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SEASONS OF THE GODS 1
DANCING WINTER

©December 1997
By Katrina

 

Chapter 1
A Change of Seasons

The snow was thick, heavy and plummeted from the sky like Demeter's frosty tears. Brigid stood knee deep, her kilt just brushing the surface and collecting a clumping edge of cold which she didn't feel. She'd been standing still for almost an hour, listening to the wind breathe against her flesh and feeling the moist wetness of flakes that melted against her skin like kisses. Her hair was now dark from wetness and had finally given up the fight against the cold and was sprinkled with a fine dusting of white, though her scalp remained as warm as ever. Her golden eyes reflected the seriousness of her face. She watched solemnly as the trees bent to the tempo of the winter's dance.

It would have been a beautiful thing if any of it were real.

Quietly, meditatively she thought. She was so deep in her own mind that she only barely conscious, yet never quite unconscious. This had become her refuge. Here she let her mind lay out all the details or rather and more importantly, the lack of details, that led her to suspect that the realm wherein she stood, was a figment, a partial fact, not quite real.

Her first clue had been the ambiguity of her senses which seemed to fluctuate between intense and nonexistant. This of itself would have been of no concern for her, but it was the other things that added to her feeling of displacement. For instance, there was a lack of memory. Jan, the one she suspected was also figment, said it was just shock, but shock eventually wore off. Either the gods had been playing with her mind again (unlikely, because she knew how that felt) or time had made an abrupt shift from fall into winter, without the usual slow patterning of leaves falling and the gentle or not so gentle turn of the weather. Yet here she stood looking at trees stripped bare. Then there was the lack of response from the Gods, at least the ones she knew. She'd not seen them since her untimely arrival.

There were only four things she knew to be real, because of the sensations associated with them or perhaps she was just clinging to the hope that they were real, but in this she was bound. Her wives and her son and the love she felt for them were the only real things she could identify in this world. She felt as if they were like mountain climbers, attached solidly to each other, but attempting a too precarious surface. She feared what would happen if even one of them slipped and fell and she knew they feared it too. They all felt it. She knew that was real also. They all felt it and couldn't talk about it, lest whatever or more importantly whoever, caused it would discover that they drifted with an awareness that this world was less than perfect (everything seemed to have the fluidity of the dream and that was, she suspected, the entire problem) and it fooled none of them.

She wiped the melted snow from her face with too wet hands and stalked back towards the house, which was a replacement for a memory of the inn which the false Melinda claimed never had been. Of the faux people (though perhaps that idea was an injustice and not quite true) they associated with, only three braved their secluded world, Melinda, Janice and Robin and of the four, Brigid was the only one who left the house often, in the hopes of finding some clue, some way back or forward to a place as true as themselves. She was getting to the point where she didn't care which, as long as they continued in each other's presence and got out alive and, she whispered, "sane."

When she stepped indoors she was greeted by a warmth she could feel. The house had become another true place, a refuge bolstered by Melinda's magic (she wondered briefly if the others of this world could feel it like they did, or if it reeked of dreaming as their world did to her) and Janice' wisdom. She gave Nikkos a reassuring hug and kiss which brightened a face that had become too morose by far. She whispered words of kindness and touched his dark skin with her tan fingers. They all needed the contact of each other and touched often.

She listened carefully and heard Melinda humming, which led her gently into the kitchen. There the dark haired priestess prepared what their bodies believed to be food, finding a consolation in the mundane task. Brigid warned the woman of her presence with a spoken word, "Beloved." Then she carefully wrapped her arms around her love and squeezed, but not too hard. She patted the only evidence of time's passing and the gods' love. None of them knew who the sire was. Here was yet another reason to find a way out, lest Melinda's fate be that of Demeter's, a mother separated from her child by time and place.

Melinda dropped the knife onto the cutting board and turned in the Demigoddess' embrace. "Anything?" she asked. She was careful to keep her voice even, almost light.

Brigid smiled, also careful, "Just Demeter's tears and a few trees dancing." She paused a moment, unsure if what she said next would be meaningful. They walked the edge carefully. "And a drift." She didn't dare say more, but Melinda caught her meaning. For all anyone else knew Brigid could be talking snow. There were some benefits to this weather.

Melinda nodded and touched Brigid's cheek. "Janice is out in the garage. There is something you should see." Then she caught the demigoddess mouth in a soft lingering kiss that warmed her insides as nothing else. They passed a few moments basking in each other's presence and then parted, reassured.

"I'll go see love." Melinda turned back to her preparations and Brigid made her way through the home.

Janice stood up as soon as she heard the door click, tools in her oily hands and a well chewed cigar in her mouth. The she smiled at Brigid's startled gasp. The adventuress pointed at the white vehicle.

"Look what Jan brought."

"Gods." Brigid walked towards the Bronco and looked in the rear window. A small bundle still existed, partially hidden by plank or two. She saw it move and sighed. There was hope after all.

"Maybe." Janice looked thoughtful, "I think, they figured we need this to get around."

Brigid blinked, "After all this. . .time, you think they," she hesitated to continue the sentence.

Janice shut the hood with her elbow and went to the counter to lay the tools down. Of all of them, Jan was the most interested in what made things work in this world. Jan found it reassuring that unlike the television she'd taken apart earlier (there had been nothing on the inside until suddenly there was, like an afterthought) the Bronco's engine had been satisfactorily clunky. It was primitive, but real.

The red head turned back around and looked at Brigid. "Have you noticed how they," Brigid knew Janice meant the alter egos and Robin. The adventuress paused, trying to find the right words, "seem to hang around us more often. They come to visit us." She went to the sink, stuck her hand in some goop and began to wash and spoke a little louder, a little more emphatically, to be heard, "A lot. Mel hugged me when they left." Janice turned off the water and dried off her hands, then spoke casually, "It," her expression became softer, "felt," she lifted her eyes to Brigid's and caught the demigoddess in a strong, convincing gaze, "good."

Brigid deliberately softened her breathing and phrased her next word carefully, "really?"

Janice nodded, "Really." Janice' smirked, nodded at the interior of the house and continued with the implication, making it clear, "So, do you think there's room?"

Brigid looked back inside and then walked to the frosty window of the garage. Her expression was soulful and remembered a phrase she'd heard as a child when relatives had threatened to overtake her bedroom. Her mother had been firm, yet kind. "There's always room for those we love." Fortunately for her mother, Brigid had grown to love her noisy rambunctious cousins. She turned to Jan and smiled, "I guess we'll find out." 

Chapter 2
A little awareness

Nikkos huddled into bed with them. His was not the actions of a lover, but of a child (though he was really a young man. But how can you relate to girls (or boys) who don't seem quite all there to you? How can you relate to books who's text seem to disappear as soon as you turn the page? You learn to cope. But does that make it any less odd?) dealing too long with the strange and unfamiliar. Brigid wrapped her arms consolingly about her son and wondered that they needed sleep within a dream, but their bodies got tired, though not nearly as quickly as in the "real" world, (though she also questioned how she could distinguish between one and the other anymore. It was an almost arbitrary decision based on the feeling of one felt "right" and the other felt "not quite") and they were most definitely in their bodies. She softened her breathing to almost a croon and cradled him against her shoulder.

In one sense this experience had been good. There was a stronger bond between all of them. Perhaps at one time, she'd only claimed Nikkos in word, now he was a huge part of her heart. This young man she would do more than die for. And for her wives, well, to separate her heart from them she would have to pull it out and she doubted even that would stop her love for them.

As if sensing the trail of her thoughts (and that seemed to happen more and more often of late), Melinda scooted up against Brigid too, smiling and embracing, then dipping back into sleep, with Janice curled up against the dark haired woman's back. Brigid wondered if any of them remembered their dreams at this time. Dreams within dreams. At least she'd not been bothered by the type that claimed her in the past. She sighed and closed her eyes. In this case, she guessed, it was okay to surrender to Morpheus. Maybe she'd get it all figured out.

Janice Covington, counselor, stalked around the foyer of their house, almost growling to herself. Melinda, supine against the couch, watched as the woman she loved paced and cursed. The red head stopped, "Okay, let me ask you this. Where is our house?"

Melinda sat up, thinking. "Well, this is our house?"

Janice's arms raised up, "Does this feel like our house to you?" Then she started pacing again and switched thoughts, "What state are we in?"

Melinda's expression grew concerned as her mind puzzled out the answer. She suddenly realized she didn't know. Her heart started beating a little quicker. Her face turned a little scared. Jan swore again.

"There was an inn wasn't there."

Melinda thought again, parsing stray thoughts from the truth. She had a sudden visualization of a large building and lots of Amazons. "I remember an inn."

"Gods!"

Janice stopped and took in a big breath, then she stalked towards her lover, too upset to soften her walk. She knelt and took Melinda's hands in her own. "Beloved, I think we are in shit city."

Melinda nodded. Her mind turned practical. "We better call Robin."

Janice's eyes narrowed. "Why?"

Melinda touched her lover's face gently, "Because my sweet, she was with us when they arrived."

Jan's jaw dropped in sudden realization. Her eyes went wide, "We gave them the Bronco." Her heart beat a little faster and she looked in the direction of Brigid's home. "We can't let them leave without us."

Melinda spoke firmly, "They won't."

"What makes you so sure?" The red head's eyes narrowed and she peer closely at her lover.

"I'm not." Melinda bit her lower lip, "But I trust Brigid and," she gave a little laugh, "myself. If we've figured it out. . ."

Janice continued for her, "They've figured it out." Melinda flowed up and helped her lover stand back up. She squeezed Janice's hand reassuringly.

"Let's go make that phone call."

Brigid's heard the vehicle arrive before the pounding on the door began. She scooted down the bed, trying not to wake anyone, yet managed to wake Janice. She nodded to let the adventurer know that she would get it and Janice laid back down. It was still dark out. The lcd clock said it was very early in the morning. Brigid grabbed a robe and headed out of the room, silently closing the door.

She woke up a little more fully when she saw the who it was. "It's fourthirtyam folks, what's the rush?" she asked as she wiped the sleep from her eyes and yawned. Then she opened her eyes a bit more when she realized that Jan was carrying something, a bed roll.

"Jan?"

Jan's voice was tough, but her stance was worried, "You gonna let us in or you gonna abandon us?"

Brigid's jaw dropped. "Abandon? Huh? What?" She shook her head. Time for arguments later. Jan looked like she was freezing, she was trembling so much and the others didn't look that good either. Brigid's voice softened, "Come on in, I'll make some cocoa or whatever so you can warm up."

They filed in. Their expressions matching the one her son wore earlier today. She felt the thump of awareness. They'd figured it out.

Chapter 3
A Bit of Hope

They had been holed up in that glowing bubble in the middle of the front room for hours. Or so it seemed to Jan and Janice, who paced around the luminous sphere in a mutual fit of anxiety. Every so often, they would stop, look at each other with total understanding and the occasional snarl of worry, then start pacing again. They were making Brigid dizzy and she finally had to get up and leave the room for a minute.

Robin, who had finally regained her composure and most of her sunny disposition, watched the proceedings with a real sense of amusement. It wasn't that the situation was all that funny, but the way the Jans were handling it seemed to strike her funny bone just right. She wasn't sure what it was, only that there was something about the expression on their faces and the natural rhythm they fell into that was. . .precious.

Nikkos sat on the floor, his expression serious, his legs crossed and his arms resting on his legs. For once, despite the seriousness on his face, he didn't have that hopeless look that had permeated his whole being. His faith had been restored.

His belief system had been thoroughly shaken by this experience, especially when they'd met the other Janice and Melinda. He'd not known how to handle it. He didn't know what he would have done if it had just been him, alone in this situation. He'd thought, because he felt fear, that he was a failure, despite everything Brigid told him. She seemed so on top of everything, her expression hardly ever contained worry (that he saw). He thought he would never become a warrior and wasn't worthy. Yet, Janice and Jan (would he ever get used to this?) who were obviously strong and powerful warriors, were marching about and expressing certain worry. It soothed his heart. Maybe he wasn't such a wimp after all. Maybe Brigid's praise for his bravery had been sincere. Maybe bravery included fear.

And then there was the priestess and the Gods, and even though the priestess had been able to do magic, it didn't seem like the Gods were hearing. That had shaken him. And the other Janice and Melinda had seemed like heathens, nonbelievers. They didn't seem to have the same worship. Now he knew how wrong he was. To have two such powerful women in their camp was a wonder. Success would surely be theirs.

Brigid returned to the room, took a moment to touch Nikkos (who gave her a surprisingly shiny smile) and sat down by Robin. Robin grinned easily at her friend. "Hey Hero." Brigid smiled and passed the Oreo cookie bag to the dark woman. "Ooh, love these things, at least they taste as good as in," she paused, "well they taste good." She grabbed a few cookies and took a bite of one, then handed the bag to Nikkos.

Brigid grinned as she munched on her's, "Things to be grateful for." She waved the cookie at the Janices, "You want one." There was a mutual growl of denial from both. She leaned to Robin, "You know, you'd think they'd be used to this. I mean they live with priestesses and all. Mystical whammy stuff should be, like, second nature."

Robin crunched into her cookie, "Yeah, but we're talking, one's preggers and one's, well you know, ultra sweet and it is magic. They're just worried on principle."

Brigid snorted, "Well their principle is making me dizzy." Actually, she was quite relieved. It had been an amazing thing. As soon as the two Melinda's had gotten together, it was as if something clicked. They'd immediately gone into high priestess mode and had declared a conference. Brigid had no idea what they were doing or saying, but she figured it would lead to a solution. She hadn't been able to think right, she'd been so consumed with worry for her loves, not to mention guilt. She felt like it was all her fault that they were even in this mess. She patted Robin's knee. Thank God for the woman. This morning she'd finally been able to vent how she was feeling and felt much clearer for it. It had surprised her how easy it was to fall into that easy camaraderie they'd had before, especially after what happened with the other Robin. She hoped someday to be able to explain why she'd been so distant with her friend. It hadn't been just the dreamscape they were dealing with, though Robin fully understood that. She mentally shook her head, how do you explain to someone so obviously talented at making people happy, that her alter ego's talents lie in the opposite direction. Brigid smiled at Robin easily and turned her attention back to the pacing duo.

She laughed inside, they were so alike, yet different. Both had that gruff exterior thing going, yet one seemed to have more life experience than the other. She wondered how that was possible and simply figured that time moved differently in the two worlds. There was that whole feeling of, "the same, but different," when it came to the red heads. One was definitely monogamous, the other definitely not. Of course, that could be cultural, but Brigid didn't think so. Janice Covington the elder (though she didn't look elder) was so completely in love and loved by her Melinda Pappas that Brigid doubted she'd ever look anywhere else. Some people were just made that way. Janice Covington the younger was so completely in love and loved by *her* Melinda Pappas that she felt totally safe in loving others (for which Brigid was enormously grateful). It was a whole different way of thinking, neither better or worse than the other.

Brigid smiled reassuringly at her wife and received a smile in return. She noticed that Janice the younger's (They were just gonna have to work out a name system) expression seemed a little lighter. The demigoddess took a deep breath and settled into eating her Oreo.

Some time later, the bubble dispersed. The red heads stopped their pacing and their expressions took on an aspect of mutual relief. All of those present noticed the difference in Melinda and Mel's appearance. They wore flowing robes, when Brigid could have sworn they'd been wearing something altogether different when they'd first entered into their conversation.

Jan spoke up first, "So?"

Mel gently wrapped her arm around her dark haired counterpart and smiled reassuringly, "We think everything is going to be okay."

Brigid felt a knot of worry untying itself in her chest. Mel continued, " Because there were two of us, we were able to make contact, though a bit brief, with one of the Gods." She nodded towards Janice, "I believe on your side of reality. We think it was Dionysus, but " Her lips quirked and her eyebrows raised, "Apparently Zeus opened Hecate's portal."

There was a multiple, "AH," of understanding which emanated from Brigid, Nikkos and Janice.

Melinda continued for Mel, "It caused a huge ripple of magical effects all over the place. But that was bound to happen anyway. It was simply a case of remarkably poor timing."

Brigid grunted and murmured, "typical." Which got her a slap on the ankle from Nikkos. She gave him a look, but changed it to something softer. Then she looked up at the priestesses, "So how do we get out of here and back to the real world?"

Melinda looked like she was trying to decide how to phrase something. Mel gave her a squeeze and spoke up, "Well we have a theory."

Jan spoke, "What's the theory sweetheart." The red head settled down on the arm of the couch by Brigid.

"We believe this is a real world."

Brigid started. "Huh?"

Melinda continued, "But we are caught in one of its dimensional surfaces."

There were more huhs from the group.

"Tell you what," said Mel, "Let's sit down around the table and get something for Melinda to eat, then we'll explain everything."

Chapter 4:
It ain't simple, but it's easy

"We all start off with an unspoken agreement," Mel began, "We say, on some level, 'this is the world and this is how it is supposed to work and these are the ways in which we are supposed to see it.' But sometimes," she looked around the table until her eyes rested on Jan, "things happen that cause us to step out of those boundaries we've established for ourselves." She smiled. "The funny thing is, that even as we agree with," she waved her hand, "the "common" experience, we create our own reality, our own field of experiences." Melinda sat down with a plate heaped with finger foods. She smiled at everyone, then began to tuck in neatly. Mel continued.

"One way to put it, is that we are both the dreamed and the dreamer and we are constantly dreaming within dreams. Another way to think of it, is as a holographic scenario that surrounds us and envelops us as we maneuver in vehicles designed to interpret information in specific ways. Naturally, when our environment changes there is some disorientation. Usually, we simply adapt to it, much like you did Brigid, when you found yourself in another reality." Brigid nodded thoughtfully.

"In fact, if it makes you feel any better, we are constantly shifting our reality around to meet the various changes that occur whenever we make a decision or decide to cooperate with someone else's vision of the world. So we are really quite expert at shifting from world to world. We hardly ever realize it, because of those agreements I spoke about."

"There's another way of looking at this. There are multiple layers in multiple realities that we traverse, often without knowing it. Take dreaming for instance. Dreaming serves several purposes, physically and mentally. It keeps us fresh and alert and creative. It also acts as a passageway." Brigid nodded again. Everyone was listening intently. "One can and does cross from reality to reality in their dreams, sometimes feeling more "real" than other times. Again it is something we do with out thinking or worrying about it. It just happens."

Janice rocked back on the legs of the chair and looked thoughtful. The priestess continued, "There are agreed on reality altering circumstances that come into play, as we understand it. Emotions, beliefs, interactive agreements (such as when you fall in love and decide to share a life), and acts of god (I don't know how else to put it)." Mel pointed at Melinda and then at everyone else.

"We are currently out of step with the world because something knocked us out of our usual spatial awareness. You could say that we are still in our holographic suits, but we're not quite plugged in right. We see our realities shift, which is why we feel so disoriented, as if our timing is a little off. That's because it is, in a way. You see, we are not quite in the dream and not quite in the world and we haven't reconnected in some way with our previously established agreements and it is very possible that we can't go back to the same places we were at all. But there is a solution or rather a potential."

Robin spoke. "What's that?"

"We have to wake up."

Brigid sat up, "Huh?" She felt frustrated. She'd been saying that a lot lately.

"Let me put it to you this way. When you dream, what is the worse thing that can happen."

Nikkos young tenor filled the room, "Nightmares."

"What happens with nightmares?"

"You get chased around or scared until you,"

"Wake up."

"What's the best thing about dreaming?" Brigid looked like she was about to say something. Melinda picked up on her thoughts.

"Besides that, Brigid."

Robin snickered and answered, "We wake up, usually refreshed, feeling pretty good. Sometimes with a lingering memory of having been somewhere else for awhile."

Mel nodded, "Here comes the tricky part. Melinda and I have some ideas, but we want all of us to get in the rhythm at the same time." She ahemed, "We also have a belief." She looked at Melinda who nodded as she chewed, "We believe that we will, how to put this, wake up changed. I don't know if we will carry a memory of this experience or not. But it's a chance I'm willing to take."

They all nodded.

"So, here are the possibilities." Melinda began outlining a simple plan. "This is not a situation that can be resolved mechanically. The bronco won't work. It was the magic around the car that caused the reality shift." She bit her lower lip in concentration. "Has anyone ever tried to actively stay conscious during a dream?"

Brigid snorted. Melinda raised an eyebrow. Brigid blushed and answered, "I didn't try, but I was. really aware, I mean. I feel kind of like that now. Like I'm in a waking dream."

Melinda nodded, "Good, then we'll have something to start with." She looked thoughtful. "Have you ever tried to change something in the dream? You know, like change a piece of paper into a stone or something?"

"Uh, no. But I was shot once."

Melinda blinked. "Uh-huh. What we want to do is to get to the point where we can literally change things within this space, then we have to consciously make the decision to cross over into the other reality, whichever one it is. This one, that one, it won't matter. We'll either forget how we arrived and it won't matter or remember and there will be nothing we can do about it or remember and there will be something we can do about it."

"Meaning?" Jan asked.

"It is possible, that once we've learned how to cross worlds. . ." she looked thoughtful.

"Oh."

"Melinda?" Brigid asked.

"Yes?"

"Isn't, you know, magic. . changing enough."

"It is and it isn't. We are talking the feel of the dream here, the substance. Sure we change things with magic, but when we do, normally it is within the," Mel didn't get a chance to finish.

"agreement." Nikkos said.

"Right."

"We figure we're already out, we might as well go further."

"Oh."

"How do we go further?" Janice asked.

"We don't dream until we've awakened to it."

"Huh?" Brigid was glad it wasn't her this time.

Robin looked fascinated. "What she means, Nikkos, is that we stay awake until we hallucinate and we realize we are hallucinating." Nikkos looked staggered. Robin grinned, "Or, we can do what the Zen masters do and can learn to stay awake while meditating. Am I right?"

Mel nodded and grinned, "By that time, we should be able to manipulate what we are looking at, since we are already on the edge of the world."

Jan snorted this time, "Damn confusing, if you ask me."

Mel grinned, "you are right love, it is. But it will work."

Brigid realized that she had been heading towards that solution for some time. She was suddenly glad that she hadn't quite succeeded. Brigid looked seriously at her wives and son, then at her friends. "It has to."

Chapter 5
Time's mighty hand

They took the Zen route, sort of. Meditation in one form or another was and is a common human experience. One discovers daydreaming and that is one form or one discovers the moment, when doing an ordinary task, and that is another form. For them it was a matter of choosing which method.

They chose embracing the moment. Each day was an exercise of acceptance and surrender. When they walked, it was with the full awareness of walking. Which meant at first, that their steps were very slow. If they washed the dishes, it was with the full awareness of washing the dishes, from dipping the cup into soapy water to rinsing, to drying, to putting it back in the cupboard. Each of them operated in their own way, but the principle was the same.

They quit trying to identify what was different with the world and instead simply embraced it for what it was. If they experienced the odd moment of being outside, they embraced that too. It was all part of being in the now, all part of waking from the dream. In the evening, they would have a group sit, where they all worked at simply breathing. In the morning, it was the same. Their days seemed to speed by.

They all knew when it happened.

They sat in the circle and their breath, which up to that point had been quite individual, slowly shifted until they were in a moment of one breath. In and out, push and pull and who knows who thought of it first for they all thought of it. They were breathing as the sleeper breathes. In and out, push and pull. Their thoughts converged into the pure moment of the dream and they had to open their eyes so they could smile at each other. And that was when they woke up.

***

I think maybe I would have been happier with a different schedule. Okay, I know I would have been. But it was the only way to work it out so that my afternoons and evenings were free. So, I learned to get up a little early, that wouldn't hurt me. A seven thirty in the am class. Somehow I was going to have to convince my body that I was an early morning person, though I'm not, really. I dreaded it. I have a hard time waking up in the morning.

I've always been that way. Mom would practically have to push me out of bed and then drag me through a morning routine, till I started waking up. She kept coming up with new methods, trying to find the one that would finally work at getting me up and going with some sort of coherency and maybe even a smile. One time she jokingly woke me up with the family wagon's jump start cables.

My younger brother Nick thought it was extremely funny. He would. He's an early morning person. Up before the crack of dawn and out jogging or something like that. He's a very physical person. He tried to get me into martial arts, but that's more his thing. I am into art. Though I did learn a few things, just to make him happy. He taught me to meditate, but I'm not very good at it. I get too easily distracted when he pokes me in the ribs.

You wouldn't know we were siblings just by looking at us. He's very dark and I'm very not. But there's a reason for it. Both of us were adopted. He got the sensible name. I got Bernice. Well, that was what my dad wanted me to be called, but apparently mom set her foot down. Actually I got, Brigid Bernice Gracious Poughkeepsie. Try saying that three times fast and you'll tangle your tongue something fierce (although I've gotten pretty good at it.) Meanwhile, my brother gets "Nick." Now what would make you think I was jealous?

I'm not really. I love Nick more than my own life. Mom says I was the type of sister who would take her brother everywhere with her, and that I practically mothered him when I was younger. When I got older, of course, things changed, but we always got along. I was there when he broke up with his first girlfriend. He was there when I started having the nightmares. We never told mom and dad about either. It would have just worried them.

The nightmares were really what started me into art. I'd read someplace that it was therapeutic. And you know, it really was and I was kind of good. Okay I was really good, even if it was just my own opinion. At first the dreams weren't really clear. They were kind of like, what. . a fuzzy memory with a lot, and I mean a lot of details missing. I tried to put that in my images.

I never see their faces. I sometimes, but not really, hear their voices. Some big guy is lifting me by the neck and shouting some terrible mean things. I hurt all over and I can feel him choking me something awful. I can't hardly wear anything around my neck for any length of time. I don't do tshirts and I do not wear necklaces. They squick me in a major way. It's because of the dream, I know.

Anyway, this guy is huge, bigger than a mountain it seems like, and he has me in this neck hold and he's yelling and they are all frozen like they're afraid for me. I can practically feel the fear pulsing off of them, even though I don't know what they look like. I feel like we've been fighting forever and I know it will all be lost if they hesitate. I shout, "Do it!" I guess, meaning kill the son of a bitch. I don't know if I'm being noble or not, by that time I don't care if I die or not. But they don't move. Well, not at first.

Then it's like watching one of those hero movies. You don't see her (and I know it's a her because of the outline of her body) throw it, but there's this round killing thing that goes whirring across the room and it plants itself right smack in this guy's hand. He screams and he lets me go and I start to plummet, but the bad guy catches me with his other hand. Damn it. This time he's mad at me.

He pulls me up close to his face. He has a huge mouth, so big that prize winning pumpkin or watermelon would fit in it. Suddenly I remember who this guy is (and yes, it is every time like this. I forget until I remember). He's Cronos, the swallower of babies. His voice is like a thundering river and I hardly understand the words. He tells me a lot of things, like how I interfered with his plans and have caused him grief. He can feel my heart beat and I know he knows that I don't care what he does to me, that I did it for the love of my family and it was worth it. Then he starts to laugh something evil. Really evil. His breath is foul.

"For this you will forget. You will forget them all." I know who he's talking about. I can feel it in my bones, but my mind won't tell me who they are. But they're the one's without faces. I deny it of course, tell him I'll always remember. That they will always be part of my heart.

He just laughs and accepts it as a challenge. He says, "Fine. If you ever remember one, you'll remember all. But if you never remember and you die, you will be wiped from the stream of time as if you never were and they will forget you."

A masked woman stood up, Hera. She's the only one whose name I remember. She tells him not so and she alters the wording somehow, but I can't remember. Something about the heart being buried. (I am telling you now, I plan on being buried. No cremation for me, no sir. I'm pretty sure this part of the dream is tied up with a movie I saw where the guy was still alive and put through a crematorium. It was too gross. There are some late night movies not worth staying up for). Anyway, she says he can't have my soul just cause he's mad. So, I don't get wiped from the stream of time, but if I don't remember *by* a certain time (and who the heck knows when that is. I mean, this is a dream, after all) then they forget me and "Cronos becomes the God of All again." (Hera is the reason I chose to be polytheistic, plus there's all those other cool gods. Aphrodite is one of my favorites. My mom doesn't understand it, but she tries to be supportive. She's a gnostic christian herself and figures we're all on our own path.)

So then Cronos lifts his hand and he hurls me so hard I feel the breath in my body disappear and then I'm going through a long, scary, moving, dark tunnel and I can't breathe and bam, I wake up in a sweat and it takes me awhile to get back to sleep. Which is why it's so hard for me to wake up in the mornings. Nick used to stay up with me during that waking part. I don't know how he did it, but he said it was worth it to see me start up another painting. Now he's a freshman, stuck in a dorm (University policy) and I'm an almost finished Grad student who has to take a very early in the morning class.

The Gods must have it out for me.

Chapter 6
First Things

Of course I was late.

The sad thing was, it wasn't because I didn't get up. That I could have dealt with. Rather, it was a series of events that really had nothing to do with me, but were just annoying enough (like that one guy taking the very last parking spot and me have to park way over yonder and walk farther than I'd planned. Not that I minded the walk, but I'd had the timing planned to account for my current pace) or distracting enough (like Dio stopping me so that he could invite me to another wine taste event. Like his namesake, he loves the stuff, has several hangerons (male and female) and his wine tasting tends to extend into overlong parties. I hardly ever go and I was definitely in no condition to attend this time. So I excused myself by looking at the obvious and he was like, "Oh, yeah." Then I told him that Nick and his buddy's might appreciate the offer. Dio and I have been long time friends and I could tell you some rollicking stories about when we were in high school, but that's for another time) or just plain frustrating (as I was crossing the street I was nearly run over by a little red sports car. I hate new freshmen. Okay hate is too strong a word, but these kids who get out into the world to be on their own for the first time often become careless drivers. It was a good thing that I was still fairly flexible). So there were some reasons for being late. None of them good enough to explain (except maybe for the parking. Everyone understands the parking problem.)

Therefore, it was much to my chagrin, that the first words I heard spoken from the teacher as I tried to sneak into class without actually looking at the instructor was, "You are late, mzzzz," and I knew she was leading up to my name, which I gave after catching my breath from the unexpected tingle I felt shiver down my spine. I hazarded a glance in her direction and saw not one, but two instructors, both of who looked vaguely familiar (but all instructors look vaguely familiar). I knew in an instant that it was the tall dark one who'd asked me my name as she imperiously (and I do mean that word specifically) waved me to be seated. Obviously she was type that had already taken roll and moved on. Gods this was gonna be one of *those* classes. It was a good thing I loved history.

I found myself looking up the steps for a free seat, hopefully one by the aisle, which I knew was actually too much to hope for and I saw one. Right by Joni and I immediately felt another buzz down my spine again. Not only was it going to be one of *those* classes, it was going to be one of *those* semesters. I sighed in a kind of helplessness and started pacing up the steps slowly. She knew I was going to sit by her and I knew she knew and I knew she was a thrilled as I was. Not. Not that we hated each other, we didn't. In fact, the opposite was probably quite true, it was just. . . Well it's hard to explain really.

She gave me an impassive look, which was good, because it could have been much worse, as I struggled to settle my stuff and myself as carefully as possible. I do not know who the designer of these swing seat desk auditorium things are, but I can tell you now, they do not make them for pregnant women. But I was surprised by Joni's next action, because she actually helped me as I tried to settle, make that squeeze, into the seat. Somehow she managed to pull the seat a little further out. What else could I do, I gave her a grateful look and got an answering almost but not really smile. Hey it was better than nothing, considering. Now to understand my situation with my pregnancy, you have to understand my situation with Joni and to understand my situation with Joni you have to understand my experience in tenth grade shop.

Hap Smith was his name and he was my first acknowledged to myself real love. I don't mean school girl crush, because I think I could have survived that. No I mean deep down to the bones love, the kind that would live and die for, the kind that took to kindling with each vocalization, each breath, each unexpected touch. He was my shop teacher, handsome but with a flaw (he had an injury in his youth which he never talked about, but everyone speculated on. I never really did. I was too busy being, "in love.") which made him more appealing, very married and thus definitely not available. It was like he knew too. Not that I was being obvious. It's just that over the course of the semester I became quieter and quieter, hardly able to make a sound in my behalf, yet I lived for those moments when he would guide my hand with his giant one in some new creation. It was as if a piece of my soul was being restored, a piece I never even knew was missing. And yes, I wanted him, but this wasn't about want. It was about unspoken need. And he acted on those needs by not embarrassing me or letting me be embarrassed. He treated me like any of his students and I knew it. I knew I was no different. I just felt like I was different, because sometimes he would catch me looking and glance back solemnly, unoffended, knowledgeable, understanding. I never even had a chance to blush or develop the usual schoolgirl fantasy.

Then there was Joni. She was my second acknowledged to myself real love. And I had no idea how to even approach her. She was a senior and a very popular one at that. Well, not in a cheerleader kind of way, mind you. She wasn't that type. But she had a lot of admirers among her peers and I was a lowly tenth grader so I didn't even stand a chance. I think the most we ever did was say hello and she was gracious about it for a senior. Once she even walked with me to my class, with not a word between us. Mostly because I couldn't talk worth beans around her and felt I was safer in silence. But the looks we cast at each other could have set the halls of the school on fire. She made my heart palpitate in a way I couldn't have explained. It was then, that I realized that I had no gender preference in love. I just loved. Anyway, the combination of school and love made my first semester back from summer camp an exquisite mix of pleasure and pain.

She graduated early, being the smart chick she was. I stayed on until it was my turn. By that time, I'd found my tongue again and had a social group of my own, including Dionysus, who was a Greek import and proud of it, and my brother, who I always had room for (I was not one of those never talk to your sibling types. My mom raised me better) and a couple of other people I haven't really seen since (typical). I decided maybe it was time to talk to Mr. Smith and tell him, if not how I felt, at least how much I appreciated him. I meant to do it before graduation, but some small crisis or another kept coming up, until finally, I was wearing my cap and gown (I graduated with honors, thank you) and the graduation ceremony had just been completed when I spied my one and only opportunity. Which again never happened.

I remember walking toward him, with every intent to say something nice, positive, yet meaningful. He was pretty tall, so I didn't lose him in the push of the crowd. But I did lose myself as soon as I found him. Well, more like, lost my tongue again.

I saw his wife. My heart just fluttered out the window like a butterfly on the way to a field. I remember staring, which was rude, I know. I remember thinking, I know her, yet not being able to place where. I remember feeling yet another click of something falling into place and I remember her return gaze which was so soft I could have fallen forever and always have been caught. I reached for something to say, some way of touching them as they'd touched me, when every single friend and family member descended on me in a congratulatory grouping that wiped the opportunity right out.

That was when the other kind of dreams started. The kind that keep you up at night for a different, wetter reason. Fortunately for me, I went off to college and didn't have to explain to Nick why I didn't want him coming to my room any more. But I started adding new types of artwork into my collection and boy were they hot. Very. These were fantasies I knew. They had to be, but they felt so real sometimes. Sometimes I had flashes of other people, but they remained faceless, but they felt real too, so I guess I'm just one of those bizarre dreamers. I'd include them in my drawings or paintings or whatever when I felt like it. It depended. Mostly I dreamed about Hap and Deidre (I looked up her name) and Joni.

What was interesting about this, was that their faces started filling in on some of the images of my nightmare dreams. Wild. I knew it was just because my mind was so occupied with them, so I kind of discounted it, yet at the same time went with it. The other interesting thing, was that my dreams started branching off. I had fewer and fewer purely scary dreams, other kinds started mixing in. I even had a bunch where I was pregnant. It was like I was living whole lives within the dream world. I got to where if it was really interesting, I would write it up and then try to interpret it later through my artwork. I was lucky, my freshman year I didn't have a roomy, so it was okay that my dorm room got crowded with canvases and the like. I didn't really have anywhere else to put them, because I was only taking general ed classes and hadn't started on any of my selectives yet. That's when I discovered a love of history.

It's also when I put my first piece up in a gallery.

Chapter 7
Something was bound to happen

It was one of those art competitions for new artists. You put it up and stuck a price on it (and I made mine pretty high because I didn't want anyone buying it) and some judges from the community would make an assessment of the piece. I only did it because Dio saw one of my paintings and said that I should. Should. What a word. I don't know what I was thinking, but I did it. I framed the piece, put it up and didn't win any sort of prize for it. But it got bought. It paid for my first college loan and I came to the attention of Clarisse, the Gallery owner.

She figured if I had one piece that sold, I must have others. So, she came to my dorm room and I shyly shared those pieces of my heart with her and she loved it. She helped me select a few, not all and put them up (none of my erotic pieces. Those were private and I kept them safely out of view.) Apparently other people liked them too. I was out of the dorm room by the next semester and in my own home/studio.

It was nice, I guess. Usually there was one opening a semester, almost always just as I was getting ready for some big old test, so I rarely attended. I wasn't the only featured artist, but my pieces sold consistently. I didn't have to do the burger job, which was good for me. We got to where we had a simple arrangement. I gave her a key to the house and I'd set the pieces out for review. She'd select a few, leave the rest with a note about which she would want to use later or never. or which she'd like to send to another gallery. I'd pack off whatever needed to be sent away and put away the others. I was sentimental.

Anyway, last spring I was dealing with a pretty hairy set of midterms, when she decided to put up another show. Okay, whatever, but my problem was that I didn't have time to pull out the images. I don't know what I was thinking. If I'd have been smart, I'd have said, "not this time. Too busy," but that wasn't what happened. Instead I said, "Oh, yeah, uhm," as I'm looking at this extremely confusing text (there are some historians that can not write coherently), "come on over and pick what you want." Then I forgot about it.

It wasn't until I received the invitation that I realized what happened. Okay, no, that would have been convenient. I didn't actually look at the invitation as soon as I'd received it, or else I might have been able to avoid the whole thing. Though looking back on it, I really can't say that it wasn't bound to happen anyway (I mean it could have happened anytime) or that the results were bad or anything. It was simply entirely too embarrassing. Anyway, by the time I bothered to look at the thing, the show had been up for two long weeks. "Brigid's Visions: A Very Special Collection; Adults Only; Evenings Only" Oh MY GODS! Of course it would be the most well attended opening ever.

I think I quit breathing for a whole half hour. Okay, maybe not that long, but it felt like it. Then my brain started to work, sort of, ran into the studio and opened the closet where I'd kept all those pieces, from the statuary to the paintings and they were almost all gone, except for the most sketchy pieces. I can't even begin to tell you what happened to my heart. The next stop, and I don't even remember how I got there, was the Gallery.

Fortunately for Clarisse the door was open, or I probably would have broken it down. She wasn't at the desk, which meant she was in the back room. But I didn't have to go to the back room to see the results of my stupidity. Nope. Nope. This time, my work was the one and only star of the show and it was out front for the whole world to see. I think my body turned shades of red that hadn't existed until that day. Gods she even put up my self portraits and I don't mean the kind that you normally see. You know, head and shoulders. Nope, they were my "experimental ones," in full and living color. The only good thing was that none of them were photographs. It did, however, explain all those looks I'd been getting and the sudden spurt of invitations to date (from both men and women). I was pretty busy, so I didn't really notice, I'd just said no, thank you and went on with life. (Which brings me to the whole dating/sex thing. I dated every now and again, had sex, once in a long while, but I wasn't really into pursuing much in the way of relationships. I don't really know why. Had too much going on in my brain I guess.)

If it had been just me, I would have been okay. I'm pretty sure of it. I could live through that embarrassment. But see, it wasn't. When I puttered at my artwork, I used my dreams and I let my imagination take me wherever. Which meant, that, in this case there were images of Joni and Diedre and Hap all over, sometimes in trio, sometimes in doubles and sometimes in singles and sometimes with those faceless individuals that I'd talked about earlier. I'm not saying they weren't images of fine craftsmanship and artistry. They were. But they weren't mine to hang up. Okay, they were, but you know what I mean. If I had their permission I might have considered it, but these were images done in the privacy of my own home for the privilege of my own eyes.

So, I was kind of distressed when Clarisse finally came out of the back room carrying another one of my canvases to replace an obvious blank spot on the wall. I had a brief zing up my chest and wondered how much had been sold. One was more than I would have wanted. I tried to keep my voice even, after all, it wasn't Clarisse' fault, entirely. I do wish she'd checked with me first, but I was the one who'd made the open ended invitation. So I sucked it up and managed not to frown, but only enough that I looked like I was grimacing from swallowing something wrong. "Hi Clarisse."

"Brigid!" Oh, such an open face. Happy, enthusiastic. I was madder than hell.

"Clarisse." I began, clearing my throat, "We have to talk."

"Boy do we." I watched as she set the canvas down and prepared to hang it up. I couldn't even be embarrassed by the subject anymore, I'd passed that point. "This is great. We've sold twelve paintings, ten drawings and four of the statues." I groaned and closed my eyes in dismay. I don't think she heard me, because she went on blithely. "Yep, and that's just here! I sent several pieces up to. . ." My vision dimmed to the predator's sight, narrowing on the pulse of her neck. My hands clenched and unclenched as I tried to remember that this was my fault, not hers. ". . .and one of the models was there for the opening. She was really nice. In fact, she and . . . right in the other room helping me. . ." I didn't even feel my body move, I was in such an agony of emotion. But I'm pretty sure the only reason my hands never made it around Clarisse' throat was that there was a body obstructing my path and pushing me back. I couldn't even see clear enough to tell who was doing it, but I fought to make it to the gallery owner, with a mind set on kill.

I don't think Clarisse saw any of it. Whoever was manhandling me, pushed me back so firmly that I rocked on my heels and only barely caught my balance in time to actually clear my vision a little. Blonde hair, brown eyes, a firm line of the mouth that said, *do not mess with me.* I couldn't have even if I tried. It was Joni. I think, if I could have willed the fates to snip the cord, it would have been right then, but it wasn't up to me.

It was then that I heard the another voice coming out of the back and my head swiveled to look. "How about this one. I like the texture." It was Mrs. Smith herself, looking more gorgeous than I remembered. The floor came up to greet me.

Chapter 8
Splendored

They took me home. Diedre didn't think I should drive in the state I was in and Joni practically carried me, though my legs did move by themselves sort of. I was kind of dazed. I was so tremendously grateful that a. I hadn't ruined their lives and b. they liked the stuff. At least that was what they reassured me with when I came to.

I didn't realize I'd torn through my house. When we entered, it looked like a hurricane had run through and tossed things liberally about. Yet another thing to blush about. I tried to take control.

Like that happened.

Next thing I knew I was sitting down, holding a drink in my hand and Joni was looking me seriously in the eye and smoothing my unruly hair to the side. "You okay?" The touch of her hand seared my skin, though why I should notice it now, I don't know. My eyes said it all and I had to look away quick, while I was still able. I ducked my head in a kind of yes movement and took a sip and gasped as liquid flamed down my throat. Oddly, I felt an almost immediate sense of relaxation take over and I sighed and looked up. Diedre leaned over the couch, her arms resting on the back, her hands clasped together. Her expression was as solemn as I felt. Her mouth was on mine so quick I couldn't duck. Her hand wrapped around my neck and she pressed me to her lips, I guess to keep me from flying back. It was probably a good thing. I think I orgasmed from my lips to my toes with that one kiss. It was like a really really wet shock.

I heard a very sultry, "My turn," and felt my face being grasped by two warm hands and then pulled to the front. Then another pair of soft lips moved against mine. My mouth opened to say something and she took full advantage of it. After that, there was nothing to say. Instead, our tongues played for a moment and her hands moved down to the underside of my arms and I found my self being helped up and my clothes being slowly, voluptuously removed. Each touch of their hands upon my skin, even if momentary, gave me the sensation of having a soothing balm slathered upon my soul. My own hands reached out after a certain point and I was touching them in ways I'd only allowed in my dreams.

I was so hungry for these women. Starved. The tears leaked out of me. I couldn't stop them and Diedre whispered in my ear not to try, not to resist, but to let them love me. Her breath made me shiver. I could feel the pressure of her soft curves against my body and her hands came up to cup my breasts, even as Joni captured one in her mouth. I felt the tingle down through my belly to legs and my knees pretty much gave out. I groaned and surrendered.

Diedre's hand drifted down even as she was dragging her tongue slowly along the curve of my neck. I can't recall moving from one room to another, but we must have, because when I opened my eyes we were in the bedroom. I closed my eyes again. Sometimes you just have to ignore the things you don't understand. The flat of her palm circled my belly and I swear it was like she was trying to ignite a fire, a very moist kind of fire. And trust me, I was kindling. Then it swept down to the curls of my sex and she began a tender invasion that pretty much caused anything not in the primal mode to simply disappear.

My throat made a noise I didn't even know I had in me and I forgot that I was anyone or anything other than someone being very very loved. My body arched and Joni pressed against my front and caught my mouth in a kiss that lit sparks (at least I saw sparks) in my brain. Then her hands pulled my butt so that her hips kind of ground into mine. And Diedre's hand was still working a very distracting magic.

I don't know how or when we managed to find the bed. My mind wasn't on it. It was on them. Well, more like it was with them. Kind of hard to describe actually. I remember the feel of my hips matching their tempo, a kind of gentle driving with them at the helm. I was going wherever they took me. Any chance they gave me, I reciprocated, and they let me love them in return. I lavished it on them, poured my heart upon their bodies, surrendered everything I had and was to them. It was a beautiful thing. It was pure relief. If bits and pieces had been restored before, now it was chunks of myself reclaimed and healed, molded into place by the slide of their bodies against mine. I came so often and they were whole body shudders, whole self orgasms that started from the heart. My body was in total ecstasy, the rest of me in utter bliss.

At one point, I suppose a moment of rest, Joni's hand on my belly was gently circling, much like Diedre had, except less provocatively (although I could feel a tightening of desire begin a pleasant return). Diedre's leg was over mine, I could feel her wetness against my thigh, and she teased one of my nipples even as she smiled over me at Joni, who was resting on her side. I was still breathing heavy from our last encounter and my breath was slowly settling, when Joni kissed the side of my face and then made her way to my lips again. I loved the way this woman kissed and immediately responded, enjoying the taste that still lingered. She slowed to a stop and her face hovered over mine. Her expression was serious again.

"Do you trust me?"

I thought about one second and nodded my head.

"Do you trust me?

I guess she wanted a verbal answer.

"Yes."

She asked me again. I answered, this time with a kiss and a yes.

Apparently that was what she wanted. She pressed down on the lower half of my belly, right on top of my uterus about, and the stars fell, the sky moved and the earth turned upside down. Meaning, I had the orgasm of my life. I had a feeling of fullness, of sudden abrupt wholeness and we began making love again, the three of us even more passionately, more ardently than before.

***

I woke up to the smell of breakfast. It was the only indication, besides the indentations on the bed, and the neatness of some of the rooms, that they had been at my home. The breakfast was still warm, so I knew they could not have been gone long. I was still feeling the buzz of happiness and had hoped to see them, but I guess it was too much to hope for. The breakfast was fabulous though. I ate it all.

It wasn't until the end of the semester that I began experiencing a kind of queasiness in the morning that I'd never felt before. I would be sick as all get out in the morning and then a little better. When it went on longer than a week, I went to the doctor and was told in no uncertain terms that I was in the family way. When I told the him that it was impossible that I hadn't slept with anyone (I hesitated to say I slept with two women and you know as well as I do, the impossibility of that being the cause), he asked me if I'd been to any parties during the semester. Well, I had been to several of Dio's, but he usually hangs with a nice crowd. I couldn't imagine anything bad coming of that. Yet, the doctor proposed that I had been given a mickey to knock me out and well here I was. He proposed an abortion.

I can't even begin to explain the reaction that took over. I hauled back and slugged him a good one. Oh, I was apologetic in a big way afterwards, and he was even understanding (sort of. .he attributed my reaction to hormones), but I had no idea where that impulse came from. But I guess it meant that I was absolutely having this baby. He recommended a gynecologist and a counselor and asked that I never come to see him again. Oh well, I didn't like him all that much anyway, Robin has really turned out to be someone I could talk to and my gynecologist is a very gentle woman named Gwen who totally understands.

About three weeks ago I found the card, which had fallen behind one of the drawers in my room, that I guess I was supposed to find almost six months ago. By then it was too late. How could I call Joni and then explain, well see, I'm pregnant, but I'd sure like to get together with you. It would never happen. And so that was why, when I saw Joni in class, I had that sense of disappointment and so, I couldn't be as thrilled to see her, as I might have been under any other circumstance.

Chapter 9
Doorstop

My hand flew as I took notes to match Dr. Pappas lecture. This was good though, I've been to class where I've practically planned out a new canvas over the course time, so I wasn't complaining. I knew I was right about the class. It was going to be a challenge. Add to the mixture Dr. Covington as the co-lecturer and you've got twice the challenge. I mean that in a good way, but I dreaded the tests. Two different lecturers usually meant two different test styles, making it a little more difficult to study.

A couple of hours later and this early morning class was over and the rush was on. Looking at the pace some of these people were keeping as they descended the stairs en masse caused me to think maybe it would be in my best interest to be the last one out. Not that I could have gotten up and caught up with the press of the exodus anyway. I didn't expect there to be trouble with that decision, having forgotten that I was on the outside edge.

"What'samatter, you planning on living there?" His voice was deep, rough and his features bespoke an odd parentage. His stance was aggressive and I think I might have been worried except for one thing, Joni took offense on my behalf. He towered over her, but this incredibly beautiful woman was the one who looked scarier (in my humble opinion). She narrowed her eyes, poked the guy with a long finger which caused him to grasp his chest in pain.

Her voice was a smooth as ice and colder, "I suggest you take the other way out." She nodded to the other side of the auditorium where most of the other students in our row were already headed. He looked at me one more time with beady eyes (that was a mistake) and started to say something nasty. Suddenly there was a pen embedded in the surface of the table, right in between the spread of his fingers. He was leaning on the table to look intimidating, but that deflated him real quick. He sat on a different row the next time.

Then she turned around and smiled at me so sweetly, I could hardly credit her with the action I'd just seen. "Come Brigid, let's. . ." The world swirled for a moment in a really really nice way. Endorphins rushed, muscles clenched and relaxed, as my body forgot for a moment that I was in class. I think I managed to blink my astonishment. I looked down quickly at the presentation space, fearing that I might have been seen. The instructors were safely occupied with students who had questions. I looked back up in astonishment at Joni. She shook her head ruefully, laughed very gently, very quietly, and touched my cheek. "Oh Brigid." She leaned forward, "Let's get out of here and talk." I nodded silently, not trusting my voice because I was still feeling the results of that abrupt jolt of pleasure and so was my little one. I felt a burst of happiness well up in my chest.

She helped me gather my stuff and wouldn't let me carry it. So we headed down the stairs and I was not in fact the last one out. There were still worried looking students surrounding Dr. Covington and Dr. Pappas. Maybe this semester was going to be okay.

Joni sort of took over once we were out in the hallway. She asked me when my next class was, I told her (in an hour, same building, different floor). She said, "Perfect." Then I found myself dragged, by strong feminine hands, into one of the office alcoves where they hide the professors away. It was an L space, and she pushed me, gently, all the way back towards the last door in the hallway. I found myself leaning against it's smooth metallic surface for support as she blocked me in with arms. She looked down at me with a mischievous grin, then laid on a kiss so thick, so tantalizing I couldn't think straight. This was talking?

She pulled back and swiped my lips with her tongue. My sight was glazed over. Then she asked me the question I was dreading. "Why didn't you call me?" I told her the truth and I watched her face fall into one of abject disappointment. Her brown eyes reflected the sadness in her voice, "So you don't trust me?"

My jaw dropped. I'd not thought of it like that. Truly I hadn't. I hadn't thought of it as a matter of trust, but well, I could see her point. But it wasn't about me trusting her. I tried to explain. "But I do. I mean, I did. I do trust you."

Her gaze narrowed dangerously, "Oh?" Her voice held the same edge she'd used on that guy, "Really." For some reason, the only result of that statement, which I suppose should have scared me, was that I was immensely, hugely turned on. She leaned forward and breathed in my ear, "Well, we will see about that." Her voice was so sexy that I moaned.

I was wearing a nice, flowing dress. It was still warmish, though the chill of winter would be here soon. A dress was easier for me. I was one of those women who started showing early, just the build of my body, and I got tired of the effort it took to put on pants. The point being that I felt one of her hands on my thighs, even as she started kissing me again and I suddenly knew where this was going. Any other time I would have protested, said something along the lines of "Oh we can't," but this was her test and I intended to pass.

Her hand moved up and cupped me at the apex of my legs. She pressed a little, rubbing her body against mine, so that I could feel the points of her nipples even through the cloth of my dress and her blouse. I whimpered, brought my arms around her and tried to kiss her, but she would have none of it. She was running the show, not me. She grinned wickedly and then dipped her face to my neck, where she licked me along the pulse of my life before planting her lips firmly against my skin. Then her one of her fingers dipped into the crevice of my sex and she began spelling delight with that digit. I spread my legs a little more, finding it easier to stand than I expected, but maybe that was because she was supporting me with that amazingly talented hand. Then I felt her hand move again, until I felt pressure at life's opening and I knew she was going to have me. She slid into me carefully, just two fingers, but it was enough to make me groan. I could feel my body's urge to surround her and ground my hips against her as she moved her hand against me, using her thumb to play scrumptiously against the erect tissue of nerves the Gods provided women for their joy.

She had me. My hips rocked to her artistry, my voice whimpered at her direction. And finally, when I thought I couldn't stand it anymore, when the crescendo had built until she was slick with my desire, she whispered deliberately, "Come, Brigid," and my body became an ocean of rolling ecstasy. She held me till I floated down again, waiting until my mind had returned to my body before removing her hand. Then she grinned that evil grin that only she can, and she leisurely licked her hand clean with the very tongue that had been driving my the skin of my neck insane.

My hand went to my neck and I could feel the heat where her mouth had been. I knew I had been marked and I blushed. Her brown eyes danced with carnal enthusiasm as she stroked the hickey with a wet finger. Her voice was low, almost genial, but definitely seductive, "You and I are going to be spending a *lot* of time together Brigid. This time, you'll remember to call, no matter what, won't you?" I nodded firmly, many times. "Good." She patted my belly gently and I felt the little one leap happily in response. I think he liked her. I know I was liking her very much. "I'll meet you after class Brigid." She pressed against me and kissed me fervently.

That's when we heard the clearing of throats. I opened my eyes to see Dr. Pappas and Covington looking at us with, (well I'm not sure how to describe it, I think it was amusement so that's what I'll call it, though it could have been shock. But they weren't acting shocked, just . . amused) amusement. I'm sure we looked a sight, a pregnant woman who looked very rumpled and ravished with a fresh hickey and a beautiful blonde in jeans who looked like she was very much in control of the situation. Joni just gave them a saucy grin before kissing me quickly again, picking up my stuff and handing it to me, then leaving with a jaunty little greeting to the two professors.

I looked up at the plate by the door. Sure enough, it was their office. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and managed a very shaky smile before I pushed away from the doors surface. Then as I was about to apologize for blocking their way, Dr. Covington spoke. "Ms. Poughkeepsie, may we have a few minutes of your time. That is, if you aren't planning another rendezvous somewhere." I was sure blushing a lot today. But what else could I do. I decided to deal with the problem head on and nodded in assent.

Chapter 10
A moment of your time

The office was very nice. It was well lit (they had windows!!!), simply decorated so there was a sense of both personalities in the room (two desks fit to give both of them a view of the door and some really cool artifacts), some greenery and even a throw rug. There were a couple of guest chairs and Dr. Covington indicated I should take the one by her desk. After they spent a few minutes unloading stuff onto their respective desks and moving the other guest chairs around so they were facing me and I them, Dr. Pappas began speaking in her careful English.

I thought that they were going to say something about fornicating in the hallway, but that didn't happen. Instead, I was informed that they were on my comprehensive's committee. It is kind of hard to describe my response to that, because at the same time as Dr. Pappas was informing me of my fate, Dr. Covington was handing me a folder and her fingertips brushed against my hand. My heart did that thing again; the same thing I'd experienced with Hap, Diedre and Joni, only it expanded to include Dr. Pappas and Covington and I had this HUGE sense of Deja Vu, as if I'd heard their voices all my life and only now had recognized them.

I knew suddenly that Dr. Pappas' carefully hidden accent was Greek. I knew that she had a sensitive spot on the back of her knees that if touched (touched!! Hell, Licking would do the job even better) just right could almost send her straight into orgasm. I knew that Dr. Covington had a favorite kind of cigar, that her left nipple was a skosh lower than her right, and her body exuded a spicy scent unlike that of. . .of. . .I couldn't place her, but I knew her. Now, how I knew this, I couldn't tell you. But I knew it was as true as I was sitting there and I burned with wanting them.

I covered my feelings and my confusion by opening my folder and I found myself looking at a long reading list consisting of ancient literature, historical treatises, texts and a few books by the professors themselves. I looked back up in shock, actually registering the last few words Dr. Pappas had been saying. "You mean I have to read all of this by. . ."

"The time of your exams, yes." Dr. Pappas nodded. I started scanning the list, looking for titles that I could maybe get away with skimming. There weren't all that many and they all had to do with subjects I hadn't been studying, really. Not officially anyway. I tried to explain my dilemma. Dr. Pappas pulled out a folder with my name on it and read off part of an interview that I'd forgotten I'd participated in. Sure enough, I'd stated a strong interest in the topic before me, Ancient history, with an emphasis on women, Greece and religion. I tried to explain why I had chosen to pursue modern women's history instead and for that effort I got the sternest lecture I have ever received on the topic of "doing the thing you love," subtitled, "*why* it should not be just a hobby and no wonder your papers have been dry," even as Dr. Pappas pulled out another very full folder. I winced as she read off unimaginative titles for (I will admit it) somewhat unimaginative papers.

Then she laid the folder aside and pierced me with an ice blue gaze. Her voice thrilled down me when she said my first name, "Brigid, you must read these books. They will figure heavily in your Oral exam and you must know this information inside and out. Study your other material, remember it, but *know* this." She poked at the list with a long finger and I had to resist the urge to lean down and slide my mouth around that digit. I could have smacked myself. I couldn't believe how hard it was to focus on what she was saying, rather than on how seductive her mouth looked while she was saying it. I dragged my mind to attention back to what she was saying and did a lot of nodding, though I think I may not have absorbed much information after that. She said something about committee and two other professors and weekly meetings and book reviews. Dr. Covington was grinning at me in a sardonically knowing way and I had a moment of paranoid worry that she knew that my brain had skipped school, passed church and run into the playground.

Then we discussed my pregnancy, how I expected to be able to attend class, their preference that I sit up front from now on, (Okay, but why they should be worried, I don't know. I have been climbing stairs safely since I was a little girl, but whatever. It's not like pregnancy affects one's hearing and I had remarkable hearing. Still I decided to cooperate. It wouldn't hurt me any) due dates and such. I explained that I while it was cutting it close, I expected that I would be wearing my cap and gown while still top heavy. They explained that I was to inform them of any changes as soon as I could and that I should remain in contact with them. No problem. I figured I would be having this discussion with all of my teachers, so I didn't think anything of it.

Eventually they let me leave (with enough time to spare), after scheduling a meeting every Wednesday after class and an invitation to call on them anytime I needed help (and Dr. Pappas emphasized the word *anytime* with a slide of her eyes to my belly that kind of made me blush. I'm pretty sure that I was being hormonal and therefore imagined the almost seductive way she said that word. I decided that this time, I was going to have to have a "talk" with Joni and then I would tell her why. I figured if she wanted me to trust her, then I would. I'd explain everything that I could and maybe she could help me get a handle on things. Obviously I wasn't helping myself much.) I nodded and said that I would. They gave me warm handshakes and I strove to ignore the shivers of awareness that screamed through my body. I had no idea how I was going to make it through class. I had it bad. Again.

Chapter 11
The Lights Go On

Joni was waiting for me after class. She leaned casually against the opposite wall from the door, her dark eyes intent and her mouth curved in a half smile. She exuded a confidence that had kind of a feral quality to it. Little one leaped in recognition, or maybe it was just my heart. Either way, I was glad to see her, though I wondered about her other classes. When I asked, she just smiled coolly and told me not to worry about it. I shrugged. I hadn't been worried, just curious.

Her arm slinked about my waist familiarly and she pulled me close so that my body was pressing against hers. She smiled at me like a predator, then her mouth swooped down on me and all sense of decorum left my consciousness. I kissed her in return almost helplessly and was in kind of a bewildered state when we were finished. Well, bewildered isn't exactly the word, I suppose, for there were all sorts of other sensations I was experiencing. I felt like she was stirring something up in me that had been in reserve for a long time. Certainly I felt something spark, though I couldn't place what it was. I shook my head to clear it a little and simplified my conversation to one word. "Wow." If we received any looks I didn't notice, truthfully. My attention was quite occupied by the wiry blonde.

When I recovered enough to think a little bit, she gave me a lazy grin. Then Joni pushed away from the wall, secured my books from me, and guided me so that she was walking me out the door of the building. Her arm never left my waist, so I had to accommodate by putting my own arm around her. This was a new sensation to me, but not an uncomfortable one. In fact it was quite lovely and I loved the feel of her body walking close to mine.

The walk to the car didn't seem as distant as it had this morning. My mood had altered considerably. We conversed a little on the way and I explained that I had some things I needed to talk with her about. She nodded and mmhmmed and said, "fine." Then we were at the car and she was sliding my books into the back and I was getting ready to dip into the drivers side. Before I could do that, however, she pulled me back up, gently, and pushed (not hard, but firmly) me against the side of the car. Then she blessed me with another luxurious kiss and told me that she would be by my house very soon. I remember nodding and smiling and feeling a true warmth spread through my body.

I don't remember how I got home.

I think it was with the car because the vehicle was safely ensconced in the garage, but heck, the way I felt I could have floated home and not have known the difference. I shook my head in confusion and decided that the Gods were simply watching over me. Then I proceeded to do a little clean up, since I knew I intended to do more than just talk with Joni. I thought fresh sheets might be nice and selected a flowered set which reminded me of roses. I always liked the thought of sleeping on roses (sans thorns of course.) By the time the bed was made I thought to myself, *you know, if you're gonna have clean sheets, you might as well have a clean body.* I decided to go for the shower.

I don't know about you, but I'm a water kind of gal. I love baths, I love showers, I love swimming pools and hot tubs. I love the way rain pelts the skin (especially in the summer when it's been hot and muggy) and the feel of water streaming down my body when I stand in the shower. So you could say I was having a pretty good time with myself (not *that* way, just in the sensate way) while I waited. My eyes were closed and my hands straddled the wall as I let the hottish water splash down my face. (I can't do that for long, because I have to stand back and breathe, but I sure liked it). My sinuses were clearing, my back was starting to loosen up again, and my muscles were genuinely starting to relax when I felt a warm hand slide around my front and cup my breast.

Talk about startled!

I shouted in surprise, threw my body back and nearly stumbled, but was caught by strong arms. "Shhh, shhhh, it's all right, it's only me." Joni's hand drifted to under my breast and flattened against my ribcage and my heart started to slow its panicked beat at her soothing words. She chuckled softly in my ear, "Sorry love, didn't mean to startle you." I nodded, turned around in her arms and smiled shakily. Then she said, "Brigid," as if she were going to tell me something.

I was looking in her eyes, hands drifting to her sides, and thinking pleasant thoughts about her when she said my name and I felt a powerful spark of lust ignite within me. It just took over. My mouth connected with hers in a blisteringly impassioned kiss and her eyebrows shot up in surprise. Then, of their own volition, my hands were traveling all over her body and I was reveling in how wet and warm she felt. My lips and tongue blazed a new trail down her chin and onto the rest of her body. I suddenly felt more limber and more powerful than I could remember ever feeling.

I ducked down further, until I was almost crouching. The water was splashing me and it felt cool compared to my feverish skin. I finally knelt, and captured her thighs and hips in my arms as my mouth found what it was looking for. I drank her up until her cries echoed out of the bathroom and filled my ears. It was wonderful and I craved more. I practically climbed up her body and wrapped around her. If I were a snake, I don't think I could have gotten much closer. When our mouths connected again I felt as if every cell in my body had been charged with some new kind of electricity.

I passed out.

Chapter 12
Goldilocks

I woke up in a bed of roses. At least for a moment I did. I could swear I smelled them, felt them against my skin, soft, silky petals. But when my hands clenched against the sheet those sensations were gone. I had a sudden sense of loss, as if I were missing something very important and a tear rolled down my cheek.

She wiped the wetness away with kisses. I felt her slide into bed with me, her warm weight press against my skin and where she touched I felt that burning soothing sensation. I opened my eyes to greet my lover and scooted immediately to the left, almost toppling off the bed. I didn't even have a sheet to cover myself.

"DR. COVINGTON!!!" I really really wished I had a sheet and awkwardly snatched at the blanket. She grinned and held it away teasingly.

Okay, I don't know about you, but they have rules against this type of thing. Academic rules that say something along the lines of: "Your life will suck and your degree will go poof if you sleep around with your professors." I was pretty sure of it. But then you hear the stories about people who marry their professors so what did I know.

The only thing I knew for sure was that my professor, one who was on my committee was in my bed, giving me grief. "Look, Dr. Covington," I began as I reached again and caught the edge of the blanket. "I don't know what you're doing here, but this isn't. . ." I tugged hard and so did she.

Her cupid lips quirked and her eyes gleamed with humor, "I think we're familiar enough that you can call me Jan or Janice." She glanced at my body freely and tugged harder against the blanket. I let it slip through my fingers and placed my hands on my hips.

"What is that supposed to mean?" I asked. My stance wasn't aggressive, but it did say I wasn't budging till I had some answers. A sparkle of light caught my eye and I turned my head.

A tall raven haired woman stepped nakedly into the room, carrying a silver tray heaped with food. Her gaze was much more serious than Dr. Covington's. Her voice was silky and her accent was strong, "It means, my love, that the cavalry was called in." She set the tray down and began pouring a drink. It looked like orange juice. "We were the closest."

I was blanking here. I hated the sensation. "I'm missing something."

She handed me the glass with a command, "Drink." I took the glass and put it to my lips. Orange juice. I was very aware that I was thirsty. I did as I was told. I felt strong arms wrap around my belly, firm breasts press against my back. Dr. Covington had moved off the bed and was now holding me. It should have felt funny, but it didn't. It felt so natural. So right. I was confused. Dr. Pappas continued.

"Joni didn't realize how close you were to awakening." Blank. Blank. Blank. Damn it. Awakening? "But she knew as soon as she couldn't stop you, she would need help. She called us." She shrugged, "Well actually, summoned us." She raised an elegant eyebrow at Dr. Covington, "Good thing our evening class was over. Hmm, Janice?"

Dr. Covington. . .Janice was nibbling my neck. I was blinking and trying to deal with the achy sweetness that was swirling in me. "Couldn't stop me?"

Janice spoke, her voice like a tiger's rumble, "You had the equivalent of a power surge. You were you, but you weren't. Di ." Dr. Pappas gave a warning shake of her head and I think that Janice changed what she was about to say, but I couldn't tell, "Diedre said you've had them before, though for different reasons. She said your body was just trying to remember."

Well that made no sense, except for the remember part. I could understand trying to remember. I felt that way now, except I was also getting very distracted. "You called Diedre?"

"Well, she was here for a little while." Janice caressed the my belly softly. I recognized her touch. Her hands were more calloused than I remembered. I clung to that thought and grabbed her hand in my own. I began examining it, comparing it to my own. "We needed a little professional help."

Dr. Pappas' laugh was a most lovely thing. "You were quite a handful." I looked up from my examination and felt a flash of memory. Recent. My hands had explored Dr. Pappas quite thoroughly. I tingled with the memory of how slippery hot she felt inside. Oh gods.

Janice snorted, "Mel, that is an understatement. She was eight handfuls." The professor kissed my neck and I felt a shiver of response roll down my insides. "My hands, your hands, Diedre's hands, Joni's hands." Oh gods. I was flashing all sorts of memories, some of them quite. . . acrobatic. Gods, that couldn't have been good for. . . I looked down at my belly, panic stricken.

Melinda put down the sandwich she was making. I figured I'd gotten to know her pretty well too so it was safe to think of her by the first name. She grabbed my chin and made me look her in the eye. "The baby's fine. I promise. Ask. Remember, you told us, you can ask."

I told them? I told them. Oh gods, I told them Everything. The dreams. The nightmares, the baby, everything. I was crying because Diedre left and she smelled like roses. I love roses.

Lips claimed mine, soothing, distracting. I was kissing back. Her mouth felt luxurious, wet. Didn't I just do this? I remembered this. Not the same though. Different. This was much less. . .intense, frantic. It was sweet. I felt normal. I had my mind.

I tested, because I had to. I had to know. There was a murmur of blissful satisfaction from my little one. So. He was alright. Which meant that I was alright. So.

I surrendered to the kiss and wrapped my arm around this woman that I loved that I didn't know, but knew absolutely. I lost myself in the kiss, but not as deeply as before. I felt Janice's hands curl up and around my breasts as she pressed against me. Oh yeah. I remembered this.

I had an important question to ask. Well, important to me at least. I dragged hand down from around Melinda's shoulder so I could play with her nipple. I knew I was totally responding to what Janice was doing. I pulled back from the kiss and asked nervously, dreading the answer either way, "So, uhm. . are you still on my committee?"

Janice started laughing into my back. It was a pleasant sensation, but kind of uncalled for, I thought. Melinda's eyebrow arched and she smirked, "Oh yes. . .yes we are. You won't get out of your comprehensives that easy and don't even Think that this will have anything to do with how we grade you. In fact, I guarantee you." She smiled evilly at me, "We will be the hardest, most difficult examiners you've ever had. Your Orals will be Hell."

I knew from her tone of voice that she meant it. "Oh gods." I groaned.

Janice spoke up, still laughing, "Look at it this way, sweetheart, at least studying will be fun."

Chapter 13
Be Careful What You Ask For

Now I've been walking myself to my car for years. At least as long as I've had a car, so while it was nice that one of them wanted to accompany me, I told them no, politely. I mean, just because I was pregnant didn't mean I couldn't get where I wanted to go. And I know, I was a lucky woman. Not many can claim that they've got several lovers to look out after one, but at the moment, I thought mine were Well intentioned, but pushy. Okay, so I was in a mood. I was entitled.

Diedre was with Hap, most of the time. Back in my hometown I guess, a three hour drive away. So I rarely saw her, but you know I was ecstatic when I did see her. She took me places (and not just through ecstasy's window). It started with the statement, "I see your taste in clothing hasn't changed." Which, I have to say was Not true. I mean, I have developed some maturity in fashion sense, but, I was so glad to see her that I went along with her and got some new outfits. (She even paid!) I will admit they looked very nice on me and we did more than clothes shop. I've always liked Malls. Though how she found that place with the handcuffs, (it was small, way in the back) I'll never know. I guess she just has a talent for that kind of thing.

Joni moved in. Just like that. One day the only thing that said she was present was a bit of breakfast and the next my furniture had been switched around and she was lazing about on the couch when Jan dropped me off at home. Not that I minded, considering she was wearing a whole lot of nothing at the time and considering where we ended up, but it was still kind of a surprise. And she treated me like a treasure, as if I would break apart at any moment. It was driving me subtly nuts. I couldn't believe it. I told her she was acting like an overprotective father and she gave me the sauciest grin.

Janice and Melinda were as good as their word. They were marvelous lovers, enthusiastic, passionate, intense and delightfully well rounded. They were also the toughest, most thorough teachers I'd ever had. I haven't been asked if I've done my homework since early grade school. I always do my homework. Yet, one of them asked me every day, then they'd give me pop quizzes on the spot. But the way they gave those quizzes (I get tingles just thinking about some of the kisses they delivered) oh, that was motivation in and of itself. I think that if I was even inclined not to do my homework, I would have changed immediately for the reward.

Of course, it helped that what I was learning was so interesting. I was captured by the myths as soon as I started reading. There were Myths about the warrior goddess and her lover, the mythmaker goddess (well actually the word is story teller, but because there was magic in the way she wove those stories, it was said she could create actual worlds with just one word, thus the better interpretation is mythmaker or worldmaker. Neither of which quite describes what it was she was supposed to be able to do). There were Myths about the war in the heavens, an ugly nasty event which was said to still be going on and you could tell by the rumbling of thunder in the sky. There was a listing of all the players, from angelic and heroic beings in Olympus, right down to the lowest demons in Underworld, which was below even Tartarus. Then there was the historical stuff, royalty, countries, bad attitudes, good attitudes, concepts that changed the western world, concepts that changed the eastern world, women and power and so on.

And that was all in the first couple of weeks. It was wonderful having all the attention. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it, but it was like going from Famine to Bacchanalia in one step, an over-protective Bacchanalia at that. It was a little much. So we had a showdown.

I told them that as much as I loved them, and I did with every fiber of my being, and as fun and marvelous as they were, I did not need to see their faces twenty four seven, thank you. I needed some space and I needed it now. Oh it was a row, but I held fast and funnily enough, Melinda was right there with me. I got my way. I was an adult, I could do things on my own, but I promised to ask for help if I needed it.

Joni's expression was so morose I had to ask, and was told with what seemed like a quiver to the lip, "Do you want me to move out?" I didn't laugh at the absurdity of the question. I mean I could understand where it was coming from.

"Hades NO! I just found you! I'm not letting you go!" I responded and that quiver changed to a smile so beatific that I had to take her to bed right on the spot (good thing we were at home). So we all kissed and made up in the most wonderful fashion.

That was how it came to be that I was walking to my car, keys in hand ready to do their thing, in the dark by myself. Well it wasn't completely dark. I always pick a well lighted space for my car. It was dark enough, though, that when I got that shivery sensation up my spine I stopped and listened. There wasn't much to hear. There was the sound of traffic on the other side of the fence, someone just started their car, there were no footfalls. I took a moment to look around and saw just about as much, so I continued walking.

The way campus is set up, there are parking lots all over the place (though there is never enough space to park) and I picked the closest one to class. My beloveds had been letting me use their office as a place of study, so I knew I could arrive early enough to get the space I wanted. Melinda was teaching tonight and Janice had stayed to grade papers (she was still chuckling when I left). I, on the other hand, was tired and feeling pregnant, so I was determined to go home.

This time, I heard footsteps, though they didn't quite sound right. I hurried my pace a little, thinking I was being a bit paranoid. Who would attack a pregnant lady? I shook my head and kept walking until I reached my car, then I started to put my keys in the lock (and no, my hands were not shaky. I wasn't that scared. I was only having chill feelings and I'd had those before with nothing to show for it) and in classic horror movie style they fell out of my grasp and under my car.

I didn't try to bend down and retrieve them. That would have been silly. Janice was up in her office, all I had to do was reach a phone and give her a call, right. I turned around, fully prepared to walk back to the bridge where they had a campus phone and found a reason to scream.

Chapter 14
Running

There are things a pregnant woman should definitely not have to deal with and I feel it is safe to say that the walking dead and demons from Underworld are among those things. There were three of them. Demons, not walking dead. The only place walking dead exists is in the movies. Of course, that was the only place demons existed (to me at least) too, so who was I to talk.

I could immediately see there was a reason why I didn't really hear footsteps. Only one of them had anything that seemed to resemble feet. Okay then.

After I was done screaming (and they were still moving in that slow undulating quiet fashion so I had plenty of time.) I knew I had several courses of action like talking to them or checking to see if I were dreaming though i knew I wasn't. (They were far to slithery real for that and my heart was beating too fast) none of which I took. Instead I opted for the classic. Runaway!

That was another thing I shouldn't have had to deal with, though I think I did quite well, considering. Certainly, I did not do what I feared most, which was fall on my face and get gobbled up (one of those creatures sported some nasty sized teeth). I was faster than even I expected so I know it had to boggle their minds. One second I'm by the door, the next I'm screaming down the pavement and very glad I avoid those other classic hindrances (high heeled shoes) like the plague.

I remember the feel of the my footfalls, solid, pounding. Little one jiggled and had it been other circumstances I would have checked to see if he was alright. My breasts jiggled (painfully, thank you). My heart hammered in my chest, but my breathing was as easy as you please. Hello workout! I promised myself that I would remember the worth of exercise next time I was bitching about the next step touch step.

So, I was faster than I expected, but they were faster too. I guess as soon as they registered that I was moving, they started picking up the pace. I looked back once (for information gathering purposes. I mean, I could have been imagining things right?) My intent was to head back for Jan and Melinda's office, but as soon as I saw them following, there was a part of me that thought I'd be leading danger to my lovers. That wouldn't be right.

I looked back around and realized I was about to slam into a car. I jumped. Holy Damn I jumped and then I flipped!!! How in the. . .I didn't have time to think about that. But I managed and they slammed into the car and rolled over (okay so I looked more than once. I think you would have too. I mean you can be as committed as all get out to not look back, but sometimes you just gotta know). I found myself wondering if there was car insurance for monsters. Then remembered we were in a parking lot. No insurance for cars in parking lots. Poor sap.

Now that I'd changed direction, I had no idea where I was going. I knew I needed to get someplace with a lot of light. I looked around frantically and saw the stadium, a well lighted stadium and thanked every God I knew. My feet were flying. The monsters were slithering and galumphing.

They caught me. Well it caught me. The one with the feet and the hands. Big fingers wrapped around my shoulders, pressing (ouch ouch ouch). I think I said my first "Help me!" prayer ever. I mean I worship the Gods, as I explained before, but I try to get through life on my own. I'm an independent sort.

I don't know how the mind processes information and makes its selection, but I heard my voice shouting the prayer to the warrior gods and their companions to give me what I needed to protect myself. That had to come from all the reading I was doing, I knew. I prayed for strength, because I intended to fight. There was no way I was gonna get myself eaten. I had a baby to protect.

I don't know where the sword came from, but I recognize answered prayer when I see one. I moved so naturally you would have thought I'd been playing with swords all my life. Lift, slice, bye Monster hands. Pivot, duck, jab, bye Monster eye. I fought for all I was worth, shouting and screaming my power, jumping and kicking and fighting like someone who knew what they were doing. Actually, come to think of it, I knew what I was doing.

The Demon with feet went down first, because it was closest. The Demons that slithered were not unintelligent. This time it was they who ran away. Well, slithered away and boy were they slithering. I must have scared them. I chose not to run after them. What would have been the purpose? That would have been crazy.

I whispered another thank you to the Gods, turned and smacked into Joni. I was never so glad to see anyone. Or stunned. "Is that a sword? Or are you just glad to see me?" she said. I whimpered in relief and leaned forward to fall in her arms.

Joni looked different. She was dressed in a skimpy studded leather outfit. I could see the hilt of a sword behind her shoulder. She looked as wild as a big cat and more ferocious. I was terribly turned on by the familiar (familiar?!!!) sensation of the outfit against me. I could feel the heat from her body. Her touch was sweet, almost tangy, like a citrus fruit. It shivered through me. "You all right?"

I nodded. I was too breathless and scared and surprised to do more. She held me close and took the sword from my hand. "Let's get you home."

Chapter 15
Myth in the Bath

I didn't say much. I mean, what could I say? I had just been chased by demons, fought them off with a sword and my lover was a goddess. I mean, how would you approach it?

So, Honey, You're a God.

Or maybe,

Those were some pretty scary demons, I'm real glad you showed up. So, How long were you gonna wait before you told me you were a God?

Nope.

Nope, better to keep silent for a moment and come to grips with the idea. And get over my mad. My mind was making all sorts of associations right now, as I tried to figure out just who was a god in my life. After all, I had this whole recognition thing going.

I was leaning against Joni in the tub, comforted by her presence, despite some of the more hormonally aggressive urges I was feeling. Her hands were gently soaping me and rinsing my breasts and belly, while I thought about the night's events. I was loving the way her thighs felt against mine. Gods, I was so physical right now. Everything was about touch and feel and sense. The aroma of the bath was luscious. My surroundings pleasing. The only thing missing was taste, and I imagined, that I would be experiencing that soon enough.

The sword I'd used, lay glistening on the dining room table. At least she was kind enough to bring me to my own house, rather than surprising me with what I had almost expected. I had thought she might whisk me away to some Olympic mountain top. Nope, instead we'd come to the little piece of heaven I called home.

Of course, I'd figured it out almost immediately. I had thought the demons were running from me, but after the second look at my love, I recognized her. I recognized her from all those textbooks my "mentors," had been making me read.

Callisto. Of course. Why hadn't I seen it before?

She was, like most of the Gods of the Pantheon, a multitalented individual. She was both a Goddess of War and of Mercy. Maybe it was better to say, she was the Goddess of Justice with a kind of militant frothy bent. (There were some entries that explained that Callisto was also called the Goddess of High Vengeance. I think that may have been accurate too.) Heaven help you if you were on the Wrong side of the fence when she was around. Some of those myths were damn gory. Then again, as the Goddess of Mercy, she was the one you absolutely wanted to meet on the street, or in the hospital, or sometimes even in your room, when the weight of being was too much. Then there were other little things attributed to her, like she was the goddess of the bloodflower, a unique plant said to grow only on battlegrounds. That of course was a myth.

Or so I used to think.

Yet, here was myth come to life, in my bathtub, washing me. I inhaled and let the realization of my child's paternity, or rather maternity, wash over me. Little one stirred inside. He was content and thriving. I was alive. It's not like she hadn't asked. I'd just not understood the question. I caught her hand on the downslide and pressed it to my belly and little one kicked obligingly.

I didn't expect her to cry.

She made my shoulder all wet and I had to turn around so she could make my front all wet. I thought to myself, hey, at least this time it isn't me. I held her close until the tears were done, then kissed her softly and willingly.

It must have been the water, because the electricity sparked for me again. This time, though, I had it under control and simply guided those feelings where I wanted them to go. She sighed and trembled in my arms, then pulled back.

She was the one who broke the silence. "How much do you know?"

I touched her lips with dimpled fingertips and brushed them lightly, "I think I may know nothing, Callisto." There, I'd said it, now it was out in the open.

She kissed my fingers and led them away from her face. Brown eyes, filled with concern, gazed at me for the longest of seconds. "So you don't remember?"

I took a deep breath, hesitating. You see, there is remembering and remembering. I knew there were gaps in me that had been filled by those who'd been loving me lately. I knew that this had to do with my dream. I also knew that technically speaking some rules were being broken. Perhaps even trashed.

But what could you say. These were gods I was dealing with and rules were meant to be broken, as the saying goes. So, I most carefully lied and told the truth at the same time.

"I remember you," I said, reassuringly and I leaned forward to give my love a kiss.

That was when the green scaly hand grabbed me.

Chapter 16
Hanging Around

I pretty much decided that it was no fun to be hanging against a wall.

Now that's just my opinion and it may have been the particular wall I was inclined against, and the particular crowd I was being perused by that led to the conclusion, but I think it was a fair assumption. Of course, if I'd been on a flat smooth surface instead of this bumpy scrapey cavernish thing or had my feet firmly on the ground with maybe a little room to ease my shoulders, and maybe one of my lovers doing something interesting to me with a fluffy little bushy thing (or maybe even a feather), then perhaps I wouldn't have felt so badly.

It stank down here too. Well, maybe the cavern wasn't the problem, but the odor of the creatures was offensive (and that was putting it nicely). I was doing a lot of nose wrinkling and trying to resist the urge to sneeze. The last time I got my back scraped but good and bonked my head.

As it was, I was barely on my tiptoes and my belly was hanging heavy. Demons have no respect for pregnancy, unless they are yelled at by bigger Demons. Apparently, I was to be handled somewhat carefully. It didn't stop them from hitting me up top or down below though and I was feeling more bruised than I cared to. I did a lot of soothing for little one, who was uninjured, but aware that there was some jostling and therefore concerned. Little one didn't like that. Well, neither did his mom.

And his other mom, I'm sure, was furious. I spoke the cliche because they were being so annoying, "You'll be sorry when Callisto gets here." I meant it. It did not do to piss off the Goddess of Vengeance. I was very glad I wasn't them. They laughed, which sounded more like a burst of short hiccupy growls and they waddled, walked, scraped and slithered around in a kind of evil good humor.

They didn't care of course. I was there for two purposes it seemed. Entertainment and the other one, which I had a glimmer of what it possibly might be about.

I shrugged. Inside. I couldn't do much shrugging outside. I didn't really have the inclination to work it out. I was sure I would be told soon enough why I was here.

My shoulders ached. I tried to lean back without getting myself poked in odd places by the rock. There was nowhere safe to settle. It was all uncomfortable. So, I settled anyway, as much as I could.

I tried to take into account Nick's advice on what to do in a crisis and found myself blanking. I'm sure it was very good advice, but it really didn't seem applicable to this situation, or maybe (If I was truthful) I was just too upset to think about it. So I took a lot of subtly deep breaths trying to breath out the pain. The breathing helped, some. It seemed to clear my mind.

I figured out, that if I lifted my feet and placed them against the wall, sort of, I could find a few odd protuberances to settle them on. It was as if they were made for the occasion. They didn't really hold my weight, but it eased the pressure some and I felt a little better.

I tried to think of ways to get out of this situation. I couldn't talk my way out. Tried that, got laughed at. I couldn't yank my way out. Tried that, hurt my arms. I couldn't fight my way out. Tried that, had bruises on my face.

At least I was dry now. The shivers had stopped, though I was still cold. I had to admire their audacity. I mean, to grab me when I'm talking to one of the bloodiest Goddesses around, well, that took guts. Which they would lose soon.

I wondered how Callisto would find me. I called up memories of the Underworld from my recent studies and knew it wouldn't be an easy task. The Gods, while not actually forbidden, didn't really come down here much and there was a psychic barrier (supposedly) that was designed to keep the immortals out of each other's mental hair.

I supposed she would get her spouses to help. That was well within her prerogative and she was known to do it before. I mean, technically there were . . .well. . there were. . .couples, grouped. . . My mind tried to churn out the names, but came out with the numbers instead. There were three couples, a group of six Gods. Married to each other. But wasn't there a notation about mortals, in the battle of the beginning, twin couples. . .well actually triplicate if you counted those two goddesses. .who were they? . . .um. . . a group of ten, practically an army godwise. . .was there anymore. . .marriages nope, but the pantheon was kind of flexible, so the limit might not be at ten. . no, the marriages were official, the others were a kind of "fling." So. . ten, that I could think of. .and then whatever allies Callisto had . . . Didn't she and the Goddesses of Magic get along? That would make twelve, at least. Oh these beasties were gonna be IN trouble. . .

The only problem. . .the names were failing me. . .

That was the thought that kicked in the realization.

I already knew two of them didn't I? Diedre, she of the blonde curly locks and the beautiful body. (even thinking about it against this cold wall made parts of me warm and shivery. Suddenly those bumps and cracks and sharp places felt kind of good.) Diedre, who my heart acknowledged as a true love. Diedre, who came to my rescue when I had that sexual energy flash. Why hadn't I put it together then? Diedre and her husband Hap. Hap was another true love, on sight. Beautiful making hands. Brought up memories of where I'd wished those hands had gone (and I had a sudden body memory, or so it seemed. It was as if I could feel those hands resting lightly against my flesh. Him too? I knew him, as I knew the others? Who else?) Hap Smith. . . Smith. . .Gods it was so obvious. .How could I have missed that?

Aphrodite and Haephastus. Immortal. Gods. The Goddess of Love. She also had some secondary callings, like Callisto. There were some who said that she was the Goddess of Torture. Apparently she did it really well and she knew all sorts of ways, good and bad. I wouldn't know. She'd never tortured me. I had a flash of something, a pain somwhere, but it left as soon as I felt it.

It seemed like they all had talents that were sometimes called upon, but not necessarily their main "thing." Or maybe, we just limited them to these callings. Thes major aspects. Maybe they had lives we didn't know about? Like being a teacher's wife? No. More than that and less, perhaps.

And then there was the Making God, the God of the Forge, the God of Craft. The God of the Challenge, because he was challenged. Wounded in battle, yet able to carry on. Loved by most of the Gods on Olympus for his good (though fiery) nature.

They loved me and I loved them. I knew them from . . .a long time ago. A fuzzy long time. But, time wasn't always linear, was it? I knew them, they know me. Aphrodite had been in my arms fairly recently. Next time I was going to ask her to bring her husband. Actually, I guessed, I wouldn't have to ask, would I?

They loved me like Callisto loved me. Like Callisto had always loved me. They would definitely be coming after me too. All of them.

I shivered.

ALL of THEM!! I knew All of them and I knew them as I knew Callisto and 'Dite and Hap. I knew them. Their names hovered at the back of my mind. I knew them.

Melinda and Janet would be coming for me too. I felt warm all over. My sense of humor kicked in and I wondered if I was still going to have to take my Orals, and would life experience get some of those questions waived?

Something was happening deep within me. There was something about myself. Something that would help. If I could remember.

My palms burned. I must have been clenching. I felt a tingling on my shoulder, kind of an achy sensation. I figured it was all this hanging I was doing, but was surprised it wasn't located on both shoulders. I must not have adjusted right. I repositioned my body, but it didn't help much. The tingly sensation stayed and grew achier.

I started to do that breathing thing again and sent light messages of reassurances to my baby. He was doing better and my stomach was less upset. I decided maybe I was just thinking too hard and needed to give it a rest, so I set my mind on neutral for a bit, and, breathing with the ache as much as I could, hung around.

Chapter 17
Feeling the Pinch

It was warm on the beach, nice and sandy. The sky was so blue, I felt like falling into it. It reminded me of her eyes. Everything was bright and brighter still. I could feel the warmth on my shoulders and smell the salty sea air. I turned around and saw figures coming to me. My loves. My hearts. They were walking. Someone had a towel strewn about his waist, as if he'd barely stepped out of the shower. There was a picnic in front of me with food so luscious my mouth watered. I was lazing about comfortably, sitting up, waiting. My toes felt good in the sand. Then something started pinching them. Hard.

I woke, startled and scraped my back again. I moved my foot from where I'd somehow got positioned and the pinching feeling stopped.

Damn. It was a dream and a pretty nice one at that. Now I was back here. Phph.

Oh well. I settled back with a sigh and tried to stretch out as much as I could. It hurt. My shoulder hurt. My hands hurt. My face hurt. My . . . .

Stop bitching Brigid. It hurts, but you're alive. That's something to be grateful for. Yeah.

I realized that I didn't know how much time had passed. I was hungry. That feeling gnawed at me. I felt like I had to pee. The pressure of my bladder was no laughing matter. It hadn't been for months now. I had no desire to feel the trickle down my legs though and less to step in it, so I held it back and tried not to think of that salty ocean I'd been dreaming about.

Instead I tried to picture faces. I started with the ones I could absolutely remember. I spent a pleasant moment remembering much more than Callisto's face and I felt, for a moment, skin hungry again. I consoled myself with the thought that she would be here soon. They would be here soon and let my mind drift to my other favorite blonde. Things got all warm again. I forgot about needing to pee.

"Well well, what have we here?" Damn it! My attention was diverted from that most pleasant occupation and now I had to turn my attention outward again, where it was cold and damp. I felt a surge of resentment. The funniest noise came out of my mouth. It was a growl.

The toadies who had been hanging out near my feet backed away hastily. They literally looked like toadmen and so I nicknamed them. They were the least offensive of the creatures present. . .I hoped. At least they handn't tried to take a bite out of my thigh like that other one with the rows and rows of teeth. I felt somewhat startled, because it wasn't my intention to scare them. Ever since they started sitting at my feet the others had been leaving me alone. Besides they had an interesting dice game going. Of course, I hadn't seen any money changing hands and that had me worried, but. . . . A growl? Where'd that come from. I spent a second indulging in confusion.

He was tall enough I guess, not as tall as some. His face would have been okay except for the sneer and the pasty color of his skin. His hair was dark, as if it were dyed, sort of like a really ineffective Gothboy. I didn't recognize him, but knew I probably should. I was kind of grateful for that. This one was not one of mine then. Good. I didn't like his looks.

He perused me with dark eyes and smirked. He folded his arms over his chest (again going for that intimidation thing. It wasn't working.) "Aren't you going to ask?" He questioned.

I blinked, "Ask what?" I was still contemplating where the growl came from and hadn't quite reached the point of having another set of questions yet.

He gave me a frustrated look and led with his body. His hands whirled forward as if I were missing the most obvious thing, "Aren't you going to ask who I am? What you're doing here?"

Oh yeah. I shook my head a little to clear the hair from my face and asked as casually as I could, "Who are you? What am I doing here?" I figured I might as well cooperate. It might buy me time and I really was curious.

He smiled and stepped closer. I had to pee again. There was that sneer. It really was quite ineffective. I wondered if anyone had bothered to tell him that. He puffed up proudly, pointed at his chest and spoke in a self congratulatory manner, "You are looking at the new King of Olympus."

Chapter 18
Shake

Okay, I won't get desperate. I won't get desperate.

I sighed into my chains. Somehow, barely, I'd managed not to laugh and to seem duly impressed. It was hard work. That was both good and bad.

It was Good because he didn't blast me with a bolt of something because of my "disbelief." It was Bad because he went on and on and on about ruling the world and being the king and how bad his life had been and how he deserved it after all these years.

I nodded a lot, as if I were listening. I did a lot of, "Yeah, I can understand that." and "boy that's tough." It got so he was leaning against the cavern wall with his shoulder, his arms folded across his chest, talking to me as if I were a long lost friend.

I did my best not to look crafty, but the opportunity was too good to miss. I turned my body so I was almost facing him. I smiled and "Uhhuh'd." The toadmen had slithered away and so this was it.

I was as ready as I was ever gonna be. I casually grabbed hold of my manacles, preparing to lift myself. I hoped that I would be strong enough. I kept nodding. I was ready and I. .. .

I Didn't do a darned thing because the ground shook. Hard. Then it split.

Poor toadmen. Not so lucky me. Ouch!! The supposed King of Olympus disappeared.

Funny, he never got around to telling me why I was there.

Chapter 19
Falling Down

I'd been dangling against the wall, feeling my frail security rip itself out with each shake and shiver. I clambered fearfully against the wall, striving for any hand hold, any place to rest my foot.

Then she called.

Her voice filled me up. It filled me so full, that all my fear was flooded out, washed right through me. The only thing I could feel was the warmth in my body and the beat of my heart. So I pushed myself against the rock and leapt back with thighs made powerful by my sudden rememberance.

The shackles broke and my wrists were suddenly free. I felt my body hold itself in the air for the briefest of moments, like a cartoon. Then, not like a stone, but like a body, I fell.

There is only one way to describe the direction.

Down.

and Down

and Down.

It got to where I thought I would never land. It got to where I didn't care if I landed. Then I realized that I landed a long time ago. My bladder was amazingly empty, but I wasn't.

Little one kicked about happily. He had enjoyed the ride. I rested one hand upon my belly and the other against the soft surface of the bed. The sheets were silk. I was naked and uncovered, but warm.

I felt, for a moment, like Little Nemo, the boy who enters the dreamlands, and it feels real, but he always wakes up to find it was all a dream. I feared that. I feared for a moment that I was just some pregnant housewife. I felt the sheets again.. . a rich pregnant housewife. I opened my eyes.

She took my hand in her bronze one. Her blue gaze was gentle. Her lips curved up in a smile before she greeted me with a long, thought provoking kiss. "Thank you for trusting me Brigid," she said as she smoothed back my unruly hair.

I managed a smile. My voice quavered and tears filled my eyes "Anything for you, Xena," I said as I reached forth my hand to touch her very real cheek. It was wet too. Then she pulled me, hard and gentle, against her warm body and let me cry and cry.

Chapter 20
Love and War

I guess, the full story of what happened is contained within me, as are the results. But, I don't know if I will ever be able to express the fullness. I can only attempt to explain what I partially understand. Now this is mostly second hand, so bear with me.

It started like this. One day Xena discovered the madness of a God. Since it was the kind of madness that called for the destruction of the whole world and race, she came up with a plan. She figured she had to. Not for herself. It was for Gabrielle.

Technically it was really simple. All she had to do was warn the Gods, convert them to her thinking, and find enough people to help her deal with Chronos.

But, Gods are timeless beings (save for Chronos, and thus we see the cause of his madness. He ages eternally while those Gods around him remain ever youthful) and so they could hardly see the point. So she took it upon herself to go to the Fates, who, though they live timeless like the rest, have seen all from birth to death and over again. They saw the point. For Chronos, in his madness was distorting their weave and breaking their threads and ruining their colors. They are, after all, artists and proud of their work.

The first thing they realized they had to do was to create new frameworks for the looms, for Chronos was bending the frame of their weaving with his will (another thing that was ruining the whole picture). One of the results was the death of her beloved. That was when Xena made her first deal with Morpheus and took the long sleep so she could travel between realms.

It was incredibly tough on her as she went about trying to find her way to the Elysian fields. She almost forgot her purpose, things were so hard. Then, in the dream realm, she met someone, who comforted her, and who looked remarkably familiar. She changed her goal.

Instead of trying to find Elysia, she went to meet the God of the Underworld and His wife. For some reason, that was easier. They had a conversation and she told them, or at least her dream self told them, what was occurring. Then she convinced them to make Gabrielle a God.

Why?

Well, there were two reasons. First, at the time, Xena still felt quite unworthy of the mantle herself (not to mention she still had some personal hostility going for some Gods I could name) and secondly, who is better than a storyteller to make frameworks?

The Fates and and the new Goddess, Gabrielle, fell in love with each other instantly. They loved her for her stories and she loved them for the beauty and depth of their work (plus everyone had a few other things going for them. Compatibility is a wonderful thing and Gabrielle is about the least ageist person I know). The bard Goddess began her work fashioning worlds for Chronos to play with. The Fates began some weaving on the new frames and Chronos was stalled in his efforts.

The only problem was, there came to be so many of these looms that they forgot which was the real one. This happened (mostly) because they found all their weavings to be equally beautiful, if different. So, they created rooms for the looms and tried something new. They called for help.

Well, most of the Gods claimed to be too busy. They didn't understand the seriousness of the problem or the opportunity. But the Goddesses, now they were interested. You see, they realized that they now had the power to create in their hands. Aphrodite, who was and is much smarter than people think, was first among them, as well as Hecate. And so was Ares, The God of War (who would later come to prefer the phrase, The God of Radical Change when he wasn't being addressed as The Warrior God.)

It was Ares and Haphaestus and Dionysus who showed up to work at the looms. Hap showed up because Aphrodite was there and because he was a blinkin' creative genius (You should see some of the toys he's made for. . .heh..sorry got off track there). Ares showed up because he had his own madness to deal with and he thought he could create the perfect world. Dionysus showed up because it sounded fun and like his kind of gig.

Well, as it happens, Ares, who was very competitive at the time, and Aphrodite, who can be competitive when something riles her, got into a heated debate about the best way to weave, which eventually led to a huge blowout about who is the most powerful. Dionysus, who is the sensitive creative type (or so he likes to say) offered a suggestion and they made a wager. They would see who was the most powerful indeed. They could choose their methods and their looms and they could start at the next rise of Helios.

So it was that Ares found himself in front of a fresh loom the next morning, ready to create the most fantastic world of war anyone had ever seen. He'd already picked out the threads (all red and black) and he had a vision in mind. The Fates, being the kind souls they are, offered a bit of advice before he started, but he shrugged them off, said, "How hard can it be?" and they pretty much left him alone after that. He was ready.

Aphrodite, who'd had a pretty big night soothing the wounds of a lovely heroic couple who had just been rejoined, was a little late. The God of War had already started and it looked like he had a pretty good thing going. Certainly he was putting a lot of attention and effort into the whole deal and the world was looking very red and black and warlike indeed.

Now, Aphrodite, she decided not to rush right into her weaving, but to go and see how the others were doing. She eventually found her way to the Fate's (many) looms. She spent a good portion of the morning watching, asked a few questions and then asked if she could try a few things.

The Fates said, "That is the point."

So the Goddess of Love smiled and went away for a bit. When she returned she had Morpheus in tow and the Muses. She found Gabrielle and asked her to make three looms. One for the King of Dreams, One for the Muses, and One (supposedly) for herself.

Gabrielle created the frames for the Goddess and Aphrodite spent a little time instructing Morpheus and the Muses on how to weave (and thus reaffirmed her knowledge) Then she told them the great secret, which Ares had ignored. The Fates may start the threads and may end the threads, but the threads move themselves. Well Morpheus, he was somewhat familiar with that, since that's pretty much how he operated anyhow and the Muses were excited because it meant they wouldn't have to spend as much time as they were dreading (they had things to do, people to inspire, you know), so they began almost immediately.

Well, here is where it starts to get interesting.

Ares was having a horrible time. His fingers were bleeding. There were knotholes he never even thought of, in his world. The pattern never quite came out right. Here a thread was too tight, there it was too loose and the colors,while looking really great out of the loom, didn't seem as compatible as they had before. He was, however, determined to finish it. He had to win, even if it meant that he cheated. (Although how he could think he could cheat when the rules were so vague, I'll never know) He called on his nephew, Stryfe and made him work on the world for a bit. It got all mangled up, since that is what Stryfe tended to do anyhow. Well, that got Ares all mad, which got Stryfe all mad, and Stryfe left to find a sympathetic ear.

Aphrodite, meanwhile, who had yet to start on her own loom (and it was getting towards afternoon), started whispering words in Morpheus' ear, then in the Muses' ears, then in the King of Dreams' ear again. The Muses started tittering and giggling and Morpheus was smiling all shy like. So Aphrodite, picked up a pretty green thread and told Morpheus, "Hey, why don't you ask them if they like this color."

Chapter 21
Thread

That was all it took.

Pretty soon Morpheus and the Muses were working together on the looms (amidst a lot of smooching and giggling and touching and a bit of copulation) and they were having so much fun, they wanted to start another, because they had these radical ideas. They wanted to try to create themed worlds. Their first would be "Musical World." (Which turned out to be a roaring success, but "Statue World," kind of had to be dropped as a concept.)

Aphrodite smiled and said, "Sure, but will you let me have a little input." (Of course, she says this the way only Aphrodite can, using phrases like, "bitchin," and such. I'm not even going to try and pretend like I've got the vocabulary down. I'm just telling the story here. If you want to hear her side, ask her.)

Anyway.

The Muses and Morpheus were in a fabulous mood (of course) and so they were just about willing to agree to anything as long as they could play together. They told Aphrodite to do what she wanted to do. Which, was how Aphrodite had it planned to begin with.

So the lovely Aphrodite approached Morpheus' loom, which had some beautiful dreamlike imagery going for it, and she plucked out one of her long golden hairs. She blew upon the fine strand until is sparkled and shimmered with light. Then, starting at the very top of the weave, she did the impossible.

Now a weave, when it's started, well, that's pretty much how it is. There's no changing it, unless you undo the whole thing. But not in this case. Magic was involved. Aphrodite's kind. So she touched that strand of hair, which had become a golden sparkly thread, to the place of origin, and the thread spun itself through the whole fabric of Morpheus' world, changing it forever.

Then, Aphrodite, with her tiny bit of input, lifted her arms and laughed with joy, because she could feel the energy spreading all over. The thread did a remarkable thing. It filled the loom, becoming part of it. Then it leapt. It hopped right over to the next world, and, as in the dreamer's realm, is started at the very top and sparkled its way on down, filling out the world the Muses had made.

At first Aphrodite thought she might have to cut the line and she reached for some scissors, but the thread became invisible between the two looms. She waved her hand, trying to find the thread and her hand passed through the air. Apparently, the thread could take care of itself. Aphrodite set the scissors down and enjoyed the show.

Then it leapt again.

The Fates, who had been ambling along the hallways, checking on the various looms (and some of the Gods who had a propensity for snipping too quick) happened to stop by at that very moment and they saw what the Goddess of Love had done. They were flabbergasted.

The thread, which finished filling the cooperative loom (Musical World had lots of feeling to it now) seemed as if it were a live thing and it stopped and hovered, like a swami's rope, and then the thread plunged through the wall and disappeared, before Aphrodite could even say anything about it. (And, truthfully, she'd expected it to stop, but it just kept going).

That thread, that bit of the Goddess, touched every loom in the Fate's house. Every Loom in Every Room and there was more left over. By the end there was a dangly strand that bobbed about excitedly looking for a new world to infiltrate or at least play in.

Well, Ares, he was ticked, very hacked, because he knew he lost as soon as that thread hit his loom and worked its magic. Funny, but when it touched the work that he'd made, bloody and dark as it was, it seemed the knots became less. . knotty and the tight places less tense, the loose places, more firm and the colors blurred and blended as if they were meant for each other. Even the darkest patterns had some. . .life . . to it.

That scared the War God like nothing else and, in a fit of anger, he went after that thread with a pair of Godly scissors. He ran through the house, intent on getting his revenge. That didn't work though. Ares found the thread and reached for it, but the magical thing eluded his grasp. They played a bit of peek-a-boo with a couple of the looms, they threaded back and forth. He laid the scissors down and caught the thread, but as soon as he picked them up again, the thread slipped through his hands and they were playing the same old games as before. After awhile, the God gave up in frustration and went home, intent on figuring out how to win a battle with Aphrodite.

He forgot the scissors. They lay golden and sparkling and sharp on the ground and were too tempting to resist. The thread picked the scissors up, not sensing the danger, since a tool has no feelings to reveal and it started to play.

Well, Ares wasn't the only one who was upset.

Chronos saw the thread too, and it opened his eyes to the worlds around him. He suddenly realized that he had been tricked. Oh, and if Ares had anger, Chronos, that aged bitter father, had rage. He didn't bother with the scissors. He just started to disintegrate the looms in front of him. There was only one problem, no matter how many looms he deleted, the thread remained.

You know that phrase, "These things take on a life of their own?" As sometimes happens with a God, what they create comes to life. Such was the case with the thread. It had a life of its own and where it touched, more life was created. The thread remembered what was supposed to be there and brought it back, much to Chronos' consternation (and the Fates'!)

There was a twist, however, Each world, each life came back a little differently than before. The thread had been affected by Chronos' touch. But, not adversely, mostly. (Not everything is perfect, and it shouldn't be. That would be so boring after awhile, wouldn't it? I mean, I've been to Apollo's house. All the lines are pure, everything is so light it's practically blinding. It's spotless and it's boring. No offense to the God.) This was all fine and good, but there was a small problem. The original loom was among those that were were blasted by the God.

The results reverberated through the whole of the house, of Olympus and the world it stood upon. Chronos, who was now in a snit, because things kept coming back again, went back to his hole beneath the ground to sulk and plan. (He wasn't the only one hiding from the world and sulking.)

That's when the Gods called on Xena again.

Only this time, the person who arrived was a much different Xena. It was the Warrior Goddess, the Goddess of Necessity and Invention Herself. Her world had been created by all the shifts and she was quite reluctant to "put everything back the way it was." She had, after all, a life of her own, and she pointed out that it was very likely, once the shakedown settled, that no one in their universe would be the same.

Well, no one likes to hear that their world may never be the same. It sounds threatening. It sounds like forever. There was a bit of a hubbub from the Gods who'd assembled, including Father Zeus (who was still in his misogynistic bastard mode back then). They got to threatening this goddess (who they thought of as new, but really she'd been around awhile), but she was terribly unintimidated and all it did was make her do that scary glare thing.

That was when they heard the scream.

The scissors lay on the floor where they fell for the umpteenth time and the golden thread writhed in agony from being separated from itself. It was Xena who found it first and Aphrodite who recognized the thread for what it was. The cries it made broke her heart and the blonde Goddess wept. Of course, the Warrior Goddess made the Love Goddess explain everything (well, as best she could, given the circumstances.) Then Xena went did that "thoughtful" mode she gets into sometimes.

After a few moments, she smiled grimly and picked up the loose thread, cradling it gently. "I have a solution," she said. That's when she asked for volunteers.

Well, there was some reluctance. She was going to propose something they didn't yet know about. Their world was still quaking and things were pretty unsettled.

But this was Xena, and even if it wasn't exactly *her* Xena, Gabrielle trusted the woman with her life. She stepped forward first (and you can bet it was one of those gushy tender forever moments they get into now and again. They are so cute, you know?) That kind of helped things along. Aphrodite stepped forward, since she felt it was partially her fault (though the Fates told her that it was actually her thread that saved the day. She wasn't ready to hear it.) Where Aphrodite goes Haphaestus goes. Then Hecate volunteered.

Ares came back just then, demanded to know what was going on. Aphrodite said, "You wouldn't be interested." He said he would, and that started the whole competition thing again, until Xena called a halt to the argument.

She looked the God of War up and down like he was a piece of meat, then she said, "He stays." That both irked the heck out of him and made him feel all warm and fuzzy. He was terribly confused.

Well, the Fates volunteered too, but Xena made them stay. She pointed out a few things. One, someone still needed to watch the looms. Two, there were several new universes out there, some of which might have more Fates and maybe they needed to work on contacting them and letting those Fates know what was going on. Finally, Three, the plan required that there be a common thread, well, actually, a couple of common threads. The Fates had to make sure those threads at least showed up, at the right time and place, no matter what.

Then the Goddess Xena took Gabrielle's hand in her own. She handed the wounded thread to a tearful Aphrodite. Then she summoned a knife and cut her palm and then Gabrielle's. Aphrodite laid the thread in their hands and a tear or two fell upon the golden loops.

They tell me the baby's cry could be heard from the Top of Olympus all the way to Rome. I am sure they are exaggerating. I do not have that powerful a set of lungs. I don't care what Haphaestus says about it.

Chapter 22
Paths

Chronos' mistake was that he forgot that the Gods, unlike himself, are not limited by time. So, it didn't matter when I regained my memory. Once I knew for sure who I was and what I was, well, his little plot to recapture his power fell to pieces.

They won't tell me the details of the battle, though I understand it got pretty darn ugly. Ares has a nasty scar along his inner thigh. It's very sensitive. Xena also has a few new lines upon her body. Mel tells me not to worry about it. She says Gabrielle will probably be talking about the battle soon enough. Still. . .

There were some definite changes that I was aware of. Zeus looks younger than I ever remember him looking and Hera. .wow. .what a difference. I mean, her face is uncovered and she's. . .well she's just not the same person. Certainly the power structure in their relationship has changed. I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

Hecate made those old Gods pay for the trouble the caused. As did Gaia. I think some of the old Gods Chronos convinced to join his scheme may never be again. Certainly I have no inclination to bring anyone back who tried to hurt my spouses.

Although, I have forgiven Stryfe. He really was just doing his job. It will always be Stryfe's fate to be king of Olympus for a time, but it's never for very long (and he seems to always forget that. . .can't blame the boy for trying. He has a lot to live up to). He and his toadies tend to fade out of power once Zeus and Hera remember themselves.

The Fates created a network of . . .Fates. I got to meet one or two of the alternates. Velasca looks kind of different as a Crone, but she's nicer as a Fate than she was as the Goddess of Chaos unchained. That could be because every version of her (young, old, goddess, whathaveyou) that I could find has Hecate as a lover. I guess some things are meant to be (especially when you really control your own fate. . .)

It's been kind of interesting to walk the different worlds. To see the different ways that people are themselves. In one Universe, Hera is the Goddess of Love. Apparently she got sick of Zeus' philandering, but instead of trying to kill the women, she got even by seducing them. Eventually, if a female saw the God, they'd simply ask to see his wife and Hera would show up and they would bypass all the other stuff.

As far as I can tell, right now, there is one deity set of Gabrielle and Xena and Callisto. There are lots of mortal and semi-mortal, even immortal variants. I found an immortal, yet mad Callisto once. She wanted me to let her out of some hole in the ground. I might have done it, except my Callisto came and got me. She said, "Some experiences are important to go through."

There are several variants of Aphrodite, Hap and Ares, but none quite like the ones I hold in my arms at night. Certainly Ares, as the Warrior God, is unique among all the others. There are still several highly addicted Gods of War. I tend to steer clear of them, unless Xena gets me involved in some scheme of hers. (I don't mean that badly. I just mean it literally. She asks and I'll do. Except for the parts where she tells me to stay out of something. I find that one hard to do. I'm sure she hates it when Gabrielle and I gang up on her.)

There are mortal, semi-mortal, and immortal variants of Jan and Mel too. You should hear the nicknames my mates have been batting about to distinguish themselves. I just go by my senses and their accents. I can very much distinguish between the Greek and the Southern and Northern American.

I can pick my spouses out of the crowd. I guess because of the distinguishing features I see in their hearts. Their common threads run deep and, like me, they have memories of several worlds, all of which are equally real to them. It makes for some interesting story telling.

There was a point when we discussed dismantling the looms, at least on our sides of the universes. Ares simply voted to leave his threads as they were. That decided it all for us. He figured it was important for him to see where he started from and we all agreed the stories of these people's lives had a place. Besides, the colors are beautiful, especially once the greens started pulling themselves in.

He's not allowed to play with the scissors yet, but, my beautiful son (ours--Callisto is a marvelous parent. She always was deeply loving. Then again, there are so many of us, he never lacks for supervision or someone to play with--For that matter, neither do we. . .heh.), Chronos, with his ancient eyes and laughing face, loves to play among the colorful threads of the Fates. They are very indulgent Godmother's and I've caught them letting him touch the looms and start the weave once or twice. He's learning to just let the threads run themselves as they ought. Maybe he'll be a Fate when he grows up, or a baseball player or a nurse.

We're raising him as if he were a Mortal (for the most part) so he'll see how important life is. Gabrielle has already got some tutors picked out for him, for when he's old enough. One is named Ephiny. I don't think I've met her. Another is Robin. She'll be excellent.

Technically speaking, I am Brigid, Goddess of all that is, within me. I am that Golden Thread, or rather I am the embodiment of it. I am the dreamer and the dream and a multitude of other things which really. . .I dunno.

I find it hard to look at myself in all these worlds. I guess you could say, that in a way, I've been it all and done it all. It's a bit astounding and frightening to realize that I am part of all that is. Literally.

But I really can't say I'm different from anyone else. I'm just me, who I've always been. Bernice Brigid, Brigid Bernice Poughkeepsie.

I'm content with that.

I've been talking with the Jan's lately. Now, Max is at home with Callisto's. .rather, Joni's sister. So that one's taken care of. Mad-dog's (I really wish shežd pick another nick) daughter has somewhere out there. I've searched the threads, but I can't seem to find her. Mad-dog says she had the scars to prove it, so she knows she had the baby. Then there's Melinda's baby. Where's is. . she? (if it was a she and if it exists) And Nikkos, my other son (and brother. . .Only the Gods could think of something so blasted confusing), seems to have gone missing. We all remember dream world, but wonder if that's where she/he is at, or if we're even looking in the right places.

My loves are feeling some urgency about this, which I can totally relate to, so I've been walking the closer threads, trying to find a trace of those kids. I'm sure we'll find them. I mean, how hard can it be? They gotta be there somewhere.

And that is the END!!!!

Happy Holidays and May your Lives be Blessed!!!!

Seasons of the Gods

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