and entered another courtyard, then a smaller apartment like space. Melinda took off a small medallion and waved the demigoddess to a seat in a front room like area. Brigid chose something with a back to it as opposed to some open faced couches. The room was cozy though. She noticed a statue of Aphrodite and was glad to recognize another face, even if it was in stone.

She suddenly missed the Goddess of Love. Then she rapidly missed all of her „family.ū It caused an ache to begin at her center, an ache and nausea. *Yep, food was a BAD idea.*

Melinda joined her in the room and sat down gracefully, but she was always graceful. Her gaze examined Brigid thoroughly, seeking for clues. "Now that we have a moment of privacy, tell me who you are."

Brigid's expression and body language took on an aspect of despair.

Chapter 19
Thinking

The dungeon of the temple was not as dark and cold as Brigid might have expected, considering all the novels she'd read. Actually it was kind of light and antiseptic. That was what was so scary about being down here. She paced the length and width of her cell and there wasn't much of it. There was a surface for sleeping or sitting in one corner and another corner for . . well, taking care of necessary business. There was a place for chain hook up. Brigid wasn't chained. Probably the only reason she wasn't was that she'd not told Melinda everything. Brigid was thanking her lucky stars for that.

She was in good company too. She stared across the space of a hallway at the reason for her new and not improved location. Janice Covington, the heretic archeologist was in a similar state as herself. Brigid had gotten herself thrown in the dungeon when she'd asserted, quite fervently and (to Melinda's dismay) convincingly, that Janice and Mel were made for each other, had been lovers for fifty years and Janice was her staunchest defender so how come she wasn't here? So now Brigid knew.

Janice had found some scrolls that seemed to clash with history as these people knew it. She had been chased for several years as a heretic and was finally captured only recently. Brigid found herself locked up because she knew Jan's name and had used it so familiarly. But then she'd used Melinda's name just as familiarly. And Xena and Gabrielle's. Another reason for her current status as incarcerated person. Apparently around here, casual speaking of the names of the Gods was considered somewhat inappropriate (unless swearing, she guessed.) Right at this moment Brigid was yearning for an accurate, yet succinct history book.

She stopped her pacing for a moment to look at the archeologist. Janice's back was to the wall and she gazed back evenly at Brigid. "What in Tartarus are You Lookin' at?" Janice's voice was aggressive. The demigoddess sighed and went back to pacing.

Here was the demigoddess' dilemma. She could leave anytime. In fact, she could have disappeared in front of Melinda, but she hated giving away more information than she felt necessary. She hadn't even put up any resistance, not that the guards expected any. They'd been way too relaxed when they'd come to fetch her. She could have killed them on the spot. No, they hadn't expected any resistance and they weren't used to receiving any. She wondered why that was,and what the consequences were. What kind of code did these warriors live by and did the populous fear them or honor them?

Brigid didn't want to make her escape just yet, because she wanted to set some things right. If anyone was meant to be together, it was Jan and Mel. It just felt wrong otherwise. Brigid could fake knowing what was going on (that is if she got connected with the right information). But the point was, if she was going to leave, she was going to take Janice with her and if she was gonna take Jan with her, she was going to take Mel along too. The only problem was how to do that and still remain alive. Well, actually, alive would not be *her* problem. It would be Jan and Mel's. Think. She had to think.

***

Meanwhile, Janice was doing her own thinking. At first, the strawberry blonde's thinking had been about escape. Then, as the priestess' visits began to occur more often they started drifting in another direction entirely. Janice used to disbelieve the idea of love at first sight, but now. . .the evidence to the contrary visited her every day. It was a frustrating experience, because, normally she would be able to keep her mind on business. But that priestess, she was a looker and she was a direct descendant of the Goddess Xena herself. No one doubted it. Certainly Janice didn't doubt, since she herself was a descendant of Xena's first consort Gabrielle. Of course, keeping track of who was married to who in the God realm could be difficult anyway. But Janice and Melinda *looked* like the goddesses.

How did it go again? Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto, Ares, Aphrodite, and Haephastus. The Six who ruled, or rather who managed. Zeus and Hera ruled. The Six though. . there were so many interesting tales. Tales about how Xena and Gabrielle met. The Honorable Warrior Princess rescues the bard from Cortese. It was so romantic (Not that Jan would ever admit to having a romantic bone in her body, but it was.) And the scrolls, they only verified what was written in the history and in the scriptures. (Well for the most part. . there was some stuff different, but all it did was verify what everyone already knew. Janice did not see what the big deal was. So what if the scrolls didn't exactly match every story ever written about Xena. They were by Gabrielle's own hand. Jan could swear to it.)

She watched the new wrinkle to the equation pace. It was disconcerting when the woman would stop and stare, but at least it wasn't always at Janice. The good part was that the archeologist had finally learned the priestess' name. Melinda. A lovely name for a lovely. . .Now StopThat! Years you go without. You have self control, use it. The demigoddess and Janice sighed in tandem.

***

Meanwhile, Melinda was thinking and pacing too.

"Don't stew so much darling. It doesn't suit you." Aphrodite's voice was calm. "Personally, I think it's kind of cute. Mel and Janice sitting in a tree. . ." She leaned forward from her stool and smiled wickedly, "and it is not like it's not precedented, every Sixth generation has one. You should face up to it. You are destined."

Melinda groaned, "I am only destined as far as I will it to go. I am not going to be swayed by that. . that. . "

"See, you can't even say nasty things about her. Destined."

"GRR."

"She's blasphemous."

"What you mean is, she doesn't think like you do." Aphrodite stood up and pulled Melinda close. "Don't fight it so much. It could be a good thing." She pulled back and grinned. "Fifty years. Now that sounded wonderful. I think I like Bernie. She has a kind of . . awkward appeal, don't you think."

"She is as bad as Janice, only worse. She's crazy. Did you hear what she said about Xena and Gabrielle."

"Honey, all I heard was that she said they loved each other."

"No. It was the other stuff. Unbelievable. Claiming to come from another world." Melinda clenched and unclenched her fists.

"Well, there are ways to find out." Aphrodite stretched in a lovely way, her diaphanous outfit catching the sunlight pouring from the skylight. "Why don't you call your inquisitors. We'll find the truth easy enough. I'd like to see how Bernie reacts to stimulation anyway."

 Chapter 20
Pop Quiz

If the dungeon was antiseptic, the interrogation room was pristine. Everything was white, unless it was metal. There was nothing "natural" for the demigoddess to focus on. (Apparently Apollo had a strong influence over the architect.) Since there was no outside source to focus on, Brigid knew she would need to start from the inside. She wasn't looking forward to this at all. Two thugs. . uh, big muscular warriors with no principles. . . steered her by the arms into the middle of the room. She noticed that she stood on a grate. This did not bode well. She was naked in the spotlight. "Oh Goody! I'm the star of the show," the demigoddess quipped.

The light was too bright for the demigoddess to see Janice being led into the room, but she felt several presences, some of which she recognized. Brigid began to center. She threaded a small mental connection from the room into the ground. It would be enough. She very carefully did not close her eyes, but remained observant by using her other senses. She wiped her face of all emotion and her body of all tension. She figured, if she could hold out, there was no need for them to discover that she had a totally different persona. But she didn't know how long she would last as Bernie. It really would depend on their methodology.

A voice started from the edge of the room and approached the center. Brigid heard the snap of latex. The session began with, "We can make this hard or easy. . ." Robin, in a white lab smock, stepped into Brigid's range of view.

***

Brigid went with easy. She told them the truth right away. Well, what she could tell that is. The problem was they weren't asking the right questions and they didn't believe her answers. Things quickly moved onto hard.

***

There were three goddesses present to watch the proceedings; Aphrodite, Callisto and Gabrielle. The two blondes had tried to shoo Gabrielle away, because this normally wasn't her scene, but the bard goddess felt she really needed to be there. If only to make sure things didn't get too messy in front of her lookalike. Things got messy anyway and Gabrielle stayed held in place by a morbid fascination.

"She never screams," the bard goddess whispered. "You'd think she would at least cry out or something. . .It's like she doesn't even feel it."

"She feels it." Callisto replied. ". . .I think."

"Her lips move." Aphrodite spoke, "It's like she's listing something, comparing it."

"to what?"

The blondes shrugged.

"Why doesn't she answer the questions."

There was another shrug. Then Callisto turned to Aphrodite, "Has she been asked that yet?"

Gabrielle answered. "No. She hasn't."

"But it's standard procedure."

"But it's not a standard inquisition, is it."

A look of "DOH!" passed between Callisto and Aphrodite.

Gabrielle took matters into her own hands.

***

Brigid wasn't standing anymore. Her legs quit supporting her body a long time ago. They'd had to strap her into a chair. She kept falling out. At least the cushions were soft. Aphrodite was right about the list. Brigid was comparing. She categorized each pain in its degree and consistency. So far, nothing compared with what she'd gone through when she'd had her bond torn from her or even from when she'd stayed away from Xena and Gabrielle too long. She still looked like her Bernie self. She wasn't worried.

After categorizing it, she would shunt the pain to the elsewhere, not to avoid the hurt, but in order to be selective about where she was feeling it. It was more convenient that way. Besides, it helped keep her conscious. She was drunk with the drugs they'd given her, though she hadn't reacted the way they'd expected.

She kept thinking, Why am I staying here? Jan. Oh yeah. Jan. She was afraid she would forget. If she forgot, then she would just say to hell with it and go elsewhere. That might not be good for Jan. She had to stay. So Brigid lingered. The demigoddess hated that they weren't asking the right questions. . She couldn't talk to these people. That's why she shut up. No use crying if they weren't going to listen.

Brigid looked blearily up a the ceiling and began counting tiles again.

"Hello Bernie." The voice was soft and familiar. Another thing to hate. These familiar voices she loved which kept hurting her. She hesitated to answer, lest wrath fall out of her mouth. She turned in the direction of the voice and found herself looking into hazel eyes. They held compassion. Gabrielle placed a hand on the demigoddess' shoulder. "Does it hurt?"

Brigid contemplated a moment and decided to take a chance, again. "Does what hurt?" The demigoddess waited patiently.

Gabrielle stared at Bernie. What was this woman trying to prove? How could she keep going on like this. The goddess' confusion poured out of her mouth. "How can you ask that Bernice?! They've been torturing you. Doesn't the torture hurt?"

Bernie took a breath. AT LAST! "I needed clarification. They keep asking the wrong questions. Your question was vague. Yes the torture hurts." Her words were slurred and sounded mushy, but Gabrielle understood what she said.

Gabrielle blinked. Again, Brigid waited. Gabrielle started with what she thought was a simple question. "Who are you?"

Brigid groaned. Maybe this wasn't going to work. She lifted her hands to her head and covered her face in frustration.

Gabrielle's mouth gaped. The woman's arms had slipped through the restraint as if it weren't even there. She made eye contact with the other goddesses. Her gaze was sliding back to the woman in the chair when she caught sight of Janice. Her lookalike seemed to want to say something. She summoned the adventurer. The burly guards released Janice and she hurried forward.

The archeologist didn't look Gabrielle in the eye, but rather focused on the frustrated torture victim. She'd figured out what the problem was a long time ago. She spoke gently. "Hey, you. The one with the hands on the face." Brigid turned to Janice.

She smiled, "Hi Jan. They let you go."

Jan shrugged. "Sort of." The demigoddess nodded understandingly. "Say, can I ask you a question."

"I don't know, can you?"

"May I?"

"Oh sure, everyone else is."

"What is your name?"

"Which one?"

"Any that you feel are real."

"They are all real."

"Which name do you like the best."

The demigoddess grinned happily, "Brigid."

"Do you always need to have questions asked in a specific way?"

"No."

"Why do you need it now."

"I'm drugged and they didn't believe me and they kept hurting me, so I decided not to answer unless they asked right."

"And believed you."

Brigid nodded solemnly.

Janice contemplated the woman before her. "Brigid, would you be willing to answer questions, even if they are phrased wrong, if I asked them meaning to be right and I believed the answers?"

Brigid thought about it. "You gonna hurt me too?"

"No."

"Then yes."

Janice looked at Gabrielle for permission to continue. She took one of Brigid's hands into her own. "I need something so I can sit by her." Jan's request was granted. "Now, tell me, how did you get here."

"You want the long version or the short version."

"Let's start with the short version and move from there."

Brigid turned to face Gabrielle and said, "Barney."

Gabrielle asked, "Barney?"

"Yeah." Brigid began to sing, "I love you. You love me. . ." She grinned lopsidedly. She laid a tired hand on her chest. Her eyes said what her mouth could not. "I'm here because of you and Xena," Brigid blinked sleepily, "and 'listo, and 'dite, and Haeph. . Haepfh, the smith god. .and AresErinAres and Oh I guess I should include. ."

"Brigid."

"Hmm."

"Why don't we go with the long version."

Brigid began with, "It was Joni's idea."

 Chapter 21
Reminders

Brigid talked and talked and talked, until she thought her mouth would fall right off. Someone had mercifully dimmed the light and Brigid had allowed her eyes to close (but not too tightly). The longer she talked, the less drunk and the more convincing she sounded. She opened her eyes when she felt someone draw near. She smiled at Aphrodite and Callisto. The expression on their faces could only be called amazement. She kept up with her story until her voice grew hoarse with the telling. Gabrielle finally called a halt, when Brigid told of seeing herself in the Mirror and changing back to her demigoddess self. "But I'm not finished." Brigid protested.

Gabrielle spoke firmly, "You are for today. Drink this." Brigid got handed a glass of water. She drank quickly and deeply. The water dribbled. Her throat still felt scratchy, but better. The demigoddess may have sounded less drunk, but she was still not quite at full capacity. Brigid set the cup down on a nonexistent surface.

"Oops." The demigoddess sat up, again ignoring restraints. She twisted her body to get off the chair, but only half of her faced the right direction. Brigid squinted at her legs. "Hey. Get with the program," she ordered throatily. She snapped her fingers at her legs and her legs obeyed her new whim, passing easily through the restraints. She tried to stand and found herself sitting back on the chair abruptly. "Whoa."

Brigid was facing Gabrielle. "I got to finish. You got to hear the rest." The demigoddess pleaded. "I can't fix it by myself. I keep screwing up."

Gabrielle comforted. "I'll listen to it later."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

Brigid looked at Gabrielle doubtfully. "'kay."

Callisto stepped forward. "Why bother listening? This story is unbelievable. I don't believe a word of it."

Gabrielle responded without looking at Callisto. "Stories tell us things even if they aren't true."

Brigid protested. "But it is True. Every wored. . .Word. Every one. True. I suck at Lying. Callisto you said I couldn't lie to save my life. Well I can, but not very well. Okay, so I almost died, but I was pretty close." She turned desperately to Callisto. "You've forgotten Me." She looked at everyone in the room. "You've all forgotten me!" The demigoddess stood up and wobbled. Then she staggered in Callisto's direction. "You've forgotten." The blonde goddess of mercy and pain stepped back, but ended up catching Brigid when she fell. "You told me to remind you. You said I should tell you. Remind you. You loved me. You loved me once." Brigid looked up into brown pools of light. "You loved me CallistoJoni. And I love you." Brigid crawled up the goddess' chest. "I love you." The words were spoken in a hoarse whisper. "I'll remind you."

Brigid's intent was a full blown kiss, but she changed her mind on delivery and gave only a soft touch of lips to lips. "I miss you so much and I only just saw you." The demigoddess pulled away. " 'skay if you don't remember. I remember. It's okay." She pulled away from the stunned goddess.

Brigid turned to Janice. "Jan it's all wrong. All wrong. You should be with Melinda. You should. Fifty years. That's almost forever. You look so young. But You had such good stories. Such good stories." Brigid began to weep. The effects of yet another drug was taking over. "I screwed it up. I thought if I could help Ares, it would help everyone. . prevent the virus, save the world. . .But nothing's right. Nothing."

She stopped for a moment, wobbling where she stood. "Reminders. reminders. I should prove what I say." She turned to Callisto, "You are right. Nothing to believe in what I say. It's just a story." The demigoddess hiccuped through her tears. "I'll prove it."

Summoning the sword should have been impossible, after all it was from another world and another time. But Brigid was so drunk, she didn't think about that. She only knew she needed to test her ability to summon things. So she called her reliable friend. And it was there, in her hands. The guards started reaching for their swords, but Aphrodite waved them off. The more she saw, the more she liked Brigid. She didn't want the guards interfering, just when things were getting interesting.

The demigoddess smiled brightly at the sword's greeting. "Hi Baby!" She kissed the blade. "Good to see you." She held the sword reverently and then looked for somewhere safe to put it. "Got to set you down sweetie. You were just a test." Gabrielle held out her hand. Brigid smiled hazily. "Oh. Thanks." She handed the blade handle first to the goddess, who very carefully set it down on the vacated chair. "Prove prove prove." Brigid thought outloud. She snapped her fingers. "I know!" She concentrated hard and pointed.

She summoned the painting, the one she'd done of herself, and Xena and Gabrielle. "See." She said triumphantly.

This time it was Melinda who came out of the shadows. "That doesn't look a thing like you." Brigid looked down at her body doubtfully, then at the painting, then at herself again. She contemplated. Then she clued.

"Brigid." The transformation was abrupt. She pointed at the painting. "See. Only thing different is the belly button." She turned to Callisto. "That was YOUR idea too."

"And the barbells near your eyebrows?"

Brigid frowned. "I was in a bad way. That wasn't your fault." The demigoddess grinned, "But you started it!" She began to giggle.

Melinda's voice was desperate. "That painting doesn't prove anything. You were to be hired as a painter. You could have seen their images on the television and just stuck yourself in the picture."

The demigoddess thought. "Mm." Then she grinned. "'kay. Let's try this." Her head was starting to ache, but she ignored it. All she had to do was remember where she put them. Remember, remember. . .Yeah! Got it!" Two books plopped in her hand. A yearbook and a notebook. She held them up and pointed them at Callisto. "Remember when your mom sent me this and you said. . .Oh, wait. . Never mind. Here." She set the notebook on the chair, by the sword. "I kept up the album. But we should start here." She opened up the yearbook. She took it to Gabrielle and pointed at the picture. "Who's that?" Gabrielle looked at the picture and then at Callisto, then at the picture again. It was definitely Callisto, though the name said Joni and the hairdo said rebel.

"Gods."

"Yup." Brigid flipped the pages. "Who's that?" It was the image of a very shy Bernie. Brigid didn't wait for an answer, but saw confirmation in Gabrielle's eyes. She flipped the pages again. The pages landed on an image of two girls walking. One looked like someone had run over her jeans with a lawn mower. The other looked your normal everyday geek. The two girls were gazing at each other and were obviously conversing. The caption said, "There's room for Everyone!"

Gabrielle had a sudden urge to sit down.

"Wait there's more." Brigid handed the yearbook, still opened to Janice. Janice looked at it, whistled, and passed it to the next person, who happened to be Robin. Robin gasped and looked intently at Callisto, then back at the photo. Then she handed the book to Melinda, who eventually handed it to Aphrodite.

The demigoddess picked up the notebook. "Joni's Mom, once she figured out we were friends, gave me this. You should see." She peeled open the book. The first page held a lock of Joni's hair. It was green. "She kept everything." Brigid grinned. She flipped the page and held it up for everyone to see. "Here's a family portrait." Callisto was surrounded by her family. "They all died in the fire, except for this one. And the baby. Not ours." Brigid pointed between herself and Callisto. "Ours is no more." She gave a quick heartbroken sob and forgot her point for a moment. Then she shook her head. "But that's another time. This one." the demigoddess pointed at a small girl. "She's Joni's sister. Her family is prolific, know what I mean. Anyway, she's somewhere now, but she's hidden. She's the real reminder. But I got tons of pictures." Brigid thought for a moment. "I should show you the ones about what I told you. . ."

She flipped past many pages. Finally stopping at a postcard stating proudly, "Elysian Fields." The demigoddess spoke respectfully. "I liked your camp Gabrielle. I didn't think I would, but I did." She turned the page. "Here's you. Here's Xena. Here's me." It was the image of a small group hug. "Here's Callisto and Me." It was an image of a very tired Bernie and Callisto. "Here's Gwen." Brigid's voice was mournful.

"My god, that's Eponin!" Melinda spoke abruptly.

"Yeah, she's dead now." A tear trickled down her face.

"No she's not."

"She's not?" Brigid looked up hopefully.

"She's president elect of the Nation."

"President Elect. Really? She's alive?"

"Very."

"That's...that's a very good thing." Brigid's expression said, Maybe things weren't so bad here.

Her finger trailed to the next page. The demigoddess smiled in memory. The book was abruptly pulled from her hands by Callisto. The goddess stared down at the image Brigid had just been pointing to. She looked into Brigid's golden eyes in disbelief. "You have a photo of Athene?" Brigid nodded. "No one has a photo of Athene. She hates having her picture taken" Brigid pointed at the image.

"Then what would you call this." The notebook fell from limp fingers.

Brigid caught the object of their discussion before it landed on the floor. "Wait. One more picture." She flipped the pages a little further, until she found what she was looking for. She grinned and handed the notebook to Melinda. "Before and After."

There were two images. The first was of an older couple, two beautiful aged females who bore a striking resemblance to Janice and Melinda. They looked content as they held each other. Janice had on her battered hat. Melinda looked every bit like a genteel southern lady. They stood in front of a mansion. The second, was of the couple, almost identical, except the background was different (they stood in front of a ramshackle inn) and they looked very young.

Brigid pointed at Melinda and Janice. "That is You!"

This time the notebook clattered to the floor, with Melinda following fast. She was caught by a very caring Janice.

Brigid spoke in soft triumph. "See what I mean. Meant for each other." Then suddenly, demigoddess was seized with a great moment of weakness. She hobbled to an empty corner, winced and moaned, bent over and destroyed the pristine appearance of the interrogation room by expelling her what was left of her breakfast. Then she passed out.

Chapter 22
Belief

Brigid woke up on a very soft surface. She felt the weight of a comforter on her shoulder. Her eyes were still closed, but her other senses were immediately on alert. Someone was in the room with her. She sniffed and the smiled. "Hi Xena," the demigoddess spoke as she rolled around to confront her lover. She was captured by the gaze of impassive blue eyes. The demigoddess' smile faded.

She took a shuddering breath. "It wasn't a dream then?" Brigid sat up, causing the blanket to drift beneath her breasts. "Damn." More silent gazing. Brigid recognized that look. "Damn." Brigid repeated. "Your doing it again." Xena's eyebrow arched. "You know what I'm talking about. That look. The I've read your whole life in your eyes look." Brigid sighed and reached to remove the covers. Xena's hand covered hers.

"Going somewhere?" Xena's expression remained impersonal.

"Well, yes, actually. If you don't mind, I've got to . . uhm. . ."

The dark goddess' lips curled into a smirk. She pointed to an open door. Brigid stepped onto a very cold floor and wobbled and sat back down. "Okay, maybe in just a second." Her head spun dizzily. The demigoddess groaned and grasped her head with her hands. "I feel terrible."

"I know."

Brigid felt a wave a nausea and clenched her jaw. "Of course, considering I shouldn't be able to stand I guess I ought not to bitch, huh." The demigoddess stared morosely at the marble floor.

"It was a poor reception for a lover." Brigid felt a hand on her shoulder.

Brigid snorted, and looked up. "But I'm not your lover am I? Not now. Not for you. That's the thing isn't it. I'm nobody to any of you here and now." She gasped a bit and placed her hand over her heart. "I feel all in shreds. You know? I think it hurts worse than anything else." She laughed, "Hmmph, well almost anything. I guess I've hurt worse, before. It just doesn't feel like it right now." Her body felt shaky.

Brigid felt warm arms wrap around her and lift. She bit back a sob, laid her head on the Xena's shoulder, but it was wet with tears when the goddess set Brigid down in the bathroom.

***

"By Hades! YOU ARE THE MOST . . ."

"Don't You Dare Blaspheme in My House!"

"Stubborn, Pigheaded, Exasperating. . ."

"Remember I can have you thrown back in that cell anytime!"

"Tempting, Distracting, . . "

"Those photos do not Prove anything. They don't."

"Dazzling, . . ."

"What *are* you doing! I'm calling the guard."

"Luscious. . ."

"guard."

"Beautiful. . ."

"please. . ."

"beautiful. . ."

"Ooooh. . .please. . ."

***

Xena sat on the bed besides the demigoddess. Her hand gently moved the hair on Brigid's forehead and smoothed it back a little. The demigoddess was very warm to the touch, but her breathing was even and her eyes were brighter. "Gabrielle told me your story."

Brigid grimaced. "I should have told her the rest of it. I should have. . ." Xena placed a finger to the demigoddess' lips.

"Shhh." The goddess' gaze was solemn. "There will be enough time for that later."

"But it's important."

"Perhaps. But are you really in shape to tell it?" Brigid had to shake her head.

"I'm a demigoddess for pete's sake. . .I can heal bullet wounds. I should be stronger . . .I should be . . ."

"Shhh." Xena smiled softly, "All these shoulds. I don't see you going anywhere. There is nothing you can change right now at this very moment. Relax. There will be time. And we will hear it. All of us."

"You believe me." Brigid sounded weakly astonished.

Xena nodded. Her hand cupped a heated cheek. "I believe you."

***

Janice's mouth captured rosy lips in a sweet lingering afterglow kiss. She grinned into satiated blue eyes. "Think you could live with that for fifty years?"

Jan only *thought* she was done.

 

Chapter 22
Disbelief

BANG

Brigid leapt out of bed and into a defensive crouch. Her eyes were wide. Her heart was racing. Her body was swaying. The floor was still cold. Her skin reacted with sympathetic goosepimples. The light from the window filled the room with its brightness and was somewhat blinding to Brigid. It took her a second to track the face of the individual striding towards her.

She unbent from the crouch more slowly than she intended. It gave the blonde plenty of time to reach her and grab a hold of her face. Brown eyes glinted with anger. "Callisto." Brigid spoke in greeting.

The goddess' voice held heat, "I don't know what you are playing at here, but I'm going to tell you now. I will NOT let you take them away from me! Do You Understand?"

Brigid's face was hot in her hand. The demigoddess licked her lips and replied, "huh?"

Callisto gave the bewildered woman an evilsweet smile. "Let me explain." Brigid felt herself being pushed back by the very presence of the goddess. The fiery brown eyes seemed to drill holes in her soul. "I will not give up those I love. It took Xena a VERY long time to get over Gabrielle's death. It took me a VERY long time to get over the murder of my parents by Draco. Xena was my comfort when I was young. I was Xena's comfort later. If we're all together now, it's because the fates willed it that way and I won't have you fucking about with it."

"But," the demigoddess began to defend.

"Maybe I haven't made myself clear. I will Not Be Xena's Nemesis. I already have a job. Nor will I believe that she let my village burn down when I know differently. I refuse your vision of the world, no matter how true you think it is. Xena was and is an honorable person. I am her consort. Gabrielle is her consort. We three have shared a life. We are part of a larger family. I won't have you destroying what we have built."

If a person's heart can break into a billion pieces, then Brigid's most certainly did then. "I don't want to . . .destroy . . .your family."

The goddess leaned close, "But that is what will happen though, won't it. We've been together for thousands of years. Happily so. If what you say is true, then my life was helacious, my love's lives were a bitch for them to get through (even if it did work out okay), Ares was an ignoble creep (another thing which I refuse to accept) and you were just miss perfect who's supposed to rescue the world from me. NO no no. I won't go there. I refuse. My life was hard enough without all that crap."

Brigid winced. She was far from perfect. But she heard the message. "You love them."

"Did you miss that part?"

Brigid shook her head.

Callisto pulled so close that Brigid could smell her breath. It was very sweet. The goddess' voice was ice. "Now I ask you. If you were me and you had a choice between this reality where I am happy and that reality which seems to indicate that my loves were my enemies, which would you choose?"

Brigid's eyes were wide and glimmered wetly. Callisto let go of Brigid's face roughly. "Get back into bed." Brigid numbly climbed back in between the sheets. Her mind whirled with new thoughts. Callisto sighed and shook her head. "That was some performance you gave back there, saying you loved me. I almost believed you. Almost. But I look at you now and all I see is someone who is threatening the things I hold most dear. Would someone who loved me do that? I think not. So you can take your lies back where ever you came from. I won't be the monster in your little play."

And with that Callisto left.

Brigid whispered, "I should have told them the whole thing. I should have. . ."

***

There were no more surprise visitors for Brigid. She drifted into a fitful sleep and woke when it was dark. The floor was still cold. The demigoddess took care of necessary business, ignored the tray of food on the table and drifted to the window. It was a fine moonless night and the window could open.

She was on the grounds of the temple in seconds and she staggered silently away into the dark.

***

It was Gabrielle who found the note, scrawled sloppily by a shaky hand. It said,

"Just because I promised Robin, the other Robin, that I'd give a clue the next time I disappeared. . .Here's the clue, though I know you won't figure it out, because it has no meaning for you. (tear splotched unreadable words) . . .Clue: I've gone in search of the treasure."

PS. A person who loves another person doesn't want to destroy that person's happiness. I am totally with that. Forget I said anything. Be well."

Chapter 24
Alternatives

Gaia knew.

Gaia remembered.

When Brigid faltered to a rest she wasn't too far from the window. In fact, she'd only made it as far as the garden in the courtyard. But Gaia had at least two memories to the other god's one. In fact, if she was asked (but she never was), Gaia had a slew of alternate memories. Most of which she paid no mind, since they were relatively inconsequential to her eternal self, but she knew and honored the demigoddess in several lives, even if Brigid didn't remember them. Therefore, she embraced the chosen unto herself.

***

They searched. They really did. It was expected that she would go to her apartment, and at least leave evidence that she had packed or gathered stuff together. The basic assumption, however, was incorrect, since it meant Brigid had to actually know where the apartment was to begin with. The examination of the living space and the garage was thorough, including the constable's observation that the vehicle registered to a certain Bernice Poughkeepsie had not been used, according to its internal clock and calender, for the day. It was also noted by the constable that Brigid's first verbalizations were nonstandard, ie. she asked where the "Germanic reference?" the lights were. The constable attributed the oddity to early morning disorientation and let it go at that.

Then Clarisse' house was searched at the ungodly (no harm intended your ladyship) hour of 3:30 a.m. She had no useful information to give (and it was a good thing for her that they believed her). The warrior types doing the search could still hear Clarisse mumbling barely veiled curses. They didn't blame her at all.

Of course, if the god's had remembered Brigid, they would have understood the futility of trying to search, in any sort of standard way, for her at all . But they didn't and all they had was one lousy lead that meant nothing to them.

***

Brigid noted the passing of time as the trees or grass does. Sunrises and sunsets melded into each other in a kind of eternal round. Her self identity was tenuous for the longest time, but was deliberately supported by Gaia. Gaia in-formed in Brigid the necessary information that the demigoddess needed in order to function coherently. What this meant was that Brigid now carried two histories within herself, both as distinct memories of a life lived. It was confusing at first, but eventually Brigid was able to sort herself. In a way, it deepened her understanding of the trauma her loves had felt.

She also appreciated that neither historical backdrop was superior over the other. Human beings remained as irascible as ever. Things were still invented, plagues still happened, love was still kindled. The gods still interfered or didn't as they willed. Some differences were sometimes striking.

First, Ares really was a good guy in this world. He wasn't called the God of War, but rather the Warrior God. He lived and judged by an ethical warrior's set of standards. Most of his followers did the same, though not all. Brigid's experience in the temple was a variation. Some sects were incredibly secretive, some shared with any who wanted to learn. Xena, through her martial skills became queen of a sizable portion of the world (when she was still mortal) and it really did occur as a result of acting in defense of her hometown.

Jeshua Ben Joseph's words were similar to those taught by the Bard Goddess Gabrielle, so no one thought he was out of line. Instead, he was seen as Gabrielle's prophet and left alone. Eventually, he was admitted to the pantheon, and worshiped in His own right. There was no competition.

The black plague never hit Europe. No one deliberately killed the cats, (wiccans were respected) so the rats didn't spread and the fleas didn't attack people and spread a terrible disease and life went on. The car was discovered and revamped for ecological friendliness (on Gaia's demand) centuries ago. There was space travel (some of the lesser deities accompanied the colonists and set up shop on other planets).

Most towns had a generic temple or shrine of some sort available to the populous. Anyone could worship the way they wanted. There were still religious wars, some of them Ares got involved in, some he didn't. There was still commerce.

There was no such thing as the notion of the "alternative lifestyle." If the gods could sleep with whomever, the mortals felt free to do the same. . .mostly. There were sects that thought differently, but what was new.

There were drawbacks.

Some god's were as whimsical or cruel as anything. War was still an ugly brutal thing. Fanatics were still fanatics. Human beings still found ways to hurt each other. Torture (and we are not talking BSDM) was an art form. (Brigid could attest to that. The bruises of her soul were taking a long time to heal.) There was such a thing as the assassins' guild. Political intrigue often got deadly. (Of course, that was not all the drawbacks, but it is a sufficient listing.)

She found she disapproved of the idea of a defenseless populous and an armed force that ruled, such as was the case in the particular Nation state (and there were several that held the name Amazon) she'd found herself in. Didn't strike her as equitable. It was a case of the god's letting one mortal's notion of the superiority of the martial class settle in and not weeding it out.

Again, it wasn't a matter of better or worse. It was just different. But, even so, even knowing that the world still functioned and life went on, to Brigid it felt worse. She considered her options.

***

Brigid stepped back out into the world when the leaves of the trees turned gold and red. She was a different person. Her eyes were solemn and her face neutral. She stood in front of a white bronco, parked for no particular reason in an untamed wilderness. The lake glimmered in the cold sunlight. There was an aura of power around the vehicle. Brigid imagined that no one could see it but herself, but she didn't know. The demigoddess touched her hand to the protective aura, convincing it that she held no malice and blending in with it until, finally, she was able to open the door.

Chapter 25
Fixit

*Chunk* *Thumpa* *Thumpa* *Thumpa*

That was the sound the limousine made, just before it came to a grinding halt about three miles away from the selected middling sized town. Fortunately for the passengers, the bodyguard and driver, they had decided on ground travel as opposed to flight or it would have been a real ugly mess. As it was, a phone call was made and a rambattled tow truck clattered its noisy way into their reality.

The only mechanic available (though he wasn't the only mechanic in town) let them know in no uncertain terms how lucky they were, by pulling out the obviously cracked and blackened part. "If I didn't know any better I'd say it was done a'purpose. These things, they don't break for nothing." A glance was exchanged between the passengers. Then he regaled them with how much was not going to be accomplished over the next two days, ". . .festival you know. Y'all might as well settle in."

Now, since they were planning on "settling in" anyway, (a space was already reserved) there was no huge trauma about the problem, but they really needed the limo fixed, if only for appearances sake. The mechanic prevaricated until they promised a goodly sum of money, then he said, "I'll see what I can do." He placed a very important phone call to the nearby bar.

***

They didn't see her come in because she went straight to the garage. She and the mechanic had words (in a good way) and she pointed out the bits that might have caused the problem. This caused the senior mechanic to whistle. "Any way to fix it?"

"Bill, I don't know. A few hours, maybe. No guarantee. Might be better to buy a new one."

"I'll tell 'em." He grimaced, sometimes the mechanic's job wasn't always a happy one (especially with a big burly guard watching one's every move.)

The results weren't good. The short woman got in his face right away and demanded to see this so called mechanic. The dark haired woman spoke, trying to gentle the words, "Now Jan. . ."

The strawberry blonde, grimaced, "I know. I know. But this is important. Let's talk with this person.

"Ma'am, you can trust my word that what Hero says is true. She has a real eye for these things."

"Look. . ." Janice didn't have a chance to get into the really mean vocabulary. Hero stepped into the lobby.

"Hey Bill found the problem." Hero held up yet another blackened piece. She paused in the frame of the doorway. Her gaze slid over the frustrated people impartially. "I'm gonna have to call for parts. No way I can piecemeal. Sorry. I can fix it in a couple, though." She turned around and shut the door carefully. Then she strode to the vehicle and took a deep calming breath once her head was under the hood.

***

Bill wouldn't let them in the garage. It was too dangerous he said, not to mention against the law of the town (an unfortunate incident led to the law). No exceptions. They might as well get settled in. He'd inform them when the vehicle was fixed.

***

Comparatively speaking, Hero fixed the limo in no time flat. A few hours later it was running smoothly and ready for whatever service its passengers needed. Bill knew she had the resources. That's why he called her. She never shared what those resources were and he didn't ask. He was just grateful to get the guard out of his lobby, and he was more than willing to split the offered cash.

Hero accepted her share of the profits with a soft smile prepared to leave as quietly as she'd arrived.

Bill called, just before she exited, "Say, you gonna be around for a bit."

Hero considered, "Possibly. I've got to do a few things in town, though I won't be around for the festivities."

"You ought to at least come for the dance."

Hero shrugged, "We'll see." She nodded in the direction of Rachael's Bar. "I'll be there for a bit, later on, if you want to see."

"Wouldn't miss it."

"See ya then."

"See ya."

Chapter 26
Nikkos

Nikkos stood nervously outside the dean's office. He rubbed his hands against his shirt to wipe away the sweat. The secretary, who was at a desk just outside the office smiled reassuringly. "I'm sure it's nothing hon. The dean just had a few questions." Nikkos nodded.

The door clicked open. "Come on in Nick."

***

The young man was in his early teens and dark; dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin. But his smile of relief was brighter than the sun. "Hi Nick. How you doing? Long time no see." Janice Covington grasped his hands. "We thought you fell off the face of the earth."

Nick shook his head shyly and grinned.

"So, tell us, what have you been doing with yourself."

***

They excused Nikkos with a hug and a "We'll see you later." He smiled and waved goodbye.

Janice turned to Melinda. "Well that explains a lot."

The priestess nodded and turned to the dean, her expression severe. "Why weren't we informed there was a Grand Master in your district?"

The dean swallowed.

***

Hero leaned against the high wall of the temple stairs. She smiled pleasantly and waved as people filed out of the building. Soon she saw the one's she waited for. She spread her arms wide. A small blonde girl broke from the handhold of a dark young lad. Hero pulled Jolene into a hug and lifted the child up. When Nikkos arrived she pulled him into her embrace. Then she set Jolene down and let go Nikkos. "So how was your day?"

***

He said, it was like she rose out of the ground, so sudden was her appearance. In one hand she held a hunting knife, in the other she held a bow. He didn't know where she kept her arrows, for they weren't on her back or by her side or in any container he could see. Her eyes were golden, like the sunlight. Her hair was a tawny brown. She wore a kilt, with no top. She had a birthmark that wrapped itself around her trunk. She looked stern, but kind. He thought she was justice personified.

He said, Godrian was beating him. He, Nikkos, hadn't tied the horse right and it had skittered away. Godrian had a violent temper and he'd beaten Nikkos before. He liked being Roland's slave better, Roland was kinder, that is before Godrian killed Roland for his tassel. But that day it was really really bad. Nikkos knew he was going to die and that Godrian didn't care.

Godrian was a big sloppy man. He had a beard down to his chest, unkempt blonde hair and eyes so dark he thought the man had no soul. The man didn't even keep up his armor and refused to let Nikkos polish it like he'd done for Roland. And Nikkos refused to sleep with the man because of his filthiness, which made it worse. Anyway, Nikkos had several ribs broken when Godrian kicked him and then Godrian's head snapped back in surprise. The man had been hit was a tiny pebble in the forehead. Nikkos knew this because the pebble dropped on him. He still had it. (He showed them the small stone. It was hardly a quarter inch around.)

The man growled and rose to his full height, which was considerable. He was much taller than the woman, but she didn't even blink. The goddess, for Nikkos was sure she was (who else would have golden eyes, but a god?), said in the softest voice he'd ever heard. "You are trespassing. I must ask you to leave." She didn't look at Nikkos, but he knew she was aware of him.

Godrian returned her comment roughly (Nikkos wouldn't repeat the swear words, though Jan expressed an interest) and told her to be elsewhere. Again the goddess spoke softly, "I am the caretaker of this land, you must leave." Again Godrian refused.

She repeated her warning one final time, her voice a little stronger. "I am the caretaker of this land, you must leave. I will not have you defile my grounds with his blood. You have been warned three times." Godrian, once again demonstrated his disrespect for the gods.

She spoke softly, "Defend yourself."

Godrian's tenor rang loudly through the woods, "You dare! I am Godrian, the grand master. I have four tassels. You have nothing! You dare to challenge me?"

"Defend yourself."

Godrian stepped away from Nikkos and the boy struggled to get away from the center of the fray. Godrian laughed an evil laugh. "Fine! Defend yourself then." Then the man unsheathed his two swords and began circling them around his head in what was supposed to be an intimidating maneuver. It had worked before, with other lesser men. But she was not a lesser man. She was most unintimidated and he hadn't even finished his twirl, when he *gacked* in shock.

Nikkos said, the blade hung in Godrian's beard as if supported by all that hair. But he knew the knife was in the man's throat. Godrian dropped the swords in surprise. His eyes widened. The goddess stepped forward, grabbed the knife, dragged it down a little and then released it. Again her voice was soft, "A warrior is not unnecessarily cruel." It was a direct quote from Ares' ethos. She stared into the man's eyes and watched whatever light was left in him fade. Then she turned to Nikkos.

When he asked if she was a goddess, she laughed and said no. "That job is better left to others I think. I make too many mistakes. Much too hasty." She smiled easily and was gentle as she felt his wounds.

"I'm yours now."

"Excuse me?"

"I belong with the tassels." He showed her his brand. Her eyes flickered, but her face showed nothing. She wasn't going to take the tassels. He'd gotten very upset. "But you have to. You are the grand master now."

"I'm not interested in that. I wasn't playing some martial competition." She lifted Nikkos up, very carefully, until his body rested in her arms and his head on her shoulders. She was so strong. "We've got a bit of a walk, so try to remain still." But when she hadn't retrieved the tassels, Nikkos had gotten very upset and started struggling.

Finally she said, "I take it you really feel you belong with those stupid things." (Nikkos had gasped at the blasphemy). But her voice became, if possible, even kinder, "Well then I guess we'd better take them along. Can't have you dying out here in the forest, just because you belong with the tassels."

She'd left Godrian's body to rot. Later Nikkos had gone to bury what was left of the man, but the body was gone. He supposed she'd taken care of it.

She was different than any owner he'd ever had and had even, when he was well, given him his freedom. When he'd refused to leave and find his family, she'd taken him in as her own. She still refused the tassels. But he knew she really was a grand master, unlike Godrian who was just a bully. He hung the tassels in a perfect place in her home. She kept taking them down, but one day, she'd left them. He guessed she finally understood how much it meant to him. Now they hung over her alter.

The dean interjected, "Her Alter?! That woman is a heathen. Won't even come into the temple to get her kids. . ." She was about to continue, but Jenniver, the head priestess interrupted.

"The last thing Hero is, is a heathen. She simply has...issues. . .about entering the temple. Her offerings have always been more than satisfactory."

"That's just because she's paying for these kids schooling."

Jenniver looked peeved. "You shouldn't say anything when you know nothing."

Melinda's voice interrupted, "Sisters. . ."

Jenniver turned to the Gods' chosen priestess, "She really is generous. Her offerings have never lacked, not once. I know she honors The Six, because that is who she usually requests the offerings go to. . .sometimes others. But," and the priestess turned back to the dean, "she is NO Heathen."

Nikkos nodded, "Yes. You should see it. She worships The Six, though, I've never seen her by the alter. It's just that . . .you should see. The sculptures, they are so beautiful." He described them as about two feet high. There were two. One was the intertwined gods, Ares, Haephastus, and Aphrodite. It looked as if they were dancing. The other held the countenances of Callisto, Xena and Gabrielle. One was set to one side of the alter, the other was set to the other side. "Forgive me, ma'am, but I think they are more beautiful than the one's you have in the temple. I've often worshiped there myself. She's never taken offense."

"And we wouldn't expect her to." Jenniver said firmly.

Melinda held tightly to Jan's forearm. Her expression was neutral, but her grip was so strong that Janice winced. Here was their answer.

Nikkos looked at the clock on the wall. "May I be excused? I have to. . ."

Jenniver smiled, "Oh yes, most certainly, see you at the festival." He got *such* a hug from Janice and Melinda.

Chapter 27
Roll With It

The only thing Brigid said, when the young man finished telling her about the interview was, "Nikkos, you're a good kid." The she finished off her roll by swiping it in gravy and tossing it in her mouth.

Jolene was sitting next to the demigoddess at the table. Brigid placed her hand on the child's blonde head, smoothed her short curls and smiled fondly. "So, are you looking forward to the festival tomorrow? I've made arrangements with Rachael." Brigid nodded her head towards the woman. Even though Rachael's belly was round in pregnancy, there was a deep sense of gracefulness about her. It was an irony to Brigid, that, by her estimation she'd actually traveled back in time. Three years back, to the time she'd first run away. (She admitted to that now.) There were events that had occurred in such a similar manner to her personal past, that she could only call them fated.

For instance, that poor man who'd lost the poker game. This time she'd handled it differently. She kept the land, but returned to him most of the money (not all. . she'd needed the cash or she wouldn't have been gambling in the first place). It had worked out well. Instead of an enemy, she had made a loyal friend. And Rachael and her husband had opened their hearts to her, again. This time she had accepted. They'd arrived at a satisfactory arrangement, and if it wasn't love in the passionate sense, it was love in the steady and sure sense. There were no obligations, but there was a sense of peace.

And here was the festival, again. She'd still given the council high holy hell for poor planning, but she'd also let them use part of her land, for camping purposes. The camps would be located nowhere near her home (which, in this world really was too small for too many guests), so it was acceptable and the ground rules were made very clear. Brigid guessed it would be one or two days from the time that she'd started the alternate history.

Jolene nodded enthusiastically, and tried to talk with her mouth full (but had to give it up. . too much food, too little mouth). Brigid grinned. The little blonde swallowed and flashed beautiful brown eyes at the demigoddess. For so long they had held only sadness (Brigid had told the truth about the fire and part of the truth about Joni.), but now they held a smile. The girl swallowed and asked, "Are you going to the festival?" She'd been asking this question every day for a month. Brigid had to smile at the persistence.

"Hon, you know I haven't been planning on going for a long time." The child's face fell. Brigid considered, linking what Nikkos and Bill had said with Jolene's downcast face, "Tell you what though, I will think about it. Maybe I'll show up for the morning or something." There was no point in hiding anymore anyway.

Jolene's expression brightened immediately and Nikkos barked out, "Really?!" Brigid nodded hesitantly. And caught a glance of a skirted thigh.

"Hi Rach." The barkeep leaned down to kiss Brigid.

"Did I just hear you correctly. You are actually going to think about it?"

Brigid made a face, "well, yeah, since it's so important to you all."

Nikkos spoke, "If you do go to the festival you should wear. . "

"Nick."

"But. . ."

Rachael spoke, "It would be an honor to the community, you know. Not every town has a real . . ."

Nikkos spoke encouragingly. "I could show you how to wear them. Godrian didn't wear them right. You should wear what you wore when I first saw you. . . and your armor. I've kept it polished. . ."

Brigid grinned, and slid the palm of her hands down her shirt. "I will . . .think about it. . .but I won't guarantee I'll show up."

Jolene piped in, "But you said you'd be there in the morning. . ."

Brigid blinked, "I did?"

Jolene nodded solemnly and Brigid recalled an observation she'd made a long time ago. Never mention something to a kid unless you actually plan on doing it.

"Okay. I guess I'll be there tomorrow. But you two go ahead and stay with Rachael tonight. I know you'll want to be out at the festival as soon as dawn breaks."

Nikkos responded, "But how can I get you ready if I'm not. . ." She stalled him with a gentle hand on his.

"Tell you what. I'll bring the stuff with me, including the . . .you know, if I decide to be in," Brigid grimaced, "costume. We'll meet at Rachael's house at ten or something."

"Nine."

"Nine thirty. I'd intended to sleep in while you guys were gone." Brigid grinned and received a few in return.

Rachael patted Brigid's shoulder, and nodded toward a man who was sitting drunkenly at the bar. He waved a beer in their general direction. "Hon, Clyde was wondering if you would consider singing the farewell song."

Brigid looked at Clyde and waved back, then leaned away from his point of view. "He's only gonna end up crying in that beer of his."

"I know, but he loves it so. It is a beautiful piece."

Brigid snorted. "Okay, but only because the festival crowd's not in yet. I'll sing a happier bit afterwards. Can't have everyone depressed when they're trying to eat." Rachael smiled.

***

Brigid found the guitar underneath the counter of the bar, where she'd left it the last time Clyde had gotten her to sing. She smiled at the man sympathetically. They shared a common bond and had many a drunken conversation (on his part). Rachael pulled a stool out to the middle of the room and gave Brigid a peck on the cheek as the demigoddess sat down. Brigid tuned the instrument.

Her voice was soft and sweet and filled with longing. It wasn't that she had a perfect voice, or even that she played the tune perfectly (though she was very skilled), but the words and the melody fit wonderfully together. And the way she sang it pulled on the heart strings of the patrons. She wasn't even to the middle of the song when Clyde's face filled with tears. Her own eyes glimmered, but her voice remained steady.

No one clapped when she was done. No one ever did. They didn't have to. Their faces said it all. She gave the audience a watery smile and ignored Clyde's sobbing statements of, "Beautiful. .. Just Beautiful. You tell 'em." Then she plucked out a happier tune and started a ribald song about a nymph and a fairy.

***

Hero hadn't seen them come in, her attention had been on Nikkos and his story, so she didn't realize that Melinda and Janice were there when she'd started playing. She didn't see Janice wipe the tears off of Melinda's face or hear, through the crowd, the laughter that escaped from their lips at her next song. Brigid sang as long as she could, mixing sad songs with the happy, until it was mostly happy, and then blending in fiery love songs to add a bit of spice. It was like listening to a slice of life, a celebration of all things human. She even included a comedic piece about motherhood, flashing sly glances at the children at her table and grinning as they giggled. Finally, her voice began cracking and she had to close the session. She chose another love ballad, which sounded more like a hymn and the song ended as if it were a prayer for love.

When Brigid glanced at her kids, Melinda's blue eyes followed. She refrained from gasping, barely. The resemblance of the child to Callisto was remarkable. Another thing that the dean had failed to comment on. In fact, even Jenniver hadn't mentioned it. Mel glanced at Janice and whispered, "They've told us almost nothing. We'd have never known if not for this festival."

"Maybe they didn't know?"

"Everyone knew. We had postings everywhere."

"They weren't on the terminal when I looked."

"You checked?"

Jan kissed Mel's cheek. "I always check." She turned her attention back to Brigid. "There were no postings."

Melinda, "No wonder we never found her."

"mmhmm."

"Do you think she would talk to us?"

Janice shrugged. "Who knows? I'm hard pressed to believe she even recognized us. You remember the way she looked through us at the garage."

Mel shook her head, "Not through, just not at."

"yeah." Janice sighed, "Just not at. But her songs. . ."

"She remembers everything."

"Gods' forgive us."

They quieted down and listened to the rest of the session.

Chapter 28
Relief

The house was lonely without the kids. That was the first thing she'd noticed. The second thing she noticed was that she felt watched. For that reason, she began a thorough exploration of her abode. There was no one that she could see, but she felt odd. She supposed it came from actually having some time to herself, a whole night. She'd looked forward to it originally. Brigid decided she was just experiencing empty nest syndrome and let it go at that.

She decided to gather her "costume" for tomorrow, shaking her head in disbelief that she'd actually agreed to go to the festival in the first place. But those sweet brown eyes had been hard to resist and maybe this was just something she was meant to do. She pulled the kilt out of the closet, thought a minute and then pulled out a blouse. There was no reason she had to go naked to the rest of the world. She folded the cloth gently and went into the practice room. She stared at the wall above the alter for a good minute. Sighed. And began unlooping the four tassels from the wall.

A moment of whimsy overtook her. She set the clothes down, and lifted two tassels, one in each hand to her breasts and twirled them. She gave out a laugh and grinned. Then dropped the tassels onto the clothes. Then she unlooped the other two tassels and did the same. Then she set herself down and began to talk.

This was a ritual for her, these hidden one sided conversations. It was how she'd finally come to forgive them. She pulled a book from underneath alter and unlocked it and began to read, out loud, some of the words she'd written over the past three years. Tonight's discussion was about the hidden thread of cruelty she'd noticed in the gods, even Gabrielle. Her voice was gentle and even forgiving, as she tried to trace the path that had led to the changes she'd seen. She'd supposed it was a direct result of the virus, that their psyches had blended so much, that none of them had remained immune, they shared the good and the bad. But it hurt her to see it. She remembered Aphrodite's words about the rose and the thorns, but felt that even a rose was not all thorns, but soft petals and sweet smells. She set the book down and looked at the alter. She noticed the candles had been lit and snuffed and supposed Nikkos had been worshiping again.

She began to talk again, about missing them. She'd never missed anyone in her whole life until them. She talked about being arrogant and overly hasty and apologized for making judgments on them. There was no right or wrong in this. There had just been hurt. She knew the gods of this world were not the same as . . .well they'd never been. It was hard to keep straight, even in her longing. She wept a little, but she always did that for the hurt they'd caused her and the hurt she'd caused them. She let her hands smooth down her legs and then slapped them with a kind of finality. Well, she was going to this blasted festival and she supposed she would have a good time. She might as well if she was going to show up.

It occurred to her, that she'd never left an offering at her alter. She'd been afraid they would find her, but with Jan and Melinda about, it didn't rightly matter. She stopped talking a moment and contemplated, letting the silence wrap around her soul like a welcome cloak. The evening sky started to darken the room.

She looked down at her body, then at her belly button. She laughed. Yet another thing she'd held onto. She made up her mind, lifted her shirt and unlatched the hoop that threaded its way through her skin. She dropped it in the bowl and listened to it ring as it circled and clattered to a stop. Then she stood up and blew a kiss good night.

"See ya tomorrow," she said as she gathered the clothes and the tassels.

She didn't notice the eyes of the statues following her movements out of the room.

***

She'd planned on watching a show, but got bored with it pretty quick and ended up flipping channels. For once she had full control of the remote. She'd even played a video game or two. She missed the kids. She clicked off the monitor, stood up and stretched. Maybe if she went to bed early. Yeah. That might be what she really needed, a little sleep.

She slept alone, unless Rachael or Michael came to visit, but for some reason the room felt too big tonight. She decided to take a shower and see where that led her. During her shower, she had an impulsive feeling of sensuality, as she soaped down. Her nipples quivered erect and her belly felt warmth. She hadn't been thinking of anything particular that she could think of. But it felt nice. Sweet.

Maybe this was what she needed. She let the water rush over her, as her hand drifted slowly down her skin. She cupped her own breast and flicked the nipple gently. She grinned, remembering the tassel twirl. "Whatever." She licked her thumb and pressed it gently against the erect surface and rubbed. She felt a bolt of sexual energy flash right into her core and moaned. Yes. This is what she needed.

Her hands drifted over her body and she closed her eyes, she hesitated to fantasize and then thought, what the heck. She let her mind go where it willed. At first she thought of her latest sexual encounter with Rachael. The woman had been sore in need for a little relief. Nothing like cumming to get the endorphins flowing and to knock out a lower back ache. Then she began thinking about Xena and Gabrielle. She moaned as her hand made slow circles against her womanhood. The wetness she felt now had nothing to do with the shower.

She had a sudden image of Callisto and then of Kyle and then of Ares and then of Erin. Her eyes popped open in startlement, then they became heavy lidded. She was going with it damn it. No fighting. She licked her lips and had to lean against the shower wall for support. She had a sudden image of Aphrodite's lovely backside and craved. .yes that was the word. . craved the goddess. Her mind drifted to the idea of Haephastus and Ares soul kissing and she grinned. Her mind just went all over the place and so did her hands, until finally she let out an ecstatic and uninhibited scream of pleasure and relief.

Yep. That was definitely what she needed.

She finished her shower, slipped on a nightshirt and climbed into the bed. She didn't feel so lonely anymore. She drifted into a peaceful sleep and didn't wake at the sudden pressure on the bed's surface or at the gentle hand that caressed her cheek.

Chapter 29
The Next Morning

Brigid woke up abruptly, feeling a bit startled. She listened to the sounds of the house at night and heard nothing out of the ordinary, except for the pounding of her heart. She lay back against the pillow and took a slow breath. That inhalation caused her to sit up again. The scent of a flower perfumed the air. She moved the covers and let her feet drop to the floor. Silky softness greeted her touch. She moved her toes, since she wasn't quite sure what she was sensing.

She turned on the lamp and looked down at the petals under her feet and then gasped. They covered the whole floor, not just where she placed her feet. Her gaze fell on her coverlet. There were rose petals strewn on her bed too. Her heart started beating a different rhythm.

The demigoddess stood up and cautiously began exploring her house. There were rose petals EVERYWHERE. She noticed the petals didn't crush as she stepped on them, partly because she was being careful and partly because. . .they didn't. She had no explanation. Her lip began to quiver and she bent down and picked up a few of the extraordinary petals. Her tears fell freely on their surface, leaving salty droplets of water. She folded them into her hand.

She went to the kitchen and then to the storeroom. There was a locked cabinet full of a certain illegal substance. In a fit of pique, because she hadn't understood the necessity of the law (and it was a stupid law), she'd started making the stuff (her first few batches had been incredibly bad. . but her technique had improved with time. Her only problem was that she had nothing to compare it to and only had one set of carefully procured directions). She pulled out two bottles and carefully opened one. She poured herself one glass of the sweet stuff and then another. She procured a third bottle and ignored the cask.

She carried the open bottle to the practice room and looked at her alter. She tried to think of what was different and decided it must be the missing tassels. She didn't register that there were now six statues instead of two. She attributed the number to being a wee bit tipsy. She walked very carefully to the alter and knelt. She looked in the bowl, expecting to see the ring, but it was gone. She squinched her eyebrows in confusion and then shrugged her shoulders. She kissed the petals that were still clenched in her hand and dropped them into the bowl. Then she began to pour the wine.

She let the red liquid fill the bowl to its brim. Then she took another swig straight from the bottle (not her usual habit. . if she drank any of the wine, it was usually one short glass and she never got drunk. . .but today seemed to be an exception). She whispered to the gods, "Happy Festival!" She kissed the tops of all the statues and counted six again. It didn't trouble her mind at all. Then Brigid stood up and carefully walked back to her room.

She felt just tipsy enough to go without the shirt anyway and ended up following Nikkos instructions to wear what she wore before. She gathered the tassels and stuck them in a hidden pocket. She wore no boots or shoes, but let her feet feel the surface of the world. It gave her a sense of security.

She filled a bag with the rose petals. She wanted to keep some close, in case they were gone when she came back. Then, she retrieved the other two bottles, finished off the third, grabbed a second cup and got a drink of water. She drank in huge gulps, refilled, drank some more water and then she went to town.

She appeared in the middle of the street. It was still dark. The streets were still being lighted by lamps, but she could see the pink of the sun. She let her eyes scan the sidewalks. She was looking for a specific individual. She grinned happily when she saw him.

The man gazed up at her in a drunken stupor. She knelt before him. Her breath caressed him as she spoke softly. "Hello Clyde." The man blinked blearily in response. "I got something for you Clyde. Something you need. Hmm."

She opened the second bottle and poured some of the red substance into the cup. Then she set the bottles down and wrapped his hand around the cup. "We're gonna make this a festival to remember I think." She grinned in good humor. Then she lifted the cup to his lips and he drank.

He drank it as if it were mother's milk, sucking hungrily at the last droplets. It seemed to Brigid that his eyes took on a new clarity. She refilled the cup at his demand. He drank again, this time with a different intensity. His countenance began to change as age lines dropped from his face and wrinkles of sadness started to disappear. He emptied the cup and held it out again. His eyes were very clear now. She poured once more and watched as he downed the wine in a single gulp. His hair was golden now, his eyes a bright blue, his features young. She smiled at him and gave him a modest kiss. He grinned in return. "Welcome back Dionysus."

Chapter 30
God of Wine

Dionysus, the god of wine, grasped Brigid's forearm as she began pouring another draft of the wine. "How did you know?" She finished pouring and lifted her eyes to meet his.

"You told me."

"But I couldn't . . I mean I was cursed. I wasn't able. . ."

"You didn't tell me tell me. You just. . told me."

"How?"

"Charades."

His eyebrows furrowed as he tried to remember. She patted his hand, which was still latched to her arm. "Don't think too hard on it. It's not something you want to remember, I think." Actually it was pretty funny. They were both tipsy and had gotten onto the I'm not really who you think I am conversation. This led to a hysterical set of charades which had Brigid blurting out, "B O Knee Shush?" in a kind of blurry confusion. It wasn't until the next morning that she understood what he was trying to tell her. A little research in the library led to the rest of the story.

An upstart demon type disguised himself as Dionysus and took over the name, then he changed back to himself and called himself Bacchus. He founded a group of female vampire types and ended up getting killed by a certain Warrior Princess. . in both timelines. (He wasn't very smart.) Because of the heinous crimes the bacchai committed while under his influence, this world banned wine making and it became (almost) a lost art. Meanwhile, no one thought to look for the real Dionysus. Everyone just assumed he'd gone bad. They seemed to forget that he was a God and therefore couldn't be killed. . .at least not in the normal way. Not that Dryad bones were normal. And not that those bones had anything to do with real dryads. . .(which was another story entirely).

Brigid helped the god stand up and in doing so got a good whiff of his clothes. "Whew Man!"

Dionysus blushed, "Sorry." He closed his eyes a moment and soon he was dressed in something more suitable, a short toga and a wreath of grapevine in his hair. Brigid grinned. She patted his bare chest.

"Hey, we match."

He looked at himself and then at Brigid, "Barely. I think yours are bigger." Brigid stuck out her tongue and then laughed. She took a swig straight from the bottle. He captured the bottle in her hand on it's second way up. "Think you've had enough for the morning missy. You just need enough for the buzz, not so much that you can't function."

Brigid hmmmphed. "That's what you think. I've got a big day ahead. My son wants me to wear tassels." She pulled the tassels out and let them dangle.

Dionysus looked her up and down. "Where are you gonna wear them?"

Brigid shrugged. "Heck if I know."

Dionysus eyes brightened. He leaned forward, "Well if you're gonna wear the tassels. You might as well give in all the way and go to the temple this morning with everyone else."

"Ha! Not likely." Brigid squinted. "HEY! You remembered." They stared at each other and then began sniggering at the same time. When they got themselves together Brigid informed the god, "There's more in the house, if you want it. In fact, wait a sec, I'll get it." And she did. Soon there were several bottles and a few casks of wine on the street. She sighed, "Sorry there's so little. It's only been a coupla years you know."

"It's okay. It's a start and trust me, once I get it flowing I can keep it going."

Brigid thought a moment. "What about the kids?"

"Safe spaces."

"Huh?"

"You know, safe spaces. They get a cup full, it will be juice. Everywhere they walk, people will suddenly be sober. . ish. . enough you know. Carnival space will be buzz free (sort of. . .) You'll see. A good time had by all. A festival that people will Really remember."

"No doubt."

"Brigid?" The demigoddess looked up at the tall, almost skinny god. "Thanks." Brigid nodded. He grasped her arm again, this time in a more friendly gesture. "I want you to know. . .if it doesn't work out with them. You have a place with me. You've been decent when no one else. . . you know?"

Brigid smiled warmly and took his hand in hers. "Yeah. Thanks. You too."

Brigid and the god parted company after a bit. Dionysus looked at the bare streets and said, "This doesn't look like a place that's about to have a festival. Time for a pick me up." He disappeared the wine, except for what was in his cup. Then he started walking and whereever he went colorful flowers seemed to bloom as if it were spring.

***

Needless to say, Nikkos was thrilled with Brigid's decision. The solution to the dilemma of where to hang the tassels was solved as he explained that they should be evenly separated across the width of a belt, or in Brigid's case, sewn onto her kilt by Rachael. Soon, Brigid had four tassels dangling along the line of her waist for all the world to see.

Somehow they persuaded her to go with them to the temple. She commented that, since she'd arrived earlier than planned, she should just take a little nap. This idea was vetoed by Jolene in a big way. She grinned and gave in. Nikkos asked where her hunting knife was. Brigid informed him, "You only said to wear what I wore, not to bring weaponry." This had caused a little fidgeting, but everyone got over it.

As it was, they walked in the morning light together. It was a transformed world. Grapevines trailed their way up lamp posts. Flowers of different colors and variations seemed to be all over the place. Wine flowed from a fountain's mouth rather than water and people were taking full advantage of it. Brigid noticed that cops were conspicuously absent from the streets and grinned. She wondered what Dionysus had done with them exactly. Then she ceased to wonder when she saw a few familiar faces dancing naked, save for some flowers covering naughty bits, in a courtyard. Yep, this was going to be a festival to remember.

She noticed that many people were converging on the temple and felt a sudden claustrophobia. She wished heartily that she had retrieved a bottle from Dionysus, but then she looked down into warm brown eyes. "Happy?" Jolene nodded and held onto her small offering (all the kids had made one in class) just a little tighter. Brigid gave the little blonde's free hand a squeeze and surrendered to the warm embrace of Rachael's arm around her waist. Nikkos was having some sort of deep conversation with Michael, who had somehow procured a cup of wine for himself. The two guys fell behind a ways.

Soon they reached the temple steps. Brigid slowed to a halt and looked up the stairs at the temple entry way. She swallowed. This time it was Jolene who squeezed her hand. "Don't be scared. I'll go with you." Brigid smiled down into sincere eyes.

"I appreciate that more than you know sweetie." She looked up again and then at Rachael who gave her a neutral smile. "Well, let's go then." She tried to ignore the shaking that was starting in her body. They walked together up the broad steps and through the entry way.

It was lighter than Brigid expected. The entry way seemed so dark. Still her heart pounded. They were in a very big room which led to a wide arching portal. A guard stood in front of the portal, as did Jenniver. They were smiling and letting the patrons of the temple into the one the sanctum of the six. For some reason, Jenniver's presence caused Brigid to feel better.

They waited patiently for their turn. Nikkos and Michael eventually did catch up and snuck into line with them. There was a bit of teasing and good natured ribbing. Finally it was their turn. Brigid had somehow managed to get behind everyone else and watched as they were filtered in. It wasn't until the big guard was asking her for her offering that Brigid registered exactly what was missing in the scenario. The offering.

She'd not thought to bring one.

Chapter 31
Supplication

Jenniver watched Brigid's face as it went from almost kind of comfortable in a strange environment to *doh* to despair. She followed the trail of Brigid's gaze and realized that the woman could see into the sanctum, where life sized statues of the six stood away from the far wall, yet close enough that floodlights caused oversized shadows. Brigid was looking intensely at the faces. As she thought about what Brigid might be seeing, Jenniver felt like she was observing the countenance of the gods for the first time and suddenly the priestess registered why Jolene had always looked so familiar. Jenniver looked hastily back at Brigid who was mouthing something in a whisper that was filled with yearning. She could barely hear it, but it broke her heart.

"O would I were the salt sea-wind
And you upon the beach
Would bear your breast and let me blow
Until your heart I reach." (1)

It all happened before Jenniver could act.

The guard laughed, "A poem?! That's not an offering! Go find something with substance and come back." Brigid looked up and squinted at the guard. Then she looked back at the sanctum. Her face took on a stubborn determination.

"I've an offering of substance alright." Which she knew was a lie, but it actually came out well. She continued with, "But no way I'm giving it to a ham handed lout like you!" The guard lost his sense of humor and lunged and missed the demigoddess, who ran into the sanctum. She skittered past people and even pushed one fellow away as she climbed up one of the podiums to wrap and secure her arms around the Xena statue's waist. She was prepared to hold on for dear life. She closed her eyes tightly against the tears that threatened to trickle down. She knew those who knew her best were staring.

The guard started to shout, "Get some help. Damn it Lady Get down from there!" Jenniver rushed in too, in order to help. She had a sudden impression that there shouldn't be such a large audience right now. The priestess began to shoo people out of the sanctum.

Brigid trembled against the Xena statue, fiercely pressing herself into the cold marble, even as the guard tried to yank on her leg. She gave the guy a good kick to the sternum, causing him to *oof* away. She decided to let go of statue and jumped down, so that she could face off with the idiot. He ran right into her fist and was knocked cold.

She turned to look at the gods and was gripped with a sense of awkwardness. Here it was, the festival and she'd already blown it. The demigoddess sighed. She looked the palms of her hands. They were calloused and empty. Then she looked at the stacks of offerings piling up at the gods' feet. Each alter had something. And she had nothing. Nothing to give. She gave a sorry little laugh.

She let her hands drop to her sides and stood, looking at the familiar faces that loomed above her. And then, it's funny, it was as if her voice found a way, finally to say what she felt. What she wanted. To explain, however badly, her reason for running into the sanctum in the first place. It was like the time, when she'd chased Callisto around the room. Her mouth sort of took over, but this time it was her heart speaking.

"Poor is my offering.
Indeed, have I none,
save the beating of my heart."

Brigid's voice was soft, yet those who were still in the sanctum heard her begin.

"Other's rituals hold no power for me,
as caught as I am without thine embrace.
Each festive tune becomes a dirge.
Why celebrate, if I can not dance?"

Jenniver had a flash of understanding and more earnestly began to shove people out of the sanctum. "Thank you so much, come again later, bye now." She summoned Michael to help her. Brigid turned around and looked at them. Her expression was solemn.

"I am heathen in their eyes,
my religion is too hidden for them."

She turned back to gaze at the statues.

"But Thou art my silent call,
All the reason for my being."

Her voice was whisper soft.

"They, who are able, shout thy names.
I can only whisper."

Nikkos took a wide eyed Jolene by the hand and slipped out the door. "We'll come back later," he said. Rachael and Michael moved to follow, but Jenniver halted them. She was going to need help with the double doors, not to mention the unconscious guard. Michael went, grabbed the guard by his legs and began dragging the man across the floor.

Brigid looked at the floor and bit her lower lip.

"My heart is a maze without thee.
I steer in blindness.
There is no compass for this loss.
My tongue, she waggles for the stranger,
but closes to those who know her.
I am too scared to be much revealed."

Then she looked up and strode to the nearest statue. This time it was an image of Gabrielle she spoke to. She whacked the marble with the palm of her hand. Not too hard, just enough to feel the sting.

"Stand thee now,
o solid solid stone."

She wrapped her arms around the unbending legs of the statue. Her voice took on a sob.

"Would that thou were willing flesh.
Or better yet, that I be stone with thee,
if this is ought that is left to me."

The tears flowed freely down her cheeks for a moment. She let go the embrace and stood back. Her eyes were contemplative and her gaze fell to one of the offerings in front of Callisto. She strode to the potted plant, crouched and grabbed a handful of soil. She scattered the dirt on the floor and stood up. She let her bare feet find the soil. She looked up again. Her voice was stronger.

"Yet,
this world of greenery,
deep blue lakes
and wild things,
she beckons to me.
She claims me.
I am not finished with my part.
The ground became my friend when none else were.
This dirt upon which I stand is my deliverer."

She gave a half hearted laugh.

"O wretched savior."

"Parting to me good will,
some solace
when I wanted none.
My bitterness blows in the wind
As nothing.
For who can stay angry at she who saves?"

Brigid picked up another handful of soil and let it spill through her fingers. Her whole body was shaking now as the earth dribbled to the floor. Her voice was gently mocking.

"I was buried.
Now alive again,
Yet still my fingers tremble
with the longing.
I can not play the harp today
or even cymbal
to send my petition.
My rhythm is a'kilter."

The demigoddess gazed at the Callisto statue. It was a beautiful rendition. There was a part of her mind that said she could do better, but it was still a gorgeous piece of work. The goddess was in the aspect of mercy. She wore a long flowing robes. Gazing on her caused Brigid to tremble even more. So much so, that she observed,

"My knees they falter."

As she found herself kneeling in front of Callisto, she felt herself surrender.

"On the floor then,
Tis a beggar am I,
Even with all my treasure."

Brigid closed her eyes, imagining perhaps that she might feel some warmth, but when she leaned to kiss the statue, there was no such thing. Her heart held a sigh.

"I can only kiss thy cold marble hem.
My lips are lonely."

She leaned back and touched her lips in thought. Then she stood up and wiped the dirt off of her knees.

"Even so,
Even so,
I must each day greet,
and do the same ol' tasks as before,
yet different.
I lay sweet rushes at their feet,
wash my face, comb my hair.
My house I must maintain,
despite myself."

She turned away from the statue and watched as Michael, who was now joined by Janice and Melinda, was struggling with the door. Rachael and Jenniver seemed to be giving instructions and making observations. Apparently the massive door wouldn't close. She shook her head and caught a glance of Aphrodite. She let her shaky legs take her to the goddess. Brigid's eyes took on a new look.

"In all this,
There is a hope I have.
A small indication,
that my 'foolery is not
the sole wish of a fool,
An' my desires are not too base for thee.
Perhaps my way was strewn with flowers,
and my road was not so dim as I thought."

She turned again and was facing Ares. This wasn't the first time she'd seen a portrayal of him in this world. But the difference in his countenance, on this world, always captured her attention. There was a certain nobility to his features that in original space had been lacking. Indeed, though she heartily disagreed with Zeus' actions and would rather that Ares' had a choice, it seemed the warrior god had made the best of it.

"Perhaps."

She looked as Haephastus and blew the god a kiss. Then she stepped back to the middle of the floor. The tears still freely dripped from her face.

"Now surrender I,
My words at thine alters.
If my heart you can not accept,
then take thou my tears.
I will not linger overlong.
I have met the sun before,
I will meet it likewise tomorrow,
come yea or nay.
Let us therefore part or join,
That I may know my path into the day."(2)

And with that, Brigid had no more words to offer and no impulse to give anymore. Instead she stood quietly, waiting. There was a burst of commotion at the door. Brigid whipped around to see two warrior types determinedly marching in her direction. She didn't see Melinda or Janice hastening after them because the warriors' bodies were so wide.

She laughed as they grabbed her arms roughly and her gaze fell on a frustrated set of lovers. "Well I guess I have my answer then," she said, assuming the wrong thing from Jan and Mel's expressions. She decided not to struggle and felt herself being lifted up at the armpits, which is actually kind of painful in a disjointed kind of way. They began to short march her out and her feet didn't even touch the ground.

Melinda held up a hand in a motion bidding the warriors to stop. The guards almost came to a halt, but not quite. However, they did stop at the next words, which came from behind them.

"Gentlemen, it would please us greatly, if you would unhand our wife. Otherwise I will have to remove your arms. Permanently."

Chapter 32
Joining

Brigid's heart started beating a mile a minute as soon as she heard that sultry voice. Her legs still dangled in the air as she was supported by two muscular arms. She twisted her body so that she could look back, and as she did so the demigoddess heard Jenniver shout, "Those Aren't Our Guards!"

The next thing Brigid knew, the "guard" on her right (the direction she'd been turning in) was sporting, long pointy teeth, leathery wings and a really bad haircut and she was being pushed against the scaly skin of the second "guard." Then she was being lifted in the air with a loud fooshing noise, as the second guard took off. The good news was that there was a ceiling. The bad news was that the door was still open.

Now, it's no fun being dangled by one armpit and Brigid objected to the whole thing on principle, so she decided to make a nuisance of herself. At the same time she heard a familiar *whoosh* *kchang kchang* *whoosh*, so she knew the Gods were in action. She started slugging Noname in what resembled a face. The first punch caused the creature to lurch back. The demigoddess' action also caused the winged being to lift her close to its face so it could roar very loudly and very obnoxiously (hygiene wasn't in the works) in Brigid's face. That was just about as disagreeable as being lifted by the armpit. Brigid delivered another punch. This time the fist had a whammy behind it.

The creature rocked back and let go of Brigid, who hadn't realized just how far from the floor she really was. *Why do temples Always Have to have High ceilings?* she thought to herself as she rushed in the direction of the floor. Brigid figured, if she was going to do an impromptu dive, she should at least have good form. She managed a tucked spin and elongated with her palms facing downward. *She* didn't have to worry about splashing.

The mortals in the room got the scare of their life as they watched Brigid plummet. Then there were gasps of amazement. Brigid seemed to slide through the floor and then swim and float herself up onto the surface as if she'd actually been dealing with water rather than solid marble. It wasn't until she tried to use her left arm as a support in standing up that she realized her shoulder was dislocated.

Meanwhile, the first "guard" got itself sliced and diced by a certain Warrior Princess Goddess type and it didn't enjoy that experience at all. The second guard thought it could make good its escape, but was confronted by a highly annoyed Callisto. "Ah ah ah!" She waggled a finger in its direction. Then she let loose a bolt of power that pretty much decimated its ability to remain in the air as anything more than dust particles. "That is for yelling at Brigid. *No one* yells at Brigid, but me."

Brigid was oblivious to anything but the pain in her shoulder, for a few seconds. Then she was oblivious to anything but the exquisite relief and pleasure she felt as her shoulder was moved back to where it belonged by a supportive hand. She looked up into the face of the person aiding her and was enveloped in a kind and receptive gaze. Were it not for the fact that he sported the same beard and haircut, she wouldn't have recognized him. He smiled warmly at her. "It seems we meet again."

Brigid's mouth wouldn't work. She shook her head to clear her mind. "I see you, but I don't believe you. You're so. . .so. .different."

His smile deepened, crinkling at his eyes. "To you maybe, but I'm all this world has known."

". . ." Brigid nodded mutely and turned away to extricate herself. He pulled her back, gently.

"I owe you everything." Brigid shook her head in denial and opened her mouth to speak. He placed a finger against her lips. "Everything. We all do."

"But. . ." There were concerns Brigid had. Damn it, why couldn't she think. She needed to. . .

"We'll talk about that later." He caressed her cheek. He gazed into her golden eyes, "I've searched so long. Millennia. I remembered what you said and tried to be wise, though I wasn't perfect." Brigid tried to say something again, ". . .shhhh. ." He looked her up and down, ".You're more beautiful than I remember." The demigoddess blushed from the top of her head to her waist. Then he looked up to where Callisto still hovered. He smiled and that smile was returned. Then he gazed again at Brigid, "and as powerful." Again Brigid blushed.

"Look. . ."

"We'll talk about it later."

"But. . ."

"Later."

". . ."

The Warrior God directed Brigid back to the middle of the floor (the body parts had miraculously been cleaned up so Brigid didn't have to step in any goo). "Now, we have a joining to conduct." Brigid blinked and opened her mouth, then shut it. He tilted her head up, "Remember, you asked. This is our answer." He looked suddenly sheepish, "Its true, we have been thinking of you as bonded to us already. I intended long ago, when I first started searching for you, to take you as my consort. But you weren't then." He looked very sad for a moment, then he grinned, "But you Are now. And since you were once, in another place and time, the wife of the Warrior Princess and the Bard, then, well, we thought of you as wife. . .when we found out. And now, since you have requested, so it shall be." Brigid was a little confused, but made out that she was about to get married. She dithered for about two seconds and then smiled.

The door to the sanctum shut by itself, sealing those individuals, who remained, indoors. Aphrodite started leading Rachael and Michael to the middle of the circle, "Sweetums, you took care of our girl when we couldn't. You deserve a reward. We usually don't hook up with mortals, but hey, you've been way worthy. What say?" It took a second for the two mortals to realize that they were being proposed to, by the Gods. . .

Both of them tried to talk at once. "Uhm. . really, you don't . . I mean, I'm happy. . .I mean we. . .It was no effort. . .But thanks. . ."

Aphrodite smiled sweetly and shrugged, causing her diaphanous gown to shimmer in distracting ways. "Okay for you, but the offer stands." Then she kissed each of them lightly on the lips, "Why don't you stay for the party anyway. hmm." There were a couple of dazed nods and she let them stand where they were.

Ares stepped away from Brigid, but not too far away. She found herself turning in a circle, as the Gods stepped into place around her. Gabrielle gave her an easy smile and a wink. Callisto looked a little stern and her arms were folded (Brigid thought she could feel a lecture coming on. . .though what it would be about she had no clue.) Xena bright eyes flashed and were merry. Aphrodite blew her a kiss (which did all kinds of things to Brigid's hormones.) Haephastus grinned at her. His palm held a small golden ring. She caught a quick glimpse of it before he covered the ring with his fist. Then to her surprise she found herself staring at Janice, who's hand was clasped with Melinda's. Brigid managed another blink as she tried to figure out just when *this* had happened. Not that she objected, in any form or way. . but. . . . .it was kind of unexpected. Then the demigoddess was looking at Ares again. He smiled gently and waved to Jenniver.

"Are you ready priestess?"

The stunned priestess made a quick recovery. Mostly she felt justified. She Knew Hero wasn't a heathen. She just knew it! She smiled widely, "Any time you are. . .sir."

"We are ready."

"Oh, in that case. . .We are gathered here together in the presence of all to witness the joining of. . ." And with a few more words from the priestess and a bunch of I do's from the participants it was over fairly quickly. Callisto was the one to put the ring on, right back where it came from. The insertion of the ring through the demigoddess' skin at her belly button caused Brigid to giggle, which caused Callisto's eyebrows to arch, which caused more giggling from the still slightly buzzed demigoddess. Callisto had to kiss Brigid to get the demigoddess to shut up. The priestess gave the parting shot of, "What the gods' have joined let no one put asunder." And so it was.

Chapter 33
Good Vibrations

The sudden pressure of Callisto's mouth on hers caused Brigid to realize how real this all was. Up to this point, she'd felt as if her life had taken on the essence of a dream, but Callisto's kisses were warm and wet and real enough. The demigoddess surrendered by wrapping her arms around the goddess' waist and pulling her closer. Brigid had an abrupt need to feel the woman as close as she could get her and when the giggles ended more salty tears began to flow, but this time in happiness. She couldn't let go of the goddess. Instead, her mouth began to roam the perameters of the goddess' face, kissing every inch, as if by doing so she could engrave Callisto upon her soul and thus never lose her again.

She felt the loving presence of the others and having surrendered, at the last, she felt no rush, but to do only what she was doing. When her knees had enough of supporting her, Callisto held her up. In fact she lifted the demigoddess into her arms and placed her on a soft yet sturdy surface. Brigid found a voice, "I've missed you. I've missed you." She kept repeating the words over and over, half in wonder, half in need. Callisto's strong hands closed the distance between them and pulled at the demigoddess' kilt. Brigid lifted her hips and started to help with her own arms, but Callisto would have none of it, prefering Brigid's hands to return to their gentle seeking. It was fine. The kilt was off easily enough.

***

Brigid never got lost. Not once, except maybe in the sense she did not track time. She only was aware of who she was with and what she was doing and how much she needed them. And she really did need them. It was good they didn't hurry or crowd. It was an odd kind of gathering. The experience was more of a spiritual thing for Brigid. Her body was involved, but so was her heart and because her heart was involved there was a sense of preciousness to each moment (even the silly ones and there were a few of those too. . .) Any one who would have called the moment orgiastic, would have missed the point entirely. It wasn't. Multiple yes. Orgiastic.. no. (Maybe another time though. .)

She appreciated the differences in each of her spouses. She arrived at a point where she could identify who she was with by her all of her senses, not just her sight. Ares tasted different than Haephastus. Gabrielle smelled slightly different than Janice (who had a spicier scent. . .which was kind of logical in a way). Callisto's surface was definitely different than Aphrodite's. Xena had alternate sensitive spots to Melinda's. If Brigid were put in a cave and asked to identify who was who, she would be able to.

***

Rachael, Michael and Jenniver did not disappear (not that they would have had the ability with the door being locked tight), but rather were gently integrated into the "festivities," by gods. This was a necessary thing. Things were moving along at what might be considered a normal pace, and maybe, just maybe the mortals would have been able to cope with it on their own level, except that once Aphrodite kissed Brigid's marked shoulder (and it was one of those things that was bound to happen) things got a little out of hand. As soon as the Goddess of Love's lips had touched the heart shaped markings (even though it looked like a normal birthmark) there was a pulse of energy that zinged right through everyone's body and through the temple and out into world (covering the tri county area).

A startled, "Oh Dear!" erupted from Aphrodite's lips and she had to do some quick fixing in order to stop certain events from happening. As it was, it was good there was a festival going on and the goddess of love took advantage of it. She shored up the children's safe spaces (blowing a grateful kiss to a certain god of wine) and lessened the impact of the sexual energy by redirecting it and absorbing some of it into herself. There would be quite a few unexpected relationships formed and, of course, quite a few spring babies whose parentage might be in question. (However everyone treated those infants well, they were considered the blessings of the gods).

Aphrodite rejoined the nuptial event and things really got rocking after that. Still there was a gentleness in the atmosphere (maybe thanks to Rachael, who in her condition could really only do so much, although it was more than people might think.) The god's adjusted the environment of the room to meet their needs, even to the providing of spaces for bathing and other necessary functions (including eating. . .food was in abundance. . .) People left their offerings outside the door of the sanctum (though many rejected the rumor that the gods' were getting married and embraced the notion that some crazy woman had taken over the sanctum and had to be locked in. . .go figure.)

Michael got the thrill of his life when he was seduced by Ares (one of those deeply repressed fantasies come to life and it was much better than he ever imagined). It was a huge turn on for Rachael who had to stop everything and watch. Actually there was as much voyeurism and conversation as there was actual seduction, certainly there were times when Brigid had to take a break and she would find herself leaning against the shoulder of a lover (in this case Xena) and being caressed casually as they watched whatever was going on around them. Brigid found Michael's seduction more beautiful than she expected. Physical yes, but it was also moving because he enjoyed it so much.

As for Jenniver, she had been lusting after the high priestess since Melinda's arrival and was thrilled to be invited into Mel's arms. Her encounter met her expectations and went way beyond. And if there normally would have been jealousy, that emotion was remarkably absent and never would arise for Janice or Melinda in relationship to Jenniver.

It would be a grave understatement to say, that a good time was had by all those involved. It was more than a good time. It was nourishing. It was refreshing. Wounds (both hidden adn obvious) that had seemed so severe were soothed and healed. And when things did finally start winding down, Brigid felt a great deal of peace and her trust was restored.

Chapter 34: Checking In

Brigid's mouth was attached to Gabrielle's nipple. She had just finished licking it lavishly and was preparing to apply suction. Her mind drifted to some basic thoughts about suckling, which led to thoughts about childhood, which led to Brigid abruptly disengaging from earlier said activity with a blurted, "THE KIDS!"

She stood up in one fluid motion, her expression aghast. Gabrielle gave her a bewildered look. She looked down at Gabrielle and said, "I forgot the kids! How could I forget the kids! Gah!" Brigid looked at her wrist and a nonexistant watch. She tapped her wrist. "What time is it? Is it dark? Oh my gosh. How long have they been out there?" She looked back at the closed door and then returned her gaze to Gabrielle, who was in the motion of sitting up. "My kilt. Has anyone seen it? Got to go get the kids."

Gabrielle stood up. "Whoah. Calm down. It's alright." She pulled Brigid close. "'Dite says they're in a safe space." Brigid's gaze fell on the Goddess of love (who was busy doing what she does best with a certain dark haired warrior princess type).

"Yeah but. ."

"They're safe."

"But it's late."

"You want to check on them?" Gabrielle spoke understandingly.

"I would feel better." Brigid's expression changed to ardor, "Then I could focus. .again." She planted a kiss on the bard goddess' lips.

Brigid's kilt was suddenly in Gabrielle's hand. The demigoddess reached to put it on, but Gabrielle held it away and chose to wrap it around Brigid herself. Brigid grinned shyly. Then the strawberry blonde grasped the demigoddess' hand and prepared to lead her out.

"Wait for me." It was Callisto. "You are not going with out me." This was a moment that Brigid both embraced and dreaded.

"Are you sure. I mean. .You don't have to. .I mean. . ."

"I'm going." The goddesses dressed themselves simply, following the fashions of the day. Then they and Brigid stepped out.

***

It was dark. Brigid guestimated that it was past midnight, but it was hard to tell. The streets were filled with frolickers and there were still some competitions going on. They were halfway to the fairgrounds when Dionysus showed up. He gave them each cups of wine and a hearty congratulations. "Too Bad for Me, but Wonderful for you Brigid!" He gave her a wet kiss. "Aphrodite sure spiced up the party! It's been marvelous." He indicated a group of sweet (but legal) young things who were hanging around him. "I've got new followers thanks to you." Another wet kiss. "You ever need my help. .you know."

Brigid grinned, "You betcha." The god smiled happily and drifted off.

***

It was amazing. The moment they stepped into the fairgrounds, the atmosphere changed. Oh there was a sense of fun. There were tons of kids screaming about and standing in line for the various rides (and there were lots of adults too), but it was all in sober good times. Brigid tasted her wine and realized she was drinking grape juice. This suited her just fine. Now it was just a matter of finding . . .

Gabrielle spotted them first and pointed, "There they are." Nikkos and Jolene were standing in line for a ride that was not meant for the squeamish.

Brigid said, "How'd you know. . ."

The strawberry blonde grinned, "I am a god." Then she pointed to the ride, "And I know kids."

"Oh. . .Yeah."

Brigid called out to them. They looked up from what looked like a spirited conversation. They broke from the line (which surprised the demigoddess). She met them halfway. "I would have come to you, you didn't have to. . ." she started speaking as she pulled them into her arms.

"Are you okay?" Nikkos began at the same time.

"Fine fine." Brigid tilted Jolene's face up. The girl looked a bit tired, but happy. "You two been having a good time?" She got a few nods and she smiled. "Ready to go home?" They looked at each other and then back at Brigid.

"I guess. It's been kind of a long day."

"I imagine it has been." The demigoddess smiled at Nikkos. "Mine's been pretty active too."

"Talk about your understatements." Gabrielle inserted her presence.

Nikkos made an assumption. "Hi Janice."

Gabrielle smiled, "Close, but not quite. Call me Gabrielle."

Nikkos blinked. "Gabrielle? Gabrielle, as in *the* Gabrielle?" He turned to Brigid, "You know The Gabrielle?"

Brigid prevaricated, "In a manner of speaking son. . you see. . ."

"She has been claimed by us." Callisto stepped forward, out of the semidarkness and into clear view.

Nikkos jaw dropped. Jolene scooched closer to Brigid. The little girl's face took on an aspect of deep sadness. Brigid looked down at drooping shoulders and knelt. "Honey?" Jolene didn't say anything, but her lips started to quiver. "Honey, we talked about this. . .Do you remember?" Jolene nodded and the tears started forming at the corners of her eyes. "She's not. . .She's like, but . . .It's not. . .Oh Sweetie. . ." Brigid pulled the girl close to her as soon as the sobs started. She lifted Jolene up and turned to the goddesses. "I'm sorry. I was afraid this might happen. . but she had to see you eventually. We talked about it when she saw the statues. How Callisto was different from . . ."

Callisto extended her arms. "Pass her over." Brigid stood still for a second. "Pass Jolene over." They started the complex process of exchanging the child, "It's time for me to see my little *sister.*" Brigid nearly fainted. Jolene just started bawling. Nikkos mouth seemed to drop even further. Gabrielle caught Brigid as her knees went weak.

"Wha. .what?" Callisto didn't answer but turned her attention to a heartbroken child. Brigid turned to Gabrielle. "Did she just say. . ."

"Yep. There are things we need to talk to you about."

"But I thought."

"You were both right and wrong." Gabrielle clasped Nikkos' hand in hers, "Glad to meet you Nikkos. Boy have I got a story for you."

"Oh my Gods."

Chapter 35
A Bit of Fireworks

The huge rock wall was fast becoming the tiny mound of pebbles. The demigoddess let loose another lightening quick blast of fury. She was too angry to even be thinking that she was defacing Gaia. (Fortunately for her, they'd already made this arrangement. Gaia always learned from her mistakes.)

There were no words. She couldn't even begin to think straight, but only feel.

She screamed to the Heavens, "HOW COULD THEY?"

*SHAKABOOOM* More pebbles drifted to the ground.

***

"Well, that went better than I expected," Gabrielle intoned.

Callisto nodded circumspectly, "At least this one didn't disintegrate the world this time."

"The kids are alive."

"There is that."

"Much better than last time."

"Much."

"Then Why do I feel so bad?"

***

The kids were still asleep. It was one of the blessings of being so worn out from the day. They totally missed the light show that their guardian was producing, but the townspeople didn't (those that were conscious that is). They thought the town council was putting on a fire show and a lot of them settled back to watch. It lasted for about an hour, with spectacular noises and lights. Many agreed it was the best firework display they'd ever seen.

***

Brigid ended up on the ground, panting. Her whole body was sweating. Her legs curled under her, tickled by the leaves on the ground. She picked one up and crumpled it, still not quite rid of her destructive impulse.

They'd known all along who she was. All along. And more.

The demigoddess groaned and leaned forward until her head was almost in the hollow her legs made.

They'd broken her heart. Broken her soul. She'd spent years repairing herself, denying herself, trying to rectify whatever it was that she'd done incorrectly. Learning to love them as they were now. Accepting she would never be a part of their lives. Sacrificing. . .HAH! Sacrificing so that Callisto would never go through that rotten past. And now. .now she was married to them, under the assumption that they were different people, that they'd simply become aware of her worth as herself and not as a pawn.

Her body spasmed in rejection. Oh she was such a fool! Over and over again a fool. She rocked in pain with each new sob. The noise in her head was so loud she didn't hear the footsteps, didn't feel the presence of another, until there was a hand on her shoulder, lifting her body up and then her face. She wearily looked into pained brown eyes.

Brigid's voice broke, "It was for nothing. Nothing." Tears poured down her face, "You were hurt anyway. . You. . You." Her body shuddered again.

The goddess pulled her close, "It had to be convincing. It had to be as true as possible."

Brigid snorted, "True!" She stood up abruptly, breaking free from Callisto's grasp. "It was true alright. My heart was in little bitty pieces. I thought I was doing some great thing. I thought if I could spare you, it would be worth it. Worth it all." Brigid's body shuddered in a sudden chill. Her voice cracked, "I wanted you to be happy and, damn it, to stay that way."

"It wasn't up to you."

Brigid turned away with a scream.

Callisto stood up, closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around the demigoddess. She whispered in Brigid's ear. "You have no idea, how long and hard we searched. How many times the fates intervened, how many times we've tried to find the right person. Only this time, because of you and your good heart, things have been different. It *has* been worth it. For me, even if everything fails. . .if the plans come to naught it will have been worth it, to know you. You have been the bright spot in my heart. You have been my happiness."

Brigid swallowed, feeling moved by Callisto's words. She looked at the ground. "How many times have you had to. . .?"

"Too many to count."

"Why?"

"Because the Gods have been at war."

"War?"

"War."

"And Ares?"

"You changed his course. . .He's another first too. . .You have no idea how vile he has been. . how he wounded. . .us."

"Can you trust him now?"

"He is us."

Brigid turned around and gazed at Callisto. "You're still infected?"

Callisto shrugged, "Yes and no. . .When you altered history, you changed our reality on a cellular level. There has been so many small changes you've made. His conversion by Xena was a major coup, but your meddling started at the very beginning they couldn't lay a finger on what caused the changes. Other than you. And we had to protect you. You made it so we were meant to be." Callisto gave Brigid a gentle squeeze. "Once he was able, Ares sought out the Fates. They refused to tell him any more than your name, that you were important and that you were not yet, but they included a bit of information. . .something they've included everytime he's sought them. They said that Xena was to be part of his life. That if he could win her over his life would have meaning, but that if he failed, she would be his sworn enemy."

"Xena?" In a way, this explained so much.

"The fates summoned Xena to their realm as soon as she accepted the mantle of godhood, but that is only fair, since she was originator the plan anyway. They told her. . .showed her everything. Each world, each effort, each time something went wrong, each time something went right. Last time, before you created this reality, she decided to try something different. She decided to help me."

"Why you?"

Callisto was silent for a moment, "I have my own role to play. I was just a peasant, then I wasn't, but there were only so many ways to entwine my life with Xena's." Brigid blinked back tears for her friend.

"But this time? "

"This world, I still had my moments, but it was better. The bitch in me is still needed." Callisto grinned evilly. "The Fates called to me, when I accepted my godhood in this reality. I had to know about the other times. They had to be real to me, just as holding you in my arms is real. It's part of my calling. What good is mercy if she doesn't understand pain?"

"Who is at War?"

". . ."

"Callisto?"

"I'm not sure how much I should tell you. Your ignorance has been in our favor. By rejecting you," Callisto winced, "we protected you. Those who oppose what we stand for thought you weren't important to us. Your abilities were a bonus. We had forgotten your capacity to vanish without a trace. And there was no psychic trail for them to pick up on, because you weren't thinking of them or even us. What you didn't and did know is your protection. The only reason we've been able to tell you as much as we have this night is that you have this placed so magicked up, that would take a miracle for anyone to find you or overhear."

Brigid sniggered and wept at the same time. "That's true." Brigid leaned into the embrace. Her voice was soft. "I love you."

The goddess held her close, "I know."

"If it's so important they don't know me. . why marry me?"

"Because we needed you." Callisto's eyes told all, "Not as the game piece, but as part of our hearts." Callisto placed Brigid's hand against her chest. "I needed you. I nearly lost it when we couldn't find you. We were all kind of sick from it." Brigid looked at Callisto and remembered Gabrielle's words about the bonds of love. "And then the Fates summoned us again and told us they couldn't believe we were stupid enough to lose you a second time. They didn't think much of our protection tactics. They said, 'Why should we have shown you everything if you were going to act like you didn't know it?' They were pretty peeved."

"Oh." Brigid thought a minute. "Did you work it out?"

Callisto smiled gently, "We are here, are we not?" Brigid gave a shaky nod. Then she said, "Let's not do this again." Brigid gave a hiccupy laugh.

"We can try." Callisto's hand drifted to the demigoddess' silken hair, which she stroked soothingly. "We can try." She pulled back a little and lifted the demigoddess' gaze. "If it makes you feel better, we are further along than ever before."

Brigid snorted, "Oh . . .yeah. . I feel *much* better. . ."

Callisto tisked, "Sweetheart, sarcasm doesn't become you."

"Well that's only because you are better at it. . ."

Callisto nipped at the demigoddess earlobe, then caught the demigoddess in an open mouthed kiss that lingered over several moments in time. Her voice became husky, "We should. . ."

"go back to the house." Brigid finished for her.

"Mmm."

So they did.

Chapter 36
Good Morning

It was only because Rachael knew the turnoff had to be located at a certain place, that the other gods found the path to Brigid's home. Michael's vehicle purred across the barely available trail. Ares and Haephastus finally had to sit down in the open flat bed of the vehicle, so the branches of the trees would quit hitting them in their faces.

"Talk about your out of the way places. . ." Haephastus spoke conversationally.

Ares grinned, "It's perfect." He wasn't the least bothered by the whole thing. His heart was full.

The God of the Forge snorted as he scraped some dead leaves out of his hair. His voice rumbled, "That, my love, is a matter of perspective." The leaves crunched in his meaty hands. "I'd rather have a more. . .accessible. . .space myself."

"Ah, but accessible doesn't have Brigid, Haeph." Ares' lips curled into a predatory smile, "I think she makes this little trip worth it, do you not agree?"

Haephastus eyes took on a twinkle, "Well, there is that. . ." then, when the vehicle had to compensate for rough terrain, his expression turned to one of ferocious ire. He slapped his hand against the side frame. "What does she have against roads, I ask you?"

Ares laughed and kissed Haephastus' forehead. "Sometimes the roundabout way leads to the best treasures." The Forge God grimaced in appreciation. Then the Warrior God settled on his haunches and watched the world go by.

***

For once Jolene and Nikkos were not up at dawn. Still the demigoddess woke up, but Brigid lazed in her bed, her mind drifting quietly back from the spaces of dream. She was amazed at how incredibly good she felt. She settled further back into her bed and realized that its surface was full. Her hands felt around sleepily, and came in contact with the smooth surface of skin on one side and something crispily furry on the other. She didn't dare open her eyes, lest she be dreaming. A little more exploration led to some conclusions and sweet memories. The demigoddess licked her lips. "Oh My."

There was an answering giggle from her left. Brigid opened one eye at a time. Callisto, her head supported by one arm, was staring down at the demigoddess with a wicked smile. She captured Brigid's hand before it could make one more detour towards blonde curls. Brigid's other hand was located on Gabrielle's flat belly. Gabrielle simply grinned. The redhead goddess spoke cheerfully, "Good morning."

Brigid, who was not normally a morning person, grinned happily.

***

By the time the everyone arrived at Brigid's modest home, (which was a simple, earthy, but lovely abode adorned by flowers and greenery) she and the two goddesses had a fine breakfast in the makings. Gabrielle seemed to be in her element. It seemed she not only delighted in food, but also in its creation. . .even if it was the "hard way" (You know. . no snapping of the fingers, but actual preparation). Callisto's methods were a little more magical, but equally satisfying. Spoons stirred, pancakes flipped by themselves, and bacon fried. (Callisto was a vegetarian, but seemed to have a thing about bacon.)

At one point Nikkos entered into the kitchen, yawning and not paying attention to where he was walking . He intended only to get a little fruit juice, but encountered instead the lovely, if clothed, bosom of a certain blonde. It caused him a little happy embarassment, but he lived through the experience (and it gave him something to talk about in his old age). Callisto was kind enough to hand him a glass of orange juice and redirected his attention to something else.

The little girl woke up at the sound of voices outside. She'd clung to Callisto the whole way home and only let go when she fell asleep. The presence of the goddess had eased an aching void in the child, one that had been healing, but was still a deep wound. Callisto was intantly aware of when Jolene awoke. Having vowed that the child would not wake up to disappointment, she excused herself from the kitchen and went to be with Jolene.

No one bothered to knock, but rather entered the house, somewhat noisily. There was a giggly shout of, "Honey, We're Home!" from the Love Goddess. This caused Brigid to leave the kitchen. She entered the foyer/frontroom with a grin. She was fully dressed and was wearing an apron. She waved a spatula in greetings.

"Hey all! About time you got here." The demigoddess got scooped up into a waiting pair of Warrior Princess arms and thoroughly kissed.

Ares laughed and punched the forge god's arm. Haephastus had such a look on his face. The warrior god grinned, "Told you it was perfect."

Chapter 37
The Change

The house was just a skoshe (meaning more than a bit, but less than a lot) larger than Brigid remembered, or so it seemed. Certainly the front room contained more bodies in it and for that matter more sitting spaces than she knew she originally had. Not that she was complaining. It was all very nice, but different.

Jolene was tucked comfortably against Haephastus' shoulder. She wasn't saying much, but her serious eyes were taking in everything. She watched Callisto like a hawk. There was still part of her which was afraid her sister would disappear and never come back. But the more she watched, the more she confidence she felt that maybe, just maybe this wasn't a dream.

The conversation was lively and family like. There were some lulls, but their discussions ranged over several topics (some of them very silly, none of them very serious). Nikkos was beginning to get over his awe and participate a little more fully. He found that he liked these Gods. They weren't scary like he'd supposed. In fact, there were only a few times when he would startle and remember that he was actually talking to *gods.* These were usually precipitated by some unselfconscious magical action on the gods' part. Janice would catch his glance and give him a wink sometimes, especially at those times. Then his heart would settle down and a smile would return to his sweet face.

It was close to noon when Brigid announced that she needed to go to town. She got teased a little about enjoying the festival more than she admitted and about wanting to go back for the rides. She took it in good humor, but set them straight. "I made some promises I need to keep. I just have a few things to do in town. No big deal."

She stood up and stretched and prepared to leave.

Aphrodite spoke up. "Wait a minute. You're not going dressed like that are you?"

Haeph and Ares exchanged a look. Then they each sent some pretty fancy facial signals to the people they thought might appreciate it. Janice caught one of those signals and suddenly had somewhere pressing to go. She whispered something to Melinda, who gave her a look of understanding. Xena smirked and relaxed back into the sofa, giving the barest indication of a negative. Michael nodded, kissed his wife and hastened away. Nikkos grinned and decided to stay. Jolene was carried away with Haephastus simply because she was too young to be hearing some of the vocabulary that might be flung around by her guardian.

Brigid made some eloquent facial movements herself. "Huh?" She looked down at her outfit, which was pretty standard fair, the equivalent of shirt, pants and shoes. She tugged on her simple blouse. "What's wrong with this?"

"Everything."

Brigid felt an "uh oh" coming on. She held her palms out in a stopping motion. "Now wait a minute. I'm only going to town. Nothing special."

Xena snickered. Brigid looked in alarm at the warrior goddess, who shrugged and then grinned wickedly. Brigid paled.

Mel spoke, her southern accent soothed, "Honey, you're the type that would look good in sack cloth, but it doesn't mean you should wear it." Brigid felt several pairs of eyes evaluating her.

"But I'm not wearing. . ."

Aphrodite pointed at the demigoddess, "That." Brigid was suddenly a little more chilly. "For sure." The demigoddess didn't bother trying to cover up. She'd been through this before. Suddenly she was wearing something, but it wasn't much. It was more in Aphrodite's style of gown. Brigid let out a little shriek of disapproval.

Xena's low chuckle rolled through the room.

Gabrielle spoke up, "Quit teasing 'dite, you know she can't wear that out there."

Aphrodite fake pouted and Brigid was chilled again.

Brigid felt a presence behind her. Suddenly her hair was being lifted up. Rachael put in her two dinars. "If we're going to change the outfits, we should do something about the hair." Brigid gave her an "et tu" look. Rachael just grinned. She patted the demigoddess shoulder, "I love you sweets, but your tastes in clothes run almost entirely to the practical (you should see what is in her closet) and your hair. . ." she tisked meaningfully. Then she turned thoughtful. "I did like the kilt look."

Nikkos light almost not quite tenor blessed the room, "It was too dark though. It's still festival in town. She should wear the tassels." Brigid gave him a blistering look which he returned with a sweet smile and great deal of humor.

"Or some other appropriate symbol of rank," Melinda added, "that is, if she's not wearing the tassels."

Brigid spluttered, "Rank?! Now see here. . ."

Gabrielle kissed her lightly on the cheek, "You are our *wife* dear. People will expect," she looked Brigid up and down appreciatively, "a different look from you." Gabrielle looked at the others, "perhaps she should wear The Six's colors somehow."

Xena gave a little input, "Definitely." Brigid looked desperately at Callisto for some help.

Callisto grinned. Suddenly she was holding the old kilt in her hand, with the tassels dangling loosely. She started towards Brigid, "Let's start at the very beginning. I say the ring should show, but let's get rid of the eyebrow and lower lip things." Brigid's hand flew to the ridge of her nose. It was smooth to the touch.

Then Brigid flashed on a great argument in her favor, "Why do I have to change, if Jan didn't have to?"

Aphrodite smiled sweetly, "Darling, weren't you paying attention? What makes you think that Janice didn't?" Brigid suddenly realized that Jan had looked a little more. . more something. Then she flashed on the sudden realization that she'd not seen the hat.

Brigid groaned.

Then the makeover began in earnest.

Chapter 38
The Nameless One

It ended up better than the demigoddess thought it would. Her practical nature was respected (although Aphrodite managed to slip a few negligee type gowns into Brigid's wardrobe anyway), but it was as if a certain polish and flair had been added. Her hair, which had been longish and unruly, was now shortish. They took advantage of her hair's propensity towards curliness. She kind of missed the weight of it, but at the same time it felt good. The outfit they'd finally settled on, was a combination piece, taking in the best of the kilt look and throwing in a little color and a bit of classic fashion.

It was trimmed in the gods' colors, true. It was lighter than what she would normally wear, true. Somehow they aligned the top to allow the belly button to show, while covering only one breast. Her skirt, only went to mid thigh, and even then was there were splits along its length. She wore a pair of flat boots, matching the color of the skirt. A sheathed blade, not quite to the side or front of her left hip, added a certain amount of seriousness to the look. The tassels were placed to either side of the knife, in an alternate yet legal variation. Xena ixnayed the cape idea rather firmly (thank the gods!).

By the time they were done she looked really good. It was also mid afternoon.

***

Brigid hitched a ride back with Rachael and Michael (who had whistled appreciatively at her transformation.) The second day of the festival was well under way, but the two mortals were tired and decided to head on home. She gave them kisses goodbye. When they drove off again, she pulled her disappearing act.

On the outskirts of town there was a little known shrine. It was a lonely wild place, usually receiving no visitors but the vagabonds who sometimes slept in the spaces provided outside the gazebo like building. In many towns, the weeds and ivy were allowed to take over, often cracking and breaking through the masonry of the building. It was rare that a shrine to the mad goddess received the attention that it deserved.

***

The story went that there once was a woman of unknown parentage, adopted by the Amazon nation. She was long of limb and lean of body. She was known to be very loyal to Amazons and fought valiantly when called upon. She was also worried that the Amazon nation would fade and become as nothing to the world. Her main goal in life was to see that the Amazons remained a strong and powerful tradition.

One day, Zeus spied the woman as she hunting. He disguised himself as Artemis and laughed with delight and clapped his hands, capturing her attention. The Amazon, thinking that she was being seduced by the goddess, willingly surrendered to his advances. He promised her that he would do everything in his power to aid the nation, if she would do but one little thing, surrender her mortality and kill the Queen of the Amazons (His reasons for wishing the Royal woman dead are another story entirely). He handed her a slice of apple and a bit of ambrosia and told her to eat.

At this point the Amazon became suspicious, for she knew the Queen was favored of Artemis. She pulled away from his comely embrace and refused. Zeus uncovered himself and told the Amazon, that if she refused, he would see to it the nation was destroyed and its name erased from history. He told her all that she had to do was eat apple and the ambrosia. He forgot to mention the part about killing the Queen.

The Amazon took a chance and strictly interpreted his last statements. She partook of the fruit and embraced Godhood. When Zeus commanded that she kill the Queen she refused, again. The angry God grasped the newly formed Goddess and they grappled and fought until the world shook. Her inner power was stronger than he expected and it impressed him more than he let on, for how many new god's had the strength to resist the power of the king of the gods?

It was then that another god stepped in. She was of the older gods from before Zeus' time. She commanded him to stop interfering and to let the child go. This enraged the Olympian like nothing else could, for who was she to command him? He was the king of the Gods. She was nothing. But he did let go of the Amazon. Instead, he turned his attention to the marked goddess. It was said that his voice rumbled through the clouds when he said her name. "Hecate."

Her eyes were filled with a knowing and her power crackled about her like the sun's own. But she lifted no hand against him when he began to fire upon her, but rather turned to the newly formed goddess and stretched out her hand. Her voice was like the moonlight and she said only two words, "My Love."

The angry god fired and fired, forcing the goddess back and back, until it seemed as if she were nothing but light in the darkness. Zeus sent forth a command to Gaia, telling her to open up. The goddess' reluctance was shown by the cry of the earth as it split open down to her deepest depth. Zeus pushed the goddess down and down, until she fell and was captured. He sentenced her to spending eternity with the titans for interfering.

Then he turned to the New Goddess. "NO one shall know your name, for it is the key that unlocks the gate to her cell. No one. Not even you." He captured the new goddess in what remained of his power and strove to bend her mind to his will, but if her resistance was great before it was even greater still. For now she knew by whom she was loved. This lent strength to her will. She fought valiantly and would not surrender her memory. But the battle wreaked havoc on her mind anyway and when Zeus ceased his torment (for he grew tired) her confused words and strangled logic convinced him that he had nothing to worry about. She seemed harmless enough. He decided he would find someone else to kill the Queen and let the Amazon loose upon the world, after erasing her name from the books and memories of the people.

Despite the privacy of the battle, for no one had been there to see, the strivings of the gods became known to the world anyway (probably through Gaia's informed priests and priestesses, though Zeus could never prove it).

The mad goddess had been seen walking the pathways and knocking on the doors of the peasants looking for someone or something and not quite making sense about it. If the peasants let her in, she would reward them, sometimes with riches, most often with a flower or some simple little gift (though some of those turned out to be powerful in themselves)

Then the unknown goddess started showing up at the temples. She would stand in the center halls of and just wail and moan, driving the worshipers away. This did not please Zeus at all for she showed up mostly in his temples. Then she began to appear on Olympus itself, weeping and wailing and gnashing her teeth, driving the other gods batty (except for a very few..though no one knew it at the time).

Zeus had to banish her from going inside the temples or setting foot on Mount Olympus.

So she quit going inside the temples. She started weeping and wailing and gnashing and growling and sending off bolts of power outside the temples and scaring off worshipers (although now she was starting to collect a fanatic group of her own, including some of those peasants whose lives she blessed). She would come to the foot of Mount Olympus and very loudly and boldly do the same. And always it seemed she wandered the world with no other purpose but the madness in her mind. But Zeus couldn't do anything about it.

One day, when she was outside a temple putting on her show, a worshiper decided to add her to his list of deities. He called her The Nameless One and prayed to the gods *for* her. He prayed that she would find solace. He prayed that she would find peace. He prayed that she would find what was lost to her. She heard him and called out his name.

In a moment of clarity she told him the story of her making and said, "if you will remember to do what you have done for me today, on all the other days that you come to worship, I will stay out of your temple and will be peaceable for you. My one request is that you do not worship me until my name is remembered. Make no requests of me, make no demands of me, for I am not sane enough to answer them well. Rather, pray on my behalf that perhaps the gods will listen." He promised to do so and kept his word. On the occasions when she would visit his temple, she would only stand outside it and hold her arms up in supplication. She came to visit often.

The villagers, in recognition of her quietude, took compassion on the goddess and created a shaded place for her to stand outside the temple. When others saw it, they asked for and received the story. Ever a place was set aside for the wanderer in the towns that needed respite. It was said that even the winters became gentler, if but one soul remembered to pray for the goddess, instead of to the goddess.

***

The only problem with a god who was not worshiped was that the shrines sometimes were forgotten. Some temples tried to do a bit of upkeep once a month or so, but not all temple patrons or priests would remember, though supposedly everyone knew the story.

Brigid thought it was inexcusable.

She was gratified to find that this particular town of hers did manage to keep the place up to some extent (a monthly trimming and cleaning), but it wasn't to her satisfaction. Every week she came by to set the weeds back and to gather any trash. No service was too low for her at this place. There had been times when she'd actually had to wipe away graffiti from the goddess' statue. She hated that.

She felt a connection to the woman. She too had found madness and lost love. Brigid's was one of the voices that prayed, fervently on behalf of The Nameless One. There was one difference. The goddess wasn't nameless to her.

Chapter 39
The Shrine

It was better than she thought. The ground was surprisingly free of dumped cups and canisters, despite the massive party going on in town. There were some, but not as many as she feared. She set about picking up those items that didn't belong in the lush environment of the holy grounds.

The process wasn't backbreaking. Brigid always set a moderate pace for herself. Though, if someone were watching they might think she was zooming along, creating order in her wake.

There were always a wanderer or two around the premises. The Nameless One was the goddess of the wanderers and the castaways. Even in enlightened times there were always a few. Brigid spotted the latest vagabond. His eyes were covered by a worn farmers hat that was pocked with holes. His clothes were shabby and he was shoeless. His feet covered the remnants of a newspaper. Brigid approached him.

"Move your feet Zeus."

The god pulled his feet in abruptly and turned around on the bench to sit upright. "Damn it! How do you *do* that?" he exclaimed in frustration.

He always asked that question. Brigid never answered. The truth was that she always felt a small buzz of energy around him, like a personal signal. She often felt the unique signatures of the gods. Aphrodite's, though she appeared light and fluffy, was a kind of deep and earthy tingle. Xena's was similar, but held a pleasant tang to it. Gabrielle's own signature felt like a perfect summer's day. At first, Zeus' was just a negativity buzz. She suspected it had to do with how much she'd disliked him. Now, it felt like the crisp air of a just departed storm. So, she always knew when he was near.

Brigid swiped the paper before the slight breeze in the air could blow it away. Her voice was gentle, "So have you figured it out yet?" She sat down by the god. The bench felt cool against the back of her knees.

He gave her an exasperated look and waved to the unnamed's shrine. "Hell No. That last clue you gave was about worthless." He mimicked Brigid's voice exactly, "She liked the movie Volcano." Then his voice returned to normal. He scratched his whitened head.

Brigid grinned, "I beg to differ. That last clue held at least one letter of her name."

"Yes, but which word."

Brigid shrugged. "Sometimes you got to go with the obvious."

"Damn it, you could just . . I dunno. .Tell me."

"No I can't and you know it." She poked the god's chest. "If I tell you, I open the gate. If that gate opens and it is not YOU who has said the name, Hecate will be on you faster than a chimp on a banana and this little god war you have going will seem like a walk in the park. Plus you blow your chance at making up and gaining an ally." She smoothed her hand down his chest and shook her head. "You have pulled some dumb ones, but banishing Hecate qualifies as one of your stupidest." Brigid rolled her eyebrows, "Next to forgetting *HER* name that is." Brigid's thumb pointed to the shrine. Then she chuckled, "Then there was actually *Waking* Cronos up. That ranked pretty high on the dumb scale." She looked at the god compassionately. "I could go on, but I won't." She let the bag in her other hand dangle near the ground. Its contents rattled as it shifted.

The god grimaced, "I know. I know. I know."

"You want the next clue?"

Zeus gave her the "of course I do" look.

"Okay, here it is then. Her name rhymes, sort of, depending on the dialect you use, with a hot sauce sometimes used in spicy dishes such as chili or gumbo."

Zeus groaned. "What in Hades am I supposed to do with that?"

Brigid grinned, "Solve the puzzle."

The god of thunder wrapped his hands around his head. "You are so . . so. . ," His hands unclenched his head and popped open, "RRRAH."

Brigid patted his back. "Thanks, but at least I am helping you. At least The Nameless One is letting me. She figured that if you couldn't get it by yourself in a few thousand years, that you might need a little help." Brigid remembered that conversation the goddess fondly. The Nameless One had almost been totally coherent during the full conversation. It led Brigid to wonder how much of the madness was true, how much of the madness had healed or how much of the madness was simply the heartbreak of separation.

The god looked at her sideways and gave a snort, "I see you've taken up married life."

"Oh yeah. One whole day." She touched the trim of her outfit.

He looked her up and down. "It suits you." A truer statement he'd never made. It wasn't simply wearing a new outfit or a sporting a new haircut. But the lines on her face had softened and her eyes held a spark that he'd not seen in a long time. The demigoddess smiled.

Then she gave a little sigh. "They won't tell me who's involved."

The god nodded, "Good."

"Good!?" She punched him on the arm. "I thought you were on my side."

The god waved his hands in the air in a protective gesture. "I am. I am. But I have other things to consider. Your safety for one. You mean something to me now." They grinned at each other in a mutual memory of that particular adventure. Then Zeus looked thoughtful, "And I don't want to tip the scales too fast. Neither does my son." He gave her a soulful glance, "You may disagree. . and I know you've told the truth about that," he waved his hand carelessly, "alternate past. . but, Ares' change was the smartest thing I did, I've come to believe." He looked at Brigid sincerely, "With your help that is." Brigid raised her eyebrows. The god sighed, "Now if only I could get Hercules to. . ."

"He's happy where he is." Zeus shoulders drooped and he nodded his head. He looked up at the sky.

"But he's so far away." His eyes looked sad, "I should have zapped that astronaut when I had the chance."

Brigid gave the god a stern look, "It's good you didn't. You think the god war is bad now. . just think of all the little deities who would be here now if . . ."

Zeus blanched. "Geez, thanks for reminding me."

Brigid smirked, "You are so welcome." She looked around the shrine's grounds and spotted another item for the trash. "Well, you've got to excuse me, I want to finish this and then go."

The god nodded understandingly. "Yeah, yeah. go on. leave me with this pittance of a clue."

"We've been doing this for three years Zeus. One would think by now you would have the answer." She tapped his forehead very lightly, almost affectionately, "Or that you've got a mental block." She smiled softly, "I'll try and think up something easier for you next time." If only the goddess hadn't put such a stricture on how she was to give the clues. It'd be over and done with. Brigid sighed inwardly, but gave no sign of being upset.

The god winced at the truth of her statement. It was a case of using too powerful a whammy. He let out an enormous sigh, then Zeus grinned wickedly and looked up into her eyes, "Well I just want to keep you around is all." He leered at the demigoddess.

Brigid crooked an eyebrow, "Uh huh. I'm sure." They had set the ground rules a long time ago. She had convinced him using two methods, *his pain* (a very convincing kick to the god's groin. . it had been a new experience for him) and her sincerity (bitter sobbing on her part when he'd asked her what her problem was. . .he had not expected that answer at all). She gave the god a peck on the cheek, "Night father."

The god pressed his hand into hers and gave a light squeeze. "Night child."

He called after her as she made a bit of distance between them, "Tell Ares I want to speak to him. That is if you can find him. He seems to have disappeared."

She turned back around, waved in acknowledgement and watched as Zeus vanished in a ball of light. Then she squated down to pick up the trash.

A figure walked out from behind the trees. Jenniver's voice was filled with awe. "It was you!"

Brigid's body uncurled back up. She smiled at the priestess. "Hi Jenniver."

Jenniver looked down at the almost full bag. "You've been the one." Brigid shrugged. The woman smiled at the demigoddess. "You don't know how long I've been looking." She pointed an accusing finger, "You kept changing times and dates. I could never figure it out." She looked around at the almost spotless grounds, "I guess I just got lucky."

Brigid wiggled her eyebrows. "I guess you did at that."

The priestess blushed and shoved at Brigid's shoulder. Then she got very serious. "That was Zeus." Brigid nodded. Jenniver pursed her lips. "How long?"

"Every week or so."

"Are things really that bad."

Brigid shrugged, "They have their troubles like everyone else." She grinned wickedly, "It's just louder and bigger, that's all."

"And it affects every mortal on earth."

Brigid nodded seriously and sighed. "Unfortunately true."

Jenniver looked at the demigoddess. "Thank you for. . ."

"Sure. I would have done it anyhow." The goddess glanced at the shrine, "We have an understanding of each other." Brigid looped a free arm through Jenniver's, "would you care to. . " Jenniver smiled shyly and nodded. They turned to walk away from where the priestess had hidden.

A wonderful, familiar scent and feeling caught Brigid's attention. She stopped and spoke, "Xena!" Then she let go of Jenniver's arm and turned around and gasped.

Xena's long hair was grey and in a bun, her face held wrinkles, but her body looked strong and her hand held a sword. Brigid took a step forward in shock. This time her voice quaked in wonder. "Xena."

Chapter 40: Owtch

"DUCK!"

Brigid's response was immediate. She pulled Jenniver down to the ground and rolled on top of her. There was that whooshing noise and then a thud. Then there was a loud, obnoxious screaming roar which just meant trouble.

Brigid, who still didn't know quite what was going on, said, "Jen, as soon as the coast is clear, get yourself out of here." Then the demigoddess took stock of the situation.

There were three of them this time. Big, scaly and hardly pleasing to look at. Xena's chakram was stuck in the green one's chest. It was the one doing the roaring. There was a tannish colored creature making its leathery way toward the warrior. Brigid summoned her sword, became part of the ground and was abruptly in front of the creature who didn't have time to stop. Her sword protruded from its chest. She gave the creature a wicked grin and then sliced downward, splitting it in half. There went another one of those roars. The other one, kind of a reddish color was climbing one of the posts of the shrine.

Meanwhile, Xena was finishing off the green thing. She shouted at Brigid, "Stop it!" Brigid immediately quit what she was doing. Xena yelled again and pointed, "NO! STOP *IT* It knows the name!"

Brigid got that "Oh, okay." look and pelted towards the creature who was slowly making its way, slothlike, into the shrine. The creature she'd split in half toppled dead and unnoticed to the ground.

Brigid's mistake was in thinking that because it was going slow, that it wasn't dangerous. She thought she was going for an easy slice and dice, but when she arrived at the shrine and it noticed her, it lept to the ground and landed on all four feet. Its long tail slashed through the air and clobbered the demigoddess, who, in her effort to jab the thing in the eye, simply hadn't been paying attention.

Brigid now knew what it was like to be a piton.

Meanwhile, Xena's monster was cluttering up the ground in little bitty pieces. She grinned evilly, but in a good way. The warrior was full of fighting adrenaline and made her own quick way to the shrine. She would have stopped to help Brigid, but her attention had to be focused. The creature's tail came thumping down at Xena who ducked quickly to the side. It missed. Xena called, "Strike One."

She ran in close, poked it with her sword and pulled back out quickly. The creature grew enraged and tried to thump her again and missed again, "Strike Two." Xena ran up the creatures surface and gave it a good solid hack on her return flip. Another pained scream. Another pained reaction from the tail and yet another miss. Xena pulled out her retrieved chakram and let fly. "Strike Three." The round, sharp metal object sunk into the creature's forehead, "You're Out!"

The demigoddess began waking from her stupor with a groan and a shake of her head. "Wow!" she intoned, "That hurt!"

Xena grasped the woman by her armpits and lifted her out of the newly formed hole in the ground. The warrrior winced. "I bet it did." The warrior grinned, "Didn't I tell you to duck?"

Brigid didn't bother retorting, she'd noticed the wince. "You're hurt love." Xena gave her a strange look.

"It's nothing, just a scratch."

"Uh huh. Right. I've heard Gabrielle's stories. Your nothings are usually doozies. I may have been conked on the head, but I've got me a tough old head. You on the other hand are a goddess," another strange look, Brigid trailed off, "or not. . ." Brigid grasped Xena's arm gently, "let's go take a quick peek at that before you disappear."

Xena now openly stared.

Brigid began a gentle, nervous distracting patter as she led the warrior to a place to sit, "Morpheus, hmm. So are you from around here? How many worlds and times have you crossed? A lot I bet." She freed the warrior from her armor quickly, "Well, we're not going to let you go back looking like this. What would Gabrielle think?"

"Gabrielle's dead."

"Oh." The demigoddess paused but not for long, she knew she didn't have much time. "Ah here it is." It was a deep gaping wound. "No sense in going back with that." Brigid laid her hand on the woman's side and looked into Xena's eyes. The warrior felt a deep soothing warmth spread through her body. Brigid continued with, "So, do you know who I am?"

Xena shook her head in the negative.

"Then I have good news for you. Gabrielle will return. Try to be kind later. She had to make a deal." Brigid felt a lot of wounds on the warrior's body, "Man! You have a lot of these. I can take care of some of that for you." And she did, letting her power hold Xena in this moment for just a little longer. "How did you know about those. . things."

"I was told about them."

"By who?"

"Ares."

Brigid nodded, "But not your Ares, right?"

"No, he was different than. . .He was nothing like. . ."

"I know." Brigid's voice was soft. She looked into weary blue eyes, "How long?"

Xena shrugged, "a while." Brigid had a sudden vision of years and years and years of this nonsense. The demigoddess growled, quite unintentionally. Xena arched her eyebrows.

"Morpheus, that son of a. . .I'll. ."

Xena placed a hand on Brigid's mouth, effectively silencing the demigoddess. "I have a plan. I'm going to visit the fates." The demigoddess finished the healing, and pulled her hands free of Xena's body. She cupped Xena's cheek in one of her palms, and gave a gentle caress.

"My love, I wish you all success. I'll see you soon." She leaned forward and kissed the warrior princess on the mouth until Xena vanished.

Chapter 41
Clean Up

Jenniver slid through the massive open entry of the temple and into the arms of Melinda. Under different circumstances Jenniver would have been ecstatic about the encounter, but right now she was simply in shock. "Monsters. . Xena. . .Brigid!" she gasped. "The Nameless!"

Melinda, who had been overseeing some temple blessings, pulled the woman close for a brief moment and made eye contact with Janice. Janice nodded and was soon out the door.

"If Xena was there I'm sure everything was," Melinda began.

"Not goddess," Jenniver was still trying to catch her breath, "Xena wasn't a goddess. She looked," Jenniver struggled with the thought, "old."

"A god can look like anything Jenniver," Melinda gave the priestess a little shake, "They do it all the time."

Jenniver shook her head, "She was bleeding. The creature gouged her. I saw."

Melinda let go of Jenniver very carefully and looked gravely into the frightened woman's eyes. Then she made an executive decision, "Let's go to the sanctum."


Brigid sighed.

What a mess.

Monster bits all over, a couple of huge carcasses to be got rid of, plus her head ached something fierce. She rubbed the top of her skull, which, miracle of miracles, was not dented or cracked or mushed, only sore. She picked up her sword which was still by that hole in the ground she'd made. Good thing she'd thought fast, or else her legs would have been nothing but ground meat. She placed her hand against the ground and apologized profusely to Gaia, then she repaired the hole.

Then she began cleaning up, Brigid style.

Later, the townsfolk would talk about the time there was a fireworks display during the daytime. They would all concur, that while it was interesting, nighttime fireworks were far prettier.

Janice reached the shrine just as Brigid was finishing the last ground swipe. She noticed the demigoddess was almost staggering and that she most definitely was wincing. "Wife, what have you been drinking?" she joked as she grabbed Brigid's waist and guided the woman to a bench.

The golden eyed woman gave a weak grin and leaned against the redhead. "Oh, well you know, there's lots of wine about." Brigid touched her scalp gently, "Got bonked on the head. Hurts a bit. I'm okay."

"Uhhuh." Janice scanned the demigoddess face which seemed paler than normal, but the eyes seemed fine. "I don't think you have a concussion, but are you feeling sleepy."

Brigid shook her head and then winced. "No, but my neck is sore."

"I do not doubt that." An unfamilar voice (at least to Janice) spoke.

Brigid moved down the seat and made room, "Hi sweetie. How's life?"

The goddess sat down regally, her robes draped carelessly across her folded legs. She touched Brigid's face with concern, "Looks like I have something to thank you for, again."

Brigid shrugged, "More like Xena. I just acted as a diversion."

"Oh is that what that was?" The goddess smiled at the demigoddes. "And here I thought you were trying to make my shrine a golf course." Brigid winced. Fingers trailed softly down Brigid's cheek, "As You helped Xena, let me help you, faithful one." Golden light streamed from the goddess' fingertips to the demigoddess' scalp. Brigid sighed happily with relief.

"Oh that is way much better. Thanks."

"My pleasure." The goddess smiled gently and let her hand drop to her lap. "I must say that I am envious Brigid." Janice put her arm protectively around Brigid's waist. The goddess' lips quirked, "You have joined your loved ones. I am happy for you." The goddess looked away quickly, but not before Brigid spotted the onset of a tear.

"Soon my friend. Soon you too will," Brigid started to reassure

The goddess gave an eloquent shrug, "It won't matter. It has been many thousands of years. I only want her free so she may walk the earth again. I'm sure I am forgotten, except for the importance of my name." The goddess laughed bitterly.

"Not so. not so. You remembered, so will she. Some things are meant to be. Truth." Brigid grasped the Goddess' hand in her own. "If not then, perhaps. . "

The goddess turned back towards Brigid and shushed her with a finger. "Make no promises little one. You are bonded to those who love you. It is good enough for me. I have grown used to being alone. It is not as sore a trial as one might be suppose."

"I know that. But still." The goddess gave her an affectionate smile. She grinned at Janice, who could only stare in wonder at Brigid.

"This one's heart is as big as Mount Olympus, I think. She winds her way into our hearts so easily." The goddess kissed the demigoddess on the cheek, "Tell Zeus he was closer this time. He almost had it. I could feel it." Brigid opened her mouth to ask, but was stalled with a waved hand and a smile, "yes, you may make it easier on him. Seeing you with your loves makes me crave to see her even if she knows me not. Be well my friend." The goddess nodded towards Janice and then vanished in a puff of light.

Janice shook her head, "How do you do that?"

Brigid blinked at the adventurer, "Do what?"

Janice sighed expressively, pulled Brigid's face close to hers and gave the demigoddess a thorough kiss, "Just be yourself kid. It seems to work."

Chapter 42
A Little More Detail

They managed to avoid the carousing festival attendees on the way back to the temple. Brigid's head no longer ached, thanks to the auspices of the kind Nameless One. She had an idea about how to help Zeus figure out her name. She didn't think it would be cheating, since it would still be kind of a game. All she needed was a piece of paper, a pen and a moment of his time. Just thinking about it made her grin. She was surprised she hadn't thought of it before.

Despite the numerous party attendees, the temple was fairly quiet. They inquired where Melinda was and were told that she was in the sanctum with the local high priestess. So they did the obvious and headed in that direction, only to be stopped by a rather large, fearsome looking guard who looked like he had no intention of budging.

Janice leaned over and whispered to the awed Brigid, "Is he local?"

Brigid shook her head and whispered back, "I don't think so."

"So you don't recognize him."

Brigid felt a sudden fear, but not for herself. She found herself crouching into a position that would allow her to spring up like a coil and growling. Janice unhooked her whip from her belt. The guard noticed that they started acting menacing and so he started acting menacing. Fortunately for everyone involved, the door to the sanctum opened right at that moment and caught their attention.

The expressions of relief on Brigid's and Janice's faces were priceless when they saw into the interior of the room. Jenniver and Melinda were deep in conversation. Gabrielle was holding the door open and smiling gently. Xena, her godly warrior self, was smirking at them in the entrance way. The guard looked confused for a brief second, then collapsed into a faint when he realized he was staring at the real goddesses (later he would join the priesthood and dedicate his life to following the greater good). Brigid grabbed the man's shoulders and head before they could hit the marble floor.

Janice quipped, "You certainly know how to impress a guy Xena."

All that got was more smirking. Gabrielle let go of the door and knelt by the giant of a man. She passed her hand over him, then looked up reassuringly at Brigid. "He'll be alright. Leave him here. He'll wake up fine." The golden eyed woman nodded and set him down gently. Then she stood up.

The bard goddess calmly stood up herself. Then Gabrielle grabbed Brigid's shoulder and Janice's waist and led them into the interior of the sanctum, "Come on in. We have some serious discussing to do."

Once inside, the door closed by itself and a shimmering light appeared to surround it. Gabrielle led her spouses to the seating area and Melinda and Jenniver sat down. Xena, stood, but settled herself comfortably against one of the pedestals which held the God's images. Gabrielle began, "So, Jenniver was telling us that she saw Xena in the Nameless One's shrine."

Brigid first response was a correction, "Well she wasn't exactly in the shrine, more like, outside it."

Gabrielle decided maybe the demigoddess needed a better lead, "And?"

Brigid told everything that happened that morning, from her arrival at the shrine to the Nameless One's gentle aid. Gabrielle looked thoughtful, "And you've been helping Zeus with this for how long?"

Brigid shrugged, "I quit keeping count on it, though by my reckoning, I've only been here for about three or so years."

"Oh." She looked even more thoughtful, "and now that you have her permission to help him a little more. . ."

"I'm going to draw it out."

Gabrielle looked stunned, "You're going to make it longer?"

"No." Brigid did that "are you kidding?" face. "No. I'm going to make a drawing. You know pictures and words combined. I'll keep it really simple and he should get it."

There was a lot of head nodding.

Xena spoke, "Brigid, are you sure this was Morpheus' doing?"

"Positive. I've had personal experience and I recognize his handiwork."

Xena absorbed that information carefully and considered why it was she didn't remember that experience. She looked at Brigid and could see that she was telling the truth as she knew it. "There is more to this than meets the eye. I would feel better if all of us heard the rest of your story Brigid, when you get a chance." Xena's finger played with her chin and then she pointed, "And I want you to draw that picture now. Someone, something, is trying to stop you and we should be prepared." Brigid nodded, not liking to face the possibility of being hurt, but knowing that one must think ahead (something she hadn't been doing as much of as maybe she should).

"I'll need something to," Gabrielle handed her a pad and some pens an Brigid set to work. In a way it was amazing to watch because her craftsmanship was so lovely. When she was done, anyone could have read and understood what she had "written" with pictures. She handed it over to Gabrielle, but not before covering the picture. "There, that should do it."

Gabrielle said, "Let me know when you are ready and I'll be sure to give this back to you."

Brigid nodded. "I'd rather it be sooner than later, but I know he's off doing something Godly. We usually just meet once a week."

Melinda spoke up, "Jenniver and I can summon him, if you wish."

"That would be good."

The two priestesses stood up, their robes rustling softly, "We will need some time to prepare. We'll make the offerings this evening and call you as soon as we hear him." Brigid nodded and tried not to look overly concerned. Melinda went to Janice and gave her a sultry little kiss that took Brigid's breath away. Then Melinda stepped over to her, stooped and kissed the demigoddess softly on the lips. She smiled, "Be well wife." Then she grinned, "try not to get yourself conked on that head of yours. I'd hate to see the temple floor full of holes."

Brigid grinned, nipped at the woman's chin teasingly, and missed as Melinda stood back up. Melinda grinned and patted the demigoddess on the cheek. Then the two priestesses left the sanctum, their sandals clicking on the marble floor, their robes swishing in the air. Brigid watched in admiration, "They look so elegant you know. That's the thing about priestesses. Those robes are so simple they always look good." Janice had also turned to look and concurred then they grinned at each other.

Gabrielle got their attention, "So, Brigid, tell us some more about what you know about Morpheus." Brigid settled back in the chair and grabbed some of the bread that Gabrielle made available. She loved the stuff, though she hadn't had a chance to ask what it was. It had kind of a sweet, nutty flavor and she could envision it becoming one of her favorite foods. She swallowed politely and didn't talk with her mouth full.

Chapter 43
And the Truth

Brigid was in a state of happy anticipation. This was it, she knew it. She held the key in her hand. There could be no way that Zeus would miss the clues. She was practically handing the name to him. She waited in the hall of summonings patiently and watched as the ritual began. Janice had gone home, with Zeus' message that he wanted to see Ares. Xena and Gabrielle had mentioned that the Gods had been making some "minor" adjustments to the modest home, which meant that it was very possible she wouldn't even recognize the place once she got there.

Not that she cared. As far as the golden eyed one was concerned, the presence of her spouses (oh the joy that word brought to her heart) in her abode was a thing of beauty in itself and intrinsic. Changes to the home would be cosmetic and she was sure it would be heaven on earth (though that was how she felt about it already.)

As Brigid's mind drifted happily on the changes in her life, Melinda conducted the ritual. In one hand she held a knife and in the other she held a scroll. Her voice was soft and commanding and she spoke in the ancient Greek, which Brigid could follow, but since she spoke modern Greek she could tell there was quite a drift. Still, the fluid graceful motions spoke of hundreds of years of communication between the gods and mortals and Melinda looked so beautiful it captured Brigid's heart.

Melinda wasn't even quite done with the ceremony when Zeus made his presence known. The white haired, bearded god smiled at both of them. "Greetings Daughters. Why do you call?"

Brigid stepped forward, "I have been told I could make things easier on you and so I thought you would like to know it as soon as possible."

Zeus, in his majesty, said, "Ah. Good."

Brigid handed over the carefully written and drawn key and said, "There you go. That should do it. You ought to be able to figure it out now." Then she waited expectantly while the God examined the paper. And waited. And waited. Finally, she couldn't take it anymore, "Is there a problem Zeus?"

The God of the High Mountain, as he was sometimes called, looked sheepish. "It's in English." Brigid blinked.

"Beg your pardon?"

"Your text. It's in English. I can't read it. Yet." He folded the paper in half and straightened his shoulders. "It is an obscure language. Nothing like Greek. I didn't think it was important to learn it. I am, after all a Greek god." He smiled softly, "however, if this is how you think I will figure out the clues, I will learn the language."

Brigid's heart seemed to stop for a moment (though it didn't really. It beat like usual. It's just she felt a full pause before she could think clearly.) She had a terrible moment of understanding. "Oh my God." she spoke clearly and succinctly in English, as her knees buckled. "Oh my God." All this time, every clue, they had been speaking from two different cultural points of reference. Her eyes went wide. "He doesn't think in English." She said, as she looked at Melinda, who looked like she suddenly understood something very important.

Melinda abruptly realized that Brigid had been speaking absolute truth. The only other person she knew who spoke any kind of English was Janice, who's travels had taken her to the Islands. Melinda could read it, because she was interested in the religious culture of the Briton Islands. Though for some reason she also felt it wasn't quite the language that Brigid was now speaking either. Brigid came from a different world entirely.

Zeus looked at the golden eyed demigoddess with a new understanding also. "You're Anglica!" He slapped his forehead. "Of course, I should have realized! All this time, your clues, they told me. But I was thinking you were Greek. Your name should have told me." He groaned aloud. "Stupid Zeus. Very stupid."

Brigid looked at the God and could only think to apologize. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry Zeus. I hadn't realized. I would have thought different. Given you different clues."

Zeus floated over to the distraught demigoddess. "My child, it is well. Give me some time. I will learn the language and I will know her name. It is well."

"You have to learn the language?"

"I may be a God, but some things must still be learned, yes." He smiled gently.

Brigid nodded miserably. She felt terrible. It had been a stupid mistake.

He tilted her head up, "You can not blame yourself for who you are. We didn't know. We'll fix the problem. It will be well."

The demigoddess bit her lower lip to keep from crying for the Nameless One. "If I had known I would have changed the way," she began remorsefully.

"Brigid." Father Zeus' voice rumbled through the room. "It is enough. I understand now. We will work with what we have."

"Can you learn from a person's thoughts?"

"Yes daughter," he smiled, "but I had best not use yours. That would be like you telling me."

Brigid's eyes went wide. "Oh. Yeah." she said in English. Zeus shook his head.

"I will find me a willing Briton."

Brigid cautioned, "It won't be exact Zeus."

"It doesn't need to be. It just needs to be close."

Brigid nodded her head and said the only thing she could think of next, "Well," she paused, "good luck." Zeus grinned and bowed slightly, waved the paper in his hand and then vanished in a puff of light.

Brigid slapped her forehead, "Stupid, stupid, stupid."

"Stop that!" Melinda commanded and Brigid's mouth stopped making the noise, though her head kept saying the words. Melinda stepped down from the dais and onto the cold marble floor. "There was no way for you to know, Brigid. Who would have thought to tell you the difference?" Melinda pulled the frustrated woman close and kissed her softly. "Brigid, now Zeus knows. He'll figure it out. The goddess will be freed. It is as He said, it will be well. Don't blame yourself," she touched Brigid's chin and grinned, "at least not too much. I mean, the King of the Gods didn't figure it out, how could you have known? hmm."

Brigid did that "well, you know," head nod. Melinda caught her gaze. "Beloved wife, you will stop this now." Brigid's breath caught and she nodded her head meekly. She took a deep breath and looked at the priestess through one eye, then through both and smiled.

"I'll behave Melinda," she said and received a winning smile. Brigid smiled back and then looked thoughtful. "You know what I don't get."

"What?"

"Why you have the name Melinda. That's an Anglican name."

"My mother had a little Anglica in her."

"Oh." Brigid nodded, "And Janice?"

"Her father was from the isle itself."

"Cool."

"What?"

"Just an expression."

"Oh."

"Maybe Zeus could."

Melinda hushed her with kiss, "I'd rather not have the King of the Gods playing around in Janice' mind."

Brigid quirked her lips. "Oh, yeah. See what you mean."

"So then, let's go home. I think we have a few things to talk about, yes." Melinda wrapped a friendly arm around Brigid's waist, "Why don't we start with what your world was like, hmm."

"Well, that's a lot to ask 'cause there's so much to tell. But I'll tell you what I've been missing lately," Brigid began as she they walked out of the room, "I've really had a hankering for pizza."

Chapter 44: Seeing Double

Brigid enjoyed marital bliss that night. She wasn't sure how it came about that she was sleeping in the arms of the Warrior God, but she was happy with the decision. She was surprised at how much she liked him. Oh sure she loved him, but she found that love was an easy emotion for her. It was the liking part, the enjoyment of another, that she sometimes found more difficult. But Ares was likable in this world. Brave. Confident. He was someone to be reckoned with, yet at the same time kind. He was a true warrior. He was revered.

Of course, Brigid was revering him in a totally different way than most. Hers was a most succulent and lusty application of adoration, though very very sincere. She surrendered her heart without a fight and fell into the depth of his very soul and he reciprocated with all of his being. Their coupling was poignant, untamed and sweet and afterwards she rested in his arms and slept the sleep of the well loved.

She awoke very early in the morning, still held in his secure embrace. His eyes twinkled. "Sleep well?" She purred in response and crawled up him for a little bit so she could plant a good morning kiss upon his lips. For some reason, it developed into something more.

Later that morning, she went for a walk. She had intended to go by herself as usual, but Janice, Mel and Nikkos opted to accompany her. Jolene stayed guarded by a watchful Callisto. Brigid didn't think the walk would take that long.

It is surprising how far you can go in a half hour when you are in good company. The conversation had been pleasant and distracting. They were in deep woods before they knew it. Not that Brigid was in any way lost. She knew exactly where they were at all times and she had no worries about trespassers. The only way anyone ever found their way onto her land was if she showed them or if they themselves got lost. Actually, come to think of it, they were pretty close to the truck and she'd been wanting to check on that for awhile.

Her mind kept track of their idle conversation and she gazed thoughtfully around the land. It was beautiful. She loved it here. She gazed peacefully at her wives and at her son. They added dimension to her world. She felt a contentment she hadn't experienced in a long long time.

It was abruptly shattered by a howl of demonic rage.

The creature was lost. She could tell that just by the way it searched about. She had no idea why it would be on her land otherwise anyway. But she knew it was trouble, she knew it had not yet seen them and she knew she had to get her son and her loves out of danger. She was the only one armed (at her son's insistence) and she wasn't too confident that this huge lumbering beast wasn't the type to eat and run.

There was an obvious place to go, if they could reach it. If they could make it to the truck, they'd at least have a faster mode of getting away. She deliberately hefted a sizable rock and threw it in the opposite direction successfully distracting the lizard creature and then she connected with the others in a look that said follow me.

There was no hesitation, thank the gods. They ran as if the very wind carried them and maybe it did, after all, Melinda was the priestess. When Janice caught sight of the Bronco, she shouted, "What in Tartarus is that?"

Brigid grinned even as she almost slid to the truck, "That my love is our ride."

The air buzzed them with a bit of magical resistance, but Brigid knew how to override it and pulled the side door of the Bronco open with one swift movement. "In, In, In!" she shouted. They could hear the lumbering beasty crashing through the woods behind them. Brigid ran to the front of the car and dug under the rim of the bumper until she found the spare key. She kissed it. "Janice I love you!" Then the demigoddess ran back to the drivers side and scooted in besides Janice, shut the door and stuck the key in the ignition.

They will tell you that there is such a thing as good timing and bad timing. It applies to everyone even the Gods.

Zeus had been sounding out the clues that Brigid had provided, each time coming that much closer to the answer, so it was that with impeccably bad timing he said the Nameless One's true name as he read the final clue (V-el-ask-a! Velaska!) just as Brigid was starting the car.

She didn't even have to press the gas. Their world was surrounded by a burst of magic so intense that their skin tingled as if it were sunburned and they had to cover their eyes with their arms.

The next thing they knew, they were in a parking lot in front of a spacious building that Brigid could not believe she was seeing. She turned to look at Janice who's own face betrayed a true consternation. Then she looked in back at Nikkos and Melinda, who also seemed phased by the recent event. Then she turned back to look at the entrance and gave out a strangled cry as she watched the semi familiar forms of the Amazons making their way in and out of an inn with a hand painted sign that said Hero's Rest.

"Gods are we in trouble," she said as she very carefully opened the door of the truck. She looked at the passengers who seemed to finally be registering the fact that they were no longer where they used to be. "Beloveds, stay in the car." She swallowed. "I need to check on," she tried to continue, but was interrupted

"HERO!!!! Where the Hell Have YOU BEEN!!!!" It was a voice that sent unpleasant chills down her spine. Worse yet, it was a voice speaking perfect American English. She saw Janice blink in surprise and heard Melinda's intake of breath and winced. The demigoddess turned around and saw a truly concerned and perplexed Robin making her way towards them and she tried not to flinch in memory of the last time she'd seen the woman.

"Oh Gods," Brigid heard Melinda whisper in perfect Greek. This time Brigid did wince. They were in deep.

Brigid took a deep breath and centered and let her face assume an aspect of serenity. Robin practically collided with her before giving her a huge hug. Brigid ignored the prickles of gooseflesh that erupted and gave the woman a hug in return. This was not the same Robin, she reminded herself over and over until the dark friendly woman freed her. Brigid gave her a lopsided smile.

Robin started speaking quickly, "I was so worried! I couldn't feel you anywhere! We looked all over! What are you doing in Jan's Truck?"

"Yeah! That is a good question. What in hell are you doing in My Truck." Brigid looked thunderstruck when she caught sight of the speaker. Janice Covington stood before her in jeans and a sweatshirt, peering past her hat and waving a nasty ol' cigar. Standing next to her was the lovely Melinda, also wearing jeans and a sweatshirt (which somehow she made look much more stylish and feminine).

Brigid heard the doors click open before she could open her mouth and she watched as the women in front of her suddenly changed expressions from one of worried anger to one of startled astonishment. Robin stepped back, her own face registering true confusion.

She felt someone's arms wrap around her waist and looked up into the priestess' face. Melinda looked serene, though Brigid suspected that it was a kind of artifice. Still she was able to borrow courage from it and did the only thing she could think to do.

She nodded to the couple and to Robin, "Jan, Mel, may I introduce my wives, Melinda Pappas and Janice Covington and my son Nikkos."

Janice Covington, the one who owned the Bronco, dropped her cigar.


(1) Greek Anonymous (Really)--(But I think it was Gabrielle, don't you.)

(2) Brigid's Supplication--Katrina

 

Seasons of the Gods

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