By Bat Morda
(Please click here if you would like to go to Chapter One.)
"Was it a thorn in your side,"Absorb thyself in the great sea of the waters of life. Dive deep in it until thou hast lost thyself and having lost thyself shall find thyself again. As it is written she hast her dwelling in the great sea and was a fish therein."
Something that you hide,
Something you donít touch
Because it hurts too much"
Sable On Blonde ñ Stevie Nicks
Stevie blinked once or twice and looked around for Callisto. She recognized the warriorís voice, it was identical to her own but she didnít see her anywhere. She looked around at her surroundings feeling as though sheíd stepped into a Maxfield Parish painting. That feeling wasnít a comfort. It was obvious she was dreaming, the colors were vibrant - unnaturally so. She stood on the bank of a brightly sparkling stream her black boots contrasting strikingly with the stunningly verdant grass. The boots. These were not Stevieís boots from the trendy shoe store on Melrose Avenue; these were warrior boots. She looked at her arms and body. She was wearing Callistoís armor.
"Changeless, this great deep of elemental water remainith forever pure. Because of this it possesseth a stability from water do all forms have their beginning."
"Callisto," Stevie called out into the setting that was beyond picturesque. "What the hell are you talking about and why on Earth am I dressed like you?"
"Welcome to Illusia," Callisto said stepping out from behind the waterfall that fed the small stream. "Heaven perhaps or another form of Tartarus ñ you get to decide. Here you may find some answers, perhaps not." She walked through the water without getting wet, her hair surprisingly straight and neat. Inwardly Stevie felt compelled to laugh but didnít. The warrior was wearing a black lacy dress; she could have easily walked on stage and sang any number of Stevie Nicksí songs and looked quite at home.
"Why are you dressed like Stevie Nicks?" Stevie asked after blinking once or twice. "Iím not saying the look doesnít work for you, I just donít understand it."
"Every night that goes between, I feel a little less. As you slowly go away from me; this is only another test." Callisto said looking at Stevie solemnly.
"Thatís the song ëStormsí off of Fleetwood Macís Tusk album. Obviously Iím very familiar with it. Whatís your point?" Stevie asked, following the warrior who led the way down a small path.
"Every night you do not come, your softness fades away. Did I ever really care that much? Is there anything left to say?" Callisto said, leading the way into a room filled with columns.
Stevie could hear her heartbeat echo in the room that sounded like a mournful drum beat to her ears. The throbbing echoed loudly off of the chamber walls and Stevie wished for some way to silence the noise.
"Every hour of fear I spend, my body tries to cry. Living through each empty night, a deadly call inside." As Callisto spoke, Stevie felt anger and frustration well up within her. She wanted nothing more than to wake from the dream, to return to the world of the living, especially given that not minutes before her lips had been attached to those of an attractive young woman who she wanted to get to know better. That would be a preferable experience to trying to figure out what she was doing in a place, that even by the standards of her own dreams, was beyond weird. "I havenít felt this way I feel, since many a year ago. But in those years and the lifetimes past, I did not deal with the road." Callisto continued, leading Stevie through the room of columns into a forest, only slightly more realistic than the one sheíd just left.
"I know the song, Callisto." Stevie said. "Whatís your point? The next line is ëI did not deal with you I know, though the love has always been. So I search to find an answer there, so I can truly win.í"
Callisto gently touched Stevieís forearm and led her to some trees by the edge of the clearing. Turning to face the Egyptologist now dressed as a warrior, Callisto tenderly pushed an errant strand of hair from Stevieís eyes. "So I try to say goodbye my friend, Iíd like to leave you with something warm, but never have I been a blue calm sea, I have always been a storm." With that she pushed Stevie through the line of trees.
Stevie tumbled backward landing flat on her back on an expanse of rocky ground. "Callisto!" she shouted angrily, but the warrior was nowhere to be seen. The sound of thunder rang loudly in her ears and Stevie sat up. She surveyed her surroundings, not having a clue where she was supposed to be. The sky was an unnatural hue, far too much orange and red to be Earth and the air smelled of noxious gasses.
"What the hell was that for?" Stevie demanded feeling an odd sense of vertigo that reminded her of a nasty inner-ear infection sheíd had when she was twenty. She had memories now, memories that were not her own; she no longer just looked like Callisto- she was Callisto.
It all came flooding back to her in the seconds that followed. The memories, the horror and the power; she was once mortal, died, ate of the tree of life and became immortal. Then she ate Ambrosia stolen from Velaska and became a god. Stevie Nicks Montgomery was a god. Stevie was at once surprised and saddened by this new realization. She stood up scarcely feeling the extreme cold on her skin and tested herself. She threw several fireballs, making nearby rocks explode. She was impressed by what she could now do and saddened that it didnít matter. She had all the power in the world except to do what she desired most, to end her own suffering. Stevie longed for oblivion, an absence of everything for Callisto as much as for herself. No sound, no memory, no thought just the quiet stillness of an infinite amount of nothing. She was in Callistoís body now, she was Callisto; perhaps now she could do for the psychotic warrior what she could not fathom to do as herself ñ she would end Callistoís torment and perhaps end her own as well.
The sky was unnaturally dark, forbidding shades of orange, red and blue mixing tumultuously. Electricity crackled through the atmosphere around her making the molecules radiate with energy. This was an energy she could harness and use. She focused herself on a point in space directly in front of her. Reaching out with her power she gathered the circling storm of energy to her and pushed it at that point in space and time. In moments a fissure opened and she used that small breach to reach into the world she came from. She plunged forward and found herself falling from the sky.
"Just werenít built to hold a real god, were you?" Stevie asked aloud as she stood up.
No longer in Illusia, no longer on the alternate plane of existence she knew she was standing on Greek soil, several days travel from where sheíd been born. Stevie had never been to Greece and was surprised at the familiar smell of the air she breathed. Everything about the place, from the trees all around to the faint scent of salt water carried on an ocean breeze reminded her of home. She was home. She felt in place and out of place at the same time. As nearly drunk with power as she was nearly overcome with infinite sadness Stevie walked down a dirt path surprised by the priest running toward her.
She remembered the cave where a growing demon waited for her; helpless, defenseless it was up to her to bring the Priest of the Flesh to Hope and in exchange she might receive the oblivion she sought. As she considered this, the priest reached her, roughly trying to shove her out of the way.
"Move woman!" he said, "Xena is coming, run for it."
"Who are you?" Stevie asked, curious to see Sarah in her previous incarnation.
"I am the Priest of the Flesh, now move!"
Before really considering what she was doing, Stevie unsheathed her dagger and slit the priestís throat, shocked at how easy it had been; how readily his flesh had given way to her dagger.
As she held the priestís body upright Xena came running up, surprise registering in her face. With the most minimal effort Stevie vanished, taking the priest with her.
"Hi honey, Iím home." Her call was answered by a groan not far off in the distance. "There you are. Hello pumpkin, Auntie Callisto has brought you a little treat. It is what you wanted isnít it? They called him the priest of the flesh. Now shall I carve, or will you?" In a strange way it made sense to Stevie. Callisto was dead inside and it wasnít that far of a leap to kill others, especially priests who were more than willing to sacrifice innocent people to Dahak. Not that she cared for those innocents either. If someone was foolish enough to believe in any god to the point of making oneís own life forfeit, then they deserved what they got.
Hopeís needs met for the time being, Stevie decided to see what Xena was up to. She stretched out with her mind and could sense the warrior. Concentrating, she willed herself there.
While the face looked like Sarahís, Stevie knew it was not. This was Xena, an enemy unlike any other. This woman would stop at nothing to kill her and that was exactly what the Callisto part of Stevie needed to show her.
"Youíre not really happy to see me," Stevie announced upon her arrival. "Neither am I really, but Iíve got a plan to solve both of our problems."
"Why donít you let me in on it?" Xena asked.
"Oh, Xena," Stevie replied, reading the warriorís face as easily as she could read the stuntwomanís. "I tell you and the first thing you know is youíll be trying to stop me. You just trust me. Youíre gonna love it. Well, at least half of it."
"Oh goody." Xena said tightly.
Stevie drew her sword, surprised that she instinctively knew how to use it. "Itís funny I keep this thing around," she explained, "I donít really need it, itís just for decoration, and for fun."
She struck her sword against Xenaís satisfied at the metallic clang that emanated from the contact. "I donít know if Iím toying with you, or if youíre toying with me," she said, unable to keep the flirtation from her voice. "You canít beat me Xena," then awareness dawned, her plan wasnít moving forward at the moment, just as Callisto had been countless times before, Stevie was distracted now. "You can only delay me. Sorry Xena, but Iím on a schedule." She threw a fireball, not hitting Xena, but Ares who appeared from thin air behind her.
He threw his usual taunts which Stevie ignored, as she grabbed the nearby priest and vanished, heading back to the cave, and to Hope.
Stevie was ready to kill the second priest she encountered: The Priest of the Blood, but his quick talking convinced her to bring him inside. If she could be certain her plan would work, to end Callistoís existence and suffering, then at least she had something to work towards. The Priest of the Blood assured Stevie he could talk to Hope, communicate for her and Stevie decided it was worth a shot.
"Very good, molded her cocoon from Geneclies flesh as it is written." The priest said looking at the pulsating cocoon with awe.
"Priest of the Flesh," Stevie observed, "it wasnít that hard to figure out. Now talk to her."
"What do you want us to ask her?" The priest asked, getting to his knees and approaching the cocoon.
"Ask her if she understands what Iím doing and exactly why Iím protecting her." Stevie said clearly, wanting no confusion and not trusting anyone, priest or otherwise who spoke of themselves in third person.
"You want to die?" The priest asked, a trifle confused.
"More than that," Stevie replied. "I want oblivion. I want my life to end; I want it all to stop. No nothing, no memories, not Tartarus, nothing and I know she can do it. Now does she agree?"
The priest shrugged. "The goddess understands and she agrees."
Stevie felt relieved. She knelt by the cocoon gently touching the outer membrane. The ëStevieí part of her was horrified to be touching membranes that had recently been on the inside of another human being. The ëCallistoí part of her could not have cared less. Seeing gore, blood and entrails just served to remind her of so many battles, so much death. "You should have been my child," she said, feeling more like Callisto than Stevie. "You know that? But thatís okay. There is so much power itís almost scary. Daughter of Dahak with the power of her father behind her; yes, quite scary.
As Stevie contemplated Callistoís death she thought of her own as well. More than once sheíd mentioned in therapy any number of ways to off herself. When the depression seemed darkest The American Birthright also known as a handgun seemed the most logical choice. If she was going to die why not also do some good and fuel the backlash against the NRAís rallying cry of a gun in every home. Unlike most women, she had no qualms about the thought of blowing off the back of her head with a hollow point bullet. When she was ever so slightly less depressed she pictured a picturesque spot on the cliffs over a stunning expanse of ocean and taking an impossible curve at full speed, her car filled with propane canisters. This idea was impractical though in the unreliability to die in such a crash and the environmental impact should the explosion work. Suddenly the words of the past-life medium at the Hawthorne Hotel came back to her.
"You name it, youíve done it." Epphie Starshine had said "mostly guns, youíve hanged yourself once, fire plays a big part, youíve orchestrated a number of impressive explosions.
Here she was, once again thinking about the circle going in its continuous loop. Stevie decided that this was the sort of thinking she needed to break free of. She didnít get much farther with her thoughts when she sensed a presence. It was Xena, the woman who would in time become Sarah, her lover. It was impossible to think of this woman as Sarah now, there was no trace of attraction, affection or understanding at all. Even when Stevie and Sarah had fought and cried as they struggled to disentangle themselves emotionally from one another there always remained a sense of who they were for each other.
As with Sarah however there was passion in the fighting. Unlike Sarah at the early stages of the breakup, this was not fighting that led to angry sex, or make-up sex or any kind of sex. This was the kind of fighting that led to dead bodies littering the ground. Stevie was immortal however and ending up a dead body, while her ultimate plan was not about to happen now.
"Oh Xena come on, I know youíre here." Stevie said, waiting for the warrior to show herself. "Still trying to stop me, even though Iím doing you a favor?"
Xena dropped down behind her. "You can do me a favor by handing over Hope," she said.
"Oh, you figured it out did you?" Stevie said surprised the warrior had figured out the plan so quickly; perhaps Xena was smarter than Sarah. "Well no can do. Sheís not quite up to snuff at the moment. Sheís cocooned, helpless; she needs her Auntie Callisto, and you would just run her through."
"Thatís the idea." Xena replied.
"Well I canít let it happen," Stevie explained. "You see I have plans for her, big plans."
"Well forget about them," Xena said defiantly. "Hand over that monster."
"What is this?" Stevie demanded quickly disarming the warrior. "Some kind of martyrdom phase youíre going through? I could kill you in an instant!" Xena kicked and managed to get her sword back. When she did she brought it down squarely on Stevieís wrist, severing her hand. "Nice try," Stevie said, annoyed that she now had to expend the energy needed to grow a new hand. "But that threat only worked when I was immortal, but Iím a god now Xena. Welcome to my world, now get ready to leave it." She pointed with her finger and then paused, glancing up at the roof of the cave.
Having paid attention to her previous dreams Stevie knew enough not to use the fireballs in the cave, as it would only bury her under a pile of rocks that would take time to emerge from.
"Oh clever, clever girl," she said, seeing that was Xenaís plan. "You want me to use my powers in here so all these stupid rocks come tumbling down on me."
"Youíre a god, it wonít kill ya," Xena replied helpfully.
"No, it wonít kill me, but it will keep me locked up long enough for you to get to my precious little baby. Oh well," she said tossing the sword into her other hand. "Back to basics."
She didnít however consider that possibility when she emerged from the cave and sure enough, Xena used a shield to deflect a fireball and loosen a rockslide. As Callisto numerous times before her, Stevie was buried under a pile of granite. It took time but Stevie managed to unbury herself. As she worked she felt a pang of sympathy for all of the different times Callisto found herself in the same position. The rocks couldnít kill her but that didnít keep them from hurting.
When she finally emerged she headed to the Halls of War and it wasnít long before Hope emerged from her cocoon, an identical copy in age and appearance to Gabrielle, her mother. Obviously Stevie was dreaming, the humor was beyond comical. Stevie laughed out loud as Gabrielle looked in horror at Hope. On occasion Fate had a sense of humor.
"Oh, the mother and child reunion," Stevie said, actually enjoying the surreal moment of the dream. "Iím all misty eyed." Xena raised her sword and with a glare Hope disarmed her. "Oh now sheís scary," Stevie said. "And you missed your one chance before she hatched."
Xena raised her chakram and for a moment Stevie was genuinely concerned that the newly hatched goddess might not be quick enough to evade the blade. Moving on instinct alone, she attacked, trying to keep Xena off balance and keep Hope alive, long enough for the promise made by the child-goddess to be fulfilled. Powerful as Xena was she wasnít a god and before long Stevie had the warrior on her knees gasping for air.
"Hope is just using you, Callisto." Xena said, between pants. "I wouldnít turn my back on her."
"Like you turned your back on precious little Gabrielle?" Stevie asked. "Yeah, I guess you speak from experience, huh?" Stevie threw a fireball, only to be tripped and have it miss itís mark. It hit the ceiling and once again granite rained down burying Stevie in another pile of rocks. Stevie was beginning to understand Callisto's endless frustration with her existence and desperate desire to be freed from this life, even though it meant the absence of any other.
She freed herself and was about to try another fireball when Hope demanded to be taken away. Dahak had more important things in mind and while Stevie was still angry at being buried under a rock pile twice in the span of several hours she wasnít about to argue.
They returned to the site of the attempted sacrifices and Hope demanded a disguise. "I donít know why you want to look like her," Stevie said. "Sheís an annoying little..." One glare from the goddess and Stevie kept the rest of the statement to herself. It was indeed becoming troubling deciding where Callisto ended and she began. Stevie didnít really think Gabrielle annoying at all. The fact that her looks favored Lizzy endeared her quite strongly to the Egyptologist. Still, using Callistoís powers she did as she was asked and Hope did indeed look exactly like Gabrielle. This was one aspect of it all that made things easier for Stevie. Gabrielle and Lizzy looked very similar but not identical. Lizzyís hair was a lighter blonde, void of any strawberry tint and much shorter. Their faces were the same, and that was causing enough conflict as it was.
"Very well, so be it." She extended a jet of flame and Hope emerged. "Well I guess it is a good disguise, and youíll attract less attention than walking around naked I suppose."
Stevie and Hope returned to the temple of Ares. She was ready for a fight but instead watched in horrified shock as Hope pulled the godís face towards her. They kissed deeply, his hands roaming over her body and the warrior felt her mouth go dry. Warrior, Egyptologist, it was hard for Stevie to know what she was anymore. All she knew is that she was watching someone who looked very much like Lizzy kissing a man and it was making her sick to her stomach. Stevie felt very much like she was being played. Like shades of Hurricane Katherine all over again, the sight made Stevie nauseous and the only place she could think to escape was to Xena.
She found Xena with Gabrielle on their way to Aresí stronghold.
"Iím not here to fight you Xena, Iím just here to chat." Stevie explained, doing her best to look harmless.
"Let me guess," Xena replied. "Things didnít work out with Hope quite the way you expected?"
"No, actually the sight of her and Ares rolling around like weasels made me sick." Stevie didnít bother mentioning Hurricane Katherine, while that would have elicited shades of sympathy and understanding from Sarah, she wasnít due to be born for over two thousand years.
"Hope and Ares?" Gabrielle asked, surprised.
"Why yes Gabrielle," Stevie replied. "It seems your daughter is in heat."
"So youíre switching sides, again." Xena said.
"For a price," Stevie stated, emphatically. "I help you put Dahak back in the bottle, and you help me die. I figure youíve got a bead on that Hindís blood dagger, I figure Hercules probably told you where it is. It can kill a god you know." She looked at Xena, trying to read the warriorís expression. "So how about it? I scratch your back, you stab mine?"
"Whatís the matter?" Xena asked. "Existence getting to be a bit of a burden?"
"Yes, honestly." Stevie replied, happy for the opportunity to be completely truthful on so many levels with Sarahís ancestor. "I yearn for oblivion, annihilation... peace if you will."
"You helped that demon kill my son, you think Iím going to help you find peace?"
"Then Iíll just go back and do Hopeís bidding." Stevie replied, hoping that would change Xenaís mind.
"You do that." Xena said. "Iíve beaten you before, I can beat you again. May you live forever."
That stung Stevie in places of her psyche beyond those occupied by Callisto. It was the same tone Sarah had used in announcing their breakup and it echoed with Stevie still. While stubbornness was a trait Sarah carried all these centuries later; it was one that Stevie was adept at maneuvering around.
"I like the idea of you having to live with your suffering," Xena said when Stevie had tried to convince her once again of killing Callisto with the Hindís blood dagger.
"Who said anything about suffering?" Stevie asked, "Itís more of a boredom thing, an emptiness really."
She was surprised beyond belief that it was Gabrielle who talked Xena into letting her help. Stevie wasnít surprised, it made sense; there was a clear headedness to Gabrielle that Lizzy seemed to have inherited all of these years later. She walked with the two of them for the rest of the day.
They stopped to save some villagers from the dubious distinction of being rounded up to be sacrifices to Dahak. Stevie enjoyed the opportunity to turn her fireballs to the priests of Hope whoíd proven to be as rewarding as any other failed relationship. Venting some of that rage she exploded the occasional building and made the robes of several priests burst into flames. She was surprised, but the wanton destruction did indeed make her feel a bit better. Village saved, she continued on with Xena and Gabrielle until nightfall. She could have easily waited for them to reach wherever it was they would camp for the night and simply appear at their side, but Stevie wanted the company. There was a symmetry to the three of them even though she was the one they battled time and again and given her desire, to have her existence end, it made fitting sense to spend her last moments with two people she hated more in this life, and loved more in another than anyone on earth.
It was time to make camp and Xena built a fire. Gabrielle had looked at Stevie suspiciously the entire day and said she wanted to turn in early. As much as she knew about the relationship between the two, she didnít think there was any chance that Xena would show any vulnerability tonight. Gabrielle would sleep by the fire, and while it would have been perfectly acceptable with Stevie for Xena to join her, she knew the warrior would stay up with her, watching her, until morning.
Stevie sat by Xena at the fire as the warrior sharpened her sword. She absently watched the anemic flames struggling against the damp firewood. With an absent flick of her wrist, a bright cheery blaze erupted, filling the campsite with warmth. "No need for firewood with me around," Stevie explained and then looked at the sky.
Stars never ceased to amaze her whenever she got away from the city. Here, in this place and time she could see the stars, as she never had before. No smog, no light pollution, no ring of space debris circling the planet. These were stars! "This is probably the last night sky either of us will ever see," she said conversationally. She thought about what she knew of Callisto and her history. While it might have been more than Callisto could address, with Stevieís years of therapy it was not more than she could handle. "Xena, about your son..." The warriorís blue eyes flashed in anger towards her and it made Stevie angry. The loss of Xenaís son was no more painful in the scheme of things than Callistoís entire life, while she wouldnít burden her future lover with that guilt now, she was going to at least address Callistoís feelings about the boy. "You just wait," she demanded. "Listen to me, I have something to say,"
"So say it," Xena growled.
"That night that I heard you screaming over his body... I want you to know I felt nothing. No pleasure, no sense of fulfillment, I just felt a horrible sense of loneliness." Stevie doubted such a revelation would have much impact on Sarah much less her ancestor but it was honest and it needed to be said.
"Should I feel sorry for you?" Xena asked incredulously.
"I just want my creator to know why I have to enter oblivion. There is nothing for me; all the love and joy I had died that night in Cirra when you killed my family. There was..." Stevie remembered she was Callisto and tried to stay true to the psychotic womanís feelings. "There was hatred and resentment and that was absolutely delicious, wonderful; but now thereís nothing left. Nothing. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, I do." Xena said looking like she had indeed heard Stevie and had not liked what she heard one bit. "Iím going for a walk," she announced.
Stevie sighed and nodded, noting a shift from the bedroll across the fire. She knew Gabrielle wasnít asleep but had wanted to give them their space, or just avoid her, she couldnít really be sure. "So, did we bond?" Stevie asked as Xena stood up.
"No." The warrior answered flatly.
Whether the warrior was cognizant of the fact or not they had indeed bonded and Stevie was going to acknowledge it "Good." She said, "Iím going to miss our fireside chats."
The next morning Stevie headed to the temple of Dahak ahead of the others on the off chance that the Hindís blood dagger was there. Unable to find it, she rejoined Xena and Gabrielle making sure that unlike Hope, Xena would stick to her word.
"Try not to die before doing me first," she warned. "Or Iíll make Gabrielle wish you had. Howís that for incentive?" Even in the short time Stevie had been in Callistoís body the bond between Xena and Gabrielle was plainly evident. No one could miss the fact that these two women were desperately in love with each other. In fact, her time in Callistoís body had made Stevie wonder if several thousand years were enough to leave any space for either of them for anyone else. While parts of Stevie wanted oblivion as much as Callisto did, other parts of her were certainly intrigued by some of what life had to offer, most recently her budding relationship with one young archaeologist. Was it only a matter of time before Lizzy came to her senses and realized that Sarah was indeed the Xena to her Gabrielle? Or had that relationship fully run itís course and they were both ready to move on in their later incarnations?
The battle in Dahakís temple began as expected. The dead bodies of Dahakís priests began to pile up as Xena fought her way through to the endless fire pit. Quite unexpectedly, as Xena approached with the Hindís blood dagger it was Gabrielle who raced forward and grabbing Hope plunged headlong into the flaming pit. Both were gone. Hope and Gabrielle were dead.
Stevie knew that it was now or never. Xena leaned over the pit, the Hindís blood dagger forgotten in her hand, devastated as the love of her life just plunged to her death. She was feeling pain beyond words, beyond measure and as much as it hurt Stevie to do it, she had to attack now to make Xena react like a wounded human being, not think like a warrior. She laughed.
"I never thought Iíd feel so good again," Stevie said in between giggles. "Seeing poor, dear, Gabrielle sacrifice herself makes it all worth while." She pressed further, not wanting Xena to take the time to think. Certainly it would have worked on Sarah. "It finally gives me a reason for living and I have you to thank for it Xena."
Xena screamed and spun around with the dagger. She shoved it into Stevieís abdomen, the icy hot pain shooting through her entire body.
"No more living for you," Xena said, her voice thick with grief.
Stevie looked down at the dagger that she and Xena both held onto. Looking up she saw the warrior, her creator, her enemy and her lover all as one. This wasnít the answer, it wasnít the solution but it was too late now. Her life was spilling out and as she slowly drew her hand down the body of the woman she hated and loved she realized how very wrong she had been about everything.
/|\^..^/|\Stevieís eyes fluttered open, she wasnít dead; she was very much alive and lying on her back in a very warm comfortable bed. Lizzy Covington was sleeping soundly, her head resting on Stevieís shoulder, one arm wrapped protectively around her middle. Stevie couldnít overlook how well their two bodies fit together; curves and softness meeting together in all of the right places. Absently she touched the soft crown of blonde hair resting on her shoulder deciding that she really liked the scent of whatever shampoo the archaeologist used.
The dream had given Stevie much to think about and much she wanted to discuss with Sarah. Perhaps it was no mistake that they figured so prominently in each otherís life. The most passionate of enemies transcend space and time to become passionate lovers and then something... else. What the hell were they to each other? Four months of therapy since the breakup hadnít yielded any answers she didnít see why four days on vacation would. Still a part of her had hoped that the answers she sought would miraculously coalesce out of the ether for once in her life.
Leaving Sarah, her thoughts drifted back to the woman sleeping comfortably against her. Idly, Stevie wondered exactly where she wanted this relationship to go. She allowed herself a small smirk given that she was already in bed with the woman, although they were somewhat clothed. She felt a pull at her hip; Lizzy was urging Stevie to roll onto her side. She complied and in moments the slumbering archaeologist had found a new comfortable position with her face nestled in Stevieís t-shirt clad cleavage. Stevie considered that there might be an assertive quality to the archaeologist in the bedroom that she kept well hidden. If anything Lizzy had acted as if interactions between women were quite out of her comfort zone, in spite of the fact that she was a lesbian. Stevie suspected that sheíd take to the whole thing a lot more gracefully than she gave herself credit for. With this in mind, Stevie draped her other arm around Lizzyís body and held her close.
Sheíd never been anyoneís first sexual encounter before and the prospect of that intimidated her. She was usually someoneís first chronic depression sufferer, art historian or Great Dane owner but never first woman. She also wondered logically how it could work. In the immediate sense, there was Lizzyís house that was shared by two ghosts who only barely tolerated her presence and a guesthouse that she was sharing with her ex-girlfriend, two gay men and four evangelical Christians, not to mention Lizzyís cousin. She doubted getting a room at any other hotel would be possible given it was Halloween weekend in Salem. In the larger picture, if she found a way to make sex with Lizzy Covington logistically happen then what? She cared about the archaeologist and didnít doubt that her feelings were mirrored in the woman sleeping quietly in her arms but that was hardly enough. She could come back and visit of course. Sheíd agreed to teach the seminar in the summer and had no doubt she could book as much work-travel as she wanted. The Getty would only be too happy to loan her out and raise their profile in the process. Lizzy could visit her as well; archaeologists were rarely on digs year round and their time off was pretty much their own if they had sufficient funding. But Stevieís track record with long distance relationships wasnít encouraging and Sarah would no doubt point that out. First things first she heard Janeís voice say in her head. There was no point in trying to figure out the logistics of a relationship that technically didnít exist yet. If this sort of thing had to be negotiated, she was happy to leave that to Stevie and Lizzyís future selves.
"Mmmm," Lizzy murmured, drawing Stevie from her thoughts.
Stevie couldnít help but grin as she started a mental count down to when Lizzy would wake up, realize where she was, and panic.
"Comfy?" Stevie asked, her voice a low murmur.
"Yessss," Lizzy replied in kind, moving one leg that was already hopelessly tangled between Stevieís. From her vantage point, Stevie could see the ends of soft eyelashes flutter; fly open and the archaeologistís entire body went rigid.
Lizzy had been having the most wonderful dream involving warmth, softness, smooth skin that wore a delicate an enticing perfume and... fabric softener. The fabric softener bit didnít really fit and Lizzy realized she wasnít really dreaming. She could smell the laundry sheíd washed two days ago. All at once her senses began to report in. Her hand was resting against the small of a t-shirt clad back and she could feel firm muscle. Her legs reported in with information that they were resting against, warm smooth skin as well. No t-shirt barriers here, just skin against skin; warm, recently shaved skin without the slightest hint of stubble; female skin. Lizzy blinked her eyes and opened them to see the white of a t-shirt right in front of her. She was looking at Stevieís breasts. The perfectly proportioned and soft breasts sheíd been sleeping on seconds ago. Lizzy Covington wanted to die. Sheíd woken up in Stevieís arms, arms that were quite tightly wrapped around her.
Stevie held firm, not letting the startled woman bolt from her embrace and fall backwards onto the floor. "Easy tiger," she said soothingly. "I donít want you falling off the bed and cracking your head open. Your grandmotherís would be rather put out about that Iím sure."
"I... um... I canít believe... er..." Lizzy stammered into Stevieís breasts, trying to relax her body and pulling back a little.
"Good morning to you too," Stevie replied with a grin, loosening her hold just a little.
"Would you believe me if I said Iím generally not a cuddler?" Lizzy asked lamely, feeling her cheeks flush crimson. This had to be a new record for her; sheíd been conscious less than a minute and was already blushing.
"I thought you hadnít slept with women before?" Stevie asked relaxing her embrace and letting Lizzy move away a little bit.
"Yeah, but with men," Lizzy offered.
"Oh," Stevie replied in understanding. "Then yes, I would believe you. Who on earth wants to sleep cuddled up with something that smells like... like..."
"A man?" Lizzy offered with a grin. She felt the heat fade a bit from her cheeks. There was something about Stevie that made her self-conscious awkwardness dissipate. Almost as if she didnít mind feeling out of her element and unsure of what to say or do because Stevie genuinely didnít seem to mind. Rather the stunning platinum blonde had been nothing but encouraging and kind when she felt like a fish out of water.
"You date many men?" Stevie asked, curious.
"A few," the archaeologist confirmed. "They were alright I suppose, but really not all that interesting. I certainly donít sound like a babbling idiot around them every two seconds. What about you?"
To Lizzyís surprise it was now Stevie who blushed a little. "A couple, way back when. It was the phase of how do I know I donít like chocolate ice cream if Iíve never had chocolate ice cream?; curiosity satisfied, I moved on." Lizzy nodded in agreement, only she hadnít really gotten to the moving on part yet. "I like the babbling, by the way," Stevie added then continued, "Sarahís never bothered with men, she keeps saying she wants to; I donít think she likes the idea of me having anything up on her in the bedroom. But I respect the fact that she just trusted her gut and didnít look back."
As if on cue there was a thud from downstairs and a rather pathetic wail. "Stteeeevvvviiiieeeeee"
"Speak of the devil," Stevie said with a wink to Lizzy, "I think I hear the call of an outrageous hangover. Iíd better check on my ex-girlfriend." She started to move away and stopped. Leaning in quickly, she kissed Lizzy, her lips softly caressing those of the archaeologist. "Thank you for letting me stay, it was really nice sleeping with you." She said before getting out of bed.
It took a moment for Lizzyís brain to start working again but before Stevie reached the door she realized what didnít fit in her companionsí appearance. "Pants," she said reaching for her dresser. "I think Sarah would feel better if she saw you in pants." Lizzy added, tossing a pair of sweat pants to Stevie.
"Thank you Lizzy," Stevie said. "Iím not sure sheíd notice, but just in case, youíre right. I know Iíd feel better if I were her."
Lizzy put on a pair of sweat pants as well and followed Stevie down the stairs. Sure enough, Sarah had fallen off of the couch and was tangled in the blanket and quilt. Fortunately she hadnít hit her head on the coffee table. Stevie stared at the small table; she didnít remember it being so far away from the couch the night before.
"Gímorning sunshine," Stevie said softly, kneeling down to help Sarah get into an upright position.
"You donít need to shout," Sarah said looking pale with dark circles under her eyes and a mass of black hair that looked like it hadnít been brushed in months. "I feel like crap." She announced solemnly.
"You always do," Stevie said gently with a shake of her head. "Lets get you back up on the couch.
Sarah shook her head. "Bathroom first. Oh fuck, itís upstairs." As the night before, both women helped Sarah up the stairs and back down. And while the stuntwoman may have felt worse about the whole process, it was much easier for the other two with her somewhat sober.
"Shall I fix breakfast?" Lizzy offered, not sure what she could do for the stuntwoman. She was relieved that Covingtonís rarely had hangovers if this was any indication as to how bad they could be.
"Would you mind if Stevie cooked?" Sarah asked hopefully. "She makes this egg and toast thing that is a great cure for hangovers."
"Sure," Lizzy agreed, wondering how many hangovers it took for Stevie to come up with a recipe that would cure it.
"You rock," Sarah muttered and fell back onto the couch, covering her eyes with her arm. "Damn, I had some strange dreams."
"You can tell us all about it when I bring you breakfast." Stevie said, following Lizzy into the kitchen.
"What do you need?" Lizzy asked, opening her ëfridge.
"Bread, eggs, butter, bacon if youíve got it and some of the scotch from last night if Sarah didnít finish the bottle. Oh... before you go get the bottle, take this to Sarah and tell her to drink it." Stevie filled a large glass with water from the tap and in moments Lizzy returned with the nearly empty scotch bottle. "If youíve got cream cheese and dill thatíd be great."
Lizzy gathered the requested ingredients and began cooking bacon as she watched with interest as Stevie prepared breakfast. Stevie cut a half-dollar sized hole in two pieces of bread, buttered each side and put them into a fry pan with a little extra butter. As the bread cooked she cracked an egg and filled each hole, the eggs cooking inside the bread. In a second bowl she broke several more eggs then added some milk and dill weed.
"Do you like scrambled eggs?" Stevie asked as she beat the eggs with a fork. Lizzy nodded and drained the bacon on several paper towels.
Just before pulling the egg filled bread slices out of the frying pan, Stevie added a bit of scotch to the bubbling butter. It immediately steamed up, browning the butter and giving an interesting smoky fragrance to the dish. "I think this part is pointless, but Sarah smells a hint of Scotch and is convinced sheís getting some of the ëhair of the dogí and seems to think her hangover is cured. Frankly, the secret is the water I make her drink before breakfast, but donít tell her that."
Lizzy marveled at the subtle manipulation that appeared to be part and parcel to relationships and wondered if she really was cut out for something like that. She looked up as Stevie was scrambling eggs, preparing her breakfast, and really hoped she was. When the eggs had nearly finished cooking, Stevie added a bit of cream cheese and more dill. She salted them lightly and added quite a bit of pepper. "Iím not much of a cook," the art historian explained, "but I can do breakfast alright. I often end up eating breakfast for dinner as a matter of fact."
"Itís the comfort food quality, isnít it?" Lizzy asked.
Stevie nodded and added. "That and breakfast is just easier. Iím a terrible cook."
Lizzy carried Sarahís plate into the living room and handed it to the stuntwoman. All three sat around the small coffee table. As Sarah ate, Lizzy noticed that the ashen pallor of her cheeks faded and she began to look more like herself.
"So what did you dream?" Stevie asked Sarah.
"Shouldnít I be asking you that?" Sarah asked, and then looked at Stevie and Lizzy both in t-shirts and sweatpants. "Or did you sleep last night?"
"Sarah, donít be a jerk," Stevie chided gently. "I slept just fine. Had my usual interesting walk through Callistoís life, only this time I was Callisto. Actually, you ended up killing me at the end."
"I would never kill you," Sarah said defensively.
"But Xena did," Lizzy replied. "The scrolls arenít really clear on the matter, because they make it seem like Xena killed Callisto a number of times. I think it might be metaphors for simply defeating her in battle, I mean how can you die more than once?"
"Unless your name is Buffy," Sarah muttered.
"In fact I think there is some sort of storytelling license going on with the later scrolls. Most of the scrolls were clearly written by the bard, Gabrielle. But there were others written after she and Xena died in Rome. Like any legend, people continued to tell stories of their exploits long after they actually lived. There were stories of their being the same age, more than twenty-five years later, having children and even traveling to Japan, which they never did. But what did you dream?" Lizzy asked getting the conversation back to Sarah and away from what she and Stevie did or didnít do the previous night.
"I guess it was your grandmothers," Sarah said and then almost as if noticing Lizzy for the first time, began to blush a little. "I canít remember any specifics though," she muttered, clearly lying.
Lizzy smiled. "Relax, Sarah," she assured the stuntwoman. "I think they were playing match maker, I had the same dream myself."
"Are you really that limber?" Sarah asked seriously.
"Okay, maybe a different dream," Lizzy said, blushing.
Sarah laughed, the first relaxed sound sheíd made all morning, "Iím just messing with you," she assured the archaeologist.
Stevie looked from Sarah to Lizzy and felt an uncomfortable pang of jealousy. "You two get to dream about each other and Iím stuck living in the skin of a psychotic killer. This is profoundly unfair," she muttered, knowing full well it wouldnít do any good.
They finished breakfast and Sarah asked if she could shower before heading back to the guesthouse. Lizzy was happy to comply, wanting to do whatever she could to ease the stuntwomanís hangover. She had to admit however, that her color and disposition had steadily improved since breakfast. She also noticed that Stevie was encouraging her to drink water at any opportunity.
"So what are your plans for today?" Lizzy asked as Stevie helped her fold the blanket and quilt from the couch.
"Honestly, we donít have any. I suspect Sarah is going to feel very much like napping and trying to shake the rest of her hangover. I know sheíll want to feel rested for the séance tonight." Stevie replied. "I guess Iíll walk around town again. Do you have any ideas?"
Lizzy felt the color rising to her cheeks once again and felt very much like the South Park character that couldnít talk to pretty girls without throwing up. "I was going to try and do some work today, at the Peabody before my friend Solari shows up. Iíd be happy to show you around the museum if youíre interested?"
"Iíd like that very much," Stevie said with a warm smile. "And just so you know, I think the blushing thing is really sexy."
Lizzy was proud that she managed a genuine laugh even as she felt her color heighten several more shades of red.
/|\^..^/|\"So do you want to tell me about your dream or not?" Stevie asked as she and Sarah walked back to Melís guesthouse.
Stevie felt quite comfortable with the layout of the town and led them to Pickering Warf where sheíd met up with Lizzy earlier. They sat down and enjoyed the sunlight sparkling off of the water and the occasional sea gull diving for its breakfast.
"Iím attracted to her," Sarah said with a sad sigh. "I know you are too and I donít want this to be a clusterfuck."
Stevie considered her words a moment before saying anything. "This may sound like a strange question, but is this a Xena attracted to Gabrielle type thing? Or a Sarah attracted to Lizzy type thing."
"What difference does that make?" Sarah asked quietly.
"It makes a difference because Xena and Gabrielle are generations dead. Lets say for a moment that I buy into all of this past-life stuff and now Iím serving time for mistakes made by another in another lifetime..."
"Stevie," Sarah cut in. "I can barely tolerate you quoting Stevie Nicks every two minutes, Iím not going to put up with you quoting the Indigo Girls too."
"Sorry," Stevie muttered. "My point is Iím trying very much to own the fact that while I may be a reincarnated Callisto, Iím not her. I donít have her baggage, her debts. I can try to figure out what ever it is I need to do to free her, but I shouldnít have to be bound by the prison she made for herself brick by brick. I would think the same would hold true for Xena and Gabrielle. You shouldnít be forced to live that same life over and over, even though weíre talking about a much more positive existence. Why does the Xena soul always have to end up with the Gabrielle soul?"
"Because Gabrielle doesnít end up with Callisto." Sarah said, more anger in her voice than she intended.
"Maybe thatís true," Stevie allowed, determined not to take the jab personally. "But whoís to say that Gabrielle doesnít end up with someone other than Xena. Think back two years ago. If we knew then what we know now, what would you say to Xena and Callisto ending up together?"
Sarah smiled in spite of herself. Two years ago she and Stevie had been deliriously happy together and had albums of photographs to prove it. It was before Stevieís depression resurfaced and at that time Sarah couldnít imagine her life with anyone else and would never have considered that today sheíd sit next to Stevie on a bench and discuss her attraction to another woman. "Two years ago Iíd have totally agreed with you. Iíd have probably said that Xena and Callisto deserved each other for all of the crappy things theyíd done to each other in the past, like it was some sort of penance or something."
"Odd as it sounds I will take that as a compliment," Stevie said. "Iíll admit Iíve got it easier than you," she continued. "Callisto didnít have feelings, not positive ones at any rate. She didnít know or understand love in adulthood so I donít have to sort out which feelings are mine and which are hers. I know now that when I want to blow the back of my head off with a handgun, itís Callisto, but that wanting to get to know Lizzy better, thatís Stevie. And itís Lizzy Iím interested in. Sarah, I really want to work through this Xena and Gabrielle shit, but I want to do so in order to put it behind me. I donít want to live my life through the prism of what went on with these three women several thousand years ago."
"What do I do Stevie?" Sarah asked, blue eyes searching brown. "They showed me last night what itís like. What that completeness feels like, what things could be like with her? Am I supposed to act like I donít know that or that I donít want that?"
Stevie frowned inwardly at the two meddling grandmothers. "What they showed you was their perception. Their connection, their bond and they projected that on you and Lizzy. I get that they donít like me. I get that they donít like Callisto, but even so they canít know that the two of you would be as happy together as they were together."
In silence both women stood and continued on their way to the guesthouse. "You know what I think?" Stevie added as they neared the front door. "I think you should take today and think it over. If you really want to make a play for Lizzy then you should. If you really think you have that kind of connection and itís what you need and that you would be good for her then go ahead. But that isnít going to stop me from doing the same thing."
Sarah stopped, her hand on the doorknob and looked down into Stevieís face, resigned brown eyes looking up into blue. "You really think that you and I competing for the same woman ñ a reincarnated Gabrielle ñ could possibly end with you getting what you want?"
"No Sarah," Stevie said sadly. "Xena has bested Callisto enough times that not being buried under a ton of boulders would be the farthest thing from my mind. But I do know that Lizzy feels something for me, Stevie, not Callisto and I want to see where that road leads. The fact is, Iím getting the sense that Iíve tried the same thing over and over and I keep ending up in the same place lifetime after lifetime. Maybe Iím trying to read something not in the script and see if it ends any differently."
Sarah continued to search Stevieís face, looking for any trace of uncertainty and found none. "Iíll think things over and let you know tonight." She said quietly.
"Thatís all I ask," Stevie replied and gave the taller woman a quick hug before heading into the guesthouse.
Stevie and Sarah entered the guesthouse and could hear the conversational sounds of breakfast. They headed to the kitchen to see Jeff and Susan helping Mel with the dishes while Phil and Dave cleaned up the breakfast table.
"Hey ladies," Dave said cheerily with a wave. Stevie and Susan looked at each other.
"Hey guys," Sarah replied helping herself to a cup of coffee.
"You look a little worse for the wear," Jeff said, a sympathetic grin on his face.
"Nothing a solid day of sleeping wonít cure," Sarah replied, adding cream and sugar to her coffee.
"We were going to watch some Halloween movies," Susan explained. "Get us all into the mood for our séance tonight. You girls are welcome to join us."
Sarah shrugged. "Iíll see how Iím doing after a nap, sounds fun though. Stevie?"
Stevie didnít speak right away she blushed slightly and glanced at Mel, worried that her designs on his cousin were evident on her features.
"Iím making popped corn," Mel said enticingly.
"That sounds great," she finally said. "But Lizzy invited me to the Peabody to look at some of her work."
Without saying a word Jeff reached into his pocket withdrawing a twenty-dollar bill and handed it to Phil.
Sarah frowned at Phil. "Do we want to know what youíre betting on?" the stuntwoman asked dangerously.
Phil looked a bit sheepish as he pocketed his money. "Mel told us about his cousin and we figured one of you two would end up with her."
"Our vacation isnít over yet," Sarah warned Phil with a glare, "donít spend that twenty."
"Youíre letting guests bet on your cousinís love life?" Stevie asked Mel, her voice etched with stern disapproval.
"Well itís not as if I bet," Mel offered weakly. "If I had Iíd have bet on you though," he offered hoping that would soften the Egyptologistís displeasure.
"That isnít making me any less annoyed," Stevie said looking at him darkly. There was something in her expression that rattled Sarah. Sheíd seen Stevie angry a number of times to be sure; their break up was peppered by numerous angry and sad outbursts, but there was a level of threat to Stevieís expression that the stuntwoman had never seen before. "Iím going upstairs to shower and change," Stevie told Sarah quietly. "Iíll catch up with you when Iím finished at the Peabody, is that okay?"
"Sure," Sarah said, unsure about her exís abrupt mood shift.
"Dinner is at seven, if youíd like to join us before the séance," Mel said apologetically, searching for some way back into the blondeís good graces.
Sarah glanced at Stevie and smiled, trying to lighten the mood. "That sounds great, count us in." They watched as Stevie headed up the stairs to the attic.
"For someone winning the bet, sheís awfully pissed off," Jeff observed after Stevie was out of earshot.
"You donít seem too worried?" Sarah asked, noting that Mel was smiling to himself as he dried a coffee cup with a dishtowel.
"How can I be worried when someone is more protective of my cousin as I am?" he asked. Then he looked Sarah up and down. "So I take it youíve got your eye on Lizzy as well?" he asked.
Sarah looked wistfully at the stairs, whishing sheíd made her escape when Stevie did. Instead she accepted the second cup of coffee that Mel poured and surrendered to his good-natured interrogation.
Stevie had nearly finished dressing when Sarah opened the door to the attic room, only taking time to kick her shoes off before collapsing on the bed. "Are you really going to the museum?" she asked, noting that Stevie was dressed less casually than she had for most of their vacation.
"Yes," Stevie explained, fastening a small gold hoop earring. "Iím really going to the museum, Iím really going to take a look at her research. You can come with if you want to."
"Iíll pass," Sarah said, adjusting her body to a more comfortable position. "Museums arenít my thing." She looked Stevie up and down deciding that she really liked the way she looked in that aqua cashmere sweater. Sheíd also donned the cool boots sheíd bought on Melrose and Sarah felt a small pang of jealousy.
Stevie saw Sarahís reflection in the mirror and sighed. "Iím only wearing the boots because you made me bring them." Sarah glanced away, not enjoying it when Stevie could read her expression like a map. "Iíd be wearing the same thing if I were going somewhere with you."
Sarah rolled her eyes. If she werenít hung over she would indeed want to go somewhere with Stevie have more drinks than would be wise and perhaps relive old times. The fact that she wanted this made the stuntwoman consider that last nightís Scotch was probably very much still in her system. "Donít take this the wrong way but have fun, okay?"
"Are you wishing me luck?" Stevie asked, turning to look at Sarah directly.
"No, but Iím telling you to enjoy your vacation because you totally deserve it." Sarah replied with a small smile. "Iíll see you later."
"Get some sleep and youíll feel better," Stevie said kindly as she kissed the top of Sarahís head before grabbing her purse. "Drink some water, hydrate yourself. Iíll see you in a few hours." She stopped at the doorway and looked back again. Sarah was watching her intently. "I love you, you know that, right?" she said.
The stuntwoman nodded. "I love you to. Weíre fucked up, but weíre solid."
Stevie smiled warmly. "Iíll take fucked up, sweetie. With you, Iíll take fucked up."
/|\^..^/|\The walk to the Peabody/Essex Museum was a pleasant one and Stevie enjoyed the crisp chill in the air. Yesterdayís snow hadn't stuck and it was noticeably warmer, but still much colder than October in Southern California. She wondered if sheíd been entirely honest with Sarah. Would she have worn a soft clingy sweater and stylish boots if sheíd just planned on some shopping with the stuntwoman? A part of her wanted to think she would, but another part of her knew better. There had been a time when sheíd dress to impress Sarah, but that time had passed. If anything Stevie tried to dress down more around the stuntwoman if only to not make her have second thoughts about the breakup. It would have devastated her to know that Sarah found her even sexier in jeans and a sweatshirt than any of the pricy business suits she owned.
She walked up to the ëwill callí window at the museum and gave her name. The attendant quickly signed her in and picked up the phone, placing a call. In a couple of minutes Lizzy appeared at the museumís entrance to escort her in.
"Howís Sarah feeling?" Lizzy asked conversationally, holding the door open for Stevie to pass.
"Sheís going to sleep it off. I think sheíll be fine by tonight." She shrugged. "She doesnít do this very often, but when she does itís never half-assed."
Lizzy chuckled. "Sarah doesnít strike me as the type of person who does anything half-assed."
"She isnít." Stevie said quietly, more to herself than anyone else. She remembered that Sarah had expressed an interest in Lizzy and she knew from personal experience how disarmingly charming the stuntwoman could be when she put her mind to it. Stevie glanced over at the woman leading the way into the back rooms of the museum. If she and Sarah were going to compete for Lizzyís affection, did she stand much of a chance? Was it even fair to Lizzy to make her choose?
"This is my research lab," Lizzy explained, pushing in a heavy door. "Home sweet home."
Stevie looked around, impressed. The room was larger than expected, not quite as imposing as the cavernous restoration rooms at the Getty, but still large. A Laminar flow bench was at one end of the room with different artifacts resting in a variety of support structures. There was a large microscope on itís own table as well as an array of large flat files and several plexi-glass cases that housed a variety of artifacts, weapons and clothing. Not far from the table with the microscope was a work desk with a huge bookcase behind it. Most surprisingly was the worktable in the center of the room with several bolts of cloth and a sewing machine.
Lizzy took off her leather jacket and she heard the archaeologistís breath catch.
"You sew?" Stevie asked with a small smile, admiring the sewing machine and pretending not to notice the archaeologist staring at her sweater.
"Iím working on replicating armor and other clothing from Xenaís period." Lizzy explained, forcing herself to look at the table and not at Stevieís sweater. "Here, take a look." She pointed to several outfits. "This black armor was something that Xena wore in her younger days, itís a bit smaller than the brown." Stevie remembered the black outfit with the intricate wirework from the dream where the warrior had sacked Cirra. "She switched to the brown shortly before she met Gabrielle," Lizzy explained. Indeed it was the same outfit Stevie had seen Xena wear as recently as last night. "This costume my grandmother made back in the forties," the archaeologist added reverently touching the soft brown leather skirt and top. "Iíve been working on a newer version to wear tomorrow night; same exact pattern though."
Stevie looked with awe at the meticulously crafted outfit that Lizzyís grandmother had stitched by hand. Every detail was perfect, every feather expertly woven into the garment, all materials true to their period. "Itís breathtaking," she whispered. She turned her attention to the replica Lizzy was working on. Every bit of craftsmanship was there, the stitching, expertly tooled leather, finely woven feathers. "Other than some fading, I canít tell the difference between your grandmotherís outfit and yours."
"Thatís sweet of you to say," Lizzy replied beaming. "But Iím a little larger than grandma Janice. She didnít do as much working out and I tried her skirt on and itís a little tight."
"Not to mention short," Stevie said appreciatively giving herself a mental picture of how the young archaeologist would look in the outfit.
"Yeah, well I think the weather was pretty warm then." Lizzy said, blushing a little.
"It was; the summers were murder." Stevie said absently then looked up, surprised by what sheíd just said.
"I slip sometimes myself," Lizzy reassured her. "It gets more difficult when youíre surrounded by the old artifacts, keeping past life stuff from creeping in. Janice explained the phenomenon to me growing up so Iím not as startled when it happens."
"Iím not totally convinced I believe in all of this past life stuff," Stevie said as she walked down the length of the table and came to a stop at the far end.
"Wait until you slip a few dozen times," the archaeologist offered sympathetically. "I didnít really want to buy into it myself but..." she shrugged.
Stevie studied the black outfit at the end of the table that Lizzy had been working on. This one had silver accents, chain mail and two snakes circling each other at the front of the skirt. Stevie touched the leather reverently; it felt to her like a second skin. "Iím not sure which of Xenaís periods this is from," Lizzy explained, standing next to Stevie. "I saw the sketches and patterns in one of grandma Janiceís notebooks but havenít found the scroll passage that identifies it. Do you have any ideas?"
"Oh yes," Stevie murmured, picking up the skirt and wrapping it around her waist. "This isnít Xenaís. Do you think this would fit Sarah?" she asked as the skirt closed around her with perfect snugness.
"This is Callistoís?" Lizzy breathed, stunned. "Holy shit," Lizzy took the skirt from Stevie, tracking along the embossed snakes with the tip of her finger. "Iím not sure that Janice knew sheíd made a Callisto discovery. If she did she didnít write about it. This is really something." Tentatively she reached for another piece of armor. "Does this fit?" she asked. "The sketch only indicated one, is that right?"
Stevie looked around the studio. "Is anyone going to come in here?" she asked. When Lizzy shook her head, Stevie pulled her sweater over her head before she had time to think about it. Without a word she offered her arm to the archaeologist. "And yes, she just wore one of those," Stevie nodded at the piece of armor. "On my right arm. My sword arm."
Lizzyís head was spinning. Sheíd hoped that Stevie would pull up the sleeve of her sweater, she never expected her to take it off. Furthermore she was not expecting her to be wearing the worldís most gorgeous lacy black bra underneath. Lizzyís mouth went dry and moist at the same time and she furiously thought of something to say.
"Nice bra," she stammered before realizing she hadnít kept that thought internal.
"Glad you like it," Stevie replied with a smile. In moments both women were laughing and feeling a little more comfortable. Stevie patiently waited while Lizzy attached the armor to her arms and chest. A sword housed in its leather scabbard was attached to her back and a dagger was attached to her hip.
"This is amazing," Lizzy muttered as she worked. "Janice had the measurements down perfectly; this fits you like a glove. There is no way this could have fit Xena, she was taller and..." she glanced at Stevie shyly, "thicker? Iím not sure if thatís the right word. Do you mind if I take a few notes?" she asked. "This is so much easier to see on a model."
"No problem," Stevie replied and glanced at the worktable. "Do you want me to put the rest on?"
Lizzy smiled hopefully. "If you didnít mind, that would be fantastic. Can I get you a drink or something? Diet coke?"
Stevie chuckled, noting how Lizzy would conveniently disappear while she took her pants off. "Xena is the Diet Coke drinker, Callisto prefers regular Pepsi."
"One Pepsi coming up," Lizzy said with a smile and headed out the door.
Stevie had finished with the straps on her boots when Lizzy returned. She glanced up to see the archaeologist frozen at the door, an unreadable expression on her face. Stevie walked over, not wanting to see a now forgotten can of Pepsi end up on the pristine workroom floor. As she moved, she was surprised at the saunter she could not keep out of her stride. Something about the boots was making her walk different.
"My drink," she said quietly, reaching for the can of Pepsi.
"I donít know where you put the calories," Lizzy muttered fighting to keep the awe out of her voice and failing.
"This doesnít seem very effective for armor," Stevie commented looking down at herself. She had a flash of déjà vu to the previous nightís dream and tried to force that memory from her mind. Sheíd died in this outfit, more than once and that thought was disturbing. "There isnít a hell of a lot of it here."
"Do you feel kind of strange in it?" Lizzy asked casually picking up a staff from the worktable.
"A little, yeah," Stevie replied. Without warning Lizzy swung the staff at Stevieís armored arm, her sword arm. In a flash sheíd reached behind her, drawn the sword and effectively blocked the blow. "Fuck." Stevie whispered staring in disbelief at the sword.
"The main point of the armor is to provide freedom of movement, and I guess distract your opponent, which it does very well by the way. There is something about the artifacts that triggers memories and abilities. Youíll be able to use a sword as long as youíre not thinking about it." Stevie put the weapon down on the table, the knowledge of its use not making her feel empowered, but rather enslaved to the past.
Lizzy moved over to Stevie and taking out a measuring tape and notebook began to make some sketches. "So this party Iím going to tomorrow," she said conversationally as she jotted down notes and measurements. "Itís here, at the museum. Costumes are required, and period ones at that. You have to be a historical figure to attend."
Stevie saw where this conversation was headed and had decidedly mixed feelings about it. "I brought a Courtney Love outfit," she offered. "Would that work?"
"Not exactly," Lizzy replied, readjusting the position of several of the armorís straps and taking careful notes. "Would you and Sarah be willing to wear these outfits?" she asked.
If Stevie were to try and come up with an instance in life where she felt more conflicted she would have been unable to think of one. Sarahís words about Gabrielle not ending up with Callisto echoed in her head. She glanced at the soft brown leather outfit with hammered brass fittings. She saw the sword and chakram lying there and could picture quite easily exactly how Sarah would look. She looked at the outfit next to it, fit for an Amazon Queen and could easily imagine Lizzy dressed as such. The two of them would make a stunning pair and while part of her would do anything to keep that from happening, from them seeing each other as their former selves, it was strangely the Callisto part of Stevie that wanted to make that happen.
Stevie figured it made sense. Callisto didnít have any feelings beyond annoyance for Gabrielle so what did she care if Lizzy fell in love with Xena all over again. It was Stevie who had something to lose and it was the Callisto part of her that decided that was an acceptable price to pay for working out her issues with Xena once and for all. With a heavy heart, Stevie nodded. "Weíd be happy to," she said quietly.
"Iím pretty sure Xenaís outfit will fit Sarah," she said not realizing the acute loss her companion was feeling. "Janice... ah... had Melinda try this on more than once and I took the pattern from her armor."
"Is this whole outfit a replica?" Stevie asked as Lizzy began to undo the binding and remove the armor from her arms. "The sword and dagger are real," she explained, "So be kind of careful with them. I mean obviously theyíre pretty sturdy to have lasted this long, just donít drop them into any lava pits or anything."
Stevie winced at the comment, realizing that Lizzy hadnít meant that literally but the memory stung all the same. Lizzy moved to her desk, subtly turning her back on Stevie while she put the notebook and measurements away. Taking the opportunity to not embarrass the archaeologist further, Stevie removed the skirt, boots and top and put her clothes back on.
"Are you coming to the séance tonight?" Stevie asked, letting Lizzy know it was safe to turn around.
"Yeah," she agreed, smiling bashfully. "Solari, the medium for tonight, is an old friend and should arrive at my place in a couple of hours. Weíll catch up, have some dinner and head over to Melís." Stevie nodded, keeping a casual smile on her face. She realized that sheíd had dinner with the archaeologist every night sheíd been in Salem and would miss her presence. "Iím really sorry Solari isnít a local who can just show up at Melís at nine oíclock." She said. "Iím going to miss having dinner with you tonight."
"Are you reading my mind?" Stevie asked.
Lizzy shook her head. "No, just thinking the same thing. Come on; let me show you the research Iíve been doing. After, I can give you a personal tour of the Yin Yu Tang house and let you get back to check on Sarah before Solari arrives."
"Sounds good to me," Stevie said with a warm smile.
/|\^..^/|\It was several hours later that Stevie walked back to Melís guesthouse. She had no doubt that Lizzy would be late in meeting up with her friend, but didnít really feel bad about it. Selfishly she was happy for the time she got to spend in the archaeologistís company, looking at her research and comparing ideas and restoration techniques. The Yin Yu Tang house was fascinating as was the incredible task of taking apart such a large house and putting it back together brick by brick.
The party atmosphere of Salem had increased noticeably from the previous night. Although it was still early, costumed enthusiasts were gathered in groups along the main drag enjoying themselves and wishing each other well. If this crowd were any indication, the revelry in twenty-four hours would be unreal.
Arriving at the guesthouse Stevie heard the sounds of conversation and laughter coming from the sitting room of the great house. Stevie walked in to see Mel, Jeff, Phil, Susan, Dave, and Sarah seated with bowls of popped corn watching TV.
"Stevie!" Sarah called happily. "Youíre just in time, weíre about to start Practical Magic."
"Itís a Halloween tradition," Mel explained, loading the DVD into the player. "Pizza, beer and movies, no better way to spend a Halloween eve."
"Where are the Hendersons?" Stevie asked curiously, taking the seat on the couch that Susan and Dave made for her.
"At a prayer service," Dave explained sadly. "Weíve known them a long time, and theyíre good people but..."
"They spend too much time hitting other people in the head with their bible than actually reading it," Phil supplied helpfully.
"Something like that, yeah," Dave agreed sadly.
"We honestly thought they wanted to come to Salem to see what it was like. How the other half lives, so to speak," Susan explained. "We didnít know they were only interested in prayer meetings and showing the locals how pious they are."
"Doesnít really impress this crowd," Mel said with a shrug. "Salem is in Massachusetts after all."
"So weíre letting them do what they want and theyíre writing us off as lost souls," Dave added with a shrug.
Stevie accepted the bowl of popped corn Susan handed her. "Funny thing about lost souls," she said. "They tend to come back. Repeatedly."
The movie was about to start when a knock sounded at the door. With a confused expression on his face Mel answered the door, leaning against one of his crutches. Sarah and Stevie heard a familiar voice as Epphie Starshine was ushered into the sitting room.
"Folks," Mel said a bit shyly, "This is Epphie, sheís a friend of the family since..."
"We go way back," Epphie explained smiling in recognition at Sarah and Stevie and nodding her hellos to everyone else as they were introduced. "Lizzy called me this afternoon. She said you had an open spot for the séance."
Stevie looked over at Sarah who had the good grace to look guilty. "Mel had me call Lizzyís studio when I told him that weíd run into her the other night," she said quietly. Then dropping her voice to a whisper added, "it was so cute, heís got a thing for her but was too embarrassed to call."
"So when she told you that youíre a redemptive force, you took that to mean matchmaker?" Stevie asked, glad to see her friend actually blush.
"Can you have a séance with more than one psychic?" Sarah asked, ignoring Stevieís question. "Isnít it like having two bus drivers?"
"Think of it more like a pilot and co-pilot," Epphie explained with a smile, taking a glass of lemonade that Mel had rushed into the kitchen to get for her. "Weíve known Solari for years, sheíll be running the show, but Iíll be here to back her up should we get crowded with spirits." She smiled warmly at Sarah and Stevie, "which wouldnít surprise me."
Sarah gave up her spot on the love seat she shared with Mel so Epphie could sit down. She tossed a throw pillow on the floor and sat down resting her back against Stevieís legs. Everyone enjoyed the movie and pizza; relaxing in the camaraderie as the hours passed. Theyíd finished Practical Magic and a number of Simpsonís Halloween Specials when Mel noticed the time. Everyone had offered to help set up for the evening and he was happy to take advantage of the help and assigned various tasks.
Dave and Jeff covered the great dining table with a black velvet tablecloth. Susan set up the candles that would be lit when Solari arrived. Phil made sure there were seats for everyone and covered the large mirror on the wall with another piece of black velvet. Sarah and Stevie cleaned up the sitting room, throwing away the empty pizza boxes and putting the beer bottles in the recycling bin.
It seemed to Stevie as if her namesake had come in and waved a magic wand transforming the dining room. It almost looked like the Madame Leota set from Disneylandís Haunted Mansion. The changes werenít drastic, but the mood had shifted completely. A warm friendliness changed to thoughtful somberness; to Stevie the difference was welcome. Something about the dark and gothic was a comfort to her and this room was now certainly that.
All of the couples retired to their rooms to change. Mel had requested everyone wear dark colors. Not because it mattered to the spirits one way or the other, but because they were all joining in an event, and the mood they projected was very much a part of it. He made it clear that a séance wasnít something dark or scary, but it wasnít frivolous either and to kindly dress accordingly.
Stevie and Sarah smiled when they turned around, both holding their own pair of black leather pants. "Rock paper scissors to see who gets to be butch?" Sarah asked teasingly.
"No reason we canít both wear ëem," Stevie replied. "I think Iíll wear the black silk blouse."
"The one your bra totally shows through?" Sarah asked pointedly.
"Itís going to be dark Sarah, relax." Stevie replied feeling a little more pleasure at the stuntwomanís jealous glare than she probably should.
/|\^..^/|\Mel and Epphie had been arranging long pillar candles on either side of the dining room when he heard the front door open. Solari and Lizzy entered greeting the other two with hugs and kisses all around.
"Epphie, itís so good to see you," Solari said warmly, hugging the pregnant woman. "What has it been seven years?"
"Something like that," Epphie replied.
"When is she due?" Solari asked with a glance to the pregnant womanís midsection.
"You never told me it was a she!" Lizzy protested.
Epphie smirked. "Technically I donít officially know," she said making Solari smile apologetically. "But I suspected ësheí as well. Sheís due in six weeks."
Solari shook her head. "I think sheíll wait four... if youíre lucky."
The Medium looked around the room, "Brad isnít here."
Epphie shook her head a little sadly. "He left shortly after finding out our daughter was on the way. Youíll have to sit down for that whole story though." Lizzy couldnít help but notice the conflict that darted across her cousinís face. She knew heíd always had a thing for Epphie, since the two of them went to high school together. The archaeologist suspected that he couldnít decide if he was happy or angry that Brad had left. Neither of them had been fond of the high school jock. Lizzy knew that feeling of conflict having experienced it herself for the past several days and didnít pity her cousin. "You donít visit this coast enough," Epphie went on to say, "you need to catch up on the gossip."
Solari shrugged and sighed wistfully. "It isnít for lack of desire," she explained. "Iíd be more than happy to have criminals take a vacation and put me out of business. But work keeps me pretty busy. I did catch up on a little of the gossip at any rate." She added with a smile to Lizzy.
"What do you think?" Epphie asked. "Blonde or brunette?"
"Guys, Iím standing right here," Lizzy interjected momentarily relieved that these reunions didnít happen more often.
"Iíve got my guesses but Iíd hate to spoil the surprise for dear Lizzy," Solari said with an affectionate smile.
"Well letís go in the other room and compare notes while they finish fixing up the room," Epphie suggested.
Solari smiled, "Thatíd be great. I need to change clothes anyway."
"Iíll bring you something to drink," Mel offered, "Have a seat in the sitting room and Iíll bring it right in."
"Youíll do no such thing," Epphie protested. "I havenít seen Solari in years, you take a load off and Iíll bring her a drink. Besides youíve been up on that leg enough today."
When the two old friends were safely out of earshot Mel turned to his cousin, unable to resist the temptation of tousling her hair. "Have a good time catching up with Solari?" He asked.
Lizzy nodded glancing in the direction of the sitting room. "Yeah, seeing her is great. Iím glad she was able to fly in to do this. Itís really sweet of her. I could live without getting teased by both of them though."
He grinned; glad the two had decided not to pick on him. "You know they adore you, thatís why they tease."
"Yeah, I guess so." Lizzy agreed absently.
"But..." Mel asked, sensing his cousinís distraction.
"But what?" Lizzy asked, trying to decide just how much she wanted to tell her cousin. Theyíd always been fairly close growing up but had bonded even more closely after the death of their grandmothers and his parents. While Lizzy felt like she could tell him anything, that didnít necessarily mean she wanted to.
"You seem... distracted, not to mention more dressed up than Iíd expect you to be for a séance." Mel said looking his cousin up and down.
Lizzy was wearing a nice pair of black pinstriped slacks with a deep green blouse. Her makeup was understated, but the fact that she was wearing any at all spoke volumes to her cousin.
"Well you said dress up," Lizzy replied.
"And when I said it you said ëforget ití as I remember." Mel shrugged. "I know Iíd be preoccupied if both of our Californian visitors were interested in me."
"Did they say something?" She asked with interest.
Mel grinned happy to be able to bolster his cousinís confidence. "The guys, Jeff and Phil made a bet this morning that either Sarah or Stevie would make a play for you. When they came back from your place, Stevie mentioned she was meeting up with you later. Jeff paid Phil the twenty bucks for the bet and both women got pissed off. Sarah was pissed that Phil hadnít bet on her and Stevie was royally mad that they were betting on your love life at all. Sarah said something about their vacation not being over yet and not to count her out. The two of them were quiet upstairs for awhile before Stevie left for the museum." He shook his head torn between pride and worry. "I donít know cuz, I feel like I should be reminding you about birth control or something..."
"Well fortunately Iím spared that speech." Lizzy said with a grin.
"Seriously, I want you to be careful," he said quietly. "I donít want you to feel like youíre getting into anything over your head. I donít want either of them pressuring you..."
"Please Mel, stop. Iím not sixteen. I think I can handle myself and if I end up getting into anything over my head... well itís about time." Lizzy replied.
"Solari seems to think youíve got a favorite, do you?" Mel asked as he began to light the numerous candles in the dining room. "Personally I think Sarah is the more easy going of the two. Theyíre both stunning but... I donít know. Something about Stevie is kind of off-putting. Like sheís got a dark side or something. She seems really sweet, but dangerous at the same time." Lizzy nodded absently. "Besides," he added, reassuring himself. "Youíve always been attracted to brunettes, right?"
"I guess... I dunno," Lizzy said quietly, watching one of the candle flames flicker seductively. "Stevieís got a lot of darkness, thatís true. I sense that danger thing too, but itís the kind of danger that only gets reflected inward. I think Iím kind of drawn to that, want to do something about that."
"Have you considered having a less complicated first girlfriend?" Mel asked hopefully.
Lizzy smirked, reaching up and tousling his hair for a change. "Who said anything about getting a girlfriend?" She was happy to see someone other than her do the blushing.
"Iím going to put on some nicer clothes," Mel said making a hasty retreat to his bedroom.
The guests began to drift into the dining room shortly before nine oíclock. Mel arrived first, a dark pair of casual slacks covering his cast and a soft nit sweater. Jeff and Phil made their entrance both looking dashing is crisp suits. Jeff was dressed in dark grey and Phil had chosen a deep blue. Susan and Dave Evans arrived looking a little less dressed up, but theyíd kept their colors muted. She wore a dark green skirt and sweater and Dave had on brown kaki pants and his ubiquitous Polo shirt.
Lizzy turned her head as she heard booted footfalls on the stairs to see Stevie and Sarah arrive. Both were wearing stylish boots and leather pants, Sarah opting for a thin black sweater and Stevie in a black silk blouse. As the pair descended the stairs the archaeologist considered that each woman wore black in an entirely different manner. On Sarah the color matched to her dark hair and made the most colorful part of her body, her vibrant blue eyes stand out; it was hard not to stare at the striking azure pools of light. On Stevie the color black contrasted most with her platinum blonde hair drawing attention to her whole face. There was further contrast with her dark eyebrows and soft brown eyes. There was a glint of metal and Lizzy could see the small crescent moon necklace dangling enticingly above her cleavage. The same place Lizzy had woken up that morning. The archaeologist was grateful of the dimly lit room, hoping that her blushing wouldnít be as obvious but she suspected this was not the case when Stevie gave her a small wink and a smile.
Solari and Epphie came in from the sitting room. Epphie wearing the skirt and sweater from before but Solari had changed into a long black Victorian styled dress. She carried a large crystal ball and ornate holder that she positioned at the head of the dining table.
"Why doesnít everyone take a seat," she said quietly.
"Please try not to get us thrown out of this séance," Sarah murmured to Stevie with a smirk.
The room was dark, the only light coming from a multitude of candles around its perimeter and moonlight coming in through spaces in the curtained windows. Solari moved one large candle to the center of the dining table just past her crystal ball. Lizzy was glad that everyone had respected her brotherís wishes. There was a formality here, with everyone dressed nicely in colors that did not distract from the somber atmosphere.
Everyone began to sit down in pairs. Mel sat next to Solari with Epphie taking the seat next to him. Lizzy sat next to Epphie and Sarah moved in next to Lizzy leaving Stevie to sit on the other side of her. On Solariís other side Jeff took a seat with Phil next to him and then Susan and Dave.
"Are Bob and Mary going to be joining us?" Phil asked without animosity.
Dave shook his head. "Theyíre at a prayer meeting, weíll meet up with them when weíre finished here. Weíre curious and sort of open minded and both Bob and Mary are just curious. They realized that if they canít fully participate, they shouldnít ruin it for anyone else, regardless of their personal beliefs."
"That is very respectful of them," Stevie said with a smile to Dave. "Will you give them our thanks?" He nodded and took his seat.
"Iíd like everyone to rest their hands on the table, and take the hand of the person next to you," Solari said closing her eyes and relaxing into her seat. "I canít guarantee anything but weíll see if anyone besides Lizzy and Melís grandmothers decide to show up."
"Theyíre here already?" Mel asked in wonder at Lizzy.
"I think they rode over with us in the truck," Lizzy muttered making Sarah stifle a giggle. Just then a broom fell over in Melís kitchen.
Stevie frowned. "In California, we have these things called broom closets, you should look into it," she said without a trace of humor. Sarah squeezed her hand affectionately.
"There is an old saying," Solari continued calmly, "when you think of the dead, the dead can hear your thoughts. I donít want anyone to think too hard; stay relaxed, but let your mind wander and think about loved ones past who you feel you may need to communicate with. No guarantee they will show up, but it is a place to start."
For a moment, both Mediums gazed absently into the crystal ball, then simultaneously turned their heads in the direction of Phil and Jeff. "I have the strongest sensation of roses," Solari began. "I smell roses everywhere, and Iím sensing a very kind old woman." Epphie nodded in agreement.
"That would be my grandmother," Phil said excitedly. "She always had rose bushes and I loved visiting her when I was a kid."
Solari nodded in understanding. "Well she wants you two to know that she was at your wedding and that while mixed marriages may have been unheard of in her day that your mother should be over it. If need be you can remind your mother about the young Jewish man she caught her with when she was seventeen." Jeff and Phil stared at each other, stunned. "Jeff," Solari continued, "she says ëthank youí for making an honest man of her grandson and that it wouldnít kill the both of you to take Jeffís mother to her Baptist church once in awhile."
"My grandmother is telling me to take Jeffís mother to church?" Phil said, amazed. "Grannie never went to church."
"She says sheís gotten to know Jeffís family and feels like theyíre good people." Epphie added.
"This is just surreal," Jeff said quietly.
"Sheís not in any pain?" Phil asked, concerned. Remembering with sadness his grandmotherís last days in the hospital.
"No," Epphie reassured him. "She says to remember the afternoons sheíd make custard and sit on the couch while you both watched wrestling and Lawrence Welk. She knows you didnít particularly enjoy yourself, but those were very happy moments for her. She feels that kind of contentment now."
"Whatís it like to be dead?" Stevie asked, surprised to hear her own voice. She didnít realize sheíd murmured the question out loud.
Solari gazed at the art historian with a very knowing look that made Stevie feel naked and exposed. "Emily, Philís grandmother, is saying that death is like life. Everyone is different. If youíre a busybody in life, you will continue to snoop on your family in death," the Medium said with a glance towards the two men. "If youíre tortured in life, you will remain so in death. We are all responsible for our own Paradise and... damnation on Earth as well as in the afterlife."
"But the Scriptures," Susan protested, "they donít provide for individualized experiences. There is a heaven and hell and itís the same for everyone."
Solari shrugged. "Man made God in his own image, not the other way around, and is bound by his beliefs. All of godís incarnations by all of the people who have ever believed are valid. Surely you donít think Ancient Egyptians... or Greeks vanished into nothingness when they died simply because Christianity hadnít been invented yet?"
Dave looked profoundly troubled. "I never thought about that."
"Like oneís children, everyone wants to think their god is the most perfect, the most beautiful, the most real but if people are all equally full of grace, then how can that be so?" Epphie asked curiously.
There was no sound for a moment then the two mediumís turned to each other before looking at Dave once more. "I sense a man," Solari said quietly, looking at Dave; her eyes full of sympathy. Even in the candle light Stevie could see some of the color drain from his face. "He is sorry for the way he treated you. He was wrong to drink, he was wrong to hit, he was wrong to not provide the love and support you deserved." Solari cocked her head to one side as if listening. "He says your mother was right to leave, and he has forgiven her, so you should too."
Dave shook his head sadly. "How do you know itís my father? I canít believe this. Heís dead, nothing more."
"He has a lot of scars..." Solari began to explain.
"Tell him that I have forgiven him," Dave replied flatly not really hearing her. "In time I pray I will forgive my mother too, but Iím not there yet." Dave replied tightly. Susan squeezed his hand comfortingly.
Epphie smiled warmly. "He says he knows, and that youíre closer than you think." With a warm glance to Lizzy, Epphie turned her attention back to Solari. "Janice is asking about Argo," she said softly.
Solari nodded. "I know, she asks every year." The Medium shook her head sadly. "Iíve no doubt that Argo is on her way to you," she replied to the room, "I canít say why she hasnít found you yet."
"Why would a ghost ask questions about another ghost?" Sarah asked curiously. "Wouldnít she just know, what was going on?"
Shaking her head Solari replied, "not when the missing ghost is a dog. They operate a bit differently."
"She may be enjoying heaven on her own, chasing squirrels or enjoying a vat of whipped cream and cheese, Iím sure sheíll find you soon," Lizzy said reassuringly
"Dogs canít go to heaven," Susan said dismissively, "they just canít, they donít have souls."
The back door blew open and a current of wind swept through the dining room extinguishing many of the candles on each side as it passed. Two wine glasses shattered in an antique cabinet sending small glass shards everywhere.
"I would beg to differ with you" Solari said sternly to Susan. "And it seems so would Janice Covington."
"Like that episode of The Twilight Zone says," Stevie added, "a heaven without dogs isnít worth going to."
Epphie smiled as she stood to relight the candles on her side of the dining room, "Melinda says that Janice is having a very hard time disliking you,"
"I am glad to hear that," Stevie replied, moving to the other side of the room to relight several more candles.
"Why would grandma Janice dislike Stevie?" Mel asked, puzzled. "We only just met them."
Stevie felt her face grow warm as all eyes in the room looked at her. Lizzy smiled sympathetically making a small nod to her cousin. "It seems Iím the reincarnation of the arch nemesis to your ancient Greek ancestors," Stevie said unapologetically.
"Callisto?" Mel breathed, his eyes growing wide, "I donít believe it."
"She corrected some of Janiceís findings," Lizzy explained then grimaced as another wine glass shattered. "She knows things about her that havenít been published."
Dave quickly rose to his feet and moved to the cabinet, examining the shattered glasses, as if looking for some sort of trick. "This glass is freezing cold," he said, amazed as he gingerly touched a couple of glass shards. "But the glasses themselves feel fine."
"Please stop breaking things," Lizzy implored. "Those were Melindaís remember?"
"There is no disrespect in having your work be as accurate as possible." Stevie added with a disapproving glance to the glassware.
"I donít believe in reincarnation," Susan whispered to Dave.
"Wish I didnít," Stevie replied, unfazed. "But Iím finding fewer and fewer reasons not to believe it."
"You donít seem evil at all," Mel argued, stubbornly.
"Why thank you," Stevie said.
"Of course she isnít evil," Lizzy shot back.
"She isnít Callisto, anymore than Iím Gabrielle or Sarah is Xena. We arenít our pasts..." Lizzy explained well aware of the uncomprehending looks from the two couples on the other side of the table.
"Wait a minute," Mel said awe tingeing his voice, "Sarah is Xena?"
The stuntwoman shrugged, "Epphie said so the other night."
"Why didnít you tell me this?" Mel asked looking at Lizzy. "This is fantastic."
"Look," Sarah said politely, "I donít really buy into all of this stuff, Iím just going along to be polite. I donít know who the hell Xena was anyways."
"Youíve got to be kidding, they havenít told you stories of Xena?" Mel gushed.
"Dude," Sarah cut him off, "donít get all fan-boy on me. She is some dead Greek chick, end of story; no big deal."
"Lizzy how can you not be crazy about her if sheís Xena?" Mel blurted, giving up on trying to talk any sense into Sarah. "You guys were meant for each other."
"Mel, we are so not discussing my love life during a séance. If you donít want me to walk out right now, youíll be smart and not say another word." Lizzy said quietly, her voice as firm as steel.
Everyone around the table looked at each other uncomfortably.
"We would make a cute couple, wouldnít we?" Sarah asked with a grin, breaking the tension. "Wow, look at that, no plates broke. But talk about Lizzy and Stevie hooking up..."
As if on cue, another wine glass shattered.
"This has got to be some sort of gag," Susan said, inspecting the broken glassware for herself. "I donít see how they do it," she said to Dave.
"You must really be Xena," Stevie said annoyed, "because as I remember she could really be a jerk too." She looked Sarah straight in the eye. The stuntwomanís blue eyes held her gaze for a moment and then looked away.
"Iím sorry Stevie," she whispered, "it was a cheap shot. Youíre not your past, any more than I am. We lived and died in Greece, big deal."
"We arenít our pasts," Stevie agreed. "But we arenít free from them either."
Epphie gazed at the center of the table, "Maybe we should continue this discussion after the séance," she offered, realizing that family group therapy wasnít something that the Evans or Jeff and Phil wanted to participate in anymore than she did.
The séance continued for the next two hours with Susan and Dave asking a variety of questions. Surprised by the number of departed loved ones who were willing to chat, Susan had to admit with some difficulty that there was no way either medium could have done the research necessary to come up with the answers. Jeff and Phil were also active participants enjoying the opportunity to learn more about each otherís family.
Only when the strain became apparent on Solariís features, did the Medium bring the séance to a close wishing all participants living and otherwise a pleasant evening. Phil and Jeff excused themselves, clearly moved by the experience, as were Susan and Dave. Both couples spoke in hushed voices as they headed upstairs. The Hendersons returned and without a word to the rest of the group, headed upstairs as well.
Mel opened a bottle of wine and took one of the few remaining wine glasses from the cabinet and poured a glass, handing it to Solari. He poured a glass for Lizzy and Sarah and disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a glass of lemonade for Epphie and additional wine glasses for Stevie and himself.
"Iím surprised that the spirits of Xena and Gabrielle didnít make an appearance," Epphie said conversationally to Solari as she extinguished the candles.
"It may have something to do with the reincarnations sitting here, like their souls are already present." Solari replied.
"Iím just glad she didnít break any more glassware," Mel grumbled softly as he handed the juice glass of wine to Stevie.
"To what end?" Stevie asked absently, looking into her wine. "What advice or warning could they give that would change the course of what is to be?"
"Iím still not totally buying this," Sarah protested. "Ghosts, I get. That makes sense. Iím all over the fact that one of Lizzyís grandmotherís hates you and wants to keep you away badly enough to break family heirlooms. I think her anger is mistaken, of course. I love you to pieces. But Iím not buying into me being some sort of heroic," she noted Stevieís frown, "or demonic depending on your point of view, warrior from ancient Greece."
Solari nodded. "No one is saying you have to buy into it, Sarah. We do, and for us thatís what matters. Iím with you, Stevie. I see no point in the souls of Xena and Gabrielle communicating anything we donít already know. Besides, Iím not sure theyíd have had the space to communicate with Janice and Melinda vying for attention. What puzzles me is why Callisto didnít show up."
"Sheís here," Stevie said absently. "Glued to me like a shadow. She haunts my thoughts, and spends my moments of unconsciousness making me wish I were awake. Anything she has to say I have to figure out for myself."
Epphie shrugged and opened the living room curtains, letting moonlight fill the room with a soft blue glow. "I see the logic in that. She needs you to help her, and to do so youíve got to find the way on your own. I donít envy you that task."
"Are Janice and Mel still here?" Sarah asked curiously looking around the darkened dining room. "Can they move a penny like in the movie Ghost?"
"No," Both mediums said in unison.
"Janice is a warning force," Solari added "sensing danger and ferociously protective of her family. Melinda is a nurturing force no less protective of her family but..." she was quiet a moment, considering her words carefully, "perhaps a little more trusting of the living to find their own way."
Stevie downed her glass of wine and passed it to Mel who quietly refilled it. Sitting down at the table once more, soft brown eyes searched those of Solari and Epphie. "I need to learn things," she said. "I need to grow. Can you help me?" she asked quietly. "Can Janice and Melinda help me? How can Callisto move on? How can we put her to rest? No one should have to feel the way I do every waking moment. These ghosts donít even know me. What about me is so evil or wrong that I canít be given a chance here?"
Without any discussion Solari and Epphie took their seats at the table, as did Sarah and Lizzy. Solari downed her own glass of wine and Lizzy and Sarah followed suit. Sensing that the night was far from over, Mel uncorked a second bottle letting it breathe. The room was nearly dark, the only light coming from moonlight streaming in through the windows. Together the two Mediums took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. When they spoke Solariís voice had a slight southern twang and Epphie stared at Stevie with eyes that were cold and full of apprehension. Even in the near darkness, warning was clearly evident in those eyes.
"Do you know how may people Callisto murdered?" Epphie demanded.
"Probably between two hundred and seventy-five and three hundred and twenty ñ that is if you include the people killed by her warriors." Stevie replied without thinking, wondering where that number came from. "Iím sure she killed at least a hundred and fifty of those people personally. Whatís your point?" Stevie asked taking another sip of wine. "Iíve no doubt Xena has a higher body count, she had a bigger army after all."
"I think the point is that Xena tried to atone for what she did," Sarah said, a bit defensively. "Donít ask me why I got defensive just now, I donít even like Xena."
The dark haired medium smiled indulgently at Sarah and then turned her attention to Epphie. "So, since Callisto didnít atone when she was alive, she never gets to?" Solari asked, the slight southern drawl sounding out of place. "She endured more than we knew, we found that out last night."
"For generations, everywhere she went there was destruction." Epphie said stubbornly. "I donít have an issue with Callisto seeking atonement, I do have an issue with her involving my family." She looked at Lizzy fondly. "You could get hurt and that doesnít need to happen." She then looked at Mel, "you could get hurt too Hon, we want the both of you to be safe." Finally she turned her attention back to Stevie. "I want you to find peace, but leave my family out of it."
"Keeping Callisto away from your family would have required a little forethought on Xenaís part," Lizzy shot back stubbornly. "Like maybe not creating her! Or maybe Xena could have avoided her involvement with Gabrielle and creating a family or any other number of other possibilities. Itís a little late now to sit back and say ëitís not my problem.í Besides, youíre both dead!"
"Elizabeth Janice Covington!" Solari said sternly, "There is no need for sass."
"Yes maíam," Lizzy said automatically feeling her cheeks flush hotly. "Sorry."
"What is it you people want from me," Stevie demanded, anger threading her voice. "What kind of atonement are you looking for from me, Stevie Nicks Montgomery? I am not Callisto! Do I need to go out and fight crime? People who do that today are called vigilantes and tend to get arrested. The fact that I wake up every morning and want to take my own life isnít enough for you? That I know what Callisto is responsible for and live with it every fucking day?" Stevie downed her wine once more and reached for the bottle herself. "How many different kinds of penance will it take to satisfy this guilt?"
"That isnít for me to tell you," Epphie said, unfazed by the outburst. "But I can tell you that you donít need to drag my family into it. In fact I forbid it."
"Lucky for you Melinda didnít feel the same way, huh?" Mel asked quietly. "If sheíd kept Xenaís past and darkness away from you, well your life would have just been about relics, wouldnít it? Both of your lives." Both Mediums stared at him, surprise etched on their features.
"Besides, Iíd give my progeny more credit if I were you," Sarah added. "If Iím the reincarnation of the almighty Xena and I fell in love with Stevie then how bad can she be? Two arch enemies ending up lovers all those generations later? Yeah, we broke up, but I donít love her any less and Iím guessing you people should think I know a thing or two about evil. Before you decide Stevie is the reincarnation of a monster, why donít you really find out? Your granddaughter isnít an idiot, was a Gabrielle ever fooled by Callisto before?"
"Well there was that one time by the fire..." Stevie began and winced as Sarah kicked her in the shin.
Epphie looked wistfully at the wine bottle and then took a large swig of her lemonade. She glanced at Solari before returning her gaze to Stevie once more. "So tell me about your dogs," she said.
It was well after two oíclock in the morning when Solari pushed herself away from the dining table. She looked profoundly exhausted, yet pleased with herself. "Well that went well," she said, relieved that any southern traces were absent from her voice.
"If you mean that nothing else got broken, then yeah," Mel agreed. "But do you think it did any good?" he asked, looking at Stevie and Sarah.
Stevie shook her head, noting the four empty wine bottles and regretting already the amount of wine sheíd consumed. "I donít know," she offered. "I donít have any clearer idea of what Iím supposed to do for Callisto and please donít take this the wrong way, but I donít really care if I impressed your dead grandmothers or not." Lizzy winced inwardly, the comment having stung more than she would have cared to admit.
"I think you were fine," Sarah said unconcerned. "Youíre obviously not psychotic, I think thatís the main thing."
"Trying to get the approval of dead people in order to hang out with members of their family so their dishes donít break isnít psychotic behavior?" Stevie asked pointedly.
Sarah looked crestfallen, "Well when you put it like that..." she muttered. "Iím guessing that Janice Covington was pretty stubborn, so a phrase like ëI forbid it," is pretty serious, yes?"
Mel glanced at his cousin and nodded his head sadly.
Lizzy picked up several of the wine glasses and headed into the kitchen. She turned on the light and rinsed the glasses, trying to decide what it was about Stevieís comment that stung so much. A moment or two later she was joined at the sink by the Egyptologist who walked up carrying the other glasses.
"Hey," Stevie said quietly.
"Hey yourself," Lizzy replied realizing that sheíd known it was Stevie the second she walked into the room. Sheíd become attuned to her perfume and picked up the subtle fragrance sight unseen. She was hard pressed to think of a scent she found more appealing.
"You upset with me?" Stevie asked, taking the washed wine glass and drying it with a dishtowel.
"No," Lizzy replied, not quite truthfully. "Why would you ask that?"
"Because Iíve spent a bazillion dollars on therapy and I know the signs," the Egyptologist answered.
"Everything is fine, seriously," Lizzy replied, without looking up.
"Oh," Stevie said. "I see. Okay." They finished the remainder of glasses in silence, and when the last one was dried, Stevie put the dishtowel on the counter and turned to face the archeologist. "We still have plans for that party tomorrow? Or I should say today?" Lizzy nodded, almost surprised that Stevie still wanted to go. "Good. You know, just because Iím not interested in impressing your dead grandmothers, doesnít mean Iím not interested in impressing you." Lizzy looked up, knowing full well the surprise at being found out was registering all over her face. "Like I said, I know the signs," Stevie continued unperturbed. "Itís cold out, you should wear my jacket home." Leaning forward she kissed Lizzy softly on the lips. "Iím also not frightened by threats from dead people. She could break every dish you own and Iíll write you a check. Happy Halloween," she whispered and walked back through the dining room to follow Sarah upstairs.
Absently touching her mouth, Lizzy watched her go and wondered for the first time if indeed she was getting in over her head. Even dead, she would hesitate to bet on anyone besting Janice Covington. She idly wondered if the sensation of being overwhelmed was how her grandmothers had felt about each other, and if so why they were trying so desperately to keep her from the experience. Knowing too much wine had been imbibed to yield any answers that night, she donned Stevieís leather jacket, comforted by the familiar scent and walked back into the dining room to see if Solari was ready to head home.
"Itís just the ghost of what you really want"Wake up, weíve got company." Stevie Montgomery recognized the sound of her voice although she knew she hadnít spoken. She blinked and opened her eyes. In moments they focused on Callistoís face as the warrior leaned over her. Sitting up, Stevieís head spun. It had been a long time since sheíd had that much wine and she was clearly still drunk.
And itís the ghost of the past that you live in
And itís the ghost of the future you are frightened of"
Ghosts ñ Stevie Nicks
"What the hell?" Stevie groaned as she looked down to find herself still dressed as Callisto. Looking at the warrior once more she was shocked to see the psychotic wearing her clingy black dress, spiky heels and red nail polish. She was Callisto and Callisto was she. "What the fuck is this about?"
Callisto shrugged. "I donít make the rules here, you do."
Before Stevie could think of something to say, she saw two figures walking towards her. She realized sheíd been laying down on a hard, dirt road. Snow was falling and the air was crisp and cold. The hills around her were green and grassy and the sky was a hazy blue. As the women walking up the road grew near Stevie recognized them. In fact sheíd been talking to the shorter one not long before sheíd fallen asleep. She stood up and dusted herself off when the archaeologist and her companion came to a stop. "Dr. Covington," Stevie said sticking out her hand by force of habit. "Itís a pleasure to meet you."
"Very funny Callisto," Janice said curtly, turning her attention to Callisto.
"No, Iím Stevie," Stevie insisted. "Sheís Callisto," she said with a nod to the woman wearing her dress.
"Thatís odd," the taller woman said, a southern accent coloring her words.
"Or a lie." Janice replied.
In that moment Stevie was assured it really was Dr. Janice Covington she was speaking to. The archaeologist had a reputation for being blunt, direct and not particularly diplomatic. While Stevie never considered herself a ëfaní of the Doctorís, she was impressed by her findings and published work. Dressed as sheíd seen in several pictures, Dr. Covington was wearing the typical trousers, boots, shirt and jacket sheíd have worn on a dig in the late fourties or early fifties. She was a vision in earth tones with her reddish blonde hair was in a ponytail. She also wore her trademark fedora. A whip was tied to the belt at her waist and the tip of a cigar could be seen poking from her shirt pocket. Her companion was wearing a very smart black skirt suit with a cream blouse and stylish pumps. She wore a string of pearls around her neck and a modest watch around her wrist.
"Believe me," Callisto said with a shrug "Iím not the least bit interested in your granddaughter, or you for that matter. You both make lousy Gabrielles."
"Callisto, please," Stevie hissed. "Leave Lizzy out of this and donít be rude to Dr. Covington."
"This makes no sense," the shorter woman muttered glancing back to Stevie.
"Janice, manners!" the tall brunette chided gently. She took the Egyptologistís hand and shook it warmly. "Stevie, it is nice to meet you in person as it were, I feel like I already know you."
"Thank you Miss. Pappas," Stevie said with a smile, surprised at the warmth and strength in Melindaís grip. "I donít mean to be rude, but I donít know why the two of you are here ñ in my dream that is."
"We tried to reach you last night, at Lizzyís place." Janice said, taking the cigar from her pocket and nipping off the tip with her teeth. "Seems you keep a pretty tight reign on your mind when youíre sober." She lit the cigar and blew a couple of perfect smoke rings.
Stevie grimaced. "If the dreams Iíve been having are the result of being sober, I may take up drinking again."
"I donít think tonight is going to go any better," Mel said sympathetically. "Probably best to drink in moderation."
Stevie looked around at her surroundings. She felt the chill of the crisp air and snow and was amazed at the blueness of the sky in spite of the light snowfall. Janice Covington also seemed intrigued by the scenery and walked several steps away to look over the crest of the hill that she and her companion had climbed. Stevie followed and looked down the road at a large stone building surrounded by a wall made of stone with a wooden gate. Several crosses stood in a courtyard out front with bodies nailed to them. Stevie Montgomery recognized a crucifixion when she saw it. "Where are we?" Stevie asked.
"Youíre an archaeologist," Janice said gruffly, "you tell me."
Stevie watched intently as several guards opened the gate. A small horse pulled wagon emerged with several more guards in the back. Armed with a ladder, they headed to the most distant cross and proceeded to take the body down, tossing it carelessly into the back of the wagon when they were finished. Stevie studied the wagon, the armor, weapons anything that might have given her a clue. "This is Italy," she said. "Roman Empire, from the looks of the tool marks on that shield, the time of Caesar."
"Very good," Janice replied, impressed. "Weíre at the base of Mt. Amaro to be precise. If we were further up the peak weíd be able to see Pescara on the Adriatic coast on a clear day. Any guesses as to why weíre here?"
Instinctively Stevie looked at Callisto, who had been watching the guards removing bodies from the crosses with disinterest. "Whatís going on here?" she asked the warrior who at present looked anything but.
"Today is the day Xena and Gabrielle die and my fate... our fate was set." She replied with a shrug.
"Are they down there?" Stevie asked, looking again at the prison.
"Gabrielle is," Janice explained. "Xena went to Rome to kill Caesar. He had Gabrielle captured and brought here, Xena will try to rescue her before long."
"It doesnít end well," Mel added with profound sadness.
"Why donít we go inside and see what happens?" Janice asked in a tone that made it clear the question was rhetorical. She glared at Callisto who rolled her eyes.
"Wait," Stevie said, holding her head as she felt her world spin. "How is it Iím talking to you? How is it you can be here? Are you figments of my dreams the way Callisto is?"
"Actually, Iím a memory not a figment," Callisto said, looking with interest at the deep red of her painted nails. "Small detail I know."
"No, weíre here alright," Janice said, tipping her hat back just a little. "It isnít easy mind you, given that weíre some distance from our ashes."
"Thatís why we tried last night," Mel added helpfully. "Our ashes are in an urn in Lizzyís spare bedroom. Itís why our presence can be felt so strongly in her house."
"And at the museum," Janice added. "A lot of our stuff is there too."
"Lizzy has a spare bedroom?" Stevie said, the notion dawning on her, leaving her surprised and impressed at how smoothly Covingtonís granddaughter had arranged the sleeping arrangements the previous night.
"That oneís tricky," Callisto added with a smirk and wink at Janice. "Must run in the family."
"Why do you think we were making so much racket?" Janice demanded, albeit softly.
"Well, Janice made the racket," Mel corrected gently.
"The point is, we can talk to you here, in your dream because the wine has got you unguarded enough that we can reach you. This wasnít the case last night," Janice explained with a somewhat sheepish glance to Melinda. "I mean what I said earlier about you deserving your shot at redemption, everyone does," she continued. "But youíre going to see, with your own eyes why you donít need to go after that redemption by entangling my family."
"Iím willing to hear you out," Stevie said and started down the road to the prison, "but I canít promise that will change anything. Honestly Sarah was right in that you should give your family more credit to take care of themselves. Besides Iíve no idea how Iím supposed to get redemption for Callisto involving your family or not. Donít you think if I could do it I would have done so already?"
"Maybe youíve got the pieces to the puzzle and just havenít figured out how to put them together yet?" Mel offered gently as they walked.
"Iíve never been very good at puzzles," Stevie acknowledged with a sad smile.
"Whatís with the outfit?" Janice asked Callisto curtly as they walked behind Stevie and Melinda.
"Donít know," Callisto replied with a smile. "Thought Iíd try a new look. Do you like it?"
"No." Janice answered without missing a beat. "So, of all the miserable days of your existence, was this one the worst?"
Callisto spared her only the briefest of glances before answering. "No. Xena murdering my family still takes the cake. Donít get me wrong, of all the hellish days to follow, this one was right up there but how do you top watching your family getting burned alive."
Janiceís cheeks flushed a little, but she kept her composure. She extracted the cigar from her lips and pointed it at Callisto for emphasis. "Maybe because today was a horror of your own making. You had no choice in what happened to your family and it was horrific, terrible. But today you made choice to ruin not only your life, your hope for a better future, but the lives of two other people as well."
Callisto stopped and turned to face the archeologist who to her credit didnít flinch, as she had to look up into the face of a very annoyed killer. "Iím just glad you didnít say ëtwo innocent peopleí because your dear Xena and Gabrielle were anything but that. Xena destroyed everyone and everything in her path; Lao Ma, Borias, Solon, Gabrielle... me. The brat wasnít the innocent she professed to be either."
Stevie stepped in between Janice and Callisto as foursome stopped outside the wooden gate. "What are you going to do today?" She gently asked Callisto, trying to draw the warriorís attention from the archaeologist.
Callisto glanced at Janice and Mel before returning her attention to Stevie. "I was in hell," she said then rolled her eyes at the unsympathetic glare she received from Janice Covington. "Sure, you could say it was a hell of my own making with the real-estate bought and paid for by Xena, the Warrior Princess. But it was hell nonetheless. Incessantly Iíd be tortured by those two; taunted, reminded of all my missed opportunities, my empty vengeance. I knew they were getting another shot; Xena was getting another life, a reincarnation, and a chance to do better, to do it differently. So was her dear little Gabrielle. I guess I was naive enough then not to realize that life after life is itís own form of hell. All the options are hell of some sort. To get my own shot I had to corrupt Caesar and get Xena off of her path ñ make her turn from the way of the warrior. Simple as that. So I did, or tried at any rate."
"You failed?" Stevie asked not clear on why Xena and Gabrielle died if Callisto was unsuccessful.
"For the most part," Callisto allowed. "Caesar was murdered by the Senate. As for Xena, I guess youíll understand it better if you just watch. Itís what shorty wants at any rate."
"Watch whom youíre calling small, Callisto," Melinda said, her voice as cold as steel. "When it comes to real stature, youíre the tiny one here." Although she knew it shouldnít, the comment stung Stevie.
As the quartet of women stood outside the gates talking, the wagon approached and the gates opened. It was obvious that no one could see the four of them and they followed the wagon inside. Xena emerged from under the pile of rotting corpses and made her way across the courtyard. A second Callisto appeared, this one not wearing Stevieís black clingy cocktail dress, but a white toga. Another difference, this Callisto had short spiky blonde hair, different from the other pairís shoulder length tresses.
"I just keep coming back," the new Callisto said to Xena. "In that way, Iím more dependable than your chakram. My lord sees everything Xena ñ and you donít have to go through with this. I can arrange it for you and Gabrielle and all her peaceful little friends to just walk out of hereóand no one gets hurt. You and Gabrielle can live happily ever after."
"What ëlordí?" Stevie asked the Callisto wearing her dress. Ignoring Xenaís response to the toga clad woman. "And why do you have short hair."
"I mentioned ëhellí you do the math." Callisto replied smoothly to answer both questions.
"Iím not Christian," Stevie insisted. "I donít believe in ëhellí anymore than I believe in ëheavení."
"Well obviously you did at some point," Janice interjected. "Besides, that isnít the point. Itís not what you believe now; itís who you were then. Youíre trying to tempt Xena from her path to trade her soul for yours. Her shot at redemption for yours."
"That guilt youíre depending on, I put it all behind me," Xena said to Callisto, her icy blue eyes boring into brown. The emphatic tone drew Stevie and Janiceís attention and they stopped bickering. "You see, I know now what I have to do. I have to be the best warrior I can be. To redeem myself, I have to fight evil with a sword and thatís what Iím gonna do no matter what the consequences."
"That makes absolutely no sense." Stevie said, frowning at Xena and the toga clad Callisto. "Since when does being the better warrior lead to peace?"
"I donít know," Melinda protested gently, "my life was rather peaceful and I suppose Sarahís is as well. I think what Xena did with her sword provided us that peace."
"So the reward is to keep coming back?" Stevie asked, disappointed. "Thatís heaven?"
"You just said you donít believe in heaven," Mel reminded her with a smile.
"Perpetual existence? Thatís the reward?" Stevie wondered aloud, shaking her head. " Thatís what you get for not believing in heaven? Sounds more like the other place if you ask me."
"I guess that depends on what you do with your life," Janice observed.
Stung, Stevie looked away her eyes falling on the Callisto wearing her dress. Their eyes met and for the first time she saw herself although the knowledge sickened her. Together they turned their attention to their shorthaired twin wearing the toga. "Exactly," they said in unison.
Callisto tried one more time to persuade Xena and again she failed. This time she let out Xenaís battle cry alerting the guards. As they frantically began to search the courtyard, Callisto, Stevie, Janice and Melinda watched Xena fight her way into the prison. In moments a number of people came running out, heading for the gates. The toga-clad Callisto watched from the wall, frustration growing more prevalent on her smooth features as the followers of Eli ran out the open gate.
"No, no." The shorthaired woman fumed. "Noooooo!" In an instant of fury she threw a chakram at Xena, hitting her square in the back. Xenaís knees buckled and she fell, face first into the hard packed dirt of the courtyard. A guard ran forward with his sword drawn. In an instant the pike thrown through his chest stopped his movement. Stevie looked around to see who had come to Xenaís aid and was shocked to see the look of unadulterated rage on Gabrielleís face. Sheíd known enough of Xenaís history to know that Gabrielle was a pacifist and the sight of the bard running to Xenaís side with a sword made her stomach lurch.
Stevieís gaze was riveted on the tragic scene that played out in front of her. Soldiers ran forward and Gabrielle cut them down. The whole time she was screaming for Xena to get up, to run. Helplessly Xena watched, the fear and horror evident in her voice when she said her spine was broken and she couldnít feel her legs. Stevie counted an additional seven men fall to Gabrielleís sword. One guard had his head repeatedly pounded into the ground, another she stabbed multiple times with a dagger. There was no doubt in Stevieís mind that the only thing the bard could see at the moment was red. Absently she wondered if that was how sheíd feel if sheíd seen Sarah cut down in front of her... or if sheíd seen her mother burned alive.
In her peripheral vision Stevie could see Callisto watching the scene play out dispassionately. She looked like a woman who had revisited this moment too many times. Melinda Pappas had turned her head away, tucked behind Janiceís hat. The archaeologist had her arms wrapped protectively around her partnerís waist and was watching Stevie with steely focus.
In moments it was all over. Eight men lay dead on the courtyard ground and Xena and Gabrielle were surrounded by many more. Gabrielle stared at the bloody dagger she held as if seeing it for the first time. She dropped it and did not resist as guards roughly dragged her off the body of the guard below her.
Without being asked, Stevie followed the guards as they dragged Xena and Gabrielle back inside the prison. It may have appeared to any guard standing watch that Xena and Gabrielle waited for their fate alone, but there was an additional quartet waiting with them, as somber as the two who awaited execution.
In an instant she had her answer. Stevie could now see exactly why Janice Covington would never accept her, never believe that she could change. Sheíd watched Callisto hit Xena from behind and turn Gabrielle into a vengeful killer. The worst kind. That more than anything else was the tragedy. For all her proclamations of love, of the cycle of hate not being repeated, for all of the strength she mustered at the death of Perdicus, when the one she loved was hurt, Gabrielle of Poteidaia was a killer. "What does it feel like to die?" Stevie asked absently.
"Depends on the death," Janice said sitting next to Melinda on a crate in the prison and holding the southernerís hand tenderly. "Our death was pretty quick. The truck driven by the drunk came across into our lane from nowhere. I saw a flash and that was it."
"I remember looking over to Janice," Melinda added. "Her beautiful green eyes were the last things I saw. In a way I suppose it was better than going in my sleep."
Stevie was quite surprised to see the archaeologist blushing a little. Even now, even in death she couldnít imagine two more perfectly connected people. Even as she thought that, her gaze drifted to the floor of the cell and the pair of toga clad women sitting on the straw. Gabrielle was leaning against a pole and Xena was resting in her lap. Much of the color had drained from Xenaís face and it was clear to Stevie that if their execution werenít upon them Xena wouldnít live through the day.
"Argo died peacefully," Janice whispered. "Had to put her out of her suffering. I had a friend who was a vet back then. We put her to sleep."
"At home and in Janiceís arms," Mel added tenderly.
"Well her head anyway," Janice murmured. "She was a pretty big dog. Would have been hard to hold all of her..."
"Iím sure that was the hardest thing youíve ever had to do." Stevie said gently. Watching as Melinda took her hand from Janiceís and wrapped her arm protectively around the smaller woman. "What happened?" she asked.
"It was her liver," Janice said matter-of-factly, although she did wipe a non-existent speck from her eye. "She got very sick very fast. She had one rough night and that was all I could take. I wouldnít make her endure anymore."
"That was very selfless of you." Stevie said, noting Melindaís smile of gratitude.
"It wasnít about me. Love sometimes means doing what very painfully isnít best for you." Even though her eyes were moist, she didnít flinch as her stare bore into Stevie.
"Did you bury her?" Stevie asked, choosing to ignore the double meaning of the archeologistís words.
Janice shook her head, a single tear escaping one eye.
"She had an Amazon funeral," Melinda explained, giving Janiceís shoulder a squeeze. "I stayed with Argo while Janice built a funeral pyre. Two of Pandoraís sons offered to help but Janice wanted to do it on her own. We carried her out there and when it was all over Janice collected the ashes and put them in an urn. Those ashes are with us in the urn in Lizzyís bedroom."
"Iím sure sheíll find you soon," Stevie said, remembering Janiceís query from the séance.
"What about you?" Janice asked Callisto, changing the subject. "Do you have anything to add on the subject of death? Certainly youíve caused enough of it."
"Well let me just see," Callisto said, turning hotly to Janice. "The first time Xena killed me I drowned in quicksand. Do you know what thatís like? Drowning? You hold your breath for as long as you can. You feel the weight of sand and mud closing in on you, sinking, pulling you down. Your lungs scream for air and when you absolutely canít hold your breath for another second you panic. You open your mouth and inhale. In that instant mud rushes into your lungs and you choke, you cough and try to get air, but itís only mud- in your nose, in your lungs. Finally after what feels like hours you start to black out, only then does the panic subside even as your body is still twitching and gasping for air." Callisto stood and in heels looking very alien on the straw strewn floor of the prison, strode across the room to stand on the other side of Melinda, away from Janice. "The second time Xena killed me I was stabbed. I suppose I should have been grateful I died more quickly, but itís hard to be grateful with a burning dagger in your gut."
"I wonder if thatís how Perdicus felt?" Janice asked innocently.
"Maybe..." Callisto began, unfazed by the archeologistís jibe. "I did stab him in the gut."
"What about the people Perdicus killed?" Stevie asked locking eyes with Janice. "Is anyone in this story innocent?"
Janice stood up, but sat back down on the crate as a restraining hand on her shoulder pulled back. "She has a point Janice," Mel said softly.
"I certainly think the self-inflicted deaths are the best," Callisto continued as if she were reciting a shopping list. "At least you know when even if you donít know exactly what will happen. Hanging is risky ñ when I broke my neck it was quick, but another time I just hung there until I suffocated. Guns are good, quick- although the sound is ear splitting and gunpowder is very bitter. I think getting murdered is the worst, especially when itís someone who wants to take their time. Not only is the pain, but also the fear and terror at what will happen next. It really seems to be in our nature to worry about what will happen next. Drug overdoses can vary, sometimes itís numbing and a fading out of everything. Other times itís a very bad trip with all the fear and horror of getting murdered." Callisto turned and began to walk towards Janice once more. "Oh yes," she said. "And then thereís fire. Itís not like some bright light of a truck hitting you head on; itís an agonizingly slow crawl towards death. You suffocate, of course from the smoke. Sometimes youíre lucky and thatís it. Other times you also feel the pain of first degree, then second and then third degree burns as your skin blackens, cracks and peels right off your body. Your eyes dry out, your mouth is parched, your lungs sting from the heat and smoke. I was burned at the stake once, during the Spanish Inquisition. I died burned alive, just like my family."
Green eyes locked onto brown for a moment and then Janice looked away. Callisto stood there, looking down at the archeologist and it made Stevie uncomfortable. While she agreed with Janice, she couldnít help but feel some sympathy for the woman wearing her dress. Wearing a face that was beginning to look all too much like the one she saw in the mirror each morning. When the dreams started, it had been so easy to see Callisto as someone every different. Now wearing her clothes, seeing the psychotic dressed as she, the line began to blur. She walked over to the warrior and gently tugging on Callistoís arm, pulled the woman away from Janice and Mel. To Stevieís surprise, Callisto allowed herself to be guided away.
Just then the figures seated on the floor of the jail cell stirred. Xena and Gabrielle spoke to each other in soft tones. Gabrielle did her best not to cry, yet translucent tears splashed on Xenaís face anyway.
"Gabrielle?" Xena asked, regaining consciousness.
"Xena." Gabrielle answered, holding onto the body in her lap protectively.
"Youíre crying?" Xena asked, confused. "Donít cry."
Gabrielle shook her head, forcing a smile to her face that she clearly didnít feel. "I wont. Rest."
Xena nodded slightly and whispered, "okay." Shaking herself once more she said, "I made you leave the way of love, it was my fault."
"What was the ëway of loveí?" Stevie asked.
"A cult that Gabrielle joined," Callisto answered only to be hushed by Melinda.
"I had a choice, to do nothing or save my friend," Gabrielle replied tenderly touching Xenaís face. "I chose the way of friendship?"
"Friendship?" Stevie asked incredulously.
"The word had different meanings back then," Janice explained.
"Iím sorry for all the times I didnít treat you right," Xena said, trying to keep her voice steady.
Gabrielle shook her head emphatically. "Xena, youíve brought out the best in me. Before I met you, no one saw me for who I was. I felt... invisible. But you saw all of the things that I could be. You saved me, Xena."
"I wish... um..." Xena began, bashfully.
"What?" Gabrielle urged.
"I wish that I had read your scrolls just once." Xena said.
Tears fell anew, splashing on Xenaís smooth cheeks. "You would have liked them." Gabrielle said.
"I know," Xena replied.
"Do you think Xena could read?" Janice asked, looking at Stevie.
Stevie looked from the archaeologist to the warrior and bard sitting on the floor and then back to Janice. The tone of Janiceís question was one of professional curiosity and while it seemed an odd time and place to have that sort of discussion, it was one level that the two of them could communicate on. "Obviously Lizzy would be the one to ask, but I realize she isnít here." Stevie said, looking at Xena once more. "From what little I know of her upbringing she may have learned to read before Cortese sacked Amphipolis. Iím sure it wasnít a strength though." She looked at Gabrielle once again and back at Callisto. The warrior looked so at home in her black dress, and while she felt very out of place in Callistoís armor, she had to admit it was beginning to feel more comfortable. It was so easy to see people and situations from a modern light, with modern perceptions. "Callisto couldnít read, most warriors couldnít. Xena may have known enough to get by but Iím not sure that sheíd have been up to the task of reading Gabrielleís scrolls. Maybe she didnít want Gabrielle to know she was functionally illerate."
"Or maybe she just didnít care," Callisto suggested helpfully.
"She cared," Melinda said, with a sad smile at Xena.
The guards came in and lifted Xena from the bardís lap. She was led as Xena was dragged out to the courtyard where two crosses had been laid on the ground.
Shorthaired Callisto, wearing the white toga watched them pass then opened her mouth to catch snowflakes. The Callisto wearing the black cocktail dress shook her head and smirked while Stevie glared at the two of them disapprovingly.
"Donít give me that confident look," shorthaired Callisto said as Xena was stretched out on the cross. "Youíre about to die like a slave and drag your friend with you, and itís all right by me."
Obviously delirious with pain Xena still managed a smirk for Callisto. "Your lord might not feel the same way. He sent you on a mission, didnít he?"
Callisto shrugged. "Making Caesar dictator was his main concern. And once heís ruling, making him an agent of my lord will be easy. So while you lie here helpless, heís declaring himself emperor."
Stevie blinked at Callisto, startled, and then looked at the Callisto wearing her dress. "That didnít work out very well for you, did it?" she asked sympathetically.
"Yet another pile of boulders to be buried under." The warrior said with shrug.
"Couldnít happen to a nicer person," Janice grumbled and glanced away from Melindaís disapproving frown.
While she knew what was coming and had an academic knowledge of crucifixion, it did little to prepare one for seeing it in person. Stevie suspected that witnessing any death must be like that. Certainly Callistoís description of drowning had made the ocean seem a less appealing place.
"Iíve never been crucified," Callisto commented, watching as large nails were positioned over blocks of wood resting on the palms of the two womenís hands. "You end up dying by suffocation anyways," she explained, casually. "Your body drags you down making it impossible to breathe. Iím sure every movement to take pressure off of your arms and get air starts the agony all over again. Ultimately itís a lack of air that gets you every time." She smiled as if making a private joke. "Xena knew that well enough, cutting off the flow of blood to peopleís brains time and again."
As her hands were positioned on the cross beam Xena turned her head to her companion. "Gabrielle, you were the best thing in my life."
"I love you, Xena." Gabrielle replied even as her own hands were positioned. Both women screamed as the large nails were driven through with heavy hammers. Gabrielleís back arched and she cried out only to have her legs pulled back down and a spike driven through her feet. She screamed again, Xena contorting her face in pain at the sound of her loverís agony. Stevie was sure sheíd throw up and could feel the acid build up in her mouth. Xena didnít move and scarcely seemed to notice when the spike was driven through her feet, she only screamed again, as Gabrielle did when the crosses were raised and slid into their pits.
"So what happens now?" Stevie asked in a whisper, not sure how much more of the scene she could take.
"We wait." Janice replied, sitting down on the ground, ignoring the snow.
The snow was still falling but Stevie didnít really notice, she assumed she was cold, it would have made sense to be cold, but she couldnít feel a thing. Looking around she didnít see the shorthaired Callisto. "Callisto," she said to the woman still standing a short distance from her, "where are you? I donít see you here."
Callisto turned and looked around as if noticing for the first time that her twin was missing. She was thoughtful a moment, clearly trying to remember events long past. "I think Caesar was getting murdered at the moment," she said, nodding to herself. "Yes, thatís what was happening. When that happened my mission was a total failure and I was dragged back to hell serving out lifetime after lifetime as each reincarnation fell sort of redemption. Like where we are now."
Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the four women waited. Callisto didnít sit, preferring to stand a short distance from the other three. It occurred to Stevie that the warrior may not know how to sit down in a cocktail dress, then realized that modesty was something that Callisto probably had little use for. Melinda however knew very much how to sit in a skirt. She had her legs folded neatly beneath her and she watched the proceedings with profound sadness.
"I know why you brought me here," Stevie said, looking at Janice who had lit another cigar. "I know why youíll never forgive me for what Iíve done." Janice nodded, a sad but satisfied look on her face. "But just for the record, Iíd never ask anything of Lizzy or anyone in your family that they werenít prepared to give. Iím not looking for her or anyone else to give me a shortcut out of this mess."
"I know youíre not, honey." Janice said kindly. "But as you can see," she said nodding her head to the cross where Gabrielle was dying, "you donít ask and people still give more than they should."
A shadow fell across Janice as Callisto walked over. "I take it you regret what you did for Xena?"
Janice looked up, a bit startled. "Iím not Gabrielle, not completely anyways."
"No, but she is," Callisto said and walked over to the cross. Looking up for a moment she turned back to the archaeologist and her companion. "Look at her and tell me she regrets what she did, the role she had in Xenaís life. And if she doesnít regret it, then look Stevie in the eyes and tell her you think she should." Janice and Melinda looked at Gabrielle and then each other but said nothing.
"Thatís what I thought." Callisto said bitterly. "Thatís it, Iím leaving. These two are dead anyways."
Stevie looked in surprise at the two crosses. She didnít know how sheíd missed it. Both women had slipped away. Sheíd been watching them intently, noting the shallowness of Xenaís breathing and the strain Gabrielle had been under to shift her body. She wasnít sure what sheíd been expecting, some sort of last proclamations or declarations of love or defiance. Instead theyíd just stopped breathing when the chore of drawing breath became too much for them.
Stevie was torn about what to do next. Unsure whether she should follow Callisto down the road or stay with Janice and Melinda. She stood and dusted the snow from her armor. "Iím sorry I had to meet the two of you like this," she said to Janice and Melinda. "While I am grateful I got to meet you, I am sorry I couldnít be someone else."
"Iím sorry too," Janice said sadly as she stood and offered her hand to Stevie. Egyptologist and archaeologist shook hands and then Stevie turned to Melinda, her hand outstretched.
Mel wrapped her in a warm embrace. "I think youíll find your redemption, honey," she said. "Itíll probably be where you least expect it." She kissed her cheek and then Stevie turned to follow Callisto down the hill.
"Now you see why I donít drink," Callisto muttered as they walked away.
/|\^..^/|\Stevie sighed uncomfortably, the arduous journey from sleep to consciousness taking far too long for her liking. She woke feeling out of place. It took only a second to realize that after four months of absence, the sensation of Sarah sleeping sprawled across her was a little unsettling. The stuntwoman was sleeping soundly in the very dark room; her breathing sending measured warmth across Stevieís chest. Moonlight was no longer streaming in through the windows and Stevie guessed sheíd not been asleep more than a couple of hours.
She tried to shift, to encourage Sarah to roll over on her own without much success. The stuntwoman murmured, moving slightly and nuzzling the Egyptologist in the neck. "God you smell fantastic," she murmured.
"Sarah, wake up," Stevie said shaking the womanís shoulder.
"Huh?" Sarah murmured sleepily, pushing herself up off of Stevie. She continued to look down at the blonde woman, straining with sleepy eyes in the darkness to make out the features framed by blonde hair. "What happened?" she asked.
"You were sleeping on me." Stevie explained, still able to feel the tips of Sarahís long hair brushing against the skin of her breasts through her thin t-shirt. It was more than a little distracting.
"You woke me up because I was sleeping on you?" Sarah asked dubiously.
"No," Stevie explained patiently. "I woke up because I had a nightmare. You happened to be sleeping on me and I wonít be able to fall back asleep unless you move, so I woke you up. Itís a subtle difference, but worth noting I think."
"You really do smell awesome." Sarah muttered ignoring her, leaning in close once more. "What is that?"
"Never mind," Stevie said pushing against the stuntwomanís shoulders that wouldnít budge. "I started wearing it after we broke up."
"I like it," Sarah whispered and leaned in to kiss Stevieís mouth. "I really like it."
Stevie resisted at first, continuing to press against shoulders and a chest that was leaning in closer, not moving away. But the touch was familiar, comforting and a million things that the Egyptologist realized she craved. In moments she was responding fully to the kiss, her hands threaded through soft black hair, holding the stuntwomanís face close. In a familiar dance tongues gently dueled, hands roaming over expanses of skin, getting reacquainted.
Stevieís sense of conflict dueled with her ignited passion. A ritual played out more than once before; she longed for something familiar and safe, a harbor to protect her from the storm of her dreams. Wantonly she responded to Sarahís kiss, knowing exactly what to do to ignite the same sort of desperate passion that she felt. Sarahís hands caressed her breasts as she slipped her hands under the stuntwomanís t-shirt, slowly dragging her nails down a warm and muscular back.
It was only when Sarahís hand slipped below Stevieís waist that the blonde turned her face away, her voice pleading. She shoved with a strength that surprised her.
"Sarah, please! We canít do this."
Startled, the stuntwoman moved away, frustrated. "Then why are you acting like you want to?" she demanded.
"Because I do want to, you oaf," Stevie shot back. "That doesnít mean we should. Jesus!"
Sarah rolled over onto her back and stared into the darkness. "Maybe we should rethink things?" she said quietly. "Maybe weíre not supposed to be broken up?"
"Maybe we werenít supposed to drink four bottles of wine tonight," Stevie said, rolling onto her side to face the dark haired woman. "Come on Sarah. How many times have we done this? Two? Three? Weíve had too much wine, weíre desperate to feel connected and weíre convenient. When the sun comes up youíll be asking yourself what youíve gotten into and weíll have to start this thing all over."
"I donít think it has to be like that," Sarah replied, rolling onto her side as well. "You always see the downside, even when youíre buzzed. Why donít you focus on the positives, like how good we can make each other feel?"
"Because one of us has to be the grown up," Stevie answered a little sadly. "And neither of us is cut out to be fuck-buddies."
"Is that really it?" Sarah pressed, reaching out a strong hand and gently touching Stevieís hair; pushing it away from her face and enjoying the texture of the soft tresses.
"Mostly," Stevie allowed. "I guess Iím still drunk enough to think there could be other possibilities."
"The fact that we are dealing with a profoundly haunted family isnít bothering you?" Sarah asked curiously.
"With the way I spend every night?" Stevie replied with a slight laugh. "Iíd trade nightmares for actual ghosts any day."
Sarah moved close once again. Immediately Stevieís body stiffened and the stuntwoman grunted. "Relax Blondie, Iím just holding you." She wrapped her strong arms around the smaller woman and held her close, enjoying the fragrance and connection and telling herself that it was enough.
"You realize that youíre the only person I let call me ëBlondieí donít you?" Stevie murmured sleepily, relaxing into the embrace.
"Yeah, I kinda like that." Sarah admitted.
"Youíre going to wake up in a hell of a mood," Stevie warned as Sarahís arms squeezed a little tighter.
"Iíll take a cold shower in the morning and Iíll be fine." The stuntwoman grumbled. Even though she couldnít see it, she could feel Stevie smile.
"I wonít remind you that you still have a bit of a thing for me," the Egyptologist whispered.
"I would appreciate that," Sarah whispered back, kissing the top of Stevieís head.
As she drifted back to sleep Stevie wondered if she was indeed drunk enough to think there were possibilities with Lizzy. Her encounter with Lizzyís grandmother still fresh in her mind, as was the warning imparted, she wondered if her complicated relationship with Sarah was indeed all that life had in store for her.
The two women woke several hours later to the sound of a door slamming loudly. "What the hell was that?" Sarah asked, eyes flying open and squinting at the sunlight streaming through the window.
"The front door I think," Stevie replied, inwardly wincing at the splitting headache left by the red wine the night before. "What time is it?"
Sarah checked her watch. "Itís ten-thirty, too early for any of us at the séance to be up. That must have been the Hendersons."
"Well I think everyone is up now," Stevie grumbled, massaging her temples.
Sarah looked at her and smiled. "Been awhile since youíve had that much to drink," she commented.
Stevie nodded. "I donít know why, but talking to dead people always goes better for me with a few bottles of wine. You know," she added looking at the stuntwoman sternly, "you threw the moves at me this morning."
Sarah blushed. "Iím not sorry about it if youíre looking for an apology. I suppose you and Jane discussed that this might happen?"
"Iím not looking for an apology, and yes that conversation did come up," Stevie replied smiling in spite of her headache.
"Did I follow the script?" Sarah asked, with a sigh.
Stevie shrugged. "Pretty much, itís not like I donít know you, what did you expect?"
"I dunno, I just hate it when you talk about me in therapy," the stuntwoman groused.
"You should be flattered," Stevie countered. "If I didnít care, you wouldnít come up. We still good?" she asked.
"Yeah," Sarah answered with a nod. "Weíre still good, but we could be better," she added with a leer and then laughed. Try as she might Stevie Nicks Montgomery seemed to be the only woman alive who could resist her charm and make it look effortless. "Do you think we check in too much?" She asked absently, getting out of bed.
"For two people who are broken up? Absolutely. For us? No, I donít think so. If you havenít noticed, weíre different." Stevie answered following suit. "Lizzy invited us to a Halloween party tonight," she continued, running a brush through her hair. "I told her weíd go," she added quietly.
"Are you guys having a date and Iím just tagging along?" Sarah asked, studying Stevieís reflection in the mirror. It seemed a little odd to the stunt woman, theyíd gotten dressed side by side countless times, seeing each other in varying degrees of undress and here they were again only this time they were talking about someone else. Someone that Stevie was obviously interested in and someone she might be interested in as well. The strangest part was, she didnít feel a sense of competition with the Egyptologist. Like there was some unspoken understanding that like it or not, however it ended up, the other would have to be a good sport. Unfortunately sportsmanship was not one of Sarahís strong suits.
"No, I donít think so," Stevie answered after a momentís consideration and remembering her dream. "Her grandmothers joined my nightmare last night and made it crystal clear that Ms. Covington is off limits."
Sarah smirked, "I wonder if Ms. Covington got that memo? What kind of party is it?"
"Historical, thatís why Lizzy asked us. Sheís made some costumes that sheíd like us to wear," Stevie replied.
"Would these three outfits have anything to do with her research?" Sarah asked, remembering a conversation that sheíd overheard Mel and Epphie have the previous day during Practical Magic.
"Yeah, theyíre a Xena, Gabrielle and as she now realizes a Callisto outfit."
The stuntwoman stopped brushing her hair and looked dubiously at Stevie. "She had a Callisto outfit and didnít know it?"
"She mistook it for a Xena outfit from some unknown period. Janice Covingtonís research was thorough, but not perfect. I found a number of artifacts and story references to Callisto that were mistakenly attributed to Xena," Stevie said with a shrug. "I tried the costume on yesterday and it fit. From the looks of it yours will too. I could tell itíd mean a lot to Lizzy if weíd do this."
"So what does the Xena outfit look like?" Sarah asked, curious.
"Itís leather, youíll look stunning, and youíll love it." Stevie replied without emotion.
Sarah shrugged, "Iím game. But have you considered that if we really are the reincarnations of these three people and we don their outfits, whatís to keep some age old flame from reigniting and Lizzy and I from falling madly in love with each other?"
"Absolutely nothing." Stevie said, picking up her bath towel and walking to the door. "And it scares me, but like I said this would really mean a lot to Lizzy, so weíre going."
/|\^..^/|\A loud bang woke Lizzy Covington with a start. Blinking she looked around her bedroom; nothing was out of place. As if in answer to her silent question, Solari called from down the hall, "In here Lizzy."
Lizzy pushed open the door to her office that served on occasion as a guest room. The small futon couch had been extended and Solari was sitting up in bed, looking at the bookshelf behind Lizzyís desk. "What happened?" The archeologist asked.
"The urn with your grandmotherís ashes fell off the shelf, didnít uncork Iím happy to say, but theyíre still riled up," Solari explained as Lizzy stooped to pick up the urn. "At one point I almost went to sleep downstairs they were so noisy, but I really hate your couch ñ no offense."
"None taken," Lizzy replied with a smile, setting the urn upright on the floor.
"Iím hearing that you didnít inform your blonde houseguest that you had a spare bed?" Solari asked teasingly.
"I really think dead people should mind their own business," Lizzy replied with a frown at a picture of her grandmothers that was sitting on her desk. "Sarah was passed out on the couch and you and I know this is the most haunted room in the house ñ why on earth would I make Stevie sleep in here."
"I think Janice expected you to sleep in here and give Stevie your bedroom." Solari explained with a shrug.
"Something tells me she would have done the exact same thing I did if it were Melinda." Lizzy insisted. "When on earth did she become so prim and proper?"
Solari followed Lizzy down the stairs into the kitchen where a pot of coffee had finished brewing. "It isnít about propriety." Solari explained, accepting the steaming mug gratefully. "Janice is beside herself that youíre not enamored with Sarah. Itís all about Xena and Callisto for her. She is convinced that whether Stevie knows it or not she is going to be a danger to you or to your family. Janice doesnít believe anything good could possibly come from associating with her. She also thinks that for the last several millennia Sarah has been your soul mate and why monkey around with a good thing."
"And what about Melinda?" Lizzy asked thoughtfully taking a sip of coffee.
Solari shrugged. "She doesnít necessarily disagree with Janice. However, she thinks that this sort of challenge is for the living to work through and that the two of them should really stay out of it. Obviously sheís feeling a lot of remorse right now for all of the things sheís learned that Callisto endured that were indirectly Xenaís fault."
"Is she surprised Iím not infatuated with Sarah?" Lizzy pressed.
"I donít think so?" Solari asked thoughtfully. "She thinks that you donít really know the stuntwoman as well. Even though sheís tortured, Stevie is pretty upfront about who she is, in some ways Melinda thinks that Sarah is less trusting; that it will take longer to get to know her. She thinks that if you do, youíll feel just as drawn to her and then not be able to make up your mind about who or what you want." The Medium studied her friend for several long moments. "Why are you asking this?"
Shrugging Lizzy refilled her coffee cup. "I think some of whatís happening here is out of habit. I see and respect their wariness of Callisto, but I think grandma Janice is more upset about me not being drawn to the same things as she was. Like thatís the proper order of nature. Ever since I was small and she figured out where my prolocavaties were heading she made assumptions about me. Grandma Melinda always spoke about the mystery of finding the right person and that was always a broad picture. Male, female, tall, short whatever. Grandma Janice spoke more absolutely, tall, dark hair, blue eyes etc... I think sheís having a hard time letting go of her assumptions."
The Medium shook her head. "Maybe, but I donít think sheíd be this upset if you and I were hooking up," she observed.
"You have long dark hair," Lizzy replied with a grin. "So youíre halfway there. Grandma Janice always did have a soft spot for you. You donít remind me of my grandmother but youíre like my sister... eew, and married."
"I wasnít propositioning you," Solari said flatly with a frown. "Besides, Rick is very understanding about his wifeís desire to sleep with women on occasion. I just think that Janice isnít trying to keep you single, sheís just trying to keep you away from Stevie." She smiled seductively, "Make it easy on yourself, and see what happens with Sarah."
"Youíve been talking to Melvin, havenít you?" Lizzy asked with a frown.
"Of course I have, Epphie and I are extended family and heís a hopeless gossip. But it isnít like its news. All of us want to see you find someone." Solari said as she tousled Lizzyís hair in a spot on impersonation of her cousin. "Want me to hang around for a couple more days and help out?"
"Not staying at my place youíre not," Lizzy warned. "Iím not getting anywhere with anyone with a house guest. Besides," she sighed a bit sadly, "if something doesnít connect at the party tonight, itís not going to. They fly home tomorrow evening."
"Fair enough, Iím sure I can crash at Melís if need be, unless he gets his head out of his ass and realizes that Epphie is as crazy about him as he is about her," the Medium said with a wry grin.
"Is it difficult going through life knowing exactly how everyone feels about everyone else?" Lizzy asked with mock seriousness.
Solari shrugged. "Sometimes, but usually itís interesting enough to be worth it."
/|\^..^/|\Stevie and Sarah descended the stairs dressed in sweat suits for a morning run. Everyone was up quietly eating breakfast around the kitchen island. As Sarah predicted, the Hendersons were not present.
"What the hell was that this morning?" Sarah asked, cutting to the chase and pouring a cup of coffee for Stevie then herself.
"We had words with Bob and Mary," Dave explained. "They are most put out that weíre not... participating in their planned activities for tonight."
"What he means is, theyíre not up for any witch-hunts this evening," Jeff explained.
"Given that youíre seriously out-numbered by the witches, I think thatís wise," Stevie observed.
"They mean well..." Susan tried to explain.
"There is no ëmeaning wellí when your point is someone else doesnít have the right to freely exist," Phil said, not unkindly, but sternly. "Theyíre planning to protest people having fun downtown tonight and they are out of bounds to do so."
"What theyíre trying to do is spread the word of God to people they think need to hear it," Susan replied. Her voice was gentle, not angry but clearly she was torn between agreeing with the Hendersons on principle and disagreeing with them on the details. "No one is saying anyone else doesnít have the right to exist. If anything theyíre trying to promote existence and life."
Sarah frowned, "I donít mean to sound flip but your church isnít a secret. I doubt there is anyone left in this country who doesnít know what a Christian is. I think anyone who is interested or curious about your faith doesnít have far to look to find out more. Bringing banners and signs to someone elseís party are just bad manners."
"Weíre going to take a jog around town," Stevie cut in, doing her best to head off a religious debate. "Weíll be back in a bit."
"What was that about?" Sarah asked as she followed Stevie up the street starting at a slow jog.
"I didnít want to watch you get sucked into a religious debate, thatís all." Stevie replied, happy to be away from the confrontation.
Sarah thought a moment. "Why is that? Iím arguing with her and Iím a Methodist. Youíre agnostic, arenít the Hendersons making you crazy with their evangelical fervor?"
"Of course itís making me crazy. I think freedom from religion is as important as freedom of religion, but I donít want to argue with these people about it. Itís not like anyone is going to change their mind," Stevie said picking up the pace a little.
"Iíve got to disagree with you there. Have you seen how much Susan and Dave have changed in the last couple of days? Theyíve practically adopted Jeff and Phil. I even heard Dave talking to Jeff about some free-lance engineering work for his company," the stuntwoman shook her head. "Sometimes I think weíre spoiled, living in Southern California, there are places where people donít run into gay, ethnic, or whatever people every day. We really take diversity for granted." As she spoke, she quickened the pace a little, their jogging rivalry kicking in ever so subtly.
"Yeah, they also donít get to see actors and writers posing as waiters every day either," Stevie teased, taking off at a sprint.
Sarah chased her through a number of Salem streets. There was very little car activity and most of the shops were just opening. They stopped to catch their breath near a grammar school that was beginning its Halloween parade through town. Two by two, small children walked through the gate and down the sidewalk, holding hands with their partner dressed in their Halloween costumes. As they passed Stevie and Sarah, the kids waved and wished them a happy Halloween.
"Now thatís what Iím talking about," Sarah said as two little boys headed down the street. One was dressed as a mutant ninja turtle, the other as a power ranger. They held hands and waved happily. Both Sarah and Stevie waved back. "If the Hendersons were here youíd know theyíd pitch a fit at those little boys holding hands."
"Probably," Stevie agreed. "But youíre not saying thatís an example of our kind of ëdiversityí are you?"
The stuntwoman shook her head, "not at all, but if it is ñ it makes no damn difference. Hey! Thatís the House of the Seven Gables," Sarah said turning around and noticing the large dark building behind them.
"How do you know?" Stevie asked as they walked around the front.
"Totally, I remember it from The Salem Saga on Bewitched." As they rounded the building they saw the large sign out front.
"It amazes me the things you pick up from strange places, like sit-coms," Stevie said, impressed.
The stuntwoman beamed, "life is nothing but a learning experience," she replied. Turning to Stevie she gently put the palm of her hand against the shorter womanís cheek. "You know, Iíve always been really grateful that youíve never treated me like I was ëless thaní for not having an extensive formal education."
Stevie chuckled. "Youíve got to be kidding, right?" she said with a light laugh. "Youíre a brilliant woman Sarah or I wouldnít put up with you. So what if you donít have umpteen letters after your name. Yeah, youíre a TV junkie but so what? More than once youíve figured out how to flip a car for a spectacular effect and walk away unscathed. Thereís more to life than books."
"A lot of people that are scary-smart like you donít feel that way," Sarah pressed.
"A lot of people like me who supposedly have their ducks in a row are a fucking wreck and I know that. Show me someone who seems to have it all and I know thereís a body buried somewhere. Nothing, not education, money or anything else protect you from life."
Sarah smiled, looking down at her friend. "I learned something else on TV, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer," she said softly.
"And what was that?" Stevie asked looking up curiously.
"The hardest thing in the world, is to live in it."
"That was from the musical episode, wasnít it?" Stevie asked putting her hand over Sarahís.
"Yeah, but it was said in the earlier episode when Buffy died for the second time," the stuntwoman replied with a grin.
Stevie let go of her hand and smiled. "I would have found the concept of dying more than once preposterous before this trip," she said.
"So youíre really buying into this stuff? You really think youíre Callisto? That we were arch-enemies once?" Sarah shook her head in disbelief, bending over and stretching out her legs. "Knowing you as I do, nothing can convince me that weíve ever been anything except for people who had each otherís back."
"Oh no," Stevie objected, stretching out her legs as well. "More than once weíve been at each otherís throats. Iíve seen it in my dreams night after night a very intense focused hatred. Iíve felt you stab me Iíve looked into eyes that looked very much like yours and seen nothing but profound hate." She stood and shook out her limbs and then began to stretch again. "Do you remember the trip we took to Big Sur. When we hiked through the forest and at sunset came out on the cliff overlooking that amazing expanse of Pacific Ocean. You said to me then that even the perfection of the cliffs, the sparkling waves, the sunset and the infinite expanse of everything couldnít match how perfect we were together. Do you remember that?" Sarah nodded mutely, her eyes misting over a little. "Well youíve hated me to the exact same degree that you loved me in that moment. And you had every right to."
Sarah blinked, stung. "Tell me about Xena," she whispered.
Stevie stretched a bent arm across her back and pulled on her elbow to stretch out her shoulders. "Do you want Janice Covingtonís perspective? Or Callistoís?" she asked.
"Weíve got time for a long run, give me both," Sarah replied with a wink and headed off again.
They returned to the guest house a couple of hours later to find everyone still in the kitchen, only engaged in the activity of pumpkin carving. Working in pairs they were hallowing out the squash, separating the seeds for roasting and carving jack ëo lanterns. Music was coming from the sitting room and the mood was festive. Sarah opened a cupboard and extracted two large glasses. After filling both with water, she handed one to Stevie.
"Grab a pumpkin and dive in," Mel said happily. "Lizzy called looking for you guys. She and Solari are working on costumes for tonight, if you remember how to get to her place you can head over there at five oíclock."
"Early party?" Sarah asked, confused.
"Nah," Mel replied shaking his head. "Party doesnít start until eight. Youíll have to get dressed, and it isnít Halloween in Salem until youíve spent some time walking around town. Itís awesome."
"Youíve got enough pumpkins here for a whole neighborhood," Stevie said teasingly. "Does everyone go this crazy?"
"Heís got to keep up with the Talbot family two streets over." Epphie explained, holding a pumpkin down while Mel scooped out the seeds. "They have only three or four pumpkins each year but theyíre huge. Mel makes up for it with quantity."
"So how are you guys feeling after the séance last night?" Jeff asked, concern in his voice. He was holding his pumpkin steady while Phil drew a face on it with a Sharpie marker.
"Hung over," Stevie replied with a pained smile. "The run and the water are helping though."
"I donít know how much of it I buy into," Sarah said. I mean I totally think Epphie and Solari are on the up and up when it comes to talking to dead people, I just find this whole Xena thing harder to swallow."
Mel nodded in understanding. "Grandma Janice had a really hard time with it as well, although I think it was the ësidekickí angle that gave her fits." Instinctively everyone turned their heads in the direction of the china cabinet in the dining room. "Relax guys, the grandmothers follow Lizzy around, they arenít here right now. My dishes are safe."
"I know Iím not supposed to believe any of this," Susan said as she carefully carved a pumpkin, "but there were too many details for me to think this is fake. Iím really left believing that this is part of Godís plan as well. That Heís given people unique gifts to comfort others."
"How comforted do you feel?" Epphie asked Stevie.
The blonde woman shook her head. "I feel like I gave more answers than I got," she said remembering her conversation with Janice. She could imagine herself in the role of a young man in the 1950s asking the father to date his daughter. While the questions didnít involve Lizzy specifically they did have a great deal to do with Stevieís upbringing, how she viewed life and her work. More than once she suspected Janice was trying to trip her up in her archaeological knowledge. She enjoyed the chance to present a perspective from someone on the cutting edge of archeological science and technique. While there wasnít anything explicitly adversarial about their conversation, Stevie felt like she held her own. In a way she was grateful for the added opportunity to talk to Janice ëface to faceí.
"Itís not every day you get quizzed by dead people," Sarah quipped with a grin. She reached for a pumpkin and a knife. "Do you want to scoop or carve?" she asked.
What was left of the morning and early afternoon passed in a blur. Everyone worked diligently on carving the numerous pumpkins Mel had bought and by lunch time a row of orange sculptures lined the dining table awaiting their display on the front porch. Stevie and Sarah headed upstairs to shower and dress before heading over to Lizzyís. Both women grabbed a fresh towel from under the dry sink in their room and headed to the bathroom at the same time. Reaching the bedroom door together they stopped and looked at each other.
"You want the first shower?" Stevie asked and her eyes narrowed noting the slight crimson tinge coloring Sarahís cheeks. "Did you forget we donít shower together anymore?"
The stuntwoman sighed. "Old habits are hard to break," she protested. "You know itíd save time if we just..."
"Shower together?" Stevie supplied. "Having sex in the shower, again on the bed, then having to shower again and the whole vicious cycle repeating itself. Tell me how that is saving time."
"You have such a negative view of everything," Sarah complained, knowing full well that everything Stevie said was accurate.
"I warned you that youíd be in a mood today, donít blame me." Stevie shot back. "Go ahead, take the first shower. It takes longer for your hair to dry anyways." Tossing the towel back onto the bed Stevie headed back downstairs.
Mel and Epphie were the only people remaining in the kitchen cleaning up the last remnants of the pumpkin-carving event. Both looked up and smiled at Stevieís arrival.
"Forget something?" Mel asked curiously.
The Egyptologist shook her head. "Sarah and I are still working out the kinks of being broken up, thatís all. Had to negotiate the separate shower business." With supreme amusement Stevie noted the blush creeping into Melís cheeks, clearly heíd made a mental picture. Epphie was smirking in amusement as well and reached for a mug to pour Stevie a cup of coffee.
"Lizzy is right in that you guys get along really well for exes," he mentioned casually.
"Youíre thinking ëtoo wellí, arenít you?" Stevie asked, nodding her thanks to Epphie as she accepted the offered steaming mug.
"Maybe," he agreed.
Stevie shrugged. "I canít argue with that I guess. I know it hasnít kept Sarah from moving on and dating up a storm, but I guess thatís one of the reasons I keep putting it off. Itís like trying to explain my crazy aunt whoís going to drop by from time to time."
"As long as youíre not putting anything off because you still have feelings for Sarah." Epphie said, clearly for Melís benefit.
"Nope. Not how youíre thinking at any rate. Obviously we still have strong feelings for each other but weíre friends. Strange entangled very close friends who really shouldnít get drunk together, but thatís it."
"If you donít mind my saying so, you both seem interested in my cousin?" Mel asked, taking note of Epphieís disapproving frown.
"Surely that doesnít surprise you?" Stevie asked taking a sip of coffee. "Sheís got a lot going for her."
"Melís being the protective cousin and doesnít want to see Lizzy hurt," Epphie explained although she knew it was obvious.
"Iíd be just as protective if she were my cousin," Stevie agreed. "Fortunately she isnít and I can enjoy the experience of being immensely attracted. However I get the distinct impression that your dead grandmothers would pitch a fit if anything happened between Lizzy and I."
"Distinct impression?" Epphie asked with a knowing smile.
Stevie shrugged. "They showed up in my dream last night ñ or rather I should say at some ungodly hour this morning."
Melís eyes lit up with excitement. "You talked to them?" He asked, nearly falling off his stool and bumping his cast against the kitchen island. Epphie chuckled as she helped him regain his balance. "How were they? Are they okay?"
Stevie found herself smiling in return, Melvin Cabbotís enthusiasm was infectious. "For two dead women they looked very healthy," she said gently. "I think they were in their early thirties maybe, like the picture I saw at Lizzy of them dressed in tuxedos. That wasnít what they were wearing though. Dr. Covington was in her dig clothes and Miss. Pappas was wearing a black skirt suit with a cream blouse. The style looked like the late forties or early fifties to me."
"What did she tell you?" Mel asked, curiously.
Stevie took another sip of coffee and sighed. "In short, to stay away from your cousin. She had me see for myself how Xena and Gabrielle died and the part Callisto played in that. I still think much of it has to be a metaphor since Callisto was already dead by that point, twice if you listen to her account. But I saw what I saw and it was tragic and the message was very clear."
Mel was quiet a moment, as if debating with himself before taking his crutches and hobbling over to a curio cabinet in the living room. He extracted something and came back into the kitchen. "I loved my grandmothers very much, everyone in our family did," he explained. "And I have nothing but respect for them, but they werenít perfect." He handed Stevie an old worn deck of cards. "Janice taught all of us how to play poker and this is the deck sheíd use." Stevie opened the deck and looked at the well-worn cards. She looked back to Mel, not getting the point. "Theyíre marked," he said.
"Janice Covington would cheat at cards with her own grandkids?" Stevie said, stunned.
Mel nodded his head. "She taught us not to gamble. She played for money and early on the kids learned that gambling meant losing oneís allowance. She caught Lizzyís father with one of her cigars when he was about twelve. Made him smoke the whole thing and he was sick for two days. He never smoked again after that. When something mattered to her she could be very manipulative to get the end result she thought was right. Usually she was right, but not always."
Stevie ran her index finger across the smooth surface of the deck then put the cards back in the box. "Are you telling me to ignore your grandmotherís warning?" She was not surprised to see a blush creep into the cheeks of Lizzyís cousin.
"Iím not exactly saying that." He said quietly.
"What I think Mel is hinting at," Epphie added, "is that Janice and Melinda might not have a complete picture. She could feel very sure about what should and should not be from her perspective, but maybe she isnít seeing everything? She was absolutely convinced that all of the armor sheíd collected belonged to Xena. She knew of Callisto to be sure, but she didnít believe in a million years that she had any of Callistoís artifacts. Not knowing for sure never kept Janice Covington from believing she was right. It was part of her charm."
Stevie heard the door to their room open and close and knew Sarah was finished in the shower. "Well itís something to think about at any rate." She said as she headed back to the stairs.
"Iím not trying to complicate stuff between you and Sarah," Mel called after her.
Stevie stopped and turned back to the kitchen. "No worries, we take care of that end of it all ourselves," she said with a laugh and headed upstairs.
"Twenty bucks says Lizzy will go for Sarah," Mel said to Epphie with a wink. "I think Stevie is going to listen to Janice and steer clear."
"Youíre betting with a psychic?" Epphie replied rolling her eyes. "No wonder you never had any allowance as a kid. You donít know when to quit."
Shortly before five Stevie and Sarah left Melís guesthouse and walked the short distance to Lizzyís place. Theyíd opted to wear sweats since they knew theyíd be changing into costumes anyway. Stevie brought her purse with some makeup not sure what would be appropriate for the costumes.
Lizzy greeted them at the door already dressed in her Gabrielle outfit. Her porch was adorned by several pumpkins, which waited silently for their candles to be lit. A bouquet of Indian corn was fastened to the front door and a sexy witch on a broom was hanging from the tree in her front yard. The archeologist was pleased and flattered as the two Californians stood and stared at her for long moments before remembering to say hello.
"That is some outfit," Sarah said not even attempting subtlety as her eyes roamed over Lizzyís body. The costume was made of soft brown leather and consisted of a short skirt that rode low on Lizzyís waist and was decorated with feathers. Her midriff was exposed, the top covering her breasts without much more modesty than a bra. It had intricate stitching, which was mesmerizing to look at, although absently Sarah had to wonder if it was the costume or cleavage that was more appealing. She wore armbands made from the same soft leather, festooned with feathers as well as ornate stitching. Soft boots and a feathered necklace completed the costume.
Stevie responded to the costume as well, but not in the same way Sarah did. While she very much enjoyed looking at the expanse of Lizzyís skin now on display and appreciated the movement of firm muscles beneath that skin, something about the Gabrielle as Amazon outfit was unappealing. It didnít take much soul-searching to admit that any sort of Gabrielle outfit would have probably sparked the same reaction for Stevie. Even though she knew it not to be the case, it was hard not to think of Gabrielle, at least in some sense, as an accomplice in Callistoís ongoing torment. She shook her head and forced a smile to her lips, determined not to let any of her Callisto baggage interfere with her enjoyment of time with Elizabeth Covington.
"Thanks," Lizzy replied with a self-conscious smile. "Grandma Janice made one and I copied it when the original started to fall apart. She tried to tell me it was age, but the outfit looked rather well worn to me. I really try not to think about that aspect of my grandmotherís lives though."
"Oh I hear you," Stevie said agreeing whole-heartedly. "There was a horrific night out with my mom when the conversation turned to vibrators over dinner I really thought I was going to spontaneously combust. Some things should stay theoretical."
Sarah smirked. "I always enjoyed those conversations with your mom."
Stevie turned to Sarah, her brown eyes blazing with mischief. "What about the time you walked in on your parents..."
"Okay, okay..." Sarah said holding up her hands in defeat. "Point taken,"
"Apparently momís a screamer," Stevie said with a wink as she passed Sarah and followed Lizzy inside.
"Iíve brought the outfits over from the museum," Lizzy explained as they made their way into her living room. "Weíll get dressed here and tour the town before heading to the party. Who wants to get dressed first?"
"I will," Sarah volunteered, tossing her jacket to the couch.
"Would you guys like something to drink: tea, wine, anything?" Lizzy asked as she pulled a large plastic bin from under the coffee table.
"Not wine... at least not yet," Stevie said, even the word making her head swim with memories of the inebriation of the previous night.
"Iím with Blondie," Sarah agreed. "How about tea?"
Stevie frowned at Sarahís nickname but decided a reaction was what Sarah was hoping for. "You kids get started and Iíll fix the tea."
Lizzy smiled and told her where she could find everything then turned her attention to Sarah. She extracted a leather bodice from the bin and held it up for Sarahís approval and the stuntwoman smiled. She was going to enjoy this. Stevie rolled her eyes and headed to the kitchen. An evening of Sarah full of herself was not unbearable, but not her favorite thing either. Still the request was Lizzyís and that made it worth doing.
Even as those thoughts formed in her head the broom next to the refrigerator fell, only Stevie, who was expecting it caught it halfway down. She carried the broom across the kitchen and leaned it in the far corner, positioning one of the kitchen chairs in front of it so it couldnít fall. "Donít you ladies ever quit?" she asked softly as she prepared tea.
She had to smile as she opened the cupboard where Lizzy kept her tea. As expected, there were far more choices to be had than necessary. Absently she wondered if there was such a thing as a lesbian household with only one or two kinds of tea. She found a small tray on top of the ëfridge and when sheíd prepared the tea she put the three teacups on the tray and headed back into the living room. Two steps into the room and she froze. She might have dropped the tea tray were it not for Lizzyís lightning reflexes. In an instant the archeologist was there lifting the tray from her grasp even as Stevie felt numbness in her fingers.
It was as if her dreams, or nightmares had indeed come to life. Now standing next to Gabrielle was Xena in the flesh. "What do you think?" Sarah asked, not sure how to read the stunned nature of Stevieís expression.
"You look just like Xena," Stevie said although the ambivalence was clear in her voice as to whether that was a good thing or not.
Sarah wore a leather dress with short skirt made of armored lambertens; heavy strips that provided armor and ease of movement of the legs. She had boots on with armor that came to her knees. She wore gauntlets on each arm that had hammered bronze scrollwork as well as a matching armband around each bicep.
"I need you to help me with the chest armor," Lizzy said holding up a large hammered bronze chest piece as well as shoulder and back pieces.
"Sure," Stevie said, determined to keep her voice casual.
"Hold on," Sarah protested then leaning forward, made a not so subtle adjustment of her breasts in the tight fitting leather bodice. Stevie rolled her eyes and then glancing over at Lizzy saw a now familiar pink tinge to the archaeologistís cheeks.
"Girls corralled properly?" Stevie asked innocently as she and Lizzy positioned the armor.
"Hey," Sarah protested. "Itís not like this dress has a built in bra."
"Nope," Lizzy agreed. "But wait until we get this metal thing in position." She explained. "Better than ëcross your heartí protection."
In moments the two blonde women had attached the shoulder piece to the armor on the front and back of Sarahís outfit. Sensing Lizzyís apprehension, Stevie reached around and with familiar hands on the stuntwomanís body, attached the hooks that connected the front to the back at her sides. The final touches were sword and scabbard hooked onto the armor at her back, and round chakram placed at the hook at Sarahís hip. The stuntwomanís transformation into Xena was complete.
Sarah took a few experimental steps across the room and moved her arms. She smiled in satisfaction. "This is surprisingly comfortable," she said with a warm smile at Lizzy. "Fits like a glove too. Maybe there is something to this Xena thing."
Lizzy smiled in return and Stevie felt her stomach sink at the obvious sparks flying in-between the two. In moment though, the archeologist had collected herself and turned to Stevie. "Next victim," she said with a smile.
Stevie watched as Lizzy pulled the second plastic bin from under the coffee table. She kicked off her running shoes and noticed as she prepared to slip off her sweat pants that the archeologist became preoccupied with the contents of the bin. Stevie looked at Sarah who winked. With a shrug Stevie slipped out of her sweats noting the blush creep into Lizzyís cheeks. While the archeologist may not appear to be watching Stevie undress, she could apparently still see her skimpy black satin underwear from her peripheral vision. Sarah attached the clasps to the armored skirt in the back as Lizzy stood carrying the black leather breast armor.
"This outfit is almost as skimpy as Lizzyís is," Sarah observed looking at the top. "Are you guys going to freeze tonight?"
"Itíll be warm in the museum," Lizzy assured her.
Stevie pulled the sweatshirt over her head and heard Lizzyís breath catch. Sheíd not given the archaeologist enough warning to distract her with looking at something else.
"The bra is going to have to go isnít it?" Sarah said, matter of factly, looking at the leather top and at Stevieís lacy black bra.
"Um... yeah... it should," Lizzy said between several not so subtle gulps. "I can ah... leave... oh my," Lizzy stammered as Stevie undid her bra and tossed it onto the couch with the rest of her clothes. Sarah chuckled to herself and helped Stevie into the top.
"Why donít I hold the front while you fasten the back?" Sarah offered knowing full well that if sheíd suggested the opposite the archeologist would have fainted, sheíd have laughed out loud and Stevie would have never forgiven her."
"Um... right, good idea." Lizzy said and moved behind Stevie.
The Egyptologist could feel a slight tremble to the hands that moved her long blonde hair from her shoulders. Warm soft fingers manipulated the buckles and straps that tightened the armor around her and settled everything in place. The same warm hands that fastened the straps that held the arm pieces in place and finally the armor above her knees and the boots below. When sword and dagger were in place, she was finished.
Sarah looked at Stevie appreciatively and whistled. "You look hot in black leather," she said, stating the obvious.
"Well you both look stunning in brown," Stevie replied, it dawning on her that indeed she was the only one wearing black.
Lizzy blinked a couple of times, looking at Stevie. As before, in her workroom at the Peabody she was stunned by the transformation of Stevie in Callistoís armor. She looked lithe, dangerous... deadly. It conflicted on every level with the woman sheíd come to know over the past several days. But something very deep within her screamed in warning and was afraid. Shaking her head, she pushed the negative thoughts from her mind and focused on the present. Sarah was quite stunning in Xenaís armor and stood quite naturally with her hands on her hips.
"I really think we should revisit you getting your belly button pierced," Sarah said, still examining Stevie. "That would look awesome with that outfit."
"Wouldnít be very authentic, now would it?" Stevie said with a smile at Lizzy and a pointed look to the small piece of body jewelry that the archaeologist had pierced through her own belly button.
"Yeah, well," Lizzy said bashfully. "There was this party in Greece a few years ago and ah... well the people at the thing tonight wonít know if Gabrielle had a pierced belly button or not."
"Fair enough," Stevie said and reached for her purse. "As long as weíre not striving for complete authenticity..." She withdrew some eyeliner, mascara, and lip color from her bag. She spent a few moments working on Sarah ñ focusing on her eyes. When she turned around to face Lizzy the archeologist couldnítí believe that the pools of blue light had become even more intense. Sarah was stunning.
"Next victim," she said and turned to Lizzy who was only too happy to receive the gentle attention of the Egyptologist. It was a relief to experience something that reminded her this was indeed Stevie, in spite of her outfit. As before she applied a bit of color around her eyes, some eyeliner and mascara and a touch of blush at her cheeks, not that her cheeks needed any help in coloring. She ended with her lips and Lizzy was convinced that she could endure Stevie touching her lips all night. Still, there was something a little distance about her touch as if the taller woman was refusing to let herself enjoy the connection as she had before. Lizzy wondered if it could be the last remnants of the hang over left by the previous nights drinking.
With her two companions ready to go, Stevie took a couple of moments with her own makeup. Lizzy was stunned at how efficiently and proficiently she worked with a small hand held mirror. In moments she was ready to go as well, looking breathtaking and dangerous.
"How do you feel?" Sarah asked, as the three of them stepped onto the sidewalk outside of Lizzyís house.
"Like the evil stepsister going to the ball." Stevie replied flatly as she looked up at Sarah. Even her perspective was alien. Often she wore heels and Sarah didnít so she could usually gaze into the stuntwomanís eyes directly; the fact that all three of them were in flat boots made the differences in their height striking.
"So you donít hand out candy at Halloween?" Stevie asked as the trio walked up the street.
Lizzy smiled. "A lot of people do, but there is so much going on in town, itís not unusual for people to not be home on Halloween. Thatís one break we get for turning into ëHalloween Towní. Why donít we drop in on Mel before heading to the Peabody. Heíd love to see you guys dressed up."
"Iím no doubt about that." Stevie muttered under her breath remembering how much Lizzyís cousin had blushed at the thought of she and Sarah in the shower. She had no doubt that the sight of the three of them dressed scantily in leather would send his thoughts spiraling in new directions.
They walked through a few neighborhood streets and Lizzy conversed easily with the people she passed. She seemed to know everyone and everyone seemed to have genuine affection for her. Several inquired as to the state of her cousinsí leg and she stopped a couple of times to give well-wishers an update. For the houses that were receiving trick-or-treaters everyone pulled out all the stops. Scarecrows, jack ëo lanterns, witches, monsters and every sort of fall decoration imaginable decorated the yards, porches and doorways. Many people were in costume as they handed out goodies from the typical wrapped candy to small tooth brushes, toys and even some home-made treats. For those homes it was clear that parties were underway with families who knew each other ñ no one was handing out baked goods to strangers. One family had put up a ghost piñata in their back yard, another had a tank to bob for apples in a yard swirling with movie fog.
"Woah," Sarah breathed as they turned a corner. Two neighbors had gotten together and were throwing a party. Both homes were two stories and the upstairs window of one house was facing a large expanse of wall of the neighborís house. They made the most of it by facing a movie projector out the upstairs window and showing the original Dracula movie on the neighborís wall. Sound was coming through a large speaker system and Sarah stood transfixed.
"That is the coolest fucking thing Iíve ever seen!" She said as she watched in awe the huge face of Bella Legosi as he welcomed all to his castle. "Why donít we do cool shit like this at home?" she wondered aloud.
"Because we donít live in Halloween Town," Stevie said, amused. "Tell you what, next year Iíll help you build a graveyard in your front yard."
Sarah nodded; appreciating the idea and taking mental notes of the fake graveyard they strolled through to the next set of houses.
"Hereís the Talbotís." Lizzy said as they reached the next house. "This is really going to blow you away."
It was not an understatement. As they entered the white picket fence, festooned with a myriad of fake spider webs, they came upon the largest pumpkins either of the Californianís had ever seen. They were easily three to four feet tall and three feet across at the largest part. One of them was so huge Sarah thought Lizzy could have easily curled up inside of it, although she doubted that would be an enjoyable experience.
"Hey Gordy," Lizzy said, greeting the middle aged man holding court on his stoop. "Biggest pumpkins yet I see."
He grinned and shook hands with Lizzy. She introduced her friends and he offered them all a warm cup of apple cider. "This was a good year at the pumpkin patch," he offered. "That small one over there was four hundred pounds and this big one," he pointed to the pumpkin to his left, "was five hundred. The other three are somewhere in-between the two."
"How long did it take you to carve them?" Stevie asked noting that the lights in the pumpkins were several large pillar candles, four to six inches wide.
"Put the whole family to work since breakfast this morning." Gordy said with a laugh. "Cleaning them out is the worst as you can imagine, but after that a big butcherís knife makes quick work of it. Nearly didnít finish that little one though before it got dark."
"I guess once you figure out where youíre going to put them they stay put?" Sarah asked her mind reeling at the difficulty of moving something so large and heavy around.
"Oh yeah. Not worried about anyone nicking my pumpkins. Not that the carving is all that. You have to keep the faces simple." He explained. "When the skin is six to nine inches thick, you donít get too intricate."
Sarah took a few pictures and the trio continued on to Melís. Certainly what Melís pumpkins lacked in size they did make up for with artistic vision and execution. There were a wide variety of styles and designs to the dozen or more pumpkins that decorated Melís front porch and front yard. In the dark of night the smiling or scowling faces danced merrily from the flames inside.
The three stepped onto the porch and Lizzy dutifully rang the doorbell. They could hear him hobble over. He opened the door holding his crutches in one hand and a big bowl of candy in the other. Fortunately Epphie was standing right next to him to catch the candy bowl as he lost his balance.
"Woah," he breathed, eyes wide taking in Sarah and Stevie, "you two look amazing."
"Hello!" Lizzy said annoyed, "Iím standing right here."
"Oh yeah," Mel said, barely glancing at her, "you look fine sweetie."
"Your cousin has a thing for leather I see," Epphie teased warmly. "But not on his cousin. Seriously though, you three look wonderful."
"I donít know if wonderful is the word Iíd use," Stevie said, feeling a chill as she stood on the porch. She wasnít sure though if the cold was coming from the outside air, or something on the inside.
Mel shook his head, clearly trying to focus his thoughts. "And I thought Solari came up with an amazing costume..." he muttered, clearly not able to wrench his eyes from Sarah and Stevie.
"Are my dates here?" Solari called from inside the house.
She joined Epphie and Mel at the entry way and Sarah felt her mouth go very dry. She was dressed in an elegant kimono with her hair pulled back in a delicate bun.
"Who... who are you?" Sarah asked, trying to sound casual and failing.
Solari smiled warmly. "Lao Ma, a historical figure from Japan, same time period as you three."
Stevie glanced from Sarah to Solari and back reading the stuntwomanís expression like a book.
"You sure you guys donít want to join us?" Lizzy asked her cousin and Epphie, drawing Stevie from her thoughts.
Epphie shook her head and held up the bowl of candy sheíd rescued from Mel. "Iím going to help your cousin hand out candy." She also nodded to her extended belly, "Besides, I donít really have a costume for ëpregnant historical womaní."
Mel shrugged but Lizzy noticed the smile on his face. "Didnít have an outfit for historical gimp either," he said, with a nod to his crutches.
"Weíll leave you to it then," Solari said with a confident laugh. "Have a good time kids, but donít wait up for us."
For long moments the foursome walked quietly up the street. Lizzy and Solari were in front and Sarah and Stevie brought up the rear.
"You seem intrigued by Solariís costume?" Stevie whispered to Sarah, making the stuntwoman frown.
"I think youíre imagining things," Sarah replied, a bit too defensively. "Youíre just jealous."
Stevie nodded dramatically, "yeah, thatís exactly it," she said with a laugh. "Iím jealous because you canít make up your mind between Lizzy and Solari."
Something in Stevieís voice made Sarah stop. For several long moments she searched the Egyptologistís face and could find no trace of duplicity. "Youíre not jealous, are you? Of either of them?" Stevie shook her head. "Okay," Sarah muttered heading to catch up with the other two, "now thatís strange."
Activity bustled everywhere around them. Downtown had indeed transformed itself into one giant block party. Everywhere you looked were costumes of every description. A couple of Jedi, complete with light sabers were chatting amiably with a knight in armor. A gaggle of witches laughed at a bawdy joke made by someone in an Elvis costume. Sarah noticed several people dressed as the President, one wore a dunce cap, another carried a coloring book that said "What Would Cheney Do?" and another carried a sign that read "fixing elections since ë00". Jack Skellington and Sally were chatting on the corner with a man wearing Gandalf costume and a group of school kids were wearing the different house colors from Hogwarts. Stevie was hard pressed to think of anything sheíd ever seen that even came close.
"This totally reminds me of the Halloween we spent in West Hollywood," Sarah said, snapping pictures and grinning from ear to ear.
"Oh yeah," Stevie said puzzled that sheíd not remembered that party two years ago. Strangely a lot of memories seemed more distant to her.
They turned a corner near the Peabody museum and found a small group of people holding a large sign. It was declaring any number of immoral things people could burn in hell for, from homosexuality to abortion and drug use. In fact the sign protested so much that it was impossible to read all of the things these people objected to. There, at the front of the group standing silent vigil with lighted candles were Mary and Bob Henderson. Even more surprising than seeing their small group, Stevie quickly counted only six participants, was a much larger group of young teenagers standing around them chanting "bullshit, bullshit, bullshit." A number of passers by stopped to chuckle at the scene of Christians getting bullied for a change.
Several of the boys had been riding bikes and stood, straddling their bikes, lifting the handlebars to slam the bikes down in time with their chant. Several of the Christians looked a little frightened. A number of the teenagers looked intimidating in their demonic masks and grunge costumes. One boy started making very rude gestures to a small Asian woman standing next to Mary and she seemed on the verge of tears.
Without thinking Stevie stepped away from her companions and headed into the center of the group. "What do you think youíre doing?" she yelled, scolding the largest of the boys. "Standing here just screaming at them? Youíre all behaving no better than they do."
"They started it by bring that lame sign downtown," another boy protested.
"True enough," Stevie agreed, "but what are you proving by being as narrow minded as they are?"
A large muscle bound boy laughed, continuing to pound the ground with his bike. "Who asked you bitch?"
Stevie took three steps until she was right in front of him. With a lightning fast hand she pushed him and he fell backwards off of his bike. Before it fell, Stevie caught the bike and threw it a good fifteen feet where it landed on the grass in front of the museum. She took several slow steps until she stood over the boy. "What did you call me young man?" she asked sweetly.
The boy instantly backed up, scooting across the asphalt on his butt until he was far enough back to stand. Without saying a word he ran for his bike and took off.
"Anyone else want to be disrespectful?" Stevie asked the now silent mob of boys.
In seconds the band disbursed, disappearing in ones and twos into the street and shadows. In seconds Mary Henderson was at Stevieís side. "Thank you dear," she said relief etched on her features as well as the other five. "Iím so glad youíve had a change of heart."
Stevie turned and glared down at the woman, who immediately withdrew her hand from the Egyptologistís arm. "My heart hasnít changed one bit," Stevie said coldly, aware that many of the teens were listening in from the safety of shadows. "I donít want kids following your intolerant, narrow minded example," she explained icily. "You people deserved this, but those kids deserve more than to be like you." With a glance she quickly read the protest sign. "I hope every fetus you save is a black, gay, Wiccan Democrat." She said and walked back to Sarah, Solari and Lizzy.
"Ho-ly shit," Sarah breathed, with an expression every bit as stunned as that of Mary Henderson. "Have you been working out?"
"Bravo," Solari beamed, and applauded enthusiastically.
"Do you feel alright?" Lizzy asked, more than a little nervous.
"Actually I feel kind of strange," Stevie admitted, not sure where her rage came from although it didnít scare her as much as she might have expected. "My head is kind of spinning." She flexed her arm, unaware of where sheíd found the strength to throw the bike so far. "And I think I may have pulled something."
"Weíre almost there," Sarah said, noting the small queue of people at the museumís entrance. "Weíll get you something to drink."
"No alcohol," Stevie muttered absently as she allowed the other three to lead her inside.
When the names had been checked against the guest list, each were given a printed wristband that would serve as their pass into the party. Once inside the doors, they made their way past the reception area that had been decorated in Halloween finery. A long table with finger sandwiches and sushi dominated the space. At one end was a large punch bowl with large chunks of dry ice floating in it, giving the room an eerie fog. Several fog machines were also spewing smoke from under the table. A live band was playing in the main space, with more tables and some chairs on the patio outside. Velvet ropes had been set up to keep the party revelers from getting too close to the artwork and Lizzy was pleased to see a security guard every where she turned her head. She would have been surprised that Sarah and Stevieís weapons were allowed inside were it not for the fact that Belinda, someone she worked with on a daily basis had been the one to check them in.
"Iíve just seen Gennette," Solari said to Lizzy enthusiastically. "I havenít seen her since College. Iíll catch up with you kids later." In moments she was moving through the partygoers in search of her friend.
"Iím going to stop in the bathroom," Stevie said. "I just need a couple of minutes."
Sarah nodded, knowing the solitude of the bathroom was probably what her friend needed to collect her thoughts. She nodded to the patio. "Weíll be out on the patio, fresh air and all."
Stevie nodded, "Thatís perfect, Iíll meet up with you guys there."
Sarah watched as Stevie moved through the crowd until she disappeared behind a Julius Caesar talking to an Abraham Lincoln. Sarah couldnít understand why, but she instantly disliked the Caesar fellow.
"Are you going to check on her?" Lizzy asked as they made their way to the far side of the patio near a large tree. The party was just getting started with most guests continuing to mingle near the entrance or around the artwork. The patio was deserted and while the band could be heard, the music was distant and soft.
"Sometimes she just needs a little space," the stuntwoman reassured her. "Maybe the outfit is making her feel a little out of sorts. Itís not like her to hurl a bike across the street."
Lizzy arched her eyebrows. "The clothes do have an odd effect. What about you?"
"Iím not sure," Sarah admitted, grinning. "Itís almost like a comfortable pair of jeans thatís been hidden in the back of your closet." For a moment she studied Lizzy, unabashedly letting her eyes roam over the smaller woman. "What does the Amazon outfit do for you? Feel like a homecoming?"
The archaeologist shook her head. "Not at all. My grandmotherís leather jacket and hat ñ now thatís comfortable. This feels... feels like Iíve got big shoes to fill and Iím a size or two too small."
"I donít think so," Sarah said seriously. "I think your ancestors would be very proud of their progeny all the way down." As she spoke she let her eyes roam again over Lizzyís toned form.
Lizzy felt the blush creep into her cheeks and looked away from Sarahís vibrant blue eyes. Something about this arrangement was compelling, but unsettling as well. Elizabeth Covington has inherited much of her grandmotherís personality, especially the streak where she knew her own mind and acted upon it. Here she felt as if she were being guided or pulled by forces she couldnít name and that alone was unsettling, and unwelcome.
"You alright?" Sarah asked gently, reading the confusion that darted across mist green eyes.
"Yeah, like I said this isnít entirely comfortable. Maybe Iím just used to wearing more..." Lizzy said, fumbling for excuses and then instantly regretting sheíd said it. Almost like throwing tinder on a sparking fire Sarahís vivid blue eyes flared with awareness. She shifted a bit making the leather bodice creak. Distantly Lizzy remembered the sound, almost as if stumbling across an old faded photograph of a dear friend.
The stuntwoman took a step closer and gently touched the feathered necklace around Lizzyís neck. Instantly goose bumps appeared across the archaeologistís chest and arms. "Did you make all of this yourself?" Sarah asked quietly.
Lizzy swallowed, hard, realizing that she could feel the heat radiating from the stuntwomanís body less than a foot away. In fact there was more heat coming from Sarah than the propane heater behind her. "Grandma Janice made the necklace," she explained. "I recreated the rest from her patterns.
"And mine?" Sarah whispered, moving a bit closer. Mutely, Lizzy nodded. The stuntwoman smiled, warmly. "Iím no expert on historical authenticity," she explained, "but this feels dead on."
Lizzy smiled, Sarahís warm low voice wrapping around her like a caress. "Iím glad," she said quietly.
Without another word the stuntwoman leaned down and claimed Lizzyís lips with her own.
Lizzy responded realizing even as she did so that she was acting on instinct and habit. Still the body leaning over her was warm and the arms that had wrapped around her were strong and familiar and it felt good. Very good. Therefore, it wasnít with much surprise that Lizzy realized her hand had made itís way to the back of Sarahís neck with her fingers threaded through soft dark hair. Her other arm wrapped around Sarahís back where she could feel the scabbard that held Xenaís sword. Xena. That awareness, that this was not Xena and she was not Gabrielle startled her enough to break the kiss and take a step back.
"Are you alright?" Sarah asked quietly; an all too familiar twinkle in her eye.
Lizzy nodded, with a casual glance to the patio entrance that seemed very far away at the moment. "I um... I just startled myself."
"Okay," Sarah said, suspecting there was something more.
"And Stevie will probably be coming out here soon," Lizzy added noticing that the stuntwomanís eyes darkened somewhat at the mention of her ex-loverís name. "Itís also strangely warm out here. Are you warm? Do you want something to drink?"
Sarah smiled, amused and delighted at the flustered woman in front of her. She could have gone without the mention of Stevieís name, but wondered to herself what her ex would have thought seeing the two of them kissing. Would she decide that indeed, Gabrielle belonged with Xena and any other arrangement was unnatural? "Iíll get us some drinks," Sarah said smoothly, gently brushing the back of her knuckles across Lizzyís cheek. "Weíve got some catching up to do." With a broad smile she turned and headed for the party entrance and the punch bowl.
Standing silently in the shadow of a large bronze statue near the doorway, Stevie watched as Sarah walked right past her. Sheíd walked up as theyíd embraced and felt her stomach sink even as she knew it was to be expected. Deciding not to interfere, she turned and made her way into an adjoining gallery.
With a satisfied smile on her face Sarah headed over to the punch bowl. Sheíd picked up a plastic cup when Solari walked up next to her. The Medium picked one up as well and dipped the ladle in the misty punch.
"Youíre going to have to let her go, you know that," she said conversationally.
Sarah looked down at her, eyes slightly narrowed. "Let who go?" she asked evenly.
The psychic smiled warmly, unfazed by the stuntwomanís stern expression. "Who is it youíre holding onto?"
Rolling her vivid blue eyes, Sarah took a sip of punch. "Well Iíve already broken up with Stevie and I havenít really gotten started yet with Lizzy so I donít know what the fuck youíre talking about."
"And if I tell you that you donít end up with either?" Solari asked.
"Iíd say it isnít up to you, itís up to Lizzy," Sarah replied. Cocking her head she studied the psychic for several long moments. "Are you telling me itís already decided? Because I donít buy that."
"I wouldnít say anything is decided," Solari demurred, "but I will say that life is often a puzzle and I think Stevie has what it takes to sort out the combination of her current problem."
"And if she figures out the puzzle, she wins Lizzy?" Sarah demanded, albeit quietly. "Thatís crap."
"She doesnít win anything," Solari clarified. "Except maybe the tolerance of two determined dead people."
Sarah shook her head, laughing. "Lets say I take all this past life stuff at face value?" she asked, watching the psychic intently. "Why on earth, after all this time, would Stevie be better suited for Lizzy than me?" She shrugged her shoulders, "Iím the Xena. I belong with the Gabrielle."
"Maybe," Solari agreed. "But maybe the ëGabrielleí doesnít belong with you," she said softly. "I think we can agree that Gabrielleís central core was very much about love and forgiveness. She loved you with all her heart and soul; many, many times ñ more lifetimes than I could possibly count. She forgave you before that first nail was hammered in on that cross. There was never a momentís hesitation. Her soul has followed yours for over a thousand years." She took a sip of her green punch and looked thoughtful. "She said she forgave Callisto Iím sure. The question is, do you think she meant it?"
The stuntwoman opened her mouth to speak and stopped. With a sigh she closed it. "I doubt it," she whispered.
"That would only be human," Solari agreed. "But moving on for the soul is about more than being human. Itís about moving beyond what our humanity tells us is possible; that last selfless act, that instant of sheer heroism. Can you think of a more complete way for Gabrielle to forgive Callisto than to take this journey with her? Itís how you forgave her isnít it?"
"Wait a minute..." Sarah said, startled and then considered. She shook her head in disbelief. "Stevie and I got together because we just did. We had chemistry and it clicked and while it worked, it fucking rocked. It wasnít about forgiving her anything. I didnít even know she was Callisto."
Solari smiled. "And now you know, do you forgive her?"
Sarah frowned. "Well of course, but thatís beside the point. Frankly Iím not so sure Lizzy is any better suited for Stevie than I am."
The Medium shrugged. "Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice."
"Donít even quote Stevie Nicks to me," Sarah said irritatedly. "Fucking cryptic songwriter," she muttered under her breath. "Stevie hates it when people relate Stevie Nicks songs to her and Iíll bet Lizzy wouldnít even get that reference. You see, she wouldnít even know how to be what Stevie needs," she said realizing she was grasping at straws even as she said it.
Solari smiled kindly, "and that is why you have to let her go."
Not knowing what to say the stuntwoman filled a cup with punch for Lizzy. "Take this to Lizzy, will ya?" she asked. She felt angry, confused, hurt ñ feelings she could no more decipher than determine where they came from. Her urge was to smash the buffet table in front of her, then she thought about Stevie throwing a boyís bike across the street. Knowing she was wearing the hardware to make kindling of the table, she decided that removing herself from the temptation would be the better choice. "Iím going to get some air," she said and headed for the front entrance.
Stevie took her time in the small gallery, choosing to ignore the appreciative glances sheíd received from several men who were chatting with their dates. She emerged and glanced back to the open patio where sheíd stumbled upon Sarah and Lizzy. Lizzy was still standing near the large tree and for an instant Stevie considered joining her. Upon reflection she decided against it. She didnít want to be there when Sarah returned with romance on her mind. It didnít really surprise her she reminded herself. There was enough buried memory stirred by the outfits that indeed made sense that the two remembered each other. Xena ended up with Gabrielle and Callisto ended up under a pile of rocks. It was the way of the world. If she couldnít change the Xena end of the equation she could at least see what she could do about Callistoís pile of rocks. With determination she told herself that was enough. She made her way to the buffet table even though she wasnít hungry. She saw Solari at the punch bowl and joined her there. She didnít want anything to eat, but hoped that something to drink might help settle her raging thoughts.
"Howís the punch?" she asked reaching for a cup.
"Not bad, a little on the sweet side," Solari replied filling her glass. "How are you feeling?" She noted Stevieís puzzled expression and smiled. "You had a lot to drink last night."
"The wine, oh yeah," Stevie replied with a nod. "Iíve felt better, but Iíd say Iím alright. I usually donít drink that much." Solari nodded and Stevie added, "Callisto didnít drink at all," wondering why she even bothered to say it or why it was important.
"She couldnít afford any slip ups," Solari agreed. "Her life depended on it. Good thing youíve got more flexibility now."
The Egyptologist nodded absently. "What are these outfits doing to us?" she asked.
Solari smiled kindly. "Reminding you of who you were I suppose. Who you were, who they were, how things were, all of lifeís past-imperfect."
"Well it sucks," Stevie said flatly.
"For you I donít doubt it," Solari agreed. "Still, youíre in the armor, youíve been having the dreams, why donít you surrender to Callisto for the evening... see where that takes you. It is Halloween after all, a time when all of us can step outside ourselves." The psychic smiled warmly. "Just donít kill anyone," she added.
Stevie rolled her eyes, "Well whereís the fun in that?" she asked sarcastically surprising herself by the foreign tone in her voice.
"You might surprise yourself," Solari said wryly. "Look, do me a favor... Sarah asked me to take this cup of punch to Lizzy on the patio but I spotted another friend from college," she said, putting the cup of green punch in Stevieís hand. "Sarah went to the bathroom and I donít want to lose sight of Marty..."
Stevie nodded absently wondering why Sarah left Lizzy on the porch. The woman had the bladder of a camel. Briefly she considered checking on her ex and decided against it. What ever was happening between Sarah and Lizzy was indeed for the two of them to sort out.
Carrying two cups of punch Stevie made her way back to the patio. Lizzy was no longer alone, several couples and a small group of people gathered at a couple of the tables. They were chatting animatedly, enjoying the festive atmosphere and crystal clear albeit brisk weather. Lizzy looked up as Stevie approached and for the briefest instances looked guilty.
"Expecting someone else?" Stevie asked, not unkindly but with a hint of challenge to her voice.
"Not exactly, Sarah said she was going for drinks." Lizzy said accepting the offered cup of punch. "This stuff looks dreadful."
"Itís alright, a little on the sweet side. Solari asked me to bring it to you." Stevie studied the shorter woman, not at all surprised Sarah had thrown the moves on her. She looked amazing. The outfit of the Amazon queen suited her, still her short hair seemed a little out of place. It was a variation however Stevie was happy to put up with.
"Are you feeling better?" Lizzy asked after taking a sip of punch.
Stevie nodded. "Iíd say I donít know what came over me, but weíd both know that isnít exactly so." Lizzy looked up at Stevie and not for the first time was startled by the woman standing in front of her. Something was amiss and one didnít have to be psychic to figure out what that was. "Your friend Solari thinks I need to surrender to Callistoís skin for an evening." Stevie cocked her head and watched as her words registered with the archaeologist. She felt an unusual sensation of power as her words caused reaction in the shorter woman. Surprise, fear and distaste all registered and were quickly gone from Lizzyís expression. "Do you think we should surrender to our costumes?" she asked quietly.
Once again the briefest glimmers of guilt flashed in Lizzyís eyes and was gone. Of course it made sense now, Lizzy thought. That was what was going on between her and the stuntwoman. Talking to Stevie, it wouldnít have been too much of a stretch to think that she was indeed talking to the centuries dead warrior. "Maybe some of that fantasy canít be helped," she admitted quietly.
Lizzy tried to remember a single moment when she felt as conflicted as she did in this instance. Part of her screamed danger, urging her to run as far away from the woman standing in front of her, calmly sipping green punch. Another part of her noted the six-pack on Stevieís abdomen, legs toned from running and how the blondeís fair skin contrasted starkly with the black armor. Even movement as simple as bringing the punch cup to her lips caused muscles of a toned bicep and forearm to move seductively, only when her eyes felt dry did Lizzy remember to blink. She wanted to run away from Stevie every bit as much as she wanted to run towards her, wrap her arms around her and have her way with the Egyptologist right here on the museumís patio. As a result, she couldnít move.
The band inside began a new song with an easygoing tempo. Stevie smiled, arching a dark eyebrow and her lips parting to reveal gleaming white teeth. "Would you like to dance?"
Lizzy swallowed once casting a furtive glance around her. If she were a dancer, which she wasnít, it would have been no big deal to dance out here on the patio or even inside on the dance floor. They were surrounded by colleagues and their guests, and it wasnít as if sheíd ever made any sort of effort to hide exactly who she was. But she also knew that Stevie was reading her like a book. Sheíd already somehow detected that something was going on with Sarah and she didnít feel comfortable about just how much sheíd give away were she to even attempt a dance. "Iím not much of a dancer," she said with a smile. Trying to further lighten the mood she added, "Iíd suspect that Callisto isnít much of one either."
Stevie grinned again, her delicate pink tongue slipping from between her lips to move enticingly over her top lip. She smiled again and leaned in close so her breath fluttered against Lizzyís ear. "Callisto isnít much of a dancer," Stevie whispered, "but Iím just wearing her skin, remember? And for the record, Gabrielle was a hell of a dancer. Very in tune with her body and loved that feeling, maybe that is something you want to think about surrendering to?" As she spoke she drew the tips of her fingers across Lizzyís bare stomach, pleased at the sharp intake of breath it caused. "I learned everything I need to know about your body," she said moving back a little. "I learned it just now, in this instant. When you want to dance, look me up."
Lizzy looked up at Stevie stunned. There was a brazenness and honesty to her words that couldnít be denied, but it was out of character for the generally polite yet playful Egyptologist. Before she could say another word however, the moment was broken by an intruder.
"Lizzy Covington, is that you?" An older man called as he made his way onto the patio. "I was hoping to see you here, my dear. That is quite an outfit..."
Without waiting for an introduction Stevie winked at her stunned companion and walked back into the museum, leaving her to chat with the newcomer unassisted.
Stevie walked back over to the buffet table a little surprised that her appetite had returned. In fact she felt better in this moment than she had in some time. There was no doubt in her mind that she was indeed acting strangely, uncharacteristically confident and aggressive. The normal feeling of uncertainty, wondering if all possible needs had been met all around her was absent. "I should be asking ëStevie Montgomery is that you?í" she muttered to herself popping a sushi roll into her mouth. She leaned against the buffet table surveying the room with her eyes as her taste buds surveyed the tuna and crabmeat wrapped in cucumber instead of seaweed. Both were stunning. The party was in full swing now, museum guests filling the main hall and many dancing in front of the band. Others were studying the artwork, chatting to each other and still more gathered on the patio outside as well as the near the front entrance. Her eyes landed on an attractive man who was fixated on her outfit, or rather her bust. With a smirk she pushed off from the table and walked the ten feet or so over to him.
"Lancelot, Iím up here," she said pointedly glaring at him. "Besides, you canít afford what Iím not selling." With a frown he turned and walked away. The only thing Stevie realized she was missing was the ability to zap him in the ass with a fireball as he retreated. In some small ways, feeling a little Callisto was indeed handy. After experimenting with several more sushi rolls, Stevie decided to find Sarah. If for no other reason than to tell her the sushi was good.
It took several moments but Stevie found Sarah on the grassy area in front of the museum. She stood just outside the warm glow of the twinkling lights from the party. It was cooler out here, lacking the propane heaters from the courtyard, but it was still comfortable. "You okay?" Stevie asked, handing Sarah a cup of punch and sushi roll.
The stuntwoman shrugged. "I guess so. But I feel really strange, conflicted." Sarah explained. "I needed some air, itís like nothing makes sense right now." Absently she popped the sushi into her mouth. "How are you doing?" she asked around a mouthful of sushi.
"I know what you mean about feeling strange," Stevie agreed, "The clothes make the women as they say."
"Thatís crazy," Sarah said, rolling her eyes. "Iím not buying into the past life shit and even if I did, that was so long ago."
"Crazy enough for you to kiss Lizzy two seconds after we got here?" Stevie asked pointedly. "Yeah, youíve had your eye on her but didnít throw a move until now?"
Sarah blinked at her in surprise. She shrugged. "It seemed like the thing to do." She offered without regret. "You pissed?" She took a sip of her punch and smiled at Stevie, a bashful expression on her face.
"Surprisingly, no." Stevie answered. "Iíll call it the Callisto factor. Besides, something tells me that sheís only responding to you because of your outfit, and how can I blame her for that? Xena was fucking hot."
"And Sarah isnít?" Sarah asked defensively, then sighed. "I mean, ëand Iím not?í" she corrected. "This is weird, I feel like Iím thinking with an echo in my head; two similar voices talking just out of synch. WWJD?"
"What would Jane do?" Stevie said, amused that Sarah remembered the joke sheíd made after first learning of Stevieís stint in therapy. "Honestly, I think sheíd tell us both to let go for a moment. Youíre hearing Xenaís voice in your head, so be Xena. Solari told me to let go and own my inner Callisto as it were. Itís just us; Iím not going to tell anyone youíre nuts. If Xena and Callisto have unfinished business, let them finish it."
"You realize that when I roll-play I prefer to be the elf." Sarah deadpanned.
"Very funny," Stevie countered. "Itís like walking out of one room and into another. Surely youíre not afraid to come out and talk to me?" she asked sweetly, her voice tinged with challenge.
Sarahís eyes narrowed, icy blue points of light boring into her. She also seemed to stand up a little straighter, the line of her shoulders growing larger and more business-like. "No, no," she said smoothly, easily. "Iíve got nothing to fear from you."
"I shouldnít think so," Stevie said. "Every time Callisto and Xena met in battle I got my ass kicked."
"Except that last time," Sarah replied quietly.
Stevie looked up in surprise. There was a lot of hurt and sadness in Sarahís voice. "Iím sorry about that." Stevie said quietly.
Blue eyes widened in disbelief. "Youíre apologizing to me?" Sarah asked, stunned. "After everything Iíve done to you?"
Stevie cocked her head and thought, "Yeah, I guess I am." Turning, the Egyptologist led them a short distance from the museum to a small stand of trees where they could talk more privately. They were surrounded by darkness, the lights from the party dancing merrily in the distance. Stevie sat down with her back to the large tree trunk, and Sarah followed suit. Out of habit, both women removed the swords from the scabbards on their backs before sitting. Each rested the blade on its side within a handís reach.
"Iím the one who should be apologizing to you," Sarah said, blue eyes searching brown.
"I accept your apology, if that makes you feel any better," Stevie replied. "Look there is plenty of blame to go around in the ëwho fucked over whoí game with us. I forgive you, if you forgive me we can move on, right?"
Sarah shook her head. "How can you blithely forgive me for creating you? That makes absolutely no sense."
Stevie smiled sadly. "Because Iíve tried hundreds of years of not forgiving you and that hasnít gotten me anywhere either. Iím ready to try something different. I feel like things are... I donít know... aligned maybe. Things are in the right place so maybe this time, if I do forgive you, maybe I can finally get the peace I was looking for the second time you killed me."
"Sarah and Stevie? Is that the alignment youíre talking about?" Sarah asked curiously.
"All of it," Stevie replied with a nod. "Lizzy, Stevieís mom, the dogs, the job and of course you ñ Sarah I mean. Maybe everything is in place and I can finally put my rock down and walk away from it. Frankly Iím sick of carrying it, it isnít worth it any more, it just isnít."
Sarah looked at Stevie and then gazed off into the distance past the party. She listened to the sounds of night, noticing how different the sounds were in such a populated area. "Do you remember the time we sat by the fire and you asked if weíd bonded?"
Stevie nodded. "Yeah, you said we hadnít."
"I lied," Sarah said, not looking over at Stevie.
"I know," the Egyptologist replied.
"Callisto, I made you. I killed your family, destroyed your life..." Sarah began.
Stevie turned and put two fingers over the warriorís lips. "Yes you did. And I killed your son, ended your life blah, blah, blah. I am telling you that we have damaged each other in equal measure. Iíve gotten that from Stevie. I need to believe that. I want to see what happens when we let go. Really let go." She lowered her fingers, but brown eyes didnít budge from blue.
Sarah sighed heavily. "Alright," she said. "But donít hurt Gabrielle," she added, the threat in her voice gentle but unmistakable.
"I forgive her too." Stevie said simply. "I wonít lie, there is always something irresistible about taunting that woman- teasing her about what she really wants- but Iíve no interest in hurting her. This isnít about revenge for me and I donít blame you for thinking that it might be. Honestly, Iím not interested in Lizzy, you know that interpersonal relationships arenít my strong suit. Thatís strictly a Stevie thing and Iím not about to butt in."
Sarah shrugged then turned to face Stevie. "Maybe so, but Iíll be watching anyway."
Stevie nodded. "Be my guest, there are already a couple of dead women doing that, Iím sure theyíd appreciate help from the living."
"What are you going to do about them?" Sarah asked.
"Again," the blonde replied, "itís Stevieís problem. They hate me, so what? They arenít the first. Iím sure Stevie will think of something, if she wants to, that is."
Sarah smirked, "You think she still has it bad for Sarah?" she asked confidently.
Stevie looked over at her friend and centuries old enemy smiling sadly. "No Xena, she doesnít. She doesnít love Sarah like that, she hasnít for a long time. But sheís not moving on until Sarah is ready to let go. Iím not a ëpeople expertí but even I can see that."
Sarah Mooreheadís eyes narrowed. "I distinctly remember two failed attempts at reconciliation, nearly three if you count two oíclock this morning. Besides Iím the one who broke up with her- you!"
"Yes." Stevie replied quietly. "To date youíve broken up with me a total of three times..."
"Because I kept reconciling," Sarah finished the sentence as reality came crashing in. "Oh fuck. Iím sorry Stevie," she said sadly. "Iíve accused you of being clingy and all this time itís been me who canít let go."
Stevie smiled gently, the harsh edge gone from her features. "I guess you didnít want me to be without someone and couldnít figure out why that someone wasnít supposed to be you." Stevie reached over and held onto the stuntwomanís hand, squeezing affectionately. "I guess I can see now why you were beating your head against that particular wall. Neither of us knew. You wanted to fix me and thought that was how you were supposed to do it."
The stuntwoman shook her head, frowning a little. "That isnít all of it," she said quietly. "It wasnít just for you. It was how I felt too. I couldnít let go because I couldnít let go." She took a deep breath and continued, "I never told you this before but when I was on that shoot in Romania there was a bar where weíd hang out when we werenít on call..."
Stevie nodded. "You told me about the bar. It had the lame jukebox with old American songs that you guys were crazy about to get a taste of home."
Sarah nodded. "The part I left out was that there were two Stevie Nicks songs on that jukebox: The Edge of Seventeen and Stand Back. The crew hated me for it but I played those two damn songs every night. Every single night, sometimes more than once." She shrugged and plucked at a few blades of grass. "It made me feel closer to you."
Blinking back tears, Stevie wondered if sheíd ever heard anything as sappy and heart felt come from the stuntwomanís mouth in the more than three years sheíd known the woman. "You donít even like The Edge of Seventeen..."
"Well the lyrics are fucked up," Sarah countered. "The clouds never expect it when it rains, what the fuck kind of lyrics are those?" Sarah demanded with exaggerated bravado, making Stevie smile. "Still, it was what they had in Romania so I went with it."
Stevie sighed. "As long as weíre confessing things... you know that I make a point of not taking Stevie Nicksí lyrics personally, right?"
Sarah nodded. "Yeah, itís too cliché. It ticks you off."
"Well the beginning Destiny Rules makes me think of you." The Egyptologist admitted shyly.
The stuntwoman grinned. "You relate to a Stevie Nicks song because of me? I think youíre getting soft Stevie."
"Donít gloat," Stevie warned.
"Although Iím surprised itís not If You Ever Did Believe? Doesnít that have the ëbaby donít leave meí at the end?" she teased and grinned more broadly as the blondes eyes narrowed in annoyance.
"Donít push your luck Moorhead, I have enough Callisto in me to know how to wield this sword."
"Okay, okay," Sarah said, chuckling, how does it go?"
"You have the Say You Will album, listen to it when you get home." Stevie replied, stubbornly.
"Oh come on, just fucking tell me or Iíll make you sing it." Sarah insisted.
Stevie sighed, realizing that the battle was already lost. "Maybe we were together in another life," she said reciting the lyrics. "Maybe we are together in a parallel universe. Maybe our paths are not supposed to cross twice. Maybe your arms are not supposed to go around me.
"I hear about you now and then, I wonder where you are and how you feel. Sometimes I walk by and look up to your balcony, just to make sure that you were real. Just to make sure that I can still feel you.
"When I see you again, as I always do, it appears to me that destiny rules and the spirits are ruthless with the paths they choose. Itís not being together, itís just following the rules, no oneís a fool." She shrugged when she was finished and looked at Sarah. A single tear slid down the stuntwomanís cheek but otherwise she looked calm.
"I guess this is it then," she said quietly. "I do have to let you go."
"Only if youíre ready to," Stevie countered. "Iíll always be sort of crazy about you."
"Thatís just because youíre sort of crazy." Sarah replied with a smile. "I guess we should go back to your future girlfriendís party." She said standing up and extending her hand to Stevie.
"I think youíre putting the cart before the horse but fine," she replied taking the offered hand and standing gracefully.
"So you actually got over me?" Sarah asked trying to mask her disbelief as they walked back to the party.
"Never," Stevie said with a grin. "You broke my heart in seventeen places and Iím making a good show at trying to carry on."
Sarah grinned. "Thatís okay then." They flashed their wristbands at the party entrance inside and the stuntwoman put a restraining hand on Stevieís forearm before they moved any further. "Seriously, I want you to see where this thing with Lizzy will take you. I want you to be happy."
"I know that," Stevie reassured the taller woman. "But it isnít you or anyone else that will make me happy. I have to do that myself for Callisto and me. But honestly, any happiness I find you will always be a part of so stop being sappy."
Sarah nodded and led the way to the dance floor. They spotted Solari and Lizzy just off to the side chatting and enjoying the music. "Where have you guys been?" Lizzy asked, concern in her voice as the two walked up to join them.
"We were just outside chatting," Sarah explained. "Not to worry, Stevie didnít pick on any thugs while we were out there."
Stevie rolled her eyes and smiled when the band began a new song. With the haunting sound of a pipe organ, the band began to play the waltz from Disneylandís Haunted Mansion. The minor chords and melody added a new layer of ghostly atmosphere to the Halloween party. Couples enthusiastically paired up and headed to the dance floor. "Would you like to dance?" Stevie asked Lizzy, the Callisto edge completely gone from her voice. The archaeologistís cheeks flushed pink and her eyes grew wide. She had the look of a woman really wishing the earth would open and swallow her whole.
Sarah read her panic and tapped Stevie on the shoulder. "This dance is mine," she said possessively. "For old timeís sake at least."
Stevie smiled at Lizzy a little sadly but took Sarahís hand and walked to the dance floor. As they turned, Sarah winked at Lizzy, smiling warmly as she turned her attention to Stevie.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Solari whispered.
"I canít fucking dance," Lizzy explained defensively. "I suck at it. There arenít a hell of a lot of opportunities to learn that skill out on a dig."
"Do you honestly think that matters to Stevie?" Solari insisted. "Something tells me that sheíd be more than happy to do the leading. You can count to four and you can stand up so you can dance!"
Lizzy watched as the two armored women swayed with the music. They were both proficient enough to do a proper waltz to the music with Sarah leading. They received the casual glance from some nearby dancers but with the variety of costumed dancers occupying the floor, two women wearing leather dancing together really didnít seem the least bit out of place.
"Damn, sheís hot." Lizzy muttered under her breath.
"Which one?" Solari asked, staring at the two women as well. "Theyíre both PETAís worst nightmare if youíre trying to explain the evils of leather."
Lizzy chuckled. "Do I detect a bisexual mood swing?" she asked playfully. "Itís been a couple of years hasnít it?"
Solari grinned. "Three to be exact, which is beginning to seem a bit too long." She studied the dancers for a couple more moments as if coming to a decision. "Iíd say you owe me sweetie but you really donít." With that she kissed Lizzy on the cheek and headed onto the dance floor. Lizzy watched as Solari walked up behind Stevie and dutifully tapped her on the shoulder. Both women stopped dancing. Words were exchanged and seconds later, Sarah was waltzing with Solari and Stevie was headed back to Lizzy.
"Iíve never been ëcut in oní before," she announced with a grin as she returned to the archaeologistís side.
"Does it deserve a drink?" Lizzy asked, leading the way back to the punch bowl.
"Why not," Stevie replied. "Still no alcohol though. I still feel enough of Callisto rattling around in here that anything stronger than punch is a real turn off."
Lizzy nodded in understanding. "Itíll go away when you take the armor off," she explained.
"Iíll be ready." Stevie replied.
Lizzy looked up, concern etched on her features. "Is something wrong?" she asked. "Because if youíre not cool with this..."
Stevie put a gentle hand on Lizzyís forearm, noting how warm the shorter woman felt. "Everything is totally okay," she said. "Iím just saying that Iím used to dealing with Callisto in my sleep, and doing that while awake is a disconcerting experience. I was a jerk earlier, that sort of thing. And I apologize for that by the way."
"I donít think you were a jerk," Lizzy disagreed. "Just assertive, and that isnít a bad thing," She swallowed as Stevie arched an eyebrow, interested. "I mean I know its just Callisto..."
She didnít get a chance to continue because several more people from the museum recognized Lizzy and walked up to chat. This time however Stevie stood next to her, graciously met the museum folk and was more than happy to chat shop. With a wry smile Stevie noted how the archeologist relaxed with her as the focus shifted to antiquities and away from the dance of courtship.
Before long Solari and Sarah returned and the foursome continued to enjoy the party and each otherís company. Sarah and Solari had devised a game of predicting the various professions and personal foibles of different party-goers. Lizzy warned the stuntwoman that any guessing game with a psychic was folly but Sarah didnít seem to mind. It was nearly midnight when Stevie decided that she was ready to part company with Callistoís second skin.
Lizzy had excused herself to use the bathroom and Stevie followed. Sarah watched her walk across the gallery.
"Youíre going to be fine." Solari said, following Sarahís line of vision.
"You sound certain of that," the stuntwoman replied.
The psychic grinned. "Oh I am."
Stevie was glad no one else was in the bathroom and she waited quietly for Lizzy to exit the stall. Lizzy jumped, startled when her eyes landed on Stevie.
"I didnít hear you come in," she said, washing her hands.
"What can I say, you made a quiet outfit," she said with a grin. "A lovely outfit, but one I think Iím ready to part ways with."
Lizzy nodded looking a little confused. "You want to head back to Melís?" she asked quietly.
Stevie cocked her head and studied Lizzy in the bathroom mirror. "Yeah, to change. But..." she said taking a step closer and looking at Lizzy directly, "I thought I might bring the costume over to your place. Something tells me you might not be having a house guest tonight."
"That would be great," Lizzy blurted and tried for something less eager sounding. "I wouldnít want the armor to get damaged or anything."
Stevie couldnít help but chuckle, considering the numerous piles of rocks that Callistoís armor had been buried under over the years. "That sounds good. Iíll meet you at your place in about forty-five minutes?"
Before she could answer or lean in for the kiss she knew Stevie was considering, the bathroom door opened and Belinda from the museum came in. She smiled and nodded to the two women, oblivious as to what sheíd just interrupted. Stevie winked at Lizzy and left. Lizzy stood for a moment staring at the closed stall door and for the briefest instant considered having Belinda fired.
Stevie caught Sarahís eye as she left, the stuntwoman dancing once again with Solari. Sarah grinned and flashed her the ëthumbs upí sign. Stevie chuckled to herself that it was a little unclear as to which situation she was promoting; hers with Lizzy or her own with the psychic. While she wasnít the least bit psychic herself, she predicted that there would be two women sleeping in the witchís grotto that night, both brunette.
As promised, Mel left the door unlocked. Stevie opened it quietly and could hear the sounds of conversation and laughter coming from the other room. Silently she made her way upstairs and considered what to wear. Oddly it was Callistoís voice in her own head that answered her; calculating, but disinterested.
"Look irresistible," the voice said, "but let her take charge. Itís the only way those two dead hags wonít disassemble the house with you two in it."
"Janice and Melinda are not hags," Stevie muttered sternly. "And isnít ëirresistibleí not really letting Lizzy make a choice?"
"There is a chance sheíll petrify herself into making the wrong choice," Callistoís voice said matter of factly. "She needs to make this seduction, not you, doesnít mean it wonít scare her witless. If itís coming from her the dead women will have no choice but to support her. Look, I donít care if you get laid or not. But I suspect you care and Iím telling you how to make that happen if you donít want to spend the night cleaning up broken dishes. The psychology of dead people is something I know a little about."
"Alright, alright," Stevie said, surrendering to the voice in her head. "Iíll wear the leather pants."
"No," Callisto answered. "Black dress, heels, perfume, no jewelry, just your watch. Youíve been wearing leather all evening and it will just remind her of me."
Partly out of stubbornness, partly out of the sense of security it provided, and feeling like she knew more about accessories than a centuries dead warrior, Stevie donned her small silver crescent moon necklace. "Why are you helping me?" she asked as she took her short black dress from the closet.
"Because youíre trying to help me." The voice answered and was silent.
Stevie Montgomery thought about Callistoís words as she walked back to Lizzyís house. Much of the night was a jumble with so many unfamiliar thoughts and feelings coursing through her. She was relieved to be wearing clothes again that felt as comfortable and familiar to her as she knew the warriorís armor felt to Callisto. Taking a deep breath, she knocked at the door.
Seconds later the door opened and Lizzy stood at the entry, smiling broadly.
"You look amazing," Lizzy said as she stepped to the side and allowed Stevie to answer. "Please, come in."
"You look pretty fantastic yourself," Stevie said easily as she handed off the bag of armor and the sword in the scabbard. Lizzy was wearing black slacks with a silky green blouse. She was wearing a little makeup, smelled wonderful and the hair at the base of her neck was still damp, clearly sheíd just showered.
Lizzy put the bag of armor on the floor next to a chair in the living room and gestured for Stevie to take a seat on the couch. "Can I get you something to drink?" she asked.
Stevie smiled, the archaeologistís level of nervousness already palpable. That would certainly have to be addressed. "I think Iím ready for a glass of wine now," she said gently. "If you think your grandmotherís will put up with that."
Lizzy grinned and looked around the living room. "Iím hoping for the best," she said. "Iíll be back in a minute with our wine. Please make yourself at home."
Lizzy poured two glasses of wine and paused at the kitchen doorway, looking at the broom propped up against her refrigerator. She was sure she saw the rustic wood broom vibrate slightly. "Please let me do this," she whispered to her grandmothers. "Youíre not going to scare her off. Look into our hearts, if she doesnít care about me or if I donít care about her then feel free to make all the noise you want. But if you see how we feel about each other and itís real, then let me have tonight. Iíve never asked this of you before, but Iím asking now, because this is worth it." She looked at the broom again satisfied to see that it was as still as a tomb.
"Glass of wine?" She said offering the glass to Stevie. She put the bottle down on the coffee table and took a seat next to Stevie on the couch.
"Thank you," Stevie replied graciously, softly clinking her glass to Lizzyís. "Hereís to getting carried away."
Lizzy blushed remembering the night sheíd spent with Stevie and where the evening was headed. "You spent a lot of time with Sarah tonight, is everything okay?" she asked, and then inwardly flinched. She suspected that on the top ten listing of How To Get Somewhere With Women, discussing her previous ex-girlfriend wasnít mentioned.
"Stevie and Sarah needed to have a chat," Stevie said, taking a sip of wine. "So did Callisto and Xena. This whole past life thing is as exhausting as it is confusing."
"I know the feeling," Lizzy agreed. "Did you get anything resolved?"
Stevie smiled, favoring Lizzy with soft brown eyes that held a world of promise. "Yeah, I think I did. I think I really forgave her for what happened to my family, I think she forgave me for... well... for everything I did. As for Stevie and Sarah," she sighed, "itís hard but we really had to let go; realize that admitting we arenít the One for each other doesnít mean we love each other any less. Weíre always going to be close, weíre never going to let go, but knowing that intellectually and really feeling it can be two different things." Stevie took another sip of wine. "Sheís got her own stuff sheís dealing with. Her relationship with me aside, I know there is a very big part of her that doesnít understand why you and she arenít drawn to each other and why you and I are; the way the two of you have been lifetime after lifetime. I think itís her Xena-sized ego, and on some level she might agree. She actually sent me off with her blessing tonight and gave me strict warnings about hurting you and bringing down the wrath of Xena for another few thousand years." Both women stared into the fire for a moment, each considering her own thoughts. "What about you?" Stevie asked. "How are you doing?"
"I wonít lie," Lizzy replied, knowing full well the flush to her cheeks would make that impossible. "I was a mess earlier; I felt really conflicted. Itís a strange place to be when what you see communicates one reality and what you know is another. Seeing you dressed like Callisto tonight really scared me. It dredged up feelings buried for who knows how long? But at the same time Iím not Gabrielle, Iím me and seeing you in Callistoís armor brought up feelings of an entirely different sort; you looked powerful, you looked dangerous, you looked beautiful and I very much felt like... like..." Lizzy tried to find the words to match her feelings.
"A village ready to be pillaged?" Stevie supplied helpfully remembering Amazonís look of desire. The broom next to the ëfridge fell over and the two women looked at each other, smiling sheepishly. "A bad analogy I know." Stevie murmured.
"But entirely accurate," Lizzy had to agree. Sitting this close to Stevie Lizzy was aware that the feeling of wanting to be pillaged hadnít lessened any. While sheíd rushed home to shower and dress, she knew that Stevie hadnít had the time. Sheíd changed her clothes and looked stunning, but she still carried the faintest scent of leather mixed with her intoxicating perfume. Sheíd retouched her makeup and Lizzy was helpless to do anything but be captivated by her guest.
"So where would you like to go from here?" Stevie asked glancing at the archaeologist shyly. Sheíd taken her conversation with Callisto to heart and decided that this would indeed be Lizzyís night. Especially here, in this house, the seduction would be Lizzyís. Stevie had no doubt that would be they only way to move things along and keep the house in one piece at the same time.
Lizzy took a sip of wine and asked, "Would you like to dance?"
"Iíd love to," Stevie replied warmly. "I didnít think you wanted to earlier."
"I felt out of my element before," Lizzy admitted, color rising to her cheeks once again she had no doubt. "I still do to be honest, but I donít mind being out of my element with just you." She stood and walked over to her CD player.
"I think thatís probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me," Stevie replied, beaming.
"I... ah..." Lizzy wasnít sure how to broach the subject and tried for the direct approach. "I donít have any Stevie Nicks CDs," She admitted. As she expected the Egyptologist frowned in disapproval. "But I do have this," she added holding up the Practical Magic soundtrack hopefully. She put the CD in the changer and selected the track then held out her hand to Stevie.
"This will do nicely," Stevie said knowing what the selection would be before the song even started. "We can work on your music library later." She accepted Lizzyís hand as she put her wine glass down at the edge of the table with Lizzyís and joined her in the center of the small living room, the fire casting warm glowing shadows all around them. The song began and the two began to dance. This was not a dance between people who had shared each otherís space for centuries, instinctively knowing each otherís steps and movements. This was a dance of discovery; neither quite leading, neither quite following.
Do you always trust your first initial feeling?
Special knowledge holds truth bears believing
I turned around
And the water was closing all around
Like a glove
Like the love that had finally, finally found me
And I knew
In the crystalline knowledge of you
Drove me thru the mountains
Thru the crystal-like clear water fountain
Drove me like a magnet
To the sea
They held each other close, brown eyes gazing down into green, happy in the discovery of each otherís details from this close proximity. Stevie felt warm in Lizzyís arms, warm and soft. As Lizzy looked up at her she tried to recall the fear she felt only a couple of hours earlier. These were the same eyes, the same tousled platinum blonde hair, the same rich voice. Only now the voice sounded gentle and soothing to her ears not threaded with danger and deceit. Her eyes were soft and welcoming and not the windows into the soul of a killer sheíd mistakenly imagined earlier, and her hair no longer seemed wild and unkempt, it smelled divine and promised to be very soft to the touch.
How the faces of love have changed turning the pages
And I have changed oh, but you... you remain ageless
I turned around
And the water was closing all around
Like a glove
Like the love that had finally, finally found me
Then I knew
In the crystalline knowledge of you
Drove me thru the mountains
Thru the crystal-like clear water fountain
Drove me like a magnet
To the sea
Stevie watched Lizzy study her. She didnít mind, she was happy to have the ocean green eyes roam wherever theyíd like as long as she was looking at her. She suspected she was comparing her appearance now with how she must have looked dressed as a psychotic warrior. Stevie looked down at Lizzy realizing that she did indeed look very much like a modern-day Gabrielle; her short hair softly framed her face and eyes that held a promise of passion as well as mischief.
They slowly came to a stop as the song ended and leaning up Lizzy covered Stevieís lips with her own. Finally here and now, with no danger of interruption Stevie fully surrendered to the kiss. Lizzyís lips were soft and warm and in moments parted for her. Stevie accepted the invitation even as she felt a strong but gentle hand reach up and thread itís way through her hair touching the sides of her neck and face.
Lizzy could not imagine a more complete sense of bliss as Stevie responded to her kiss. In seconds wonderfully gentle arms had surrounded her with a soft, warm hand caressing her throat. "I could kiss you all night," Lizzy murmured as she tilted her head for a new angle.
"I intend to let you," Stevie murmured softly before lightly brushing her tongue across Lizzyís bottom lip.
The archaeologistís eyes flared with desire and she pressed her lips more firmly against those of the Egyptologist. As she walked Stevie backwards toward the couch she bumped into the coffee table. While she didnít hear them fall she had no doubt that sheíd knocked over the two wine glasses sitting on the tableís edge and sheíd have wine stains on her rug. In that moment she couldnít have cared less. Surprisingly gracefully Stevie sat down with Lizzyís lips still firmly attached to her own. Moments later both women broke for air and glanced at the coffee table. Lizzy was shocked to see both wine glasses, still half full sitting in the middle of the table. With a broad smile on her lips Lizzy glanced upstairs to the room that housed her grandmothersí urn and uttered a silent ëthank youí.
Still grinning she returned her attention to the Egyptologist and kissed her again. For long moments she did nothing but enjoy the sublime sensation of warm lips and tongue sliding against hers and the silken fingertips brushing against her face. This was so much better than the dancing. In time though unwelcome thoughts began to intrude into Lizzyís consciousness. Not unlike the nagging nervousness she felt just before Stevieís arrival. It occurred to her once again that she had no idea what she was doing, no idea where this was going. Was there some sort of ritual she should be following? How would she know when to make the next move? Was she moving too fast as it was? Too slow? Should she invite her upstairs to her bedroom? Would it happen here on her couch? Did Stevie know she felt completely and utterly out of her element? Her heart couldnít beat any faster because it was already pounding with desire, but even so the tightness in her chest came from feelings much more sinister than passion.
She told her self that her panic was stupid, but that didnít really help. Knowing a thing and feeling a thing can be miles apart. Sheíd had sex with men, how different could this be, but even as she thought that she knew that this too was miles apart. This was someone she really cared about and didnít want to blow it.
Lizzy stopped and took a deep breath fully aware that her cheeks must be flushing crimson.
"Whatís wrong?" Stevie asked, clearly sensing the other womanís distress and being concerned about it.
Lizzy closed her eyes and opened them, scarcely believing she was going to say out loud what sheíd been thinking. "I donít know what Iím doing," she said simply. "I want... I want... very much for things to move to the next level, but I donít know how to do that."
Stevie studied her silently for a moment and then sat back on the couch. She reclined after picking up her wine glass and crossed one leg over the other. As she moved her short black dressed hitched up a bit revealing more of her thigh.
"Next level?" she teased gently. "Do I look like a video game to you?"
Lizzy smiled, finding the humor in what sheíd said and regretting sheíd said it. "I feel like you know what should be happening next and youíre not telling me." The archaeologist said quietly.
Stevie took a sip of wine and considered her words carefully. "Sweetie, if I thought you were one bit off track, Iíd tell you. Seriously. If you were trying to do anything I wasnít comfortable with, Iíd find a gentle way to stop you. Maybe Iím feeling completely at ease and absolutely enjoying myself ñ which is what you should be doing. This isnít a race you know, do I seem like Iím in a hurry?"
Lizzy shrugged. "I just figured, because youíve been with..." She couldnít finish her sentence because a tender index finger was resting on her lips.
"Please donít," Stevie said quietly, leaning forward. "Everyone is different. Iím not comparing you to anyone else and Iíd appreciate it if you donít compare you to anyone else."
Lizzy nodded and looked at Stevie for several moments. Certainly sheíd spent enough time between sleep and consciousness fantasizing about how this moment would be, and actually in it ñ it wasnít what she expected. While she was never inept in her fantasies, they didnít have the scent of the Egyptologists perfume or the silky texture of her skin. As she *starred her eyes caught the small silver necklace that dangled enticingly at the top of Stevieís cleavage.
"What are you thinking?" Stevie asked curiously.
"Thatís a really beautiful necklace," Lizzy answered. Taking the other womanís encouragement to heart, she reached out and touched the delicate silver strand that held the small crescent shape. Tracing the necklace with her fingertip she followed the silver path up across the Egyptologistís collar bone. Once there, she traced the prominent bone lightly with the pad of her finger and passed across the delicate *hallow at the base of Stevieís throat to the collar bone on the other side. "Iíd really like to kiss you there," Lizzy said quietly, her finger resting above a thrumming jugular vein on Stevieís neck.
"Iíd be disappointed if you didnít," Stevie whispered back.
Lizzy smiled as she leaned in, enjoying once again the indescribable scent of *the Stevieís perfume. Lightly she kissed the warm neck, pleased at the sound of the sharp intake of breath from the other woman. There was something in that sound that made Lizzy feel seven shades of wonderful. Knowing the sound was an involuntary one of pleasure and that sheíd caused it did much to belay her own feelings of clumsiness. She kissed her way up the Egyptologists neck, delighted in the softness and scent of the blondeís long hair. "Would you like to go upstairs?" she whispered, amazed that sheíd found the courage to ask such a thing.
"Only if you kiss me first," Stevie said turning her head and claiming Lizzyís lips with her own. There was promise in that kiss, the invitation to discover her and in turn be discovered.
"Are you going to make any other demands on me?" Lizzy asked playfully as she stood and extended her hand to Stevie.
"You can count on that," The Egyptologist replied, her eyes twinkling. She accepted the offered hand and followed the archaeologist upstairs. At the top of the stairs she gently put her hand on Lizzyís forearm, forestalling the other womanís progress to the bedroom.
"Would you show me where you keep your grandmotherís ashes?" She asked quietly.
Lizzy blinked, surprised at the question. Thinking about it made sense; if Stevie could be in a room with the remains of her grandmothers and not have things flying off the shelves *would be a pretty good indicator that she had the dead womenís blessing. With a nod Lizzy turned away from the bedroom and took three steps to the door to the study.
"Their will was very specific," Lizzy explained as she pushed open the door and stood aside so Stevie could enter. "They wanted to be cremated and have their ashes added to the urn that held the ashes of Argo, Grandma Janiceís first dog."
Stevie looked around at the study. One wall was entirely covered by books. On a shelf near the top was a very old looking urn, and next to it was a black and white picture in a simple frame. The photograph was of the two women, obviously taking a moment from their activities at a dig site and the large dog that Stevie had seen in the picture downstairs. Stevie studied the picture with a sad smile on her face. Sheíd heard the story from Dr. Covington herself of course, but it seemed important to Lizzy to tell it. "She must have loved that dog very much," she said softly.
Lizzy nodded. "Very much," she agreed. "Dogs werenít cremated back in those days," she explained. "Grandma Melinda told me that when Argo died, Janice went out back and built a funeral pyre. Auntie Pandoraís sons offered to help, but Janice wanted to do it alone. She worked through the night out in the orchard then they had an Amazon funeral for her. Janice kept her ashes in that urn. She had other dogs after Argo, but there was something special about that animal."
Stevie nodded in understanding. "I know exactly what you mean," she said. Her attention was drawn to the heavy wooden desk that took up a large part of the room. "Was this her desk?" she asked, touching the surface reverently. Lizzy nodded even as she noticed a slight wobble in the urn perched on its shelf.
"Why did you want to see them?" Lizzy asked curiously.
The archaeologist took a deep breath and spoke. She tried to keep her tone light but had only intermittent success. "I wanted to make sure that we didnít have a scene from Carrie with everything flying off the shelves," she began. "Also I wanted to tell you something, and I guess I wanted to say it in the presence of your grandmothers so there is no confusion." She looked at Lizzy and smiled. "I really care about you, I wouldnít be here if I didnít. Obviously I donít want you to do anything you might regret," she explained. "That said, I still have to go home tomorrow and I do live on the other side of the country... and... well I just didnít want there to be any confusion as to what is going on here."
Lizzy nodded slowly, trying to find the hidden meaning of the blondeís words if there was one. "Are you worried Iíll get too attached or something?" Lizzy asked. She forced a casualness to her voice that she didnít really feel. She already was attached to the tall blonde.
Stevie smiled and chuckled to herself. "If anything honey, Iím worried that Iíll get too attached. I donít do casual well," she admitted. "Iíve tried, lord knows with Sarah I tried and you see how we are." She shook her head. "Iíll tell myself that Iím not that attached and the next thing you know Iím saving printed emails and attempting to fix dinner which is always a disaster for me."
Lizzy smiled back. "You know you can always do take out," she offered.
"That seems so uncaring," Stevie replied.
The archaeologist shrugged. "If you put it in your own dishes and told me you made it, I wouldnít suspect a thing."
Stevie arched an eyebrow. "Are you inviting yourself over for dinner Ms. Covington?" she asked, with a careful glance to the urn on the shelf.
"Well, until I get your email address, it seemed like the thing to do." She took a step towards Stevie. "Would you feel any better if I got attached first?" she asked softly taking Stevieís hand.
"You know I have horrid nightmares, Iím in therapy, and Iím the reincarnation of a vicious psychotic killer," she said.
"So I wonít let you sleep," Lizzy whispered, placing a soft kiss on the inside of the Egyptologistís wrist. "There are worse things in life than being in therapy," she said kissing the bend of Stevieís elbow. "And technically Iíve had experience with vicious killers," she added placing a soft kiss on Stevieís neck. "Theoretically I could be the perfect woman for you. Except I donít have any idea of what I should be doing with a woman, so if you put up with my issues Iíll put up with yours."
Stevieís lips found Lizzyís ear and she whispered, "Youíre about to find out." Both women smiled as Lizzy led them down the hall to the bedroom, away from her grandmothersí ashes.
Lizzy held Stevieís hand as they entered the room. "Just a sec," she said quietly, leaving the Egyptologist standing at the foot of her bed. Quickly she turned on a couple of lava lamps and lit some candles before turning off the overhead light. Instantly the room was bathed in a soft warm glow as shadows danced on the walls from several flickering candles. "Thatís better," she said to herself as she returned to Stevie and wrapped her arms around the Egyptologistís waist. Looking up into soft brown eyes she smiled. "Care to give me any pointers?" she asked. "You see there is this hot blonde Iíve been after and Iíd really like to make her feel wonderful."
"I see." Stevie replied arching an eyebrow. She gently ran her fingers through Lizzyís short blonde hair and brought her hands to rest on strong shoulders. "Are you sure this woman knows youíre interested?" she asked innocently enough.
"I think so," Lizzy replied seriously then dropped her voice to a husky whisper. "I went for some soft ëmoodí lighting and if there was any confusion I was going to ask if she wanted to slip out of her sexy black dress."
Stevie leaned down and brought her lips to rest next to the archaeologistís ear once more. "Maybe sheíd like you to undress her," she whispered.
Lizzy swallowed hard and moved closer to the Egyptologist. Once again her lips found a responsive neck and as she lightly kissed the taller womanís throat, she drew her hands up Stevieís back; her palms gliding over the soft, black material. At the top she found a tiny snap and a zipper. With the snap undone, she slowly drew the zipper down, her hands now gliding over soft warm skin and a sheer bra. Bringing her hands to the front, she stepped back so she could see as she eased the dress over Stevieís shoulders and let it fall to the floor. She couldnít help but grin even as she knew she was blushing at the sight of the gorgeous woman standing there in her lacy black bra, matching panties and black stiletto heels. Aside from her creamy skin, the only points of color came from her blood read fingernails, silver necklace, platinum blonde hair and soft brown eyes. "Wow," Lizzy breathed. Reaching out, Lizzy lightly traced the lace trim of Stevieís bra. "Black is definitely your color," she said.
Stevie smiled a bit bashfully and took a step towards the archeologist, deftly stepping out of her heels as she moved. While she seemed a bit shorter now, she was still a good five inches taller than the archaeologist. "My turn," she said softly.
Lizzy stared in awe as long graceful fingers reached out to touch her green silk blouse. Stevie ran her hands over Lizzy shoulders and across the planes of her back enjoying the texture of the fabric before slowly bringing her hands to the top button of the blouse. "So, this girl youíre after," she said conversationally, as she undid the first two buttons. "What do you have in mind for her*."
Lizzy gasped as warm fingers brushed across her skin under her blouse on their journey to the next button down. "Ah..." she said having a hard time keeping her voice conversational, "Iíd like to kiss her some more, and ah..." she was distracted by the hands deftly undoing her belt and pants.
"And?" Stevie pressed as the pants fell to the floor and she eased Lizzy out of her blouse.
"And get acquainted with every square inch of her body." Lizzy said, a hungry expression now coloring mist green eyes. "She claims to know everything about my body and Iíd like to catch up." She stepped out of her pants and wrapped her arms around the taller womanís waist once more. Leaning up she kissed lips only too eager to bend down and meet her half way. For long moments they kissed delighting in the rising passion between the two of them. Equal parts fierceness, and tenderness tongues dueled in a dance of familiarity and discovery. Gently Lizzy pushed Stevie back towards the bed. As her legs met the resistance she felt the archaeologists warm hands making quick work of her bra fasteners. Someoneís shyness did indeed seem to be subsiding. "This is gorgeous, but has to go." Lizzy husked as she tossed the bra in the general direction of Stevieís black dress. "I want you to lay down," she asked quietly but without the slightest bit of hesitation in her voice. Her eyes roamed over the now exposed breasts as the Egyptologist complied; stretching out on Lizzyís bed, face down. Lizzy grinned at the unspoken challenge, she didnít much care which expanse of skin she got acquainted with first since she planned to discover every inch.
"This will do for now," she said softly. Undoing her own bra with one hand she tossed it on the floor and joined Stevie on the bed. For the first time since she met the Californian she really felt in her gut that everything was going to work out okay. She wasnít worried about lack of experience or what the other woman might be thinking. For whatever reason, Stevie had chosen to be with her and in doing so had given her an invitation to discover her. Elizabeth Covington had accepted that invitation and without reservation intended to do just that.
She started with the planes of Stevieís back, smooth expanses of soft skin that responded to her touch. Her strong hands moved gently over the warm planes and angles that were illuminated in the softly lit room. Her hands roamed over the tightly muscled back and across strong shoulders and arms. "Your skin is so soft," she murmured, stretching out next to the Egyptologist, "and you smell amazing." Acting on impulse Lizzy leaned down and planted a series of soft kisses down Stevieís spine between her shoulder blades. She was satisfied by the sharp intake of breath that she heard and emboldened by the gooseflesh that followed in her wake. Moving soft blonde tresses out of the way, Lizzy kissed the back of Stevieís neck and even nipped gently at the taught flesh of her shoulder.
"Yes," Stevie hissed with a sigh of pleasure.
It was an interesting sensation, Lizzy considered, having a warm responsive body to discover that was acutely attuned to her own. In some distant part of her memory this was familiar, soft skin moving against same, knowing where to touch and how. More vividly though this was quite different from her clumsy attempts with men where things played out more like a full contact indoor sport. There was a heated quietness to this moment that Lizzy wanted to remember forever.
Reaching with her hands she covered Stevieís hands with her palms and slid over the body beneath her. Her breasts brushed against skin and her legs moved over strong legs. She eased her body down and shifted her position to run the pads of her fingers down Stevieís back, over the minimal amount of lacy fabric that served as her underwear and down muscled thighs and calves. The archaeologist kept her fingernails very short so there was nothing to keep questing fingertips from responsive skin.
"That feels wonderful," Stevie murmured with a contented groan.
"It absolutely does," Lizzy agreed as she hooked her index finger in the waistband of lacy panties. With a gentle tug she pulled and in moments they joined everything else on the floor of Lizzyís bedroom. Covering Stevieís hand with her own once more, she leaned in close, nuzzling the soft blonde locks and enjoying the fragrance as much as the closeness. "Iíd love you to roll over," she whispered thickly as her lips found the thrumming of a pulse once more.
Slowly, Stevie rolled towards Lizzy, brown eyes catching green and burning with desire. "I want you to have everything you desire," the Egyptologist replied. Without hesitation Lizzy kissed her, letting her hands roam around newly exposed expanses of skin. She unpinned Stevieís hand and was rewarded with the sensation of two lean arms wrapping themselves around her. Long nails teased the skin of her back as they gently scratched their way down her spine. There was no escaping the gasp of pleasure that Lizzy felt at the contact. Sheíd had no idea long nails could be so magnificent. Every nerve ending she had sang at the contact and she wanted to completely immerse herself in the body beneath her.
As they kissed Lizzyís hands explored the smooth skin at Stevieís waist and flat stomach. Moving her hand up she gently cupped a soft breast, delighting in how perfectly the Egyptologistís body seemed to mesh with hers. "Would you mind if I kissed you here?" She asked, as her fingertip moved over a very firm nipple.
Strong hands moved from Lizzyís back to thread in between the soft strands of blonde hair as Stevie turned Lizzyís face so she could look into her eyes. "Please kiss me there," she said, brown eyes positively smoldering. There was power and confidence in that kiss as well as trust. Only now did Lizzy understand Stevieís words from earlier, that one could learn all the secrets of a body in an instant. There was no doubt in the archaeologistís mind that her companion felt as fantastic as she did. There was no doubt that Stevie was enjoying the sensations Lizzy evoked as much as she was enjoying Lizzyís journey of discovery.
Lizzy kissed a trail down the Egyptologistís neck once more, across her breast bone and to the breast sheíd just been caressing. Still delighting in the feel of the pliant flesh in her hand she explored with her mouth, kissing along the side before enclosing her lips around the waiting nipple. Stevieís back arched and she groaned then gasped in delight at the contact. One of her hands was still threaded through Lizzyís hair and pressure was applied to the back of the archaeologistís head to keep that mouth exactly where the Egyptologist wanted it. For long moments Lizzyís tongue swirled around the nipple, very pleased at the involuntary contractions she was causing. There was movement in her peripheral vision and out of the corner of her eye she could see that Stevieís other hand had moved to the breast she wasnít kissing. Stevie was lightly massaging her neglected breast, on occasion pinching or pulling at the nipple. With a smile Lizzy kissed her way across the other womanís sternum and closed her lips around that nipple as well. With delight she could feel the nipple tighten even as it was still pressed in-between two of Stevieís fingers which were captured in her mouth as well. A strong hand held her head firm and she wasnít going to stop licking and sucking any time soon. Gently she let her teeth lightly scrape over the sensitive nub and was rewarded with another gasp of breath.
"Lizzy, that feels fucking amazing," Stevie breathed arching into the smaller woman once more. "Donít stop what youíre doing to my body."
"Not a chance," Lizzy mumbled, releasing the nipple and simply sucking on two of Stevieís fingers instead. She was pleased at the sight of the gorgeous body beneath her, twitching involuntarily in pleasure.
"Your mouth is so warm," Stevie murmured. "Wet and warm."
Lizzy heard her speak, but it was as almost as if it were from a distance, distracted as she was by the sight of the body beneath her. The soft lighting was working itís magic and Stevieís body was bathed in shades of blue. She didnít have much of a tan, and her creamy white skin only showed the faintest hint of tan lines from a bikini. Her breasts were firm, perfectly proportioned and inviting. Thin and fit, the muscles of her abdomen rippled slightly as she moved. Her gaze traveling further down she saw trim hips and a neatly trimmed patch of brown pubic hair. Stevie Nicks Montgomery was not a natural blonde.
Unable to help herself Lizzy smirked a little and looked up to Stevieís face to apologize. There was no need. The Egyptologist was grinning right back at her. "Youíd think my eyebrows would make that obvious," she said simply.
"You are positively beautiful," Lizzy said, smiling back. "And I believe you gave me permission to get acquainted with you everywhere."
"I believe I did, and honey youíre on track so far." Stevie gave a small chuckle, "are you sure you havenít done this before?"
Lizzy shook her head but smiled proudly. "Must be in my genes I guess," she said as she lightly drew her fingers across a muscled abdomen.
Stevie reached up and tousled Lizzyís crown of short blonde hair then slowly drew her hand down the archaeologistís front. "My turn?" she asked quietly.
Lizzy bit her lip at the seemingly impossible choice; to continue to explore or be explored in return. After a momentís hesitation she shook her head. "Soon," she said caressing a thigh strong from miles of running. In the dimly lit room, little light was reflected off of Stevieís eyes. Even so, Lizzy was certain she could see her pupils dilate as her hand moved to the juncture between the other womanís legs. Stevie threw her head back with a sigh of delight and as shadows played across the elegant neckline, down erect nipples and across muscled planes and angles, Lizzy was certain sheíd never seen a more gorgeous sight in her life. Stevie Montgomery was a symphony of need waiting with strained patience for Lizzy to give her release.
In an instant though she was brought back to her own body and the sensations it was reporting. Her fingers had found Stevie where she was liquid desire. While it was hardly the first time sheíd touched a woman, being well acquainted with herself after all, it was unlike any experience sheíd enjoyed alone. Here she was feeling only half of the equation. She could feel Stevie, the radiating slick warmth and softness and see as well as hear the other half of the equation.
"Please," Stevie panted, her voice thick with need.
"I was about to say the same thing," Lizzy whispered, beaming at her lover. "Please let me," she said as she slowly pushed two fingers inside.
"Anything you want," Stevie gasped in reply. Brown eyes looked up in panic as Lizzy withdrew her two fingers. The panic subsided somewhat as Lizzy put those two fingers in her mouth and smiled broadly.
"I think Iíve wanted you from very nearly the moment I met you," Lizzy said returning her fingers to the warm wetness once more. "And at every turn you are more magnificent than I could possibly imagine."
Lizzy was certain that Stevie would have replied had she been capable of coherent thought, but clearly sheíd stripped that ability from the Egyptologist with her rhythmic movement. Pleased beyond measure and feeling more alive than possibly she ever had, she lowered her face so her lips and tongue could join her fingers. What for Stevie felt like the most languid, patient journey to white light for Lizzy felt like paradise ending all too soon. The archeologist was not surprised that vaginal muscles held her in a vise like grip, aside from Stevieís breasts she didnít think there was an inch of flesh on this woman that wasnít muscled, what did surprise her though was the indescribable connection she felt. She could feel the other womanís heartbeat and nearly thought she could read her thoughts as well. She knew when to push, when to slowly bring her lips and tongue to the top of the cleft that made Stevie arch her back anew. She felt the rising tide and wanted to take it all in, consume every bit of the woman she was making feel so fantastic. It was nearly Lizzyís undoing when she felt the strong hand at the back of her head, gentle ñ not commanding but perhaps suggesting. Being given anything she wanted, Lizzy was all to happy to give the other woman everything she needed. An instant later Stevie cried out in release and was still.
Had she been given more time to think only now would Lizzy have been faced with indecision. What was the proper etiquette here? She was literally soaked; more than just her face as she was supremely turned on, but what should she do? She wanted to continue kissing the Egyptologist
"Come here," Stevie purred in a low husky voice that brokered no argument. "Stop obsessing."
As Lizzy stretched out along the statuesque body next to her she wondered if indeed something had happened. Had what just transpired given Stevie the ability to read her mind? To see into her very soul? There was no time to think about that as her lover kissed her soundly, not the least bit concerned at the slickness passing between them. Lizzy would have sighed with relief had she not been skillfully rolled onto her back with Stevieís thigh casually resting between her legs.
"You are fucking amazing," Stevie said as she let her hands roam over the body beneath her.
"I really like the sound of you swearing," Lizzy replied with a chuckle.
"Oh really?" Stevie said, with mock surprise as she gently moved both of the archaeologistís hands over her head and held them in place with her left hand. "I think there is a sound of yours that I will enjoy even more," she said. "Do you know what sound that is?"
"God, I hope itís the one Iím thinking of," Lizzy replied with a gasp as Stevieís lips found her neck.
It was almost too much information to process Lizzy decided. A warm tongue was moving across her neck and sharp teeth were not being overly gentle in their attention. There was a roughness to what Stevie was doing that excited Lizzy to no end. Yet an instant later there was tenderness as well in lips that lovingly kissed her mouth, then pulled back just out of reach, teasing her. She hadnít even been touched yet and Lizzy was certain sheíd explode.
Stevie looked down then smiled in understanding and Lizzy knew she was lost. Stevie knew exactly what she was doing. Long blonde tresses leaned over her, and the small necklace dangled enticingly. "The way youíre feeling right now..." Stevie husked. "How much you want me, how much you need me to touch you..." She leaned close so her breath fluttered across Lizzyís skin. "I need you, need to make you feel this good, that exact same amount."
With the seemingly casual shift of Stevieís hip Lizzy feared sheíd pass out from need and bliss but in only moments more Stevie relented and touched her, loved her, everywhere she needed it.
"Is there anything you donít want me to..." Stevie began as long delicate fingers made their way down the archaeologistís torso.
"Fuck no!" Lizzy replied a tad more strongly than she would have intended.
"Alrightie then," the Egyptologist replied with a chuckle, lowering her lips to an impatient breast. For long moments Stevie kept Lizzy pinned not letting the woman beneath her do anything but feel. After a bit she released the hands she held but was satisfied that the smaller woman remained too preoccupied to notice. She wanted Lizzy to do nothing but feel, to not be distracted by touching her, and was immeasurably pleased that she was indeed doing nothing but that.
At the lightest touch Lizzyís thighs parted for her and Stevie kissed her way down the archaeologistís stomach at the invitation. "You are so beautiful," she murmured between kisses. "Everywhere." She breathed gently across soft curls and Lizzy groaned in delight and expectation. Any experience sheíd had before faded enough in comparison that this indeed felt like the first time sheíd been with anyone. Softness, wetness, the scent of perfume and musk, the sounds of her own desire ringing in her ears, there was not a sensory system she possessed that wasnít taxed to the very limit of endurance.
All too soon the power and force of Lizzyís orgasm took both women by surprise. Stevie was still for several long moments but didnít move her mouth then, gently ñ very gently she moved her tongue once, then again this time adding her fingers and sent Lizzy on the roller coaster once more.
Sated, content feeling at peace with the universe for the first time in ages Stevie dozed, her head resting on Lizzyís chest, her body sprawled across the smaller woman and the bed. It might have appeared awkward to some, the taller of the two sleeping on the shorter, but Stevie couldnít recall feeling so comfortable. An hour or two may have passed and the Egyptologist was roused by a gentle caress of her hair. She simply lay there for several moments enjoying the sensation of being touched. Gentle fingers moved from her hair to the skin of her neck and across her shoulders. It felt lovely. As her brain caught up to the rest of her, she fluttered her eyelashes and was awake.
"Please, let me love you again," Lizzy whispered, her voice gentle but insistent.
Stevie smiled, all too happy to comply. "As much as you want," she whispered back, returning the kiss of the hungry lips that had found hers. "For as long as you want," she thought to herself as she surrendered to the body rolling her over and pinning her down so sweetly.
Part 4 -(End)
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